I've gone on record before the release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" as saying that I was worried, worried that the film and the entire Star Wars franchise was about to take a dangerous turn, quite possibly jeopardizing it past the point of recovery. And I was basing this entirely on gut instinct, that feeling of impending doom when I read stories about the choices that were being made, about the overwhelming effort that the filmmakers were making, that to me, seemed to reflect a certain insecurity with the project on a whole. Of course I had no real proof to back this up, nothing to point to and say, "See, that right there might be a problem."
Dare I say, I just had a "bad feeling about this."
But I know I wasn't alone. It was as if there was a secret that all of us knew, including Lucasfilm, a secret that we knew but were too afraid to admit, and that secret was that this movie might have been put into the wrong hands. First and foremost to me was the $10,000.00 question, the elephant in the room that I think most Star Wars fans were just too puzzled by the decision itself to even acknowledge: "Who was this Rian Johnson chap?" I joked with a friend of mine that this decision had to have come about by someone standing in the pre-production meeting and declaring, "Bring me the 'Looper' guy!"
Yes, this young exec said, they wanted the guy that directed the series finale of "Breaking Bad" to take the helm of this all-important middle installment of a trilogy with literally decades of anticipation riding on it. Be damned that George Lucas was nowhere in sight, and who cares that it would seem this Rian Johnson fellow was being left in a hotel room with a typewriter ala Barton Fink and then just told to go! It seemed to me a decision made by the maverick new guard at Disney, the ones given this new plaything called Star Wars to try on for size, and all they wanted to do to it was change-change-change.
Even the trailer gave me a bad taste to the point that I began referring to the movie as "Star Wars: The Red Album," which made it obvious to all that I had pretty much had dismissed the idea of having any new hope at all.
But that same friend I was confiding in told me to keep something rather important in mind, and it was a comforting thought that sort of began my push towards the other side, and it was that Disney was going to have to put their name on this thing. And not just their name but also their theme parks, their toy merchandising and brand recognition, and they were going to do this with every cog in their Disney machine whirling at full speed. Yes, someone you never heard of may be writing this dissertation, but in the end it would still have to pass the approval of the professors.
And so on the Thursday before opening night, I was treated to an advance screening of the movie, and damned if I didn't find it to be "a triumph" as they say in the biz. The movie hit all the right spots for me, and I posted on social media that same night that in a way it was "infuriating" to me because it had taken almost 30 years to get it right. Of course, I was referring not just to "The Force Awakens," but also to the mire of prequels that we were all forced to wallow through in order to get here.
Then the strangest thing happened … the film grew to be called a "divisive" one, and this in spite of all the glorious praise by both critics and fans alike. What the hell was going on? I mean, an actual petition was started to remove the movie from the official Star Wars cannon altogether, I shit you not.
But then I thought to myself, "Wait, I think I get it."
And now I must address you, the naysayers, the ones who actually had the nerve to walk out of this movie "disappointed." You are all entitled to your opinion, of course, but know that all of your opinions are wrong. This is not a perfect movie, but … wait, you know what? Yes, it is a perfect movie.
(The above was a bit of satire meant to reflect the divisive aspect of … ah, never mind.)
I would like to invite everyone who went to this "Star Wars" movie to explain to me how this was not a "Star Wars" movie. Or at least, how is it that it was so much not what you expected that you walked out shaking your head? I wonder what it was you were expecting to see.
I know what I expected to see, and that was the grandeur of "Star Wars," the epic space battles and a good story where everyone was motivated to save the day. I wanted to see good versus evil, regardless of which one triumphed. I wanted to squirm with excitement and giggle when I saw something I'd never seen before, like, I don't know like a certain controversial scene involving a jump to hyperspace followed by 10 seconds of silence.
I wanted to see the intermingling of the old cast with the new, knowing that there was such a thing called time which tends to move forward as opposed to say, back to 1977.
I know, I know: the characters are just as important as the action, or at least, that's always been the supposed charm of these movies. Well, to that I would say yes, in the past R2-D2 and C-3PO were great comic relief, and Yoda and Chewbacca and the machine-half of Darth Vader was mesmerizing. But I dare you to tell me that the human characters had any less emotional resonance now than they ever did from 1977 to 2005.
I quote Harrison Ford's comment to George Lucas regarding his original scripts: "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!"
The result of such writing was what gave that sense of comfortable familiarity with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia … and that was okay. These characters were speaking in a barrage of clichés, and they were applying it all to what George Lucas thought was at the heart of his movies. And it worked, of course, it really worked.
But weren't you really just waiting for them to get on with the space battles and the lightsabers?
I know that the five and the eight and the eleven-year-old versions of me were waiting for the fireworks, and who were these movies really for anyway? I saw that Star Destroyer like every other kid did, chasing that small rebel ship that was carrying the plans to the Death Star, and I saw it pass right over my head! From that moment on, I just wanted more of that, preferably two or even eight more movies about them wars up in the stars.
Take that away and you've got nothing, or at least, nothing to define Star Wars or anything of merit even close on which to build such a tremendous fan base. If you had a problem with the direction that the story of "The Last Jedi" took with these characters, and if that alone was enough to make you thumb your nose at this movie, then you might want to re-examine why you consider yourself a Star Wars fan in the first place. Take away the spectacle, and you have a bad cable-access play at best, and you always have.
I suggest that J.J. Abrams find a way to work a time machine into the plot of Episode IX, shooting everyone back to the time where Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were all still young lads fighting the Empire, but without using too much of that realistic fancy talk. Maybe this could be a way for Disney to do a crossover with Star Wars and a reboot of the "Back to the Future" franchise. But please let's keep Doc Brown the old spastic guy, because I really don't care to go back any further than when he was standing on his toilet hanging that clock, and then falling to hit his head to have his subsequent visions of the Flux Capacitor.
