Faux?

The air flashes very green, a warning viewed from every angle simulcast

syndicate horse hooves clatter up, roll call

sisters astride of dangle hooks by the side, saw blade miming, as the kids say

these days, don’t write it if it’s not true, though to you

truth is an attitude.

 

Wonder, or is it because that’s a dark staircase, if you leap

with a sash over your eyes especially, foreknowledge is invention’s chief

impediment raining in bolts, yes and like you learnt

in the gravel pit, cackle caw cawing and dancing everyday

till mom rang the bell, the flowy whooshy whispy stuff all over

everything is magical really, which has textured worth

called Personality Shakes yesterday, they told me to fill the flower pot

everyday until you have raspberries, a metaphor for every occasion.

Faux?

Movie Review: Cam

Many Netflix original movies have so far ranged from simply awful (The Cobbler, The Ridiculous 6) to charmingly loopy (The Babysitter, Turbo Kid), frequently producing content that simply would not fly in a theatrical release, either due to shocking and unexpected violence or the laziest of comic writing.  However, with 2017’s Wheelman Netflix showed that it could produce a first-rate thriller, creating a fast-paced, exciting ride, even if the plot was a little thin for a theatrical release.  2018’s Cam represents another step forward for the production team, crafting an immensely watchable and unconventional thrill ride, one that is familiar in the type of tension it brings to the fore yet wholly modern in its conclusion.

Though Cam was helmed by promising first-time director Daniel Goldharber (and co-written by Goldharber and Isabelle Link-Levy), the story comes from Ilsa Mazzei, who used her own experience as a working cam girl to color the piece with an unmistakable layer of authenticity.  The story concerns Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer), an enterprising young woman who makes a more than healthy living as a cam girl, which is a term I was unaware of before I saw the film.  Cam girls make their money by performing an improvisational pornographic cabaret in front of their personal webcam, receiving suggestions and payment from legions of leering patrons.  The film offers a peek inside the world of the cam girl, including the friendships, collaborations, and antipathy shared among this society of modern entrepreneurs.  Early in the film’s runtime, however, Cam takes a turn to the dark underbelly of the Cam girl business, making of itself an unconventional and immensely watchable thriller.

As the movie never strays from her character’s point of view, Madeline Brewer delivers what could be a star-making performance, displaying in equal parts intelligence, strength, resourcefulness, and desperation.  As Ackerman and her cam girl pseudonym “Lola_Lola” are toyed with by a mysterious doppleganger, the film’s tension expands into unexpected avenues, keeping the tension tangible and unconventional.  There is at one point a threat that Ackerman’s cam girl persona might be exposed to her friends and family, and while a more conventional look into this business might cast this as the ultimate horror, Cam simply allows it to happen and then deals with the consequences.  The greater threat comes from the false “Lola_Lola,” and in a climactic showdown that takes place entirely on Ackerman’s webcam, she vanquishes the threat and regains control of her digital identity.

Though the film is littered with excellent supporting performances, most notably from Kevin Druid (13 Reasons Why) as Ackerman’s younger brother and Patch Darragh (The First Purge) as her most slavish patron, the film lives and breathes through its star.  Brewer’s performance acts as the perfect conduit for the statement being made by Ilsa Mazzei, that cam girls are not like prostitutes or even strippers whom could become victims of exploitation, but are more akin to explorers in a new field of profitable sexuality.  Though this statement might seem dubious to some, particularly Ackerman’s mother Lynne (Melora Walters), Cam constructs a fascinating argument, and heralds the arrival of exciting new talent in modern filmmaking.

Unknown-2.jpeg

Movie Review: Cam

Zen Comedy: Darkness

The Zen Comedian, when approached by a pupil who complained of depression, even going as far as to say that he could not find the world funny anymore.  “Sadness, when rightly harnessed, is very powerful,” he paused, “but it is not the fire, only the fuel.”  The Zen Comedian offered this lesson, I believe, to describe the way that heart-dulling sadness, though not necessarily the subject matter and substance of hilarious comedy, can in many ways be useful.  There are two Zen Comedians who’s perspectives and performance styles are seemingly opposite, but each of them demonstrate this Zen comedy principle perfectly.

