A Fun Day

I don’t have time to blog much, as I’m having a truly fun day at work. Who knew? We’re filming a bunch of parodies for Bankerspank.com – you can see some of the older ones that are already up there. The new batch aren’t Mac/PC parodies – I’ll show you some of those as soon as they’re ready to launch. 

Today’s also my 14th wedding anniversary. My wife reminded me of the fact while I was in the shower this morning. How classy is THAT?

The Failed Bailout

I’ve been in meetings all morning, and I left, returned to my car, and heard the news that the House voted down the bailout. 

The mind reels. 
I can try to pretend I understand the intricacies of this, but I don’t. I’m usually skeptical of government solutions, so my default position would be skepticism of the bailout. At the same time, it was government that caused the problem, so I’m not sure it’s a good thing that government is walking away from the mess now. 
I listened to Rush Limbaugh as I drove, who’s giddy with delight, as he thinks this shows the Democrats’ hold on power is more tenuous than previously thought, and that this make Obama vulnerable, blah blah blah. I don’t know if he or any other hardcore partisans recognize how petty they sound. If our financial system collapses, who cares about anything else? Do we really have to see this through a nakedly partisan prism? 
I don’t know what happens next, and neither does anybody else. All I know is that Washington continues to fail the people they’re supposed to serve, and that this is probably going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
I don’t really have a rational reaction to this. All I know is that in my gut, I know this is not good. 

Debate Commentary

Settling in… just saw a really controversial KSL editorial telling us to live within our means. Neat.

Now watching NBC…

Ah! A little bias to start off! “40 years after segregation, an African American is now a candidate.” My wife wonders why Brian Williams has a job…

Jim Lehrer’s intro – I hate Jim Lehrer as a moderator. He was Clinton’s hand-picked moderator back in the day…

National security includes the global economic crisis? That’s convenient!

“No cheers or applause throughout?” Yeah, that’ll happen…

Where do you stand on financial recovery? Obama launches into his stump speech…Stalliondo is tickling me…He’s put forward a series of proposals? No, he hasn’t! Ah! The first Bush slam…

McCain begins by mentioning Ted Kennedy and now starts to take credit for bipartisan fiscal solution that doesn’t exist. Anyone else sick of the “Wall Street/Main Street” meme? Mrs. Cornell wants to know why neither is answering the question. OOH! He went back to Washington! Big frickin’ deal. Foreign oil non sequitor.

Jim Lehrer points out that neither has answered the question.

Two years ago Obama warned us about this? Say what? Obama’s a Fannie/Freddie pawn for crap’s sake! What the hell is a “21st century regulatory framework?”

Now we’re hearing about Dwight Eisenhower writing letters. McCain’s reminding people that he stupidly called for Chris Cox’s resignation. Promises to fire people.

Obama goes “Wall Street/Mains Street” again. He’s running against Bush. Good “afraid I couldn’t hear him?” line from McCain.

McCain goes “Wall Street/Main Street,” too. This would make a great drinking game. If I drank. Which I want to start doing as I listen to this drivel.

Mrs. Cornell says this is boring. She’s right.

McCain slams spending and Republicans who went along with it. “Earmarking as a gateway drug.” Good line. Three million on bears in Montana? Was that a joke? He’s going to veto every spending bill?! That should be interesting.

Obama’s trying to outconservative McCain on earmarks. Mrs. Cornell is reading her book. Obama’s comparing 18 billion in earmarks to 300 billion in tax cuts, demonstrating the economic stupidity that made me reject this clown. 95% of working families will get a tax cut?! News flash, Obama – 95% of working families don’t pay income taxes!

McCain doesn’t get it either. He doesn’t call Obama on his taxation ignorance and keeps harping on corruption, as if cutting out earmarks is going to be anything but symbolic. Good slam on new spending, though. Yes! Worst thing we can do is raise taxes.

Obama interrupts – wants to raise corporate taxes during a recession like an idiot. He pays for every dime of it? No, punk. He’s going to go through the budget line by line? When did he get the line item veto?

Lehrer wants them to talk to each other, and they’re not interested in playing along.

Thank you, McCain, for finally demonstrating the economic disincentive of high corporate taxes. Good Ireland example. But he can’t help himself – he goes back to earmarks. First time McCain says “my friends.” My son Stalliondo is pooping and says “I love poops.”Mrs. Cornell cheered when McCain offered a huge tax cut for people with kids.

Obama lies about the 95% thing again. Another lie about corporate tax loopholes. Stalliondo still pooping. Obama takes issue with health credit – McCain smiles smarmily as Obama says McCain wants to tax health benefits.

First time the word “festooned” has ever been used in a presidential debate. McCain can’t talk about anything but earmarks. Two tax brackets – generous dividends – I’m OK with that. Obama keeps interrupting.

Oil company profits? Who cares, Obama? Demonizing oil companies makes me ill. Obama just wants to beat up on people rather than solve the problem.

Stepped away to wipe Stalliondo’s bum. False alarm.

