A rainy Sunday in New Orleans during this the final weekend before Mardi Gras. Had a bit of a late start this weekend as a result, having spent most of the day yesterday up on blocks due to a bit too much reveling on Friday night. But today more work has been completed on III and tonight I'll be a guest alongside my buddy Scotty Elstrott on the Not Real Radio podcast. Click on over at 8PM CST to hear what's happening in pop culture, local entertainment and news from five people who will be avoiding the rest of Mardi Gras at all costs.
My previous post was a work of fiction, meant to mirror where I am in the final edit of Darker Prometheus and possibly stir up interest by burring the line between fact and fiction. But unfortunately, art doesn't always need help down here in New Orleans when it comes to imitating life. Literally hours after my post, there was a real shooting on Bourbon Street around 3AM that killed one (who apparently was someone close to a friend of mine) and left two injured.
My thoughts go out to the victims and their families.
NOPD reports confirm that shots have been fired from inside of Samson's Live Music club located at 433 Bourbon Street. There is no further information at this time, but TedTorres.com will check in with regular updates as they develop. Tune into WWL-TV for their live, continuous coverage of "Crisis in the Quarter."
Last night I had a cocktail or two or three, and it was one of those sensory experiences that catapulted me back in time, right back to the very beginning of my work on the Trilogy. And by this, I mean the Special Collector's Editions, the ones that were being given new life just as I felt I was being reborn. The first sip last night took me directly to the kitchen table at Kim's house, obsessing about how easy and great and satisfying this work was going to be, even splintering off to write a short story or two, we're talking full-on writer mode here.
And there were guns, plenty of guns. I'd buy a replica air gun (BB and pellet) practically every week off the Internet and become excited immediately, my take on compulsive, online shopping. I'd discovered small cigars, and a flirtatious rekindling of my relationship with alcohol, and the best was that divine mixture of Absolute Vodka and Minute Maid Grape Cranberry
Now it's past noon on this Saturday, and I'm starting up again. I'm drinking more Red Bull and feeling more determined than ever. I can't think of two better drinks than my vodka and my taurine, and perhaps one day I'll mix the Absolute with the Red Bull and write a full set of encyclopedias.
That's right, know when to stop. Don't be like Ted. He's been on a steady drip of taurine since about 8AM. But what Ted remembered eventually is that the level of intensity he needs to get through these last, action-packet chapters comes only in short supply. It's maddening to Ted. It's enough to get Ted speaking of himself in the third person.
Begin first person: It's been a good weekend for Book III. Lots done. Finding a new momentum, or it found me, like a hook being reeled-in by a fisherman named The End.
A mild weekend here in New Orleans that will have devoted to it many cans of energy drink and a determination to bring this tale to a close. There is panic currently at the nightclub, at Samson's Live Music, and everyone is looking for answers. It's the momentum that I need to match, this need to understand why those questions need to be answered and answered now. They need to be answered by this weekend, and then the rest will just flow from that. Less cryptically speaking, I've reached the revelatory section of Book III on this overcast Saturday, and with a head full of taurine and nicotine, I plan to let my characters all know where they stand before it all explodes and everyone starts running towards the ending, which by the way, happens somewhere in St. Bernard Parish.
What the fuck is Ted talking about?
It looks like we're here, at that moment when the ending begins. And it starts with an observation, a shifting of energy that prompts the question: "Did you hear that?"
Can't think of a better way to come around the straightaway. It's been a grueling but rewarding road, and this third book, Book III, will bring with its completion a sense of satisfaction that I can feel twinges of already. The Trilogy will exist, will be out there to grow with the rest of the universe, and with this end will come the beginning of the next phase of my work. I'm certain I'll revisit the material, or at least build on it to create titles with subtitles that say: "A Blanket Story," and I look forward to that absolute new page turned.
Next up will either be that new Blanket Story or a completely different novel altogether, one that's already near completion and has in fact occupied me during a good portion of my end in Alabama and my new beginning in New Orleans. What can I say, this is only the beginning. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. --from "Closing Time" by Semisonic (1998).
A few nights ago, Kim and I settled on "Jaws" as the movie to watch on Netflix as one or both of us fell asleep. Can you believe that? Fucking "Jaws" to lull us to pleasant dreams of not swimming.
“Jaws” was one of those movies that as a kid I couldn’t shake due to a certain imagery, but it wasn’t the imagery of the shark. We barely got to see the shark thanks to the prop reportedly never working correctly during the production, and this has been argued to be the reason why the shark was so scary in the first place. It was because we couldn’t see it, couldn’t take any long stares at the thing, leaving what we remembered of it really just memories that we created using our own fears as fuel.
But glimpses of the shark are not the images I’m referring to here. It was instead that one scene, the one scene that I remember being so affected by as a child that it sent me off to draw pictures of it, to re-enact it using my Star Wars action figures and any number of rubber sharks bought for me during road trips to Florida. It was Quint, and it was the image of him sliding into the mouth of that shark, screaming and kicking at the teeth of the thing, trying desperately to sway its intentions by stabbing it on the nose over and over again. And then it was that close-up of Robert Shaw spitting blood out from between his teeth, and that agonizing scream, never having seen the teeth penetrate mind you, but hearing it. That was it. That’s what defined “Jaws” for me.
And I’ll be damned if when that scene happened during this past viewing, I felt that same sense of horror, that same visceral reaction that I’m guessing the less sophisticated audiences of 1975 had when they first saw it. It was what made “Jaws” one of the first blockbusters in cinema history, that reaction, and it was done so masterfully by then wunderkind Steven Spielberg that even now it’s up there with any of the more gruesome, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination computer effects of today. I thought about what it would be like to be inside of that animal, and it was because of that scene right there, that one that made my toes curl in a bad way.
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.