Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Inglourious Basterds~ A Review

The DVD cover describes Inglourious Basterds as a "revenge fantasy" and to a certain extent that's true, but it's a revenge fantasy that causes the viewer to re-examine the whole concept of revenge.

SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven't seen Inglourious Basterds, and intend to, stop reading now.

In the opening scene, we see a cottage in 1941 France from far off, and as the scene unfolds it becomes instantly clear that Director Quentin Tarantino is, once again, paying homage to films that influenced him as a young man, and as a young film maker. In this case, QT recalls the opening scene from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, right down to the spaghetti western music.

The main villain in the film, Col. Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, interrogates Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet), the Frenchman who owns the dairy farm on which the cottage sits. His 3 daughters are sent outside so Landa can speak frankly with LaPadite, and once they are gone we are treated to a very tense interview in which Landa verifies that LaPadite knows of his, Landa's, reputation around France, that of "The Jew Hunter," the nickname bestowed upon him by those living in occupied France. LaPadite acknowledges that he knows of  Landa's reputation, but claims to have no interest in nicknames or political gossip.

QT then pans the camera through the floorboards to reveal a family of Jews, the Dryfuses, frozen in terror as they hide in the crawlspace beneath the cottage floor. Cracks in the floorboards allow them to see Landa, and hear the conversation that takes place. It's at this point that QT uses another tried and true method of segueing from French to English; Landa explains that his French is bad, he knows that LaPdite doesn't speak German, but understands that they both speak English. In the course of discussion, Landa tells LaPadite that while the house had been previously searched, 1 Jewish family, the Dryfuses, also dairy farmers from the area, are unaccounted for. Waltz does a marvelous job in conveying the sinister motive that brought him to the farm without actually divulging it. He asks LaPadite if he's ever heard of the family while drinking a cold glass of milk. He explains that his men, waiting outside, are going to search the house again because the previous search had been conducted by a predecessor who had a reputation for not paying attention to details.

"He had the mindset of a hawk, rather than that of a rat. When looking for rats," says Landa "one needs to think like a rat."

Landa then offers LaPadite a deal. Save him the bother of tearing the house apart, tell him where the Jews are hiding, and he promises that LaPadite will never be harassed by the occupying German troops again. We see a tear roll down LaPadite's cheek, and a grim nod of acceptance. He points to the floor. Landa pretends to thank LaPadite and walks to the front door while saying adieu, only to wave his men into the cottage. We see the boots walking across the floor, and the bullet holes as they open fire with machine guns. A masterfully shot sequence by QT, culminating with an exterior shot of a trap door on the side of the cottage flying open, and one of the hidden Jews, Shosanna Dryfus, running across a field trying to escape. QT uses John Ford's classic out the door shot from The Searchers to frame Landa, who stands in the doorway, watching the young girl, as she sprints toward the horizon. He levels his luger, and sights Shosanna in, and then grins. He lowers his weapon and shouts encouragement to the girl to keep running. "Bon jour Shosanna!" he shouts, and then smiles. The hunter.

It's at this point that QT introduces the title characters, 8 soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine. With an overhead shot of the 8 Basterds standing in a line in an open courtyard, waiting to be reviewed and addressed by Aldo, we see another example of QT's use of previous WWII movies as inspiration, in this case an almost exact duplicate of the line-up scene from The Dirty Dozen.

Tennessean Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt,(who speaks with an accent that is a cross between Matthew McConaughey and Slingblade) explains the mission to the Basterds. "We need eight Jewish Americans. We kill NAT-zees. We find 'em, and we kill 'em. But before you can actually join the club and be true fuckin' NAT-zee killers, you owe me a debit, and for you to pay off that debit, I'm gonna need one hundred natzee scalps from each one of ya."

QT jumps again to a scene where the Basterds have ambushed a German patrol and are trying to gain information from their prisoners. When one refuses to reveal the exact location of a German squad down the road, QT gives us a close up shot of a German soldier being scalped. A K-Bar is dragged across his head to horrified shrieks, and we see a human head from above, sans skin and hair. The Basterd laughs and throws the skin/hair to the ground before shooting the guy. It's at this point that the viewer is challenged to consider another group of crusaders who practiced scalping of people they considered villains. We (I) suddenly place the Basterds in the role of American Indians, and we're forced to see the Nazis as the cowboys who rode across the west during America's conquering of a continent.

