Friday, December 21, 2012

Shooting From The Hip

Initially, I was at a loss for words. 

I know that may come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but it took some time to process the facts about the horrific massacre in Newtown, CT before I had a cogent line of reasoning about the whole thing.  That is, if anything that happened in that sad burg has even the faintest relation to reason.  There’s been a tidal wave of words written about the shootings, the shooter, his Mom, the dead kids, the town, banning assault rifles, arming teachers, throwing buckets… all of it is now so much news fodder.

This here is my perspective.

As the details began to emerge, it became apparent (at least to me) that the bloody rampage was yet another in a string of unfortunate-yet-wholly-avoidable death marches that involved readily-available weapons of mass destruction.  What, you think I’m wrong to classify the semi-automatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to reign down death on his victims as a WMD?  I’d say his Mom’s Bushmaster AR-15 death stick should be the very definition of a WMD, as anything that one man can use to mete out instant death to twenty-six people in 10 minutes fits the category quite nicely.  I’m just sayin’.

In keeping with the WMD theme, I’d also categorize the bloodletting as a terrorist act perpetrated on innocent victims.  I dinna care why the shooter decided to lock, load and pull that trigger… no one will really ever know, it will all be supposition and speculation.  But make no mistake:  this was a textbook act of terror, no different than the ones in Blacksburg (VA) or Oklahoma City or New York City or Aurora or Columbine.  Mr. Lanza had obviously made enough lucid and strategic decisions to ensure that he exacted the maximum level of chaos before he decided to cap himself once he realized The Man was on him like flies on shit. 
A couple of points to ponder:

HE SHOT HIS MOM IN THE FACE MULTIPLE TIMES.  Think about that for a minute.  HIS MOM.  She had to know she was gonna die in the split-second before she actually, you know, died.  What went through her mind in that brief moment before her skull was pierced by the first of many projectiles vomited from the muzzle of her own gun?  Was she sorry about all the shooting range practice she enjoyed with her now-a-killing-machine son?  Did she regret his ease of access to HER GUNS that were being used to remove her from among the living?  Did her mind’s eye flash to the basement walls of her home, the place where Adam holed up and played first-person shooter video games all day, the walls covered with military posters and images of weaponry and firearms?

HE BLASTED THOSE LITTLE KIDS WITH MULTIPLE ROUNDS, BUDA BUDA BUDA BUDA, JUST LIKE IN A VIDEO GAME.  I don’t blame video games for the violence that Adam wreaked in that school.  However, I do believe that first-person shooter games desensitize the player to the results of real-world violent acts.  I believe the ubiquitous and violent network television programming, where seemingly every other prime-time show revolves around pointing guns and shooting guns, desensitizes the viewer to the violent acts being portrayed on screen.  I also believe that we as a nation, by historically using our military forces when and where they don't belong, sanctify the notion that guns = strength, a piss-poor way to enhance international relations in the year 2012. 

Adam’s Mom knew about his predilection for playing violent video games, that he knew how to shoot real guns, that he was mentally ill and that he had easy access to her arsenal of death sticks. How could she not know he was a dangerous threat?

HE WAS WEARING BODY ARMOR AND CARRIED MULTIPLE LOADED WEAPONS.  This was not an accident, his all-Black wardrobe with Kevlar shoulder pads, lapels and boutonniere.  Before his rampage, did he browse the web, looking for just the right shirt, the right pants, the proper footwear, the right grade of anti-ballistic but not-too-binding-in-the-crotch outerwear?  Did he buy the stuff with a credit card, and whose card was it?  Was his Mom monitoring the purchases being made by her mentally-ill son, her Asperger’s Syndrome offspring, or was he able to build his stash of deathwear in the privacy of his fully-optioned basement apartment without her ever having a clue?


These are not random factoids.  This guy knew what he wanted to accomplish and, for whatever fucked-up reason he decided was valid, he definitely succeeded.  His Mom is the most culpable party in this whole sad sorry tale, and she’s as dead as dead can be.  I try to find some sense of grief or sorrow over her demise, but it just ain’t there.  I blame her for the actions of her son that day as much as I blame him.  So sue me.

Naturally, this all gets me back to the flaming brouhaha now bouncing from coast-to-coast in this Land of the Armed-and-Dangerous.  We have one side screaming for a ban on assault weapons (the ‘AR’ in AR-15 stands for ‘Assault Rifle’) and banning large ammo magazines, while the other side screams “SECOND AMENDMENT!!” and rapidly buys up every legal assault weapon in stock, threatening anyone with a spray of lead if they try and take away their death sticks, all while recommending that schools become fortified sites with armed teachers and armed principals.  Truly, it makes me laugh out loud, the stupidity being demonstrated by both sides of the argument, the same one that blows up after each and every massacre.

As I’ve written/argued/discussed numerous times before, we are a nation that TOTALLY LURVES our guns, the idea of guns, the notion that guns make us free, that guns solve problems, that there’s nothing that can’t be solved with a point-and-shoot implement of destruction. Firearms are as Amerikkan as apple pie, baseball, Wal-Mart, diabetes, obesity and NASCAR. Those who spout the insipid trope that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ seem to forget that a gun cannot fire itself, and therefore the correct insipid trope should be ‘Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people’. 

As BHO stated in his excellent (and IMHO, most Presidential) speech to the Newtown residents and the nation on the Sunday following the bloodshed, nothing will change unless WE change, and that is going to be one large order of chow mein.  We’re talking about a seminal shift in the gun-loving culture we wallow in, along with a shift to real-world solutions that are more nuanced than just banning things right and left.  All of this will take time, but we may just be at a spectral moment where we can find reasonable solutions to our national epidemic of gun violence.

I think one of the main stumbling blocks is the notion many gun owners have that the gummint is coming to take away their death sticks.  While this is a massively uninformed viewpoint, it is one the NRA has successfully injected across all strata of gun owners, making it real to them regardless of how nonsensical it really is.  There is not a single instance that can be pointed to during the Obama administration that could even remotely be considered as harmful to gun ownership, yet the notion persists in lieu of, you know, facts and stuff.  The NRA has poisoned the well, and they have much to answer for because they espouse ZERO restrictions to gun ownership, registration, use or any variation thereof. 

The time has come to treat firearms in the same way we treat automobiles.  Anyone who wants to own a gun must first study for and pass a use test, demonstrate their ability to properly operate one, register and insure the weapon, and surrender it if misused in any way.  You know, JUST LIKE A CAR.  Assault weapons have no place in the hands of civilians, but if someone has cause to own one, they can submit a request and state their case and, if approved, may possess that assault weapon subject to the same regulations as every other gun.

