Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Sit Elsewhere, Before You Break Something! said the Ellison-man."

Appreciation by James Patrick Lockett

Melancholy ain’t just Lassie guarding some cantaloupes.
Nor is it the word that properly describes how I feel today.  There are forty-eight synonyms in the Thesaurus for ‘sad’ and not one of them adequately convey how I feel.  Just one of the many things I already miss about Harlan Ellison – I’m sure he would look at me and throw out ‘lugubrious’ or ‘woebegone’ or just a simple, ‘low.’
I’d started writing half a dozen times, different things the passed couple of days, and all the words always seemed to just mock my feelings.  Maybe it’s not time yet.  So, I sat eating (Hydrox) cookies and re-re-re-reading Ellison short stories – feeling sorry for our loss and mad that death slipped in like a thief in the night and took Harlan in his sleep.  Normally, that’s the way we all want to go, but there’s something lily-livered about not having the guts/spine/pluck (take your pick) to risk encountering Harlan’s wrath.  Eventually, I ran out of cookies – right in the middle of “Jeffty” – and I thought WWHED? (Well, certainly not bother explaining an obvious acronym, or even use one at all, for that matter.)  He would write, regardless of perceived ill-timing, regardless of what others thought.  Fingers would roll a personalized piece of card stock through the platen of the ol’ Olympia quicker than most of us could level the paper table; and then those fingers. . .why those two fingers would just fly with abandoned conviction at 100-plus words per minute, pummeling the keys with a pugilistic vehemence that. . .sorry, I got carried away, I digress.  He would do what he always did, write what he was feeling –

*   *   *

In the hills and canyons that loom high above the Stupido City/Peabody Oaks neighborhood in that Land of Milk and Honey, the roads climb like Kilimanjaro – exactly like Kilimanjaro – at a comfortable 82 degrees, and confound with twists and turns that have lead many a novice explorer to believe they’ve somehow made a left into a Billy Wilder film.  In the past, one could follow the faint strains of Django Reinhardt or the echo of typewriter keys stamping ink onto 20# bond and they would find themselves at the entrance to an ancient Aztec Temple.  Naysayers had claimed the place didn’t exist, that it was as much a myth as the man they sought – that people had been lost in the hills, searching, never to be heard from again.  But, if one was true of heart, pure in intent, and fearless – and clever enough to park off the ever-narrowing road – you might be granted entrée (an offering of Mandelbrot, or other such nostalgic fare never hurt one’s chances to cement an invitation). Tread softly, for this is where you refresh your soul.
It is here, in the magical place – surrounded by books, and art, and books – and odd, unidentified weights (perhaps ancient Panini presses) that hang bat-like from beneath the kitchen cabinets.  It is here, in this house of myth & story, of hidden rooms, of tangled stair steps that fool your eye and should deposit you in the east wing of Winchester House, or worse (better) a broom closet in Area 51; where book have been known to take flight, when the ground shakes.  You turn – as if you’re about to encounter Lamont Cranston or some forgotten Sax Rohmer character – instead you find the one you sought; the man, the myth, the bathrobe? – far more Jack Armstrong/Andy Hardy with a Jiminy Cricket gleam in his eye, than ever The Shadow – small in stature, yet grand in all other aspects – immensely talented, gregarious and engaging, encyclopedic, dynamic and notoriously generous with a heart four times – one might say, quadruple – the size of mere mortals.  Naysayers – those damned naysayers, again – feared him, distracted from (or added to) his myth saying that he did not suffer fools (true), was argumentative and combative (at times), foul-mouthed and deadly armed with a razor sharp tongue, that would leave you filleted and bleeding out while his pack of rabid lawyers tossed lit matches at you, in a vain attempt to cauterize your wounds. Nay, I suppose you deserve the myth that you search for.
Today the canyons are silent and if you go looking for this place, you won’t find it, as it exists no more – maybe it never did – but it sure felt like it.  Myths fade from the hills like a smog-tinged sunset leaving those who saw it all the richer.