Obama goes off on alternative energy. Health care and education – Obama plays to his strengths. Giving a laundry list of government freebies.

McCain: Cut spending! Broken record. Some specifics, jacball, please! All right! Elimate ethanol subsidies! Now we’re getting somewhere. Good answer.

Lehrer says: what changes? Obama tries to answer without answering. All my kids have descended on us and are jumping on the bed. Stalliondo is screaming. Google for Government? A good idea.

Lehrer mad that the guys won’t answer his dumb question. McCain mentions “spending freeze.” That’s come back to bite him in the butt.Obama goes back to his stupid line-item veto fantasy. Does he realize that he can’t go through the budget line-by-line? First mention of Iraq.

McCain mentions offshore drilling and nuclear power. Good deal! “You can’t get there from here.” 45 new nuclear power plants. Yes. Obama looks smug. Oh, crap, McCain. He wanders into “climate change.” Blech.

YO! LEHRER! THEY DON’T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT YOUR STUPID QUESTION!!! GIVE IT UP!!

FDR purchased homes and government made a profit? No way! That’s a gaffe. “Spending on $300 billion of tax cuts.” Doesn’t understand taxes. Neither does McCain. Corbin is whining and wants us to go ride bikes with him. Can’t hear McCain’s answer. Chloe making horn noises.

McCain makes case for low taxes, sort of. Spending restraint again. McCain’s a one-trick pony here. Obama attacks him for being George Bush. McCain gives a laundry list of the stupid things he’s done to oppose Bush. He looks like a pedophile when he smiles.

McCain trying to shoehorn his Iraq answer into a surge cheerleading moment. Obama’s going to chew him up. My kids can’t leave us alone! Obama opposes the war in the first place – so what? But he’s launching into stump speech mode, too. First mention of Bin Laden. Slams the Iraq war six ways to Sunday and lies about al Qaeda’s resurgence.

Stalliondo screaming like a banshee.

Good answer, McCain – next president doesn’t get to decide whether we should have gone into Iraq. But now he’s repeating his previous answer. Slams Obama for not traveling to Iraq. Obama defends Biden. Hey, Barack – Biden voted for the war too, bonehead. Obama now trying to pretend the surge doesn’t really matter because the war was a mistake. Doesn’t help, Barack – you can’t go back in time. We WERE greeted as liberators. McCain is annoyed and he looks peevish.

McCain “tactic vs. strategy” stupid line. Obama says it’s not true that he refuses to acknowledge that we’re winning? Is he now saying we ARE winning in Iraq? These guys hate each other.

Obama comes back to a timetable. BARACK?! We know you opposed it! What are you going to do NOW? al Qaeda is on the ropes, Obama. 16 months and the war is over? Why 16 months? Trying to sound hawkish.

Nobody’s winning this.

McCain defending Iraq as central battleground on War on Terror. McCain gets snarly as he gets defensive.

Obama wants more troops in Afghanistan. I’m OK with that, but he’s trying to paint a bleaker picture to justify his defeatism in Iraq. Says Secretary Gates think Afghanistan is the “central front?” No.

McCain goes back to the 80′s and the Russians in Afghanistan. Not prepared to threaten Pakistan – good! Reminding people that Obama wants Pakistan strikes. “You don’t say that out loud… but if you have to do things, you have to do things.” Argh. STUPID. He keeps starting out strong and then fumbling at the end.

Obama lies – “Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan.” Then talks about attacking Pakistan. Slams McCain for singing about bombing Iran, which was a very dumb thing McCain did.

I can’t stand these clowns.

Obama: “20th Century mindset?” That means nothing. Belittles Musharraf, which is stupid.

McCain hits back on Musharraf. Good. Now slams Reagan. Ah, good move! (That’s sarcasm.) Why remind us of Lebanon? Lists a bunch of conflicts. Wandering. Telling personal story about Iraq soldier. He’s good when he goes here. He’s trying to show us the bracelet but can’t get his arm up. War stories make McCain look good.

Obama has a bracelet, too. Using it for doveish purposes. Good segue into pacifist, stump speechy crap. “They’re still sending out videotapes!” Oh, horror! Obama says McCain said he’d “muddle through” Afghanistan. McCain is bugged.

McCain makes a snide subcommittee slam that nobody understands. Says Obama needs to travel more. McCain is defensive, which means he’s losing.

An hour is up. How long is this tedious thing?

Moving on to Iran – McCain strong on anti nukes for Iran. Can’t allow a second holocaust. Sounds like a grown-up. League of Democracies? Isn’t that NATO?

Obama believes the Republican Guard is a terrorist organization, contrary to how he voted. We shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq, Obama? Really? You’ve never said THAT before. Obama says “me, too,” in a lack of tolerance for a nuclear Iraq. Wants Russia and China as part of this. Wants “tough, direct diplomacy:”" with Iran. Stupid. McCain should jump on that, and he probably won’t.

