Gypsy Woman

swords

This is what I stole from Ana-Lisa. Sorry, Ana.

Telling fortunes is a tricky business.

I grew up in a fortune telling sort of house. My mom read palms and my Granny had a thing for prophecy. I was born on Halloween. I was into ghosts and all things paranormal. Still am. And so when my friend Ana opened her bridal shower gift from Christy, a deck of tarot cards, I, Gollum-like, wanted them. When Ana was mildly spooked by the cards, I offered to take them home for safekeeping. Ring-like, they stayed with me.

Hundreds of readings later that tarot deck is now soft and worn. It represents many things to me. It has meant money. I used to pick up gigs in L.A., reading fortunes at parties. It has meant special treatment. I would sometimes hide in the break room at work, reading the manager’s fortunes instead of doing my job.  It has meant tedium. If you are at a party and you’re reading tarot, you can sit there until the cows come home.

But more than anything else, those cards represent an instant connection to people, often strangers. Your psychiatrist, doctor, or accountant may hear about your troubles, health, or finances, but your tarot reader hears all three. The cards are a vehicle of knowing, offering an unbettered short cut to intimacy. You would think that I learn a lot about people, reading their cards, but I do not. I do not remember 99% of readings. Even those I do remember are fairly meaningless to me.  It’s the person on other side of the table who finds it memorable. That said, I have learned a lot about people reading their cards. I have learned most people have a deeply held desire to be known, and that most people feel unknown. And so when they pick their cards, and I tell them the unique story their cards write, they feel I know them. And in a way, I do. I have a long held disdain for the sentiment that we should celebrate diversity. It is our commonalities that bring us together, they are the ties that bind, not our differences. Heartache is heartache is heartache, regardless of cause or color.

I have had many incarnations as a fortune teller. Including one in which I dressed up like a gypsy complete with Cher wig, blue eye shadow, dangling coin belt and wench bustier with peasant blouse. It was even hotter than you’re imagining. I did this two times, for our equestrian center’s Halloween party. What better way to spend your birthday than hanging out in a horse stall reading tarot in the freezing cold for hours on end, after having spent the previous 12 hours scrubbing said stalls until they were clean enough for surgery? There is no better way, my friends.

And so it was during the second such Halloween party, in my third hour of tarot reading, that my most memorable reading occurred. A girl came in, a member of the kitchen staff. She was young, blonde, pretty. Nervous. Her accent was deep South Carolina Blue Ridge. She was the sort of person who trusts. I could tell she was scared of the tarot cards, and I assured her no black magic was involved. I told her my theory, that tarot offered an interesting way of meditating on a problem. A card may spark you to look at an old situation in a new way.

She then selected her fifteen cards.

Whenever a reading is not just bad, but painfully, horribly bad, the kind of bad that is unsalvageable, I find myself going, “ha ha! Yeah… you know this is just a stupid parlor trick, right?” before launching into the reading. In this girl’s case, the cards screamed: YOU ARE IN A BAD RELATIONSHIP WITH A BAD MAN AND HE WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE.

thumbs up

Yes, creating traumatic memories gets a thumbs up, gypsy lady.

But she looks so young, surely this is some newly acquired boyfriend. No, she tells me she just got engaged. She’s about to move out of state with him. “Ha ha!” says I, “you know this is just a stupid parlor trick, right?”

For the rest of the night, as we all cleaned up after the party, I kept finding her off in a corner, despondent. “Ha ha!” I said repeatedly, “stupid parlor trick! Stupid parlor trick! It means nothing!” She looked unconvinced, but two weeks later she left South Carolina for parts unknown. Time went on and I left that job, staying in touch with some who still worked there. More than a year later I was speaking to one of the gals who worked in the kitchen. She asked me if I remembered the young girl. It took a few promptings, but I did. “She called to see if she could have her job back,” the woman told me, adding the girl had choked up several times during the conversation. Her husband had turned out to be a very bad man who tried to ruin her life. Apparently, the first thing the girl said was, “that gypsy woman was right!”

