Afternoon at Johnnie’s

April 5, 2014

With wizened solid blue skin which rivaled that of Papa Smurf, nobody would have guessed that Citem was a twenty-three year old man named Cedric Taggart.  To most, he was just another generic Plinusian, whose piloting of the planet’s premier spacecraft was hardly taken into account by the populace.  But to the planet’s king, Johnnie Luggz, Cedric was that rare link to the human world which he had abandoned and occasionally desired small portions of.

            “All those years I felt like the token alien among happy humans,” spoke King Johnnie to Citem.  “And now here I am among the aliens, and I fear happiness is still not with me.”  Johnnie took a swig of skuzzwater as he turned his grizzled head toward his confidante.  “Every stage of my life has been the same.  They loved me for my plays, but all my life I’ve been nothing but a poet.  I unleashed said verse upon the masses, and was met with critical scorn.  The two loves of my life saw the Johnnie I feared the existence of, and married my playwright companions.  As I was loveless, my kin recommended Polly, to whom I was wed—a woman I could not love.  I tried to salvage the remains of my long-lost love life by christening my daughters the names of both my old flames, a choice which left Polly in tears and ended our matrimony once she found out.  I send gifts down to the girls every week from above, and they are less than grateful, as ungrateful as Polly herself.  What else can I do?”

            “I think you should give your Earth life a rest,” said Citem.  “When I think of my own father abandoning me and servicing himself to pimps and gangs, I lose track of my blessings upon Plinus.  So few have been king of a country, let alone an entire planet, and you are lucky to have had that honor bestowed upon yourself.  How dare you sacrifice this position in favor of Polly, this wench you never cared for to begin with!”

            “I agree it seems trivial in comparison,” said Johnnie.  “But my identity crisis is more complex than it seems.  Growing up a small-town Jewish kid was no picnic either—all those worthless days of Sunday school with Jerome, Owen, Sherm, and the like…”

Mr. Peabody and Sherman review

March 14, 2014

Fifth time’s the charm, I suppose. After four critically and commercially failed adaptations of the animated properties of Jay Ward, Saturday morning cartoonist extraordinaire, from the 1992 Showtime exclusive Boris and Natasha to 2000’s CGI disaster The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dreamworks has finally done Ward justice with a hilarious and heartfelt joyride through the lives of brilliant (and not at all humble) time-traveling mutt Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell in a droll transatlantic accent one hair sans fleas from Kelsey Grammar) and his dorky but dutiful adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles).

This time around, the duo is joined by newcomer Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), a spunky 7-year-old blonde who undergoes a transformation from a stereotypical spoiled girl to a fellow WABAC machine passenger, though her primary role as Sherman’s love interest unfortunately keeps her independence in check. A supporting cast—comprised of Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld), and even Mel Brooks, whose cameo in a subtle nod to History of the World Pt. I.—gives the film potential, which it follows through with an uproarious (and maybe a tad too sophisticated for younger members of its target audience) script loaded with historical in-jokes, slapstick, puns, and wit, the likes of which haven’t been seen in mainstream children’s animation since Steven Spielberg’s Animaniacs went off the air in 1998.

Though this may seem like manna from Hollywood for moviegoers disgruntled with the recent intellectual decline of family cinema, discretion and humorous evaluation are both advised for pure historical and mythological sticklers since Sherman and Peabody’s space-time continuum is one where George Washington (Animaniacs’ Jess Harnell) cut down no cherry trees but Marie Antoinette (Laurie Fraser) said “let them eat cake;” the machismo-fueled Agamemnon’s (Warburton) army during the Trojan War includes the likes of Odysseus (Tom McCrath), Achilles, and Oedipus alongside Menelaus and Ajax (Al Rodrigo); and Leonardo da Vinci (Stanley Tucci) employs the help of a dog and his boy to win the smile of his irritable girlfriend Mona Lisa (Childrens Hospital’s Lake Bell).

But what’s truly impressive about Mr. Peabody and Sherman is the thoughtful handling of its somewhat unusual dramatic themes. It was a wise decision for director Rob Minkoff to tweak the relationship between the characters from Jay Ward’s original vision of canine master and human pet to the more humane one of father and son. Though Sherman may still address his adoptive father as “Mr. Peabody” instead of “Dad,” they share an emotional bond that’s threatened on multiple occasions throughout the film by remorseless and rotund Child Services director Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney), who believes a dog to be an unfit guardian for a 7-year-old schoolboy, regardless of intelligence, and is willing to separate the duo at any given moment in time. Grunion may be a bit too derivative of the equally detestable bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter, but that only makes viewers’ sympathies with Peabody and Sherman stronger.

