Sunday, June 3, 2018

Letting Go Of Isildur's Bane...

Letting go of Isildur's Bane...


the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

I had a ring. 

Now I don't.

Let me explain.

I had a friend. He became a friend to my wife as well. He was a family friend. We went places. Had experiences. Shared things. Gave gifts to each other. I believed that this person was a true friend.

I was dead wrong.

About everything.

One of the gifts he gave me was a ring.

It looked so nice on my Tolkien shelf. So shiny. It seemed to tie the whole shelf together. I would sometimes sit by my shelf and admire it. It was precious to me. It was mine. My precious.

Once the full ramifications of how we had been manipulated and deceived and betrayed by what we believed to be a friend at a time when we were still reeling from the death of our cat became clear to us, my wife and I decided that the best thing to do was to scrub his presence from our lives. To delete him like a corrupted file. To cast the negative energy out of our loving home and away from our family.

This was easy at first. We got rid of physical objects and digital memories. 

This was not being done out of vengeance or with glee. 

It was being done with the sole purpose of healing.

Then we came to the one ring....

I didn't want to let it go.

Gina talked to me and convinced me that this was for the best and I took her words seriously. I didn't take her as a conjurer of cheap tricks.

We placed the ring on a chain and decided that we would both bear the burden of it.

We stopped by a tree not far from our warm and cozy little home.

Dark forces and memories were all around us.

We set out on our journey. 

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

There were moments of doubt.

Times when we wanted to give up...

Or turn back.

The road was perilous. 

Gina reminded me that the darkness is only a passing shadow and that even darkness must pass.

I sat there pondering.

As I held the ring in my hand a thought occurred to me. If Professor Tolkien was alive today, he would be horrified that people carry around the ring. It was a symbol of all the evil and malignancy of the world. If you really wanted to honor the true spirit of the good in Tolkien's tales, you would have a nice meal with family. You would tend your garden. You would while away the day. 

I knew then what I must do.

I went down to the water's edge...

And I cast the ring out.

I watched as the ripples rang out and then gradually disappeared. 

We had come to journey's end.

The end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

"Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the sea comes the end of our fellowship in middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep for not all tears are an evil."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Grey Havens, The Return of the King

Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"

     Not long after Christmas, on January 13, 2018, a female domestic short hair was admitted to the no-kill Cat Depot shelter & adoption facility. She had been relinquished by her previous owners in Valrico, FL for allergy reasons. Her name was Zoe.

     We were still in the afterglow of a wonderful Christmas spent together with our beloved cat Chooch. She was given to me as a Valentine's Day present 15 years prior. She always loved Christmas so much.

     We had no idea that this would be our last Christmas with her. 

     On February 17, 2018, Cat Depot began posting pictures of Zoe on their website in an effort to get her adopted. They must have found out fairly soon that she was not compatible with other cats. She was moved to a separate wing in an office. This was out of the usual traffic path of people coming in to adopt. That, combined with the fact that she wasn't a kitten, made her a bit of a tough sell. This is her first picture.

     I had been talking a lot in the last few years about "if" something ever happened to Chooch that I wanted to adopt an adult cat as fast as possible. The idea being that there were so many animals in need of a home. Gina was on board with this idea.

     It's amazing how powerful that word "if" is.

     It creates a level of unreality in your mind. Instead of acknowledging the inevitability of the life cycle, we protect ourselves from the most painful parts by tossing in the word "if".

     I had been inspired by my Facebook friend Joan Dark and the story of Masher the cat.

     I remember seeing a commercial several years ago. I don't remember what the commercial was trying to sell. It was a street corner and some people were gathered around a garbage can. There was a piece of wadded up paper laying on the concrete next to the garbage can. The people pointed at it and complained about how lazy and inconsiderate other people were. There was the garbage can. There was the paper. How hard could it have been to just toss the paper in the trash? A young man wearing headphones strolled through, picked up the piece of paper and tossed it in the can and kept walking. The people who had been complaining stood there slack jawed. 

     This left a powerful impression on me.