Cynthia watched two lone figures downstairs in the food court, one turning to leave the mall and one remaining at a table by himself, the one sitting at the table a big man with a bald head that Cynthia had seen many times before now riding his bike sometimes right through the food court entrance doors. Eventually, she would recognize all of the regulars, would fabricate their origin stories and their motives for being there and interacting with one another without ever properly knowing them, and soon they would populate her already crowded imagination until she'd have no choice by to try to forget about them altogether. She was a writer, and with it Cynthia new that she could never truly switch off such a high-powered perception. These people were as real to her as any of the characters that she'd created in all of her creative writing classes.
And every evening after class she would ride this elevator up to her family's penthouse and gaze down at the inhabitants of this mall, the shopping center connected but a separate entity from this high rise building that was home to her and to dozens of other professional office spaces. This was where she lived with her family, in a dwelling that resembled nothing more than a rented beach condominium of sorts. The beach, Cynthia thought about now as her and everyone else in the elevator car were swallowed-up in the darkness of the elevator shaft around the sixth floor, all of them riding the tube now with no more visual input than their own thoughts, than that surf that broke on the shores of Cynthia's imagination.
She thought about how this glass and steel structure was in fact so alien from a beachfront resort, and she recalled how strange those resorts looked when juxtaposed against the sand, sitting there as if having been placed awkwardly against the wrong backdrop. And she remembered now how from the inside those beachfront resorts, the presence of the beach itself was always a shock when she would walk from the front door and opened the sliding-glass balcony door of her father's condominium, gasping as if never truly ready for the beach to be there, no matter how many times she'd seen it. She should write a story about that, she thought.
But Cynthia knew that such memories were reserved only for those privileged enough to experience them firsthand, like herself and her sisters who all lived under the luxurious wing of their father's success. And from their father, her sisters had acquired the same business-savvy skills in real estate that allowed them to raise and support families of their own, the two women marrying up and moving on from this strange tower in which they'd all been raised. Cynthia gained no such insight being the artist of the family, the black-sheep middle child of three sisters who themselves did what they could to nudge her into the real world.
But writers can never move into the real world until they were comfortable with the ones that they were creating. She should write a story about that as well, she thought, and then she lost her balance suddenly and fell into one of the two businessmen who rode the elevator with her. After apologizing to the man for having drifted off, she wondered why these men were going to their offices at this time of night in the first place.
Immediately a story formed itself out of the void, and it had to do with drugs and prostitutes, with after-hours executive parties in which these businessmen were entertaining clients from overseas.
Okay, she thought. This was one of those times where she wished she could shut it off. But doing such a thing was like applying the brakes in a vehicle that was already moving at too high of a speed, carrying her as the passenger of her own imagination just a little further than she would've wanted. Then in correlation with her desire to stop the forward progression of her writer's mind, the elevator car came to a stop on the fourteenth floor.
And there came the calm that Cynthia had always found so fascinating, yet never thought to write about. It was that sense of solitary purpose once the car had stopped, the one that had nothing to do with where she was in life or to where she applied her mind, for her only thought during those seconds when the door opened again was how long was it going to take for this passenger to leave. She'd try to guess which direction in the corridor the person would turn upon exiting, and rarely was she right.
Then the doors would close, and like rain her thoughts would soak her again, her mind flooding with background stories and conflicts, with the story of this businessman to her left who remained in the elevator once it started up again. But before her mind could mercilessly exhilarate out of control again, Cynthia felt the momentum of the elevator car change again, the G-forces working against her body as much to her surprise the car stopped only two floors higher. The doors opened, and there stood yet another businessman of approximately thirty, his hair a sculpted duel wave of platinum blond, clipped short and combed perfectly above his ears, and he was staring down at his mobile device.
"This one's going up," the first businessman said to this new potential passenger, and Cynthia sensed a certain discomfort from this first man that she hadn't noticed before now, as if elevator travel was somehow a source of anxiety for him. But this new businessman looked up from his mobile device, and upon hearing the news of which direction the car was going, he hesitated only briefly before stepping inside. Cynthia, lost in her Zen state between floors, listened to the exchange, fully invested on the matter at hand.
She regarded the man who'd chosen to stand just inside of the doors as they closed, near to where the climbing lights of the floor indicators moved in sequence. And comparatively, this man seemed much calmer and worlds more collected than her once only travel companion. From him came an air of authority and control that launched such a tangle of background stories in Cynthia's mind that she couldn't stand it anymore and held her hands to her ears.
"Are you all right?" the new passenger asked her, and then he smiled at her, keeping his eyes on her longer than she would've liked.
The seventeenth floor made itself known with a single chime and another shift in G-forces. The doors opened, and much to Cynthia's relief, both men exited.
And there it was, she thought, or perhaps didn't think at all. The closing of the elevator doors worked to pinch-off all of the stories of debauchery that were haunting her, and now she was moving away from the possibility of any of that being a reality. Here was the Zen of elevator travel, those few moments when all that was required from her was to occupy the space without thought, in the calm silence of a mind desperate only to reach its destination. She knew how this story was going to end, and she was well aware of which direction in the hallway she would go once the elevator stopped on her penthouse floor.
It was startling to Steven as he turned the corner on that late summer night, the front tire of his bicycle catching the curb and nearly causing a spill as the random activity caught his attention and jolted him from his meditations.
A man was emerging from the driver's side of a car parked in a driveway, standing to meet a woman and a child who were walking toward him from the curb, and he could've sworn that the man was carrying a gun.
And what a contrast this burst of life was when compared to the silence of this suburban neighborhood, lined with single-story brick homes inside which most people his age had the good sense to be in bed in front of the glow of their television sets by now.
But Steven let the scene in that driveway pass over his shoulder with the rest of the neighborhood, giving those people no more significance than he would have given any of the other parked cars and garbage cans and stop signs that he passed with each strong push of his pedals.