Oh! He IS jumping on it! Good for him! Bringing up Barack’s pledge to meet dictator loons without preconditions. Can’t pronounce “Ahmidinijad.” Obama looks cool; McCain looks like he wants to eat somebody’s heart right out of his chest.

Obama slams McCain for not listening to Henry Kissinger. He’s so frickin’ full of crap on this. Obama sounds like the sheer weight of his own personal genius will make Iran change. McCain needs to STOP SMILING. No one likes a pedophile, Johnny! Obama lies through his teeth on North Korea. Nice sigh, McCain. You’re going all Al Gore on this.

Cheap dig from McCain on presidential seal. McCain being defensive when he should be ripping Obama’s head off without looking the way he does, which is as if he wants to literally rip Obama’s head off. Good slam on North Korea, though. Obama’s trying to interrupt. Now he’s defensive. Misrepresenting both McCain and Kissinger. STOP SMILING, MCCAIN, YOU FREAKING NAZI! He looks like the sneering guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shut up, my friend.

Obama dazzles with Russian minutiae. My kids are screaming again. Mrs. Cornell leaves to investigate. All hell breaks loose. I may return, I may not. I have to go put out fire with my kids.

I’m back. McCain slams Obama on Russia and Georgia. McCain sounding like a grown-up again. Corbin wants me to go get ice cream. Cornelius is in time-out, as he won’t stop crying. This debate is tedious. Stalliondo comes in the room with a smile and says “I’m not crying! I’m happy!” Cleta is now mad about something. Stalliondo beating up on Fester, our black cat. Cleta is concerned. Obama is saying something about Russia, and I have no idea what it is.

Why is Obama talking about solar energy now? Maybe it makes logical sense, as I’ve missed a bit here. Stalliondo bumped his head. McCain sneered. Wow! McCain supported Nunn/Lugar! Too bad nobody has any idea what Nunn/Lugar is.

9/11 question. McCain started strong, and now he’s championing the Mickey Mouse 9/11 commission. What a friggin’ weenie. This was a softball for you, Johnny, and you’re whiffing it. The 9/11 commission was a joke. McCain is slamming Bush on the one issue where Bush has been dead on. We DON’T torture prisoners, McCain, you bonehead! Cheering creation of new bureaucracies. How did THIS guy end up as the GOP nominee?

Obama boasts of obnoxious new airport security measures. Offers details that sound official and mean nothing. Obama’s in favor of missile defense? Oh, please. What a load. Oh, good. See? He’s waffling now. Back to al Qaeda, once again pretending that Iraq hasn’t done anything to stop them. Oh, great. Now, Obama’s going to make the world like us. Mrs. Cornell thinks Obama looks like a kid.

Lehrer jumps on the restore America’s reputation. And McCain goes to SDI and looks goofy. Good on Iraq, though. And good for ignoring Lehrer’s lefty, leading, weenie question.

This isn’t a two hour debate, is it? End it. End it. END IT!!!

How’d we get back to China? We can’t provide health care? Why do libs think that if the Feds don’t do it, it won’t get done? My TV is making an annoying whining noise. I want this to end. AAAAAAARGH! PLEASE KILL ME.

McCain: “I’m old.” Back to the surge again. We’re running in very tedious circles. McCain talking veterans is good stuff.

Obama’s dad came from Kenya; that’s where he gets his name. That made Mrs. Cornell laugh. Corbin is now sitting next to me and chewing on a plastic pirate’s mast. He wants me to go get some ice cream. I want to get out of here. SHUT UP, BARACK. Corbin saw me type “SHUT UP” and was aghast.

McCain making closing statement – hopefully.

DEBATE OVER!!! HUZZAH!

Bottom line: McCain didn’t change the momentum, and therefore lost.

Can’t talk now! Must save economy!

There are a number of websites I punch up on a fairly regular basis just to read the headlines, the first and foremost being the Drudge Report. So imagine my joy yesterday when the front page of Drudge screamed, in bold rad letters, that JOHN MCCAIN SUSPENDS HIS CAMPAIGN – HEADS BACK TO WASHINGTON TO WORK ON BAILOUT!

Oh, please.

John McCain has absolutely no insight or credibility on this issue with anyone who is actually going to make any decisions about this bailout. This is a brazen, stupid stunt, and it smacks of desperation. I’ve seen a few people, notably Newt Gingrich, praise his “bold, decisive action,” but when pressed, none of these people can tell me what it is that John McCain is actually going to do. He still found time to yap with Katie Couric while his campaign was “suspended;” nothing’s changed, and McCain’s participation on Capitol Hill won’t change anything. It’s just McCain’s way of saying “Look at me!”

And what’s with backing out of the debate? How does that solve the problem? What a colossal bag of wind this man is.