     In September of 2015, a post began to go viral. FACE had rescued a 13 year old Masher from death row. His family of 13 years had moved Masher's litter box to a place at the top of a set of stairs that was hard for him to reach. He had one accident. One. They took him to the pound. The FACE post elicited powerful reactions. Understandably. People were  upset at the lack of apparent humanity. There were long posts of outrage. People were pissed. 

     While the firestorm raged, Joan Dark in concert with her partner Dill decided to do something besides rage at the darkness. 

     They rescued Masher. They became my heroes. I told their story over and over again to everyone who would listen. It's a story of action. Of finding light in the darkness. 

     On March 8 2018, Cat Depot again posted a picture of Zoe, no doubt hoping for a response. 

     She had been there for 3 months by this time.

    They posted a final picture on March 10, 2018.

    Still no takers.

    On March 31, 2018 (21 days later) we took Chooch to the Southgate Animal Hospital. She had been vomiting. A lot. We thought her system was out of whack. We had been switching foods in an effort to find something she could keep down. We talked with friends and tried different ideas. Her blood work came back normal. We breathed a sigh of relief. We redoubled our efforts to find something she could eat.

     On April 7, 2018 we took her back for an x-ray. It showed that Chooch had an enlarged stomach. We didn't know what that meant. The vet gave her a shot and two prescriptions. For about a week there were no sounds of vomiting in the night. We breathed a sigh of relief. Then it came back with a vengeance. I tried jamming pills down her throat in an effort to get her to take her medicine. Gina would sit with her next to the food bowl pleading for her to eat something.

     On April 28, 2018 we took Chooch back to the vet. I had been frustrated and agitated. I don't like feeling helpless. I'm a proactive person, but I was out of ideas. The last x-ray was conclusive. There was a mass growing in her stomach and causing her liver to shut down. She had lost a pound in a week and couldn't even keep water down. I looked at the vet and at Gina and I said, "I think we've reached the end." We were taken to a quiet room. A candle was lit at the main desk. We hugged Chooch and tried desperately to convey to her how much she meant to us. Her last act was to reach up and put her arms around Gina's neck. The vet, who had laryngitis, said, "My god... she's hugging her." She was given a sedative and then an injection and died peacefully on the table.

     I felt at that moment as if some omnipotent person had reached down and picked me up and shook me vigorously. When I was sat back down I was not the same person as before.

     We left. I drove. The first words I spoke to Gina were, "I wouldn't have traded one f---ing second of it." We pulled up to a stop sign. We saw a woman exit her car and pick up a turtle and carry it off the road to safety. Nobody honked. Everybody waited patiently. I was reminded of my pledge.

     We had tickets to see Avengers: Infinity War that day. Neither one of us felt like being in the empty house at that moment so we went. Gina curled up in the chair and wept. I sat there watching the film with about 13% of my brain. 

     Later that day, we went to Cat Depot. It was about 30 minutes before closing. We just went into one of the enclosures and sat there petting cats. 

     That night Gina was so inconsolable that I reached into the closet and tucked a stuffed animal under her arms so that she could sleep. 

     I had a dream that night. I saw Chooch and talked with her. I asked her if she was sick and she said she wasn't. She told me she was sorry she got sick and I began to cry and say that it wasn't her fault.

     On April 29, 2018 I awoke and had a long conversation with Gina. I told her that what we were about to do was not about circumventing our grief. Indeed, it hasn't served that purpose at all. We are still grieving and will be for quite some time. The human heart is capable of remarkable divergent things. It can absorb great loss while at the same time reach out with hope and compassion. 

     So we swept up the shattered pieces of our hearts and set out once again to Cat Depot to fulfill our promise. We immediately went to the enclosure that we had gone to the day before. A woman named Margrit came to talk to us. I said that we were there to adopt. She must have noticed something about us. A gravity. A solemnity. A purpose. She asked if we wouldn't mind coming to the other wing. She explained that some cats had to be kept separate from the others for various reasons and as a result were harder to adopt out. We walked into one room and met a cat with a bare patch on its nose. We were told that it was a benign tumor. This scared both of us. We couldn't handle another loss if it turned out to be something else. 