He took in a lungful of the night air and enjoyed the freedom of this neighborhood ride. After all, it was his plan all along to tap into this feeling, to rediscover that which made him so happy as a kid to pedal his red Mongoose through his own neighborhood streets. He could still see David and Peter and Clark and Lenny, all getting on their bikes and pedaling alongside him to catch up, as free as any humans could ever be, or would ever be again.
The Mongoose was long gone, and Steven was now riding a brand-new $99.00 Roadmaster that he'd bought over the weekend at the local Wal-Mart. And he had to admit, the bike was taking the imperfections of these streets better than he would've thought. The bike was red, because it had to be red, and the bike looked just as modern and sturdy as all of the other bikes that hung from the racks at Wal-Mart, even the ones that the salesman said were reserved for the more serious cyclists.
He'd therefore expected the bike to fall apart right out from under him by the end of this ride. But by then, the bike would've already served its purpose as the gateway to his remembering. And so he loosened his grip and slid his hands off the handlebars to drive only with his fingertips, turning them ever so slightly to the left and to the right to create those broad, semi-circular patterns from one curb to the other that he loved to make as a boy. And he felt saddened suddenly by the effort that this was all taking, the absolute chore that it was to clear his adult mind just long enough to enjoy the simplicity of this ride.
The sense of wonder that he was attempting to conjure wasn't lasting long, but was rather coming in waves of memory with varying degrees of clarity, images with just enough potency to convince him that if he tried hard enough, he could quite possibly pedal his way all the way back to the beginning.
Steven began to wonder if he should've at least purchased a helmet and some reflective clothing. But that's not what a child riding through the night would even begin to think. And so he pushed the concern to the furthest most grownup corner of his mind with the rest of his adult concerns, the ones that were all fighting for position to get in front of these fresh new ones.
There should be only one concern tonight, Steven thought, and that concern would be to make sure that he filled his tires with just enough air to make all of the jumps that he had planned.
Up ahead, a bump materialized out from the darkness, and so he stood on his pedals and picked up speed to hit the bump and pull up on his handlebars. And as planned, this series of movements sent him up and sailing over a good three feet of untouched concrete before landing with a cushioned bounce, a bounce that required only the slightest correction of his handlebars. This excited him, but a young boy would never celebrate such a small feat as was that jump, would never think to distinguish that jump from any of the other thousands he'd already made or planned to make, and so Steven moved on without fanfare.
Approaching an incline in the street now, Steven could see that he was about to connect with the main boulevard up ahead, and so he stood again on his pedals and picked up just enough speed to make the incline and stand with his bike between his legs. And upon arriving, he marveled at how deserted this boulevard actually was at this time of night, far from the gridlocked morning mess that made a winding trail of fiery windshields all the way down to the Interstate on-ramp. The businesses along this street were lit up as if open, but in fact they were far from it, and Steven folded his arms and stood there with his bike to enjoy this special solitude.
And it was here that he noticed someone else engaged in the same activity at the same intersection, just a few yards over to his left, only he was sitting quietly on a bus-stop bench. The individual sat with his arms outstretched along the back, a large and foreboding man with a bald head, wearing a tattered jumpsuit that revealed an even dirtier, stained undershirt. And leaning against the garbage can was a bike of his own, a red Huffy.
Steven wanted to nod to this person, wanted to acknowledge that perhaps they shared a mutual enjoyment of night cycling. But this man paid him no mind, instead staring out into the night behind what seemed to be a veil of thoughts so thick that it blocked out any awareness of his surroundings. Then his head dropped, and his arms fell from the back of the bench, and within moments this bald giant of a man was standing and reaching for his bike, mounting it finally to pedal off down the sidewalk with a slow and rhythmic cadence.
And that was the last time Steven had ever expected to see this man.
Only the following afternoon, as Steven drove home on his usual route in the stop-and-go wall of red brake lights, he spotted through his passenger's-side window the very same red Huffy bike with its front tire tucked into a bike rack outside of a public library. The bike was parked there by itself, strange to Steven at this early-evening hour, and he wondered if perhaps the bike had been parked there all day. The library was more than likely where the man had worked, but Steven wanted to think otherwise, wanted to believe that the bald giant on the red bike was perhaps some sort of mad intellectual.
Maybe this man arrived at this library every day just to sit quietly and comb through academic journals in his particular field, or maybe he engaged in long shifts of writing that would produce a finished work of his own, a biography, or a novel of fiction.
And so that night Steven took another solitary bike ride to have his questions answered, eventually finding himself at that very same intersection. But the bus-stop bench was empty tonight, the garbage can not working to serve as a prop for the red Huffy bike.
Alone again, Steven thought, alone as the only member of this new club of neighborhood night cyclists.
And Steven would've been content to call it a night right there had it not been for the sudden materialization of the red Huffy, coming up the sidewalk now with the large man rocking slowly from side to side with each casual turn of the pedals. This time the bald giant was wearing a backpack, and immediately Steven figured the bag to be filled with his work, with books and drafts of pages scribbled with red-pen edits. The bike passed directly in front of Steven as he stood there with his bike between his legs, so close to him now in fact that he could see that the man's eyes were still vacant and lost, staring ahead, or perhaps staring at nothing at all.
But within only a few more yards the man stopped pedaling and applied his brakes, sliding off of the bike seat and standing to catch his breath for a moment before leaning his bike against the bus-stop garbage can. He took his seat on the bench, again resuming the posture that Steven had first seen, with both of his arms stretched out along the back of the bench and his chin held up high as if he were a king that was leisurely surveying his sleeping kingdom. Steven held back the urge to approach this man, not wanting to disturb his meditations on some particular subject, or his efforts to work his way out of a potential plot problem in his novel.