To those who espouse the idea that we need EVEN MORE GUNS in the hands of citizens to stay safe… arm everyone and then no one will risk bad behavior, I have only one question:  ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS?!?!?!  This is the single worst idea ever in the pantheon of bad ideas to address gun violence in our country.  We do not live in Tombstone, Arizona circa 1875… we need to act like civilized humans and reject the notion of an armed populace.  Same with the idea that gun owners don’t want the Feds to know how many death sticks they own, just in case there’s a revolution and they have to take up arms against the evil soshulists.  COME ON… does anyone in their right mind think an untrained force of self-described ‘patriots’ will last a single day against a modern military machine?

It shouldn’t have surprised me in the least that the gun store next door to my work, a vile place that sells (among others) exactly the kind of weapon used to murder all those little kiddies, has been doing a crapload of business in the last week.  There’s a line at the door every morning by 10am, their parking lot is always full and their customers try to sneak their cars into our lot, even though we have signs posted everywhere blaring ‘PRIVATE PARKING’.  I reckon they think we’ll leave them alone because, well… guns!  No doubt every one of those patrons are simply buying their freedom death sticks to make sure the Kenyan Usurper Socialist Communist Muslim Illegal Alien gun-grabbing President won’t deny them of their Second Amendment rights to own military-grade weapons with which to hunt deer and fend off moochers and takers when the revolution goes down.  I doubt any of them even know what the Second Amendment says. It is truly sickening to know what their money is buying, and why.

Of course, none of this matters to the devastated citizens of Newtown.  They grieve and bury, bury and grieve, all under the watchful eye of the ‘no sparrow shall fall’ national news media who are looking for an angle to report.  If things roll as they always do, this sad event will fall off the radar in a few weeks when another shiny object diverts our national ADD-addled psyche… unless it’s another massacre.  I know this much:  we are way past the time to have resolved the issue of unfettered gun ownership and uncontrolled gun violence in our country.  I’m sick of the mewling and bullshit arguments, sick of the death and the death sticks that cause it, sick of the arrogance and stupidity that causes people to buy weapons like candy and horde them as a hedge against the Zombie Apocalypse.  I’m sick of the gun fetishism that permeates every aspect of our ‘civilized’ society.

Whatever we do, we gotta do it RIGHT NOW.  The scarred families in Newtown, and every other parent who has lost a child to senseless gun violence, deserve nothing less.

Update: in a press conference today, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA stated their official position...  an armed guard in every school across this country will solve the problem of nutjobs attacking schools. Fuck that guy, and every other moron who says the answer to our national epidemic of gun violence is to have more guns in the hands of more people, especially around kids and their teachers. 
Lead image, gracias de; Sinead O'Connor 'Throw Down Your Arms' video, muchismas gracias de; fuck the NRA.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lost In La Puente

Tell me if this sounds familiar.  Saturday morning, sometime during the summer of 1970:

Me: “Hey Dad… I’m heading over to Ken’s house.”

Dad: “OK.  What are you two gonna do today?”

Me: “I dunno… maybe go grab some fries and shakes at Randy’s Burgers. Ride around.”

Dad:  “OK… just be sure to get home before dark. and stay outta trouble.”

Me: (whooshing sound as I blast off into the Great Unknown)

I would jump on my metallic purple 10-speed and haul-ass from home as fast as my pedaling could take me.  Yes, I would make my way to Ken’s house for a few minutos, maybe even find some time to make out with his sister Julie (if no one saw us), but that was only the start of a typical teen-age Saturday morning.  The possibilities were endless, and my hard-earned allowance of $3 a week (handed over to me just before I left) guaranteed that I would not go hungry or thirsty, no matter what adventures came our way.

We might ride up to the top of Pee Hill and tempt injury or death by racing down the steep streets like imbeciles.  We might ride to the (outdoor old-skool) mall in West Covina to look for girls or ride The Broadway elevator up and down 14 times before getting kicked out by the ancient security guard.  We might ride up into La Habra Heights and careen down the steep and twisty tree-lined streets while the neighborhood dogs would race after us to try and bite our legs and tires.  We might ride to Workman High School to watch the cute cheerleaders bouncing and prancing around during field practice.  We might even ride the 35 miles all the way to Huntington Beach to hang out on the sand and eat hot dogs and just be stupid hormone-soaked teenage Cali boys.

We might wind up doing some or all of those things.  Or not.  The point is, once I left the house, I was GONE, baby... totally lost.  The only way Dad would know where I was and what I’d been up to was if I got hurt or in trouble.  Otherwise, he didn’t have a clue where I was, who I was with, or what I/we were doing.  There were phone booths all over town if I had to make a call for any reason, but I had no reason to call unless I was hurt or in trouble, see?  He trusted me enough to let me roam about unhindered, unsupervised, uncontrolled.  That’s how it was for a relatively-good 13-year-old boy in 1970 in La Puente, California.  I know it wasn’t the same for girls… or was it?


No smart phone.  No mobile phone at all.  No tablet.  No pager.  No e-tracking.  No live feeds.  No GPS.  No electronic tethers of any kind to worry about.


No closed-circuit cameras were mounted on buildings, ready to catch me doing brodies on the smooth concrete loading dock at Food Giant.  No motion sensors were activated when we climbed into dumpsters behind the liquor store, looking for ruined copies of PLAYBOY or STAG Magazines.  Active surveillance was limited to being seen and/or heard doing… whatever.


I feel awful for 13-year-old kids in our modern climate change age, with their (not very) smart phones and Fecesbook updates and Twatter feeds and I(B)Ms and all the things that hold them in electronic hostage, whether they are conscious of their condition or not.  Yeah, they might think they have it all… all the electronic goodies and the interconnectivity we modern humans think we cannot live without.  But they are NOT FREE, no way no how.   They can NEVER be as free as I was in 1970, riding my bike (without a helmet) across town, hair flying and sweat streaming and skinny tires glued to the ground by gravity alone.

I’d been thinking about this issue for some time when I read a column in my local paper, written by a school teacher who answers questions posed by unbelievably dense parents.  Seems a Mother’s kindergarten-aged daughter was having trouble making friends at school or her pre-scheduled ‘play dates’ and Mom asked what should she do.  The teacher’s answer was surprising… she basically said that play dates usually don’t work out for kids, because it’s really about the parents being friends and getting together. 
As for the kid making friends in her neighborhood (which the Mom doesn’t allow), the teacher talked about her own Mom letting her leave the house ON HER OWN and walk up the street to make friends, something ‘play dates’ just don’t accommodate.  Kids that don’t learn to make friends unless there is direct adult supervision are just missing out, so Mom needs to take kid to the park and let her run wild, make her own friends and learn how to assimilate into her own age group… on her own. Skip the play dates, lessen the hovering and supervision and little Missy’s ability to make friends at school would probably improve dramatically.