     We went into the next room. Gina's defenses were up. Understandably. We were both in a highly emotional state. She asked why we were taken from the other enclosure and Margrit explained that we seemed like the kind of people who might give one of these cats a chance. Gina looked at Zoe who was curled up on top of a counter in her cat bed. When Gina looked into Zoe's eyes, Zoe softly head-booped her face. Gina looked back at me. Her eyes were saucers of tears. I looked at Margrit and said one word. "Sold." Margrit immediately burst into tears. Gina's defenses evaporated and they both hugged. 

     After just under five months, Zoe had found her family and her forever home. 

     Gina explained to her that we are a bit sad right now and asked that she be patient with us. 

     She is a Little now. She is part of a triumvirate. That is a powerful thing. She gets 1/3 of the vote. I told my brother Austin that we are the West Coast Avengers and that he, his girlfriend Shaylea and their dog Chompers are the East Coast Avengers. 

     I told Gina a couple of things that I would like to share. First, I told her that Chooch had sent us a circus cat to help cheer us up. Zoe stands on her hind legs when you leave a room. She plays fetch with her mouse. I've woken up a few times now with her staring into my face and meowing when my eyes finally open. She walks up and head-boops you while you are reading. 

     The other day, while we were both at work, she knocked a bunch of books off a shelf.

     So I decided to turn the shelf into a cat bed.

     We are grieving and broken but we will heal and become stronger at the broken places. 

The other thing I told Gina was that I wanted to start an Instagram page called 1000actsofkindness. It is still in the early stages, but Gina and I have decided that the best way to express gratitude for the 15 years we had with Chooch is to put 1,000 specific acts of kindness into the world. We have already done 4 of them. 996 to go.

1. We donated the remainder of Chooch's medicine.
2. We adopted a hard to adopt adult cat.
3. We made a $25 matching donation on top of our adoption fee.
4. We started a fundraiser on Facebook for Cat Depot and have raised $63 so far. 

     Not all the 1000actsofkindness will be cat related. Today, for example, I plan on buying a bag of birdseed and tossing the contents into a field in a park near where we live.


     I'm at a point right now where I am at a convergent place of great emotions. I have miles to go and promises to keep. When Gina and I got married I told her that the greatest thing that I would ever do is to love her. By being a caretaker to my family and by learning from past mistakes and growing as a human being, I hope that I am fulfilling my pledge. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

My Cat Chooch

     I want to tell you some things about my cat Chooch...

As I write this I am sobbing. I have that saline taste in my nose. Tears are burning their way down my face and my stomach and shoulders are contracting. I've had some big losses in the last few years. My mother died on January 12, 2015. Chooch died this past Saturday April 28, 2018. Near as we can figure she started getting sick in late January or early February. She began vomiting. If you are a cat owner, you know that some of this is normal. Hairballs. Eating food too fast. At the beginning of March it became evident that something was wrong. We began to try to work through the problem. Asking around. Doing research. We began to switch foods and to limit portions to see if it would help. It didn't. One night she was on the couch and began to projectile vomit and I told my wife that we needed to take her to the vet. We went a total of three times. The first was about running blood tests. We were so grateful when the tests came back negative. The next involved an x-ray which showed that she had an enlarged stomach. We... I didn't know what that meant. I now know that you need at least two points of reference to correctly identify a problem. When we talked to people at the pet store, they would ask about her age and we would say that we thought she was 15 and they would cast their eyes downward. I didn't understand what that meant either. I do now.

The last vet visit was 3 days ago. It was the third and final. I was frustrated. I had been trying to give her pills to no avail. Gina would crush up her medicine and sit with her and gently plead with her to eat something. I would hear her vomit in the middle night and I would wake up and say, "Nooooo.... please.... " as if that would do anything. The last few days she would even vomit after getting water. It was foam. There was no food in her stomach. she had dropped a pound between the second and final pet visits. The vet was a young woman. She had laryngitis, so her voice was almost a whisper. They took Chooch back for an MRI and another x-ray. They came back to get us and I could see the looks on their faces. We were shown the x-ray and we were told that her liver was failing and that she had a mass in her stomach, most likely cancer. She then showed us how jaundiced Chooch was. Something we hadn't noticed. Her gums were yellow... and around her eyes. I looked at Gina and back to the doctor and I said, "I think we've reached the end." Gina began sobbing. I nodded to the doctor and we went back to the room to spend our last moments with her.

