Friday, October 13, 2017

This Flagboy's Life

As Told to Scott Clevenger

My name is Lachlan Henley. I'm 23 years old, and I grew up in the small community of Blanched, Connecticut. I'm not sure why they picked me to be principal Flagboy to His Serene Majesty Ryan Zinke, First of His Name, Rider of Jets, Breaker of Regulations, and Queen of All the Interiors. I mean, I wasn't in the Army or the Boy Scouts or anything, but I did work as a PA one summer during junior college on Martha Stewart's TV show, and  maybe that's why, because this job is all about etiquette and protocol and stuff. But more than's about honoring the flag. Specifically, the flag we had designed and made by AAA Custom Flag & Banner of Sepsis, Maryland...I think I'm supposed to mention their name, 'cause we got a discount.

You see, raising His Majesty's Own Standard over a building to show Queen Zinke is in residence...Well, I mean, that's an ancient military ritual -- so ancient nobody in the military's actually heard of it -- so it's kind of boring. I can say that, right? C'mon, you've seen military guys when a flag goes up or down; they just stand there like they're all playing freeze tag while somebody blows a sad song on a trumpet or a French horn or whatever the hell it is. Bor. RING.

But the Queen has a sense of style. He likes to zoom off in private jets to exclusive destinations like the Virgin Islands -- not when they're all soggy and gross after a hurricane, but like, when the weather's nice and there's a lot of European tourists, 'cause sometimes they take their tops off! It's true! Me and my friends Liam and Ethan and Blake went to St. Croix for Spring Break one year, and we all felt like we were the mayor of Nip City!

So I guess when you think about, I do have some government experience after all [laughs]!

More than most of the Cabinet, anyway. [Laughter dies. Smile is slowly replaced by a pensive and foreboding look as he stares across the Interior Department parapet toward the Potomac]

Anyway, so it's a solemn ritual that proves His Majesty's commitment to transparency by showing you what building he's in. Most of the other cabinet secretaries, you gotta file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if they're in their office or not, but I haul down the flag when Queen Zinke leaves the office, and raise it over the Starbucks on E Street NW whenever he takes his motorcade for a macchiato. So really, people should be thanking me, instead of being such dicks, 'cause now they know which Starbucks to get their coffee at if they want to be in the radiant presence of the Queen of All the Interiors, or at least rub elbows with a guy who's seen areolas in the Caribbean.

When you get past all the glitz and the ritual and the bullshit, this job is about solemnity. First, I put on white gloves. Then I unfold the flag (refolding it's a bitch, but I took Elective Origami at Phillips Academy when I got cut from the Lacrosse team). Then I turn on my Bose SoundLink Revolve+ Bluetooth speaker, and play "God Save the Queen" as the motorcade approaches the building. But you gotta be constantly thinking in this job, 'cause the first time I hit the wrong playlist on my iPhone and accidentally blasted the Sex Pistols' version.

It's an awesome and humbling responsibility, but as I look back I realize how much I've grown as a person these past few months, and how much I've learned (like, always bring sun screen to work, 'cause you never know when you're gonna wind up standing on the roof). In some ways this has been the hardest job I've ever had, but like I told my friends last week when we were doing shots at the Caliente Cab Company in Arlington (it was Thursday Thursday), I know that ultimately I'll miss it when I have to leave next week to take up my new position as National Security Advisor.

Late To The Party

Well, between my exile to Alabama and a ton of work that piled up in the meantime, and certain ch-ch-ch-changes in Jeff's life, The Slumgullion is way off schedule. Waaaaaaaaay off.

But good news:

Episode 38 is here! Or as we like to think of it, 38 Special!

Okay, we'll stop thinking of it that way.

Current events have sent a tender and bruised Jeff scurrying for his safe space - talk radio. Meanwhile, Ike returns to face off against Mother!, while the remains of a Revolutionary War soldier musically whines about how long it's taking his own mom to come collect his corpse.

Then it's spies, housewifely drug lords, and implied buttsecks with the composer of The Lion King, as the New Movie Crew gathers at Golden Corral to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

[Click here to subscribe on iTunes]

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Happy Birthday Annti! Enjoy These Slightly Irregular Homosexuals!

I am neck-deep in swamp water and only wearing hip waders, so I hope you'll pardon me for postponing the party a few days. However, there's a classic Bill S. review from 2011 that I think would be the perfect way to celebrate the day. So please sit back and enjoy some gay that you can't pray away, no matter how hard you try...

Just Call Him Angel of the Morons
By Our "Goes Where Angels Fear to Tread" Correspondent, Bill S.

As we all know, October 11 is the birthday of Anntichrist S. Coulter. Additionally, it's the birthday of the beautiful and talented Matt Bomer, who in the parallel universe where my life is perfect, is my husband.

But October 11 is also National Coming Out Day, and I'd like to mark the occasion (which, unlike Columbus Day, isn't a national holiday) with a look at a movie aimed at LGBT youth.  In their book Better Living Through Bad Movies, Scott and s.z. failed to include such an entry -- a forgivable oversight, since there are only so many bad movies a human being should be expected to endure. Fortunately, I'm here to pick up the cause. Every movie genre gets the Manos: the Hands of Fate it deserves, and I do believe I've found it: a 2007 gem titled An Angel Named Billy.

One of the comments posted at YouTube reads, "omg i used to work with that guy at jamba juice!" The commenter doesn't specify which guy, or when they supposedly worked together. It could be anybody in the cast, and as recently as a month ago. But I'd rather not focus on the batch of virtual unknowns who populate this movie, except to note that the actor playing the titular role was, according to the IMDb, born in December of 1987, which means he was over 18 when this was made. At least I hope so; who knows how long it was sitting on a shelf before it saw a release date?

Instead, I think most of the credit for this movie should go to one George Osborne, who wrote, directed, and co-produced it. Mr. Osborne's artistry and insight into human nature take him where Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant would never go -- on a fast track to total obscurity. At least I hope so.

Before I dive into the plot synopsis, I must confess I only watched this once before mailing it back to NetFlix. While I'm 99% sure I'm recalling it right, there does exist a possibility I've misremembered the order of some scenes. I offer my apologies for any errors, and I offer my sympathies to anyone who saw it enough times to spot an error.

This is the story of Billy, a teenager living in an unamed rural area. We know it's rural from the presence of cowboy hats and bales of hay. Billy's mother left the family years earlier, and he's being raised by his dad, who's a religious fanatic, an alcoholic, and an abusive asshole. We know these things because he sits at the kitchen table poring over a Bible, slugging down one Scotch after another, and screaming at Billy's younger brother Zack, who looks like a scared rabbit everytime the camera is on him.
Billy has one close friend, Rick, who we rightly, and incorrectly assume will be a major character, since he's featured prominently on the video box, but only has one scene with him. Rick may be moving away. Before he does, he wants to reveal his True Feelings for Billy, and one blissful sunny day, they share a kiss. Billy is dumbfounded (not just now, but frequently.) It never occurred to him Rick might be gay; it seems to have never occured to him that he might gay himself. This moment of clarity, and budding romance, are both disrupted by the appearance of Billy's dad, who's been spying on the boys, and comes lumbering down a hill like a drunken water buffalo, screaming homophobic epithets. He catches up to Billy and drags him back home to berate him in a more appropriately private setting. Seething with rage, he snarls, "Fer all ah know, yew might alriddy have AAAAIDS!!!"

