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Mostly Nomads and Sheep

From The West Wing, “The Leadership Breakfast”

 

I was reading an article the other day that listed some of Roman Polanski’s most prominent films: “Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown.” And my first thought on that last one was, “Wait, the one with Kurt Russell?” No, see, that’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Several times a day, I catch myself in imaginary conversations with people I’ve never met, and in those convos I suddenly confuse two similar-sounding titles or terms or people, which means that whatever little daydream intellectual chat I was imagining is derailed by my fantasy person thinking I’m an idiot. (Yes, this is often how my daydreams go.)

Years ago, I got into an actual argument with someone stemming from confusion over actors John Heard, John Hurt and William Hurt. (John Heard and William Hurt have similar looks; John Hurt, rest in peace, looked like neither of them.)

I live in fear of the moment my daydreams come true and, in trying to speak eloquently and intelligently, I am instead revealed to be a complete idiot by talking about, I don’t know, Orson Wells as a pioneer of 19th century science fiction literature, or how H.G. Wells depicted the perils of communism through barnyard allegory, or I’ll make a joke about George Orwell’s beloved sled, Rosemary.*

*(All of these things are wrong.)

Here are some other idiotic moments waiting to happen:

I cite fraught family dynamic of The Little Foxes by playwright “Katherine Helmond.” (Nerp: That playwright is Lillian Hellman; Helmond was in Who’s the Boss?.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 19th century celebrity and feminist “Sandra Bernhard.” (Wrong-o: I’m thinking of Sarah Bernhardt; Bernhard is a current-day stand-up comedian.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 20th century celebrity and feminist “Simone Bolivar.” (Yeah, no, I’d be aiming for Simone de Beauvior there; Bolivar put an end to 19th-century Spanish rule in, like, all of South America.)

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Final Escape

Seriously, Lena, put a fucking towel down or something.

 

Holy crap. I have been looking for this little nugget of television for years.

 

As a kid, I watched an anthology TV ep that scared the pants off me so well that, even at like age 7 or whatever I was at the time, I passed through terror and came all the way back around to admiring the shit out of the storytelling.

 

Then I forgot about it for most of my adolescence.

 

But every once in a while, it pops into my brain, and within the last decade, it seemed like something I should be able to track down, what with the interwebs and all. Here are the details I could remember:

 

  • Anthology scary stories TV series (not Twilight Zone).
  • Prissy rich blonde woman in prison, desperate to escape.
  • African American dude who works in prison’s carpentry department or whatever—ie he makes coffins—needs eye surgery.
  • Lady bribes/tricks him into helping her escape via coffin.
  • TERRIFYING LAST-SECOND PLOT TWIST.

 

Yet I was thwarted, every google.

 

Then today, in the midst of a British comedy-panel podcast binge, someone described this exact story as portrayed in an Alfred Hitchcock show.

 

 

HOLY FUCK HOW DID I NEVER GOOGLE HITCHCOCK.

 

One search (“alfred hitchcock tv show buried alive”) and thirty minutes later, here we are.

 

Turns out it’s an 80s-tastic reboot of a 1964 episode, and OK, you can maybe-probably guess the terrifying last-second plot twist, but it blew my wee little brain back then, and like any quality scary story, even if it’s predictable, it still bears retelling. Knowing (or figuring out) the ending doesn’t spare you the intensity of the experience.

 

Give it a watch, won’t you? Filtered through my acknowledgement that it’s 30 years old, I think holds up well. It suffers from some mid-80s TV-as-an-art-form style issues, but even cinematically, they do some things here that filmmakers these days are still fucking up.

 

 

Also, here’s a moment-by-moment recap (low-budget live tweet) of my rewatch.

 

Alfie’s intro: I…do not understand. It seems to be maaaaasssively misogynistic, with the “wives peek in from the kitchen” bit and the woman…stripping…behind him? But I maybe it’s all part of the tongue-in-cheek gag? I, uh…y’know what? Let’s just get on with the story.

 

Scene: a courtroom, “Lena” being found guilty of murder in the first. “I’m sorry, your honor, could you repeat that? I couldn’t hear you over my MASSIVE SHOULDER PADS.”

 

According to IMDb, Lena is played by Season Hubley, who was once married to Kurt Russell. So there you go.

 

Oh! She’s a cunt! She’s very much a cunt. I’d totally forgotten. All this time I’d thought she was just pathetic. This is good texturing.

 

Scene: the confiscation of her possessions. Enter the Golden Lighter of Meaning, which will go off in the second act because it’s pronouncedly absent in the third. That’s some fan-fucking-tastic Chekhovian yoga when you think about it. (Don’t think about it too hard.) (EDITED TO ADD: Although…if they’d worked in somehow that she’d gotten the lighter back and had it in her possession for the final scene, it may have been even more powerful. Hold please, I’m fixing Hitchcock.)