I read the question and answer over a few times to make sure I understood what was being discussed, and that’s when I flashed back to my yoot.  Even as a little kid, I somehow managed to find other kids my own age, whether at school or in the ‘hood, to play with and fight with and get into trouble with, to the betterment of us all.  Even then, the only time the parents got involved was when we drew blood or needed stitches or to be fed so we could rumble again.

It all relates to my original concern about too much electronic connectivity, parental control, covert and overt supervision.  When you grow up with those things as part of your world, you never know what it means to be without them, and therefore never learn to operate without them or know what it means to be so unencumbered.  This meme is probably not unlike arguments made about landline phones or teevee or any other modern conveniences that changed our lives during the last 100 years, arguments made by olds to youngs, the same arguments that are met with a heavy sigh and rolling eyeballs.  I think the newest digital demons are much more sinister, far more mind-numbing and ADD-causing, and are creating people who never really know what it means to be free, the way I was at 13 years old.

As I've asserted before, I reject the ownership of a smart phone, and will do so unless and until it becomes mandatory for my work.  I make no excuses for this Luddite tendency, even though my current work phone allows me to text and take pictures.  I understand how smart phones have become ubiquitous, their presence almost natural in many people’s lives. However, I draw the line at owning one for a wide variety of reasons.  Example: my boss recently called me into his office and we had the following conversation:

Him: “Here, I have a new phone for you to replace your old one, it’s a smart phone I just got.”

Me:  “Thanks, but I don’t need a smart phone.”

Him: “Whaddaya mean, you don’t need a smart phone?  It’s new and lets you browse the web!”

Me:  “I have a philosophical issue with smart phones and choose not to have one. The phone I have lets me text when I need to and that’s enough for me.”

Him: (sounding slightly confused) “But… you can check your e-mail from your smart phone no matter where you’re at.”

Me:  “I can check my e-mail when I'm working at my desk.  If I’m out and about, that means I’m busy doing something else and my e-mail can wait until I get back to my desk.”

Him:  (with a look of confusion and incredulity on his face, pauses for a few beats) “Well… OK then.  Have it your way.”

I know he didn’t understand my point, but then again his Droid calls out to him all day long, pulling his eyes out of his head in an instant.  For him, not having a smart phone is just… DUMB.  Every time I mention my aversion to smart phones, I get the same reaction, with varying degrees of flabbergast and disbelief.  I’m used to it, but it gets annoying.  I know it’s a losing battle… even my personal phone carrier is dropping their 2G service soon, which will render my ancient Nokia obsolete, forcing me to get a newer, more connected device.  I’m not looking forward to it.

Back to that whole teenage freedom thingie.  It only went so far (as it should), and my 13-year-old self sure as hell knew it.  In the case of being gone on my bike all day, there was one hard and fast Dad rule:  I had BETTER be in the front yard by the time the street lights came on or it was the belt for me, no questions asked, no excuses.  And he whipped HARD.  That was all the motivation I needed to keep me in line, the vision of him hanging on to my arm with one hand, his belt lashing at me with the other, both of us circling around in a weird dance of parental discipline.  Me no likey!

So here’s how it happened (more than once heh heh heh):  me and Ken are at Randy’s Burgers, eating fries and drinking choco shakes and trying to act all cool in front of some girls from another school.  Suddenly, I stopped cold… I realized it was getting dark and I was at least 2 miles from home. HOLY SHIT!!!  I dropped my food and jumped on my bike and blasted off for home, riding like a deranged rabid wolverine through the quickly-darkening neighborhoods, pedaling my ass off.  Somewhere about halfway home, my skinny front tire caught one of the recessed gutters at an intersection and I went down HARD, rolling into the curb and scrubbing flesh off my hands and arms. 

Without missing a beat, I jumped back on my bike and careened around corners, narrowly missing cars and curbs and pedestrians, riding like mad to get home please please PLEASE let me get home in time!!!!!  Rounding the curve near my home, I almost go down again, somehow managing to stay upright, slicing onto the sidewalk and crashing onto the grass in front of my house.  I jump up and see the street lights flickering on, then spin around to see Dad, standing in the front doorway, a stoic look on his face, saying nothing.  Her didn’t need to.  He slowly turns around and goes into the house, closing the door behind him.

I made it, but just barely.

I don’t begrudge the use of smart phones per se, but I do worry about the subliminal effects the electronic leash will have on the young’uns.  I am totally OK with how this technology has asserted itself into our daily lives, as all modern conveniences tend to do.  However, I can choose which of these tools to use, which ones to avoid, and which ones to rail against with vigor and contempt.  You know, just like Abe Simpson yelling at clouds… it will have the same impact.

For the time being, I’ll just keep using whatever mobile device(s) that allow me to have the least amount of connectivity possible and avoid the inevitable encroachment of streaming mega-data into my conscious sphere.  And I will continue to value that time in my life when I was pedaling around La Puente on a Saturday with my friend Ken, untethered, completely unattached from any web of any kind, thinking only of being on my own and away from home, eating fries and dodging cars, making out with Julie and getting totally and completely lost.

Ken was one of my best friends all through Junior and High School, and we spent lots of idle days cruising around town on our 10-speeds.  He was the first among my circle of friends that got his driver’s license and a car in 1972, and we managed to get into all sorts of bitchin’ situations in that faded blue beast.  I had sporadic contact with him after we left high school, and the last time I saw him was in 1990 when he stopped in to visit The Artist and me at our home in Long Beach.  I always wanted to reconnect with him again, but I found out just last year that both he and his sister had died under sad and unfortunate circumstances.

I was really depressed when I realized I could not and would not ever see him again, but that depression has passed and now I will always have him in my head and my heart. Sometimes I can almost hear him, calling my name and softly knocking on my bedroom window at 4AM on Saturday morning, ready to begin our 3-hour ride to the beach, climbing through La Habra Heights in the cool dark, careening down the other side and pedaling all the way down Beach Boulevard until we reached the sand and the ocean and the sweet escape it offered.

Thanks, Ken… we did it on the good foot, unconnected, lost in La Puente.

Lead image, gracias de; Jimi Hendrix 'Freedom' and Bread 'Mother Freedom' videos, muchismas gracias de; R.I.P. Ken & Julie Wallis.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Slipping Into Darkness

This story is 100% true.

April, 2011

We knew if Betty’s life was gonna be saved, we would have to do it ourselves.

After suffering a dizzy spell and falling in her home, Betty (her real name) had already spent six days in hospital being poked and prodded and medicated and imaged and evaluated and, after a somewhat inconclusive diagnosis, was pronounced healthy enough to be transferred to a local nursing care facility to regain her strength and mobility.  She couldn’t walk yet, but she would soon, they assured us.

