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Grandfather had cool.
That is to say, he photographed well. Wool cap, blazer, and tie, Harold Hall cut a romantic figure, turned-out as a kind of 1920s Jack London, a man of the world.
But that’s only how the story begins.
Grandmother did the cool thing, instead. The hell with what people thought.
Outlandish for the time and place, Helen pitched the straight and narrow for a dream, starring in her own movie. And changed forever the life of her family.
…Besides, she came dressed to kill.
Hollywood Forever gives you the whole story – in just 16 minutes.
Watch it now…!
30,000 FOOT PSALM
Airlines don’t have much to say.
Unlike a business such as public relations, air travel is a laconic industry. They take your money, give you a ticket, place you in a nubby chair among rows and rows of other forward-facing nubby chairs, present a brief forum on preparation for impact should the plane malfunction, hurl you at an incomprehensible speed in a high performance toothpaste tube, and finally deposit you somewhere on the planet’s crust other than where you left off. It’s all done with the kind of disinterest typically reserved for taking out the trash. And with a goodbye and toothy smile from flight attendants at the exit door, they are done with you.
This is true regardless of the location, regardless of the airline. It’s in the industry’s DNA. Even if a plane drops from the sky, loaded with passengers, airlines say only as much as compelled by outside pressure, details withheld for the next news cycle. What you get is the passenger manifest. It’s the sorta industry tick we are acclimatized to, infrequently drawing attention to itself. While there have been cases when an airline digresses and gets chatty, for this industry, such a moment is like having lost your marbles.
Such was the case when Alaska Air opened a west coast run, in the early 80s, a decade when I had multiple occasions to be flying the Gold Coast service. On all of those flights, mood among flight staff was uncharacteristically giddy for airline employment, and included small courtesies at Beverage Service, chit chat with passengers, and jokes during the safety intercom. For an airline, the mood was downright breezy. But it was during the In-Flight Food Service that unsuspecting passengers received a curious missive.
The dinner trays were served, the passengers prepared to eat, yet, unbeknownst to us, strategically positioned upon the paper placemats, tucked next to the plastic utensils, were slips of paper with formal script and antiquated illustrations. When diners reached for their fork and napkin, they spied the paper. Diners paused, uncertain at the breach of protocol, and then gathered up and read their note.
I picked up my paper and scanned it.
The missives were Psalms, Bible quotes, and sayings from Jesus. Words of religious solemnity reinforced with pictures. Standard issue. Guiled fonts, favoring curlicues. Illustrations of desert landscapes, populated by white robed travelers, pilgrims. The pilgrims sojourned with wooden staff, trekking in the shadow of palm trees, beneath an absent yet implicit paternal sun, its light igniting the background in a white hue that could only be described as virgin. While the rolling dunes were rendered in earthly hues, a gold-flecked airbrush, the overall aspect was otherworldly. This was the very brand of illustrated doctrinaire that periodically can be found pinned to the doorknobs of the unbelieving.
The airplane cabin was strangely quiet.
I snuck a peek, up and down the isle, gauging other passenger’s reactions. Many passengers could be seen studying the paper. The guy in the seat grafted to mine was reading, yet feigning nonchalance, the card between his fingers and held at a distance the way a person inspects their fingernails when there’s nothing else doin’. You could tell that he was concerned about appearing at all interested, but couldn’t help himself, in a state of minor shock. After all, the missives appeared a tad ill-omened at thirty thousand feet while hurtling in a high performance squeeze-tube. That’s something to pay attention to. Indeed, while there appeared throughout the cabin little sense of appreciation, the mood uncompanionable, few cards were passed over. At such a moment, it’s difficult to overstate the sensation of ambush.
Flight attendants, meanwhile, despite their role as messenger, were headed down the isle, business as usual. The questions on their minds seemed not so much biblical but more along the lines of soda refill policy. Recalling this moment, I can see that the messages and their tactical delivery were telling; they bespoke the times. The 80s was a decade of countless unsolicited promptings, served in the political and social and religious “stealth” that became de rigueur during Morning In America. It was a decade that suggested that one get on-message or be left behind. That kind of morning.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
For the time being, I was in the stratosphere. Options were limited.
