29 May 2013

Notes from William Friedkin

"Well, I told you already I was arrogant...

 I was called into a meeting with the heads of Paramount and with the heads of Universal, a guy named Sid Sheinberg and Barry Diller. And they asked me to come to meet with them; they wanted to give me some notes; they wanted to help the director. And so I thought what the hell could these guys tell me? So I said, if you’re going to give me notes, I want to bring my writer and my film editor into this meeting. And they didn’t like that because they didn’t like dealing with the guys who really made the film. They wanted to deal with ‘above the title’ guys. I said no, I wanna have my writer and editor; both editors there, the editor and his assistant. And they reluctantly agreed. 

So then I told Buck Smith, the editor, and Wally Green, and the assistant editor, Ed Humphreys, I’m going to take you into this meeting, into the private dining room at Universal, and they’re going to give notes. And he’s what I want you guys to do… Don’t shave the night before. Wear your shirt buttoned incorrectly, wear mismatched socks, walk in with your shoes untied and then when you sit down, don’t react to anything I say or do.  No reaction, and when they’re talking, just stare at them, like this-  Don’t nod your head, when they’re making these suggestions, don’t go ya, or take notes or anything, just stare at them as though they are from Mars or something. And that’s what we did.

The lunch order comes around, waiters in black tie and stuff, and everyone ordered an iced tea to start with, and I ordered a bottle of Smirnoff. And they started in with their notes, and they were surprised because I told the waiter, I don’t want a glass. So while they’re sipping their iced teas, and getting together their notes, I opened the bottle and I started to drink from the bottle. And they didn’t say anything, they just started giving us notes. We just stared at them. And then about 10 or 15 minutes into this, I fell out of my chair and fell on the floor. I wasn’t drunk, I had a high tolerance for alcohol, I just fell on the floor, and they didn’t say anything.  After a few more minutes, they turned to Wally Green, and said, “Does this happen often?” And he said “Everyday.” 

 The notes went by, the meeting was over, I had my guys carry me out of there and then I thought about- I said to them, look, I don’t shoot inserts, I’m not going to make inserts of the odometers- well, unless, I said to Mr. Diller, you want to send me back to Mexico to shoot some inserts of the truck. He said No, no, no- never mind, it’s ok. But then I thought they were right, and I actually shot the inserts. We shot the inserts on the back lot of Universal.

That was my reaction to my notes. No quarter given. Remember, in order to succeed in those days, you had to make the heads of the studios, in order to let you alone, you had to make them think you were psychologically unsettling. You had to make them believe you would of anything. So they basically didn’t bother with me, because I did that on The Exorcist, you know, they thought I was so nuts, that they just let me alone. They figured, if there was a problem, and I imploded, the film would implode too. So that was a strategy I had active in those days."

William Friedkin on the making of The Sorcerer (1977) at BAM, 2 May 2013, See the entire Q&A here.

28 May 2013

Which Is It?

At six or seven, I got a little teary eyed after watching a Matador's freshly killed bull being dragged out of the stadium by horses. As the blood was being hosed away, The Old Man looked at me and said, "Hey, you either root for the Matador or the bull."

27 May 2013

Happy - You Don't Know Shit From Shinola - Memorial Day

Always a problem... shit from Shinola (shine-oh-la)

I heard it growing up but,  being an Army Brat,  I was exposed to a lotta confusing military metaphors.  A favorite of the Old Man's was, "He couldn't pour piss out of a shoe." When I joined the Army, a less elegant but still charming version was heard in Basic Training, "He couldn't pour piss out of a boot with a direction arrow on the heel."  As a kid, I wondered why anyone would pour piss out of a shoe much less,  how the piss got in the shoe to begin with. As a recruit, it quickly became obvious that, "piss out of a shoe (or boot)" was all about incompetence --Of which there was a great deal in Basic Training on behalf of myself, my fellow recruits and the US Army.

