Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Where Is Santa? Where Is Blitzen, Baby?

When I think of my family, I think of that classic Marx Brothers moment from Go West:

GROUCHO: You love your brother, don't you?
CHICO: Nah, but I'm used to him.

That's the way it is with family. You love 'em, they drive you crazy, they push all your buttons (even when you're covered in armor), and when you get together with them over the holidays? Well, with my family, it always goes something like this:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It’s A Замечательная Life!

This year, as you get all bundled up in front of the TV to watch your favorite Christmas movie, it is well to remember that, if your favorite movie is Miracle on 34th Street, you are actually celebrating Christmas in the best way possible, by watching a film in which a miracle happens not only in spite of, but because of, the self-interest of every single character except Kris Kringle. And if your favorite movie is It’s A Wonderful Life, you are actually celebrating not Christmas but the triumph of Communism over capitalism. That’s right, all you Bedford-Falls-loving Mister-Potter-hating fans out there—if you worship the message behind this thinly-disguised piece of propaganda, then you’re nothing but a bunch of left-wing commie-symp pinkos. And I can prove it.

Don't let the Xmas decorations fool ya.

Bedford Falls is Moscow. Make no mistake--you know exactly what country you’re really in right from the opening. Because it’s not just one person praying, it’s the collective town, and that’s why The Powers That Be actually step in to take action. The voice of the individual never gets the same response as the combined voice of the people. Only the voice of the people as a whole has weight--unlike in a democracy, where each individual voice has exactly the same weight as every other, and their combined voices are a Babel of special interest requests, rather than a unified demand for a redress of grievances. Individual prayers are never answered, not even George Bailey’s. Only when a lot of people make a lot of noise--or make the same noise--is there a response.

Smiling faces . . . sometimes . . .

The root of all evil.

CLARENCE'S VOICE: Who's that -- a king?
JOSEPH'S VOICE: That's Henry F. Potter, the richest and meanest man in the County.

The first time we see Potter, he's compared to the hated enemy of all good Socialists, the Tsar a king. We never see him walk. He's either in a carriage or a wheelchair, and in both cases he employs someone else's labor just to get around (cough) slave driver (cough). And in case you miss the point, he's described as a man who “hates everybody that has anything he can’t have.” As literally embodied by Mr. Potter, the desire for money cripples you and makes you so greedy and nasty that, next to you, Ebenezer Scrooge looks like a Smurf. When money is your God, inhumanity is your house of worship. There is no better definition of the evils of capitalism.

George Bailey, Perfect Socialist. And who better to oppose The Evils Of Capitalism than The Perfect Socialist, as embodied by Жорж Байлий George Bailey. The good socialist never thinks about himself. George always puts other people first. The good socialist always chooses the good of the community over individual achievement or recognition. So too does George -- every time something threatens to tear the community apart, George drops another dream by the wayside as he runs off to pull everyone together. A dream that usually involves travel, education, . . . and money.

“It sure comes in handy down here, Bub.” In the socialist community, the temptation to make money is relentless, it's everywhere you look, and giving in even for a second has drastic consequences for you and the world around you. "I wish I had a million dollars," young George says, and the next thing you know, his depressed boss is asking him to deliver poison to an old woman. "Maybe I could sell tickets," George idly remarks to Mary as she hides her nakedness behind a bush. Thirty seconds later his father is dead. The only time in the movie when George despairs? When a bunch of money is lost. It makes perfect sense that the answer to this despair is Clarence, someone who doesn't have a dime on him, someone who doesn't even see the need for it. Clarence is who George was before Uncle Billy lost that bank deposit. Clarence is George's inner socialist angel.

"Fresh Air." "Times Square!" If Bedford Falls is the socialist paradise, thanks to everything George is and does, then Pottersville is that haven of capitalism run amok, New York City. Without George to embody them, the community values and shared morals that protected the comrades of Bedford Falls from rampant consumerism have vanished, and in their place we see a perfect representation of what 8th Avenue and 42nd Street looked like in 1947: bars, liquor stores, houses of ill repute, and theatres that once ran The Belles of St Mary’s now advertising “Girls Girls Girls.” One of whom is probably poor Vi. If she isn’t walking the streets somewhere. Or all dolled up and drinking herself to death as Potter's mistress.

Ever wonder why she's the only one besides Potter whom we don't see in Pottersville?

Christmas miracle, my ass. Like The Wizard Of Oz, there's a crafty sleight-of-hand to the conclusion of this film. In Oz, we think that, because the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, that means Miss Gulch is dead too. But she's not. She's out there waiting for Toto to dig up her garden one more time, at which point she'll probably feed the little mutt a steak dipped in strychnine. It's the same here -- just because George wakes up from the nightmare of Pottersville, we think that means Potter has been defeated. But he hasn't. He's out there waiting. And the next time Uncle Billy has one drink too many and misses a deposit, George will be on the firing line yet again. It's a fairy tale to think that the struggle for socialist victory over the evils of capitalism will actually result in a winner-take-all victory. The struggle never ends. Whenever you win a battle, you have to remember that the war goes on. Victory is always temporary. The Potters of this world are single-minded, powerful, and eternal. They keep coming back, and they have have to be confronted and beaten again and again, like Sauron in Middle Earth.