Yes, Steven thought, this man was a writer. No other possibility made more sense to him now than this, that the bald-headed man with the red Huffy and the backpack and tattered jumpsuit was in fact a brilliant man who'd chosen to work independent from the world. His solitude, Steven concluded, was more sacred to him than anything else in the world.
But Steven had to know.
Which was why the next afternoon, when Steven saw the bike parked again outside of the public library, he turned out of his gridlocked commute back home and parked.
Still dressed in his workday suit and tie, Steven entered the library and began the pantomime of casually browsing the stacks, placing himself finally just close enough behind the bald giant to observe without his being noticed, watching the man as he sat at one of the public computer cubicles typing away with great agility.
Steven repositioned the books in front of him to make the perfect peephole through which to examine the computer screen over the bald giant's shoulder.
But it was only a video game.
Standing suddenly from his peephole, Steven felt betrayed, embarrassed that he'd given so much credit to this man, thinking that he possessed genius when in fact he was just a lonely man who played video games. No works of great prose were on that computer screen, no indication of any document of any kind. The bald giant was simply, and now tragically so to Steven, just passing his time.
And so as the weeks rolled by following Steven's revelation, he found it odd that he was now seeing the bald giant more than he'd ever. He saw the man no less than a half-dozen times around his neighborhood, at the local supermarket where he spotted him pushing a basket as he gazed at the shelves, on random streets and in scattered parking lots where Steven spotted him pedaling slowly in a circle. Even the red Huffy had become a landmark now, always at the library when Steven passed it every afternoon on his way home from work.
Solitude. Alone at the library. Exploring empty parking lots in the middle of the night.
But as the days went by, Steven began to understand this behavior, and it was precisely what Steven had intended for himself all along. Where Steven had failed trying to tap into that mysterious corner of his mind, this man had now surpassed him in both experience and opportunity. Such was the bald giant's life, a life that began in practice long before Steven had ever thought to attempt such a thing for himself.
And Steven began to wonder if perhaps no one listened to this man as well, if maybe when he spoke, no one even attempted to understand his worldview. He wondered if perhaps the man was being ignored, and if what he was doing now was nothing more than just holding his cards close to his chest. Steven wondered if this man was married, like himself, and he wanted to know if this man had kids of his own, kids who like their mother had established that nothing of any importance would ever come out of his mouth.
It was enough to put Steven back on his bike that very next night to cycle past all of the sleeping storefronts again along the boulevard, out of his neighborhood altogether to ride under the orange glow of the highway overpasses. He'd made it as far the mall, a total of three miles, when out of fatigue and hunger he chained his bike outside of the food court and went inside.
He stopped and stood in the center of the food court, slowly turning to scan his options, trying to find a counter that wasn't being wiped down for the night, when among the scattered shoppers who still remained, Steven spotted the bald giant sitting at one end of a table with the other end hidden behind a column, and he was engaged in some lively discussion. He was speaking with his hands waving expressively before him, his eyes and facial expressions and nods of affirmation telling Steven that the bald giant had in fact some interested company there, if only Steven could see who that company was. But now a janitor was obstructing Steven's view of the other end of the table, lifting a bag out of a trash receptacle and hoisting it over his shoulder to be dropped into a tremendous, rolling barge of a cart.
Steven waited for the mall worker to finish the task and move on, to push that cart away from between where it separated himself and the bald giant's table to reveal what would perhaps give him some idea of what a friend to such a wandering soul would look like, or if he, or even she were no one more than just a fellow vagabond in tattered clothing.
He wanted to join the conversation, if for no other reason than to serve as a gateway to speaking to the man himself, this mysterious bald giant on the bike who it would appear was articulate after all, who had a mind filled with ideas and opinions that he wished to express.
And then the mall worker's cart moved, and with it, so did Steven's expectations.
No one sat listening across from the bald giant, regardless of the fact that the giant was still attempting to explain something, something that seemed to be a story of consolation, a gesture to a friend who was not there at all. The bald giant was smiling as he spoke to this phantom, reassuring it with this gesture that everything was going to be all right.
Steven imagined himself to be sitting across from the bald giant, there in that chair hearing those words of consolation, being told that everything was in fact going to be all right.
The orange glow of the parking lot lights played with the streaks left behind by his windshield wipers. And so Paul leaned in closer to the windshield and rested his chin on his steering wheel, squinting his eyes to block out everything but the lights beyond the glass. As a result, the lights turned into tiny north stars of Bethlehem that floated in suspension above the trees.
He laughed and rubbed his eyes, leaning back to let the lights and the trees outside of Building D in the apartment complex all come back into focus.
He was exhausted. Of that much he was certain. But how he'd arrived here, sitting with his car shifted into park and staring at some lone window in an apartment complex he'd never been to before, he couldn't quite figure and could in no way contribute to any kind of exhaustion.
This was simply the end of a timeline that had placed him there, naturally and not as a result of any conscious decisions he'd made. After all, Paul thought, animals that hunt are instinctively drawn to their prey. And in the silence of his car there he began to wonder what exactly goes through an animal's mind at the moment that they find themselves gone suddenly from their resting position to being quite literally on top of some prey.
He wondered if in the time between the animal's triggered instinct and the inevitable end result, which always left the animal panting and with a bloodied mouth, if there was any real memory of the hunt itself at all?
Or was it comparable to something like a blackout, Paul thought, similar to the way in which humans enter a room and then not remember why they'd gone in there in the first place? He began to think of their family cat, who was far away in another neighborhood across town, and of how the cat locks onto birds fluttering outside of his living room window before jumping and leaving scratches in his lap as the animal stops to stand frozen in the window like a work of taxidermy. He wondered if, as with those birds, was it possible that the slightest of movements could trigger the lunge of any natural predator?
Paul found his way back out from the wilderness of his thoughts, back to his immediate surroundings, there inside of his car in that strange parking lot as he stared up at Building D.