 

Lena and her wet hair just kicking back on the bottom bunk bothers me more than anything else in this episode. Cellie seeeeeriously needs to be like, “Bitch, get off my mattress.”

 

Scene: Lena tries to “charm” Shirley the Olive-Skinned Queen of the Prisoners (played by steely-faced Irishwoman-by-way-of-San Diego Patrice Donnelly, 5’9”), who is now in possession of the Golden Lighter of Meaning. Lena has all the flirting game of Noel Shempsky. Shirley, on the other hand, has a wicked left hook.

 

Enter Doc (played by Davis Roberts, the Morgan Freeman of Mobile, Alabama) and his vague coffin duties. Unnecessary Wood Planing is the most overused bit of carpentry business. Artisan fucking bespoke DOC caskets hand-made by a caring and sensitive blind man? Why escape? I’ll bet the canapés in the mess are to die for.

 

“They’re all idiots,” Lena mutters to herself while attempting a prison escape inspired by the children in a Tide commercial.

 

Enter Angry Warden. EPIC BOW TIE ALERT.

 

“I’ve been thrown in solitary in better places than this!” Yeah, OK, Lena. “Good one.”

 

Wowsa, for a minute there I thought that ass-kicking scene was going to get rapey. That was some intense woman-on-woman violence. I like to think Ms. Hubley got all method and kept fighting back too hard so Ms. Donnelly (who is now, per IMDb, a personal trainer) finally had to kick her ass for real.

 

Scene: the infirmary. Why is Doc, Master Casketeer, hanging out the clinic? CASING HIS NEXT “CLIENTS,” PERHAPS?

 

Oh my. I could’ve sworn I heard, “My husband used to work with black kids.” BLIND. She said “blind kids.” Thank you for not being THAT bad, 1985.

 

Oooooooh, that broken glasses/“Let me read to you the letter that reveals whether or not you’ve received funding for your eye surgery” shit is proper devious. Respect.

 

Playing up the awfulness of climbing into a coffin that already contains a corpse is a great move. Excellent misdirection. Same for how relaxed she is when she hears the dirt hitting the lid. Jesus. Makes my palms sweat.

 

Slow descent into panic, natch. Jerk-laughing “Who do you think you are?” to the corpse is both sinister and totally on point for that character.

 

Aaaand here comes the reveal. Man, acting in a confined space with a lit match deserves its own award. (Though fire in a limited-oxygen situation is dumb. WHO’S AN IDIOT NOW, LENA?)

 

And there it is. Points for the screams (I’ve always thought full-throated screaming is an admirable talent that not all actors can commit to) and for the simultaneous stillness of the corpse. Yep, still gives me chills.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Retrospective, Of Sorts

 

The backside of the sunset.

Re-summoning creative juices while recovering from sciatica and a lull in freelance projects, I just rediscovered some old articles that held up surprisingly well on the reread. So here are six of my favorite mag stories from over the years, annotated with thoughts about what I experienced while trying to write them (because I don’t expect to be interviewed by Terry Gross any time soon).

Presented in reverse chronological order.

 

The World Rowing Championships

A narrowly defined assignment with a lot of “suggested” topics to try to pull into a continuous narrative. The volume of interviews–usually a big stressor–was actually easier to handle here, since this was one of my first assignments as an unemployed lady, and I realized it’s much easier to schedule and conduct phone conversations from the comfort of your own living room, pacing.

 

My Life as a Rink Rat

Relatively easy, top-of-my-head, no-research essay. This was something I’d toyed around with in my head for a few years, and it was fun enough to assemble the details from 12 years of firsthand experience. But more than anything, I’m hardcore chuffed that the hockey folks have been so goddamn effusive about the final product.

 

Wonder Underground

Leading up to this experience, I hated that I had to go camping by myself, but in retrospect I would absolutely repeat it, right down to the three hours (not featured in the story) that it took me to get the fire going on the coldest night of 2016. I’m tickled at how the concept of Florida-ness and all the juxtaposition of imagery came together, which was just an accidental result of mulling things over for a week or two. (Also, in real life, the cave tours were actually sold out when I arrived, so the chronology of everything is reversed.)

 

Was Justice Served?

“Investigative reporter” is a tricky title for me, considering I’ve done very few projects that required this much capital-J Journalism. And yet this is the only story I’ve ever gotten an award for, presented in the category of investigative reporting. I’m happy enough with the story itself–and I learned a ton doing the research–but I regret that a more intrepid Hannah could’ve made a much better meal of the whole topic.