First, Zen Master Norm Macdonald spends seemingly endless stretches of stage time opining on the darkest pieces of reality conceivable.  Death, horror, pain and wrath are the subject matters of almost every joke delivered, but when they come through the voice of what seems to be a listless Canadian hick, they become riotous.  One of Zen Master Norm’s greatest bits evokes the death of his father, which was such a sad event in his life that he was able to use it as grist for a hilarious routine.  The central sentiment of this bit is exemplified in the part of the joke where he describes standing at his father’s deathbed: “My niece came up to me and she was like “He’s in a better place.  I said “He’s on the floor.”  This joke is absolutely hilarious, and it shows the way the extreme sadness, while not necessarily being the subject of the joke, as Norm’s aspect throughout the piece does not change, but tragedy on its periphery

On the other side of the spectrum from Zen Master Norm is a completely different style of performance, one that might even be considered the opposite of Mr. Macdonald’s dusky fatalism, the mad antics of Zen Master Conan O’Brien.  Zen Master Conan, having never been a standup comedian in the strict sense, has found a conduit for his own comedy in hosting a late-night show, which he has done nearly constantly for almost thirty years.  Throughout his career hosting these talk shows, most of the comedy presented is fairly madcap, relying on sheer insanity to produce laughter, but every insane moment Zen Master O’Brien creates on his various late night talk shows there is a center of existentially suicidal dread.  The very first episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brien starts with a taped piece in which O’Brien is in his dressing room, overwhelmed by the intense pressure not to blow it, steps up onto a stool and puts his head in a noose.  This image, I think, is an evocative tableau, perfectly expressing the terror and dread of this (then) new television personality.

One of the things that comedians can do very well (as in the work of Zen Master Pryor) is to grapple with the darkest recesses of their own mind, but I don’t think that is what this lesson is meant to show us.  When the Zen Comedian said that sadness is “not the fire, only the fuel,” I believe he meant that comedians can dwell on the saddest aspects of their own histories and personalities, but in the face of depressing reality, it is the job of the comedian to laugh.  One of my earliest and most consistently successful bits draws from my own experience as a lonely young man.  I used to stand in front of a crowd and wonder aloud to myself, “How do I get a girlfriend?”  Then it would occur to me, “I could dig a hole!”  I would then describe myself digging a series of large holes in the park and waiting for girls to fall in, and when I came to rescue them, they would prefer to stay in the hole.  This was a simple and effective joke, one that took a concept like loneliness, and brought it to its logical maximum impact.  The comedy here lies not only in the ludicrous nature of my proposal, but also in the relatable nature of its emotional anchor, showing that the darkest sides of our own perceptions sometimes yield the funniest jokes.

 

images.jpeg

Unknown.jpeg

Zen Comedy: Darkness

Poem: The Killing of a Horse (sort of)

The texture flits in and out

like a spark hog, I guess, I mean a spark that’s all

like “I’m totally a spark n’ shit,” sparking shit blue moon

tongue depressors, but you knew this would happen, or preternaturally

supposed the future as it occurs, but sometimes it’s like yesterday

by the Beatles isn’t my favorite, ‘cause it’s kind

of doughty, it’s probably cause you hit her, whichever one that was

I forget shit all the time, and my girlfriend is increasingly reluctant

to believe thee readily evident, repeatedly reticent

panoramic period ending the sentence, and than it starts

“Again, crackers!” crackers this time, cheerio that is

as in “that is,” a good pip, when you pop.

 

explicative pretense denied, bitches, this is my coaster

rain-soaked chinchilla prostitute in the future, a pig in every poke

on the literal use of terms, pejorative leaning Mamet monologue

you son of a bitch, the truth handles your ass or some shit

I’m so Sorkin, showing itself a gag on fire

speech of truth, which has never been written

before now, madness fudge-battered cocaine spectacle

sounds tasty in the sun, but it would totally melt so

it would probably kill you, unless you were a hardcore

user specific, or lucky like me I guess.

Poem: The Killing of a Horse (sort of)

Poem: She’s like

“It’s getting dark” and I’m like “duh”

but silently to myself, because the shit is obvious

to those in my headworld, that the sky is falling

used to be our favorite

kid’s story, now is turning satirical, but where the fuck

does the red river flow?

 

Narcissism skin is thin and gauzy,  silverfish slithery

nasty and scary, or so I’ve been told, by picture book legend’s

purported depictions of fact held by some with a sickness

inherited along lines you stood in when you were

younger than you are now, sometimes fatal but I had a serum

synthesized in my basement, where I grew from Rock Lords

to Masturbation Fantasies, games of poker

petty crime and blood on the stairwell, meditating stationary

through a copper fog, unaffected stillness.

Poem: She’s like

Poem: All the World

First of all

there is nothing, and nothing ever matters,

because your brain is nothing but sparks and dials and levers

going haywire on a loop

over and over, but what about beauty?

