Death

“We all pay for life with death, so everything in between should be free.”

— Bill Hicks

Boo Radley

Arthur

When we got him, he was named Bourbon. Having lost two of my three cats in the previous year, K convinced me that it was time to get some company for Sylvester, my 16-year-old girl cat. At the pound, I found a great little guy named Basil, still mostly a kitten, paid his bail, and arranged to take him home. While I was filling out paperwork, a woman brought in a hissing, yowling ball of gray fur in a carrier.

The woman’s mother had just died, and this was one of her cats. She thought he was around seven years old. I reached in and scratched his neck, and he started to purr and rub against me, forgetting the terrifying situation. I knew that if I walked away from this freaked-out, already geriatric cat, no one would take him and he’d be euthanized within the week. We took him home before he was ever entered in the system.

As soon as I let him out of the carrier, he hid under my bed. And stayed there. For two weeks.

If I scratched him, the same switch flipped, he forgot his fear, and turning into a purring, drooling ball of affection. The rest of the time, he was terrified. We realized he probably had brothers and sisters, and was at a loss without them. K surmised an entire liquor cabinet full of cats to go along with “Bourbon,” a name we were looking to replace.

Remarking on our effort to get him to come out, it was my ex Rebecca who came up with Boo Radley.

One night, I was awakened by something furry slamming its head into my chin. Like his namesake, Boo had come out in the dark and was rubbing his face against mine, purring fiercely. From that first visit in 2002 until last night, Boo slept on me or next to me every night I was in my own bed.

It took another week for him to be comfortable enough to come out and relax during the day, but once he did, I discovered I had the most astoundingly affectionate and loving animal I’d ever seen on my hands. Boo lived for people. Lap. Chin. Shoulder. Face. He just wanted to be on you. He would leap from the ground into your hands to be held.

And then there was food. Boo wanted ALL the food, ALL the time. He once devoured an entire chicken breast – near as we could tell, bones included – in under 90 seconds when I left it unattended. At Thanksgiving, 2002, he attacked the entire raw turkey. Perspective was for lesser mammals.

Sometimes, he had a very mechanical way of moving. He walked like something didn’t work right in his transaxle. He got lost in our old warehouse, and would echo-locate like a bat. Often, we suspected that Boo was actually a mechanical cat piloted by aliens.

This morning, just over 10 years later, I said goodbye. He was ready; an exhausted, wobbly, rail-thin shadow of his former self. K came to say her farewells, and suggested that the aliens had finally learned all they could. Or maybe his batteries just ran out.

All I know is that Arthur “Boo” Radley and I had an amazing decade of borrowed time together, and I’m so glad I was in the pound that morning to benefit – as I so rarely do – from genuine luck.

Damn. Fine. Kitty.

For my birthday I took myself out to see RED last night, and it was great. I haven’t read the comic, but you can see Warren Ellis’ fingerprints all over it. I’m a sucker for movies about old farts anyway, but RED is a terrifically entertaining amalgam of Sneakers+Ronin+Grumpy Old Men.

And let me just state, categorically, that at 65 Helen Mirren is still just about the goddamned sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I would bang the doors off that woman in a heartbeat.

I also had the treat of sitting through the worst trailer I have seen for a movie since Next of Kin. If you haven’t seen the trailer for Drive Angry, you owe it to yourself. It is absolutely ridiculous, and proves yet again Nicolas Cage’s insatiable urge to embarrass himself. This is the first trailer I’ve ever seen worthy of its own Rifftrax.

If the movie is half as bad as the trailer, it should be The Room of car/driver from Hell movies (and, yes, there’s a long precedent of precisely that; The Car, Christine, The Wraith… shall I continue?)

This morning I looked at the news and discovered that Dino De Laurentiis had died on my birthday. Despite being 5’ 4”, Dino was a giant in the film industry, and was a huge influence on my childhood. He was one of the last old-school independent producers. He never directed a film, and probably never wanted to, but he was the driving force behind hundreds.

Some – la Strada, Serpico, Ragtime – are brilliant films, true classics. Some – Maximum Overdrive, Red Sonja, Lipstick, place easily among the worst movies ever inflicted on an audience.

Many of the movies De Laurentiis produced are cultural icons, pieces of gaudy fluff that have become cool or camp or kitsch because of their shamelessness or over-the-top style. Movies like Danger: Diabolik, Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Dune or Mandingo. I personally dislike every one of these films, but each has its following.

Like many Italian filmmakers, De Laurentiis didn’t distinguish between the pomp and the circumstance. All art was opera, and all stories were to be told on the grandest, loudest, most gaudy scale possible. Every painting deserved a bigger canvas. If De Laurentiis had been a jacket, he would have been made from red velvet and gold lamé.

For me, De Laurentiis was Conan the Barbarian, Death Wish, The Shootist (the first time I cried in a movie), Three Days of the Condor, and his awful remake of King Kong that I watched in awe and disappointment at the age of 8 in the biggest theater in Phoenix.

Tycoon, shlockmeister, showman and crook, Dino De Laurentiis was a bastion of Golden-Age Hollywood bombast and we’ll never see his like again.

Buster

The Scruffy Brothers

I lost one of my oldest friends today. Buster, my 20-year-old dog, died in his sleep last night. I went to wake him to go out to pee, and discovered he was gone.