His last clear memory was of being at his local drug store about thirty-five minutes ago, standing in line two places behind the man that would trigger this strange hunt. All at once, scattered memories began to connect like links on a chain, and he recalled now how he had taken the hard turns in this unfamiliar neighborhood, how he'd memorized every street sign. He remembered how he'd kept a safe distance behind the car as not to spoil his reveal.
But like now, he also remembered asking himself what in the hell he was doing, if what he wanted to do was just to make this person aware that he was being followed. Yes, he had wanted to teach this man that sometimes bad behavior could trigger a response from a completely uninvolved, total stranger. He wanted to elicit fear, and this was precisely why he had yet to shift his car out of park, why he hadn't even considered leaving the parking lot in favor of keeping an eye on the movements up in that third-floor window.
The shadow of the man moved back and forth up there, and Paul could only figure that the man was placing down the Coronas that he purchased at the drug store, the same Coronas that he watched this man carry up those three flights of steps to the balcony near his front door.
Paul leaned forward again in the driver's seat, and he began to imagine what possible furniture configurations existed up there, what obstacles might be in his path once he decided to enter that apartment to do whatever it was he was that his instinct had led him there to do next.
And there was that word again: instinct. He leaned back, and again he thought of the animal in the midst of its hunt, wondering if in the throws of instinctive behavior do animals even know that they're acting on instinct? It was all so very interesting to him what it was he was obviously becoming, and he liked the idea that if anything were to come of this sudden fit of stalking, it would be a better understanding of the animal kingdom of which he tells his son often that they are both very much a part.
Yes, a first-hand, predatory experience would be the perfect topic of conversation to have with his young son tonight. And he knew that the boy would be interested because at some point the discussion would turn to talk of guns. The boy loved the feel of the weapon that Paul had purchased and shown him, an extension of himself as he pulled the trigger and made the empty cylinder turn and hammer to snap down on the empty chamber.
Paul reminded himself again to always keep that cylinder empty, to make sure that the bullets were removed from the gun and placed out of reach before his ex-wife would arrive to deliver their son to him tonight.
And he had so many other surprises for his boy tonight, such as the big bag of chocolates and hard candies that he'd purchased from the drug store when it was his turn in line, just moments before he would get back into his car and start driving far out of his way to sit in this parking lot. He had planned to share the chocolate with his son, and then use the individually wrapped hard candies as poker chips. He was going to teach his boy all about the thrill of winning, even if it meant a small series of winning poker hands.
He wanted to explain, however, how through violence one could remove an opponent altogether.
But who was he to explain such a thing without ever having done it himself?
Because instinct didn't require any skill, Paul concluded. Skill was not relevant in a situation like that. And he began to wonder again if the man in the apartment upstairs knew that he was being watched.
But what was he really doing there? How did he actually plan to end this natural timeline without finishing it, if for no other reason than not to have wasted all of this time and effort? Did he remember even having a plan before taking that thirty-five minute drive out of his way to follow this man to his home?
Well, Paul thought, that man upstairs was a bully. And in the end, all that mattered was that he hated bullies. The bully's behavior in the store tonight was all it took to do it to himself, to place himself in such a dangerous position, like the last fatal movements of an animal's prey.
Paul had chosen this bully, and the only plan from here on out needed to be to bring and end to this stalk, which would ultimately mean the end of this bully. And he was simply going to walk up those steps and let himself inside of that apartment to do it. Once inside, he'd navigate his way around that furniture to get at the bully quickly and not allow him the time to defend himself.
And one of those Corona bottles would do the trick, Paul thought, would be perfect to break into a shard and shove deep into the bully's neck.
He wondered what it was going to feel like at the moment that the bottle punctured flesh.
And Paul was going to do it without uttering a single word, with only the satisfaction of being recognized as the anonymous man who was standing two persons behind the bully at the checkout line. Paul was the man that scoffed loudly when the bully had finished demeaning the cashier, the one who caught the bully's attention and made him turn around. Paul was the random person with whom the bully had made eye contact, meant to intimidate, and it was Paul's icy return stare that had come all too naturally.
But then the bully had dismissed their exchange altogether, instead turning back to the cashier and insisting that it was their credit card reader that was malfunctioning and not his card. He explained that he had gone in their every night this week and purchased the very same longnecks with that very same credit card. And he'd never been hassled like this before now.
The cashier had then insisted again, albeit bashfully, that it was the credit card.
The bully then pushed back, only this time, he'd called the cashier a name.
There, Paul thought, that was the point where his instincts had been triggered. That was the fatal final movements of his prey. The bully had decided that the cashier's dignity was his to take, regardless of the fact that this cashier no doubt had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
That cashier didn't need to experience such pain tonight.
Still, everyone looked on without getting involved.
"Let me talk to your manager," the bully had said, and Paul noted that it wasn't the manager but was rather your manager.
"I'll get my manager," the cashier replied, "but don't disrespect me like that."
"It's you that's disrespecting me!" the bully returned.
A random blue-collar worker, who had occupied the first place in line behind the bully and who Paul would've thought shared in the frustration, instead turned around to comment. "This fucking kid better get his manager," he said to Paul. "Or else this guy's gonna kick his ass!"
Well, Paul had thought just then, … was he now?
He was back to Building D now. The bully was right up there in Building D, and from what Paul remembered he was by all standards a stereotype, a stocky man in his early forties in a tank top and shorts and with a sun visor that sat the wrong way on his head. And the bully no doubt had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
His beer, for instance, was all that the bully wanted out of life tonight.
But the bully was in for so much more!
Only Paul was no longer even in the parking lot.
He'd gone and done it again, had pounced elsewhere like the predator that he'd become without his knowing. He was already back home and in his driveway. And again he tried to harness what little memory he could of his latest time lapse, remembering now that he'd indeed run a few stop signs in his neighborhood, and that at some point he'd reached over to the glove compartment to make sure that the gun was still in there and loaded.