A candle was lit at the main desk to let others know that we were saying goodbye. I held her for a moment and then handed her to Gina. The vet came in to give her an initial sedative. She saw that Chooch was hugging Gina and said, "Oh my God. She's hugging her." Soon Chooch was sedated and we laid her out flat on the table. I want to believe that she was out of pain for the last bit. They gave her another injection and her heart stopped about 45 seconds later. There were no convulsions or strange sounds. Her little body had fought as hard as it could and there was nothing left at the end. They asked if we wanted ashes and I said no. I opted for a paw print in clay. I initialed the paperwork. I paid the bill. I didn't want Gina's hand to it. It was my job as her protector. I couldn't stop her from getting sick, but I wanted to believe that we saved her from the worst of it.  

The next morning before I awoke I had a dream that I saw her again and she said she was sorry for getting sick and I started crying and said, "No, no, no my sweet baby girl. It wasn't your fault. You were the best kitty anyone could ever ask for." And then I asked her if she was sick now and she said she wasn't and I said, "That's my good girl." and I began petting her and telling her how much we loved her and that we would always love her.

This morning Gina left for work and had her earrings with the Kurt Vonnegut quote.

She was 1/3 of our family and her loss is devastating. It's not like an engine going out on a plane and the plane keeps flying. The whole fucking plane crashed. Gina and I survived but we are hurt badly and it will be a long recovery. Nothing will ever be the same. Is anything ever?

I keep looking around and seeing her everywhere. There is not a single memory in the last 15 years that she was not a part of. 

I think that is what is meant about the death tarot card not being about death. You aren't actually grieving death. You're grieving the loss of an old life. Our family will survive and go on, but we won't be the same as we were before. I told Gina a couple of things as we sat in bed at night that I would like to share. First, we got her as a kitten and I didn't fully realize that our ages had diverged. She was there and I thought she would always be there, even though I knew that wasn't possible on an intellectual level.

Secondly, I think that I understood that time was running out in much the same way as you might hear a conversation while you are underwater in a pool. When the end came, I was so completely unprepared. How can you prepare for a thing like that? As we left, I looked at her lifeless body on the table one last time and I said to myself,"That's not her." Her physical form was how she interfaced with us, but what made her what she was and what we truly loved had departed and exists now only in our hearts.

That is the end of the story. The rest of it is so vast I couldn't tell it in 15 volumes. It was a love as big as the universe. It was a bond. It was... family.

Gina picked her out for me as a Valentine's Day present. She was so tiny. At night she slept on our bed. At first she slept between us, high up on the bed. Gina says that one night I rolled over on her and she mewed and I silently rolled back over. After that she slept in a corner of the bed. Our sleeping arrangements were as follows... Israel (Gina) The West Bank (Chooch) and the Gaza Strip (Me). 

Chooch loved Christmas. Here she is tuckered out on her Christmas presents.

She was one of life's great sleepers and she had lots of warm soft places to rest.

She loved my old blanket so much that I ended up making a cat bed out of it.

One of my most favorite things in the whole wide world was to have her beside me on the couch and to rest my hand on her and feel her purr.

One of her favorite spots was my underwear and socks cubby. If there were too many socks for her to fit she would drag them out and make room.

I loved putting toys on her. She was such a good sport about it.

Look how beautiful she was. she had a black farfalla on her forehead. I used to tell her how much I loved her pink nose and her gorgeous green eyes. 

Gina and I loved singing songs to her and about her. It was very easy to substitute a "you" in a song with "Chooch". 

It's the bargain of life. The more you loved someone the more it hurts to lose them.