It didn’t turn out that way.

She was in that nursing care facility, Country Villa in Seal Beach (CA), for 12 long days, during which time she was physically dropped by staffers, denied fluids, overmedicated, underfed and rendered unable to perform physical therapy due to weakness and lack of muscle tone.  They said "She isn’t sufficiently capable of making additional progress" and concluded that she was a candidate for long-term hospice care and would inform the insurance company of their decision. This was bullshit, and we knew it.

Over the first 11 days of her so-called ‘convalescence’ in that awful place, The Artist (Betty’s daughter) and I watched Betty’s health decline rapidly.  She went from being able to sit up on the edge of her bed to requiring a strap around her torso to keep her upright in her wheelchair.  Her mouth was full of terrible sores… she suffered the indignity of a catheter when they decided changing her diapers was too much trouble… she developed a severe urinary infection and was unable to eat any solid food at all.  When we visited her on The 11th Day, we knew that she was in dire straits, and the nursing facility was only making her worse and worse.  We had to do something.

On The 12th Day, I contacted Betty's health insurance company (SCAN) and spent hours on the phone with them, pleading for help.  I told them we were gonna break her out of that awful place and take her to the hospital ER unless they did it for us. To his credit, the agency's service rep was most-excellent and very pro-active, informing me that removing her without the proper approvals would cause a world of legal hurt for everyone. He did some investigation of his own while I held on the phone, confirmed the crappy nature of the care facility, checked with his supervisors and made a crucial decision. He assured me that if the staff physician rejected the family's demands to have her transferred to the ER, the insurance company would step in the next day, take over her care and do it themselves. That's all I needed to hear.

I raced home after work that evening for a speedy shower and change of clothes. The Artist and I jumped in The Beetle and blasted 35 miles up the freeway in rush-hour traffic to Betty’s home to meet up with her husband Don (his real name) and granddaughter and head to the facility.  I made the mistake of stopping to grab a burrito beforehand and was cooling my jets for 20 minutes while the cooks kept screwing up the orders.  When I finally got my food I was livid, because the facility’s visiting hours ended at 8pm and it was already past 7pm.  We hooked up with the rest of the family and raced the 10 miles back to that terrible place.

We walked in at about 7:50pm and noticed the expansive hallways, usually lined with patients in their wheelchairs, were deserted.  We went to Betty’s room and were alarmed at her appearance.  Her skin had the pallor of death, she could barely lift her head from the pillow, her mouth was filled with open sores and her tongue had the color and texture of an eggplant. When Don saw her he was shocked, and after a few minutes of visiting, we exited her room.  Don said “She’s dying… right in front of our eyes, she’s dying. I don't think she'll last another day in here. They’re killing her”  That hit me hard.  I decided RIGHT THEN to do something.

We’d been attempting to reach the staff physician, a Dr. Kim (not her real name) for days to ask for help, but no dice.  So when I walked down the long hallway, looking for someone… ANYONE… to talk to, I crossed paths with a small Asian woman in a white coat with a nametag, obviously a doctor doing her rounds. I spun around and did a double-take.  Could that be her, the mysterious Dr. Kim who refused to return my many calls?  I asked the nursing staffer on duty if that small Asian lady was indeed Dr. Kim and she confirmed that it was her.  I went back to the family standing outside Betty’s room and told them Dr. Kim was in the house and I was gonna talk to her about Betty’s condition and our plans for her.  The Artist begged me to not lose my cool and use a calming tone with her.  I agreed.

When I walked back to the nursing station, Dr. Kim was standing there, making notes in patient files.  From her demeanor, I assumed this was her standard routine, checking out patients after the families had gone home so they wouldn’t bother her with, you know, annoying questions and stuff. I also figgered she wasn’t expecting to be confronted by desperate family members at this late hour. I introduced myself to her and asked why she hadn’t responded to my numerous messages.  Her answer: “I never got your messages. And besides, you talked with my assistants, they should have been able to help you.”  WRONG ANSWER, DOC.

In a calm but insistent manner, I spent the next 5 minutes delineating Betty’s condition, our serious concerns about her rapidly declining health, and our desire to have her transferred to the local hospital ER for immediate care that evening.  The Doc began to blather something about more tests being needed and that Betty wasn’t as bad as we thought.  My response was direct:  if she didn’t transfer Betty that night, the insurance company would take over the case the next day and get her to the ER, then have words with a certain Dr. Kim.  Looking up at me from her 5-foot nothing stance, the Doc's eyes got really big upon hearing me say ‘insurance company take-over’.  Without saying a word, she went over to the night’s Charge Nurse and asked her to perform an evaluation on Betty… she simply wouldn’t do it herself. Bitch.

We walked to the room with the charge nurse who asked us to remain outside while she looked at Betty.  She went in, pulled the curtains around the bed and spent about 2 minutes in there.  She pulled the curtains open, came outside and said “Oh yeah, she needs to go to the emergency room RIGHT NOW."  She walked to Dr, Kim, they spoke for a moment, then Dr. Kim came up to us and said she would write up the transfer order right away and have an ambulance pick up Betty shortly and take her to the ER.

To say we were ecstatic would be an understatement.  Don looked like he was gonna cry, same for The Artist and granddaughter.  We went in and told Betty what was gonna happen and the best she could muster was to feebly lift her head from the pillow, open her eyes, whisper “OK, that sounds good”, then drop her head and close her eyes.  About 45 minutes later, the ambulance arrived and loaded her onto a gurney for the short drive to the hospital.  As the EMT’s strapped her in for the ride, Don and granddaughter took all of Betty’s belonging to their car, and we asked them to go home and wait while we followed the ambulance and helped get her admitted.  We jumped in The Beetle and followed the ambulance onto the freeway on-ramp Northbound.

Now, we’ve all seen an ambulance during emergency patient transports, sirens blaring and lights flashing, warning other cars to move aside.  That didn’t happen. Once the ambulance merged onto the freeway, it took off at over 90mph, seemingly to try and lose us, without lights or sirens, oblivious to other cars around them.  I sped up and started following their frantic traffic-weaving movements.

The Artist is yelling at me:


My answer was to shout back:


For the next 10 minutes, we raced at way-illegal speeds on the freeway, never losing sight of that lumbering ambulance slicing across lanes, around other cars and going faster, ever faster.  I was gripping the steering wheel like I had talons, hearing The Artist’s shouts of protest in my right ear, eyes glued to the road ahead flying at me through the windshield, hoping against hope that some hapless bozo in a slow-moving Buick wouldn’t change lanes in front of me at 45mph and take us all out.  The Beetle kept the pace, never once placed a wheel wrong, seemed to relish the asphalt dance.