 

Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is a story about friendship

where the two styles merge, choreography superior

fetishistic circus of movement, kung fu inferno

never translated with a meaning, iron eyepatch

villainy inherent, there is always more.

 

Nothing and more there is always there, behind

all time and space, depending on how you look

through one eye alone, see vapors evaporate

into joyful progress, every day a new door

made of candy, stars bursting chewable

red and blue and purple, but probably not.

 

That would be madness, panoramic obsessive

without paranoia, you’d be locked up

believing that, there never was tomorrow

in the first place, because all of us can feel

that we are the same, marrow and saliva

leaking out the folds, memories of pain becoming.

 

Shadows receding slowly, clearing your head

of detritus, nothing is ever at all

without a passion, stories die as reborn

becoming all places, characters and statements

at the same time popping a brain out your eyes.

 

Love is in everything, forever onward

omnipresent dreadfully looming

horrors of the dawn dusk in between and end,

search for a kernel of joy, that’s all there is

when it comes down to it.

Poem: All the World

The Treetops (2nd draft): Chapter 3: The Teddy

Mason led the Treetops to the Main Concourse, an asphalt line that bisected the park and was decorated with irregularly placed streetlights.  It was twenty yards wide, and at night completely barren, making of it an eerie black stone river.  One could almost watch the ghosts of wandering tumbleweed, emerging from nothing only to immediately disappear, as if they were too scared to exist.

This river, when viewed from above, looped, pooled irregularly, and split away from itself only to suddenly end in various places.  At certain times in its history, many groups including but not limited to those aligned with the local government, had taken the mission of finishing Norwood Park’s Main Concourse once and for all.

Colorful speeches and jeweled banners often spoke of resurrection, attaching a religious significance to mending this economic hub, but the reality of the job was too much.  Moral and economic bankruptcy on all sides of the effort had made the most noble hope crumble to nothing.

This meant that the concourse, which had been proposed and designed ages ago by people no one tried to remember, was like a mural born of committee politics.  It began with a goal, undoubtedly, but the issues of diverse eras had caused the public to realize that they didn’t really care about Norwood park.

It was a forbidding symbol, the Teddy at night, and it’s reputation assured that law abiding citizens stayed away.  For these bystanders and potential witnesses, The Teddy’s darkness was a symbol of a world they didn’t want to visit.

Simon, vitalized from what he felt had been a victory over Mason, strode ahead of the group and spoke to everyone like a camp counselor.  “Let’s find a spot and post up, see what breaks.”  Simon broke into a light jog, coasting out in front of the rest.  He strode out of one of the streetlights’ halos, shadowing him in the night haze while he looked back at the others, “Why’a you all so tense?”

Mason grinned, barely letting his teeth show.  Max noticed this anticipatory smile and called after Simon.  “I don’t think that’s real wise.”

Simon responded, “Whatever,” curt and sharp.  Hopping and boosting himself up over it with his arms, he sat on top of a garbage can, hanging his feet before its mouth.

As soon as he did this, two large, muscled gangsters rushed out from under the trees and knocked Simon to the ground, causing him to land painfully on his hip.  They were both wearing black tank tops, green suspenders and world war 2 era headgear.

“The summit is to take place in Norwood park, keep moving.”  These were members of War Helmet, a gang renowned throughout the city for its brutal discipline.  Simon tried to lash out at the Helmet who’d assaulted him, but before he could take a swing, two more grabbed him by each arm and held him still.

“That’s War Helmet,” Mason said casually, smirking and chuckling.  “They’re providing some of the security.”

“Security?”  Simon opened his mouth as if he didn’t understand.  After just a moment of consideration he closed his mouth and relaxed his arms, seeing that in a physical contest he would be overmatched and outnumbered.  “Understood.”  Simon frowned and lowered his head.

As they continued down the Concourse, Mason kept the dialog going.  “War Helmet comes from Port Ashland, I don’t know much about them, don’t mess with ’em though.”

“Yeah,” Simon said, defeated.

As quickly as the members of War Helmet had arrived, they disappeared into the darkness under the trees.  Art was intrigued by this show of mastery, and he searched the darkness for other members of this gang, crouching under low branches and peering up through leaves toward the streetlights.

“Stop looking for us,” a voice came from nowhere, loud and deep.  “The summit is to take place in Norwood park, clear the Concourse.”

“Or what?”  Simon trotted slowly into the middle of the black, solid path.  Stretching his arms to his sides, he straightened his right leg out in front of him, then hopped to his left.  “Come on, War Helmet, scare me, I wanna see your force.”