I told Gina that I can't stop thinking about when she got sick and that can't be all there is to life. To have a mostly great time and a sucky bit at the end. She told me I was trying to use my logic to process my grief and she was right.

Love is like the concentric circles made from throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples radiate out and touch all shores. Here she is at her most radiant.

I will never forget her or how much she meant as a part of our family. I am a far better person for having that unconditional love in my life. 

She was and will always be my sweet, sweet girl. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Writing Projects 2018

Writing Projects 2018

1Novel - Pleasure Dome (Sci-Fi Noir)
2. Novel - The Bermuda Wars
3. Novel - The People’s Republic Of Retail (Chapter 5)
4. Novel - A Measure Of Things

1. Novella - Descent aka In A Place Beyond Heaven

1. BLOG - Williamsburg Bridge
a. Hopper
b. Films
c. Literature
d. Sonny Rollins (Commercial on YouTube)
e. Music
f. Seanna Sharpe
g. Comic books
h. Chris Doyle

2. BLOG - Sixth Generation Video Game Reviews
a. Viewtiful Joe GC
b. Darkwatch XBOX
c. Red Dead Revolver XBOX
d. Destroy All Humans XBOX
e. Psychonauts XBOX
f. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem GC
g. Voodoo Vince XBOX
h. Whiplash XBOX
i. Stubbs The Zombie In Rebel Without A Pulse XBOX
j. Oddworld Stranger's Wrath XBOX

3. BLOG - Through The Earwormhole Part IV: Post Rock
4. BLOG - Through The Earwormhole Part V: Fusion
5. BLOG - Robert Fripp & The Death Of Gwen Stacy
6. BLOG - Retro Movie Reviews Part I: The White Buffalo (1977)

1. Children’s Book: Mr. Wigglebottom
Heinrich, or sometimes “Henry” or “Hank” Wigglebottom is a six foot tall rabbit who wears a monocle and a top hat and and only says one word ever, “Indubitably”.

1. Screenplay: Thundarr The Barbarian
2. Screenplay: Papa Hemingway

1. Video Blog: 5 Books I Love Part 2 (Gina)

1. Poetry Book: Strange World Weather
Shop around to publishers.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Natural Born Killers: 24 Year Retrospect

Natural Born Killers: 24 Year Retrospect

   I was talking to a friend at work about the fantastic soundtrack for the 1994 Oliver
Stone film “Natural Born Killers”. It occurred to me that I had not seen the film for quite
some time even though I own it. It hit theaters 2 years after I graduated high school. I
was in a transition period and preparing to move to Jacksonville from Southern Illinois
with my then fiance. I did not see it in the theater. I’m quite sure I either rented it from
the local video store or bought it outright probably through Columbia House or some
other such service.

   I was/am/always will be a lover of film. I’m probably not a good critic because I love
films so much that I rarely see the flaws and focus on things that connect with me in one
way or another. When I was a kid in Arizona, I spent some time with my cousins and
there was a summer movie program at the theater where kids could see movies
relatively cheaply. Arizona is hot. Theaters are dark and cool. That’s one thing. What kid
doesn’t love popcorn and soda and candy? Certainly I did. I remember seeing films with
my Great Grandmother Naomi and she would sneak in tons of goodies in her giant
bottomless blue bag. She, like my dad, usually fell asleep after the first 5 minutes or so.
I can honestly say I have never fallen asleep while watching a movie… in a theater.

   When my mother moved us to Golconda, Illinois the summer before I began high
school, I felt like I had dropped off the face of the earth. It was a town that lacked both a
cinema and a bookstore, two requirements for me. There was a theater in Paducah,
Kentucky, but that might as well have been the moon. I didn’t have a license… or a
vehicle, not to mention, we were dirt poor. I immediately began picking up odd jobs,
mostly mowing lawns, in an effort to save up for a used VHS player from the local pawn
shop. Mercifully, someone opened up a video store and pizza joint called Pudgy’s and I
signed my card and paid my dues. This process took over a year and it felt like an
eternity. When my wife and I traveled to Golconda from our home in Sarasota a few
years back, Pudgy’s still had VHS tapes. Many I recognized from multiple rentals.