After what seemed like 10 minutes, the ambulance veered off the freeway and onto the correct off-ramp, with us in hot pursuit. They ran several red lights with us right behind them, turned sharply onto a side street and directly into the ER ambulance bay.  We followed them through and slid into the parking lot across from the ER entrance.  We watched them offload Betty, wondering if she had any idea about what had just happened, and walked into the ER to get her admitted.  It was now about 9:30PM, less than 2 hours since we first walked into the care facility to rescue Betty. 


The ER waiting room was crowded when we arrived and checked in, with nary a chair to be found anywhere.  After a while we found a place to sit and wait, then were called and escorted to the ER bay where we found Betty awake, propped up in bed, with a buzz of activity around her.  Over the next several hours, multiple doctors and nurses and technicians and others came and went, a blur of medicinal treatment taking place as we watched from our little stackable chairs.  Around 1AM, I grabbed a pillow from the closet, set it on a spare tray table, laid my head down and dozed in a sitting position for about 30 minutes.  The Artist and Betty chatted up a storm, as the IV fluids and meds she’d been given were already having a positive impact on her condition.  Watching me sleep, Betty told The Artist it was the longest time she’d ever seen me not talking or making noise.  She’s funny... I love her like crazy.

By the time 2AM rolled around, the ER tests were completed.  She had an aggressive and dangerous e-coli urinary tract infection, was severely malnourished and dehydrated, her blood chemistry was all over the map, a virulent candidae thrush infection was ravaging her mouth and throat, her blood pressure was fluctuating wildly, her white blood cell count was alarmingly high, she was unable to walk and her condition was extremely unstable.  However, she was responding well to the IV fluids, was eating ice chips and talking and smiling and her beautiful blue eyes were shining and we sat there, marveling at her strength and composure under such dire circumstances.  By 3AM, she was slated to be taken up to her room, so we decided it was time to mosey on back home, get some sleep and come back the next day to see how things were going.  The drive home seemed to take forever, and after only a couple of hours of sleep, I dragged my skinny ass off to work, where I was less than useless. For the entire day.


I look back on that 9-hour timespan, from the moment I jumped outta the shower at 6PM to the drive home at 3AM and think, yep, lots of things could have gone wrong and kept us from making what happened... happen.  If my burrito had been made in 5 minutes instead of 20 and we’d gotten to the care facility earlier than we did, I might have totally missed seeing the infamous Dr. Kim and lost the chance to confront her in person.  We could most definitely have gotten in an accident during that insane freeway chase.  We could have lost sight of the ambulance and, if they had not gone where they said they were going (it does happen), Betty would have gone missing, slipping into the darkness and from our grasp as the moon rose and the stars shone and the Earth spun, leaving us lost and seething and desperate to find her.  Lots of things could have happened, but on this one night, everything worked out.


Little did we know that Betty’s mysterious medical journey was just beginning, oh yes.  She would spend another 12 days in hospital, then 5 weeks in a convalescent hospital, with the weirdest arc of illness and symptoms any of us had ever seen, not to mention her many doctors.  There were dead-ends for one diagnosis after another, wrong turns and ineffective treatments. At one point, she was considered to be in a chronic degenerative state called encephalopathy that would never improve, and we were instructed to get used to her condition.  You can bet your ass after what we’d all been through, that diagnosis was soundly rejected. We pushed forward and demanded one last test, a semi-dangerous spinal tap, only to discover that we made the right choice. Betty’s illness was finally, FINALLY and correctly identified as spinal meningitis and aggressively treated, with her subsequent recovery almost startling.

Within a week or so she came home with a feeding tube stuck in her belly (don’t ask), a medical bed in her living room, a live-in nurse, a tabletop covered with meds, loss of privacy and a months-long slow-but-steady recovery.  She’ll likely never get back to 100%, but she is strong and determined and is now walking without her walker and cooks and cleans and does most of what she was doing before the day she got dizzy and fell.  Whatever her limitations may be now, we are all grateful for her amazing fighting spirit to get back as much of her previous life as possible, and we marvel at what she has achieved.

For me, the moral of this tale is:  STAY ENGAGED IN YOUR HEALTH CARE DECISIONS.  If we had listened to any one of the many doctors who wrote her off as untreatable, we’d be visiting her in hospice care, looking at the shell of a woman whose health had been lost.  From the night we broke her out of that horrible nursing facility to the day she finally returned home, I kept voluminous daily notes in my ‘Betty Book’: her daily med intake, her doctor’s comments, her bloodwork, WBC levels, food intake, temp and blood pressure, ANYTHING that related to her care.   Every night The Artist and I talked for hours about what we knew, what we didn’t know, what the doctors said and how full of shit we thought they usually were.  But all along, we paid attention, asked hard questions and never EVER took ‘I don’t know’ as a serious answer.  It just didn’t compute.

A lot can happen in a lifetime.  A lot can happen in 9 hours, too.  Every hour, every minute, every second we have in our conscious existence is precious.  Every decision we make has ramifications which are evident and obvious, but that also sometimes fly below the radar and disappear without us ever knowing about them.  Take nothing for granted… not your life, not your significant other, not your health… nothing about our lives should ever be without purpose or meaning, unless you choose to make it so by doing nothing and ceding your life decisions to others.

I like to tell people that I’ve been lucky in my life to have two Mothers-In-Law that I really loved and that loved me back.  The first one has recently left this mortal coil, but after several years of her hating my guts, she finally figgered out (after I spent hours and hours sitting at her hospital bedside) that I was pretty OK.  Betty lets me hang around her house at the holidaze, so I reckon I’m OK by her too.  I’m just glad that The Artist and I were in the right place, at the right time, with the right attitude and drive, to make a difference in her life for the better. 
A human being can’t ask for a more useful purpose than that.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”Og Mandino, writer, speaker (1923-1996)

(Lead image, gracias de; War 'Slippin Into Darkness' and Harry Nilsson 'Think About Your Troubles' videos, muchismas gracias de


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 'L' Word


There… I said it, and I meant it. Deal with it. Don’t like it? Too bad for you, boo hoo.

It’s not easy being an avowed LIBERAL these days because for some weird, unexplainable reason, the meaning and inference of the word LIBERAL has been cast as a red flag, a scarlet letter, a degrading moniker to be assigned, ridiculed and dismissed with malice. With all due respect, I beg to differ (with thanks to

lib•er•al (adjective) 1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs. 2. noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform. 3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism. 4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties. 5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers. 6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies. 7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners. 8. open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc. 9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor. 10. given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation. 11. not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule. (noun) 14. a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion.”