The sad thing now is that Sarah Palin is coagulating into just another McCainiac. She gave a really awful interview to Katie Couric where she struggled through nonsense about “predatory lenders” and other talking points that she clearly didn’t understand. Hey, Palin – the problem here is not predatory lenders; it’s flimsy lending standards that provided loans to people who couldn’t afford them! There’s ample reason to blame this mess on well-intentioned lefties who insisted that diversity should trump risk. To start mouthing off about “predatory lenders” is to concede the argument to the Democrats.

Which is what McCain is really good at doing. I suppose it was inevitable that Palin would go down that road, too – she is the number two, after all. The only silver lining in this is that Mitt Romney may still have a political future, as McCain and Palin are going to go down in flames.

UTAH!

Your comments on yesterday’s Prologue are greatly appreciated. I think I’m old and crusty enough that I’m not too scared of being mangled by critics. I don’t know if I can incorporate all your suggestions, but this gives me a bit of direction. I thank you.

Please, please continue to comment on it, though – I won’t post the next chapter until next week.

It’s very difficult to write in a vacuum. You have no real idea of what works and what doesn’t until someone else reads it. This experience reminds me of one of the last things I did living in St. George, which was rewrite Tuacahn’s signature piece, UTAH! (The exclamation mark is what really sells it.)

For those of you who don’t know Tuacahn’s history, the facility was built to accommodate a live, musical spectacular entitled UTAH!, an outdoor musical which featured all manner of singing, dancing, pyrotechnics, and hoo hah. It told the story of the settlers of Southern Utah, led by Jacob Hamblin, a guy I’d never heard of until I saw UTAH!

The show was nothing if not ambitious – it featured an appearance by Jesus Himself, descending from a massive, wooden, elevated platform up against the 1,500-foot red-rock cliff backdrop. Tuacahn’s irreverently named “Jesus Lift” is still there behind the stage, rotting in the sun. We talked about using it for other shows, but the thing is rickety as all crap. I think it’s only through divine intervention that UTAH!‘s Jesuses never plunged to their deaths.

The centerpiece of UTAH!, however, was the massive outdoor flood that poured across the stage at the end of the show. Thousands of gallons of water were pumped up the side of the mountain and then released to wash over the stage to provide a grand bit of spectacle. When Tuacahn abandoned UTAH! in 1999, they still felt it necessary to incorporate the flood effect into just about everything they did. It knocked out a bridge in 1999′s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; it washed away the village of Anatevka at the end of 2000′s Fiddler on the Roof, and I think it did something in 2001′s Oklahoma! (notice the exclamation mark!) but I can’t be sure what it was. They gave it a rest for awhile, but I tried to bring it back in 2004 when I directed Guys and Dolls. I wanted use it in the sewer scene and have gamblers splashing around in the water for “Luck Be a Lady,” until the choreographer pointed out that the audience might feel uncomfortable imagining dancers mucking about in water that, in the context of the show, would presumably be filled with poop.

Anyway, for the fall of 2002, Tuacahn wanted to extend their season into September and decided to relaunch UTAH! as the vehicle to make that happen. Why UTAH!? Well, in the words of one executive, “We own it. So it’s cheap.”

*sigh*

The problem is that UTAH! had been relaunched before, and it had never generated an audience sizable enough to sustain the place, which is why it had been thrown in the dustbin after 1998. It first appeared in 1995 with music by Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon, lyrics by Tuacahn founder and Saturday’s Warrior auteur Doug Stewart, and a book by Robert Paxton. It was retooled the following year by the same folks, and then retooled even harder the following year by Reed McColm, who was credited in the playbill alongside UTAH!‘s original authors with providing “additional material,” which understated McColm’s contributions significantly. His UTAH!, which added the subtitle “The Peacemaker Saga,” rewrote Paxton’s book almost entirely and fiddled substantially with Stewart’s lyrics. The result was a more cerebral UTAH!, more theatrical and less “pageant-y,”and a version that remains the favorite of many UTAH! veterans who consider it a noble effort to save a flawed concept.

Still, like all UTAH!‘s before it, it tanked.

So in 1998, UTAH! returned with an all-new version, dubbed The New UTAH!, scrapping everything that had gone before except the score by Bestor and Cardon. Tim Slover wrote the new story, which abandoned the Jacob Hamblin narrative and focused on the history of the entire state. Marvin Payne wrote new lyrics and songs that were grafted on to the old tunes, and while this new UTAH!, like all the others before it, had its share of admirers, it, too, failed to set the box office on fire.

Tuacahn almost closed its doors after that.

After clawing its way back to life in 1999 and mounting a more traditional Broadway season, Tuacahn found a new lease on life, which everyone believed meant that UTAH! was dead for good. It wasn’t until 2002 that the “It’s cheap!” mantra became a rationale for reviving the thing yet again.

But which UTAH! would be revived?