He orders Billy to leave, and the young man trudges over to a nearby closet, grabs a tiny bookbag, and heads for the door. Zack appears in the stairwell and pleads with him not to leave, but Billy shakes his head mounfully and exits. We rightly, and incorrectly, assume the brothers will try to remain in contact, but for the rest of the picture Billy seems to completely forget about Zack, or maybe the director does. As Billy walks down a long, desolate stretch of road, a car stops, and Billy gets in to journey to places unknown.

A scared, broke, homeless teenager is traveling the state by hopping into strange cars, and this seems like a good time for the director to cut away from him to introduce us to some of the other characters. Thomas, a bald, aging drag queen, is seated at his vanity table, dabbing on makeup and talking to himself, announcing each action before he does it. This is the most depressing, humorless drag queen in movie history ("Priscilla, Queen of the Desolate"), and as this scene played on (and on and on and on), it marked the first of many times during the film that I began to wonder if it might be some kind of stealth project by an anti-gay wingnut. Who else would have such trouble coming up with a decent drag queen name?

Thomas gets a call from his straight friend Mark, who he appears to have a crush on. His slurred speech suggests Mark is recovering from a stroke; his dialogue however, suggests a far more severe form of brain damage. Mark has an adult son named James, who lives in an apartment next door to Mark's house. James is a gay photographer in his late thirties. Thomas and Mark are concerned that James is lonely; they'd like to see him settle down with Mr. Right. Mark has even started looking at websites for gay singles, hoping to find his son a date. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.

Before Mark can sign his son up with, tragedy strikes: late one evening, James is awakened by a noise next door. Sensing it's a medical emergency, he LEAPS OUT OF BED URGENTLY...dutifully hunts for his bathrobe and carefully puts it on, then...RACES TO HIS FATHER'S SIDE. He realizes it's another stroke and dials 911, sobbing hysterically. This second stroke leaves Mark confined to a wheelchair. It becomes clear to James that his dad will require round-the-clock assistance from a qualified health care proffessional, or failing that, the assistance of the first person he can find who can work cheaply and move in immediately.

Billy arrives at Donna's Cafe. At least, I think it's supposed to be a cafe; it looks more like someone set up a bunch of patio furniture on their lawn and hung a sign out. He befriends the waiter, Guy, a spiky-haired twink who has a laid-back attitude about everything, including the fact that Billy can't pay for anything. He helpfully directs Billy to a bulletin board where there might be want ads posted, and offers to let him crash at his apartment until he can find a place of his own. He then introduces Billy to his boss, Donna, a self-proclaimed "fag hag", who Guy says is helpful to many a young gay newbie, offering protection.

Billy asks, "Protection? From what?" Guy replies, "From them!" pointing at a pair of leering old queens who look like they were bussed in from the '70's. We rightly, and incorrectly assume Donna will be an important figure in Billy's life, but she disappears after this one scene, which is just as well since she's super annoying.

Billy finds the want ad placed by James, and tears off the phone number, then he and Guy retire to Guy's apartment. We are treated to a tour of the place that showcases the director's keen eye. For instance, when Guy a opens the door to the bathroom and lists the available items for use, the camera then cuts to a closeup of the bathroom, revealing all those items, to prove Guy was telling the truth.   (The moral of the story so far: man-pimpin' your offspring leads to cerebral blood clots, and never trust a stranger who picks you up in a diner and takes you home unless you can verify the location of his Listermint and bunion pads.)

The two young men strip to their boxers and climb into bed. We rightly and incorrectly expect them to hook up, but they shut the light, turn away from each other and go to sleep. The director was more interested in showing their pecs than showing any aspect of their relationship.

Billy arrives at Mark and James' place, and James offers him a glass of water, which Billy eagerly accepts (yes, this conversation occurs.) He meets Mark, and the old man hits it off quite nicely with the teen, so he's hired right away. I guess puppy dog eyes and a sweetly blank-faced grin qualify someone to care for an elderly stroke victim. But he soon proves his job skills, taking Mark to the park to do wheelies in his chair. Mark declares Billy is "an angel". Uh, okay. James also begins to take a shine to Billy. His father notes, "I haven't seen such a spark in you in a long time." Perhaps it's the way James looks at Billy: namely, the way he peers into the kid's bedroom as he sleeps, clad only in his boxers. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.

Billy asks James to show him the studio where James does his photography. The studio is a sparsely furnished space with no lighting equipment or darkroom, only a single camera set up on a tripod. We rightly and incorrectly assume this may lead to some kind of erotically charged scene, but they barely look at each other. Billy does however take note of some pictures on the wall, depicting a rather uninteresting-looking middle aged man. James identifies the man as his ex-boyfriend, Todd, who was a drug addict. The two walk back to the main house, and James asks Billy if he'd like to join him later for margaritas. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.

Billy has written to his Aunt Sharon, telling her about his new home and job. She relays this news to his mother's place of work, where the note is intercepted by a Sassy Black Woman whose eyes look like they're about to bug out of her head. S.B.W. delivers the note to Billy's mom. We rightly and incorrectly hope we'll get some insight into why she deserted her family and didn't retain custody of her sons, but this leaves us more baffled than we already were.

Billy takes up the offer to share margaritas, and they have an intimate chat, which goes like this:

BILLY: So, if Todd was your boyfriend, does this like...guys?

JAMES: Yes, I do.

BILLY: Are you still in love with Todd? Do you ever think of getting back with him?

JAMES: No, I'm not still in love with him, and I don't want to get back with him.

BILLY: Then why do you keep his picture up on the wall?

JAMES: It hides a messy stain that's lying there.

Okay, I added those last two lines, but the rest is almost word for word what they say to each other. Billy gets an invitation from Guy to go out to a club. He asks James if he'd like to come along. James declines, saying his days of hitting clubs are over. (Yeah, from the looks of him, he hasn't set foot in one since Falco was big.)

Billy gets a call from his mother. We rightly and incorrectly expect him to be furious with her for deserting him and his brother and leaving them with an abusive drunk. But as we've already seen, the boy's as sharp as a bag of wet hair, so he's happy to talk about his new job, and the two "cool guys" who've taken him in. (Yes, this conversation occurs.) Mark beams, "I'm cool!" and adds, "Chickenpot, chickenpot, chickenpot piiiiiee!!!"