Once again as in many previous films, Tarantino confuses us as to the identity of the "bad guys." The scene ends with the legendary (among Germans) Bear Jew, Sgt. Donnie Donowitz (Eli Roth), who's become famous by bashing Nazi skulls with a Louisville Slugger, emerging from a dark tunnel. Raine has offered the Nazi in charge a chance to spill his guts about the squad location, and if he refuses he is assured that The Bear Jew is going to play DH and knock his fucking head apart.

"Fuck YOU!!" hisses the German, and the Basterds all share a laugh as Donowitz approaches calmly and pummels the guy's skull to a fucking pulp. In typical QT fashion, we are spared nothing in detail, including the sound of a cracking skull.

We then see Shosanna, played wonderfully by Melanie Laurent, 3 years later, on a ladder changing the letters of a marquee in front of a French theater. It's there that she meets Fredrick Zoller, a German soldier who's become famous for his exploits in battle. Young, handsome, and a he develops a quick attraction for Shosanna who snubs him with every advance. Zoller, as it turns out, is the subject of a new propaganda film Nation's Pride made by Joseph Goebbels. Zoller is instantly smitten with Shosanna, and she is sickened by him. Eventually, in an attempt to impress Shosanna, Zoller convinces Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to premier the film at Shosanna's 350 seat theater.

There is heavy German security surrounding the premier, led by Landa, as it will be attended by Goebbels, Goerring, Borman, and Hitler himself.

Landa is doing advance security work, and it is during Shosanna's introductory lunch with Goebbels that Landa decides to sit down at the table and ask a few questions of the young theater owner. She freezes at the sight of the asshole that machine-gunned her family years previous, but is able to compose herself sufficiently to carry off the ruse. Landa insists that they share a piece of strudel, and he orders a glass of milk for Shosanna.

Milk again.

QT then shoots a very odd scene at British HQ which involves Churchill (Rod Taylor) and Gen. Ed Fenech (Mike Myers, yes Austin Powers) discussing the British plan, named Operation Kino, to air drop 3 special forces types into France and kill every Nazi in Shosanna's theater during the showing of Zoller's movie. Fenech says "All the rotten eggs in one basket." which harkens back to the exact same line delivered by the POW camp leader in The Great Escape.

QT seems to never position his camera closer than 25 feet away from the characters, and in doing so not only makes them seem very small in relation to the enormous room, but also implies a diminished British role in the defeat of the Nazis.

Once the 3 special forces types are dropped, they meet up with a German actress, Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is a double-agent and who intends to help the 3 Brits gain entry to Shosanna's theater on premier night. The scene where they meet takes place in a basement pub, which was supposed to be a nice quiet place but which is unfortunately being used by a table-load of Nazis who are celebrating the birth of Maximillian, son of one of the soldiers. As the Brits enter, wearing German uniforms, they see Bridget playing Louisiane , the French version of the American drinking game "Indian." You know, the one where everyone holds a card against their foreheads. Everyone is drunk, and the Brits get nervous.

Bridget welcomes them as old friends and they take their seats at another table. Whiskey is ordered and the Brits mumble suspicions about Bridget luring them into a trap. She assures them that the Germans are there on special leave, that one has just become a father, and that there is nothing to worry about. At this point, Maximillian's drunken father, Wilhelm, stumbles over to ask Bridget for an autograph for his new son, and she happily obliges, signing a napkin and placing the big red lipstick kiss under her signature. The German sits down and starts up with some small talk, which makes the Brits even more nervous and one of them barks in German that "this is an officer's table, and you're annoying us." Max's dad remarks that he doesn't recognize that particular accent and asks the Brit what part of Deutschland he's from.

A mumbled explanation is proffered followed by a repeated insistence that the German leave the table, and it's here that we meet a Gestapo officer who's been sitting quietly in the corner. He too wants to know where that accent is from and QT uses this moment to brilliantly build tension while fake NAT-zees have a showdown with a real Nazi. After playing a gratuitous game of Louisiane, the Gestapo officer declares an end to the patronizing bullshit and tells the Brit that he's no more German than the 33 year old Scotch the 3 Brits are drinking.