This is truly the year that everything ends.

My family has always had an extremely close bond with our pets, frequently more so than to each other. Our animals are family, and my purest, most resonant emotional connections throughout my life have been with a variety of cats and dogs.

When he was a little more than two months old, my mother stole Buster away from his abusive owner, some punk kid renting an apartment in the complex my mother was managing. This was in 1990. He was given to my cousin Brandon, then about 6 years old. However, Buster was too scruffy and shaggy to really fit in with the image my cousin Kelly – Brandon’s mother – had for her upscale white-trash family, so he was never truly taken in.

My grandfather, Cecil, the man who raised me after my father took a powder when I was two, took Buster that Christmas. My grandfather was pretty scruffy and shaggy himself, so it was a terrific fit, and they were inseparable.

Buster was absolutely my grandfather’s best friend, and Buster had no doubt that Cecil was his father/pack leader. Wherever my grandfather went, Buster was in the car with him. They would frequently drive through McDonald’s or Taco Bell, primarily to get something for Buster as my grandfather could take or leave fast food.

My grandfather was generous, kind of heart, sarcastic and irascible. When he died in 2001, I took custody of Buster, and it was very much like having the old man with me as Buster had taken on all those same traits. I always regretted that certain people in my life never got to meet Cecil, but for those who spent time around Buster, I felt as if, in some small way, they had.

It took Buster a few weeks to decide that I was an acceptable substitute for the old man. I had stairs and cats and didn’t buy him Taco Bell nearly enough, but eventually he took custody of me as well. I have no doubt that damned dog thought he was my guardian, and that it was his job to keep an eye on me.

In the past nine years, Buster became a ubiquitous part of my life. He went to AVN with me every day, making a circuit of the building at lunch to scrounge food from the rubes. Shirley, the receptionist at the time, made bacon just for my dog. She didn’t give her family bacon; it was only for Buster.

If you watch the Behind the Scenes of nearly any movie I’ve directed over the past decade, Buster is there. In my lap. On the set. In the makeup room guarding the girls. When I shot Being Porn Again for Metro, the anonymous editor who cut the BTS in-house was so enamored of Buster in the raw footage s/he did an entire mini-feature about him.

My grandfather died peacefully in his bed, with Buster sleeping beside him. Buster has followed in the same manner, quietly, without even waking me. I’m grateful to him for saving me that tough decision.

I never knew what to do with my grandfather’s ashes until a few years ago. He made it plain when he was alive that he couldn’t care less what happened to them.

“Throw ‘em in the yard. Stick ‘em in a coffee can. I don’t care,” was a common refrain.

I’ve saved them for this day. When I get Buster’s ashes back, I’ll combine them in one urn and they will once again be inseparable. I think they would both approve.

It would be disingenuous to say there is absolutely nothing in the world I care less about than the death of Michael Jackson. I lump him in with all the other irrelevant celebrities — the Britneys and Parises and Lohans and the parade of generic, interchangable reality TV stars and their “this year’s model” pretty-young-face dramatic television counterparts.

Really I couldn’t care less about any of them. Still, there definitely are things I care less about. People talking about Michael Jackson’s death is near the top of that list.A quick digression…

I listen to NPR a lot. Yesterday, while running errands between Hank Hoffman’s morning and evening shoots, I was listening to KCRW when the King of Pop went face-up.

To my abject, indescribable horror, KCRW cut away from All Things Considered with the “breaking news” that TMZ was reporting Michael Jackson had died.

There is so much wrong with this event, I beginning spitting with dyspeptic rage just trying to get it all out.

1: NOT “breaking news.” Relevant or not, mega-pop star or creepy weirdo whose fame has been fading for 25 years, he’s fucking dead. Is he going to be MORE dead later? Is his condition likely to change? The local news break was coming up in three minutes! Announcing that “Thriller” was about to be played on every radio station around the country couldn’t wait another three fucking minutes?

2: TMZ?!?! T-M-Fucking -Z??? THIS is now “a source,” and for NPR for fuck’s sake? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME, PYLE!!!

To add insult to sheer, mind-batteringly-bad news desk work, the local anchor kept breaking in to annouce that they would have updates on the story as it developed.

WHAT??? What the fuck part of “dead” was going to “develop?” Were they waiting for him to transmogrify back into a black man post-mortem like a werefolf becoming human again after taking a fucking bullet? What fucking developments? GAH!!!

See? Spitting again.

Here’s my thing: Once upon a time there was a technically proficient pop star who took soul music, boiled it, filleted it, made it completely toothless and non-threatening and bubblegum scented so white people could dance to it. Then the pop star mutated into a frightening circus freak who molested Macaulay Culkin (et. al.)

Essentially, Michael Jackson was the personification of the demented psycho from a slasher movie. And yet, because he was famous, we’re supposed to forget all the unforgivable stuff and mourn.

I say fuck him. Beat it. Thrilled he’s gone.

The best thing about this media event is I’m getting to pull all my old Michael Jackson jokes out of mothballs. I’ll leave you with my favorite.

What’s the difference between Neal Armstrong and Michael Jackson?

Neal Armstrong walked on the moon.
Michael Jackson fucked little boys.

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