*   *   *

Harlan Ellison – which you may have ascertained by now – died this week at age 84.  Harlan Ellison – for those of you who don’t know – was a writer – and not JUST a writer, beyond all the awards and accolades, short stories, anthologies, essays and teleplays – he was my friend, and that’s all that matters to me today. Harlan was not only my friend, but my teacher (our teacher) and our cultural tour guide – what was it The New York Times called him – a cultural warehouse of the mind? – something like that.  I strive to write with honest words and avoid the obvious cliché.  To continue the fight for, not only human rights, but the struggle of rights of the writer – I once wrote seven page deal memo and got notes back saying “Who do you think you are, Harlan Ellison.”  (Grin)
As someone who has lived by my own conscience and never compromised my principles (for good or bad), I respected the way Harlan lived his life and loved him all the more for it.   He was, in the end ‘Gaspar,’ his character from “Paladin of the Last Hour.”  He taught us everything we need to carry on in his stead – but I’m not ready.  I’m still learning. Each time I re-read one of his stories, I learn something new. So I will keep on rearranging the 26 letters in the alphabet and maybe one day, I’ll get it right.
There are many stories – all for another time, another place.  This an apology of sorts – not for that embarrassing day, standing in the kitchen telling some story, my arms flailing about with all the grace of Robot from Lost In Space, when my hand slapped one of the “mystery weights”  hanging under the cabinet, knocking it onto the custom teak counter-top.  I was immediately ushered from the kitchen before I could more damage- “sit elsewhere, before you break something” – apologized for and forgotten.  I was mortified, and apparently I still am.. 
No.  I had promised him one last grand escapade – in tribute to Errol Flynn’s legendary stunt of “borrowing” John Barrymore’s body from the morgue, for one final drink – one last Ellison story to live forever in annals of SF fandom.  When the end came, I promised to “borrow” Harlan and visit the home of (insert name here) a legendary enemy for one last “visit.”  Sadly, the humorless world we find ourselves living in would not look kindly upon that today and I would, no doubt, face numerous criminal charges.  Although, it would still be really cool.  I’m sorry I’m not in Southern California anymore, I might try.  And that is what I am truly sorry for, I let distance and time get between us and I will have to live with that for the rest of my days. 
If the closing narration from his Twilight Zone adaptation of “Paladin of the Last Hour” – “And all that we are, and all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.” – holds any truth, Harlan Ellison remains, and will for a long, long time. At dinner last night, I was telling Harlan stories and reminiscing when my daughter asked, “In Harlan’s will, who gets custody of his lawyers?”  See?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fanning the Infernal Flames of Peace...Long May They Burn