The evening at the club, which happens off-screen due to obvious budget constraints, doesn't go over well. Billy returns in tears, telling James that Guy's friends teased him and called him a "nerd" for having a job caring for an old man. WHAT THE FUCK?

Seriously...what the fuck?

James puts his arms around Billy, and assures him there's no shame in the job he has. They share a kiss, and head into the bedroom. We rightly and incorrectly expect a romantic love scene, but instead they lie on the bed, fully clothed, about a foot apart, and the scene fades to the next morning.

Mark has been waiting up all night, and as James shuffles into the kitchen looking disheveled, his father cheerfully notes that he's aware of what happened. He also observes, "You were pretty loud", and proceeds to make heavy breathing sex noises. Which isn't creepy and disturbing, at least not to the director. Billy then enters, equally disheveled, and Mark repeats the observation, because the first time wasn't gross enough.

Now that he knows his son has found True Love with a teenaged runaway, Mark is content that he can die happily. He calls up Thomas to discuss his will. Why, is Thomas a cross-dressing lawyer? And if he is, why didn't they make that movie instead of this one? ("Priscilla, Queen of the Default Judgment.")

With less than 20 minutes left to go in the film, a new complication arrives: Todd wants to get back together with James, and figures the best way to do it is to break into his house. But James catches him and insists he never wants to get back together. He then adds, "I've found somebody else. He's younger, cuter, and less likely to give me hepatitis." (Well, he would have said that, if I'd written the script.) He kicks Todd to the curb.

Mark finally kicks the bucket, once again reducing James to a puddle of tears. Billy's mother arrives. She tell him she's known all along her son was gay ("a mother knows these things."). She then rather matter-of-factly tells Billy his father died in an auto accident, his brother is staying with his Aunt temporarily, and she plans on moving to be closer to him. Billy reacts with a blankness that suggests nobody on the set has the slightest clue how a person would react to such news.

It's time to wrap things up, so we get a montage of the characters as Billy tells us what happens in voiceover:

His mother and Thomas start a computer dating service for gay singles (who better to play matchmaker than an insecure drag queen and a deadbeat mom?), Billy and James get married (we see them in a limo with the words "Just Married" on the back window) and Guy "surprised us all" by moving back to Billy's old hometown, where he inherited a house he now shares with Rick.

Um, okay then.

We rightly and correctly assume there have been porno films better directed. And better written. And better acted. And more rooted in reality. And less skeevy.

But what message of hope does it offer to LGBT youth? I guess it might be this:

If you're a gay teen who feels rejected by your family and you're struggling to find your place in the world, try to look on the positive side of things -- after all, you could wind up being married, at the age of 18, to a creepy, reclusive, middle-aged loser who still lives with his dad. Aren't you glad that hasn't happened to you? So cheer up kids, things could be a whole lot worse.

I guess the movie was inspirational. Just not in the way it was intended.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Scott here again. Thanks again to our own Billy S. for handling the Bad Gay Film Beat around here (and if you enjoyed An Angel Named Billy, check out his review of the execrable Ben & Arthur).

And because birthday traditions -- especially where Annti is concerned -- are a sacred thing around here, let us now close with the traditional...

Sexy Birthday Lizard!

Please join me in wishing Joanna (oops! I outed her. Oh well, it's National Coming Out Day) a very happy natal anniversary.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saturday With S.Z.

[Re-posted with permission from Sheri's Facebook]

FB kindly scanned my brain and printed out my memories...

It is only now that I realize that these seemingly random photos are actually a story:

1. Young Tennessee Tuxedo the Cat fell under the spell of Young Zamphyr, Master of the regular flute, and was brainwashed into performing a special mission.

2. He reacted in shock and horror when he realized what he was being asked to do.

3. He was charged with bringing down the moon, which the cats know is really a ball of yarn, unless the government gave Zamphyr some shoes, and gave the cats some of that good canned food.

4. The government refused to negotiate with kid and cat terrorists, and so the earth was laid waste, and all the people had to live underground, leaving the empty cities to the cats, who liked to sun themselves on the ruins.

5. Tennessee said, "Now I am become Cat Death, Destroyer of Worlds." And he was pretty happy.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Zombie TV

I try to get out and walk four miles everyday. Not that I expect this will thwart the Angel of Death in her appointed rounds, but I'm hoping she finds it slightly more of a challenge to hit a moving target. Anyway, I keep encountering posters for this TV show on bus shelters -- evidently it's a reboot of the night time soap from the 1980s -- and they're everywhere. I see them so often, in fact, that they've begun speaking to me.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Don't Come Around Here No More

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers may have been the first album I ever bought with its shrink-wrap still intact. Money was tight when I was a kid, so I usually rummaged in the cut-out bins for used LPs (the first record I ever bought was a scratchy old copy of The Ventures' Guitar Freakout that had lost its cardboard sleeve). But I was flush with birthday money and eager to shop in the front of the store for once, and while I don't recall exactly why I singled out Tom Petty for this honor, it was probably a combination of "American Girl" and his skinny frame and straw-colored shag, which reminded me fondly of every beach town bum I knew with a garage band. Or at least, Funky Winkerbean.

R.I.P., Tom. I'll always remember you from that triumphant shopping trip to Licorice Pizza, and for your eccentric performance in The Postman.

The Postman (1997)
Directed by Kevin Costner
Written by Eric Roth, based on the novel by David Brin.

Tagline: “The year is 2013. One man walked in off the horizon and hope came with him.”

Yes, the movie takes place in 2013, and if you start watching it now you just might be done by then. It may not be the best movie ever made about a nameless drifter who restores hope to a post-apocalyptic world by pretending to be a mail- man, but it’s certainly the longest.

We soon learn that there was a big catastrophe about 15 years previously (which would have been right about when this movie came out—not that we’re implying anything). This disaster brought plagues and pretentiousness in its wake, and led to the collapse of the United States Postal Service.

In this desperate and desolate future, our mythic hero, Kevin Costner, and his mule Bill go from town to town, performing one-man-and-a-mule versions of Macbeth in order to get free soup. The three branches of the federal government are gone, but somehow the NEA is still managing to fund highly offensive art.

Following one such performance, the town is invaded by the Hardasses, a White Supremacist militia led by General Bethlehem (Will Patton), a former Xerox® salesman who went over to the dark side (Cannon). The Hardasses, a group apparently based on the Amway plan, terrorize the Pacific Northwest with their post-apocalyptic protection racket. The wimpy people of the future don’t dare fight back, for they lack regular mail delivery.

Kevin and Bill are forcibly enlisted and taken to Hardass Headquarters, where Kevin is made to play “musical chairs” and exchange shower gifts with the other recruits, and Bill is pureed and served for lunch. As part of freshman orientation, Bethlehem explains “The Law of Eight,” which has something to do with Dick Van Patten, then he forces Kevin to recite some Shakespeare for the group, which is so moved by his performance they immediately send him on a suicide mission.