   My hunger during this forced fast has never been satiated. I watch tons of films,
many multiple times. I have an extensive movie collection and my list of favorites is
constantly evolving. I have lost friendships arguing about films. Mostly, I can’t stand
the cynicism that people bring to films. Their lack of suspension of disbelief is
something I find galling. I am still bewildered why some people hate the film
Prometheus… or The Last Jedi… or many others (too numerous to mention) with
such vitriol.

    It especially bugs me when amateur critics can’t elucidate their points. Like Free Jazz,
there are some films that you have to bring something of yourself to the table. You have
to meet the artist halfway. Some “difficult” directors may require you to evolve to a
certain point so that you can understand their work. David Lynch was one of those for
me. His work didn’t gel with me at first. I was too stuck on linear narrative to get
everything I could from his films. I have evolved and I appreciate his output
tremendously. This is a case where a film doesn’t suck because you don’t get it. It
simply didn’t connect with you. Some people find this process tedious and pretentious
and that is why you have endless sequels to sure thing franchises. Safe bets put asses
in seats, money in pockets and popcorn in gullets.

   There is nothing wrong with that last part by the way. There are so many films that
serve so many differing purposes for wide and varied swaths of people. I loved
Kong: Skull Island. It was the epitome of a fun summer film.

   I didn’t approach it like it was Citizen Kane. I went in with the right mindset and left
with a big goofy grin on my face. Some films are fun. Some are dumb fun. Some are
smart fun. Some are educational. Some are artistic. Some are flawed masterpieces
and some are just plain masterpieces. Some films fail because they are marketed
poorly and aimed at the wrong audience. Some find success later as cult favorites.

   Natural Born Killers was controversial when it came out. I remember that. I feel
confident that at least some of the controversy was manufactured by Oliver Stone himself.

I remember a Greyhound Bus trip from Southern Illinois to Arizona to see my father one
Christmas when I was a junior in high school. I read Mario Puzo’s “The Fourth K” on the
journey. Read… more like devoured. I loved that book. I was aware of Puzo as the
novelist who wrote and co-adapted “The Godfather” novel and film.  The New York
Times called “The Fourth K” a , “a garrish comic book” which was fine by me. I loved
comic books. Still do. I bring this up because Puzo’s novel and the Oliver Stone film
“JFK” both came out around the same time. I saw the film in a Phoenix theater shortly
after it was released on December 20, 1991. That was enough to set off a virulent case
of JFK fever. If you have ever suffered from this malady you know that you have an
insatiable desire to find out everything you can about the most dramatic and tragic
event in American political history.

   I was fully on board. I was jacked in. Sadly, Mario Puzo died in 1999, but Oliver Stone
kept making films. His technique was to throw in a bit of everything in the soup pot of his
directorial choices. A lot of things worked. Some didn’t. He was always willing to go
further down the rabbit hole than I was willing to follow. He lost me with some of
the more outlandish conspiracy theories. He seemed to be more open minded than I
could be about controversial things. Recently, while watching the special features on
NBK, I was reminded of some of these bridges too far.

   Robert Downey jr. was brilliant in Natural Born Killers as the sleazy tabloid TV
journalist Wayne Gale. He was also struggling with his own demons in the form of
substance addiction. Drugs flowed freely on Oliver Stone’s sets. This is one of the
inherent flaws of the 60s and 70s mindset of free love and drugs. It’s all good until
someone has a bad trip… and Robert Downey Jr. was definitely on a bad trip. In
retrospect, it seems irresponsible to the nth degree to be handing out drugs to a
man who would be arrested 2 years later in April of 1996 for possession of heroin,
cocaine and an unloaded .357 Magnum. It’s a miracle that he didn’t become a statistic.
As per Oliver Stone’s role, let’s just say (to draw a parallel) I would have a hard time
reconciling with myself if I had done blow with John Belushi the night he died.