Socialism now! The reason this movie was a failure when it came out? Nobody in 1947 wanted to be told that money is bad, sacrifice is good, and the needs of the community come first. Which is as much to say that nobody in post-war America wanted a neo-socialist parable shoved down their throats. But their children, on the other hand, wanted nothing more—which is why the movie has grown in popularity since the 60’s. The country itself has moved far enough to the left so that the message is not a hard-to-swallow horse pill, but an embodiment of current social(ist) values: bankers are evil, health care needs to be universally available, and everyone no matter how poor has the right to own a house. Yeah -- I know -- that last one is the belief that got us into the current depression, the one that the bankers are surviving very well, thanks to corporate welfare. Which is nowhere near as taboo as welfare for the poor. Or, at the moment, housing for the poor, which is effectively dead in the water as a political issue. Chalk up one more victory for the Potters of the world.

Putting the red in Santa's red suit. I could go on, but I think it's obvious by now that people who think It's A Wonderful Life is about Christmas are like children who still believe in Santa Claus: the only way they won't go through life avoiding reality is when an adult breaks the truth to them. And the truth is that the George Baileys of this world will always be anti-capitalist, and though they might win a fight here and there, in the long run they will always lose to the Mr. Potters of this world. Or, to be totally honest (I'm breaking it to you gently here), the Potters of this country. Why do our home-grown robber barons always seem to win in the end? Simple. Because the socialist goal in America is something that always has been, and always will be, attempted through capitalist means. Which is why it will always fail. And why even the best of us will always wake up to find ourselves in Pottersville.

Put that under your Christmas tree.

What I'll Be Listening To, Reading And Watching Over The Holidays

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 12

(The Day Job Sonnet)

The things I have to do to be with you
Are like slow poison to my soul and heart:
I have to smile at those I’d rather sue,
Bow to the stupid as if they were smart,
Nod with respect to those who irritate,
Saying, “Yes, please,” and not an expletive --
Profess to love what I confess I hate,
All for the salary that lets me live
With you -- a life where something in me dies
Each time my conscience with my wallet quarrels
And I embrace a fiscal compromise
By banking paychecks that bankrupt my morals:
Kingdoming devils in a daily hell
To woo the angel that I love so well.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6
Sonnet 7
Sonnet 8
Sonnet 9
Sonnet 10
Sonnet 11

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blue Christmas

Looks 10, Plot 3.

The Manhattan Sonnets - 11

The winter makes you sullen, gray and cold --
You’re dark and dreary almost all the time.
Your bitterness is keen and uncontrolled;
Your winds are raw and vicious, like a crime.
You greet the sunshine with a frigid hate
That like Medusa stares the world to stone.
Your fingers are like whips that flagellate,
Lancing through flesh and muscle to the bone.
Only the snow can scarf your biting edge --
It muffles your complaints beneath a quilt
That blankets skyscrapers into a hedge,
Softening stings like good deeds soften guilt,
Till all your coldness, anger, distance, spite,
Are hushed away in kissing drifts of white.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6
Sonnet 7
Sonnet 8
Sonnet 9
Sonnet 10

Friday, December 18, 2009

That's too long for a play

In the study-versus-stage debate that is (or should be) Shakespearean scholarship, I’m totally on the stage side. To me, Shakespeare was not a poet who held his nose while handing perfect first drafts of his poems to rude uneducated actors, he was a working actor from a rude uneducated background who was paid extra money to write plays with particular actors in mind. Which, when you think about it for more than ten seconds, means that the man probably rewrote more than he wrote.

THE SHARERS: Hey, Will –- you know the guy we just hired to play Albany? He’s better than the guy we had before, so can you rewrite King Lear to give him more to do?
SHAKESPEARE: Sure. But then I get to publish a quarto with that version and pocket the proceeds.
THE SHARERS: Hey, Will -- we’re mounting a touring production of The Scottish Play to bring to Edinburgh. Can you cut it down to about 90 minutes so nine actors can do it?
SHAKESPEARE: Sure, but that’s the version that’ll end up in the Folio.
THE SHARERS: The what now?

These are the kind of activities which the ShakeStudy readers, who have little or no idea of what it’s like to mount a play, never mind act in one, think are beneath their lofty Bard. But those of us in the StageSpeare troupe know that these activities are precisely what Will the actor did every day of his working life. He had to perform in and create plays which would not only keep the half-drunk groundlings in the pit from throwing food at the actors, but amuse the merchants in the galleries and flatter the titled lordlings lounging on their stools stage left and right. To paraphrase Peter Brook in The Empty Space, if Shakespeare hadn’t created 30-odd scripts which combine Mel Brooks, Tom Stoppard, and Tennessee Williams, critics would be saying that it was impossible.

All of which is prologue the following statement: based on the production of Love’s Labor’s Lost that’s being done at Pace University through this weekend, the Globe Theatre in London is the best thing that has ever happened to Shakespeare since the publication of the First Folio.