Guns are drawn, and we get a Tarantino showdown, in this case each person pointing a gun at the balls of someone else. The Brit stops with the fake German, finishes his drink, and asks essentially "Well, what now?"

What now is the gunfight that leaves everyone dead except Bridget and Max's dad, and from outside the pub Aldo Raine shouts down. "We have a deal to offer you. Drop your gun Willy! I'll come down unarmed and take the girl. You can leave unharmed." After some bargaining, Willy agrees, and drops his machine gun, at which point Bridget shoots him to death. Again, we find ourselves (me) feeling a certain sympathy for what would should be clearly the bad guy.

Turns out Bridget's taken one in the leg, and Aldo takes her to a veterinarian to get fixed up. Aldo voices his concern about why Bridget would lead the Brits into a pub filled with NAT-zees, and she explains Max's birth and Wilhem's special leave. The whole thing she says is a "tragic coincidence."

"We have another word fer that. Suh-spee-shus." says Aldo. Eventually, after some brief torture, Aldo decides to trust Bridget, and they formulate a plan for the Basterds to take the place of the Brits at the premier.

In typical Tarantino fashion, we have no idea how the Basterds have survived for so long in France, nor how they wound up at the premier wearing tuxedos, but Brad Pitt's fake Italian is worth the price of the movie alone.

When Bridget is approached by Landa in the cinema lobby, he asks why she's wearing a cast on her left leg. (A cast that elevates her heel 5" off the floor to match her fuck me pump on the right. Hilarious sight gag.) She tells Landa that she was "mountain climbing." Landa begins laughing uncontrollably, and then stifles his laughter in a flash. He asks Bridget to introduce her escorts, to which she explains that they speak no German. "They are Italian." she says. "This is my date for the evening, the famous stunt man Enzo Carlomi. (Pitt) This is the cameraman Antonio Margharetti (Donowitz, The Bear Jew) and this is his assistant Dominic Decocco. Landa (who already knows the plan, having found Bridget's autograph and an expensive designer shoe in the rubble of the shot-up pub) plays stupid and asks Aldo to pronounce his name, repeatedly. With each pronunciation, Aldo says it slightly differently, and with each try sounds more like a Tennessee hillbilly trying to fake Italian.


"Again please?"


"Once more."


Landa pretends to buy it, and tells 2 of the Basterds, Margharetti and Decocco, (Pvt. Omar and Sgt. Donowitz) to have a nice night. They take turns faking Italian arrivedercis , culminating with Aldo bidding his friends "Uh-ree-vuh-der-chee."

As Aldo and Bridget begin to excuse themselves to take their seats Landa asks Bridget for a word in private, and once in his office he tells her he knows that she's a double agent, proving it by making her slip the shoe he found in the pub onto her one good foot. She shrugs, and asks "Now what?" at which point Landa dives across and takes about 30 seconds to strangle Bridget to death. Tarantino's camera work here is stunning, and the close-up of Bridget's struggle for life is shattering.

Landa orders Raine "arrested" and he is taken from the building, hooded and screaming "Get yer stinking fuckin' natzee hands off o me you natzee sons-o-bitches." We are then whisked away to another building, with Landa already waiting for Aldo, and he briefly interrogates him and Pvt Utivich (B.J. Novak) before offering him a deal. Landa explains that he alone has the power to ruin Operation Kino with one phone call, but that he also has the power to end the war by allowing the slaughter of the German High Command to take place. The two Basterds, Donowitz and Omar, were intentionally allowed by Landa to enter the Nazi filled theater with large amounts of explosives strapped to their legs. While interrogating/negotiating with Raine, Landa mentions that strapping explosives to one's body "Sure sounds like a terrorist plot to me!" and we are again left re-examining the good guy/ bad guy thing with obvious modern interpretations.
After a brief radio call with to American OSS general, who sounds very much like Harvey Keitel, Landa cuts the deal which includes land on Cape Cod, full US citizenship, and a Congressional Medal of Honor for serving as a deep cover double agent.