Paul reached up and adjusted his rearview mirror there in his driveway, and he had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
But he wasn't quite sure why it was he was now sitting and waiting in his driveway, why he was staring intently at the reflection of the curb in his rearview mirror, or why he was now holding the gun with the hammer pulled back.
He wasn't fully aware yet of what it was he was there to do next, but he knew that at some point his ex-wife would arrive at that curb to deliver their son to him tonight.
The Eleventh Round of queries went out May 4th, 2015, in an effort to try utilizing the ways of the Force to get the attention of a literary agent.
But it would seem that I may have made yet another mistake for everyone to learn from by example, as I realized days after the fact that last year about this time, I sent out the Seventh Round of queries on Cinco de Mayo to a chilling silence (see "The Seventh Round"). And during that post, I was commenting on how the previous year I had done something similar by sending out not one but two rounds at a time on Christmas Eve (see "The Fourth and Fifth Rounds"). Internet articles and chat boards would quickly clear up this latter rookie mistake, but for the life of me I can't understand why early May is yet another Bermuda Triangle when in comes to launching correspondences into the void.
And so here we are again, approximately one month after this Eleventh Round went out, and with the exception of some immediate auto-responses and a few legitimate rejections, there has been no word from the fleet.
It may just be time to concentrate all power on that Super Star Destroyer.
Frank Lapidus, if you're reading this, would you like to take a stab at a book cover design?
I recently read an article on NOLA.com that hints at the very real possibility that we may be losing the University of New Orleans. To say that I'm not at all happy about this, regardless of any admitted resilience that I may have sometimes toward change in general, is not even a strong enough emotion. To have this formative place in my writing life be taken away from me, especially now that I'm back in the city and have rekindled my relationship with its campus and library, is heartbreaking.
I'd like to describe an experience that I had recently during a visit to the campus, which I equate to the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming." Just to be clear, the term refers to an awareness that one has while still in the dream state to the point where they can actually navigate the course of the dream. I think this is the ultimate freedom that we as imaginative creatures can have, the ability to run around inside ones own mind, and I think I may have had one of these experiences while still in a waking state on the campus of UNO.
The Earl K. Long Library is one of those places that I consider the birth of me as a writer, the birth of "Blanket," a refuge that ever since my leaving has had no substitute. In that library was where the first chunks of dialogue between Judith Blair and the Funnyman from Scenes from the Blanket came to be, written on an old Brother word processor in a cubicle downstairs, and later I would retreat upstairs to the soothing tranquility of the nighttime window desks to edit those pages. The campus of UNO is where I modeled Daniel Foster's academic career as being and home to the R.S.I.C. from The Petrified Christ, and not the campus of Loyola as is stated in the book.
These among other characters that I've created either live as a result of that campus and those professors and that university, or still dwell there in some way today.
A few months ago back when it was warmer in New Orleans, I took a drive out on a Saturday evening right around dusk to do some writing in the library. I found some private study rooms and picked one of them out from the many that lined every floor. There I would sit and work undisturbed until well after the sun went down.
As I went outside after I was done, I thought about how cool it would be to take my bike out for a spin. And after only a little bit of apprehension as random students walked by me there in the parking lot, I pulled my bike out from the back of my Jeep, placed it on the ground and started peddling. After getting the gears all set, what followed was that lucid dream of a bike ride through the empty, nighttime campus.
I rode all of the sidewalks up to the Liberal Arts building, peeking into the windows as I held myself up on the bricks, only to pedal off again to discover both new and familiar landmarks. I stopped at one point near a student-meeting place between the Liberal Arts and Mathematics building, where for some reason whenever I think about UNO and the possibility of my having had become a career academic, this location always pops into my mind. I'm guessing that I had such thoughts while standing right there many years ago, and thus that little courtyard has been imprinted on my mind ever since.
Off I peddled, taking pictures and making sharp turns as I zoomed here and there, and I felt like a kid. It was amazing. At one point I stopped at an office window that had the blinds pulled up, and on the ledge among piles of papers and books was a book on Chaucer.
I went inside to check the door, and sure enough it was the office of Dr. Kevin Marti, the same professor of the Medieval Literature that I'm writing about now in my new manuscript. Dr. Marti was one of three professors at UNO that impacted me greatly, the others being Victorian literature professor Dr. Leslie White, and the enigmatic Romantic literature professor Dr. Peter Schock. I hope one day to reunite with these men, if only for a few moments of quiet conversation, just to let them know how much of an impact they had on me as I roamed the halls of this great university so many years ago.
It was all very much like being suspended as would an acrobat on wires inside of my own skull, kicking myself from wall to wall, grabbing hold of something so I could take a look around before flying someplace else again to explore some other dark corner of my past. And the campus was dark indeed, silent and vacant on this Saturday night, and it was all just so perfect as to be at certain times overwhelming. I did a similar nighttime visit when I first returned home to my childhood house in Arabi, and being an empty post-Katrina neighborhood, it allowed me to explore the ghosts of my past undisturbed.
My childhood home is still there, however, it's just on the market to be scooped-up by someone else here real soon. And no, it doesn't look the same as it once did on the inside, but neither does my UNO home. But UNO is still there and accessible for the time being, and I sure would like to claim that building as a forever place, proving the age-old adage that you can never go home again dead wrong.
This is probably the longest I've ever taken between blog posts, but I have good reason. If you follow my Facebook or Twitter feeds at all, you've probably already seen that I've been quite busy lately, so busy in fact that I haven't updated here in quite some time. Yes, this is that post, the one where I catch-up and then promise to make more regular appearances on my own website.
So, let's see how this goes, shall we?
