Film Fest Friday: Rescue Dawn

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This is one of my favorite movies. Werner Herzog is my all-time favorite film director, and whether he is directing a documentary or a feature film, or a hybrid of both, his work is just outstanding. I’m sure real film snobs — I mean, buffs — will probably turn their nose up at that, but I’ll take Werner over Fellini or Godard any day. I very rarely watch special features on DVDs, but with his films, I am so enthralled by the time the movie ends, I just want more and more Werner. (Yes, I feel like we should be on a first-name basis. LOL!)

I love his accent and his gentle way of speaking. I love how he gets right in there with his actors and doesn’t ask them to do anything he hasn’t tried first. I love the way he understands the importance of a film score, and how he always seems to choose the exact right musicians to create the soundtracks for his films. Werner is a “seeker of greater truths,” and because of that he’s able to subtly coax from a seemingly simple story the finer details that lead to the larger picture. He encourages us to question and examine human consciousness and the strangeness of civilization. And I like his interest in tales of survival, and the way nature usually has a starring role in his films.

I’m still working my way through his filmography. So far, I’ve seen Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, Fitzcarraldo, and Rescue Dawn. And bunches of interviews. I’ve padded my Netflix queue with several more to watch in the near future. Recently I watched Rescue Dawn for a second time with my friend Swamp while he was recovering from an emergency appendectomy (there’s one thing that made him sit still!), and he liked it so much he has added it to his “Top 5” movies list.

Rescue Dawn is the movie version of Werner’s documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. It’s the story of a man who was shot down over Laos while flying in a classified mission before the Vietnam War started. He ended up escaping from a POW camp and surviving in the jungle until the Air Force finally came and rescued him. What is truly remarkable about the story, though, is that Dieter’s upbeat personality and unfailing positive attitude were what carried him (and many others) through a horrendous situation. Talk about inner strength.

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Random Poetry

At Reinbach Falls

Up the mountain we are pulled.
A stream appears through the muddle of trees.
A field glances out between trunks.
I reach outside the funicular
letting my fingers graze damp, cool rock.
We’re entirely surrounded here
by the greens of leaves, stems, trees.

At the top,
I can hear before I see –
the way hearts sometimes know
before heads –
the graceful thundering.
Peering over a stout wooden fence
and across a small ravine,
the falls of Sherlock and Moriarty.
Too high to see the spilling-over point.

Squatting on a rock,
I point for Jackie,
showing her how to watch
for falling water
between tall, waving grasses
and flowers on the hillside.

We hush ourselves and listen
to the thunder.
To the left is a field.
In the field is a house.
Behind the house is a mountain:
solitary
towering
rugged.

This water never freezes.

September 1998

Thoughtful Thursday: Boys of My Youth

boysofmyyouth

I have to admit, I wanted to read this book because the author and I share the same last name. Having aspirations of being published one day myself, I was just intrigued by the sight of my name on the cover. I’m pretty sure we’re not related, although who knows? As it turns out, this was a really impressive collection of short stories — even more impressive because it was her first published collection. This will go on my list of books with a writing style I aspire to mimick. She’s very conversational, with an amazing eye for detail and the past. A friend commented here recently that he was amazed I could remember such detail. I remember a few things in great detail, a few things in general, and most things not at all. It continually amazes me, the stories my oldest friends recount — events where I was present and involved — and I have no memory of them left at all. I hate those moments. It makes me feel very guilty somehow. One of the reasons I enjoy writing so much is that it gives me a way to record things I want to remember, but probably won’t be able to years from now without some kind of documentation.

I like The Library Journal’s description of this book: twelve autobiographical sketches linked by the theme of romance and the author’s painful disillusionment with it.

“Beard often edges from serious laughter to high seriousness and back again. “The Fourth State of Matter” is perhaps the book’s standout, a narrative about space physicists; invading squirrels; a beautiful, dying dog; a “vanished husband”; and, alas, a seminar turned 12-minute massacre. On November 1, 1991, she leaves work early and passes by the disappointed graduate student who will later that day gun down eight members of the University of Iowa physics depart. Her piece is complex and heartbreaking, a master conduit of emotion and information. As always, Beard knows the rich value of the minor ritual. Earlier, she had recalled playing “Maserati” with her collie: “I’d grab her nose like a gearshift and put her through all the gears, firstsecondthirdfourth, until we were going a hundred miles an hour through town. She thought it was funny.” After “the newslady” finally confirms her colleagues’ deaths, “Maserati” again figures: “We sit by the tub. She lifts her long nose to my face and I take her muzzle and we move through the gears slowly; first second third fourth, all the way through town, until what has happened has happened and we know it has happened.”