The stage is set, so to speak, for the big closing scene in which the Basterds trap the Nazi High Command in a French theater. As the Nazis watch some Zoller/Goebbels propaganda, doors are locked, bars are stuck in handles, deadbolts are thrown, and guards are murdered.

Shosanna's projectionist/lover Marcel, a "negro" has been given the night off at the behest of Goebbels, and he takes the opportunity to go behind the screen to have a smoke, while standing in front of a mountain of nitrate film that he's piled there. This is apparently a message from Tarantino about the preservation of old film, and a reminder that back in the day movies were indeed highly flammable.

At the high point of the agit-prop film, we see a scene that Shosanna has carefully spliced in. Shocked faces on the Nazi audience as her hysterical laugh tells the gathered crowd that they are about to die at the hands of a Jew. Revenge.

Marcel flips his ciggie into the pile of nitrate film, and the place goes up like napalm. We get shots of panicked Germans trying to batter down the exit doors as the entire theater is engulfed in flames, and 2 of the Basterds spraying the entire frantic crowd with machine gun fire. Finally, we see one Basterd turn a frightened Adolf Hitler into Swiss cheese with his machine gun. The two remaining Basterds then detonate their hidden explosives, making themselves suicide bombers, and the theater is obliterated along with everyone in it including Shosanna, Marcel, and many "innocent" guests of the Nazis.

This is one of those points in the movie, along with the scalpings and the killing of Wilhelm in the pub, that we find ourselves reconsidering revenge. If revenge means that we do things that would be normally appalling to us, things that are seen as criminal monstrous acts by our "enemies", then we must accept the fact that our enemies see us as monsters as well.

Finally, at the perimeter of the fighting, right at American lines, the truck transporting Aldo and the surviving Basterds as well as Landa stops and they are released. Aldo insists that he be allowed to handcuff Landa to complete the deception, and while still looking straight at Landa, Aldo shoots the truck driver in a killing reminiscent of the "Oh I'm sorry, did I break your concentration?" scene in Pulp Fiction. (Samuel L Jackson handles much of the voice over narration in Inglourious Basterds.)

Landa is outraged but resigns himself to being cuffed and taken behind American lines, but before doing that, Aldo explains that he's sure that once Landa reaches Cape Cod he's sure that Landa will want to remove his Nazi uniform. That is unacceptable to Aldo, and so to assure that Landa will always carry a mark with him to reveal who he is, he carves a giant swastika into Landa's forehead, from hairline to eyebrows.

Tarantino's final shots are a close up of that knife carefully slicing into the Nazi's head, followed by a satisfied smile from Aldo that he has the design just right.

I know this review reads more like a book report, but that's what one gets when trying to dig into a Quentin Tarantino movie. Messages are rarely clear-cut, we are constantly challenged to put ourselves in someone else's shoes ( "The shoe's on the other foot." says Aldo after being apprehended.), and when it's all over we find ourselves wondering what the fuck we just saw.

It's a beautifully crafted movie, filled with crackling dialogue, and despite the end-to-end carnage we're able to focus on the story being told. Definitely a fantasy, a revenge fantasy, but in making Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino has caused me to conclude that WWII's actual storyline, and its conclusion are more fitting than any "USA rides to the rescue" tale.

I think Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino's finest effort to date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Deadliest Catch

For those unfamiliar with it, The Deadliest Catch is a show on Discovery that documents the Alaskan King Crab and Opelio Crab fleet's adventures. It's astonishing to watch what these fuckers go through. The job is called the most dangerous in the world, and it's an unusual season when no lives are lost.

The fleet is based for the most part in Dutch Harbor, Alaska and the show centers around maybe 8 or 10 of the individual boats, depending on the season. The personalities are colorful to say the least.

Became addicted to this damned show the first time I watched it, and now it's gotten to the extent that I know the names of the boats, the deckhands, the greenhorns (noobs) and the captains.

There's a 140 foot ship called the Northwestern that's skippered by a Norwegian guy named Sig Hansen, Sig's my favorite. His brother Edgar is the real shit too.