These logophile nuggets increased through training.  Drill Sergeant Hunt was fond of, "If your brains were gasoline there wouldn't be enough to power a piss ant motorcycle half way 'round a fucking dime." Or, "If your brains were cotton there wouldn't be enough for a piss ant tampax."  Obviously Hunt had something for piss ants.  My favorite was, "You people move like old people fuck."  Not sure why other than I'm very visual and any sexual fantasy in Basic Training was welcome.   

Infantry school introduced me to, "He couldn't piss up a rope."  Again, a perplexing statement when taken out of  Army context but eloquent in describing raging incompetence with so few words. By Jump School, things got strange with the 'Black Hat' from South Texas who called everybody, "Stevie Wonder." If he caught you chewing gum, he took it out of your mouth and put in his adding, "You chewed all the flavor outta this gum, Stevie Wonder. Why would you do that to me?"

Using expressions like these, once assigned to a unit, were frowned upon. They had become tired and over used -- Much like double monks.  Barrack's poets would take the stage and while the target was the same incompetence...be it the Army or a man other (than yourself), personal style ruled -- I'll never forget the bookish and frequently busted 30-something Spec 5 from Los Angeles who called the XVIII Airborne Corps G-3 Sergeant Major, "An unmitigated asshole." At 19, I had no idea what 'unmitigated' meant but there was beauty in the meter of it that I still find attractive today.

I drove for a colonel, later a general, who left a briefing, climbed into my jeep, turned to me and said, "Tinseth, I'm so confused I don't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass." I dunno...I think the Spec 5 has it over the colonel. 

When I asked my Old Man what Shinola was, he explained it was boot polish and the origin of the phrase went as far back as WWII.  I didn't say anything but all I could think of was, why did black boot polish look like shit?  Was everyone eating black beans and rice?  What it took years for me to figure out (piss ant brains) was that the Army of WWII wore brown boots and Shinola made a brown polish. So... now you know, Stevie Wonder.

26 May 2013


'Morning Prep' by Robert Bates, USMC

Ron Capps, retired Army and Foreign Service officer and currently director of the Veteran's Writing Project, asked if he could use my story, 'The Indian Chief,' for the Spring issue of the VWP's literary journal, "O-Dark-Thirty." Having no idea who Capps or the VWP was, I did some digging and was surprised by what I found -- An organization dedicated to publishing stories by military veterans, their family members as well as free writing seminars, many offering free travel to and from.  The web site is here and the Spring issue of the journal is here.

24 May 2013

The College Graduation Party

College Graduation Party, St Augustine Beach, 1984 (photo by M.E.)

From Left: Teen, Kennedy, Tintin, Troyer, Dr. Van Lueven,  Ledbetter and "Man wants a case of beer" Harvey

19 May 2013

You Can Buy Me A Beer

Basic Training, Ft Jackson, 19 May 1976

How do I get outta here?

The minute the photographer (maroon polyester sport coat & grey Sansabelts) triggered the shutter release, I turned to watch a car drive by. I remember wishing, in that exact moment, that I was in that car and leaving what was, up to that point in my life, the biggest mistake I ever made.  I like to tell folks who are curious about what the Army's like, "It's as close as you can get to being in jail." 

Basic training started 37 years ago today.  Put another terrifying way...when I entered the service, 1940 was 36 years ago.  You always wore a uniform flying commercial...not because you were required to... but because some WWII  veteran would buy you a beer or two at the airport bar in Atlanta.  The saying back then was, if you die and go to Hell, you'll have a stop over in Atlanta.  I listened to their stories and I saw some eyes well up.  Like mine sometimes do... when I tell a story today.  Maybe that comes with being over 50.

Thoughts of the Army are complicated.  When watching the light show of tracer ball on a night range during basic training -- A moment of clarity dawned on me. I realized I could easily be on the receiving end.  Not the best motivation for an infantryman.  When starting any training, all I wanted to know was, "When is this over? What's the date?" As long as I had a date - you could shit on my head all you wanted - just so I knew I was leaving by a certain square on the calender.

