National Lampoon’s Vacation [1983)

Hello, dear friends 🙂

Perhaps you thought I was dead?

I certainly FELT dead…off and on.

And so hopefully this is a true return.

Many months.

Stops and starts.

I was reminded just tonight of the appendectomy I had one year ago.

What a blessing to have received urgent medical care.

But I never would have known at that particular time (upon my first and only self-directed trip to an emergency room) that my appendix needed attention had it not been for my anxiety.

Horrible anxiety.

Debilitating.

I sought medical help for extraordinarily high anxiety.

And the prognosis?

“You need to have your appendix removed.” 🙂

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.

But I made it through.

My first and only surgery.

Praise God.

And I powered through.

If you will remember, it was a mere three weeks before my graduation with an MBA.

Three more weeks I had to push.

Fresh out of the hospital.

I had to hunker down each day and research.

Study.

Write.

Churn out papers.

PowerPoint presentations.

Research solar power.

Water purification.

The Maghreb.

Sertão.

Sanhedrin.

Sahara.

MENA.

Middle East and North Africa.

Not to be confused with Mena, Arkansas (sniffy woe).

Presentations.

Transhumanism.

Ivan Raszl (well, not yet).

How Hillary ripped off her campaign insignia:

transhumanism

Neither here nor there.

But suffice to say Ray Kurzweil.  Jeremy Rifkin.  Zoltan Istvan.

Bad dudes.

And by this calculus a commodius vicus back to Elon Musk and environs.

Yes, I am back.

Back to that blabbering drivel.

That dithering dithyrambic style you know and love.

And I am fighting.

Not just anxiety, but drug addiction.

Prescription medicine.

It’s what happens when we max out our dosages.

We take as prescribed (more or less).

We take the right amount.

But the “as needed” turns into “needed all the time”.

And so I have been blessed to recently receive psychological help.

For anxiety.

Not my first time (big surprise), but the first time I’ve had a real counselor.

Someone who cares.

Someone who’s qualified.

Someone who gives a shit.

Someone with the chops to help me attack anxiety.

My cousin died.

It scared the shit out of me.

43.

Heart attack.

Three years older than me.

Fuck.

Yeah…

And then I magically was prescribed heart medicine.

On top of cholesterol medicine.

Real fucking fun.

All of this shit freaked me out pretty heavily.

The death of my cousin was a supremely shocking occurrence.

Was I next?

Was I going to wake up and find myself dead???

Well, fear not, dear friends.

Yes.

During the course of my therapy, my shrink deduced that I was indeed addicted to multiple medications.

I didn’t really realize my addiction for what it was.

I knew I was tethered to my medicines, but I had no perspective on the matter.

And so we started slow.

Hey.  How ’bout not taking that third of a sleeping pill to relax…hours before bedtime, fuckface?

Ok.

And hey.  How ’bout you get to bedtime and maybe you only take half a sleeping pill?

Sleep.

Sleep was the first fix.

You gotta have a bedtime.

Be your own army sergeant.

Pick your time.

A “lights out” time.

And stick to it.

Every damn night.

Midnight.

Lights out.

It took awhile.

I wanted to remain with the world.

Wanted to stay up-to-date.

On the off chance that some kind word would make my soul bloom.

And set an alarm, you lazy moron 🙂

8 a.m.

Ok.

Better than TWO P.M. 🙂

Set that fucking thing.

And WAKE UP.

You’re tired?

Too fucking bad.

Now what???

You stay awake for the next 16 hours, that’s what!

So when midnight rolls around again, you’re pretty tired.

But you get a second wind.

So you push it.

And you gradually rack up weeks of 6 hours.

6 1/2 hours.

On average.

But the goal is 8.

Not 7.  Not 9.

8.

After WEEKS of this shit, this finally settled into a cradle.

A groove.

The string settled on the nut.

Or the bridge.

Notch.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  Exercise.

The “holy trinity” of psychological health.

I had been an insomniac for decades.

A pro musician.

Starting gigs at 1 a.m. in New Orleans.

Fucking crazy.

But now I have an MBA.

And I need to straighten the fuck up.

Sleep came.

Slowly.

Tired as fuck.

Torturous.

But you gotta FORCE YOURSELF to stay awake.