And so this girl will be a believer. She will forever associate the tarot with a marriage gone horribly wrong. And I shall live on in infamy in that poor woman’s memory as the gypsy woman who was right. Awesome.

Welcome, Fans of Dumpshovel!

Alien

DO NOT WANT.

Google Analytics are endlessly entertaining. For example, thanks to Google Analytics, I know this post prompted fans of the band Dumpshovel to stumble onto my site. Sorry, Dumpshovel fans. My bounce rate data tells me you took one look at the pink and the stars and fled. Also, a visitor from Germany! How fun is that? And New Mexico? Who the holy heck do I know in New Mexico? Or Maryland, for that matter? I don’t know, but I welcome you, New Mexicans and Marylanders, if that is in fact what you call yourselves. For that matter, welcome to all citizens of earth. But not aliens. You guys freak me out with your giant black eyes and pale grey skin.  You are not welcome. Everybody else, yes. Aliens, no.

About the Time I Accidentally Made a Guy Think His Wife was Dead

When you work for a large corporation, and you’re in the service industry, and you do things like teach people how to ride horses, it’s important to be CPR certified and generally up to date on how to handle medical emergencies. The company I worked for had a gentleman whose job it was to keep us in line and ready for action. He was a nice man and good at his job and very, very passionate about it. He was also a possessor of verbal tics. He had exactly three:

  • Ever so gently
  • Don’t be bashful
  • Get on the horn

An example sentence would be, “ever so gently, check for a pulse. If you’re not sure about the situation, don’t be bashful, get on the horn and call 911.” In a two hour seminar I guesstimate that he would say each of these phrases about 100 times. As a result, I am no longer super sure about my CPR steps (though I’d gladly give it by best shot if I needed to), but I do know that I should proceed ever so gently, not be bashful or  hesitate to get on the horn.

 One day I was driving to work whilst happily chatting with my friend Axel. It was a beautiful, sunshiney morning, and I was arriving late for some reason I can’t remember. As I approached the gatehouse I saw a woman sprawled out on the asphalt. “Oh crap,” I said to Axel, tedium in my voice. “There’s this guy whose always setting traps for the employees. I gotta go deal with a fake heart attack right now.” And it was true. Fake heart attacks and other emergencies would sometimes lay in wait to test our responses. With great annoyance I pulled over and got out, ready to do the required shtick.

Which is when I saw blood.

Uh oh, thought I.

Upon closer examination, a biking accident victim revealed herself. She had been speeding along when a guard stupidly closed the automatic gate directly in front of her, forcing her to brake suddenly. She went over the handlebars and things were not good. They were not good with her face and they were not good with her hands. Not good at all. She was clearly in shock. Her friend and I began ministering to her. It so happened that I kept a clean white sheet in my 4Runner at all times for Elvis transportation purposes. Luckily for this lady it had just been washed. I covered her with the sheet. The bright sun was blinding her, sweat was falling into her eyes, so I covered her completely. At any point did it occur to me that she looked like a dead body? No, it did not.

The guard, who had caused this mishap to begin with, said he couldn’t get a hold of her husband. I sped off to their home to find him. When I arrived, I found the hose still running. He had been washing patio furniture, but was gone now. I turned off the hose and headed back towards the gate house. By the time I arrived, an ambulance had taken her to the hospital. My day continued on without further incident.

A few weeks later the lady and her husband visited me, graciously thanking me for doing nothing more than stopping to help. (I didn’t do much, after all.) The poor lady was still dealing with nerve damage in her hands. It was then that I learned that the call the husband received was as follows. “You should come to guard house. Your wife has been in an accident.”

As he came around the final bend in the road, he did not see an injured woman under a doggie travel blanket. He saw this–>

I was at a complete loss for words. Innocent though it may have been, I was complicit in giving this man one of the greatest scares he’d ever know. Ultimately, I decided not to be bashful and ever so gently said, “I’m sorry it wasn’t a plaid stadium blanket.” Later, I got on the horn and told Axel about it.