What I loved? We were all in the same boat.  That's really what comradeship is all about...an equality of being screwed or what was called, "BOHICA." Bend Over Here It Comes Again. About the only place I feel a sharing of misery in civilian life is being stuck in traffic.

After a couple of years I started to happily settle into Army life.  But mysteries persisted.  I knew highly honorable and ethical men...who slept with their best friend's wives. There was this law that you didn't plank another soldier's wife but 'horny' always seemed to get in the way.  Consequently, Army life was a huge soap opera with loads of messy divorces and spousal abuse...on both sides. A man I worked with, the incomparably cool, Sergeant Knight, would come to work with cuts and bruises. He would tell us he fell, he cut himself, he tripped...One day he disappeared and we would learn his wife, who was the origin of his many injuries, almost killed him.

I heard nightmares of Vietnam veterans in the field.  It got to the point where you heard the screaming, knew what it was and rolled over under a mosquito bar... giving it no more thought than what was for breakfast.  What I can see now, not then, but now...we were all part of a thing bigger than ourselves.  You took the good with the bad but in the end...we were contributing to something important. It's hard to feel the same way about selling insurance.

So if you see me in the airport -- don't thank me for my service.  Buy me a beer and I'll tell you a story.

18 May 2013

On the Shore

The Delays are that Summer kind of band full of wind -- A Summer Wind -- Loaded with hope and bubble gum. Back when you were crisp... and feeling like you belonged. In your starched white shirt. Sitting on the beach. Eating tomato sandwiches on white bread with mayo.  But for now, just shut the fuck up and listen.

17 May 2013

Friday Nights & Afropop

Daara J from Senegal

1989 - I remember the drive home from work on Friday nights in an '86 maroon Jetta with a dying heater that smelled like feet, under arm and crotch...all at the same time. The radio was tuned to NPR and the whining news was followed by by Georges Collinet, radio host of Afropop.  It was perfect for Friday nights. The end of the week being wide open to new music. Hell, new anything.

Collinet's beautiful voice...happy and surprised at the same time...introduced groups I never heard of. Back then it wasn't easy tracking them down. Not so hard today. Daara J's, 'Paris Dakar' (featuring Disiz La Peste) was a favorite back in 2003. Date night is Saturday night but Friday nights are for what you don't know -- and it might very well kill you.

16 May 2013

Jean Shepherd's, "Mabel, Black Label"

"I must admit...I've always had a thing for Mable.
I see her -- Some nights in crowds.
Untouchable....in the dark American streets."
Jean Shepherd

13 May 2013

Hanging On by the Skin of it's Closed Vent Suit

There was an easy scruffiness to Philadelphia in the '80s.  A Center City news stand sold half cover M magazines for half price. Innocent ignorance would be corrected by a girl friend, later a wife, later an ex-wife, who knew the owner was returning half covers as unsold and selling the magazines at a discount. Philly always had an angle and while everyone seemed to come from money -- no one ever had any. 

Private clubs in Philadelphia were everywhere; thread bare and worn.  Boat House Row gets my vote for most thread bare. Schuylkill means hidden river in Dutch but unlike NYC, not much was hidden in Philadelphia.  I was in my senior year of college in January '84, but would work for a year in Philadelphia in 1986 and it was not at all unusual to see men wearing a straw boater hat and seersucker suit strolling east on Samson and entering the Union League Club through the back entrance.  Mostly, people were what they said they were and save for Chicago, I've never known a less pretentious city.

There was an active social scene and I was invited to a party at the Vesper Club Boat House Row.  It's one thing to be a Naval officer's son - - quite the other to be a Green Beret officer's son. No one cared. There was a diverse mix of Jews, blacks and gays at these parties and I'll never forget a beautiful Iranian woman who owned an art gallery. She almost had me taking Farsi lessons.  What was important was your attire. An Italian friend, a Mummer, might have problems at the Vesper. Sammy had that, South Philly-closed vent suit- tone on tone shirt- grey leather shoes- thing going on and he always wore a crucifix explaining he wasn't religious...he just didn't want to be mistaken for being Jewish.