To begin, after spending the entire month of September dividing my time between learning lyrics and working on my new manuscript, I finally did two shows with 90 To Nothing. They were both in October and both during the second-to-last Halloween weekend of the legendary New Orleans haunted attraction, The House of Shock. This was to be the final year for this long-running show, which blends stage special effects and theatrics with some of the most terrifying twists and turns that an actual walk-through haunted house could have legally.
We played for the crowds as they waited to get into the stage-show area, and it was yet another incredible culmination of hard work and preparation. Everyone was pleased, and it was during this weekend that I broke through any barriers that I might have cultivated with regard to my being able to perform again in the capacity of lead vocalist. I know what it is that I do and do well in the music scene of this city, dormant all along like so many other things in this new and unfolding tale that is my life.
Then November saw the beginning of rehearsals for the play. That's right, I was in a play. Let me explain.
When I first came back to New Orleans in June of this year, my friend Scott Frilot asked if I would be interested in playing bass in a band as part of a play that our mutual friend Gary Rucker was producing over at his own Rivertown Theatres for the Performing Arts in Kenner. I accepted immediately, wanting nothing more than to immerse myself in all that the New Orleans arts scene had to offer, my hometown where it would seem that all the inmates I’d come up with were now running the asylum. I received all of the material for the show, the songs and the script, and then it was all put on the back burner for the next three months while I worked with 90 To Nothing.
But nothing could prepare me for that November night when I first walked into Rivertown and met director Ricky Graham. I had no idea that "the director" I'd been hearing so much about would be this familiar face I'd seen for most of my adult life in the entertainment section of The Times-Picayune, alongside some of the greats of the New Orleans theatre scene. It was truly an honor to meet this man and to, for all intents and purposes, work with him for as long as I did.
The cast and crew welcomed the band as equals as Scott Frilot, Woody Dantagnan, Brian Drawe and myself settled into the pit to begin the rehearsals for the British farce that was to be Richard Bean's hilarious "One Man, Two Guvnors." And I knew immediately that this would be an experience that I would never want to end, and night after night of rehearsals and actual performances did nothing to lessen this emotion. I understand now the feeling of absolute sadness that actors claim overcome them when a film or television series wraps.
Lead Chris Marroy was astonishing and did nothing short of spoil me when it comes to seeing any future shows in this city. I have very little exposure to the New Orleans theatre community, but for me to say that I was taken aback by Chris' performance night after night would be a silly understatement. I'm sincerely hoping that any future trips and/or involvement that I may have with the local theatre scene will feature a performance equal to or as great as what Chris showed me was possible.
The rest of the cast included my lifelong friend Gary Rucker alongside Erin Cesna, P.J. McKinnie, Shelley Johnson Rucker, Lara Grice, Logan Faust, Michael P. Sullivan, James Howard Wright, Matt Reed, Kyle Daigrepont and Joshua Talley.
So, let's review. So far since coming home I've been in a short film directed by John Beyer called "Sis-Tours," joined 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer, got a request for a full manuscript from a potential literary agent, and was featured (that's right, even themusician's names were printed in the programs and on the lobby poster!) in a New Orleans theatre production. Whew.
Which brings us to the here and now, where again I am that guy who has launched a blog, not updated it as regularly as he would like due to a complete lack of personal assistance, and is now promising in his latest post to keep his website updated.
And so like I said only paragraphs ago, let's see how this goes, shall we?
I should be working on songs right now, but instead I'm writing. Not that I haven't been working on songs for the past week now, because I have. It's just that this is a part of the transition, the way in which I gradually take off one of my hats and put on the other.
Just as a quick update, I've slowed down production on my new book for a few days in order to deal with a different type of wordplay. You see, where there was once output there is now input, a gradual absorption of lyrics and meter and rhythm. No, I have not crossed over into the realm of the aspiring poet, not entirely.
But I have joined the New Orleans-based band 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer!
It's been about eight years since I last took the role of a front man in a band, where I utilized my vocal abilities and what interpersonal skills I'd learned with an audience from being a singer on Bourbon Street for the better part of the six years prior to Hurricane Katrina. While it's true that I've become older and shorter of breath, I am still confident in my ability to sing! And as far as the interpersonal part goes, well, we'll see how the subtraction of alcohol since 2009 works with regard to my ability to connect with you the audience.
Of course I'm saying all this in jest, and I couldn't be more confident and thrilled to be a part of something like this now again in a city where it seems as though I'm truly picking up where I left off. I'd forgotten just how much of a network there was here, especially now that I realize that I've left some sort of mini legacy behind during my nine-year sabbatical. Where at once I used to reflect on how New Orleans must've treated mention of me as one would treat the mention of a person who'd passed away and thus had no hope of returning, now I understand that talk of me has mostly centered around the possibility of my returning to an identity and role that has already been established and is very much in place.
With new musical opportunities coming in, all of which I plan to consider and work on throughout the rest of this year, I have also been actively seeking out other opportunities to throw my music hat into the ring. On my wish list is to return to Bourbon Street as a vocalist. Although I started out down there as a bassist that eventually just sang, I have to say that at this point in my life I consider myself a much better contender to work alongside the amazing talent on that street as a singer, and a singer only.
And so I've slowed down the writing for the time being, and I do mean for the very-brief time being, so that I can give these new opportunities the time that they deserve. I've always claimed to be of these two halves, the music and the writing, and a man who does two things at once really doesn't do either of them well. So wish me luck as I jump from one side of the green grass to the other to digest some words, and then with any degree of luck, back again very soon to lay down some more of my own.
Go give the Facebook page a like at: https://www.facebook.com/90toNothing
According to FedEx tracking, as of yesterday morning my first full-manuscript request has arrived at the door of a potential literary agent. This is a big deal! Last week when I was scouring the Internet just to find out how best to format such a thing for delivery, the first few sentences of every post I read said that I should first congratulate myself, because this alone meant that I've made it through the slush pile and attracted the kind of attention that only a few attain.