Every damn day.

Finally, these past few days I am getting 8 hours.

Was it a month of sleep deprivation?

Six weeks?

Probably.

But it was worth it.

A hard-earned victory.

Nutrition.

Fine.

Eat boring.

Eat country vittles.

Be good.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Don’t go for the dozen glazed donuts.

Or raspberry jelly donuts.

I know you can eat a whole dozen glazed by yourself.

But don’t fucking do it.

It’s nasty.

Disgusting.

You don’t need to be in that mindset.

And exercise.

First thing in the morning.

Walk.

Hey.  How ’bout you double your exercise amount, dipshit?

Ok.

Walk in the evening too.

Twice a day.

And how ’bout STANDING UP when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Yeah, that’s right:  get out of bed.

Get on your feet.

Don’t ball up into the fetal position.

Don’t hide your head under the covers.

Don’t wait for the panic attack to pass.

No more being a bitch to benzodiazepines.

Time to breathe.

Big breath in.

Throw back those shoulders.

Chest out.

Tighten the butt.

Lower back.

Stand up straight.

Hold it.

For God.  For country.

Like a Marine.

Salute.

At attention.

Pop that breastbone.

Tension.

Pops sternum.

I’m not dead.

I’m a crazy motherfucker, but I’m not dead.

And my crazy?  A lust for life.

A return.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Yeah.

It is sheer folly to try.

But it is “life or no life”.

I am blowing the harp.

I am singing.

I am playing the country blues.

I become real acquainted with Robert Johnson.

‘Cept I already tried to sell my soul.

Years ago.

And God forgave me.

Because Jesus short-circuits the wrath of God.

So now I am onto an opioid drawdown.

Tapering.

Returning to a dosage I last mastered 7 years ago (and no time since).

So it soothed my brain to go back to this movie.

A sheer masterpiece:

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Dana Barron makes me happy 🙂

Reminds me of love.

When we were in high school.

And the rare God miracle of falling in love with a girl from a couple streets over.

That miracle.

Those tie-dyed times.

Long since dusty and moth-eaten.

Let’s start with the aw-kward Family Truckster.

Metallic pea 🙂

The green latrine.

Not an auspicious start.

vacation1

“You’re gonna see a sign that says, ‘Rib Tips'” 🙂

This was Trump era.

Think Melania.

Christie Brinkley.

But nothing is better than Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie 🙂

Quaid owns this role.

Drives it into the ground.

Slam dunks it.

The laconic redneck.

Piss-perfect.

“Vicki, can I help you with that Kool-Aid…please.”

“REAL…tomato ketchup, Eddie???”

And the white shoes which act as time machine and talisman.

Future past.

From another century.

Something that’s crossed over.

Houellebecq.

But I got new respect for law enforcement.

And I got huge respect for American military.

Military City USA.

San Antonio.

Here we are.

And these crazy times of FBI.

Las Vegas.

What do you want to believe?

I have turned off the medium which slapped me daily with the message.

I don’t give a fuck about the FBI.

I don’t give a fuck about the CIA.

A useful bit of wisdom at times.

Nay, I am not even really following politics at the moment.

Fuck it.

Fuck these people.

A bunch of losers.

But, regardless:  I don’t have the extra capacity…the patience.

I gotta get myself healthy.

So fuck it.

FBI, do your job.

CIA, stop being such bastards.

I don’t know.

Is that fair?

Which is to say, I’m a nobody.  A nothing.

But at least I know that.

And I can crawl from beneath my rock and give thanks to God.

I can give thanks that nobody has whacked me.

“50 yards…”

Aunt Edna on the roof 🙂

In the fucking rain.

Yep.

That is a rich scenario.

“I thought you were going to tell me your were in the CIA.”

“What, me???  No…not anymore.  A long time ago.  I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Beverly D’Angelo is really good.

Anthony Michael Hall is solid.

But Chevy Chase really ties the room together 🙂

AND RANDY QUAID.

God…

Harold Ramis directed a rather perfect picture here.

No shame.

This is fine filmmaking indeed.

 

-PD

 

Pumpkin [2002)

This is almost a perfect film.

Because it’s better than perfect.