Kevin escapes, and eventually takes shelter in an old mail van. Mindful of how badly he was upstaged by the mule, Kevin spends the next five minutes acting with a human skeleton, and barely manages to steal the scene. He also steals the skeleton’s uniform, hat, and sack of mail, and heads out to live the dream of every boy since time immemorial—impersonating a postal carrier.

Kevin approaches the nearby town of Pineview, and tells the citizens that the U.S. Government has been restored, and as its first act, Congress has reestablished the postal service. The people are rightfully suspicious, since everyone knows that Congress’s first priority would be giving themselves pay raises. But Kevin demands entrance, citing U.S. Legal Code requiring that everybody give mailmen sanctuary, food, and women.

That night at the You’ve Got Mail dance, Kevin meets Abby, a comely young woman who asks about his height, IQ, and semen. It turns out she wants a baby, but her husband had “the bad mumps” and so they want Kevin to be the child’s “body father.” Of course, the one-time bedding is successful and she becomes pregnant—proving that while FedEx may have a better on-time record for package delivery, the U.S. postal service is still your best bet for delivering sperm. (A better title for this movie might have been “The Postman Cometh.”)

Kevin visits the town’s abandoned post office, where he meets Ford Lincoln Mercury, a teen with one burning desire: to be a mailman! Kevin reveals that only another postman can make you a postman (just like vampirism), and he reluctantly swears Ford into the club. Kevin knows the whole postal service thing is a scam, much like a chain letter, but Ford is intrigued by the new overnight semen delivery service, and his guileless idealism inspires Kevin to press on with his route. 

As Kevin heads out of town with his sack of Visa bills and Valu-Paks, there are numerous shots of the hopeful faces of the crowd. A little blonde girl (played, in an utterly bizarre coincidence, by Kevin Costner’s real-life daughter) sings “America the Beautiful.” The whole ceremony makes you proud to get junk mail.

However, shortly after Kevin’s departure, General Bethlehem shows up, and spies Abby. “First class piece of ass,” he declares, which is crude, but much nicer than calling her a “bulk mail piece of ass.” He claims Abby as his concubine, invoking droit de seigneur, then hand-delivers the point of his sword to her husband’s liver. The little Costner girl is present at the murder; the camera cuts to her face, and we can plainly see she is horrified by the brevity of her close-up.

Meanwhile, Kevin is distributing mail in some town somewhere else. Everyone applauds. Crowds are much easier to please after the apocalypse. One woman wants to know if New York City survived the plague. Kevin tells her Broadway is up and running, and Andrew Lloyd Webber is playing! So, no, the plague is still with them.

About then, Bethlehem and his troops arrive. The town refuses to pay tribute, now that they have mail. But Kevin realizes that while mail is nice and all, the Hardasses have guns, so he sweeps Abby away on his horse, and they gallop off into a blizzard, even though it was July five minutes ago.

They set up housekeeping in a deserted barn and wait for the pass to clear. Like many couples, Abby feels that Kevin doesn’t do his share around the place. She’s pregnant with his body child, but still has to chop the wood. She has to gather the snow. She has to shoot the horse and make it into soup. Kevin responds that he would help out more, but he got shot in the stomach during that last battle, and the horse isn’t agreeing with him. Now, at last, the disparate threads of this movie are finally pulling together: We’ve got an axe-wielding woman in the throes of pre-partum depression sharing a snow-bound, isolated cabin with a gut-shot whiner, and we’re all set for a highly satisfying homage to Stephen King’s Misery. Unfortunately, Abby just burns the barn down, and then it’s spring.

On their way back to Pineview, Kevin discovers that Ford has declared himself Postmaster General, and recruited all the teens to deliver mail in a post-apocalyptic pony express. Kevin is touched by their plucky endeavor, and joins in, taking all the really dangerous routes, for he is...The Postman.

In the scene that encapsulates the whole movie, another of Costner’s small, blond spawn writes a letter, but doesn’t get it out to the mailbox before The Postman canters past. The kid is crestfallen. This is clearly a turning point in his young life, for he has learned that sometimes, even though you try your hardest, your letter just doesn’t make the 5:00 pickup. However, the Postman senses a disturbance in the Force, and turns around to gaze at the lad. For a really long time. The kid holds up the letter. For a really long time. You’re thinking Kevin might just decide to trot back the ten yards and get the letter, but instead he thinks awful long and awful hard. Finally, he turns his horse around and gallops towards the boy. He snatches the letter from the boy’s hand, then thunders off, a hero who was not too big to ride a horse full speed past a six-year-old kid for no reason whatsoever.

Meanwhile, General Bethlehem hates the Postal Service, because they represent the spirit of resistance to his tyrannical rule, and because they’re always late with his monthly copy of Sassy. So, Bethlehem starts killing the people of Pineview, and Kevin and Abby flee to a town ruled by Tom Petty. 

"I know you," Kevin marvels at Petty. "You're famous." Petty bashfully demurs, but later points at Kevin, grins goofily, and says: 
"I heard of you, man. You're famous," illustrating how the apocalypse reversed humanity's traditional definition of fame, with rock stars on the bottom and the guy who stuffs Kroger circulars into your mailbox now reigning supreme.

Kevin is ready to give up, but Abby pleads with him to re-don the Postman outfit, for he is Oregon’s last, best hope for getting their Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes notifications. She tells him passionately that he “gives out hope like it was candy in your pocket,” meaning that it’s hope softened by body heat and flecked with lint. So Kevin challenges Bethlehem for leadership of the Hardasses, under “The Law of Eight,” which allows for the replacement of Diana Hyland’s character with Betty Buckley. Kevin wins, of course, for he is...The Postman. He then institutes a new law: Peace. Everyone nods in appreciation. What a good idea—why didn’t anybody think of this sooner? We probably could have avoided that whole apocalypse thing.

It’s now 2043 A.D. A new civilization based on Martha’s Vineyard has arisen, and, thanks to regular mail delivery, Mankind has rediscovered the ability to order pink Polo shirts from J. Crew. Kevin and Abby’s daughter is present for the dedication of a statue to The Postman. It is an exact replica in bronze of the scene where Kevin snatched the letter out of the hand of little Anakin Skywanker. A man in the crowd says, “That was me!” And how nice that a sculptor was there to capture the moment. But hey, let’s just replay that “letter grabbing” scene one more time, shall we, and let it tug on your hearts some more. The End.

But wait, who is that singing a duet of “I Didn’t Have to Be So Nice (I Would Have Loved Me Anyway)” with Amy Grant over the closing credits? Why, it’s The Postman himself! Don’t leave your seat or you’ll miss that great, heart-swelling moment when The Postman mounts his horse one last time, gallops through the recording studio and snatches the sheet music out of Amy Grant’s hand for no reason whatsoever.

To sum up: In The Postman’s vision of the future, the survivors live in isolated fortifications, ignorant of the outside world, and regressing to a pre-industrial state of technology. Fortunately, it is still possible for one man to inspire hope by gadding about in clothes filched from a decayed corpse and foisting 15-year old Lillian Vernon catalogues on the apathetic masses.