            So this past week- while most of you were distracted by the Yanny or Laurel controversy – the world marked the opening of the relocated U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem; and while it was conducted with all the pomp and circumstance of an alt-right ribbon cutting at a Charlotte, N.C. Krispy Kreme, I fear the repercussions – far beyond the senseless murder of sixty Palestinians protesting the move by a frightened Israeli Defense Force [as portrayed on Tuesday by The Ohio National Guard] – will be unimaginable and in time, remembered as a grave moment in both U.S. and World history.
            Now, the current resident of The “White” House doesn’t care about this move one way or another – it does not benefit his personal or financial agenda in any way – so, he didn’t want to go. He can’t send his Christian Zionist Vice-President because it wouldn’t do to have him gleefully jumping around screaming, “Jesus is coming, I know him.” like a tent revival Buddy the Elf.  So what do you do?  You put together a dinner theater cast of poli-ttenion whores and small minded racist “premillennials” [you know to keep the Evangelical base happy] – lead by that master of the public speaking, Ivanka and the pre-indicted son-in-law (or, as Stephen Colbert brilliantly referred to them – “Peace Treaty Barbie and Collusion Ken”). 
Barbie and Ken were both flanked by the likes of sycophant and U. S. Treasury Secretary. Steve Mnuchin; David Friedman, # 45’s former bankruptcy attorney and pay-to-play U. S. Ambassador to Israel; Middle East envoy Jason Greenblat, soon to be former Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Pastor Mike Hayes from Covenant Church in Carrolton, Texas, Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of Law at Northwestern, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and the Israeli Prime Minister ‘his-own-damn-self,’ Benjamin “BiBi” Netanyahu, who echoed the day’s sycophantic praise by thanking # 45 for “the courage to keep his promise.”
And if rhetoric like that was not enough to illicit an involuntary full body shiver from you. . .well, just wait there’s more.  The ceremony, which was intentionally scheduled for May 15th – Israel’s day of Independence, which Palestinians mourn as Yawm an-Nakba, the Day of Catastrophe – to take yet another stance by the current administration without having the conviction to own the words, as well as spark some protests, was bookended by prayers of two Christian Zionist (U.S.) pastors, right off the Evangelical book shelf. One might have expected at least one Hebrew blessing – but Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (who recently compared African Americans to monkeys) was not asked (allowed) to speak.
First up was the dispensationalist, LGBT hating Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress (Zionist author & Fox News commentator) who’s best known for saying “Jews are going to Hell” and calling both “Mormonism and Islam, a heresy from the pit of hell.”  In Tuesday’s opening prayer [in a largely Muslim region, I must add] Jeffrees said that the president “stands on the right side of you God, when it comes to Israel.” Amen.
Finally, in a room full with praise, vitriol and agenda, San Antonio’s MegaChurch Megalomaniac John Hagee [who I’m ashamed to admit was my pastor growing up – says a lot don’t it?] appeared, as if to part The Blue Sea and wade through the day’s bullshit.  Hagee – [the Head of the Zionsit organization CUFI –Christians United for Israel] – once told npr that, “Islam in General [& by all means, let’s make sure we are generalizing here] those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews.”  “About 200 million Muslims want to come to America or invade Israel to crush it.” and that “The holocaust was part of God’s priority to get the Jewish people to come back to the land of Israel.”  [The thought of an all powerful God killing six million people to get them to relocate is as believable as Hagee’s assertion that Hurricane Katrina was “the judgment of God against the City of New Orleans.”] – proceeded to deliver an equally biased Benediction.  Amen.  One reporter in attendance, noted that Israelis in the crowd “traded uncomfortable glances” at the echoed response – m’hmmm.
Whether delusional or gullible, or both this was the delegation assembled for the most religiously sensitive region in the world to ribbon cut the most religiously insensitive scheme in decades?  I do have to note two things at this point – first, while this move was designed to look to the world as though the U.S. had recognized Jerusalem as the Official Capitol of the Jewish State, the U.N. General Assembly, in all their wisdom, voted yesterday, 128 to 9 to declare that recognition “null and void.”  Second, this “relocation” of the Embassy, consisted of nothing more than the unveiling of a new sign on the wall of the former U.S. Consulate Building.  Some easily achieved – and easily removed by the next administration – without all this global attention.  So, why does any of this matter?
In 1949, following Israel’s declaration of independence, an armistice border was drawn dividing Jerusalem – which is recognized as the birthplace of the world’ major religions – with Israel in control of the western half and Jordan, overseeing the eastern.  After 1967’s Six Day War, Israel took occupation of the entire city – while Palestinians and much of the international community still see East Jerusalem as the capitol a future Palestinian State. It’s always been of my opinion that the U.S. has no business injecting themselves into the conflict, the intricacies of which are far beyond the understanding of the U.S.  It must remain neutral and act solely as a conduit for the peace process.  A balanced peace is essential for the region.  Unfortunately, the current administration is incapable of assuming any role less than front and center. We might has well have sent U.S. Troops in to aid the IDF, fanning the flames further and thumbing their noses at the fragility of the region and the potential genocide of a people.
            I mourn the lives of the protestors lost because of this.  I hope cooler heads prevail within the Palestinian Council and keep Hamas from retaliation.  I hope to see Israel held, in some way responsible for their actions – maybe as far as war crimes, as some people are calling for, though perhaps not.  Someone needs to accept responsibility, and yes the U.S. needs to admit that the move was a poor choice and share culpability.  It won’t happen though.
A U.S. decision to move the Embassy breaks the pre-existing policy of not opening Embassies in contested cities until a peace accord is reached.  The Arab League is meeting this week to discuss the legality of the move, but much like a UN resolution, what will really come of it other than showing # 45 in a less flattering light globally. Two religions, with dogma steeped in unyielding tradition paired with a 71-year-old millionaire, suffering from the delusion that he can do or say anything he wants, have no incentive to change.  It’s a very dangerous combination.
The bottom line is this; the U.S. broke almost seven decades of policy, as well as risking any possible achievement of a just and lasting peace between two sovereign and democratic states, simply to appease a handful of pro-Israeli Americans and the Evangelical Christian right.  Daniel Seidmann, author on issues relating to the region pointed out that someone like Jeffress’ presence embodies the significance of moving the relocating the Embassy, transforming “pro-Israel” into a wholly owned subsidiary of the “end of days” evangelical alt-right.  It’s a good time to think again about tolerance towards other people’s beliefs and religious precepts – not just Christian and Hebrew.  The tolerance of politically useful intolerance. 
An idea fostered with Thomas Jefferson’s inclusion of the Establishment Clause – the separation of church and state – in the First Amendment; and it’s today’s hard line evangelical intolerance that Jefferson feared when writing The Constitution. The evangelical theology of the apocalypse is distinctly an American concept.  Within Dispensational Theology, the belief that God has divided human history into periods illuminating his divine plan for humanity  (the period between Moses and the crucifixion is considered “the law”, with the period since referred to as “the grace” and the final period will be the “millennial kingdom” when Christ will rule the earth in Jerusalem) and these “premillenials” not only believe that they will be raptured into Heaven before this period, but that Christ’s return will immediately follow the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel. Christian Zionists – an extreme form of dispensationism, rejected by many churches for substituting political-military ideals over the teachings of Christ – believe that war in the Middle East is fundamental to bring about the apocalypse. A Jewish Jerusalem satisfies Israel’s and Pro-Israel America’s desire for an exclusive Jewish State, while Evangelicals see this prophetic pre-condition as necessary for the desired end of days.
Although, # 45’s Evangelical Advisory Council [the existence of that alone should make you tremble in your boots] deny that theological attitudes played any significant role in the decision to relocate the embassy.  That it was purely a geopolitical decision – though VP Mike Pence and former advisor Steve Bannon both have close ties to Christian Zionists. I believe that, I don’t think that # 45 is a Zionist or a Christian – he trusts in God only on U.S. Currency and thinks he’s the world’s greatest gift – he’s in this for himself.  But the Christian Zionists and his Evangelical base adore him.  He repays their devotion to him in worthless word and deed that have no real consequence to his agenda. In Robert Jeffress’ (who, by the way, is also a member of the Evangelical Advisory Council) 2014 book, Perfect Ending, he casts # 45 as some modern day King Cyrus, chosen by God as an unlikely leader.  Inexplicably, his lies, infidelities, and hatred are somehow overlooked. They are all convinced that the world is hurtling toward the final battle of Armageddon and this wannabe dictator is somehow their answer.