Why? Because the Globe Theatre productions, by their nature, rescue Shakespeare from the culture-snob study and put him back in the popular theatre where he made his daily living. You get the high, the low, the smart, the silly, poetry, fart jokes, music, dance, tenderness, silliness, and a lot of interaction with the audience –- everything, I’m guessing, that was done by the Chamberlain’s Men at the Globe to keep their audience entertained enough so that they didn’t walk out to watch Harry Hunks fight off a couple of dogs in the bear-baiting arena down the street.

Which is no mean feat for a play like Love’s Labor’s Lost, a young man’s look-at-me-I’m-clever script with a ton of wordplay, a piece that feels like it was written for an educated audience (no groundlings allowed) to be performed in an indoor setting (wordplay does not travel well in the gusty Southwark wind). It has the feel of the later Blackfriars plays, which are three parts pageant to one part theatre. And, like Midsummer Night’s Dream (which was probably written to celebrate a particular wedding), LLL has a play-within-a-play in which the audience talks back to the actors (The Pageant of the Nine Worthies). It’s hard not to imagine, while you watch the on-stage lordlings heckle the actors, that this was the sort of thing the Chamberlain’s Men had to put up with every fucking time they did a play for those snobby nobles with their inbred belief that they are by birth smarter and funnier than any lowly actor. Which means that all the onstage backchat is Shakespeare’s way of needling the lordlings about the snarky way they needle actors. You have to believe that the gentles felt a verbal slap when they heard Holofernes’ walk-off line, “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.”

Take that, you twits.

To illustrate how times have changed, Shakespeare scholars used to think that LLL was one of the earliest plays in the canon (nowadays they place it around Romeo and MND). To me, it reads like the son of a Stratford glover being told one too many times what a country yokel he is, and finally saying, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you!” with a pitch-perfect mimicry of his university-trained betters, like a John Lyly play with actual characters. Ironically, it’s the university wit part that makes this annoyingly clever play so notoriously hard to perform well –- it contains references to everything from the Armada to Raleigh’s so-called School of Night (a reference which was cut from this production, if memory serves), and it’s totally made up of in-jokes that must have had them rolling off their stools in 1594. It’s the Elizabethan equivalent of stringing together 15 Johnny Carson monologues from 1965 and performing them for people born in 1970. There’s no way you’re going to get any of the jokes without reading 10 pages of footnotes before the show. And that’s the challenge: how do you perform a play which is that site-specific without boring a modern audience so much they start watching bear-baiting videos on their IPhones?

Well, if you’re director Dominic Drumgoole, you attack the problem head-on by making your production as site-specific as possible, with the site being the outdoor stage of the Globe and the specific being 1594, so that it’s a total period piece, from costumes to musical instruments (I cannot tell you much my time-displaced inner Elizabethan was kvelling at hearing shawms and sackbuts). And then (because nobody’s going to get the in-jokes anyway), you direct the actors to (a) always speak as if they know what they’re talking about, (b) add business wherever possible to get a laugh, and (c) generally lark about like college kids whose bright ideas always backfire in their faces. Result: an audience-aware delight that doesn’t try to make the lines live so much as make the play live. If I can echo a comment to the New York Times review, which quotes an anonymous student: “I didn’t understand a word of it, but it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.” That’s good Shakespeare, folks.

And since a review of a play that needs footnotes should always have a footnote of its own:

The play at Pace right now is a touring revival of the original production, which was done in 2007 with a slightly different cast. One of those slight differences is Thomasin Rand, who plays Rosaline. Her voice is so light and airy that a row full of people inhaling at the same time could drown it out, and if she's not facing you when she speaks, then goodbye audibility. All of which makes me wish I had seen Gemma Arterton (picture above) who originated the part in '07. You might recognize Ms Arterton as Tess from the recent BBC Tess of the D'Ubervilles, or the British agent in Quantum of Solace who has an unlucky run-in with a couple of cans of diesel oil. If you don't, that's all right -- she'll be all over the place in the next couple of years as the title character in Tamara Drewe, Catherine Earnshaw in the remake of Wuthering Heights, and I-forget-who in the upcoming West End production of The Little Dog Laughed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 10

I hear your song calling me from outside
My bedroom window, and I scorn to sleep.
There are no dreamy airs that can abide
Comparison to tunes we two will keep --
No fantasies to equal how the real
Will rapture us as we reel out the night --
No might-have-beens to dog us at the heel --
No burning maybes yearning to ignite.
Those are the promises I hear in your
Quick whisper as I’m wrapped up in my sheets --
Today, tonight, tomorrow: I will soar
And you will swing me high above your streets
And beckon for a stare with ginger eyes
And gershwin me with clamor till I rise.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6
Sonnet 7
Sonnet 8
Sonnet 9

The Manhattan Sonnets - 9

And when I wake up, everything is pain.
I blink my eyes and feel my face explode.
My skull is home to cactus spines, not brain.
My mouth tastes like the inside of a toad.
I shake with drumbeats like twelve time bombs ticking.
(What is that sound? Wait -- it’s my cells dividing.)
Some stallion in my gut just won’t stop kicking.
(Oh God -- that’s all my molecules colliding.)
This is what happens every time we play --
For every late night laugh, two days of groans.
The bill comes due and I will always pay
A price that troubles me down to my bones
And swear you off for good, till you ask “When?”
And I say, “Now,” and pay the price again.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6
Sonnet 7
Sonnet 8