Like Napoleon Dynamite, what should have been a larf was generally a sobfest for me throughout.

If you’re having problems in life, you need to see this movie.

Hollywood is so denigrated these days because the vast majority of popular cinema is utter shite.

From the very beginning, Pumpkin is different.

We should thank American Zoetrope.

And for that we have to thank Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

Do you even know what a zoetrope is?

Well, I do.

And they did.

And it was le mot juste.

A zoetrope is special.

Let’s call it retarded cinema.

A more pure form.  Slowed down.

Pumpkin grossed $308,552 at the box office.

No, I didn’t forget a comma and an additional three digits.

But the Bureau of Labor Statistics has no way of predicting the sort of inflation Pumpkin will experience in the annals of cinema history.

For any who have ever doubted Christina Ricci:  this is her masterpiece.

As lead actress and coproducer, she gives a performance which goes deeper than even the esteemed Thora Birch in Ghost World.

Yes, this is that sort of film.

Indispensable.

I have overused it of late.

But there is no other word.  Pumpkin and Ghost World and Napoleon Dynamite are not second-class films to such as I fidanzati.  No.  They are equals with Ermanno Olmi’s masterpiece.

But don’t get confused.

Pumpkin goes in a direction completely “other” than any film I’ve ever seen.

Sure…it starts out tongue-in-cheek.

It is perhaps a dystopia which is best summed up by the saccharine mise-en-scène of The Truman Show.  But where The Truman Show fails (and that is in many places), Pumpkin succeeds at telling a timeless story.

The story is the cast.

[Thank you Marshall McLuhan.]

Ricci is a thespian goddess here.  Real skill.  Real goddamn skill!

But neck-and-neck is Hank Harris.

I can’t nail it.

It’s something I saw long ago.

At my college orientation.

A bit of Sam Shepard and some other playwrights.

Sure.  It is Steinbeck.  Of Mice and Men.

But it’s more.

Sweeter.  More optimistic.  More frothing with disgust.

All three.

A concoction.

Frozen yogurt and 1400 on the SAT.

Harry Lennix is indispensable to the story.  [start counting]

He is the angry poet.  Not a college professor.  And this is not a class.

This is a poetry workshop, motherfucker!

Even Julio Oscar Mechoso is indispensable in his short role as Dr. Frederico Cruz.  [where we at?]

But let’s talk about some buttresses.

Melissa McCarthy is indispensable (truly) as Julie.

It’s not an easy role.

And yet, she’s not as bad off as Pumpkin.

Who’s Pumpkin?

Is it Christina Ricci with her jack-o’-lantern-perfect bob–her Chantal Goya -meets- David Bowie Low surf perm?  That one little curl…so perfect…all the way ’round?

No.

It’s Hank Harris.

He’s Pumpkin.  Napoleon.  Lothario.

But Sam Ball is especially indispensable here.  [Ugh…]

He is Ken (actually Kent) to Ricci’s Barbie.

Tennis pro.

Spitting image of Ryan Reynolds.

Or Whitney Houston…

Anyway.

This cast brings it together.

Bringing it all back home are directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder (neither of whom have a Wikipedia page).

BLOODY HELL, HOLLYWOOD!  HOW COULD YOU CHURN OUT SO MANY FILMS AND NOT SEE THE BRILLIANCE OF THESE TWO BLOKES!?!?!?!?!

But in the end it’s just Ricci and Hank Harris.

The brilliance of a duo.

A truly timeless film.

I’m inclined to agree with many (including Dr. Steve Pieczenik) that Adam Lanza did not exist.

But Pumpkin Romanoff (a nod to Michael Romanoff, the storied Lithuanian restaurateur of 1940s/50s Hollywood?) most certainly did exist.  For me.  Tonight.  When I needed him most.

This is immortality.

 

-PD

Planes, Trains and Automobiles [1987)

When I was a kid, this was a big family favorite.

It was one of those rare times when profanity got a pass.

That second time Steve Martin goes off…on Edie McClurg (the rental car lady).

But even funnier is the first time Martin pops off…in the Braidwood Motel in Wichita, Kansas…and John Candy just takes it.

Yes, there are some priceless moments in this film.

In some ways, this film defined an era.

Trading Places was an early-decade success (1983) for John Landis.