See, one of the main problems of UTAH! The Musical is that there are things in Utah the State’s history that many would just as soon forget. Polygamy tops that list, yet the practice makes an appearance in all three of the original UTAH!‘s, even getting its own featured song in the 1997 version. The other is the gruesome Mountain Meadows Massacre, arguably the darkest chapter in Latter-day Saint history and one that still haunts many Southern Utah families even to this day. Jacob Hamblin wasn’t present for the massacre, but it was a seminal moment in the lives of the Southern Utah settlers, and it was part of all three original UTAH!s. (Neither polygamy nor the massacre made their way into 1998′s version. In fact, I don’t have any idea what was actually in that version. Maybe some pretty birds.)

So, in considering a revival, all this was taken into account. Tuacahn’s brain trust decided they wanted to go back to the Jacob Hamblin version, which was still the most beloved of any of them. However, this time it needed to be done right – i.e. completely inoffensively. That meant no polygamy. No Mountain Meadows. No Mormons as bad guys. And no Indians as bad guys, either. (It seems there’d been a number of complaints from both Mormons and Indians. Maybe a few from Indian Mormons. I can’t be sure.)

That was the task they gave me when they came and asked me to rewrite the script.

In hindsight, maybe I should have talked them out of it. But the truth is, I wanted to take a shot at this. It was a chance to have something I wrote produced in a professional setting! How could I turn that down? I was leaving Tuacahn at the end of the summer, anyway, so what harm could this do?

I said yes and went to work.

The problem was that I had no story. If nobody’s a bad guy, there’s no conflict. So what do I have these folks do? Should Jacob Hamblin flit off to the North Pole and visit Santa Claus? Maybe there’s an audience out there hungry for Jacob Hamblin Saves Christmas, but I’m not the guy to tell that particular story.

Eventually, after considerable whining on my part, I got a bad guy. He was a Mormon, but a sneaky, duplicitous one who’s booted out at the end – and he wasn’t named after a real person. (This was a problem with other UTAH!‘s, too. Real-life descendants of on-stage villains weren’t pleased with how the musical treated the historical record.) This guy, for reasons of his own, engineers a misunderstanding between the Mormons and the Native Americans, which almost leads to war until Jacob Hamblin the Peacemaker sets things right. Unlike previous UTAH!‘s, it focused on a very narrow time frame, one presumably before Jacob Hamblin took a second wife and before Mormons started killing folks at Mountain Meadows.

I went back and kept all of Doug Stewart’s original lyrics with a few very minor tweaks. I did, however, rewrite one song entirely and used it for my new comic relief subplot, which was my favorite part of the show, due largely to an expert performance by Doug Bilitch in the role. (Unfortunately, that subplot was more interesting to me than the main story, and critics seemed to notice. More on that later.)

I left Tuacahn and moved away from St. George before rehearsals began, but I kept rewriting as necessary. I came down and saw one of the rehearsals, and it was a surreal experience to see everybody on stage actually taking what I had written seriously. Moments were working, which excited me. Yet some moments were not.

The show opened to blistering reviews. I can’t find them online anymore, but nobody much liked it. The complaint was that the goofy subplot overshadowed the main action – which was true – and the story just didn’t have much heft to it – also true.

I came down with my family to see the show right after it opened, and the thing was rained out. So I came down again and saw exactly what the critics were talking about – and decided they were right. I mentally reshuffled the show and decided that if I’d just been part of the rehearsal process and heard the feedback as it was fresh, I could have fixed it. The criticism stung, but in retrospect, it was a great experience. I got to produce a play on Tuacahn’s nickel, and I learned a whole lot at their expense. What could be better than that? I also wrote the thing under the pseudonym Stallion Cornell, which made me laugh and probably had the Tuacahnites pulling their hair out. Every playbill said “Book and Additional Lyrics by Stallion Cornell.” That made the whole thing worth it, for me at least.

However, based on the box office performance of my version, I think UTAH! is finally dead for good.

Prologue

“The most important decision you can make right now is what you stand for. Goodness…or badness.”

- Judge Smails, Caddyshack

PROLOGUE

“We need more blood!”

I’ll bet you do, the gaunt nineteen-year-old snarled inwardly. His own pale complexion suggested he could have used a little blood himself. He looked completely untouched by the Southern California sun, which should have added some highlights to the dank, scraggly, jet-black hair partially obscuring his sullen expression. More blood. I’ll give you more blood. It was a dark thought for a Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m serious!” the voice came again. “More blood over here!”

He was sure the director of this tawdry little high school epic had no idea what his name was, and probably only a vague idea of what he looked like. He just knew that he was the one to pour more of this syrupy stuff on the dozen or so cinematic victims, all of whom had been conveniently piled into a makeshift mound of corpses.

At least one of them wasn’t particularly happy about it. “Could we finish this shot soon, please?” she said. “Paul’s hand keeps wandering.”

“It does not!” Paul protested. He was at the bottom of the pile, covered in what looked like whitewash, with a huge gash painted on the side of his left cheek and a false eyeball dangling from a concealed socket. He certainly looked far worse than he felt, but he still wasn’t a happy guy at the moment.

“Oh, doesn’t it?” the equally whitewashed girl snapped back at him, the blade of a plastic axe embedded in her forehead. “You think just because you have a few lines in this thing you can cop a feel whenever you want to?”