But alas, Peabody is not quite perfection. In an era in which every major animated feature and Walking With Dinosaurs has been rendered in CGI, many prize-worthy scripts have been weighed down by three-dimensional clunkiness. Over the course of 19 years, Pixar has time and time again succeeded in conveying realism, but Dreamworks in particular has been known to stroll in and out of the uncanny valley from time to time with even its best-loved franchise Shrek little more than a pop-up cartoon. Though it pains me to pick on the poor little guy, Sherman is that valley. In the original shorts, he was a series of lines that could be sketched in a mere minute, but here his exaggeratedly eager grins and other facial features overpower the viewer while making him look more chipmunk than human; it is only due to his stoic lack of expression that Peabody is more tolerable. Yet both of them are not at all well-designed for action sequences, with their oversized heads acting as baggage during the slightest movement. Jay Ward’s animation style was so simplistic it made Hanna-Barbera look high-tech, with critics likening it to an illustrated radio series due to its reliance on witty dialogue and characterization over state-of-the-art imagery. Though it is more difficult to overlook an overdeveloped animated universe than an underdeveloped one, I will only subtract $2 from Peabody for its flawed CGI. If you can only see one animated movie this year, see The LEGO Movie. But if you have room for one more, give Peabody a shot as well.

Walking With Dinosaurs review

January 14, 2014

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Walking With Dinosaurs may have been based on the 1999 BBC documentary series of the same title, but otherwise the two Mesozoic media have little in common. The miniseries succeeded at exploring an era ending 65 million years ago as realistically as the Discovery Channel explores the lives of existing species; the film is so insultingly oversimplified towards what it believes would entertain its target audience that each and every time the scientific name of a dinosaur appears onscreen, one is shocked that they didn’t substitute “longneck” or “sharptooth” for “Apatosaurus” or “Tyrannosaurus.” Released only four years as Toy Story and the same year as Toy Story 2, the miniseries ambitiously utilized the novelty of CGI to heighten the believability; the film only utilizes (rather unimpressive) CGI because, in a time when even Disney has shut down their traditional animation department after the failure of their last animated feature The Princess in the Frog, CGI is simply “what kids’ movies are doing these days.”

As Pixar animator Brad Bird stated, “If you talk down to a kid or aim specifically at a kid, most kids aren’t [going to] like it…because most kids can feel when you are being patronizing.” Unfortunately, Walking With Dinosaurs employs nearly every cliché of mediocre children’s programming, never missing an opportunity for scatological humor to “enhance” its ridiculously formulaic and shabby plot. And what a plot! In the tradition of such apparent children’s animated classics as Osmosis Jones, Dinosaurs begins in the live action world of the present day with a young boy named Ricky (Charlie Rowe) whose parents are forcing him to attend an archaelogical dig with them. A spoiled brat, Ricky complains that he doesn’t “want to dig up dead things.” Then a Spanish-accented bird named Alex (voiced by John Leguizamo) tells the boy that his ancestors (at least the BBC assumed that kids know birds evolved from dinosaurs, right?) were more interesting than he thinks, finding it necessary to add that Ricky’s own Australopithecine ancestors were “pretty ugly!” In a hasty matter of seconds, Alex transforms from a parrot into an Archaeopteryx while turning Ricky into a dinosaur and transports the two of them into the dinosaur kingdom.

In all honesty, the three story arcs which follow the world’s worst exposition might actually not be so unspeakably abysmal had they been void of dialogue. Though the film’s distributor BBC Earth American believes American children would only enjoy dinosaurs if they were constantly saying things like “This [dinosaur] is huge, which means I should probably steer clear of its butt” and “You kicked his butt all the way to the Stone Age,” most parents would disapprove of such rude language, only further alienating the target audience in the film’s expectations. I have seen my fair share of children’s dinosaur films, from The Land Before Time and every sequel up to the point where even the filmmakers, clearly a far cry from Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Don Bluth, lost count of their hour-long direct-to-video creations, to the grammatically incorrect cult classic We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story (Barney is a dinosaur in name only, or DINO, and therefore exempt), and none of them are as degrading to the human mind, regardless of the age, as Walking With Dinosaurs.

Blood and Guts in Hebrew School: They Tried to Kill Us, We Won, Let’s Eat Brains!!!