I pulled out the airline safety card from its pocket. And made a discovery. Our religious missives were companionable literature when situated alongside a laminated airline safety card. I set the safety card and the missive next to each other. The safety card likewise depicted cartoon illustrations, which were likewise rendered upon a gold and tan motif, and likewise featured illustrated pilgrims. Of course, the safety-card-pilgrims came minus walking sticks, and instead of treading sand drifts, these pilgrims were shooting out emergency evacuation exits into a yawning ocean, where drifted tan colored life rafts. All the same, there were taking part in a kind of salvation, toward which the pilgrim anxiously advanced, posthaste.
Side by side on the seat-back tray table, these two literatures became a jet traveler’s memento mori, readying life’s traveler for the contingency of death. However, to the autonomic nervous system, a delicate deciphering had been called to order (fight or flight?). Questions remained unanswered. With these religious missives, was the airline trying to tell us something about our survival chances while under their care? Or did they simply believe that thirty thousand feet in an aluminum tube with wiggly wings was an opportune moment to consider conversion? It was unclear. While one thing was entirely apparent.
For airlines, mum’s the word. And the word is good.
The moment did not last long.
Unlike the fellow next to me, the second it hit many passengers what was on order, they quit reading and worked to dispense with the cards, careful to return them to the identical spot on the paper placemat from whence they came, such that when a flight attendant squeezed back down the isle for garbage pickup and tray clearing, the attendant would be hard pressed to verify readership. Turning from my reconnoitering’s of fellow passengers, I stared out the portal of window seat. Through the oval port, I saw nothing but white clouds below the wing, a bed of cotton stretching to the horizon, benevolent, conciliatory, New Testament style.
CINEMA’S SERAPHIC DOUBLE-D
The movie industry is drastically different than the airline industry.
Films, for one, have much to say, and the film industry makes much ado about themselves and their A-lists, with their royalty evoking red carpets, public relations sashay, and double-D cup and monkey suit mind-field award ceremonies. Yet, surprisingly, movie-going has parallels to commercial flying. The film industry likewise takes your money, gives you a ticket, ushers you to an enclosed space recently vacated by a previous hoi polloi, provides a nubby (and crumb-ridden) seat, and thereby conjoins individuals together into a field of forward-facing rows, awaiting lift-off.
Oddly enough, movie-going also shares something in common with flying 1980’s Alaska Air. Before a captive audience, attentively seated, the movie industry strategically places none other than a seraphic message. Its own scripture.
Also known as the movie rating.
THE GARDEN TO THE APPLE
A movie rating amounts to spiritual counsel from vaguely identified authority, one that has ostensibly subjected the material at hand to chaste preview. Akin to those missives dispensed by Morning-In-America-1980s Alaska Air, the rating’s wisdom is likewise delivered as pithy scripture in a rectangular format, only this rectangle appears onscreen, flashed swiftly before your eyes in a manner that calls to mind subliminal messaging, peekaboo stimuli with sinister overtures.
Like the curlicues and pilgrims and palms of the high-flying scrolls, movie ratings have their own idiosyncratic symbolism. Unlike the quaint metaphors of pilgrims in desert transit, however, movie scripture is suggestive of science, existing on a scale ranging along a curious alphabet, from G to NC-17. Kind of like a scale going from The Garden to full knowledge of the apple. Yet, while motion picture scripture are minus the white robed pilgrims and palm trees, the movies themselves are often produced in proximity to palm trees and executives attired in white leisure suits, underneath virgin sunshine.
Ratings are unmistakable.
They are branded in unattractive colors, uneasy light, and a gulag font. The format unvarying for immediate recognition, appealing to the lizard brain, preverbal, they make reading unnecessary. Like a stop sign.
Movie ratings also come in two parts, a binary bible.