I choose to live by the precepts set forth in the popular definition of the word LIBERAL. I can think of nothing better than to continue to integrate these concepts into my life, into my interpersonal relationships, into my philosophical makeup. To do any less seems antediluvian, archaic, antiquated, mired in the smelly goo of Dark Age regressivism.


  I want a political system that serves the interests of ALL the people, not 53% or 1% or this ethnic category or that income strata or some other social level. In an ADD-addled country like ours, we need to make sure we govern with compassion and strength, with wisdom and empathy, with intelligence and humor and maturity. I dream of the day when our current brand of scorched-earth adversarial politics will be replaced by a lively consensus government made up of people from all walks of life, from every income level and every strata of our great country, but where money does NOT buy influence or votes and is no longer a viable political weapon. Yes, this means there will be a plethora of differences to be shared and exposed and debated ad nauseum, but only in that way can we truly be a nation built on the principals that helped to start this democratic enchilada rolling.


I want there to be true equality among the many beautiful and vibrant lines of ethnic heritage that make us the most diverse and unique country in the world, with no quarter given to any who would try and divide us because of those amazing differences. I hope to live long enough to see our country become a place where, as Bob Marley wrote, “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” We are a nation of intense diversity and should celebrate that singular, special fact. Before I take the dirt nap, I hope we’ll see the last vestiges of racism and racial inequality tossed into the smelly dumpster of history, replaced by the reality that we are indeed “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


I want all women to hold their lives in their own hands, released from the primitive shackles of forced childbirth and unwanted children. I want every woman to know that she alone controls her destiny, and that no one else can decide what her life will be simply because of her biology or their theology. I want every woman who CHOOSES to give birth and raise children to do so without having to worry about their health and well-being, to know that no matter what, they will never want for food or clothing or shelter or healthcare or education, and in that she will be freed to be the Most Awesome Mom Ever. I want every young girl to have a path to create any future they choose, whether in an office or a jobsite or in a racecar or as a Mommy at home or in the Oval Office or in orbit around Mars. I want every young girl to learn in school about what it will mean to be a woman in control of her own destiny, about being equal to boys in every way, even though she secretly knows she really is better than any smelly boy (hee hee).


I want practitioners of every religion, spiritual philosophy and guiding light to know they have the freedom to hold that faith close to their heart, knowing they will never be branded as ‘the other’ simply because of the icon they wear around their neck, the piece of cloth on their head or the house in which they worship. We should celebrate our country’s religious diversity and be grateful for the charitable and loving grace the faithful provide to those who need it most. By the same token, we must always be mindful that while our nation enjoys such a diverse and vibrant religious community, our government must also be strongly secular in thought, word and deed in order to ensure that no single faith holds sway against or over any other faith, nor against those who choose no faith at all. You know, like ME.


I want every person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to finally be considered as an equal to every heterosexual man and woman with whom they share this country. The time has come for the concept of love and marriage to be pulled from the basement closet of tradition and exposed to the sunny patio of 21st century equality. Ask me if I chose to be heterosexual and my answer will be “I didn’t choose to be hetero... I just am.” It eludes me how anyone could convince themselves that our LGBT brothers and sisters chose their sexuality and the terrible stigma of hatred and vilification that comes with acknowledging and asserting their sexual identity. What are we… ignorant rabid wolverines? As my religious friends like to say, ‘God don’t make no junk.’


I support any and all people from other countries who come to our shores to earn a living, pay taxes, support their families and make a life for themselves here, regardless of their nationality. We are a land that once welcomed immigrants and allowed them the chance to achieve the American Dream, and we should be grateful to anyone who chooses these United States as their homestead. No human being should ever be classified as ‘illegal’, and every immigrant who works hard at their job is as vital, as needed, as important as any other American. No matter what job a new émigré takes on, they are another cog in the giant machine that drives our common fortunes forward, adding to the foundation and casting more strength into the working class.


I want every single person living in this country to KNOW they will never be without affordable, accessible and competent healthcare, no matter how much or how little money they have stuffed in their mattress. As we move into synch with the rest of the modernized world, we must strive to ensure that no one ever lies awake at night, worrying about how they will pay for the hospital and doctors and nurses and specialists that are caring for them or their loved ones. When a college grad strikes out on her own with a burning desire to start a new business, she should be able to do so knowing that her dreams will not be stymied by an unplanned illness or accident or pregnancy that could devastate her savings and livelihood. When we all share in the costs to support universal healthcare, we all reap the benefits of a healthy, happy and motivated society of non-rabid wolverines.

I have been called many bad, degrading and insulting names in my lifetime besides LIBERAL. I suspect we all have at one point or another.

Usually the names were the result of schoolyard rumbles, failed relationships, angry confrontations at work or perhaps car-to-car shout-outs with the single-finger salute, waved vigorously. In grade school, the alliteration of my last name resulted in ‘Messy Ass’ (ouch) or ‘MaCockus’ (even ouchier), or ‘Dirtman’, owing to the grease I usually had under my fingernails from constantly working on my bitchin’ Schwinn StingRay. As these things usually do, the names just rolled off my hairy back and dropped onto the ground in a steamy heap, pointless and unaffecting of my youthful self.

As I became an adult, the name-calling was limited to those special moments when there’s simply nothing left to do but cuss out someone, insult their intelligence and label them as a (insert your favorite derogatory slam here). Yeah, I know the old ‘sticks and stones’ meme is supposed to be the fallback position in these instances, but sometimes the names hurt and leave a psychic mark that either goes away or sticks around. It all depended on the situation, the name-caller and the connection with that person, because words MATTER.

With all that in mind, recent events have me thinking about how casually we tend to label those with whom we have alternate points of view. Specifically, our current seething political brouhaha seems to have created an environment that incites name-calling, whether justified or not. Let me be clear (as Barry is wont to say)… I am human and guilty of the same thing, having called our 43rd President all manner of really REALLY unfortunate names, which was wrong and I knew it but I did it anyways because I WAS RIGHT, DAMMIT, or so I rationalized. It’s what we humans do.

And so it goes for #44, the Black Panther Muslim Fascist Tyrant Communist Kenyan Socialist Usurper Jesus-Hating Collectivist Illegal Alien Dictator Appeaser Terrorist-loving America-hating Not-The Real-President, Barack HUSSEIN Obama (black man). I would suspect he gets a pretty good laugh at the names and labels that are attached to him these days... at least I hope so. Think about it: if you are a conservative and want to offer a dismissive categorization of the opposite thinker you are jousting with, no word is better suited than calling them a LIBERAL and then crossing your arms and smiling, job done, NAILED IT. It doesn’t work the other way around, you see… trying to stuff someone by calling them a (gasp!) CONSERVATIVE gets nothing but blinking eyes and a sense of ‘Yeah… and?’ I’m often confused about how The ‘L’ Word came to wield such negative force when the accepted and official definition is seemingly so positive.