After around 15 seconds watching the willows, Mason tapped Simon on the shoulder and spoke softly into his ear.  “Unless you’re gonna go in there and look for them, I think we should go.”

With his mouth held open and his pupils flicking back and forth, Simon nodded and began to walk forward.  The rest of the Treetops followed, continuing an unnerved caravan.

 

The Treetops came to and passed what was affectionately referred to as the Big Fountain.  The Big Fountain had once upon a time been one of the city’s central meeting places, hosting all manner of political rallies and musical performances, but it had been decades since water had flowed through it.  Now it was simply a grouping of mold-covered gargoyles looking fearsome and portending doom.

On the edge of the Big Fountain sat a fairly nondescript group of street hoods, displaying no obvious colors and all facing in different directions.  They didn’t seem like a gang at all, as all of them were distracted by their own pursuits.  The tallest one, with his hair cut down to a light fuzz that covered his skull, quietly bounced a racquetball to himself on the edge of the fountain.

As the Treetops passed by, this apparent figurehead noticed Mason’s approach, and turned on his heel.  “Mason,” he spoke, “Who’re these?”

The Treetops stood together in a tight group, as if they only just now realized the danger of their situation.

A Skinny man in an undershirt waved, remaining silent.  His face was gaunt and his bones stuck out, making it appear as though he’d not eaten for years.  The streetlights circling the fountain made the divots and crevices in his face create shadows in his face.  The shadows made him appear ghostlike, but not the ghost of a person, more like the ghost of rumbles past.

“That was Jeremy, he runs The Numbers, they’re all right.”  From the fountain, The Treetops and The Heaters continued through a tight group of willow trees.  The trees were packed together such that they created a decaying canopy, moonlight shining through its gaps at different angles.

Max became uneasy.  “Who’re The Numbers?”  Max asked nervously, as though the answer would harm him.

“They’re from the outskirts, I think, by the train yards, I think.”

Waiting until the Numbers were out of earshot, Simon eventually proffered his analysis.  “The Numbers is a stupid name.”

“So is the Treetops,” said Art, casting his potentially offensive statement casually; just throwing it out there.  “And so is the Forty-Niners, and so is the Heaters.  Gang names are stupid.”  Art looked into Simon’s eyes, challenging him.  Simon and Art conflicted often, sometimes even coming to blows, but Simon was too scared after his encounter with War Helmet to tire himself out in this way, so he said nothing.

As soon as he invoked the name of the Heaters, which had already been the center of a contentious moment, Art looked Simon in the eye, seemingly daring him to make a move.  Simon silently kept moving, trying not to look at Art.

“The numbers is a stupid name,” Simon spoke, his voice tinged with anticipation.  “The Heaters is a stupider name though, it must be said.”

In an instant Simon was on his back, Mason standing over him with a cocked-back fist.  “Why’re you fuckin with me?”

Simon twisted and pushed up with his hands, backing Mason up and claimed his own patch of grass.  “Cause we don’t need you.  I don’t even know why you’re here, get the fuck out.”

“He’s here cause we wanted a guide,” Roly said, backing Simon and Mason away from one another.  “We weren’t gonna come up here with no plan.  Mason knows the park better than we do.”

“Oh wow he probably knows they got trees and stuff.”  Simon spoke staring into Mason’s eyes as they circled each other, Big D standing between them.  “Fuck that, like we can’t figure it out.”

As he stretched his arms out, Big D sounded like a toddler begging his parents not to hurt each other.  “Two is better than one right?  Isn’t that a good enough reason?”

Simon responded quickly, “No, I don’t trust Mason, he’s got a plan and I don’t like it.”

Purposefully and deliberately, Max strode out between them.  “Cool it, Simon.  Fact is, we weren’t gonna come without a guide and you know it.”

“But why couldn’t we come without a guide?  We got an invitation same as them, we’re not stupid.”

Max lowered his head and beckoned Simon with his hand to lower his the same way so they could speak more softly and privately with one another.  “I wasn’t comin’ without a guide, that’s what it comes to.  You wanna blame someone for nothing?  Fine blame me, but cool it, you’re not helping us, look around.”

Simon stood up straight, looked around and saw they were surrounded at all sides by the Heaters, many of them clutching weapons.  He looked left to right, seeing the whole situation.  “Okay, whatever.”

Mason stood silent watching Simon’s face, seeing from his expression that his apology had been insincere.  “It’s okay, whatever.  Want us to take you to Norwood now?”

Max felt sickened by Mason’s superior attitude, but he just said “yeah,” and they all moved on.

The Treetops (2nd draft): Chapter 3: The Teddy