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 8

And when I’m drunk with you and all the world
Shouts answers to my every silent prayer,
And hope is king, and life’s an oyster pearled,
And every street I walk is bold and rare,
There’s nothing you can play that I can’t sing --
Nothing you want that I cannot supply --
Nowhere I go where I won’t be the king --
Nobody else alive but you and I.
We’ll laugh at jokes that no one else will get
(And I will grab your hand and draw you near),
Pick random numbers and win every bet
(And you will stick your tongue into my ear),
And I will eat life up from lips to legs
And drink it till I drain death to the dregs

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6
Sonnet 7

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 7

"Do this," you urge, and how can I refuse?
You know I crave whatever you can give.
Just lead the way and I will go, my muse.
You are the opium I need to live.
We two will share such highs that all the lows
Will feel like small inconsequential bumps.
We’ll chase the dragon wherever it goes,
Your smile the height that lifts me from the dumps.
You are my queen: command me anything.
I am your puppet speaking with your voice.
You are the balm that cools my suffering.
You are the road and I am your Rolls Royce.
Lead and I’ll follow; feed me and I’ll chew.
I’m nothing till you tell me what to do.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5
Sonnet 6

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 6

Some nights you stare at me as if I were
Metal too soft to meddle with, and say,
“Let’s take a rain check on the massacre.
We’ll do some mischief, dear, some other day.”
And some nights you can see I’m fit to fly
And hale enough to hazard life and limb,
And so you gentle me into the sky
Where I will wheel and hover at your whim.
And some nights you’re the one who’s weak and needy –-
Who trembles like a fawn that’s terrified --
Who looks at me like Dunaway to Beatty
Before the bullets end Bonnie and Clyde:
A world-without-end look, as if to say,
“Come, paltry death -- we two have lived today.”

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1
Sonnet 2
Sonnet 3
Sonnet 4
Sonnet 5

The Manhattan Sonnets - 5

I hate it that you’re never there with me
At spots I can’t afford; it hurts like sin
To see you as some moneybag’s jeune fille,
Like you’re first prize and Rich Boy cries “I win!”
While he throws me a look that screams: “You lose!”
And by his rules? I have and always will.
I can’t compete with him; you’ll always choose
Suites over sweet and T-bills over Bill –-
At least when you’re with him. When you’re with me,
It’s places he would not be caught in dead.
His rooftops and my dives lack alchemy:
His silver will not marry with my lead.
He dazzles you with gold, and cannot see:
In your eyes, even lead is currency.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Other posts in this series:

Sonnet 1

Sonnet 2

Sonnet 3

Sonnet 4

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Claus Needs Some Lovin' - The 2009 Christmas Comp

Every year, around this time, I haunt the Virgin Megastore, Tower Records, and J&R Music World in search of Christmas CD's from which I can make my annual holiday compilation.

This year it's a little different. Virgin is gone, Tower has fallen, and although J&R is still around, I don't go there as much as I used to. What does that mean? It means this year is all Amazon and the Internet. Especially the Internet. I'm usually online a lot these days, but trolling for Christmas MP3's is a refreshing change from what I usually do on the web (cough) download porn (cough).

So, with modern technology as my guide and inspiration, I've decided to take a tentative step into the 21st century and, instead of burning my song choices to CD, loading the tracks up on this blog. They're all below. Let me know if you have any problems acessing them.

For anyone who's counting, this is the 10th comp I've done. (And I've already started working on the 11th.)


01 Lieutenant Sulu sings The Christmas Song
02 Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin' - Lynyrd Skynyrd
03 Humping Santa - Ms Jody
04 Back Door Santa Getting It On - DJ Schmolli
05 Nuttin' for Christmas - Sugarland
06 Must be Santa - Bob Dylan
07 Christmas is Cancelled - The Long Blondes
08 Season's Greetings From Michael Jackson
09 Velvet Santa - Divide and Kreate
10 Winter Wonderland - Liz Phair
11 Happy Christmas - Bily Rock and the Snowcats
12 White Christmas - Allen Toussaint
13 Christmas Comes But Once A Year - Amos Milburn with Charles Brown
14 Angels - Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey
15 Merry Christmas (Thanks for the Roses) - Antje Duvokot
16 The Reindeer Boogie - Hank Snow
17 Just Because It's Christmas - The Gougers
18 She's Underneath the Mistletoe Again - Antsy McClain
19 He's The Best! Santa - Colby O'Donis
20 The World To Me - The Canadian Dollars
21 Tall Trees - Matt Mays and El Torpedo
22 Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Wizo
23 Angels We Have Heard On High - Relient K
24 Snowday - Bleu
25 Liam and Me - Winter Paradise (I Miss You This Christmas)
26 The Raveonettes - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
27 It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas (new version) - Pet Shop Boys

Zip file:

Santa Claus Needs Some Lovin' - The 2009 Christmas Comp

The Manhattan Sonnets - 4

You never come to me -- I go to you,
And always find you in fast company:
Cabbing from the passé to some debut,
Ditching Group A for up-to-date Group B.
You’re always in the swim, so I must try
To win Olympic gold just to keep up --
Only the next chic place will satisfy;
The au courant alone will share your cup.
But in the end you’ll leave us all behind
And find a fresh crowd at the latest spot,
And we will envy them but be resigned,
For everything grows cold that once was hot:
No matter where we stand or who we’ve been,
We’re always on the outside looking in.

copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 3

I wake up and you’re home, but when I reach
To hold you closer, I grab empty space.
You’ve vanished like a wave does on the beach,
Drawn back into the city’s deep embrace.
You splash my face with hope and disappear;
You touch, then drift away like luck and fame.
You say, “What will I do with you, my dear?”
Then whisper everything except my name.
My love, I know you treat your loves alike:
You keep them distant every time you kiss,
Say no to Mark, and then stroll off with Mike,
And then swing back like nothing is amiss.
But I know this with total certainty:
You will be different when it comes to me.

copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Flores para los muertos

I could use five thesauruses to find synonyms for "brilliant" and still come up short against what my friend Rob said after the (4th?) (5th?) (6th?) curtain call at Streetcar last night:

ROB: You can cross that off your list.
ME: Huh?
ROB: You'll never need to see this play again.

And that about says it all.

So why is it definitive? Or better yet, why does it feel definitive? A couple of things. It's an ensemble piece. (There was no Blanchett-only curtain call, and even though I wanted one, because she was magnificent, I cannot tell you how happy it made me not to see her take that star turn.) The way it's staged, you literally get a window into the apartment on the second floor throughout the entire evening. (It's a world you're seeing, not just a room.) It goes from funny to tragic a smoothly as Fred Astaire goes from tap to ballroom.

And, most important of all as far as Blanche is concerned? She does not walk onstage with a big sign over her head that says I AM DOOMED. You actually see it happen. I can't tell you how rare that is when you see a so-called tragedy. It's what I call the Desdemona Law. The Desdemona Law says that there is never a moment when you get the feeling that a doomed character might make it out of the play alive. The law owes its origin to the National Theatre production of Othello (with Simon Russell Beale as Iago) in which the first time we see Desdemona, she's wearing a blood-red nightgown. "Oh great; she's already dead," I said to myself. "So why am I sitting here waiting for the inevitable? And really, when have I ever NOT seen a Desdemona who was doomed from the moment she says 'My noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty'?" (Twice, actually, but they're the exceptions and not the rule. They were also the best two productions of Othello I've ever seen.) Point being, it's incredibly rare to see the Desdemona Law broken. This production is one of those rare moments.

But the true test of how good this production is? I didn't think of Marge Simpson once. Which is like hearing "The William Tell Overture" and not thinking of The Lone Ranger.

Oh yeah; the title of this post? Back in high school we used to use that phrase as an all-purpose Woo Woo Moment; no matter what we were talking about -- politics, literature, Homeric Greek participles -- at some point someone would say "And then the old lady walks on saying 'Flores para los muertos,'" and it would be good for a laugh. Part of the greatness of this production? Not only is this moment chilling, but you actually think for a moment that Blanche is totally imagining it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guide to Guys - Tiger Woods Edition

"I nailed it!!!"

Why do men cheat? Why does anybody cheat? Well, to quote me, the answer is very simple. Here’s the beginning of a scene from a play I wrote a few years back called Donna Paradise. It tells you all you need to know about adultery:


ED: So you’re a divorce lawyer.
JOYCE: Guilty as charged.
ED: So tell me. Why do people get divorced?
JOYCE: Because they get married.
ED: Why do they get married?
JOYCE: Because they’re stupid enough to believe that you can get happiness by pushing a button. “We just got married! [SHE MAKES A BUZZER NOISE] Now we’re happy!” Well it doesn’t happen like that, it’s work, and nobody tells you it’s work. Nobody ever tells you how much work you have to do just to keep it alive. It’s a lot more exciting to chase after someone than to live with him. Which is why married couples who don’t do the work end up chasing after anybody they can’t get their hands on.
ED: You think that’s why people cheat on each other?
JOYCE: Sure. Bottom line? It’s exciting. Marriage is not exciting. Marriage is cleaning up the kitchen and doing the dishes after you’ve cooked the meal. Adultery is take-out. Marriage is playing three rounds of golf and hitting into sand traps. Adultery is an instant hole-in-one. Marriage is going to the dentist’s and hating it. Adultery is getting drilled and loving it.
ED: You ever been married?
JOYCE: No, but I’ve had a root canal.
ED: So how do you know why people cheat on each other?
JOYCE: Because I see it every day, and believe me, it’s not just the excitement. It’s because you can never get one hundred percent of what you want out of another human being.
ED: Sure you can.
JOYCE: No you can’t. Think about it for a second. How do you share someone’s alone time?
ED: [BEAT] You can’t.
JOYCE: Or the time he spends with his wife.
ED: Or the time she spends with her husband?
JOYCE: Exactly. I think of it this way. Human beings are like twelve-inch rulers. You and I meet; we hit it off. What does that mean? It means our rulers overlap. If they overlap more than six inches, there’s something special there. If it’s close to eleven inches, we’re made for each other. But that means there’s an inch on my side that you don’t touch, and an inch on your side that I don’t touch. There’s always some piece of us that never connects with the ones we love. Which means it can always connect with someone else. And when that happens, because it always does, it’s exciting and it’s thrilling, it’s intoxicating -– why? Because that untouched piece of you is like an erogenous zone. Once it gets stroked, you have to decide whether you want to give up the seven inches you have for the five you don't. Or the nine for the three; or the eleven for the one. That’s why people cheat. Because they think what they’re not getting is more important than what they are.

