Now Playing: Gruff Rhys--"Skylon"
There's a dead Cheeto down on the bus floor
What'll it want when it knocks on your door?
This, my friends, is what happens when I attempt to write poetry. One wholly unsought consequence of my visit home for Thanksgiving is that I discovered a file of my old poems on disk, many dating from over a decade ago. For whatever reason, I've never been terribly passionate about poetry, and I'm not sure whatever possessed me to start writing it (guilt about not pulling my weight as a "sullen teen"? Could have been anything, really). Like much of my older prose, it frequently makes me wince to read it. Some of it was all right, I guess, but it's all terribly arch and romantic, and it tries too, too hard. That overly strenuous attempt at "literary quality" is probably what made me snap and write the following in the late summer of 2001, after which I'm pretty sure I never wrote another word of verse.
Why do those gnomes persist in stealing my sugar?
I think the boiled ocelot we had for dinner last night was undercooked.
That's why those little bastards want it--they like their ocelot sweet!
Sweet, hot, sexy, juicy tropical bite-size minimammals--
Good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, Sunday School picnics...
Those festive little fatherings where I press Leslie's luscious lips to mine,
Caressing her sweet velvety skin beneath the thin white cotton sundress--
My tongue thrumming about my mouth with animal passion, waiting to enter hers--
And then she asks me: Where's this week's boiled ocelot?
That's all she cares about, Leslie, my tarnished, greedy, hungry pixie;
Damn her, she's working together with those thieving gnomes--
I see them now, lurkiong beyond the ill-lit hedges, carving knives at the ready,
Knowing all I have to offer the world are meals of cute little animals!
I must calm myself, go home, and read Bret Easton Ellis by firelight,
Pretending with each page he'll get better, while knowing in my heart he sucks,
And then the call from the Meat Company of the Jade Tassels arrives--
They want my recipe, their robot workers anxious to prove their loyalty,
Not a Hormel striker among them, damn their sojulless metallic hearts--
If I'm ever to afford my DVD player, I must sell out, give in, hands up, palms spread,
So my dream of seeing The Longest Yard can merge with the realm of concrete reality.
And so, Leslie behind me, her shotgun barrel in my back and an army of gnomes at hers,
I trudge wearily into the Palace of Jade Tassels, each hour possibly my last.
El Presidente rises to greet me, his elephantine jowls dripping with sweat and saliva,
And his head explodes, cut in eighty billion by the well-armed diamond shards of Winkles,
Winkles the Warrior Gnome, whose killings and machinations birthed the fifty scalps at his waist!
I fall headlong into the fray, wallowing in rancid ocelot meat and stringy vitals,
As robots and gnomes join claws and war-axes in furious, tempestuous combat.
I see Leslie smiling at me, growing a mysterious tumescence beside her thigh,
Murderously visible beneath the black spandex of her warrior catsuit.
She takes aim at me, showing her love with yet one more... single... bullet.
It reads to me like Beowulf performed by Sid and Marty Krofft, and probably sounded a lot more entertaining screamed aloud by the author at the Avenue Bar in Kent, Ohio, six years ago, to the music of the House Popes, a local northeast Ohio band made up almost entirely of professors and grad students, who'd foolishly invited him to do so. He just as foolishly accepted, but I think everyone had fun. I got pretty drunk, anyhow, and to invoke the circumstances of the poem itself, at least it's better than Bret Easton Ellis. Hell, maybe I will start writing the stuff again. A lot of the old stuff was "better" than "Rollo's Lament," but nowhere near as fun.
A Jersey Tale (2003): Sometimes you want a good, honest meat-and-potatoes movie about ordinary people, one almost wholly uninflected by what's often misinterpreted as "irony" or flashy, showy camera angles. For that reason, despite its vaguely disposable patina, I hope movies like A Jersey Tale stick around forever. Ray Morales (Rafael Sardina) works as a shoe salesman but dreams of becoming a DJ, and ends up working for local criminal kingpin "Chunks" Colon (Joe Grifasi) in order to make it happen. In the course of the action, he has to lean on a pawnbroker of Armenian descent (David Margulies) and his ridiculously beautiful niece (Marjan Neshat). It seems pretty workaday stuff, but therein lies its charm. The director, Michael Tolajian, attempts no fireworks but shows a quietly sure foot, touching lightly on issues such as the Armenian Genocide (without making it seem too preachy) and handling the surprisingly bittersweet (and mildly implausible) ending without fuss. The cast is very good, but my favorite had to be Ray's buddy Papo (Frank Harts), whose Tarantinian monologues behind the steering wheel hint at a hilariously vast degree of sexual frustration.
Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-79 (2006): Palin was always my favorite member of Monty Python, and perhaps inevitably went on to have my favorite solo career after the TV show ended in 1974, running the cult Victorian-Edwardian parody series Ripping Yarns (1976-79), appearing in all the Python movies, forging a respectable acting reputation in such movies as The Missionary (1982), A Private Function (1987), and American Friends (1991, which he also directed), and best of all, making a series of wonderful travel documentaries in the nineties and aughts exposing him as a wonderfully witty and human observer of the species. It's a pleasure to find that his diaries are just as good. They stretch from the beginning of Monty Python to the making of Life of Brian, sketch the fortunes, both private and public, of Palin and the troupe (his father's decline and eventual death from Parkinson's is movingly told) and preserve a fascinating period in American and British history, even more fascinating as seen through Palin's eyes (one of my favorite moments comes as Palin describes what he believes to be the final day of the original Python troupe in 1975, and all he wants to do is scamper about with his kids in the snow and hurry back home to catch Doctor Who--by my reckoning the final episode of "The Sontaran Experiment"). One service the diaries render is to remind readers of how genuinely brilliant and serious the Pythons were; Palin's observations on how a comedy writer learns how to act and direct are engrossing, and John Cleese's diatribe against Shakespeare (that he couldn't get five minutes on TV with his jokes) is particularly memorable (and rather revealing). These were not people to be taken lightly on any level, and Palin probably least of all.