“What makes you think I would want to?” Paul snorted.

“What makes you think it’s his hand?” came a muffled voice from somewhere in the middle of the pile.

The klieg lights shone down brightly on the rustic cabin set, which was starkly out of place centered amidst the gray, utilitarian studio walls.

“More blood!” the director barked again, somehow managing to keep the lit cigarette in his mouth from falling out as he spoke. He was in his standard pose, with both his hands buried in his straight, stringy, greasy hair, which the youth judged to be far too long and far too de-grayed for a man of his advancing years. The large sweat stains on his well-tailored, faux-casual shirt were constantly on display. The teenager thought he always looked as if he were in a state of perpetual panic as he flapped his elbows like some frenzied chicken. This was a stark contrast to the young man’s own serene demeanor as he stood there, unmoving, with his hefty blood bucket safely enfolded between his arms.

“Get him off me!” the axe girl shrieked, this time to the zombified, toothless freak on top of her, as Paul used the moment to reach up and slap her behind, chuckling to himself. Another zombie gave him a high five, or, at least, as high a five as possible.

The entire pile shifted queasily.

This was too much for the director, who threw down his cigarette uncomfortably close to Paul’s face, nearly singeing the fake eyeball that was almost touching the ground. He spoke each word with a theatrically precise and measured rage.

“WHERE – IS – THAT – KID?!”

The teenage boy sauntered over in the direction of the mayhem, still feigning indifference, even though he suspected what this little stunt would cost him in the end.

“He’s over here!” shouted a gum-chewing girl grasping a clipboard. It was a clipboard that the teenager knew well, because she used it to keep note of everything he did wrong. This struck the young man as a colossal waste of time, because the man who had asked her to keep tabs on him almost certainly never glanced at her reports. No, in his eyes, she just carried the clipboard because she was trying to look important. She wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all, him. He remained decidedly nonplussed as the girl grabbed his bicep and forcibly dragged him over to the director. “Careful, Cathy” the teenager muttered as he was jerked awkwardly toward the would-be deMille. “You don’t want to be too rough and spill blood.”

“This is not appropriate behavior,” she hissed. “You know better than this.”

“And you should know better than to wear that blouse,” he whispered back. “It makes you look like a pilgrim or something.”

Cathy’s reaction was predictably indignant, but it wasn’t her mood that interested him at the moment.

The director didn’t bother to turn his head until the youth had reached the range of his peripheral vision. Was he mad at him? the teenager asked himself. Clearly, he was. But he was more impatient than he was mad. That wouldn’t do. The kid knew a surefire way to bring his anger to the fore.

“Finally!” the director huffed, turning his head back to the zombie dogpile. With an edge of irritation in his voice, he spoke quickly. “Now dump that bucket on the pile. Now.” He said “now” twice. Redundant, the teenager thought. Glib. Not very bright.

“It’s going to get in my eyes!” said Axe Girl. She tried to pull her hands out of the pile, presumably so she could cover her eyes from the soon-to-be-falling blood. Yet her attempt to dislodge her arms had an unsteadying effect on her zombie comrades, who all protested in unison as the integrity of the pile was threatened. Paul used the opportunity to let his right hand wander without fear of reprisal.

And still, the defiant youth stood, unmovable. The director, who seemed to have already mentally moved on to the next shot, was unclear as to why the blood hadn’t already been dumped. It took him several seconds to consciously acknowledge the source of the delay, at which time he finally wheeled around to face the young man who had worked so hard to earn his full attention. The hands came out of the hair, and the impatience was quickly buried beneath an almost uncontainable fury. He didn’t raise his voice as he spoke to his youthful antagonist, but what his voice lacked in volume, it made up for in tension.

“Are you deaf, kid, or are you just stupid?”

The kid in question smiled languidly, as if he had all the time in the world. This was the moment he’d been preparing for, and he was determined to enjoy it for as long as he could.

“I’m not deaf,” the boy smirked, “and I’m certainly not stupid.” Now he had the director’s full attention. Everything was going according to plan.

The director was not amused. “Blood. Pour. Now.” He was almost hissing, his gritted teeth not opening a crack.

The teenager glanced over at Cathy, who was subtly shaking her head, as if to say don’t do this. Please don’t do this. He just gave her a wicked smile, took a deep breath, exhaled, and then got to the point. “I have a name,” he said simply, still clutching the bucket.

Cathy closed her eyes.

The entire set had ground to a halt, except for a few whimperings from the zombies, which everyone ignored. The director’s voice was icy cold as he spit out a single word. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” the teen replied, not sorry at all. “Are you deaf, mister, or are you just stupid?”

No whimpering from the zombies now. The director looked ready to pummel this little snot-nosed punk, but he managed to stop himself just in time. Instead, he grabbed the bucket, dumped it on the pile himself, and buried his hands back in his greasy, non-gray hair. “Cathy,” he said, not raising his voice, “get this kid off the lot.” And all the air in the room seemed to return, as did the predictable pandemonium from the zombie pile.