That’s my own personal theory, by the way. (I should probably copyright it; now that it’s on the web? It’s everybody’s theory.) So, given that brilliant explanation, the question is not, “Why do men cheat?” Men are always going to cheat. So are women. The question is, who do men who cheat always want to get caught? Because they do.

This one's totally up for grabs.

Take Tiger. This is a guy who obviously likes to booty text. Does he buy a pay-as-you go phone and never let it out of his sight? Does he set up a clean e-mail ID and use a netbook he keeps locked up in his golf bag? Hell, no. He hands out his real cell number and waits for his wife to scroll through the un-erased messages (un-erased messages!!!) to see all the par 3 blondes he’s been holing in one. (Okay, I know, totally not true. Technically they’re brunettes.) The point being, when you don’t even delete some skank’s text to you, are you not asking your wife to come after you with a nine-iron? (Great mental picture, though, huh?

ELIN: [swinging away] From where I'm standing, your head's a par one!

Just imagine if Guy Ritchie had gone after Madonna with a nine-iron for nailing one of her bimbeau tour dancers. Every single tabloid in the world would have the same headline: "GUY RITCHIE PLAYS GOLF?!?")

But of course, when your wife holds up your cell phone and says "Who the fuck is 'Rachel'?" you get to play the wronged one. (Guys love to play this one.) You get to say, "You went scrolling through my texts? I can't believe this. You trust me that little?!?"

ELIN: [swinging away] That calls for a driver!

There are two other pertinent aspects of the whole Tiger’s Woodie media storm. One of them is what I like to call Letterman’s Law. Letterman’s Law says, “If you’re being chased by a dog, always throw red meat.” Or in other words, if you’re about to become tabloid fodder, divulge everything. This is because the Tabloid Hive Mind is consumed by two questions: (1) Where’s the hole in the story? and (2) Who can fill in the hole in the story? Letterman, savvy son of a bitch that he is, went the TMI route when his scandal was about to hit. And it was a big story for what, a week maybe? But now? Ancient history. The Tabloid Hive Mind said, “No story there,” meaning “No hole we can start excavating in that story,” and moved on. Because Tiger went NEI* instead of TMI, the tabs are having a field day, and every adipose-enlarged blonde bleached-blonde he’s ever done Jello shots with is angling for a book deal.

*Not Enough Information.

"Sorry; I must be off my stroke."

And the other aspect? Not to get all Aristotelian on Tiger’s ass, but he brought this on himself. From all accounts, before he got married, he was something of a hound when it came to the ladies. But when he got all those endorsement deals, he chose to become a squeaky-clean role model. So he had to stop being the Tramp, totally content with scarfing down sloppy seconds in gutters, and start being an afghan or a whippet or (insert favorite champion breed here) and dining off the spotless china. His every public and commercial move said, “I am perfect.” And now that all his imperfections are showing up in string bikinis on the cover of the New York Post? Sorry, dude. You want us to judge you by the spotless china? Then don’t chow down from a garbage can.

Gutter sweet gutter.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Manhattan Sonnets - 2

I know I cannot chain you by my side.
I know you need more loves than mine to live.
I know we'll never be husband and bride:
Your Take is king, and beggar is my Give.
I know you have to feed your appetites --
You're on the town with pearls and a chignon.
I know the way you like to spend your nights:
You're drinks till 3 and after-hours till dawn.
You're seeing shows with tourists in Times Square.
You're Sunday brunch and afterwards the Met.
You're sipping kir royale at the Pierre.
You're cocktails in a Slipper Room banquette.
I know, too, even though you love to roam,
That, when I wake up, you'll always be home.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, December 5, 2009

someone else not me

You walk out of the bar
with someone else, not me.
You stand beside a car
and touch his arm, while he
leans down to brush your lips
with his and, like a key,
his kiss unlocks your hips
which grind against his knee --
which stabs me like a knife
and kills me when I see
you go home in a cab
with someone else, not me.

12/5/09 3AM
Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

The Manhattan Sonnets - 1

The white noise of your breathing falls like snow
And swirls up to my smile, drifting and heaping.
I feel your heartbeat everywhere I go:
It's fierce and peaceful,like a goddess sleeping.
Your wind bites like a hundred thousand knives.
I meet each slice as if it were a kiss:
Promising love in neon-dappled dives,
Keeping me distant with your tiger's hiss.
You shred me like the legs of the Rockettes;
I want to eat you like Red Devil Cake.
You fill me up with yearning and regrets;
I need you like the vampire needs the stake.
My terrible desire, vicious and pretty --
My harsh and tender love -- my soul -- my city.

Copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

Saturday, November 28, 2009

10 Things I Learned From Watching Me And Orson Welles

1. Orson Welles deserved every horrible thing that ever happened to him. God, what a lousy human being.

I'm looking at you, Wellesy.