So what lesson can the average viewer draw from this film? Well, if you’re planning to rise from the ashes of Armageddon and become a beacon of light to a world swathed in darkness, you should probably start thinking now about what sort of federal, state, or municipal employee you plan to impersonate. 

Forget being a letter carrier—Kevin’s got that sewed up—but perhaps you could be...The Sanitation Worker, bringing new life to a devastated world by restoring regular trash collection. You could impregnate the women on your route, battle evil bands of nomads who indiscriminately kill and litter, and “hand out hope like it’s garbage from a can.” Or perhaps you could be...The County Department of Weights and Measures Compliance Auditor, shattering the gloom like a bolt of lightning by ensuring the accuracy of commercial weighing and measuring devices, and verifying the quantity of both bulk and packaged commodities. Think how many women would want your sperm then! 

Of course, these are just suggestions; in fact, there are countless job possibilities for post-apocalyptic saviors. You could be...The Mosquito Abatement Program Coordinator, or...The Fictitious Business Names Registration Clerk, or...that guy at the County Department of Agriculture who issues permits to have disabled livestock euthanized.

The thought of a world-ending cataclysm is certainly terrifying. But as we have seen, virtually any clown can yank Mankind back from the brink of utter extinction, so long as he’s willing to wear an ugly polyester uniform, donate sperm, and subsist on a diet of mule soup. 

[The above is excerpted from Better Living Through Bad Movies. Now available as a audiobook.]

Monday, September 18, 2017


Finally, The Slumgullion Returns! With Mrs. C! Scott's Tales of Southern Gothic Cuisine! Star WarsFirefly! Running Gags! Two non-Stephen King fans talking about a Stephen King movie!

Please click below and enjoy.

[Click here to subscribe on iTunes]

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sheri!

Astronaut/Supermodel/Spy S.Z. wearing the pelts of the cats who have wronged her.

I kid. Sheri has saved more cats' lives than cats have lives. Dogs too. And she's also visited the orphans and widows in their affliction, and kept herself unstained from the world with the aid of a good bleach pen.

In short, she's the best, most humane, and yet somehow also the funniest person I've ever known. She's like St. Francis of Assisi if he was female and also had a killer stand-up act. And today's her birthday!...which I'm not going to forget the way I forgot the 14th anniversary of World O' Crap (which she herself birthed) on August 20. (Okay, I didn't actually forget, but I was stuck standing around a truck stop in rural Alabama watching a very eccentric performance, which caused Sheri to decide that the movie I was working on is entitled Alabama Truck Stop [which to my ear sounds like a rollicking Harry Novack-style hillbilly sex romp from 1973], and offer up an image that I wish was our actual poster...

...because that would mean my life is a Peter Bogdanovich movie of a Larry McMurtry novel, instead of whatever weird-ass hullaballoo it's turned into).

However...this isn't about me. Or my problems with eccentric actors and sodium. We've come to praise Sheri, founder of Wo'C, afflicter of the comfortable, and that rare, genuine comforter of the afflicted. And while I do have a two-minute song prepared, I didn't come dressed to move, so instead, I'm going to turn her name over to an aggressive psychic who gives online astrology readings and fills up your emailbox with spam.

No, of course I'm not, because that would be cruel (and something she's already done to me), so instead, let's all tell her fortune as a fun group activity.
The zodiac sign for September 12 is Virgo. 
 Astrological symbol: Maiden.
Iron Maiden.
The sign of the Maiden influences people born between August 23 and September 22, when in tropical astrology the Sun is considered to be in Virgo.
Tropical Astrology was my favorite quick tanning foam when I was a teenager, but it could streak if you perspired, and often produced tan lines that resembled crabs and bulls.
It refers to the intelligence and clear behavior of these individuals.
People without intelligence and with unclear behavior ignore the Maiden and tend to be more influenced by the Trump.
The Virgo Constellation is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
Collect all twelve!
 It is the second largest, spread on an area of 1294 square degrees.
So it's got plenty of closet space, and a livable basement.
The name Virgo is the Latin name defining Virgin, the September 12 zodiac sign in French it is Vierge and in Greek it is Arista.
In English it is Ben Shapiro.
 Modality: Mobile.
Virgos are gifted with the strange ability to move from place to place, utilizing ocean currents and their muscular abdomen.
Ruling house:
Uh...Harkonnen, I think.
 Element: Earth.
Which sadly never had a hit as a solo artist after it split from Wind & Fire.

But here's the key thing:
Lucky day: Wednesday. 
Which is tomorrow, so there's still time to buy a lottery ticket (if Sheri hadn't already spent all her disposable income on the upkeep of rescued animals, which she probably has). This is exactly the kind of timely, up-to-the-minute reporting that people expect from World O' Crap!

So please join me in wishing Sheri a birthday at least half as wonderful as she is, and please enjoy this geographically pertinent...

Sexy Birthday Lizard!

Lastly, if you've got an urge to do something nice for someone who does nothing but nice for others, click here and drop a few bucks in the pay pal bucket of Four Paws, the "non-profit, volunteer-run organization...dedicated to helping homeless dogs and cats" that Sheri works with.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Okay, But I Wasn't JUST Whistling "Dixie"...

I barely escaped Alabama alive. 

Not that I was a fugitive from a chain gang.

And not that I'd transgressed the local customs and left one step ahead of an angry mob toting buckets of hot tar and sacks of goose down. Quite the contrary; so many people offered me so many unsolicited greetings in so many unexpected venues -- in the grocery store, on the street, in the Mens Room -- that I was in a constant state of politesse-induced panic.

It wasn't even the workload, which after the first week was manageable enough that I had time to walk around, gawk at things, and perspire like a Yellow Fever patient.

It was the food that was killing me. It was the delicious, delightful, deadly food. 

Now I'm no expert on the cuisine of southern Alabama, and for all I know there were a multitude of hippie communes selling sustainable kale wraps out of roadside stands woven from hemp stems. I just know that every edible thing I found in the downtown area was salty, fatty, fried, and fatal. Which was also my experience the first time I came to Alabama back in 2003 to write Frankenfish, and I found myself asking the same question:

How is anybody alive in this state?

The way they eat, you'd expect to drive across the border and see nothing but bloated corpses bracketing the highway, the landscape permeated by an eerie silence broken only occasionally by the angry caw of two crows fighting over a length of intestine. 

I'm not saying the barbecue isn't tasty, because it is, and if you sit inside at a place like Moe's, or Dreamland, your clothes will smell like smoked meat for a week afterwards, so it's like they're sending you home with a doggie bag for your nose.  But everything's fried, and vegetables are surprisingly hard to come by as a side dish, except for grits, which I suppose is technically a vegetable, since it's made from corn. And butter. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Four Food Groups in Alabama are corn, butter, pork, and frying medium. 