World Travel Wednesday: Miami, I’m Coming Home

miami

I’m sure Miami is a lovely place, and I would love to go there one day and enjoy it so I can replace my current memory of it.

When: 2003
Where: Miami International Airport

Coming home from Brazil in 2003, my flight plan took me from Manaus to Sao Paolo to Miami to Charlotte. I was pleased that on my return trip, I would have a shorter layover in Miami than I had on the way down. The airport there has some excellent people watching due to its status as an international gateway. I heard countless other languages being spoken and entertained myself by trying to figure out who might be the best, most unlikely drug smuggler. I like to be outside and feel fresh air whenever I can, and over the years I’ve gotten more temperature resistant. I am always sitting on my porch at home, baking or freezing, and I always have a car window rolled down unless I’m going over 70 mph. While waiting for my flight to Brazil, I spent a lot of time hanging around outside the sliding doors, smoking cigarettes to relieve my relative anxiety about traveling alone to a place where I had a less than rudimentary grasp of the language and visiting the boy who has always made the butterflies in my stomach do some disco dancing. At least I was escaping the refrigerated air. But it was miserably humid, like cotton wool smothering your face.

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On the return trip, I would not be there long enough to have to hang around outside, and it put me in a good mood to know I was close to getting home from a long couple days of traveling. I had been feeling impressed with the improvement in my Portuguese skills when flying from Brazil to Miami. First, I had asked for a Guarana (a Brazilian soft drink) on the plane in Portuguese, not to show off, but because I really wanted one. It was easily the most thirst-quenching beverage I had in Brazil, with the Caipirinha and a pineapple yogurt drink as close runners-up. The taste is something like a cross between ginger ale and Fresca, with hints of apple and an aftertaste of the guarana berry, whose plantations we canoed by in the Amazon. And it is sublime. The guarana berry has two to three times more caffeine than a coffee bean. It’s good stuff.

md11_VARIG

Since I had made that request in Portuguese and conversed a little with the flight attendant, she must have assumed I was Brazilian (awesome!) because she gave me a customs declaration form in Portuguese. I could read most of it, and what I couldn’t was pretty easy to deduce contextually. Rather than ask for an English one, I just filled it out and returned it. After this episode, the  businessman sitting beside me asked me in glaringly English-accented Portuguese, “Where in Brazil are you from?” I said, “Actually, I’m from North Carolina. I’m on my way home.” He turned out to be from Rochester Hills, Michigan, where my long-time college roommate grew up. Small world! He said, “Do you have dual citizenship? They gave you a Portuguese form.” I said, “No, I think she must have just thought I was Brazilian also because I spoke a little Portuguese.” I really wanted to ask these people, WHAT about me looks Brazilian to you? The flat ass or the blond hair? The flight attendant continued to address me in Portuguese for the remainder of the flight, and the suburbanite beside me continued to look awed.

passport_Full

Upon arriving in Miami, we were herded towards customs and instructed to divide up into two single file lines, one for American passports, one for non-American passports. Most of the non-American people on the plane didn’t speak English, and therefore didn’t understand those directions. They looked around at each other, like, “What did he say? What are we supposed to do?” And none of the customs people were helping anyone understand — they were just being assholes and barking at people who had no way to understand them. This was my first experience entering U.S. customs post-9/11, and I felt very shameful at the way “we” were acting towards “those” people. And that was nothing compared to some of the horror stories you hear about people being detained.

brazilian_passport

I stepped away from the “American Passports Only” queue and touched the arm of the nearest Brazilian passenger, who was beginning to look very worried. What must they have thought the customs official was telling them to do? I showed him my passport and indicated behind me towards the line I just emerged from. Then I pointed to the green Brazilian passport in his hand, and demonstrated the opposite wall, a variation on Vanna White. Then I smiled. And slowly, he smiled. He began to spread the word amongst the non-English speaking passengers. See? Everything is okay. We’re just meant to line up here, and you there. Looking back, if I found myself in the same situation today, five-plus years post-9/11, I would never do anything like that.

Their line had to wait while the American line moved forward. When I reached the front, I handed my passport to the first of many officials who would need to examine it. “Welcome home,” he said, handing it back. He sounded very sincere. I’ve never been particularly patriotic, and I’m not quite sure how to explain that. Maybe I will examine that in another post one day. But that was the one time in my entire life that I have felt proud to be an American, except for when Obama was elected. Welcome home.