Dan Hill Duet

Dan Hill

The man himself.

Many people argue that the 70’s was music’s greatest decade. They point to The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Elton John, Neil Young, Queen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Blondie, and a myriad of others.

Me, I point to one man. I point to Dan Hill. Why? Because he wrote and performed the greatest song ever written or performed, “Sometimes When We Touch.” Yes, the greatest. And while I do not deny the greatness of this song, I do take issue with some of its content. I got to thinking about what a duet might look like. Dan Hill, with his magnificent, clear tenor, and me, with my… well, what can be called a singing voice, after a fashion.

Without further ado, I give you “Sometimes When We Touch,” a duet with Dan Hill and Me.

You ask me if I love you
And I choke on my reply
Forget I asked. Really. I don’t
Know what I was thinking

I’d rather hurt you honestly
Than mislead you with a lie
Thanks

And who am I to judge you
On what you say or do?
Good question.

I’m only just beginning to see the real you
Just wait.

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
Oh, let me introduce you to some
Honesty here, dude.

And I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you til I die
Wow. Really? Dramatic, much?

Til we both break down and cry
I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides
Yeah, see, I’m not too big on either crying or
Fear, so let’s just, you know, let this go…

Romance and all its strategy
Strategy? I just asked you a question.
That equates to strategy?

Leaves me battling with my pride
But through the insecurity
Some tenderness survives
Are we about to circle back to the
Fear and crying thing again?

I’m just another writer
Still trapped within my truth
Oh, God.

A hesitant prize fighter
Still trapped within my youth
Honey, you may be lots of things
But a prize fighter you are not.

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
Look – you’re about to make me
unleash some serious honesty on you

And I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you til I die
Funny, I also want to die about now.

Til we both break down and cry
I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides
Sigh.

At times I’d like to break you
And drive you to your knees
Whoa! Where the hell did that come from?
Should I call 911?

At times I’d like to break through
And hold you endlessly
Okay, look. I think you may have an
Undiagnosed bi-polar disorder going on.

At times I understand you
I don’t think so, actually.

And I know how hard you’ve tried
To keep from throttling you? Yes,
That did take some effort.

I’ve watched while love commands you
And I’ve watched love pass you by
Whatever that means.

At times I think we’re drifters
Still searching for a friend
Okay.

A brother or a sister
But then the passion flares again
NO. WRONG. STOP. ICK. EWW.


And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
Honestly? Here’s the deal. I think you’re
A creepy, mentally underdeveloped
Man-child in love with the sound of his
Own voice and craptastic ideas regarding
“Art” and “Love.”  I hope you seek counseling.

And I have to close my eyes and hide
Well, that’s understandable, given the
Truth smackdown I just gave you.

I wanna hold you til I die
No! Haven’t you been listening?

Til we both break down and cry
Too late, I’m already crying at this point.

I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides
I think that would take about 45 years of holding
 And I just don’t have that kind of time.

For the original version, please check it out * In kaleidoscope vision, no less!

* Huge props to commenter macarri who says, “so easy a caveman can sing it.” Slow clap, my friend. Slow clap.

 

I Made You Famous. Not Rich, but Famous.

For NYE 2010 I found myself in New Orleans, visiting our friends Patrick and Gill and their son, Jack. (Visit Gill’s blog, The Reluctant Grownup.) After a long drive we began to settle in, chatting and snacking, and I swung by the bathroom. The Egan bathroom is comfortably large and nicely decorated, with a rustic little table to one side bedecked with books and magazines.

Ah, that book! I thought, looking at one of the titles. It was a popular book, a book you can get at any Borders, a book I’d been intending to read for some time, a book I know a lot of people liked. I selected this book and looked into the table of contents, found a chapter that looked most promising, and began to read.