Also, I still owe a couple of apologies, I think, for how cranky-stressed I was during the whole process.

Also-also, I can hear my editor’s voice in her reworking of the final graph, and that still twists my knickers.

Also-also-also, it seemed totally logical at the time, but the structure now catches my attention–the repeated chronology of events; telling the story, more than once, sort of, in overlapping sections. I dunno. Structure is a real stressor to me, and I always go about it awkward and organically, just putting one bit of information next to another to another to another, and rearranging according to what details seem to need to be revealed in what order. In this story, it’s not that it doesn’t work as-is. It’s just that I remember feeling comfortable with the order at the time, and that’s probably what seems weirdest to me most in retrospect.

 

A Day at the Beach

Like a gut-punch is the memory of trying to put this together, an assignment both massive and with vague parameters, where a big chunk of the research involved walking up to strangers and trying to perform spontaneous interviews (*shudder*). Though I recall being happy with the writing in the end, I mostly associate this story, like the Charles McKenzie one above, with a sense of regret–ie “If I hadn’t been so overwhelmed with anxiety, I would’ve done a better job.” On the reread, however, I’m pretty impressed I kept it together. I half-expected the anxiety would have bled through to the writing.

 

My Life in the Theater

This may have been my first big feature for the mag, and it required very little research beyond combing through memories, but I remember I agonized over the writing of it. I’m still surprised at how well it holds up. Twenty-six-year-old me did OK.

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“I AM Greg”

“One Christmas morning Greg, who was five at the time, woke me up to go downstairs. I looked at him and said, ‘Okay, let’s go wake up Greg.’ He looked at me with his big kindergarten eyes and nervously said, ‘I am Greg!’ From then on our family has used the phrase ‘I am Greg!’ any time one of us is having an existential breakdown.” —from Yes Please by Amy Poehler

 

Halloween night, watching the World Series with my parents. Rapt, unspeaking. Nothing but the noise of the game.

Somewhere in the bottom of the third, my phone plinks: a text message. I check it.

It’s from my mother, 10 feet behind me:

“Who is the character you are portraying?”

 

Well?

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Saturday Afternoon: A Play

The Characters:

DAD, MOM
Cheerful Baby Boomers

HANNAH
Confused peasant

The Scene:

A dining room in Florida. Outside, rain.

 

ACT ONE

SCENE ONE

The table contains a newspaper, a pile of reading glasses, a pile of watches with broken wristbands, a pile of coins. DAD, in a skullcap, sits at the table in his wheelchair, sorting.

 

Enter HANNAH

 

HANNAH: You’re wearing a yarmulke?

DAD: Yes. I was in the mood.

 

Enter MOM, on a knee scooter

 

MOM: Have you ever opened this garbage can and found a live opossum in it?

 

Fin

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Banana Hammer Blog Drill. Serious This Time.

 

So here we are. I’m sitting here on a Sunday, kicking back with a beer and the Bucs game, pot roast in the slow cooker, NPR in the recent past, while outside, Autumn sits cowering in the corner, whimpering, asking Abusive Asshole Summer when it can come out.

And I’m texting Thing 1 about making a coat rack out of bananas and hammers, and I feel a twinge of regret for this, the long-neglected blog.

And I’m (relatively) caught up on freelance assignments, with some outstanding income that’s making me feel (however temporarily) kinda secure in this stupid freelance life.

And I’ve developed an admirable writing habit that’s mired of late between actual work assignments that feel very much like work, and personal projects that also feel like work with an extra dose of self-indulgence.

And I had a dream last night about writing a poem about “putting my parents in the zoo,” and I was like, “Yeah, I should do that.”

And if I can ever get past these occasional, self-indulgent, “Long time, no blog!” posts, I might actually produce something amusing that my friends would enjoy, instead of spending all my time focused on writing things intended for people I’ll never meet.

And I think my parents would really like the zoo, honestly.

And I’m tired of not being excited by my BananaHammer FB notices, or the random views I get because somebody googled “tequila IV.”

And I need a place to go every time I think I should do a thread on Twitter.

And I really, really, really enjoyed my little foray into post-apocalyptic fiction, but I never quite got comfortable with it. (Hence its disappearance from this site.) (Available upon request.) (…maybe.)

And I really, seriously, need to figure out a way to talk/write about myself without cringing with self-consciousness. (Ugh, self-indulgent. Ugh, writing about writing. Ugh, ugh, ugh.)

And come to think of it, I put my sisters in the zoo, too. Do they even let you make coat racks at the zoo?