January 14, 2014

One of the perks of Reform Judaism is that Shavuos, one of the three traditionally major Jewish holidays and only the celebration of Moses’ retrieval of the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, is all but uncelebrated by the sect’s adherents. And while they rarely realize it, a lack of Shavuos in their lives leads to a period in May in which they begin to lose touch with their Jewish identity. Incidentally, this was as unapparent to the Beth L’Chayim Hebrew School class to the rest of Reform Judaism. These eight adolescent boys and girls were eagerly chatting among themselves about an upcoming British zombie flick, Dwight of the Living Dead, which would be released to the city of Fairview’s cinemas shortly after class, when their withered Hebrew instructor, Mr. Jerome Shylock, nervously staggered into the classroom.
“So, Mr. Shylock, I was wondering, ‘bayit’ or ‘beth’ means ‘house,’ and ‘lechem’ means ‘bread?’ So does that mean that ‘Bethlehem’ means ‘House of Bread?’” asked Shermy Neuman, the most studious of the upcoming bar mitzvah boys.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Shylock, shaking his wrinkled head in a way which indicated that his answer was actually “No.”
“What’s the matter with Shylock?” Shermy discreetly whispered to his neighbor, Owen Fairview, who sat memorizing the V’ahavta prayer, homework he had neglected until the final minute.
“Didn’t you hear? Today’s the day Rabbi Mandlebar’s supposed to sit in the classroom,” said Owen. “One slipup from us and Shylock could lose his job!” Rabbi Mandlebar and Mr. Shylock were never on good terms, as Mr. Shylock, an immigrant of Litvak origin, tended to deviate from the borderline secular curriculum Reform Judaism provided, while Mandlebar was a staunchly Reform (perhaps even a tad Reconstructionist) rabbi.
“Class, as I mentioned during Wednesday’s class, today a special visitor will observe us and I want you should all be on your best behavior, nu?” said Mr. Shylock, breathing down the students’ necks with a sour gas that smelled of kugel.
“Told ya,” Owen snickered at a shivering Shermy, who alerted his neighbor of Mr. Shylock’s skeletal figure hovering over him.
“Owen, the fact that your father is the same guy whose family founded this town means nothing to Mr. Shylock,” said the exasperated Hebrew teacher.
You just hate him because he’s a goy, thought Owen. I’ve got a Jewish mother, isn’t that enough for you?
“Um, Mr. Shylock, isn’t it time to call roll?”
“Oy gevalt, that I’d better get on!” exclaimed Mr. Shylock, pulling a little yellow list out of his Levi’s. “Fairview, Owen, you’re here, of course.”
I’m only first alphabetically to him, thought Owen. I do all the work and what do I get?
“Greenfeld, Jeffrey, good to have you back! Tell me about Hawaii, how was it?”
“Cancun, actually,” replied Jeff Greenfeld, massaging his sunburned neck.
“Neuman, Shermy, you are prepared to read in front of Rabbi Mandlebar already, I can tell. Patimkin, Melissa and Rubenfeld, Leslie,” he greeted two heavily made up zaftig young women clad in Abercrombie and Aeropostale, respectively, who rolled their unnaturally blue eyes at him as they worked their manicured fingers away at their silver flip phones.
“Steinem, Melvin and Truman, Harvey, that leaves us with,” concluded Mr. Shylock. “Now then, who here can recite us the full V’ahavta?”
“What about Bernard Wattenmaker?” asked Owen of the teacher’s pet. “Where is he, anyway?”
“Oh! Glad that you took note! Yes, our own Bernie Vottenmacher is busy on an internship with the Brixton City Detective Agency! Not even thirteen years old yet, our Bernie is, and already what a mensch!”
“Even I showed up today!” groaned Jeff Greenfeld.
“I thought Judaism’s not supposed to have a Jesus,” muttered Shermy.
“A mensch? Oh, and I’m sure he thinks the same about us!” added Owen.
“Owen, the last of your straws, that was!” yelled Mr. Shylock. As he approached the Hebrew school troublemaker, he noticed a bright violet ticket stub atop the boy’s prayerbook and with unbelievable agility, picked it up for examination.
“Dwight of the Living Dead, this says. What is this Dwight of the Living Dead, Onan?” Owen winced as he disliked being addressed by his Hebrew name, especially by those outside of his immediate family.
“It’s a movie…about zombies,” said Owen. “Could I have that back, please?”
“Why not a movie about a nice Jewish monster like the Golem?” wondered Mr. Shylock.
“My precioussssss,” slithered Shermy, though as usual his clownish outbursts were undetected by Mr. Shylock’s radar. The entire class with the exception of Owen began to chuckle, though they immediately stifled said chuckles.
“A gremlin, a robit, even one of the little greenman, this I could forgive!” ranted Mr. Shylock. “Listen to Coast to Coast ever? The little greenman is being replaced by the big greyman! Such a good show, radio…after Seinfeld ended, TV isn’t the same…Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Daily Show maybe…”
Harvey Truman, a tiny mousy-haired boy who that November had won Beit L’Chayim’s class election despite the fact that he had no Jewish (or otherwise) friends (perhaps the voters confused him with the similarly named Shermy?) pointed a pale freckled finger in the direction of the doorway, where a slouching gray-skinned figure slobbered on his tattered tallis.
“Oy gevalt, the big greyman!” gasped Mr. Shylock.
“Like, is that Rabbi Mandlebar?” asked Leslie Rubenfeld, momentarily looking up from her texting addiction.
“Shermy, show this Rabbi Mandlebar how well you’ve memorized the V’ahavta, why don’t you?” asked Mr. Shylock.
“Somehow I don’t think that’s on his mind right now,” said Shermy. “Didn’t you see Plan 9 from Outer Space? Really? Plan 8? Plan 7? It’s no worse than Chaim Potok’s The Chosen or Fiddler on the Roof, so I thought maybe…”
“Sheket bevakasha,” barked Mr. Shylock, finally noticing that Owen wasn’t the only smart-aleck to be reckoned with. “Now then, how does one deal with such a greyman?”
“You can’t kill that which is already dead!” said Melvin Steinem.
“Good, for as Moses learned in a month such as this thousands of years ago, kill you shall not. Now if only that schlemiel of a rebbe would let me teach you of Shavuos, this not might be such a troubling lesson, maybe…” Perhaps sensing Mr. Shylock’s insult despite his unfortunate state, the zombie rabbi attacked his employee, biting his already decaying throat. The Beit L’Chayim Hebrew school class fled in terror to the nearest movie theater, deciding to view an animated Adam Sandler comedy instead of Dwight of the Living Dead.
* * *
It’s great to be back, thought Bernard Wattenmaker as he walked inside the Beit L’Chayim synagogue, waving at the detective who drove him back from the internship. I just hope I don’t get in trouble for being tardy. I know how no-nonsense Mr. Shylock is. However, instead of being greeted by the usual praises of his doting instructor and the usual jeers of his classmates, Bernard found himself face-to-face with two gray-skinned slovenly males, one of them extending a violet cardboard stub in his general direction.
“Oh hi, Mr. Shylock! Good afternoon, Rabbi! I for one enjoyed your sermon on the sex lives of the prophets. Mr. Shylock, is that a detention slip?” asked Bernard. “I didn’t know they had detention in Hebrew school.”
Without even a “sheket bevakasha,” Mr. Shylock made sure that Bernard never spoke again.