Edgar is like MacGyver. There was one episode where, in the middle of a raging storm on the Bering Sea, the Northwestern's boom snapped. A big swing-arm thing that holds the pulley they use to hoist the crab pots out of the water. Now these pots weigh upwards of a thousand pounds when empty, and maybe half again as much when full of crab. A critical piece of equipment, and one of the linkage arms broke.

As the ship was rolling in 30 foot seas, with waves crashing over the bow, Edgar Hansen climbed up onto the boom with an arc welder and did a temporary repair. Hanging on for dear life with one arm, and welding with the other, Edgar saved the day and a few hundred thousand dollars worth of crab that would have been lost had the Northwestern been unable to hoist these fucking pots up from the depths.

Edgar climbed down, smiled at the camera, shrugged his shoulders like it was no big fuckin' deal, and lit a smoke.

They argue like crazy, all of them, mainly because they're under incredible stress, and they chain-smoke like motherfuckers. In one episode last season, they featured Captain Sig's attempt to quit smoking. From my estimate, he appears to be something like a 3 or 4 pack a day smoker. Constantly smoking. Constantly. As a smoker myself, and one who is trying to quit, I watched that one with great interest. At first, Sig was okay. He had the gum, the patches, and plenty of resolve. Then came the -20 temps, the 28 foot swells, and the half-million buck haul that he was gunning for.

Sig's smoke-out lasted for 3 hours.

There is enormous competition in the fleet because huge sums of money are on the line. A recently applied quota system has leveled the field a bit but they still see each other as competition. They all know each other intimately, and have for years. It's friendly rivalry, but it's rivalry to be sure. Once the season is over, they're having drinks together. But when the fishing is on, it's game on. They have rules, and rules are not broken. You don't plop your crab pots on top of another boat's pots. Go someplace else to fish asshole, I was here first.

There was an episode that featured a captain named Keith Colburn, and his boat The Wizard. Capt. Keith made the mistake of putting a few of his string of pots on top of those dropped by Capt. Phil Harris' and the crew of the Cornelia Marie. While filming, they went inside the pilot house with Phil Harris and that dude was beyond fucking pissed. I thought his eyeballs were going to explode.

He looked at the camera and said "Ahhh that bleeping Keith. What a bleeping bleep hole. Can't fish for bleep, so he follows me around. Well, any semblance of a friendship we might have had is gone. That bleeping bleephole!"

Then they cut to a camera aboard the Wizard, and there's Keith telling the audience, "Yeah right, I'll bet Phil's over there right now calling me a bleeping bleephole because I dropped two pots on top of his. Look here at the GPS. That's his string, and this is mine. As soon as I saw his pots, I swung due west. There's no money for either of us if we drop our pots on top of each other! Gimme a bleeping break Phil!"

At the end of the season, Discovery did a year end wrap-up which featured a handful of the captains sitting around a big table having drinks and talking about the season. Phil Harris apologized to Keith Colburn, which you could just tell was not an easy thing for Captain Phil to do.

The Hillstrand brothers were there, Jonathan and Andy, the Hansen brothers, Sig and Edgar, the Harris family, Phil and his sons Jake and Josh, and a couple of others.

It's a family thing; the crab fishing business. The Hansens are 2nd generation, so are the Hillstrands, and Phil Harris is breaking his sons into the game now. And besides the actual family ties, there's a bond shared by everyone in the fleet. It's the same old bond that's been shared by sailors since there have been sailors.

Several episodes of the show have followed the trials of sinking ships or men overboard. They're all in communication with each other, and with the Coast Guard. These maniacs can have 100 crab pots soaking on the bottom, picking up hundreds of crab in each pot, worth thousands and thousands of dollars...and yet, when the call goes over the radio that a ship has triggered the emergency beacon, or a ship is reporting a man overboard, these assholes drop everything and steam full speed to try and help. If they're close enough, that is. Fuck the money, that could be us going down in 31 degree water.

It's an amazingly stressful way to earn a living. The deckhands can make 40-50 grand for 3 months of work, as long as they don't die.

And they all smoke, well almost all of them.