Late Friday night,  I walk by an old brownstone on Spruce and hear a band playing.  I slow to listen and overhear someone say the Hooters are practicing.  I pass the onlookers as the bass line of 'All You Zombies' thumps in time to my cadence. 

In 2001, I moved back -- after 15 years. Looking for something. But Philadelphia turned into a city of Zombies.  Gutted, vacant, broke and hanging on by the skin of its closed vent suit, it seemed ready for a revival.  A diamond in the rough just waiting...

12 May 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Hampton, VA 1973 -  Beau sits between my mother and sister

It pains me to reveal I had a poodle growing up but it wasn't my dog.  It was every bit my mother's dog. Beau once ate a  big box of Crayola crayons -- The one with the sharpener on the back. For a couple days he'd shit a pile of multi-colored poop.  Years later,  on my first business trip to South Beach Miami, I wasn't all that surprised by the similarity of South Beach to Beau's Crayola crap.

06 May 2013

How To Layer Summer

Hermès, 1995

Linen Crepe
Silk Twill

05 May 2013

A Stirring Story

Crate&Barrel Martini Pitcher

My mother hired me to tend bar for a party in her home the Summer between my leaving the Army and starting college.  It was mostly opening beer bottles, pouring white wine and sloshing together the occasional G&T or V&T.

A neighbor, who had flown B-17s in WWII, dated Suzanne Pleshette and wrote for Esquire in the late '50s, approached my bar in the kitchen, flashed his brilliant smile and asked for a gin martini. For years, I had made martinis for the Old Man. That  consisted of taking a bottle of Beefeater and a martini glass out of the freezer, filling the glass with syrupy chilled gin and adding a couple olives. It was how the old man liked it -- It was how I liked it.

I explain to Bernie there's no gin in the freezer and he scoffs, "You don't make martinis with frozen gin." I'm guessing Bernie was in his early sixties then. "Got a pitcher?" We find the appropriate mid 20th century Danish glass vessel and set to work. Bernie pours eight ounces of gin, adds a teaspoon of dry Vermouth and throws in a couple handfuls of ice.

Etsy Italian Martini Pitcher

I volunteer my unsolicited wisdom of 22 years, "Stirred, not shaken? I never understood that. Doesn't get cold enough. I'd rather just have it out of the freezer." Bernie stir's the pitcher with a glass rod, "The gin needs the dilution from the ice," Bernie says while the ice sounds like the high keys of a piano. I shake my head, "Bernie, this could take years." Bernie looks surprised, "You have someplace to go?" "No," I admit, "Not at ten bucks an hour." Bernie asks if I've decided my major. "English," I say proudly.

The glass rod continues counter clockwise. Bernie stares into the pitcher, smiles and looks up at me, "I was an English major." Bernie pauses and stirs...I'll tell you a story every English major should know. Sadly, most don't. Lost to time, I guess." "Sure," I say and wonder if this is when Bernie'll tell me how he planked Suzanne Pleshette.

"So," Bernie stirs, "Oscar Wilde was released from a prison in Reading after serving a couple years for sodomy. Everyone knew it was with Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry." "The boxing Queensberry?" I ask. Bernie stirs and nods, "Mmmm, Alfred was known among his friends as Bosie. His father, the Marquess, had it in for Wilde. Set Wilde up - although in the trial it was Wilde who put himself in jail." "Really?" I say, lost in the pentameter of the glass rod.

Slope Martini Pitcher

"It's true," Bernie says. "Wilde's released in the late afternoon and since London's almost a day away by coach, he looked for a hotel room in town.  Everywhere he went, once he signed the register, he was told to leave. He drags himself into a tiny inn and explains to the innkeeper, "Look, I'm Oscar Wilde. I have served two years hard labor for my crime, I've learned my lesson and have turned over a new leaf. I've been turned away from every inn and am desperate for a room. Would you help me, sir?" The pitcher frosts with the chill of ice as Bernie maintains his stirring cadence."