   Injuries on set are, for the most part, accidents. Sometimes they are avoidable.
Sometimes not. Sometimes they are the result of irresponsible actions taken by the
director or producers. There has been a focus on this recently.

   Francis Ford Coppola kept the cameras rolling during this scene in “Apocalypse, Now”.

   Martin Sheen had been celebrating his birthday by heavy alcohol consumption and
injured his hand by punching glass. That’s real blood you see on the sheets behind
him. All of this ended up in the actual film.

   Werner Herzog’s 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo” was plagued by accidents.

   Having a film crew on a paddle boat careening recklessly out of control in the rapids
of the Amazon River seems, well… reckless. The cinematographer split his hand open
and had to have it stitched closed without anesthesia.

   Many film enthusiasts (myself included) consider “Fitzcarraldo” a true masterpiece.
If you pressed them, some would admit that the obstacles encountered during filming
add to the allure. This leaves a giant question in my mind. Why are we able to look past
the sins of director’s like Coppola, Stone, Herzog and yet we single Quentin Tarantino
out for recklessness during the filming of “Kill Bill”? Changing morals? Different times?
It’s worth noting that Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for Natural Born Killers.

   This is the director Randall Miller (CBGB). During the filming of the Gregg Allman
biopic “Midnight Rider” a camera operator named Sarah Jones was killed when she was
struck by a train. This was not the first death on a film set, but Miller received the
dubious distinction of being the first filmmaker to serve time in prison for the death of a
member of his crew.

      Two camera operators were injured filming this scene. Both reportedly blamed
Oliver Stone.

   Oliver Stone came dangerously close to providing Charles Manson an alibi during
the special features of NBK. As someone who read “Helter Skelter” in high school, this
was a dividing point. This was not the first time Oliver Stone expressed controversial
positions and certainly won’t be the last. I am left of center politically and in some ways
how I feel about Oliver Stone is similar to how I feel about Bill Maher. For every single
point I find myself in agreement with Maher (or Stone) there are at least 3 others
where I differ… sometimes quite strongly.

   As a young man I felt that art shouldn’t have limits and shouldn’t be afraid of controversy.

  This is “Immersion” (more commonly known as “Piss Christ”) a 1987 photograph by
the artist and photographer Andres Serrano. This is one of the images (along with
works by Robert Mapplethorpe) cited by the arch conservative Jesse Helms, who was
head of the National Endowment for the Arts, in an effort to defund the NEA.

  I defended this work quite vociferously to anyone who would listen. I felt that there
were many meanings that could be derived from it (aside from the sacrilegious) and
that each was important. Nowadays, I feel like controversial art is important for one
main reason - it sparks discussion.

   The French satirical weekly magazine “Charlie Hebdo” published cartoons of the
Islamic prophet Muhammad. On January 7, 2015 two terrorists killed twelve members
of the staff. If I could sit down with Young Mike and have an intellectual discussion, I
would love to ask where he stands on artistic freedom in the wake of this horrible
atrocity? Certainly Old Mike doesn’t have an easy canned answer to this one.

   The best statement I can make is: I do not believe in censorship of art. However,
hate speech and those who put it forth in the world are quite sophisticated in masking
ideology as art.

   My old high school civics teacher Mr. Bramlett (R.I.P.) would say something like -
You are free to say and do anything, so long as you are prepared to accept the

   During the special features of NBK, the superb actor Tommy Lee Jones refers
to Molière when discussing the film. Molière’s satires attracted criticisms from the
Catholic Church and moralists alike. It’s clear that he viewed NBK as a satire and
the critiques of the film to primarily originate from modern day regressives.

   My question when it comes to violence in films boils down to whether or not it
is necessary. For instance, if a film is made about King Leopold II, you should
expect to see some violence. If you are watching a film called “Fuzzy Wuzzy
Bear” it’s likely to expect minimal beheadings. These are, of course, two extreme
examples and the devil is always where the lines aren’t so easily drawn. A
filmmaker might defend the right  to play with the expectations of the audience.
I would throw my lot in as well. I would add the caveat that the commercial revenues
for the film will probably reflect to which degree this is executed.