Phil Harris? From what I could tell, we're talking 5 packs a day or more. Voice like broken glass and gravel. Eyeballs sunken deep from lack of sleep. Puff puff puff. Once, Phil had an episode, caught on film, of coughing up blood. He insisted on finishing up the pull (bringing the pots in) before heading in to Dutch Harbor for a check-up at the Emergency Room. Diagnosis? A blood clot had traveled from his leg, through his heart, and into his lung.

Should have died in the pilot house.

But, while waiting for the doctor to tell him what they were going to do about the blood clot, Phil went outside in his paper hospital gown, with the Discovery Channel film crew, to have a smoke. Puff puff puff. Stressed out fucking guy who fought his stress by smoking.

Well, Captain Phil Harris had a massive stroke on January 29th, and passed away yesterday at the age of 53.

Major stress, bad eating, lousy sleep, and tons of cigarettes. Three years older than me.

I guess it shouldn't come as a big surprise that any of us who live like that can go at any time.

I'll bet Captain Sig is seriously thinking about quitting smoking again.

Rest in Peace Captain Phil. A true old-school original.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Only in Illinois

After our primary last week, some rather shocking news broke about the Dem nominee for Lieutenant Governor, Scott Lee Cohen. (Shocking for most places I should say, but about a 6 on the Illinois Shock-o-meter.)

Turns out that Cohen, a former pawnbroker, was accused in 2005 of beating the hell out of his wife (now his ex-wife), and was also accused of abusing anabolic steroids during their marriage. Also alleged is that after confessing to extra-marital affairs, he tried to force his then-wife to have sex with him. When she refused, he flew off in what she refers to as typical rage.

Those accusations came from her during their 2005 divorce case. Other peculiarities surfacing during the last week reveal that Cohen, allegedly, has a rather peculiar fetish involving prosthetic limbs, and according to his ex-wife, a real thing for feet.

In 2005, Cohen was arrested on charges of domestic battery by his then-girlfriend, Amanda Eneman. In the charges filed, Miss Eneman, 29, said that Cohen held a knife to her throat and also that he held her down in bed, presumably against her will. The charges were later dismissed when Miss Eneman failed to appear in court.

It has also come to light that Cohen failed to make child support payments during his run for the Dem nomination for Lieutenant Governor, choosing instead to sink more than $2 million of his own cash into his campaign.

In the last few days, Illinois Dems ranging from Governor Pat Quinn (Cohen's running-mate in the fall general election), Senator Dick Durbin, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have all called for Cohen to step down, while Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has refused to call for Cohen's head saying "It’s a constitutional dilemma. Once you get elected in the primary, no mayor, no newspaper, no citizens can ask you to resign because I don’t like you anymore." (Boy that Richie is quite the quote machine, isn't he?)

It should be noted that Cohen has called on both his ex-wife, and his ex-girlfriend to come forward and speak at length about the accusations. Both have refused.

Also worth mentioning is the fact the while Cohen and Eneman were living together following the Cohen's marital break-up, Miss Eneman was arrested for prostitution,  pleaded guilty, and was given one year probation. Cohen insists that he knew Eneman was a massage therapist at Eden in Glenview, but was completely unaware that she was a prostitute, or of her arrest....while they were living together.

In what has to be the ultimate insult added to injury, in a statement released today by prominent lawyer and Tiger Woods mistress spokesperson, Gloria Allred, the former massage therapist, former Cohen mistress, and convicted prostitute Amanda Eneman....has called for Cohen to step down saying "He's not fit to hold public office."

That's gotta do some damage.

Meanwhile, Illinois Republicans still haven't nominated a candidate for Governor, with State Sen Bill Brady holding roughly a 400 vote lead over Kirk Dillard, and Dillard refusing to concede. Despite the fact the voting took place last Tuesday, there are still over 11,000 absentee ballots to be counted, and Dillard feels that he may still pull this thing out.

I'm not heavy into predictions when it comes to politics, especially the politics of Illinois, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this fall, we're going to elect a Republican Governor, either Brady or Dillard, and a Republican Senator, Mark Kirk.