The first part is the movie’s actual rating from the industry alphabet: G, P-G, P-G 13, R, and NC-17. The rating, positioned to the left, is an overtly large letter, as if addressing kindergarten class or political prisoners. The second part, to the right of the letter, is a sentence fragment, or several, rendered in small, adult-appropriate type. These pithy fragments amount to a sincere yet poorly pruned hermeneutics. That is to say, following a heavy-handed outburst, a screaming alphabet letter, readers are quickly assuaged by a stammering explanation, a choppy defense of just what the unseen cabal meant when casting aspersions at your choice of evening skylarking.
Seated upon one’s own crumb-ridden sofa or nubby-fabric La-Z-Boy is a movie watching option, of course. It was from such a reclining position that, over the years, I watched countless rating messages fire past. To the ratings I paid scant attention, pretty much like everyone else. Why pay heed? Ratings were one bit in a long and variegated preamble to the actual film, a preamble brimming with all manner of visual contest. Previews, advertisements, copyright warnings, PSAs, and a dozen distribution-company logos that repeated over and over (I once counted twelve Disney logos before a movie actually began), which inevitably led to the much-anticipated opening credits, a wonky orchestra of optic noise climbing toward a coherent theme.
But recently, I did start paying attention. After noticing something.
An odd phrase in a rating message, a warning I had not seen previously, specific to science fiction films, began showing up. After a dozen casual sightings, when it appeared once more, I sat up straight. Enigmatic, teasing, what did this weird admonition mean?
After all, just what was in the hell was sci-fi violence?
I asked my movie date. She shrugged, unconcerned.
Soon, the movie began. But my mind was elsewhere. Robots and aliens doing battle. Green blood spilt. Space ships exploding. Planets snapped in half. This must be sci-fi violence. Perpetrated by every imaginable digital creature, robots and aliens and god-knows, it’s a genre hypothetically capable of any and every fantastic brutality. But so too are Earth’s own human beings, regarding violence, endlessly capable. Slasher violence. Stalker violence. Knife violence. Bomb violence. Black ops violence. Terrorist violence. State sponsored violence. Institutional violence. Gun violence. The list is endless.
Was sci-fi violence supposed to be more alarming–or less?
To my movie date, I put the question aloud. She said nothing. Possibly she hadn’t heard. Her eyes never left the screen.
When a movie begins, and a viewer’s face glows red from flashing scripture, and the scripture announces that the film is rated “R for sci-fi violence,” a fellow must make his own peace. Sci-fi violence. What could it mean…? Possibly the popcorn should be served in a metal bowl.
Meanwhile, something in this communication breakdown was imminently clear. The movie industry and 80s Alaska Air had earned their own rating.
Rated R for language.
We might imagine the contributions of our artists, poets, and writers over the ages, as written documents along a continuum of shared human consciousness. Or it could be thought of as more geological, layers of sentiment and sediment and scroll.
With geology come the mass extinction events, mysterious lines amongst the layers where the record goes dazed and confused. Portending a Permian-type wipeout, just such a line may be marred by muddle and murkiness and what-whats. It might even devolve further into a confusion of 1s, 0s, emojis-a-go-go, hysterical Liking and unLiking, of what appear to be acronyms and videos of felids. Until the next layer starts again, clarifying the record, and onward ho. Onward ho.
We are what we write. OMG! ☺
News of Darth Vader.
The Dark Side was purchased in a multi-trillion dollar deal by a high tech firm specializing in “disruptive” Evil. The deal put the infamous Darth Vader out of work, replaced by a more efficient and economical virtual Evil. The multi-trillion dollar leveraged buyout—brokered by a consortium of Wall Street investment banks, social networking sites, and a search engine conglomerate—left Vader to seek employment in a hostile universe.
Finding openings no longer available in the job market for Evil, every position filled by upgradable software, Vader had been unable to compete for positions of Evil, criminal ones and zeros having trumped Vader’s antiquated black polyester, cape, and audible sinus condition.
A representative of the consortium spoke to the press about the buyout, saying “Evil is a growth market, there’s boatloads of money to be made.” Experts weighed in, saying watch for a mind blowing Facebook style public offering.