"So what did the innkeeper do?" I ask. Bernie smiles, "What could he do? He rings for a page and instructs the young man to carry Wilde's bags to his room. Wilde thanks the innkeeper and follows the young man up the stairs. Five minutes go by and no page.  Then 10, 15. Finally, a half hour later the page still hasn't returned. The innkeeper trudges up the stairs and knocks on Wilde's door. No answer." Juniper wafts around our heads and it whets my appetite like garlic hitting hot olive oil.

Orrefors Martini Pitcher

"You do have olives?" Bernie asks. "Sure," I grab a Manzanilla bottle from the fridge. Bernie hums to himself while I open the olive jar and ask, "So, no answer at the door?" I bring Bernie back from some place far away. I'm guessing he's with Suzanne Pleshette. I know I'd be. "No answer at the door. So the innkeeper pulls out a key, opens the door and there's Wilde, stark naked in bed with the page, also naked. The innkeeper, shocked, says, 'Mr Wilde! You assured me you had turned over a new leaf!' Wilde looks up at the innkeeper and says, 'And I promise I will, sir - - Just as soon as I get to the bottom of this page.'"

You probably had to have been an English major to appreciate this -- but every man should have his own martini pitcher and stirring story. 

02 May 2013

Support Your Local Bartender

"Human beings are at their best in bars." Alec Waugh.

The Bartender... I've known a few. Some more intimate than others. I have a standing rule with the profession. Don't drink to an excess in their presence. If I do manage to get over served, I leave immediately. I want to to come back and be welcomed, and frankly, I don't think anything leaves a bad memory more than a drunk in a bar.

If a woman tries to pick you up at the bar it's always best to leave with her. Even if you just take her to her door. Your bartender doesn't have to know and you don't have to tell him. But he'll remember when you return. He doesn't want to know anything and it would be bad form to bring it up. Instead, he'll grab the bar in fornt of you with both hands and smile, "Whadaya have?" And that's all that needs to be said about that.

Do not tell your bartender how to make a drink. Either in conversation or on anything as vulgar as the other side of your business card. If your barman is incapable, suck up what he fixed and order an idiot proof beer or glass of wine. Hopefully you'll be picked up and can leave immediately.

Do not make a meal of the nut dish. One bowl and no more than two. Same to be said for martini olives. Only women ask for more than three. Besides, you can't afford to lose that much displacement.

Get to know your barman. His past, his loves, his hopes. Often this works far better than over tipping... except in NYC. A bartender at the Union League in Philadelphia took me to a strip club where we bonded over red heads. What he called, "Strawberry Shortcake."  I rarely received a free drink but he always took good care of me. I took a bar maid to a black tie charity auction in Chicago. She became a warehouse of free drinks. So much so I stopped going for fear she'd be fired.

Never forget a good bartender. In 1985, I went to Harry's Bar in Philadelphia and had one of the best gin martinis of my life. I returned to the city 16 yrs later and mentioned the bar, sadly closed, to a local who told me,  "He's at the Liberty Place Westin now." I went to the Westin and there he was. "Murray, you're the only reason I came back to this goddamn city." Murray, like any man, is proud of his work and a sincere compliment goes a long way.

If you can tell a story-- tell it to the bartender. It can't be long. And it has to be your story. Not a joke. For instance, the bartender suggests a double Johnny Walker Blue and you reply, "That's like saying there goes a really good looking nun." Somebody at the bar says, "Well, that's his tale of woe" and you reply, "Sadly, there's a lot more woe than there is tail in this world." Your bartender may have heard these but they're used as simple exclamation points.

Conversation is key. I mean, why would you even be in a bar unless you wanted to converse? Which is when we're really at our best.