For context, here is the same source’s definition of ‘conservative’:

con•serv•a•tive (adjective) 1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. 2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate. 3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit. 4. of or pertaining to the Conservative party. 5. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative. 6. a person who is conservative in principles, actions, habits, etc. 7. a supporter of conservative political policies. 8. a member of a conservative political party...”

Am I missing something here? After reading through both definitions, I cannot think of any other personal philosophy that would suit all humanity better than being considered a LIBERAL.  I know this much: nothing short of (another) lobotomy would convince me to schwing over to the dark side and embrace conservatism, and from this vantage point, only removing the remaining portions of my frontal lobes and cerebral cortex would do it.

I am not ashamed to call myself a LIBERAL.  I am not concerned when someone calls me a LIBERAL, whether their intention is upbeat or not.  I am not devastated when tagged that way, I do not shrink away from it.  It is what I am, and since words matter, I am more than pleased the active online dictionary defines the word LIBERAL in such a positive and progressive manner.

So what next?

How do we LIBERALS take back the positivity of this word and turn it into a verbal sword for progressivism?  I know for sure that conservatives will never EVER stop trying to poison the waters with their vilification of all things LIBERAL, but that's just how they roll, innit?  They fear change, they fear shaking up the status quo, they fear the unknown results of doing things differently.  They like everything being the same as it always was, because it is a known known, heh heh heh.  The problem with conservative philosophy is the stagnation that results from never changing, doing things the same way, day after day, year after year.  To re-use a quote:

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” ~ John F. (I banged Marilyn Monroe) Kennedy

For my own bad self, I'll just keep on pushing for the egalitarian, equality-infused society that I hope to see, but will likely not live long enough to experience.  I will strive to support anyone who sees injustice, inequality and unfairness as the old way of doing things, the way that I do every day as a self-proclaimed LIBERAL.  I will continue to educate myself with the facts of modernity, while never ignoring the past for fear of repeating it.  I will speak to the corporate executive or the janitor or the homemaker or the middle-manager with the same level of friendship and respect they deserve as human beings, not according to the role they play in our conscious existence.


Don’t like it? Too bad for you, boo hoo.

Lead image, muchismas gracias de; ZZ Top "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" and Johnny Cash "The One On The Right" videos, muchismas gracias de

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

'Le Mans' In My Head

I have a request of you:

I want you to find a copy of the movie ‘Le Mans’ and watch it start to finish, without interruptions or phone calls or tweeps or Fecesbook updates or any other distractions that could take you away from the storyline. Pause briefly enough only to hit the bathroom or grab a snackie cake and Yoo-Hoo. Turn off your spacephone. The film is only 94 minutes long, so it will be EASY to do. If you're a racing fan and it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, watch it again using these instructions.

Why? Because ‘Le Mans’, starring Steve McQueen at the height of his film career (check out those sideburns!), is perhaps the best movie about motor racing and racing drivers that I have ever seen. The storyline, so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, will prove to be massively satisfying if you pay close attention. This is not (shudder) ‘Talladega Nights’ or ‘Days of Thunder’ or even ‘Grand Prix’, another very fine albeit formulaic joint about racing, sex and death (the vintage race cars and circuits are SPEKTAKOOLAR in ‘Grand Prix’, starring a truly dashing pre-‘Rockford Files’ James Garner).

But ‘Le Mans’ is a different animal altogether. After a recent viewing, I found it to be even more stirring, exciting, brutal and nuanced than I remembered. I want to share with you why it is on my list of Top 20 All-Time Favorite Movies.

Filmed (mostly) in concert with the running of the 1970 event at the Le Sarthe track in France, ‘Le Mans’ was released in June of 1971 after much angst, studio interference, a mid-filming director change and little (if any) publicity by National General Films. My first exposure to it was as a sullen, despondent 15-year-old, trapped in an unexplainable road trip to visit family members in the remote and desolate town of Snowflake, Arizona sometime in late ’71 or early ‘72. We were visiting my Uncle, Aunt and their two young kids, staying with them in their ‘large’ trailer, so my notoriously smelly feet were a subject of much consternation during the few days we visited. Dad made sure to remind me that I was stinkin’ up the joint… repeatedly, each night.

My recollections of Snowflake are minimal, mostly of small houses, a smaller ‘downtown’, dirt roads and eating a burger that was bigger than the plate it was served on when we went out for dinner one night. The thing that truly stands out, that rivets me to that dusty burg in the middle of a dusty state, was that the new movie ‘Le Mans’ was showing at the tiny theater in town. I knew nothing of the film, but one evening we walked down the dirt street to the tiny old theater, bought some popcorn and cokes and sat down to watch a film that would literally FLOOR ME. I had no idea this would become a lasting love affair with such a small but important film.

The plot is simple: the film follows several drivers and their teams during the classic 24-hour race that starts at 4PM on Saturday and ends at 4PM on Sunday. Except for the PA announcer reviewing the Porsche vs. Ferrari battle, the impending weather and details about how the race will be run, there is literally NO DIALOG for the first 35 minutes. Composer Michel Legrand's glorious soundtrack is vintage ‘70’s, but it still works and perfectly suits the film's style and pacing. Steve McQueen portrays Porsche driver Michael Delaney, returning to the track where he'd crashed heavily the year before. Steve’s mannerisms, his look, his tightly-held emotional collar and classic tight-assed pit walk (copied by every budding race driver ever since, I swear!) all embody the very essence of what we (me) wanted race drivers to be.

About that first 35 minutes… if you aren’t paying close attention, you will absolutely MISS the extremely subtle developments that delineate the plot and storyline and keep resurfacing in-between the amazing road-racing action. I won’t detail anything from the film’s opening because DAMMIT, you gotta earn this one. Even though Steve once famously stated “there’s no phony love story in this film”, there is indeed a really interesting relationship he develops, slotted among several others throughout the story’s arc. Check out this first clip from the film, and wallow in the glorious sound of those sexy, fast, beautifully manic cars (Michael Delaney is driving Blue Gulf Porsche #20):

Now is when the meaty storyline elements begin to surface… slowly, languidly, an excellent counterpoint to the raging cars pounding around the track. As the race progresses, you learn more about Michael Delaney, his Ferrari rival Erich Stahler (Siegfried Rauch), race widow Maria Belgetti (Elga Andersen), the enjoined battle between Ferrari and Porsche, and the war every team is waging against this most daunting of racetracks. After numerous viewings, I finally figured out the flow and tempo that immediately brings the story to life: YOU GOTTA PAY ATTENTION. Like I said before, this ain’t The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Sometime during the early morning hours of the second day, a sequence of events lead to a devastating accident, a moment’s distraction and subsequent massive ‘shunt’ that takes out Delaney’s Porsche, leaving it a shattered, steaming heap next to the Armco barrier. He sits in the car, stunned, shivering, recalling each millisecond of time to the moment he crashed… HARD. Every time I watch this part of the movie, I feel the crash, hear the shredding metal, smell the hot fluids spewing all over the car’s interior, taste the bloody lip. Another year, another crash, his car is demolished, his dream of winning Le Mans is snatched away. Every driver’s nightmare, come to me NOW.