“My eyes! My eyes!” Axe Girl shrieked. A guy with a trickle of black goo dripping from his mouth complained that he was having a hard time breathing.

“I have a name,” the youth said again, with no one listening. His moment had been lost, and he was frantically trying to drag it back again. But now the crew was moving, the zombies were restless, and his least favorite clipboard lady was yanking him in the other direction. “I have a name!” The teenager was shouting now. “I’m David Chakiris!”

“Real smooth,” Cathy whispered as she made a note on her clipboard.

David had hoped he wouldn’t have to use the Chakiris name this way. It would have carried so much more weight if it had come out at the appointed time, but he was smart enough to know when you have to improvise.

In any case, it worked. The director stopped again, and turned slowly to face him. This wasn’t quite the way I envisioned this, David thought. But it will do.

“David Chakiris,” the director repeated. As if to remind himself, he added “Leo Chakiris’ kid.”

“Figured that out all on your own, did you?” David was in charge now, and he liked the way it felt. His eyes were filled with several months worth of scorn he’d been saving up for just such an occasion.

The director regarded him coolly for but a moment before speaking again. “Cathy,” he said, his voice flat and even and directed at the clipboard lady while his eyes remained frozen on his adolescent nemesis.

“Yes, sir?” Cathy answered. Once more, all eyes were on the director, who was still locked in his stare with David.

Then the director allowed himself a thin smile. He shouldn’t be doing that, David thought. Why is he doing that? Something’s gone wrong.

“Please escort David Chakiris, Leo Chakiris’ kid, off the lot.”

Cathy grabbed David by the arm again, but David wrenched himself free and ran up to the director. “You wait ‘til my father hears about this!” He was yelling again, and he was having a difficult time keeping the panic out of his voice. “You just wait!”

“Oh, he’ll hear about this, all right,” Cathy said, quietly enough so the director couldn’t hear her.
“You’re pretty good at keeping people waiting, aren’t you?” the director quipped, getting a nervous laugh from the crew around him. No, David thought. They think he’s funny. They’re on his side. This is wrong, all wrong.

He had run out of options. He had lost control. All that was left to him was the strength of his fist. But even as he raised his arm with violence on his mind, listening to the frightened gasps of the zombie pile, he felt the steel grip of someone who wasn’t carrying a clipboard. And he heard a deep voice behind him telling him it was time to go. This time, he didn’t put up a struggle. Before he knew it, he was out on the street, midway between the studio gate and the bus stop at the end of the block.

A warm Santa Ana wind was blowing, carrying with it all the oil-soaked smells of the nearby freeway. David stared at the studio gate for a minute or so, but he knew he wouldn’t be heading back inside any time soon. He indulged his wrath for as long as he could, but realizing that nobody else either knew or cared how he was feeling, he moped out toward the street to sit on the graffiti-covered bench right next to the overpass, where he would suffer the ultimate indiginity.

He’d have to sit and wait for the bus.

He reviewed the confrontation over and over again, never once questioning whether it might have been better for everyone if he’d just done his job and dumped the blood on cue. No, that director was too full of himself. He had forgotten his place. He had neglected his people.

Someone had to call him to account.

Wait ‘til my father hears about this.

Yet even as he thought that, he knew it was an empty threat. His father would hear about the whole thing, but from Cathy’s perspective, which would leave out all the important reasons why David wasn’t just a rebel without a cause. Dad would see the whole thing as some kind of character building exercise. It was his father, after all, who just yesterday refused to let him use the car to go to a job he was going to lose anyway. To reinforce the point, he tossed him a silver dollar and told him to take the bus.

My father would use this whole thing as just another object lesson, David realized. He’d want to know why I didn’t just do as I was told. He’d probably be offended that I dropped his name like that. Within thirty seconds, he would have sided with both Cathy and the director, and then I’d get an earful about how much he’d sacrificed for me, how I was lucky to have gotten that job in the first place.

And that was the best-case scenario. David knew how unlikely it was that he could get his old man to sit still long enough to actually talk to him for more than a minute at a time. That was the way it always was. He could only remember one exception to the rule, and he tried not think about that time more than he had to.

So that was it, then. His father would be against him, just like everyone else. Just like all the people in their shiny, stupid cars, all of them stuck on the crowded streets, but none of them forced to take the bus like some shlep, like some toothless, grimy hobo. And that proved to be the final indignity that put him over the edge.

I’m David Chakiris, he thought, the ferocity of his feelings growing exponentially.

I’m David Chakiris, and I have to ride the bus.

As he struck the support of the freeway overpass, he felt his anger well up inside him, all of it channeling its way to the end of his arm as he lashed out in fury at an indifferent world. He felt his hand bulge, swell, and then nearly explode in size as it became a ten-ton, five-fingered sledgehammer, which felled the bridge pylon with a single blow.