And this is when my life took a most surreal turn. My brain had a delayed reaction, its thoughts in drunken slow motion. “Waaaaiiitt….thaaat’s abbooouuuut meeeeeee.”

Yes, my friends. The chapter began with an anecdote that directly involved me.

For some I suppose it ain’t no thang to be in a book. But I have lived an anonymous life. I am not mentioned in books. Let alone very popular and successful books that you can buy at any Borders you come across.

To tell you the story of how I came to be in this book, I need to begin with one man. And his name is Peter Exline.

At some point in college I was signed up for an industry workshop class. I think this was in Fall of my Junior year. If not, close enough. When I say “I was signed up for” – as a Filmic Writer at USC your class schedule was drawn up for you, then you picked electives around that. So I had not sought this class, didn’t know much about it, didn’t know anything about the teacher, but I was looking forward to hearing from working professionals on a weekly basis.

I arrived early for the first class and found my friend Aaron had as well. The tables and chairs were in disarray, but we found a table to sit at and began to chat. That’s when this tall guy walks in. He’s a little Clint Eastwoody in appearance, but with a Goodfellas agitation level. He starts stomping around, roughly organizing tables and chairs. Aaron and I look at each other. What’s with this guy? we think, but we don’t let it stop our chat. This prompts the tall guy to walk over, slam his hands down on the table right in front of us and bark, “are you going to help or just talk?”

peter

Peter, in his element.

Wow, I think. What an @#%*!.

Aaron and I get up, help organize the chairs and tables and soon enough class begins. The tall guy introduces himself as Peter Exline. He will be our teacher. I’ve decided I hate him and will make his life miserable for the rest of the semester. He starts telling us a story. About how he once had the Coen Brothers over for a barbeque, and kept remarking about how this abandoned rug he had reclaimed from the urban jungle, “really tied the room together.”

This sounded familiar. I couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh.

He also talks about Big Lou. (Who you can see for yourself, if you wish. He’s the submarine driver in Titanic.) During Big Lou’s varied career – he had been a mercenary in Angola, among other things – he picked up the private detective business. When Peter’s car was stolen and then remarkably retrieved by the L.A.P.D., Big Lou made all kinds of incorrect pronouncements about the culprits based on the evidence left behind. Primarily fast food wrappers. But Peter finds the most important clue of all, a book. An algebra book.

This is sounding very familiar, and I am laughing so hard my sides hurt.

Walter

This actually happened.

Inside the algebra book Peter finds homework, homework by some kid named Jaik Freeman. It so happens that in all of Los Angeles, Peter knows exactly one kid, a kid who hangs out in front of a convenience store Peter frequents. Peter asks this kid, the one kid he knows in all of L.A., “do you know Jaik Freeman?” The kid looks stricken. Yes, he knows who Jaik Freeman is. He’s bad news at this kid’s middle school. Peter gets some background on Jaik, while Big Lou does some research. They find the Freeman household and make an appointment to come see little Jaik.

At this point in the class, tears are streaming down my cheeks. I had already seen The Big Lebowski in the theater and this was my favorite scene in the movie.

Big Lou takes the fast food wrappers and the homework and puts them into baggies. Upon arrival at the Freeman home they find Mrs. Freeman dressed elegantly, a pumps and pearls sort of woman. They also discover Mr. Freeman is in a hospital bed in the living room. He’s reading scripts. At no point does Mr. Freeman say anything. Peter would eventually discover this man was an old school Hollywood heavyweight, an Oscar nominated screenwriter. But at this moment, Peter and Big Lou are focused squarely on little Jaik. Who stonewalls them. He refuses to answer questions, even when Big Lou threatens to dust the fast food wrappers for prints. Eventually mother and son exit stage left. The mother reappears to inform Peter and Big Lou somebody borrowed Jaik’s algebra book, and that’s that. Big Lou and Peter leave defeated. (They do not destroy a Corvette.)