I passed through my easy peasy breeze through customs — except for when they ask you what you were doing in the country you just left, your occupation, and how much currency you’re carrying. That always makes me feel uncomfortable. I proceeded on to baggage claim, where I was waiting for my suitcase full of unbreakables to appear on the belt. The only bag I had traveled with for most of the trip was my one backpack, to minimize the risk of lost luggage, and to move around more easily. When one is traveling by small boats and passing through multiple airports, it’s best to have all you need on your back. In the end, I had broken down and bought a small suitcase in Manaus so I could pack some of the more fragile souvenirs I’d purchased in my backpack. Unfortunately that plan was foiled.

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Standing in baggage claim, I was approached by two uniformed officials with a drug dog. It was not a scary looking drug dog, and I love dogs, and I swear I was sodding Bridget Jones, being friendly to the crime dog when she had coke in her bag. Of all the dumb things. But I didn’t have any drugs. What’s the problem?

The problem was that the dog was way too interested in my backpack. He was politely sniffing the side zipper until the officials asked me to step away from it. They said, “Do you have anything in your bag you want to tell us about before he finds it?” I said, “Um, no?” I couldn’t even remember at that point what was in my backpack, due to packing and repacking so many times to make everything fit in both cases.

drugluggage

At that point, the dog started going totally crazy. Growling, shaking the bag in his mouth, pawing at it, tossing it in the air like a cat toying with a half-dead chipmunk. One of the guys said, “I need permission to open your bag,” as the other one inched towards me — I suppose in case I tried to make a run for it. I never even considered that someone might have planted drugs on me, because my bag had barely left my side in weeks. Other disembarquing passengers were moving to the opposite side of the baggage belt.

The guy commanded the dog to stop, and the dog sat down beside me, tongue wagging, mouth gaping, smilingly expectant. I looked at the guy on the other side of me and down at the dog. “What is your deal?” I said to the dog. “Stop drawing attention.” He unzipped the main compartment and stuck his arm in up to the elbow, fishing around. He drew back and looked in a couple times, holding it open a little wider. Then stuck his arm in again and pulled out a plastic baggie, waving it in the air with accomplishment, and strangely, a huge smile.

Fried plantain chips. I had bought them on the street in Manaus that morning to have as a snack, and they must have smelled too good for a hungry drug dog to resist. Oh yes, we all had a good laugh over that. As soon as I got done sweating and cursing under my breath. Unfortunately, in the dog’s excitement about finding a potential treat, my breakable souvenirs so carefully packed separately were broken. But I didn’t find that out until I got home and unpacked everything.

When the guy handed me the bag, I said, “These are kinda cold and greasy now anyway if you want to give them to your dog. He was way more excited about them than I was anyway.” He said, “I can’t give them to him now because it would reward him for finding something that wasn’t contraband. But I’ll take them and give him a treat later. He’ll love it.”

I was thinking, “Um, how about a very sorry, ma’am? Can I get a what what?” But nothing. I still had to wait on my bag full of clothes to come gliding by. They just laughed and left me there. Welcome home, my ass. Yay, Miami! &#@$ers.

Wage Slave Anecdotes: The Mouse Turd

mouse

When: Early 2000’s.
Where: Video rental chain store.
What: Conversation overhead between a little girl and an adult woman accompanying her, relationship unknown.

Kid: “My daddy has a turd at his apartment.”

Lady, breathing out an uneasy laugh: “What?”

Kid: “My daddy has a turd at his apartment.”

Lady: “What does that word mean?”

Kid, rolling her eyes: “You know!…..Poo!”

Lady, now  genuinely confused: “What are you talking about?”

Kid: “He has a little turd — a little mouse turd! In his apartment!”

Lady: “Oh! A mouse turd! From a mouse! Okay.”

Tasty Tuesday: Reese’s Pieces

hershey-reeses-pieces

There were a lot of interesting events in 1978. I was born, along with most of my closest friends. So that alone made it a good year. Johnny Rotten left the Sex Pistols. Harvey Milk was assassinated. The Pope died. The first solo trek to the North Pole occurred. Those poor people drank the Kool-Aid at Jonestown. Spain became a democracy. Ali won the title. And the world was introduced for the first time to The Blues Brothers, Diff’rent Strokes, Odie the dog, and Reese’s Pieces. All in one year!