David watched in amazement and horror as the overpass support crumbled, and the bridge above him came crashing down to the street in front of him. Piles of cars tumbled down as if dumped from the sky, creating a hideous dogpile of their own, filled with noise, fire, and twisted steel.

Cars were falling from above; cars were screeching below. People were yelling, crying, howling, and still the cars from above kept falling, falling, an endless rain of horror and chaos, punctuated by the sound of metal on metal as it crunched itself into an instant junkyard.

David scurried back toward the studio to avoid the maelstrom. A crowd was gathering, and no one seemed to notice the scrawny young man who had made it happen. The fog of smoke mirrored the fog of bedlam that had enveloped the unraveling scene. What had happened? Why had it happened? Who was responsible for this living nightmare?

Only David knew. And he knew it with perfect clarity. Once he was at a safe distance, he examined his hand, which had deflated back to its normal size. He couldn’t bring himself to pretend it was a dream, or that he had imagined his own culpability. He could still feel his hand engorged with size and strength and the impossible ease with which he had leveled the concrete support. The sensation was delicious. He could almost taste it.

A mother screamed. Maybe it wasn’t a mother. And are those police sirens or fire sirens? Is there a difference? David wondered. He found it odd that he would even consider such questions at a moment like this, and then found it doubly odd that he had the presence of mind to question his own questions.

There was much he didn’t know.

He didn’t know, for instance, how he had transformed his fist into a cudgel of such enormous power. He stared at his hand, flexed his fingers and bugged out his eyes, trying to will the hand to grow again, but nothing seemed to work.

So I don’t know how, but I did this, he said to himself. I made this happen.

That much I know. That much I can never forget.

He wasn’t sure which was more terrifying – the fact that he’d done this, or the fact that he enjoyed doing it, and that he wouldn’t take it back if he tried.

I did it, he thought over and over. I finally struck back. The world deserves this. That’s why I did it.

And I want to do it again.

Novel Ground Rules

Okay, I’m going to do it. So here are the ground rules.

I’m going to post the “prologue” of the novel tomorrow morning. Please feel free to savage it as you will. I’m not, however, going to post a chapter a day, as I want to give people enough time to read and digest the thing, as well as give myself time to digest the comments and incorporate them into the ongoing draft. I’m thinking a chapter a week is a pretty good pace, with regular blog entry stuff plugged in to the other days. However, I want everyone who wants to comment on the book to feel like they can do it any time during that week – it’s not just a “one day post, let’s move on” kind of thing.

The original title of the book was Jumper, but only about 5% of that book has survived into the new version. The current working title is Jeff Downey Fights Badness, but that’s a fairly recent development. Other titles under consideration have been, in no particular order, Jeff Downey Can Fly, Titans Homecoming, The Homecoming Game, and Hero Worship.

I don’t really like any of them.

Feel free, prior to reading a single word of the book, to tell me which title sucks the least.

A Plea for Help

Okay, here’s the deal. 

I’m writing a novel. Actually, I’ve been writing a novel, on and off, for well over a decade. I have a draft that stinks that I finished in 1998, and about two years ago, I decided to radically rewrite the whole thing, changing it from first person to third person, and actually constructing a semi-credible plot. 
When I started this blog, my goal was to write at least 1,000 words per day on the book, too. I’ve been much more faithful to the blog –  I’m now up to about 80,000 words on the novel, so you do the math – but I’m now getting it to the point where I can no longer tell if my story is even remotely interesting. I finally let my wife read the first two chapters, and she was somewhat unimpressed. It turns out, however, that she’s bugged that the geek is the hero and that cheerleaders and football players are portrayed in a less than flattering light, as she was one of those cheerleaders and quite popular, and she thinks that GeekFic bashing the Beautiful People is patently unfair. She also didn’t like the reference to “copping a feel” that I put in the prologue. I’m not really sure what she did like, but she insists that I shouldn’t abandon the project altogether. Now THAT’S encouraging. 
Anyway, I’m wondering if it would be a good idea to start posting pieces of said novel here on the blog and get feedback from you, the Great Unwashed. Truth be told, I know most of you personally, and even those of you I don’t know usually have interesting and/or intelligent things to say. I’m not sure what the copyright problems would be in posting chunks of something I want to publish online – I know other authors, notably Orson Scott Card, do it all the time, and nobody runs off and publishes anything without telling them. Any lawyers want to counsel me on the wisdom of this approach?
Anyway, I submit the question to you: would you be interested in reading chunks of my magnum opus and providing feedback? Or should I continue to toil in relative obscurity and post more about my children’s bowels?

Conversational French

I did an entry on this last year, as I know several useless French phrases that are either ridiculous or rude, sometimes both. But tonight, I learned a new French verb that I thought you might like.

The English translation is “to wax,” as in “to wax a surfboard.”

The French verb? “Farter.”

It is conjugated thusly in the present tense:

je farte
tu fartes
il/elle farte
nous fartons
vous fartez
ils/elles fartent

Please make a note of it.