Monkeys in Space

January 6, 2014

When the Soviet Union launched a supple supply of rhesus monkeys throughout the 1980s
We Americans grew paranoid and envious and felt we had to compete
Which is why anytime we turn on the TV to certain news stations we’d rather not mention by name
We are greeted but not welcomed by a giggling gaggle of gibbons in orbit
Who fling anything they can at the globe beneath them
While insisting that we wear nothing but banana slippers on their feet like they do
Walking in any other shoes is strictly prohibited and subjects one to 50 years of being flung at somewhere in the Caribbean
Which may seem silly, but animal behavior is ritualistic and predictable
Warlike apes tend to hit certain targets more frequently than others
What can we do about them? you ask
Well, I guess we can wait until the next one takes a flight down to Earth
Where it plays a long few rounds of golf before a bubble bath in Davy Jones’ locker
Which is further polluted by 57 varieties of gas from the rocket as it ascends back to outer space
While believing that this is all for some greater cause and that some higher power is steering the spaceship
Whitewashed clouds with golden streaks can be seen by only them in the jet black sky.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty review

January 4, 2014

One of Roger Ebert’s most respected philosophies as a film critic was judging each film by its own merits. In some cases, this proved especially difficult, and if Ebert were alive today, he might well agree that Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is such a case. Adapted from James Thurber’s groundbreaking 1939 short story of the same name, which was previously made into a 1947 Danny Kaye feature, Mitty ultimately succeeds in little more than breaking away entirely from its source material. Indeed, the film is so creatively unfocused and indecisive (as one might expect from a picture billed as a “fantasy-adventure comedy-drama”) that utilizing Thurber may very well have redeemed Stiller’s film.

It is somewhat shocking to realize that the days when Ben Stiller was an inescapable name in comedies are nearly a decade behind us, with his recent vehicles few, far between, and overall mediocre at best (see Greenberg or Little Fockers … wait a minute, don’t). Mitty is similarly no return to form, with Stiller playing the titular role in a fatigued, expressionless manner unfit for a character that undergoes such fantastic adventures through both daydreams and reality. In addition to the character’s trademark “zoning out,” Mitty is barely a functioning human, rarely speaking comprehensively, entering a near-catatonic state in the middle of a crowded street, and ignoring every little word uttered at him in what is either a misinterpretation of the concept of Walter Mitty or a cruelly exaggerated mockery of those with attention deficit disorder.