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I was four when the movie E.T.: Extra Terrestrial came out. It was the first movie I remember seeing in a theater. I did see The Empire Strikes Back first, and I can remember being fascinated by the scrolling words at the beginning. But I was only two then, and I don’t remember anything else about the movie. E.T.was really scary to me because of the part when they come to take him away from the house and there’s all that crazy tubing and then he’s in the testing facility on the verge of death. I cried. But I loved Drew Barrymore as a kid and saw all her movies. My parents met her at a party when she was in North Carolina filming Firestarter. My mom doesn’t remember if she was drinking at the party or not. Heh. I still like her quite a bit, and I from what I can tell we have a lot of similarities personality-wise. She’s a free spirit. Some people have said I sort of resemble her at times, from certain angles. I think she looks more like pictures of my grandmother as a young girl than me.

me drew

So E.T.’s favorite candy in the movie was Reese’s Pieces, and some time after the movie came out I got a promotional E.T. toy candy dispenser, which for some reason I’ve had on my mind lately. It was a globe and the mechanism was one of those old kind with the small metal tab you had to slide horizontally to push in your coin or whatever. It came with Reese’s Pieces. I can’t remember what made them dispense. I can remember sitting in the floor of my entirely yellow bedroom, methodically dispensing Reese’s Pieces and thinking about E.T. Wondering if he made it home. I lost interest in it when I ran out of Reese’s Pieces. Such is the attention span of a 4-year-old. But I was thinking I’d like to find one of those just to refresh my memory of it, or to see if my memory is accurate. I don’t necessarily want to own one, but I would like to see it again. I’ve looked all over the internet, but I haven’t been able to find any information on them whatsoever.

Anyone else remember those toys?

Wage Slave Anecdotes: Austin’s Little Sister

goodhumor

When: Early 2000’s.
Where: Video rental chain store.

Some of our regular customers were a family of five who were both intriguing and hilarious. The dad in this family was very effeminate, and the mom just seemed like a normal mom. We frequently speculated that either she didn’t know he was gay or it was some kind of a marriage of convenience. Of their three children, the oldest one (Austin) had learned his dad’s speech pattern and spoke like a flaming homosexual trapped in the body of an 8-year-old. With an enormous Southern accent. He was your typical oldest child — bossy and controlling of the siblings, but also protective. There was a middle child, a boy, who never spoke. The youngest was a girl, maybe three or four years old. Old enough to walk. One day as I was checking out his mom, Austin exclaimed:

“EW!!!!!! Get your tongue off-a-that!!! It’s naaaasty!” He stood with his hands on his hips, eyes wide as bottle caps.

The little sister had slid back the door of the ice cream cooler and was standing there licking the frost build-up on the inside walls. Maybe she was too little to understand that that was not, in fact, ice cream. She looked up at me without removing her tongue from the frost and just grinned. I don’t know if she was proud for getting to the “ice cream” or proud for disobeying Austin. I guess both would be pretty good to a four-year-old.

Musical Monday: Ben Harper & Relentless 7

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Y’all know I love me some Ben Harper. But I have to say I am a little disappointed with his latest musical venture, playing with Relentless 7, a garage band from Austin. The studio album, White Lies for Dark Times, is Ben’s 10th and not terrible, but somehow it falls a little flat. And they’re not that great live. This is so strange, because I used to say the opposite about Ben’s other stuff when he plays with the Innocent Criminals, who are so polished musically. That music is all right on the CD but amazing live. And that one sentence tends to sum up most of the (modern) music I like.

I thought I’d really dig the new stuff because it is a lot more rocking and amped, and I tend to like that to a certain extent. I will usually take gut-wrenching, wailing guitars and power chords over plaintive, high-voiced whining. But it’s gotta have a groove to it, and that’s what is missing from the Relentless 7 music. Maybe I’m judging too soon. Maybe I should watch this new DVD Swamp made me some more so I can absorb his hotness…I mean, give the music another listen. Now, if I could get a DVD of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, or better yet tickets to a show they’re both playing…I’d be pretty happy. My birthday is October 4th. Peace!

Random Poetry

The Concerto Will Be Televised

A man in black
performs
with a ribbon of sheen
running the length of his matte pants;
the trickling tears of salty sweat dripping
from his chin onto the keys.
Hands wobble on whole notes.

I can’t stand not knowing if he’s
nervous
or bursting inside
with joy and release.
He returns a glance and
the conductor is pained,
the principal second caught
eyes closed, startled —
at missing an entrance.

Mopping his brow between
movements,
a white hanky glares
on lacquered black wood.
The Andante compels me
to weep —
insuppressibly, like an onion.
I pause my breath,
exhale emphatically
willing away fumes and delivering
one grain of salt
into a cut nearly healed.

This man is older and lacks a certain
flamboyance.
Arising from a deep crevasse
another pianist floats icy trills
up towards me, past me
rounded air hangs
and delicately dissipates –
the time signature of youth
exploding.

Fingers race the Finale. Arms jerk
assuredly;
eyebrows raise, schlepping eyes.
Cheeks bubble and flush,
pulses syncopate and
Here it is —
forgotten feeling long lamented —
everyone is triumphant.

October 1999

Yellow Index Cards: The Male Reproductive System

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