2. Lousy human beings make the best actors. God, what a great actor.

And the guy playing him is no slouch either.

3. Clare Danes has the best agent ever. I mean really; I don't get it. She mugs. She mugs ALL THE TIME. And she always gets work. Plus she always gets work as the woman into whose pants everybody tries to get. Like everybody in this movie. And Steve Martin in Shopgirl, which was just creepy. What is it about this woman that people think is irresistible? Hmmm. Maybe I should call Billy Crudup.

You think you're so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o attractive.

4. There were no gay actors in the Mercury Theatre. None. Nada. Zip. Every one of them was a skirt-hound. How do I know this? Because in the entire course of the movie, not one guy makes a pass at Zac Efron. I mean, really -- the guy is gorgeous -- if he walked through a cemetery, he'd get come-hither looks from dead people. The only way a male who looks like this can spend a week with a bunch of New York actors and get nothing? Every single guy in the company would have to be straighter than a yardstick.

Uh-oh. We all know what a handshake means in a movie about actors. It means:

5. All actors are manipulators, cowards and liars.

Guess what the BS stands for.

6. The unattainable woman always screws the coming-of-age guy.

I'm going to screw you; you know that, right?

7. The unattainable woman always screws the coming-of-age guy.

You're going to get screwed; you know that, right?

8. Broken hearted and disillusioned is better than rich and famous. Sour grapes, anyone? Just once I'd like to see a Hollywood movie about acting that has somebody say what everyone in Hollywood believes: rich and famous is everything -- and if you can't make the grade, you're worthless. But no. All we'll ever get is the comforting lie that normal people live lives that are so rich and fulfilled that everyone in Hollywood envies them. Two words: My. Ass.

Let's share a fameless disillusioned life together.

9. The Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar did not have a curtain call.

This scene does not occur in the movie.

10. Coming-of-age stories only work when you care about the kid who's coming of age. So on that level, this movie didn't work for me. It's a lot like Jude Law's Hamlet -- as long as Christian McKay's Orson Welles is around, it's riveting. But when he's not there, you wind up doing what the actors in Julius Caesar do. You wind up waiting for Orson.

11. The New Yorker only publishes stories in which nothing happens. Oh wait -- I knew that already.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The best bones of all . . . "

. . . and if you're of a certain age, you know exactly how that phrase ends. All together now: " . . . go to Symphony Hall." Followed by insane laughter. It's probably the only thing thing you remember from the source cartoon, except maybe the image of a dinosaur skeleton. Which are the only two things I remembered, until I watched a recently-released 3-DVD set of random Sherlock Holmes movies and discovered that the source cartoon was part of the package. Turns out it's a 1944 Columbia Sherlock Holmes parody entitled "The Case of the Screaming Bishop." What occurs in this seven minutes is about two miles beyond Tex Avery Crazy when it comes to making any sense whatsoever, so it's no wonder I don't remember the whole thing -- my 6-year-old brain probably short-circuited while trying to make sense of it.

THE REAL WORLD: Well THAT answers a lot of questions.
ME: You're just jealous.

For those of you with long memories, and for the rest of you who might want to get a taste of the surreal crap that warped the minds of my generation on Saturday mornings, here it is in all its WTF weirdness:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guide to Guys: Suckers Suckers Everywhere (and none of them want to drink)

As Twilight fever once again infects the Vaginal Hive Mind with the unreal idea that the perfect boyfriend is an undead bloodsucker who believes in bibisanguinary abstinence, I have to ask: what is it with women and vampires?

ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Isn’t it obvious? It’s about comfort. It’s about danger.
ME: Danger?!? They’re not even real vampires!
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: That’s the comfort part.
ME: AAAUUGH!! Vampires are not comforting! Vampires are soulless devourers of innocence who exist to feed on the living or turn the living into one of them. These perfect-boyfriend life-challenged brooding emo unsuckers you love so much are like walking chastity testimonials -- they never try to bite you, they feed on blood substitutes, and even though they've been around for over a hundred years, they still only manage to have the IQ of a middle-school slacker.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Hey -- we like 'em dead and stupid.
ME: Well obviously. These guys are vampires the way tofu cooked to taste like chicken is real chicken. Or computer game football players are real football players. They’re Playstation vampires!
WISEASS MATTHEW: So does that mean the women who love them are all X-Boxes?
ME: Get back in your hole.

If they were real vampires? She'd be dinner -- not a dinner date.

ME: So let me get this straight. Brooding emo unsuckers are terminally pretty, terminally 19, and terminally tortured about sex sucking blood.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: And that’s why we love them.
ME: Really?
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Look. Are you agelessly pretty?
ME: I used to be.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: But you got old. Who wants old? Strike one. Are you always going to be 19?
ME: In my own head? Sure.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: But not in real life. Strike two. And what are you tortured about?
ME: Working a day job when I should be writing more.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: How romantic. Let us put it this way. Do you ever think twice when you’re sexually attracted to someone?
ME: Are you kidding? I’m a guy -- I don’t even think once.
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Strike three, pal.
ME: So, what –- looks, youth and unsex? Is that what women really want from a guy?
ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Quiet; we’re watching the movie.

ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE: Oooo! New unblood!

Go ahead; you watch. Meanwhile I'll start making a list of what's really going on with y'all by employing false logic, invalid comparisons, and gross generalities. First up:

Not just bloodless, but lifeless. It's not just women and vampires; it's lively women and lifeless men, and it's been going on since Charlotte Bronte hit puberty. And you have to ask: do these spiritual zombies display recognizable signs of life while they’re single and on the prowl the way peacocks display their plumage during mating season? Or is it the old opposites-attract you-complete-me light-shines-best-when-it’s-next-to-total-darkness dynamic that, back when it was Manichean theology, got you a one-way trip to the stake courtesy of the Spanish Inquisition? Nowadays you’re lucky to get a free steak dinner from these brooding black holes. Because that’s what they are, and that’s what they always have been, ever since the perfect example of this species of male made his first appearance in a famous Gothic romance, a sullen, moody male who embodied the two primal female responses to his character in the words of his name –- anyone who loves him will either get lost on the Heath or jump over a Cliff.

Separated at unbirth.

In this view of the Perfect Man, Dracula's not evil; he's the guy who wrote suicidal poetry in high school -- the guy who composed suicidal love songs in college -- the guy who can wilt lettuce, bruise peaches, and suck the air conditioning out of a supermarket produce section just by walking past it on his way to the coffee aisle. And meanwhile every female within twenty feet of him suddenly gets the urge to take home a can of Maxwell House. Why? Because to the female mind, you can only be depressed because you’re grappling with deep emotional and spiritual issues -- you can only brood when you’re contemplating the meaning of existence -- you can only be dark and uncommunicative because what you feel is too big to put into words. To the female mind, if a guy is moody and depressing, then he's grappling with something deep and eternal, like whether or not to slake his thirst for blood by biting your neck. To the male mind? Moody and depressing is just how you are until you slake your thirst for caffeine by drinking that second cup of coffee. Which brings us to:

The shallowness of unsuspected depth. There is something about guys with unsuspected depth which causes even the smartest, least susceptible female heart to flutter like Scarlett O’Hara’s hand fan. Just like men fall head over heels for women they meet in laundromats, women fall like a ton of bricks through greased air for guys who read deep. Mind you, guys with actual depth? Forget it. Imaginary depth beats actual depth every time, because imaginary depth is all about potential, and potential is sexy. Actuality is not sexy. Actuality is like a spreadsheet. Which is why men with actual depth usually wind up with women who can’t fill out the job line on their income tax return without asking if lap dancer is one word or two.

GUY WITH ACTUAL DEPTH: How about sticking a hyphen between them?
GIRLFRIEND: Hey --nobody does anything to my hyphen until I see an extra hundred bucks.

It never fails. Put a man with a company credit card in a line-up with three tattooed ex-cons who can’t hold a job for more than five minutes, and the average female will sit there asking herself, “Tough choice. Do I want Sing Sing or Alcatraz?” Because it’s not just about deep or shallow or imaginary or real. It’s about heart. Heart with an extra T.

It’s about threat. All women are secret lion tamers. There is no stopping the female urge to stick her head into the jaws of a man-eating beast, and when bystanders cry out “No! Don’t do it! He’ll kill you!” smile and say, “Oh no. He does that to everyone else, but not to me. Because he cares.” This is why cheerleaders hang on the words of bikers, prison psychologists run off with mass murderers, and Wendy Hillers wind up on the arms of Bugsy Siegels. (True story.) Personally, I don’t see the thrill of falling in love with someone who, if he treated you like everyone else in his life, would probably beat the crap out of you with the butt of a Smith and Wesson, or drain the blood out of your body like someone who’s just been given a slurpy after spending three weeks in the desert.

And he'll also try to rape you. But you'll forgive him.
Because he has a SO-O-O-O-O-O-OUL!!!

Mind you, I totally get the underlying truth of the words “He’s different with me.” What I don’t get is that “different” means “real and true,” as opposed to “not normal.” Just the use of the word different implies that it’s the exception, not the rule. And to try to make it the rule? Well, we all know what that’s about, don’t we?

"I can be the one to change him." Three words: No. You. Can’t. You can’t change “different” into “normal.” You can’t domesticate wild animals without neutering them or draining away the wildness that attracted you to them in the first place. Or making them so crazy they’ll bite your head off. And you can’t turn a wading pool into an ocean, no matter how much water you pour into it. None of which advice will ever stop a woman from looking at a sullen loner smoking a Camel and thinking to herself, “I wonder what he’ll look like pushing a baby stroller.”

Bottom line: all changes in male behavior are possible, which is why they are all doomed to failure. Only the impossible never fails. Only the impossible gives a woman the satisfaction of knowing that success is just one right word away, one right move away, one perfect night away. Only the impossible -- like bringing the dead back to life -- like making a lifeless heart beat for you and you alone. Which is why all women are suckers for vampires. Because it’s impossible to change them, even if they want to change, without either killing them or making them mortal. They’re always out of reach. They’re always not quite there. They’ll always give you almost what you want. And there is nothing more seductive than that.

Except maybe chocolate.