Even more jarring is the lack of development regarding the supporting cast (i.e. everyone but Stiller). Originally, Mitty was plagued with a domineering wife and his melodramatic, sometimes fatal fantasies were escape mechanisms. Perhaps because the idea of a henpecked husband as a lead character could be viewed as non-PC today, Stiller’s loopiness can be more easily interpreted as boredom with his personal alienation and lack of experience. His acquaintances consist of a doting but senile widowed mother (Shirley MacLaine), a sister (Kathryn Hawn) who does little more here than portray Rizzo in an off-Broadway and off-screen production of Grease, and his colleagues at Life magazine, managed by the arrogant Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), whose goals as a detestable antagonist fall short; his frustrations with the incompetence of Mitty, whom he naturally dismisses as a spacey “Major Tom” in tribute to David Bowie, are nearly sympathetic and more believable than the fact that such a prestigious magazine would hire someone as unprofessional as Mitty in the first place. The two largest vacancies in Mitty’s life—his lack of a father figure and significant other—form the apex of his pathetic life. The premature death of Mitty’s father led him to seek refuge in, of all places, the symbolically titled Papa John’s pizzeria (Stiller’s conjuring of Freud could use some work). Similarly, his infatuation with fellow Life employee Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig) is disturbingly obsessive. Like a thirty-something Little Red Haired Girl, she barely knows he exists, and his (and the audience’s) knowledge of her is limited to the few facts she shares to the world on her eHarmony account. Is she aloof or a so-called “manic pixie dream girl” waiting to happen? Don’t expect to find an answer here.

During one of his countless daydreams, Mitty envisions himself as suffering from “Benjamin Button’s disease” and Wiig’s character taking care of him during his winter years as an wrinkled infant who acts like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Though the inane humor of this moment made me cringe, Stiller could have also benefitted from adapting Thurber’s story in a similar fashion to how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was put on screen: Expanding its scope instead of digressing abruptly. Halfway through the film, Stiller almost entirely abandons Mitty’s fantasies, placing him on a real-world trek through multiple countries including Greenland (essentially depicted as Solvang with ice), Iceland (Solvang without ice), and the Himalayas, all while dodging a shark attack and an airport arrest reminiscent of his “bomb” incident from Meet the Parents. While this is intended to make Mitty’s once mundane life even more eventful than his overactive imagination, it is almost less engaging than Mitty’s most mundane fantasy (making a snide remark at his boss’ beard in an elevator)—a shaggy dog story that left this viewer sighing in disappointment, much like Mitty himself each time he flew back from his personal Mars to find himself living in a world every bit as empty as it was when he left it.

Milton’s House

December 15, 2013

As Walter and Marvin Jid sat in the uncomfortable black booster seats of Dad’s 1984 Honda Carpenter, they innocently listened to their parents’ conversations.

“So, what’s this movie about?” wondered Mom in her high-pitched voice which at one point belonged to a class president.

“Oh, it’s just about this guy who travels through time.  Don’t ask me why Marshall wants to see it.  It’s pretty surreal, I’d assume, knowing Marshall.”  Dad chuckled a bit.

“Where are we going?” Walter curiously asked for the third time.

“I already told you,” Dad snapped, lighting a cigarette as Mom drove, “you and Marvin are going to Grandpa’s house!  And I mean Grandpa Milton, since my dad’s in reha—Texas!”

            “Okay,” Walter laughed, and Marvin stared at him with his blue eyes.  Marvin had always been the more outgoing and practical of the twins, since birth, when Walter was a downright clueless infant.

Mom turned an abrupt left, two cars honking wildly at her.  They sped onto a winding dirt road which led to Frisco Country Club.

All of a sudden, the dirt turned into grass, the smog into blue sky.  Mom and Dad had reached Frisco Country Club, their last stop on the way to see Back to the Future with Uncle Marshall, Mom’s stepbrother.

A security guard with a badge reading, “DONALD C. UT” stood near a bold green gate.

“We’re here to see the Lymans,” shouted Dad from the passenger seat as Mom rolled down the window.

“Mmkay,” coughed the security officer, and shooed the Jids into an area with enormous mansions made of stone and brick.

“Wow!” Walter yelled.

Marvin shook his five-year old head, his combed brown hair shaking with the wind.  “Seen it.”

Mom took another abrupt left turn onto Carver Drive, where the abodes were a bit smaller, and not considered mansions anymore.

*                                   *                                               *

Dad rang the doorbell.