*** 2/8/10 UPDATE****- Scott Lee Cohen, Democratic Nominee for Illinois Lieutenant Governor withdrew from the General Election at an emotional press conference held during halftime of last night's Super Bowl. With his son Jabba bawling at his side, Cohen cited a conversation he'd had with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as the tipping point. Somehow, after a week of widespread public ridicule, it took a conversation with uber-Dem-insider Madigan to convince Cohen that he was "hurting the Illinois Democratic Party." It just doesn't get weirder than this story. Seriously, a Lieutenant Governor's race that draws national attention? Bye bye Scott, and good riddance. Tell Jabba to lay off the Krispy Kremes.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Panic in Hyde Park

"I'm here to see Dr. Glass. I have a 1:30 appointment."
"Have a seat, it'll be a few minutes. He's just finishing up with a patient."

"Patient? What the fuck does she mean by that? Jesus I'm sweating like a fuckin' pig and the AC is working fine. Why am I sweating? What the fuck is wrong with me? Who the fuck am I? What in the hell is going on in my head? Nice couch. Oh good, Popular Science. What's the point? He'll call me in as soon as I start reading it. What the fuck is wrong with me?"

"Hi Doctor, how are you?"

"Just fine Michael, why don't you have a seat?"


"This is Steve, he's one of my students. Would it be alright with you if he sits in for our first visit?"

"I guess. A student?"

"Yes. The initial diagnosis is very important, and I try to have one of my students sit in for each of them."

"So they can learn how to spot a real crazy person from an average loon right away...."

"I wouldn't put it that way Michael. I'm going to ask you a few questions, and then after you leave Steve and I discuss the various methods of diagnosis based on your symptoms."

"He wants to become a shrink too, and you want to make sure he's a good one."

"I guess you could say that."

"So you're the University of Chicago chief of shrinkology eh?"

"I am."

"Marge M gave me your name. She said you're the best."

"Why don't we get started...tell me what's going on with you."

"I'm going crazy. It happened at 6PM on July 15th."

(smirks at me)

"Yeah I know. It's nuts. I was sitting in my apartment feeling totally normal, and my wife calls from downtown. Wants to know if I feel like going to her brother's house for dinner and a few drinks. I said "sure", hung up the phone, and all of the sudden my mind started going a million miles an hour. Crazy fuckin' shit too. Am I going to die before she gets home? What am I going to wear? What if I start farting uncontrollably at dinner? And then I started sweating like a motherfucker. Like somebody turned on a faucet. Dripping with sweat. And I'm sitting there freaking out, my mind racing like a motherfucker, sweat pouring off my face, ....I had to go outside and breathe fresh air, and then as soon as I went outside, I felt like I had to go back inside because I didn't want to be outside.....see? Look. I'm sweating right now."

"I can see that."

"So my wife gets home, and I tell her I'm going crazy. She looks at me like I'm nuts or something, and I tell her I shouldn't be around people until I figure out what the hell is wrong with me. We canceled the dinner plans, and we just sat in our apartment talking. I'm telling her I think I'm cracking up, going schizo or some fucking thing, and she's trying to calm me down."

"Do you take drugs Mike?"

"No. Well I smoke pot, but that doesn't count."

"How much pot?"

"Every day, but that's not making me nuts. It calms me down."

"Try and go easy on that stuff for now."

"Okay. So anyway, we go to bed, and I can't sleep for shit. My stomach feels like there's a fire inside of it, I'm fuckin' shaking, my hands ..like this....and I'm still fuckin' sweating my balls off, and I feel like I'm about to die, or something completely terrible is about to happen to me. So I get out of bed, and go pull out one of my wife's Psych textbooks. She was a Psych major in college. And I flip to the chapter on abnormal psychology, and I'm reading up on all of this shit, and it's 3 o'clock in the morning, and I'm shaking like a fuckin' leaf, just freakin' out man, freakin' out, and I get to the part about "Generalized Anxiety Disorder." Bingo! That's what I have. It all fits. I go back in the bedroom, and I'm shaking my wife to wake up, and she looks up at me ...like "What?" and I tell her, "Honey, I think I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder."

(Dr. Glass smirks again, and looks at Steve the student, and he's smirking too.)

"You guys think this is funny?"

"You tell a good story Mike. And no it's not funny at all, although the part about waking your wife to tell her you have G.A.D is a bit humorous. You don't have Generalized Anxiety Disorder Mike."