   Statistically, we know that violence is down all around the world.

   Statistics don’t seem to trump our own personal experiences and are often
skewed by blaring headlines.

   This is “Guernica” a large oil painting by Pablo Picasso. It was completed in
June 1937. This work was designed as a response to the bombing of Guernica
during the Spanish Civil War.

   This is an image from “Pan’s Labyrinth” a 2006 film by Guillermo del Toro.
Many people consider this to be his masterpiece. It takes place in Spain during
the Franco era of postwar Spain. I find the violence to be extremely disturbing
and upsetting… and absolutely 100% necessary.

   This is a scene from a Looney Tunes cartoon involving Elmer Fudd and Daffy
Duck. Cartoon violence was never meant to be taken seriously. The injuries
suffered by the two hapless burglars in the perennial Christmas favorite “Home
Alone” would kill the average person deader than a Dickensian doornail.
Societally we look past cartoon violence, but there are those few who moralize
about it.

   This image is from the 1995 Jim Jarmusch film “Dead Man”. Jarmusch
exercised what’s called “Economy of Violence” to great effect in the film. There are
only a handful of violent scenes in the course of the narrative and because they do
not bludgeon us like say the Battle of Zion scene in The Matrix Revolutions, the
effect is that the scenes of violence carry weight and are even more shocking.

   Oliver Stone served in Vietnam. He made what many consider to be his
masterpiece“Platoon” from his experiences.

“Platoon” (1986) was the opener to Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy along with 1989’s
“Born On The Fourth Of July” and the conclusion “Heaven & Earth” in 1993. Stone’s
generation (and his personal artistic output) are shaped by 4 events:

   1. The JFK assassination on November 22, 1963.
   2. The MLK Jr. assassination on April 4, 1968.
   3. The RFK assassination on June 6, 1968.
   4. The Kent State massacre on May 4, 1970.

   Right now, in America, we are having a discussion about violence. It’s really
about America’s gun culture and violence, but let’s concentrate on the tertiary
discussions for the moment. Those who don’t want to deal with the firearms issue
tend to focus on media (aka art) as being responsible for the rash of violence. They
tend to blame primarily films and video games.

   This is a photograph of John Lennon with his assassin Mark David Chapman. This
picture was taken 6 hours before Chapman fired 4 bullets into John Lennon on
December 4, 1980. He was clutching the 1951 J.D. Salinger novel “Catcher In The Rye”.

   On March 30, 1981 President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. who
had become obsessed with actress Jodie Foster after seeing her in the 1976
Martin Scorsese film “Taxi Driver”. In his hotel, Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye”
was among a half dozen other books in his possession.

    On April 20, 1999, two students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered Columbine
High School in Colorado heavily armed and murdered 12 of their fellow students
and a teacher before killing themselves.

    Both killers were fans of first person shooter games like “Doom” and listened to
Marilyn Manson. Games and music became a convenient scapegoat for the NRA
and their cronies in Congress.

    They were also fans of Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”.

   It is at this point that I would like to point out my personal belief that the
United States is unlikely to have a statistically higher number of mentally ill people
than any other country. Also, violent films and games are consumed all around the
world. I do agree that ratings systems should be shored up and enforced. I also
believe that increased spending on mental health services is part of a larger
solution. However, America has a real problem with the hypocrisy of Fake
Violence vs. Real Violence, and where we are willing to legislate one, we seem
unwilling or unable to deal with the other. Also, for the sake of argument, even if
disturbed individuals are stirred to violence by media, the reality is that they have
too easy access to weapons that can be used in mass killings. If we don’t deal with
that last fact, all the rest of it is ultimately useless. I have been voting for politicians
who support common sense gun safety legislation since that horrific day in 1999.

    On February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day) there was yet another mass shooting this
time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 were
murdered and 14 others were injured. This one was different in that the students
were roused to action and immediately began taking to social media and meeting
with politicians. We finally seem to have reached a tipping point and real action is
beginning to take shape.

   These students are heroes and deserve our support so that this truly happens…