He’s taken to the trackside medical center, where he encounters Maria Belgetti, who is once-again a spectating victim of how cruel racing can be. As he exits the center, he sees her besieged by the paparazzi and rescues her from their gaping maw, leading her to a taxi that whisks her away. He then heads back to the hot pits to face up to his team owner David Townsend, who sees him from trackside and walks over:

DT: (looks Delaney up and down) “Michael… are you all right?”

MD: “Yeah, I’m fine.”

DT: "Are you sure?"

MD: "I'm OK."

DT: (pauses for a moment, then looks at him squarely) “Then what about the car?”

MD: (pauses, looks pained, then speaks) “It was my fault, David. (pause) I made a mistake. I wrote the car off.”

DT: (a moment of disbelief is seen in his eyes, then resignation. Before he can speak, someone from the pit calls him and he leaves)

Simple dialog, few words, POWERFUL unspoken emotions that are evident if you're closely watching the nuanced performances of Steve McQueen and Ronald Leigh-Hunt. Just like the following clips that show Delaney walking from the pits after this exchange… I wasn’t able to find the whole segment, so play the clips in sequence to watch the full scene:

The film’s entire dénouement, including the hard truth of motor racing, is encapsulated in the trailer scene. Maria Belgetti is scarred from her love of the sport, and yet… she still loves it, still needs it. Delaney’s facial expressions when they enter the trailer are priceless, showing McQueen as a master of the understatement, his eyes and eyebrows and mouth and body speaking without words. She asks some hard questions, and he responds: “Racing's important to men who do it well. When you're racing, it's... it's life. Anything that happens before or after… is just waiting.” Right away he knows his words spear her, because she has a realization about her own life, an epiphany, and you can see it in her eyes, without the need for her to speak. This is really spare, sharp screenwriting, letting the actors emote in a seemingly effortless fashion.

Can you tell that I am enamored with this movie? DAMN, I love a movie that makes me work for the goodie!

As in real-world motor racing, everything changes when the two leading cars experience mechanical woes and are stalled in the pits for lengthy repairs near the end of the race. Ferrari takes the lead and Porsche team owner Townsend decides that the driver in one of his remaining cars isn’t fit enough to challenge, so Delaney is tapped to replace him. As they walk back to the track, Townsend tells Delaney: "Michael, I want you to drive flat out. I want Porsche to win Le Mans." This scene of the final two laps of the race brings me so close to the action, I can smell the oil and rubber and exhaust and feel the driver’s determination (this clip is compressed for some reason but is still AWESOME):

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! The cars are alive… filthy, frenzied, speeding beasts in mortal combat with each other. The film's interpretation of the ‘red mist’ of racing at 10/10ths is intoxicating, because NOTHING can compare to the power and craziness of competition at this level. All the sweat and blood and toil and trouble to push the leading Ferrari to the finish line is dashed by a flat tire, the disappointment and loss obvious on the faces of the car’s driver and team manager. THIS STUFF REALLY HAPPENS. The look of determination on Delaney’s face as he pushes his own car to battle with Stahler is REAL, his eyes doing all the talking. The Red and Blue cars thrust and parry, slam and bang and slice and slither their way across the track, clawing for traction and speed. I especially love the race-geek camera work, with no freaking CGI or animation to screw things up. The way the cars nose-dive and squirm as they scrub speed to take a hard turn is awesome. A mechanical ballet, where life's contrast knob is set to 11 and disaster is always just one corner away.

I like to tell non-racing fans that among the myriad reasons I love almost all forms of motorsports, one of the most important is the SCIENCE of it all. Physics on display. Combustion, momentum, friction, chemistry, aerodynamics, geometry, gravity, hydraulics, metallurgy, electromagnetics, calculus… racing embodies all of these disciplines. Add the fact that this film, shot in 1970 with what is now considered archaic and antiquated movie-making technology, so perfectly demonstrates both the physical AND emotional realities of high-caliber motor racing, the human and mechanical… it stuns me to this day.

Most of 'Le Mans' was shot during the actual 1970 race, and real drivers drove real cars really fast during race shooting and additional footage, among them Jo Siffert, Brian Redman, Vic Elford, Kurt Ahrens Jr., Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams. Driver David Piper was involved in a crash during shooting and lost part of his lower leg (the film is dedicated to him in the closing credits). A Porsche 908/2 that McQueen had previously co-driven to a Second-Place finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring was entered into the race to compete, laden with heavy film gear to provide actual footage of the racing action. Although not classified as a finisher for not completing the minimum laps due to stops to change the film reels, it still managed to finish 2nd in the P3.0 class.

Steve McQueen was a real race car driver.

I always come back to the actors, the screenplay and the unspoken emotions that are spread throughout this film. That’s where the storyline shines, where words don’t matter but the emotion and how emotion is conveyed does. This was Steve McQueen’s vanity project, and it cost him his marriage, boatloads of money and a lot of personal capital that took years to recoup. It was also a disappointment at the box office, but time and history have given this film the respect it deserves, now considered one of only a very few racing films that can honestly be viewed as true-to-life.

Are you ready to take on this challenge? Are you capable of turning off your spacephone for 94 minutes… IN A ROW?!?!?! I guarantee that if you view this film in its entirety, pay attention to the spoken and unspoken words, watch the nuances of emotional interaction among these fine actors, you will be rewarded with a sense of completion at the film’s end that will make you smile broadly, glad to have made the effort. And, if my hunch is right, you will become a fan of 'Le Mans'. If you are already a fan of the film, see it again and (if you're like me), pretend to be Michael Delaney during those last two laps of driving flat-out in the 1970 French countryside. Full-screen zoom, volume up, eyes wide open.

It's not just a film about racing, it's a film about people who race and why they do it, and what it does to them. It's about the human condition, about why we push, no matter what the risk, in order to feel like we've achieved something bigger than ourselves. The risks are great at the sharp-end of motor racing, but the same desire for life is no less vital to any loving, feeling individual, yearning to touch the white-hot center of their short existence on this spinning Blue rock, speeding through the vacuum of time and space.

Lead image, muchismas gracias de; all video clips, muchismas gracias de; historical references, muchismas gracias de Viva Steve McQueen!