“Hello?” screamed the nasal voice belonging to Walter’s Grandma Rosalyn.  Grandma Rosalyn was married to Grandpa Milton.  Mom preferred Milton so much over her real father; she named Walter “Walter Milton Jid.”  Dad teased Milton quite a bit behind his back, but besides that had a great respect for him that nearly mirrored his wife’s respect for Milton Lyman.

“Hi, Rosalyn!” Dad said, smirking a bit, and folding away his cigarette.  Rosalyn’s advanced age had brought her memory loss that was definitely not Alzheimer’s, but still irritating, as she remembered her daughter Wendy’s birth much better than her recent Japanese cruise she took with her stepson Marshall.

“Hello Wayne!” greeted Rosalyn Lyman.  Walter was screaming in his mother’s arms—“I wanna see the movie!”

“It’s an adults-only movie night,” Mom lied as Marvin eagerly rushed up to his spoiling white-haired grandmother.

“Yeah, it’s f—PG.  Walter can see it with a friend.”

“Who’s that one boy from kindergarten Walter talks about?  Lenny?  Larry?”

Dad ignored his mom’s curious statement.  He turned around and the young parents left Milton’s Villa for the cozy 1984 Carpenter.

When they entered the house, they saw all kinds of lavish portraits on the walls depicting various ancestors and relatives.  There was the baby picture of Ursula Myst, Mom’s oldest sister, who had died in infancy, and Valerie Myst, who although being a gorgeous brunette with chestnut hair that perfectly matched her wide eyes, had chosen to be committed to a conservative nunnery—and now studied God under the name “Sister Val.”

There was also a hidden picture of a man no one in the Lyman household dared mention, the man who carried the Spanish name of Myst: Joaquin Tucson Myst.  This man had actually sued his wife on trivial grounds—while he was an irresponsible parent.  He eventually died in the Gulf War a decade after his wife divorced him.  No one had seen him since their divorce; he had just appeared in an obituary.  So it goes.

Walter screamed and kicked on the faux bronze floor the second his parents left the home.  Milton entered the foyer, as Rosalyn bent down to care for the five-year old.

Milton muttered something under his onion breath that sounded like, “Drat.”  He was a rather yuppie-looking man, with combed gray hair and a striped white polo shirt.  He carelessly dragged Walter into the closest bedroom, and flicked on the light switch.

Walter’s young eyes scanned the bedroom.  This had to be Marshall’s room, as there was a peashooter and ammo on the mahogany nightstand, and posters of two popular sports baseball players: Buck Smith and Bob Cozak.  A Jim Soot rookie card hung from the wall as well.

“You’ve gotta stop crying, boy,” snapped Milton.  Marvin was nowhere in sight, in actuality being fed frozen yogurt by Rosalyn.

“I can’t!” squealed Walter.  “Take me home, Milton!”

“That’s Grandpa!” he snarled.  Milton lit a fancy caramel-scented cigarillo and threw it at Walter’s hand.  Walter started to cry again.

“Boy, you can’t cry like this.  It’s called matoority.”  He mispronounced the relatively easy word.

“Grandpa, take me home!” screamed Walter, his eyes reddening as his hand was burnt by the still-existing flame.

Walter ran into Rosalyn’s individual kitchen, where the senile grandmother was fixing Marvin some rich chocolate pudding.

“Grandma, take me home!” he screamed.  Grandma stopped spoon feeding, and turned her wrinkled head towards Walter.

“Walter got burnt by my cigarette,” fibbed Milton, after chasing after his grandson.  The rest is a blur, but Walter woke up in his own bedroom.  It is suspected that Milton put him to sleep—drugged him, not killed him.

Red Collared

December 15, 2013

“Oh man,” I say, as I get a call from my White boss.  “It’s a Saturday and I still have to get to work at Heart Organ Corp.”

The White boss, pretending he doesn’t hear my selfish complaints, tells me that as usual, I must get to the Aorta Wing.  And I am shocked when I find out that a criminal who appears to be the infamous H.I.V. (Harold Irving Vasquez) has teamed up with the Flu-men.

“Yeah, turns out Mr. Lemmon’s been workin’ the reproducer like crazy,” says the White boss.  And a bunch of you Reds have died already.”  He forces a nervous chuckle.

I nervously chuckle back.  I wasn’t completely surprised.  I had heard gossip that our host, Mr. Lemmon, was making some choices as a fifteen-year old that might do him harm.  Tick and Leonard, two of my brain cell friends, had perished when Mr. Lemmon smoked something green.
So, I go away from my hotel in the South Side of the Circuits.  I walk three blocks in the cold area of the lower system.  My Red skin suddenly turns Blue due to the lack of oxygen in my body.