While Vader complained bitterly, decrying the loss of Evil with a heart, his complaints fell on deaf ears. Even Luke Skywalker, with his successful white-hat silicon supply fleet—ForceB WithUx—was unsympathetic, reasoning that there was still evil, but faster, more convenient, and better for business. And, yes, heartless.
“Light sabers are a thing of the past,” said Skywalker at a recent shareholders meeting. “All it took to turn me to the Dark Side was a supercomputer, an ergonomic chair, and a bottom line.” Losing your soul, he further suggested, was far less painful than losing a hand.
With the Intergalactic Social Safety Net dismantled on ideological grounds and the pieces parked indefinitely at dry dock, the unemployable Vader has wandered the void, homeless. Enemyless. His black robed derring-do now lost forever amidst an Evil profoundly more graphics-intensive, 3D, and kick-ass.
A hostile universe, however, always has room for Evil. Of any kind.
Vader recently surfaced on Earth, in a local gastropub. The owners, recognizing opportunity in dispossessed evil, created a one-of-a-kind position for the Dark Lord as a liquid soap dispenser. A position Vader accepted. Against charges of the exploitation of a down-and-out Evil, the proprietors defended the new position as a “well, sorta bathroom attendant.” For his part, asked to comment, a conciliatory Vader had only this to say.
“Once again,” he wheezed, “dirty flesh worships me.”
One winter, while living in Rome, I began to think about the fame of place.
With the fame of ancient Rome, the population grew to such a great mass that the Romans were forced to import daily goods. Imported olive oil came in amphorae—large ceramic jars. After decanting, the jars were broken and stacked into a pile. That pile grew and grew, eventually evolving into a large recycled mountain, Monte Testaccio. The amphorae mountain became a site of celebration in the Middle Ages, complete with games and jousting, and received a yearly blessing by the Pope!
My collages are inspired by these ancient containers and this blessed famous mountain.
The amphorae collages are filled with people and things of Rome. Some have drawings of ancient celebrities, alongside modern people I saw on the street; another has a crazy-quilt amphora of papers I gathered in Rome; another contains local Roman graffiti with a Bansky homage; while another is inspired by the Italian artist Capogrossi.
Naturally, there is an amphora containing the ever-eternal celebrity: the Madonna.
In 7th grade, one of my classmates was Sam Robards, the son of Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards. I wasn’t exactly friends with him, but we had a small class, about eighteen of us in our homeroom, so naturally I’d occasionally interact with him. I didn’t form much of an impression of him other than that one day he wore black leather pants to school because later that day he was going, with his mother, to meet the Queen. I didn’t know any other kid that wore black leather pants. In truth, I didn’t know any other kid who got to meet the Queen. His mom was in London starring in the West End production of the play Applause.
I think Sam was an ok student but for some reason, one afternoon, his mom had to come in for a parent/teacher conference. During the conference, she and our homeroom teacher, Mr. Balas, sat next to each other at one of the student work cubicles that marked the edges of our open-plan classroom, and talked quietly. We all went about our work as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, which in some ways, it was not. I recall Mrs. Bacall wearing large sunglasses the whole time.
As I heard of her passing recently on the radio, the reporter stated that Mrs. Bacall had said about herself that she put her family first, before her career. I got to witness a mom coming in for a parent teacher conference.
What a presence she had.
Witness the Now Lately!
LEO DAEDALUS: Thinking-mammal’s-avant-variety-talk-show host.
NOAH MICKENS: Impresario ringmaster.
Groovy questions. Groovy answers.
There’s a change of light in a swingin’ bachelor pad overlooking the City of Roses. Our host and his guest convert to a more intimate evening mode.
Mysterious moments abound.
Butoh. Art bars. Abandon Buildings. (Rimshot!) Art Blakey. Parties. White Tuxuedos. Folding Chairs. Hard work. Marquis De Sade. Wanderlust Circus. Toast…
Discover Noah’s retirement plan: watch the quick 20-minute interview.
Watch it now. Don't be late.