I got so desperate for roughage that I actually ordered that classic Power Lunch of the Mid-80s Woman Executive, the chicken Caesar salad, even though I wasn't wearing one of those silk blouses with a pussy bow. But after one or two bites I dropped my fork, because it was too salty. It was, in fact, the saltiest salad I'd ever had. I daresay deers who live for a nice big salt lick would have taken a single taste of this Caesar salad and gone, "Ehhhh...No. My blood pressure..."

But aside from retaining water, I had an enjoyable time in Mobile, writing dialogue for a gifted and famously eccentric actor, even though I packed a small bag thinking I'd be there only three days, and wound up staying for three weeks. Me and the old ladies at the coin laundry next to the Whattaburger got to be quite chummy.

Unfortunately, the Unwritten Rules of the Rewriter prevent me from saying much about the experience, although I do delve into a little more detail in the upcoming podcast, because those aren't susceptible to Google searches.

Anyway, I'm back, and apologize for the blog blackout. And to make up for it, here are candid shots of the cats' excited, adoring faces when I walked through the door after my long absence...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Travel Day

Getting out of the apartment for the first time in a couple of months and flying cross-country today. That usually goes smoothly, right?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rants In Your Pants!

New Slumgullion!

Scott and Jeff are joined by Mary for some Star Wars and Star Trek news (by which I mean complaints), before chatting about the pilot for the Joss Whedon series Firefly, because life is a brief candle, all too soon burnt out, so you should find as many new and exciting ways to waste it as possible.

Then The Dark Tower sets Jeff's tongue on fire, and it runs around his mouth for a good ten minutes, completely forgetting to stop, drop, and roll. Finally, the Unknown Movie Challenge this episode is Atomic Blonde, and features a UMC first: a completely spoiler-free review! If you don't count Scott's overly detailed exegesis of James McAvoy's elevator shoes.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Happy International Cat Day!

The Two Stages of Cat:

On the right, a Cat who is chill and carefree and doesn't have a Twitter account.  On the left, a Cat who possesses the feral vigilance and keen senses of her jungle ancestors, and also a vague uneasiness about the President's policy on the first use of nuclear weapons.

MOONDOGGIE: Great. Now I can't sleep, either.

SHADOW:  Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer.

MOONDOGGIE: I mean, what if North Korea succeeds in miniaturizing their nuclear warheads and mounting one on an ICBM capable of hitting the Whiskas Temptations plant in McLean, Virginia?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Farewell John Heard

John Heard turned in a multitude of fine performances over the years (as witnessed by the fact that Sheri and I only wrote about one movie in which he appeared, and he wasn't even the star), and I always thought it was too bad his career didn't start earlier in the 1970s, when mainstream movies were riskier and more indie-like, and better equipped to take full advantage of an actor I like to think of as the WASPy Richard Dreyfuss.

Anyway, please take your seats; the service is about to begin...

Ahem! Our reading today comes from the book of Better Living Through Bad Movies. Chapter 6: Chick Flicks vs. Ick Flicks...

Beaches (1988)
Directed by Garry Marshall
Written by Iris Rainer Dart (novel) and Mary Agnes Donoghue

Bette Midler is rehearsing for her big concert at the Hollywood Bowl when she gets a message that causes her to abandon the gig and head to San Francisco. As she drives and cries, we flash back twenty or thirty years (depending on how old we are supposed to believe Bette Midler is); voila, we’re at Atlantic City, and Bette is TV’s Blossom. Back then she was a foul-mouthed, histrionic, whiny show business brat—and a much more interesting performer. She’s smoking under the boardwalk when she meets a lost little rich wuss named Hillary. Blossom forces Hillary to watch her bump ’n grind version of “Glory of Love” before she’ll take her back to her hotel. Hillary likes Blossom’s singing. Blossom likes it that Hillary likes her singing. So, the two girls become friends for life.

They are the best of pen pals until they’re 21, when Hillary turns into Barbara Hershey and comes to New York to escape her sheltered life. Bette invites Barb to share her squalid apartment, and it’s a festival of sisterhood as the two women dye their hair together, sing Christmas carols, do each other’s laundry, and synchronize their menstrual cycles.

To pay the rent, Bette dresses up like a killer rabbit from Night of the Lepus and delivers singing telegrams to John Heard. He is so impressed that he invites her to audition for the play he’s directing. Despite the fact that John’s production is so off-Broadway it’s actually in the Hudson River, Bette falls in love with him. But he only has eyes for Barb (actually, his character seems kinda light in the loafers, but the movie claims he’s smitten by Barbara). Following Bette’s triumphant debut in John’s weird musical about evil mimes, Barbara helps John celebrate by sleeping with him. Bette shouts at Barbara, “So much for you and your feminist principles!” and tells Gloria Steinem to revoke Barbara’s NOW membership on account of hussiness. Barbara explains that she couldn’t help herself, since John Heard was “the most attractive man I’ve met in my life.” It seems she really did live a sheltered existence.

Barbara returns to San Francisco, so, it’s back to letters and over-dubbed narration to let us know what’s happening in their lives. Bette becomes a Broadway star. (It seems surprisingly easy—one day she just is one. I don’t know why more people don’t do it). Barbara becomes a socialite and marries a jerk. Bette counters by marrying John Heard.

Barbara visits New York to see Bette’s musical about the invention of undergarments, and to be bitchy. John Heard is still attracted to Barbara, which infuriates Bette, but since he is also suffering from “A Star is Born Syndrome,” we already know this marriage is doomed. The two women have a shouting match in a department store, and the friendship is over.

Life goes on. Bette goes home to mother because John wasn’t paying attention to her. Mother tells her that everybody is tired of paying attention to her, and she should just get used to it. (No, this doesn’t mean the filmmakers realized that the audience is bored and ended the movie—it just means that you have Bette’s mother’s permission not to pay attention to Bette anymore.)

Bette’s career goes down in flames when she punches a director who says she has a fat ass, and she’s reduced to singing at a boarded-up disco. Barb finds her and apologizes; she explains that she was just jealous because she can’t yodel. (Really.) Bette’s still mad until Barb confesses that her husband left her and she’s pregnant. So, with Barbara’s life officially worse than Bette’s, Bette forgives her and the two have a baby-prep montage.

But when Bette’s agent finds a role for her, she’s outta there! The two women scream at each other, but a diva’s gotta do what a diva’s gotta do and Bette returns to New York. She learns that the job is in John Heard’s new production, and he gave it to her out of pity. So, now she is James Mason and he is Judy Garland! But then Barb has her baby, which makes everything okay for everybody. (Remember, babies solve all problems—have one today!)