Anyway, maybe this’ll continue. Maybe next week this space will feature an amusing anecdote about dive bars, or a tirade about language, or a poem about angry neuroses set to the tune of a song by one of America’s most beloved Mid-Century satirical musicians.

Or maybe there’ll be a poem about familial zoo-placement. Or maybe a picture of a handmade coat rack.

…or maybe it’s 2019 and this is still the most recent post on this site. I dunno. We shall see.

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The Day in Messages

Wherein Little J and I discuss pop-culture doppelgangers and eventually come upon a crater of shitty, shitty rock music. (Hint: http://www.mtv.com/artists/theory-of-a-deadman/related-artists/?filter=similar)

 

9:22 a.m.

ME: I feel like the chick who plays Jessie’s girlfriend on Breaking Bad [Krysten Ritter] goes on the Aubrey Plaza/Zooey Deschanel/etc. list.

 

LITTLE J: Hehe, yes. Partly because she’s in one of those “apparently there’s this show that I’ve never seen before”—Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23 (a mental category that 2 Broke Girls inhabits).

Though the Girls lasted longer than the Apartment, apparently.

 


Sexy-Chris_612x380_0

 

10:47 a.m.

ME: It’s Hemsworth and not Pine that I was (at least name-wise) more likely to confuse with Pratt. But in trying to figure out who the other Chris-es were, remembering that you’d mentioned Pine, I was like, “No, that’s not one…I think it was the guy from Star Trek? Oh…”

 

LITTLE J: Pratt *is* kinda halfway between Hemsworth and Pine.

 

ME: I think I’d put Hemsworth in the middle, but if I think too hard about it they become the same person again.

 

LITTLE J: Heh, like a Magic Eye poster.

 


highly-suspect

2:14 p.m.

ME: After listening to as much Highly Suspect as I could tolerate, I’ve fallen down a shitty-hard-rock rabbit hole.

I should know better than to pursue any list so heavily poopulated by Papa Roach.

The typo stays.

 

LITTLE J: I wanted to make a joke about breaking the habit, but I think that’s the wrong (c)rap/rock band

 

ME: Glad I never bothered to distinguish between Theory of a Deadman, Theory of Dying, etc. etc.

Fuck, Art of Dying…see?

 

LITTLE J: As I Lay Dying

Hollywood Undead

 

ME: I’m already sad I know Five-Finger Death Punch.

…which is not, I now realize, Finger 11.

 

LITTLE J: Hahah, true.

 

ME: WTF, music industry.

 

HOMECOMING: Godsmack comes together for the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival at the Comcast Center on Sunday.

 

LITTLE J: I like the Alice in Chains song => Godsmack, or Machinehead band => Bush song

 

ME: Also, they’re not Mushroom Head…something to keep in mind.

 

LITTLE J: Good point.

 


art-of-dying-interview-1247380615

4:06 p.m.

ME: Oh dear god…this is the throat-punchiest page ever generated by the internet: http://www.mtv.com/artists/theory-of-a-deadman/related-artists/?filter=similar

 

LITTLE J: Black Stone Cherry and Buckcherry: also not the same.

 

ME: Hinder, Staind…

Hinder-630x420

LITTLE J: I was sitting outside Taco Tuesday a couple weeks back, and this little Miata rolls up looking for a spot, coffee-can muffler braaap braaap-ing, racer-style rims and tires, backs into the “we’d like to turn here” non-spot on the corner of the building, a tiny little man gets out, and of course the song on the stereo was Hinder.

 

ME: Haha that’s amazing.

 

LITTLE J: It was too perfect of a set, like you should slam that all down and yell rummy.

Like all you needed was a spray tan and an Affliction shirt (which, in my mind, he has, but I don’t think that’s quite fair).

 

ME: How is it that Affliction reached and breached the douchebaggery of TapOut so quickly?

 

LITTLE J: Yeah, I dunno.

 


the

4: 47 p.m.

ME: You’ve gotta wonder what you’ve done wrong in your life to be on a list where Chad Kroeger and Scott Stapp both appear TWICE.

 

LITTLE J: Hahhaa I hadn’t noticed Evans Blue vs. Blue October.

 

ME: 3 Days Grace, 3 Doors Down and 30 Seconds to Mars—please line up single-file; I only have one lance.

 

LITTLE J: 12 Stones, 10 years…

 

ME: I feel like there was a time in my life when I actually knew Saving Abel, but maybe I’m just thinking of Gerunding Bandname.

 

LITTLE J: Breaking Benjamin? Drowning Pool? Stabbing Westward? Thriving Ivory?

 

ME: This game makes my soul hurt.

 

 

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