Look, I don’t want to tell anyone how to think, any more than I want them telling me. It is perfectly alright for the Evangelical crowd to believe what ever myth/fable/velvet painting they want to believe – including ascending to Heaven to sit at the side of Elvis, Billy Graham or Charlton Heston – but it is another thing entirely to go about putting steps in place to actually bring about the end of the world, like it’s some FantasyCon Flash Mob.  A hard dose of reality folks – dead is dead. What happens after that, I don’t know and I’m damn sure Pence, Hagee and Company don’t know either, so let’s not find out any sooner than we have to.  I am, in no way, willing to die, so that you can go take harp lessons on Cloud 9,  any more than I am willing to shuffle off  so that some poor brainwashed Muslim kid and get cockblocked by twenty-two virgins.  Christian Zionists are no more than terror based suicide bombers who lack personal conviction for follow-thru.   They had no business speaking at the ceremony to dedicate the Embassy, any more than # 45 had to move it to Jerusalem – both, like # 45’s constant assault on the rule of law, are a restrained abuse of what’s right.  So please World, for the sake of whatever deity you hold precious, do not take the words and actions of a small percentage of small minded extremists to heart.  They no more represent the thoughts of America en mass, than do the Islamic revisionists of Hamas or Isis.  It is one planet – the only one we got – and 98% of us want to stay.  Peace and Love.  Tolerance and Understanding.  It’s the only way we’ll get through this.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A very rare photo the elussive Albino Jack Hyena & the equally rare Tuxedo Hyena seen here on their natural environment - asleep on the blue plaid plains adjacent to the Kitchen. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Farewell 2016




Thursday, March 3, 2016

PAC NW Wingspan

     There are things about living in the Pacific Northwest that catch me by surprise - surprises not found in Southern California, South Texas, New Orleans, etc - like a glimpse of motion.  I looked up from my laptop to catch a glimpse of body and left wing swoop up, across the upper left corner of the living room window and then a thump on the roof.  I love living in a world of eagles.  To see them soar far over head;  perched high above, watching; or coming close to let you know they're here.  I do love being caught by surprise.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


     The road was hard, the weather harder. It took a turn or two to find the old farm. He left the motor running and stood from the driver's seat. The last he'd been here, he was certain he would never see the house again. Cold fingers had to coax the key to memory; with a rusty jiggle the lock conceded and he was certain he would never leave. . .

Sunday, January 3, 2016

RIP Vilmos Zsigmond

Sad question to start off the new year...

What is wrong with this world? I know, that's a loaded question these days – I guess I should say, what's wrong with Hollywood? I went on IMDB this afternoon and the top news story was that “The Maus Awakened” had taken yet another billion dollar boffo box office record or something. The second story was the passing of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond – the last of the greats reduced to second billing. A passing that should be heralded. McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Heaven's Gate two of the most beautiful westerns ever shot. Not to mention Deliverance, The Deer Hunter, and my first three seconds on screen The Sugarland Express. (I have to add one of my favorite films of the last twenty years, Life as a House.) Hollywood always seem to reduce a career to a footnote in favor of what is filling their coffers at the moment. I called Zsigmond as the last of the greats; as he was the last of my personal top five – Haskell Wexler (who we lost last week), Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, and John Alonzo. The light and shadows that these men shaped over the passed fifty years was the art I grew up with and their passing is a major loss – fortunately, we have new and fresh eyes like Rachel Morrison and Benji Bakshi joining the ranks of Robert Richardson, Michael Chapman, Roger Deakins, John Seale, and Roger Pratt, et al - to carry on. RIP Vilmos.
Set of The Sugarland Express. Courtesy of ASC.