Barbara’s daughter, Victoria, is now about six. Bette is a Broadway star again (as demonstrated by doormen congratulating her on her Tony wins). Barb is a noble lawyer (as demonstrated by other lawyers chiding her for high morals). Everything is going great when Barb gets dizzy and has trouble with drinking fountains…

Yes, she has a fatal disease. Bette volunteers to accompany Barb to the beach for her last summer (she just didn’t know how long this summer was going to be). Bette and Victoria don’t get along at first, because they’re both bossy, self-involved drama queens, and they’re both six. But Bette teaches Victoria how to smoke, cuss, and sing in bath houses, and the two bond, leaving Barbara feeling left out and unloved. Barb tries to get back at them by looking pale and sickly, but they don’t notice. So, she escalates her aggressive dying by refusing to speak, move, or bathe. She and Bette have another fight, which causes Barbara to snap out of it (the moping, I mean—not the dying), and they braid each other’s hair, play cards, and do other girly stuff for the rest of the summer. Bette even agrees to not sue Barbara for failing to die as scheduled, and goes back to being Bette Midler, Super Star.

She is preparing for her Hollywood Bowl concert when Barbara finally starts to get somewhere with the dying (this is where we came in). When Bette gets to the hospital, Barbara tells her that she wants to die at the beach in order to make the whole movie so gosh-darned poignant that nobody will be able to stand it. So, Bette sings “Wind Beneath My Wings,” we see some lovely sunset ’n surf images from a K-Tel commercial, and Barbara finally bites the sand.

The film seems to heave a sigh and wipe a tear as it treats us to a final flashback of the 11-year-old girls vowing eternal friendship while Bette belts out another musical tribute to aerodynamics.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Here Comes the Spider-Man! And a Couple Dead Guys. And a Lady Time Lord

Welcome back! Sorry for the delay -- there have been a multitude of weird, inexplicable, possibly curse-related injuries and illnesses plaguing the staff lately -- but we hope to make it up to you today with a pretty good show.

In Part I, Scott and Jeff chat about a couple of fun geeky things, and a whole lot of death (alas, if we'd only had time to consult with Romero expert Doc Logan....). Then Jeff Holland, Man-Baby Hunter, paddles upstream against the tears of male Doctor Who fans who are squeamish because the incoming lady time lord might find a new, off-label use for the Sonic Screwdriver, and it could totally void the warranty! Don't you even care?

Then it's time for the Unknown Movie Challenge, where the whole New Movie Crew goes back to high school for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Please join us for this rockin' sock hop, and visit the refreshment table for Hi-C fruit punch, Razzles, Clearasil, and self-loathing.

[Click here to subscribe on iTunes]

[Cross-posted to The Slumgullion]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth of July

President Calvin Coolidge receives an arrangement from the Florist Telegraphers Association on his birthday, July 4, 1924.
"Not to boast, but I learned Morse Code as a boy in Vermont. Allow me to translate the Telegraphers' sentiment. It says...'Smile...You Droopy-lookin'...Motherfu--' HEY!"

Monday, July 3, 2017

Another Good Reason to Wear Your Glasses

By Hank Parmer 

A while back, a good friend asked: What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me?

This isn't one of those easy questions, like: “Have you ever shot an elephant?” Spending six decades on this planet is just bound to give anyone plenty of scope to make a complete fool of themselves. Plus I'm something of a klutz, and all too often blind to the most obvious hints. You can see, then, that it might be difficult to select just one example from so many.

So very, very many ... 

At least with this classy crowd, who demand something more than a cheap laugh, I can exclude any anecdotes which are of a more personal nature. (Although, for a small sum, I might make them available to a select clientele.) 

And to be honest, I couldn't vouch for what follows as the most embarrassing incident of my life. There's a good chance I've mercifully forgotten the best candidates for this dishonor. Let's just say that for one reason or another, this incident was marginally more memorable. Forgive me if it takes a bit of prosing to work around to it. 

I got my first pair of glasses when I was 12 years old, but I was understandably reluctant to wear them back in the days when “Four-Eyes” was a familiar taunt for my age group and “Geek Chic” wasn't trendy. It didn't help at all when the mother of my friend next door told me those clunky horn rims made me look distinguished. I know she was only trying to get me past feeling so dorky, but at twelve, the last thing I wanted was to look “distinguished” -- which my Adultspeak translator instantly rendered as “nerd”. So I resisted wearing the things, unless I absolutely had to.

The summer after ninth grade, my two older brothers and I took a road trip out west. We three boys planned to spend a month making a grand tour up through the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, then down to the desert Southwest and finally to Yosemite, where the highlight of our trip would be to spend a week back-packing.

Quite the itinerary, considering we had to wedge all our gear and food and three back-pack frames into my eldest brother's red 1968 VW Bug

Our trip got off to a less than promising start: My brothers were determined to drive as far north as they could that first day. Which meant spending almost an hour in a traffic jam, on a sultry evening in early June, downwind of the Chicago Stockyards. We eventually fetched up at a campground somewhere in lower Wisconsin around ten that night. Utterly exhausted, we just tossed our sleeping bags on the ground and immediately crashed.

It was a warm night; none of us got inside our bags. I was awakened maybe half an hour later, by the realization I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Meanwhile, my brothers were staging an impromptu slapstick routine as they got in each other's way while struggling to put up the pup tent. Pitching your tent for the first time, by flashlight, as you're harassed by a voracious swarm of tiny but extremely determined winged bloodsuckers, is not conducive to haste. It's a miracle no one hammered a stake through their foot.

But we got the tent, with its blessed mosquito netting, erected eventually, piled in and zipped up the fly. Isolating us with only a couple dozen or so of the pests, who continued to annoy us throughout that night. But at least it kept the blood loss down to only a pint or two. I'll pass over what it was like to share an old-style two man backpacking tent with my two older brothers that first night. We were all slender, wiry guys in those days, but still ... 

Being too young to have a driver's license, I was relegated to the rear seat, while my brothers spelled each other at the wheel. Sharing the back of that VW with a pile of camping paraphernalia, I spent a considerable amount of road time during that trip sitting with my knees bumping against the back of the driver's seat. Or I could lie down in a position somewhat similar to a Mercury astronaut in his space capsule -- with even less available leg room. Thankfully, I was still a few inches short of my adult height. And had brought along some paperbacks. 

You can imagine what a joy this was, traveling through the desert in an un-airconditioned Beetle. With the rear heater vent stuck open. At least it was a dry heat ... 

To make our money last, we car-camped and did our own cooking. My eldest brother, Cliff -- who had made a similar trip a couple of years previous -- was in charge of the menu. He had two basic meals: For breakfast, invariably, rice boiled with dried apricots, with a spoonful or two of molasses on top, and for dinner (far too frequently, in my opinion) Kraft Mac and Cheese, with a can of tuna fish mixed in. In fairness to the cook, the instant tuna mac casserole was more of a fallback supper while traveling, and not, like the rice and apricots, a daily affair. But we hadn't room for an ice chest, which naturally limits one's culinary choices a bit.