“You’re late, Blue #37!” yells a short Red fellow.  It is Hedrick, one of the supreme Reds.  “Now, move along now, like all the other Blues!”

It’s odd.  We’re referred to as Blues at times, and Reds at other times.

I make my way across to the Right Ventricle, where I march in line with my fellow Blues.  The Heart is a place where much work is done.  I leave the Heart and continue into Lemmon’s tobacco-infested lungs.

The carcinogens fill the air.  I feel nauseated.  But I keep on coming, until I am no longer a Blue, but a Red.  I squeeze through the maze of the yellow capillary beds.  This work is a joke.  The pay is terrible.

Oh, look, I think as I arrive into the Left Atrium, sliding down into the Left Ventricle.  It’s a Flu-man.

“Har har!” yells the Flu-man, as he teams up with many other smaller Flu-men.  With them is…Harold Irving Vasquez.

I run away, but I am absorbed by them.

“White Boss!  White Boss!” I yell, and scream.  The White boss does not come at all.  I am dragged into the Aorta by this damn mobster.  “White Boss!”

“Oh, for Brain’s Sake,” mumbles the White boss.  “Red #37!  Are you alright?”

“I guess.  If being squashed by an incurable STD is alright.”

“He’s incurable?  How’d you know that?”
“A little neuron told me.”

“Oh, in that case, I won’t be helping you.  Instead I’ll be eating my daily dose of…”

H.I.V. kills him.  I run to the Aorta and escape from that virus’ invisible claws.  As I do, I feel safe and nourished.  Until the next day, when I’m hanging around the Right Ventricle again and he kills me too!

Fahrenheit 420

December 15, 2013

Writer’s block has to leave eventually.  Yet I can no longer feel the grasp of poetry as it oozes from my mind onto scratch paper.  Would a classy fellow or fellowess such as yourself invite the lyricist who scribbled “When I was young I could produce a numbness which led many to believe that I was pure” or “How much I do not know of you, jumping frog” to your parents’ not-so humble abode(s)?  I kid you not, those are excerpts from my Vogonesque verse, recently compiled in a publisher-seeking volume a hair away from tome status (and 37 magnitudes away from even cult praise) known as We Eat Caviar Pts. 1 & 4.  “Who will name a poor man ‘Sepulveda’ and a rich man ‘Skunk?’”  My point exactly.

Though I admit, Dr. Dathan, it’s not all bad.  In fact, at this one specific point in my oh-so productive life, I could write only platinum and erase only gold.  At this one point in my oh-so productive (and how!) life, before all the times I was a Dean’s List whoring Dartmouth alumnus dating a strict diet of Dean’s List whoring Dartmouth alumnae, I could write for so much more than beans (possibly even steak).  Then my 38th rejection came to pass, and—voila!  The potential penthouses of my future became abandoned warehouses and drenched driftwood outhouses; my life’s history books evolved from how-to books the same way the silly monkey evolved from the sensible man.  But it was meant to happen.  As I said to my good (if not great) friend Drew after the world-famous shot of a rejection:

“Actually, I don’t feel sorry for myself getting rejected.  I feel sorry for her because she was just sitting around in glorious luxury, friends in one hand and decent lunch in the other, when some poverty-stricken, ugly wannabe rudely approaches her, mouth full of budget burger, and asks her out.  She’s a true heroine, Drew!”

Isn’t it obvious?  Doctor, you ought to note that while I was drinking my Sobe Blizzard (hold on, on a side note, the highly-embraced corporation of Sobe Drinks produces more offensive names than any nationwide-respected American company besides Disney: Blizzard, Tsunami, Hurricane, Torpedo, etc.  O prosperous Sobe, why don’t you release Sobe Deathcamp?  There’s no doubt it would taste better than anything Minute Maid could create with the highest precision!), a $9.00 school cafeteria-purchased companion to my $11.00 school cafeteria-generated tuna sandwich, which tastes of buttered and caffeinated salt, and probably is 37 magnitudes healthier, this gorgeous, unselfish, down-to-earth, virtually innocent young debutante doesn’t carry the burden of school-made lunch.  Oh no!  And to think that I once envisioned us together—what a self-absorbed jerk I was!  How could I be so self-centered as to remain oblivious to the obvious fact that my glamorous love was unbelievably committed to a much more qualified suitor?  How could I be so self-centered as to believe that on a scorching summer’s day, this beyond-perfect couple (a future bride and groom—to say the absolute least) would spontaneously split up, the male lover to flock to another girl to break his heart, and the female lover to flock to me?  Even in Disney, things like that don’t happen.