It certainly is a glorious feeling sending something like a manuscript out in the mail, knowing that the physical pages themselves are being carried across country packed neatly in their own form-fitting, 8 ½ by 11 box. And even now I think about how great those pages are going to look when that box is opened to reveal all of my hard work. I told some friends of mine recently who seem to be quite optimistic about this new step in my writing career that for me this is comparable to opening a business or building a house, that having had no children of my own, these are the kids that I'm raising and sending through college.
Writing to me has always been a constant, a thing that I'm simply wired to do regardless of whether or not I reach any level of success, and so even the smallest of victories feel tremendous. Being home in New Orleans now for a little over two months, I find myself still hunting out the same old quiet places to write from my comparative youth, a habit of mine that only in retrospect did I realized I'd been doing for the better part of the past twenty years. I've done this everywhere I've lived, and it's consistencies like that one that make it easy to understand who I am at my core.
And so now as my fingertips gently brush the golden ring that I've been reaching for since the First Round of queries went out almost two years ago, never before have I felt so much in the game for real. Believe me when I say that email submissions and hard copy submissions are two different beasts. Right now with any degree of luck, the industry person who requested to see more of the rooms in this house that I've built is thumbing their way through the structure page by page and one square foot at a time, and it takes every bit of my writer's imagination not to think that they're hopefully enjoying all of the amenities that I've put into place for their visit.
I want to write about an experience that happened to me during my first month back here in New Orleans, a very full-circle experience that vindicated in some ways my second coming in this city. The experience turned out well for me, because it opened up a new avenue that I would never have thought possible just nine years ago in pre-Hollywood-South New Orleans. It in fact only took twenty years, but a few weeks ago, I was up on the silver screen.
When I was 15, I was rabid for the idea that I wanted to be a film director. Having been given access to a rented VHS video camera for a family vacation to Walt Disney World, my parents just went ahead and purchased the thing because quite frankly I wouldn't let it go after the week was up. That camera was the seed of obsession that saw me making videos that I entered into a student media festival at LSU throughout my four years in high school, and I won the damn thing all four years in a row.
But at some point this urge to make movies faded, and I always site the reason being that selfishly, the collaborative process at the time proved too much. I went to college and made a movie my freshman year, but then I was just done, off and running into the void that would eventually end up with my deciding that the written word would be my main mode of storytelling. In retrospect, I also believe that I would have given up long before Hollywood South and their glorious tax incentives would have ever come to town.
And now back to our story.
It all started during a random conversation with filmmaker John Beyer and actor Corey Stewart, both of whom participate in what is known as The 48 Hour Film Project every year, which they thought I could contribute something to this year in front of the camera. The 48 is an international competition where filmmakers are given a genre to work with, a line of dialogue that needs to be spoken, a character name and a prop that needs to be used and then are told to go out and make that movie in forty-eight hours. The New Orleans-based competition is moderated by an old Bourbon Street friend of mine, Pedro Lucero, and that fact alone should have told me that the universe was about to place me somewhere that I needed to be.
And so on the morning of July 19th, 2014, I was emailed a copy of the script for "Sis-Tours" that had been written overnight and then I was told where to go. I made coffee and grabbed some semblance of a wardrobe from my closet and headed out. When I arrived, the first thing that struck me was the silent efficiency of the set located in an office building that was given to us for the day, with crew members that scurried here and there setting up lighting and camera equipment and set decoration.
I got dressed and was then asked to go into makeup where among other things, the artist made sure that my bald head -- which I dubbed at the amusement of the crew as the "chrome dome" -- was dimmed-down enough as not to be too shiny for the camera. When this was done and after some waiting around, it was then time to do my first take, a voice-over line that I was told just to read. Being at least good at reading things, and knowing that I had the luxury of doing it with no memorization necessary, I nailed the inflection and made director John Beyer giggle.
So far so good.
But next was my first actual on-camera scene, a talking-head shot in which I had to deliver lines without reading them. I stumbled at first and then asked if I could do it again as a stifling hush filled the room that I didn't care to interpret at the time. And when I did it again and opened-up into character under the direction of John, the result was another break-up behind the camera and a restoration to my confidence.
The rest of the day went unbelievably well, and the collaborative experience of this very-ensemble piece -- which also featured Corey Stewart, Laura Flannery, Karen Gonzalez, Jamie Choina, Ed Hubert, Brian Bonhagen and Chris Fontana, and the behind-the-scenes work of Todd Schmidt, Laura Duval, Matt Bell, Alex Payne and Franz Wise -- was as gratifying as anything I can remember in recent years. The ease with which I navigated this environment made me nostalgic for my high school years, where all I wanted to do was make movies, an instinct that perhaps I should never have let grow dormant. The universe is funny that way.
With my part of the eight-hour shoot done, the crew was then off and running to the next location. I went home and officially began waiting for the opportunity to see the finished product. I also did quite a bit of writing that day, inspired by the creative atmosphere that I'd just left.
People in love with storytelling are my kind of people, as are film people, which I learned that day firsthand.
I'd now like to fast-forward to the night of Thursday, July 24th, 2014.
The entire team -- dubbed now "The Sullen Ducks" -- arrived at the National WWII Museum theatre in the Warehouse District of New Orleans for the second of the festival's four screenings. We all filed inside, and a bit of a reunion took place between myself and moderator Pedro Lucero. This recognition would in fact carry-over into the auditorium where as we all sat and they got ready to begin the screening, Pedro pointed me out in the second row and announced into a hot microphone, "And Ted Torres is here!"
That moment meant more to me than you know, Pedro, and I thank you.
And yes, there I was projected fifty-feet high for a few moments that will stay with me forever, strictly for the sake of punctuating how fast things can happen when one simply allows the universe to nudge them back into place.
And ... scene.