I remember one such sybaritic repast in particular, served up as night was falling after a long day's drive, at a lonely roadside campsite somewhere out on the plains. A chill wind gusting from the north sucked the heat out of this revolting mess within seconds after it was ladled onto our tin plates. Certainly before I could sit down and shovel a single fork-full into my mouth. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've dined on a plateful of gelid, congealed mac and cheese and canned tuna chunks, as a stiff breeze -- apparently unobstructed in its descent from the polar regions by anything loftier than a shrub or two -- freshens your complexion.

I was never a big fan of canned tuna even before we went on this trip; after all these years, the very thought of it still makes my gorge rise. But I was too hungry at the time to care all that much. None of us gained weight on this vacation.

Lest I leave the wrong impression here, despite my dwelling on some of the less enjoyable aspects of the trip, the truth is we all had a blast.

Still, looking back, I'm always astonished at what tough little bastards we were. But the real outdoorsman of the bunch was my older brother, Harlin, affectionately nicknamed “The Varmint” when he was but a young sprout. He was a throwback, born too late to be a long hunter or a mountain man, and a few decades too soon to host one of those survival-in-the-wild TV shows. While Cliff and I (grudgingly) shared the pup tent, Harlin preferred to sleep in the out-of-doors, with a canvas tarp for cover if the weather turned inclement. Like when we woke one morning in Yellowstone to find everything shrouded in six inches of wet snow.

That was the day we decided to pack up our gear and head for the desert.

Skipping ahead with my story, we arrived at Yosemite in the middle of the afternoon. Our route along the eastern Rockies and then down through the desert Southwest had been a revelation to a kid raised among the comparatively puny woods and hills and hollows of Middle Tennessee. But Yosemite was something else again: Half Dome; Angel Falls; Tuolumne Meadows brilliant with wildflowers; looking up from the floor of the valley and seeing the dizzying illusion that makes those those impossibly high, sheer walls of granite appear to be perpetually toppling toward you against a fixed background of clouds. Words are feeble things, though, when confronted with the scale and transcendent beauty of this place.

Our plan was to stay at a campground for a few days, hiking and sight-seeing around the park, then shoulder our packs and head off into the back country. But the first thing to do, as always, was to set up camp. My assignment was to collect the fuel for our campfire. So off I went into the woods behind the campsite and began gathering up sticks.

This seems the appropriate place to mention that from the time we hit Yellowstone, at every park the rangers had given us the lecture about not having food or empty wrappers or soft drink cans in the tent or around the campsite, and cautioned us to hang our food properly at night. This advice had been given added emphasis by the fact that two campers had been killed by grizzlies so far that spring, in two different parks. Needless to say, we followed those instructions to the letter. So you can see that that bears were very much on my mind.

I'd been scrounging firewood for a while, since the pickings were rather slim this close to the campground, when I heard a noise behind me. I spun around, and saw my first bear close up.

Well, okay, the bear -- a cinnamon bear, probably a juvenile, who was merely standing on top of a fallen pine tree, eyeing me curiously -- was maybe ten or fifteen yards away, so it wasn't that close. But being in the woods, alone, after all those warnings from the rangers and the gruesome stories of people being eaten alive, as far as I was concerned it was a ten foot tall, half-ton grizzly reared up on his hind legs, all set to give me the Benihana treatment.

I dropped the sticks and took off through a stand of saplings, no doubt leaving one rather perplexed bear wondering what the hell was my problem. The one small bit of solace I can take from this textbook example of panicked scarpering (besides not having to change my underwear afterward) is that at least I had it together enough to hope the close-grown saplings I was dodging around might slow down this rampaging terror I was sure was at my heels.

Of course the bear didn't follow me. When I dared to look back, it was nowhere to be seen. I gathered up the tattered remnants of my courage along with another armload of firewood, and headed back to our campsite.

But this was not my most embarrassing moment of that day.

Back at the campsite, I learned that shortly after I went off to find firewood, the bear had paid Cliff a visit while he was unpacking the car. He turned around to find the critter attempting to enter the VW by way of the passenger window, no doubt to get at our food. I don't know how he made it desist, but obviously this was neither a very fierce nor a very large animal.

It didn't so much as scratch the paint or put a rip in the upholstery. But it wasn't finished with us, yet.

Not to put too fine a point to it, after returning to the campsite, I found I needed to emulate that proverbial bear in the woods. I soon discovered the restroom for our section of the campground was closed for repairs. So I had to walk, at a somewhat brisker pace, over to the next campground.

Remember how I was reluctant to wear my glasses? I'm fairly certain I had them on when I was in the woods and met the bear. And I doubt that I would have let that stunning scenery pass by all out of focus. But vanity prompted me to take them off while I was walking through the campground. You know: in case I met a cute girl.

Having locating some functional facilities, I was on my way back to our campsite when I walked past a small crowd standing by the roadside. Some of them seemed to be looking at something across the road, but all I could see was the fuzzy outlines of trash bins, although one of the bins appeared overly full.

So I stepped on by, down the middle of the road. After I'd strolled past, an incredulous bystander demanded, “Didn't you see the bear?” 

And this, ladies and gentlebeings, was my memorably mortifying moment. That same damned cinnamon bear was there, dumpster diving, with only its furry hindquarters visible above the rim of the bin. And I had walked right past it.

Shortly thereafter, my brothers appeared on the scene; Harlin took the initiative and drove the bear away by shouting and pelting it with clods of dirt. Yes, this was one fearsome creature. 

However, it did achieve a certain measure of revenge. After we'd eaten supper and hung the food from a high branch on the big pine in the center of the campsite, we retired for the night -- Cliff and I to the tent, and Harlin to his sleeping bag and tarp, which he had placed beneath the tree, on the cushiony mat of shed needles.

I was drifting off to sleep, when there came an urgent whisper from outside: “Cliff! Henry! Wake up!”

Cliff mumbled, groggily, “What do you want?” 

“The bear's back.” After sleepily pondering this development for a few seconds, our eldest brother delivered this sage bit of advice: “Well, leave him alone.” 

We were such a caring family. 

Next morning, Harlin informed us the bear had snuffled around the campsite while Cliff and I were snoring away in the tent, then climbed the tree from which we'd suspended our food. That is, the very same tall pine he'd chosen to sleep under. (Which, in retrospect, may not have been the smartest thing to do.) 

Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Harlin did his best to imitate an inanimate object while our nocturnal visitor clawed its way up the pine. But we'd chosen our limb well, high enough up so the cache dangled well out of its reach, from above and below. So the bear eventually gave up. 

According to Harlin, he experienced some tense moments right then, during this frustrated thief's descent. All my brother could think of was how accurate he'd been a few hours previously, lobbing those hard, gravel-studded clods of dirt at it -- and wonder whether the beast might be cherishing a grudge. He could all too easily imagine it making vengeful promises to itself as it scrabbled back down the tree.

Fortunately for him, the bear merely wandered away in search of an easier meal, and that was our last encounter with the creature.