The Only Living Neanderthal in New York

December 15, 2013

“I started growing them when I was fourteen.  It was a Saturday, I believe—because it was already ten o’clock when I checked myself out in the mirror.  At the time, my parents were undergoing that legendary divorce, so they had enough issues to deal with.  I wasn’t very well-liked in middle school, but it just got worse after these stupid protrusions appeared.”  Tears grew in her eyes, which were naturally gray, but were concealed by bright purple contacts.

Dathan nodded as he took some indecipherable notes on his psychotherapy patient.  “Go on,” he mumbled a bit rudely, “how did things get worse?”

“Well, there was a group of four boys  who did repulsive things such as tasting the tadpoles in the creek by the schoolyard.  And they weren’t in grade school anymore.  Before my sideburns appeared, these boys wouldn’t pay any attention to me except call me immature names like ‘Bare Clair.’  Anyway, after these horrid sideburns curled around my cheeks, not only did their unoriginal nicknames get worse, but these nicknames were accompanied by actions.  They would try to feel my sideburns.  This one boy, Ray, even attempted to pull them from the pores and keep them for himself.”

Dathan was a bit confused.  “Why didn’t you shave them off?”  As he stared at the seventeen-year old girl, he noticed that although the golden hair on her cheeks was gone, it slowly was growing back before his eyes.

The heavy weeping of Clair Rommack suddenly changed into a narrow dripping of crocodile tears.  “Doctor, what’s my diagnosis, anyway?”
As Dathan looked through his charts, he realized that bizarre hair growth was not a psychological subject.  Not wanting to waste this almost-normal girl’s time, he thought up his own diagnosis.  “Uh…you’ve come down with Chaubski’s Contraction.”

“Chaubski’s Contraction?”

“Chaubski’s Contraction.  It’s a condition that slowly and steadily turns a normal human, often one of Polish descent, into a Neanderthal.”

“I’m only one-eighth Polish.”

“So was Varrick Chaubski, the first known victim of this rare condition.”  Dathan smiled for a nanosecond, realizing that this girl was actually believing him.

“Oh, Doctor!  Am I going to have to go into Special Ed.?”

“Ah, yes, thirteen-year kindergarten.  You’ll already have graduated high school by the time you’ve completed the final transformation.  You will have realized that you are a C student and not a straight A student anymore.  So, you won’t get into that Ivy League college you’ve been saving up for.

“Instead, you’ll end up either homeless on the streets of New York, or grilling and flipping at Jack in the Box.  And Jack in the Box is much more tolerant of clowns than Neanderthals, you know.  You’ll never make much of a promotion there.

“I have seen this case once before, so I am completely familiar with Chaubski and his alarming contraction.  I am the one who diagnosed Chaubski back in 1992.  You know where he is now?”  Dathan knew exactly where he was going with this one.

“Where?”

“In a laboratory.  He had to give up his drumming career for experimentation.  Sure, human experimentation is illegal, but who says he’s human, anyway?”

“I do.  They’re Homo sapiens.  I know that for sure.  My mom’s a history teacher.”

“Then she should know that Homo neanderthalis is the correct species.  Neanderthals cannot reproduce with ordinary humans.  You weren’t expecting to have any children in your adult years, were you?”  Clair was about to answer, when Dathan cut her off again.

“Well, you can’t—wait, you can with Chaubski!  How would you like to be the mother of the new Neanderthal population?  I have his most recent photo somewhere!  Does this interest you?”

“No thanks.”  Clair shuddered.

“I’ll show you him anyway.  He’s a very good-looking simian.  If you were a Neanderthal, you’d find him the equivalent of Tom Cruise.”

Clair frowned.  “What’s my mom going to say when I tell her that you suggested intimate relations with…”

“By the way, your time is up.  Please come back in a couple days, Clair.

As Clair sadly exited her psychotherapist’s office, she realized that she was slouching, much like a Neanderthal.  Of course, she was starting to doubt the theories.

*                                               *                                               *

Mrs. Diane Rommack sat in the lobby of the Fairview-Longview Psychotherapy Ward.  She was very annoyed, as her daughter Clair was the gossip of the school, and that did nothing for Diane’s once-prominent reputation.

As she read through a strange magazine called “Soapbusters” for the fifth time (the only other supplied reading material was Highlights), Clair came out of the third door and greeted her.

“So, how’d it go, Clairissa?”  Diane lifted the stupid magazine from her eyes.
“I think my psychiatrist is a quack,” she angrily told her mom.  “He said I’m turning into a Neanderthal.”

“Look, I think he’s a bit mistaken.  You see, the man you always thought was your dad…wasn’t.  I was around your age when I met this really hairy man at a club.  I think that’s probably it.  You’ve just earned some of his genetics.”

“…What was his name, Mom?”
“Varrick Chaubski.”


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