And then Walter Hill succeeded with a similar type of story, treated in his inimitable way, in 1985 (Brewster’s Millions).

But by 1987 the decade needed summation…and this particular genre which transcended classification needed a testament.

This is that film.

Funny enough, this was the same year the Coen brothers really started hitting ’em out of the park (Raising Arizona).  That film also is a veritable classic, but it is forward-looking.  It is almost like comedy in the hands of a David Lynch.

John Hughes was seemingly retrospective with Planes, Trains and Automobiles…like the J.S. Bach of the 1980s…summing up a decade of dirigist American comedy.

Hughes had a lot of career left to go in 1987, but this was a sort of highpoint…especially if considering only his directorial efforts.

Sure…Hughes was more counterculture earlier in the decade, but he wasn’t above putting his heart into a morality play like this one.

But to paint this film as a vanilla affair is not really accurate.

Consider Steve Martin’s yuppie character…a “marketing” professional on a business trip to New York from Chicago.

Martin’s character represents everything that was wrong with America in the 1980s.

Sadly, Neal Page (Martin) represents the problem which persists in America today.

Perhaps Isidore Isou’s famous class distinction fits here.

Neal Page, marketing professional, is an intern (as opposed to externe)…a cog in the wheel of production.

The Neal Pages of today would learn their marketing from an abomination such as Marian Burk Wood’s The Marketing Plan Handbook.

The Neal Pages of corporate America read a Wood phrase such as, “For the purposes of developing a marketing plan, advertising’s two basic decisions concern the message (what content will be communicated) and the media…,” without ever thinking Marshall McLuhan.

A savvy seller of used books might file The World is Flat in “Sociology” (in addition to the more strictly-applicable “Business”) in an effort to unload what must surely be one of the most overprinted books of recent memory.

But what bookseller ever thinks to place Understanding Media:  The Extensions of Man (1964) in the “Business” section…or in the Marketing/Advertising “disciplines”?

Marketers, no doubt, would have a glib answer.

But marketers rarely know more than their insular, myopic areas of pseudo-specialty.

The “right” answer…the culturally literate answer…the answer Marian Burk Wood was either too dumb to include…or too convinced that her dumbed-down readers would not get…is McLuhan’s:

“…the medium is the message.”

The first sentence of the fucking book!

Chapter 1 (also, conveniently titled, The Medium Is The Message):

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message.”

But the character Neal Page wouldn’t have known that…and that’s why he gets “schooled” in business by the portly, genuine Del Griffith (John Candy).

Of course, Candy’s character wouldn’t have known this either…but at least he wouldn’t have been a venal, meretricious, entitled prick like Neal Page.

And so Neal Page didn’t really go the extra mile in business school…  He just took all the bullshit shoveled down his throat as gospel truth.

Therefore, Page wouldn’t have known this gem either…a parallel to McCluhan from just three years later (1967).

Again, the first fucking sentence of the book:

“The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.  All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

Ok, so I gave him two sentences.  Those are the words of Guy Debord from his masterpiece La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) [translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith].

Notice the similarities to McCluhan.

But, of course, Debord was referencing the big daddy of them all:

“The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’…”

Karl Marx.  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867).  Translated by Ben Fowkes.

And so today’s marketing professionals are either brain-dead (thanks to authors like Wood) or craven cynics thanks to equally worthless authors such as Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller.

These last two have contributed a tome to the pseudo-discipline of “marketing” entitled A Framework for Marketing Management.

If anything has ever called for the revocation of tenure, it is the appalling lack of intellectual curiosity these two professors (from Northwestern and Dartmouth, respectively) show over the course of their overpriced bible for aspiring C-level automata.

Consider their statement, “…make low-profit customers more profitable or terminate them.”  Now do you see why America has problems?

And again, “Spend proportionately more effort on the most valuable customers.”

Thank God for the Del Griffiths of this world.

People are not statistics to be terminated.

God bless John Candy and John Hughes for poignantly reminding us of the only true value in life.

Relationships.

Not to be “leveraged”.

Just people.

Plain and simple.

As Del Griffith says, “What you see is what you get.”

Genuine.

THAT’S the marketing of the future!

And it can’t be contrived…

 

-PD