By the end of the first class Peter had won a convert. I started out hating him, by the end I loved him. (It must be noted that not only was Peter’s story innately hilarious, Peter is a gifted storyteller. This tale told by him in person is infinitely funnier than anything I could ever put down.) 

Peter’s workshop class became my favorite, and I looked forward to it all week. We had great guests and Peter is a talented interviewer. We learned a lot and we laughed a lot. And I talked a lot. It’s what I do. It’s hard for me to stop. One day I was sitting next to Mikey Ireland, and we were talking. In class. When we shouldn’t be. Peter called me out, rather brutally, as was his fashion. He asked me, “care to share with the class what you were talking about?”

I replied, “oh, about how Mikey’s going to kick your ass after class.”

Mikey, God bless him, chimed in with, “yeah. You better watch out.”

Now, heretofore, my lifelong propensity towards cheeky, off-the-cuff comments had delivered unto me many things. It had delivered me trouble, detention, and the most unpleasant comments written into my report cards. But on this occasion, my cheeky, off-the-cuff comment gave me Peter’s respect. I had known that if I just kept trying, it would one day pay off. And it only took 30,000 negative experiences to get one good one! I am, after all, pure determination.

Not long after I threatened Peter with a beating by Mikey Ireland he asked if I wanted to join his bowling group. I did.

And so the next few years flew by. At some point, I must really tell all y’all about the Pookie in Korea Town incident or perhaps the occasion wherein Peter threw a package at me, yelling, “OPEN IT! IF IT HAS ANTHRAX IN IT YOU’RE GETTING THE ANTHRAX!” Alternatively, I could tell the Dead Camper at the Airport story. (Peter runs a digital film camp at Pepperdine. Once, when I was arranging camper pick up, I forgot one. At LAX. For the record, the camper did not actually die.)

Suffice it to say, Peter and I became friends. When LebowskiFest became a phenomenon, I asked Peter, “why aren’t you in on this deal?” Peter responded, “I don’t know.” So I, righter of wrongs that I can sometimes be, sent an e-mail to Will Russell, one of the founders of LebowskiFest. I told him about Peter and why Peter should be involved in LebowskiFest, adding a story about a time I audited a class of Peter’s. He kept tripping over a chair leg as he paced about, giving his lecture. He tripped one time too many, picked up the chair and tossed it, shouting, “first Vietnam, now this chair!” In early 2006, I received an e-mail requesting Peter’s contact information.

The book. That I am in.

The book. That I am in.

Peter participated in at least one LebowskiFest, maybe more. He met Will and the other guys who run the show. When they created the most excellent book, I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, and What Have You, Peter constituted a chapter. It begins with a little anecdote about how they met him. I think they were looking for a way to include the line, “first Vietnam, now this chair!” 

After discovering my inclusion in I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, I texted Peter, demanding to know why he hadn’t told me about it. He responded, “oh yeah. That. I made you famous. Not rich, but famous.”

As an aside, there is much discussion in I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski as to why The Big Lebowski resonates so thoroughly with so many. Many folks believe there is comfort to be taken in the notion that The Dude abides, takin’ it easy for all us sinners. I have my own answer. Independent of the fact the movie is just plain funny, I find that its plethora of one-liners are amazingly universal. When I offer up a grudging acknowledgement that somebody I don’t like is good at something, I say, “that creep can roll, man.” When somebody is unfamiliar with a topic at hand, I say, “obviously, you’re not a golfer.” When something is in doubt I say, “this is our concern, Dude.” And when I have a beverage and someone is jostling me, I say, “there’s a beverage here, man.” For nearly every moment in life, there is a corresponding Lebowski quote to go with it. It is stunningly like the Bible in this way. A Bible for slackers, bums, and achievers, too.

P.S. If you have a kid who might be interested in film camp, send them! I don’t work there anymore, they’re safe now. It is an amazing program put on by US Performing Arts. I cannot say enough good things about it. Here’s an example of a film shot back in my day, The Bored Room.