"How do you know that?"

"It's not my first day. So then what did you do?"

"Am I fucking schizo? C'mon R, can I call you R?...tell me. I can take it."

"We'll get to that. What did you do next?"

"The next day I called a friend who's in charge of gastroenterology at Loyola. Marilyn M, you know her?"

"Sure do. She's a fine doctor. She took you right in?"

"Same day."

(Glass looks at Steve with raised eyebrows.)

"Really? She's a very busy woman Mike, you're lucky."

"She's a friend. Went to college with my mother-in-law. Anyway, Marilyn shoots me up with some liquid valium, and waits for about a minute, and nothing happens, and she tells me normally I should be out like a fuckin' light, but I'm sitting there with eyeballs like this 00 and I'm sweating and I'm freakin' out, and my stomach is cranking out acid like nobody's fuckin' business, so after waiting a little bit more for the valium to kick in, she snakes a fuckin' camera down my throat....like deep-throating a fuckin' baseball bat....she looks around, sees some old scar tissue from a duodenal ulcer I had a few years ago, but other than that she comes up with nothing. So I ask her what she thinks I should do."

"The scope showed nothing unusual in your stomach?"

"Right. And I can't figure out why I'm freakin' out, and she's looking at me kinda serious, and she says "Mike, you're Lenore's son-in-law, I have a hard enough time telling patients that I think maybe they should seek alternative treatments, because they might be bringing things like this on themselves, but have you considered..."

"And I figure I should let her off easy, so I finish her sentence for her and I say "A shrink?"

"And she laughs, and sort of shrugs, and then nods her head. So I called Marge, cuz I knew she'd had some issues, and asked her who her shrink was...do you mind if I say shrink?...I mean no offense...."

"Not at all. Just relax."

"Relax? Are you fuckin' kidding me man? I'm freaking out! I'm the calmest guy you ever met normally. Totally in control of my emotions at all times. I like to think very very clearly. I've had teachers tell me that my test scores are up there. Way up there. And here I am feeling like I'm losing my fucking mind. So what's the fucking story? If I don't have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, what do I have?"

"Panic Disorder."

"Panic Disorder? No fuckin' way. I'm not a panicky guy."

"You have a high level of tension. It came on suddenly."

"July 15th, at 6PM."

"You're feeling a sense of impending doom. You're sleep has been disturbed. You're generating excessive stomach acid for unknown reasons. Your mind is racing with unwanted thoughts. Panic Disorder."

"You're the doctor, but I think you're nuts."


"So what do we do?"

"There are various opinions on treatment. I believe they're brought on by an over-production of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, triggering the fight or flight mechanism at inappropriate times."

"Freaking out for no reason."

(grins) "Right. Some doctors suggest cognitive behavioral therapy, but I'd like to suggest pharmacotherapy as well."

"You want me to take drugs, and lay on a couch."

"No couch. These chairs are okay aren't they?"

"Yeah, they're nice."

"I'm going to give you prescriptions for a tricyclic antidepressant, Imiprimine, and a benzodiazepine, Xanax. Now the Xanax is for right away. It'll calm you down. What we need to do is build up the level of Imiprimine in your system, and that takes a few weeks. Once you reach that level, I want to lower the level of Xanax until you don't need that. I want you to come back next week. Is Friday at 1:00 okay?"

"You're the doctor."

"Don't worry Michael. You're going to be fine. Try to relax, and go easy on the pot. We want to get all the toxins out of your system. And if you drink, go easy on that too. And try to exercise a little. Go for walks with your wife. Fresh air."

"Okay R. Can I call you R?"


"Thank you Doctor Glass."

That was August of 1988.

In the weeks and months that followed, I went for weekly visits with Dr. Glass, and we talked about everything from drugs, to sex, to thoughts of suicide, to tennis, to marriage, to skiing in Colorado. Everything in my head, and in his, we talked about it.

I'd sit there looking out the 3rd floor window at the U of C students playing football on the Midway, the 59th Street Commons, and talk. There were visits when all I wanted to talk about was him. I told him one week that I just didn't even want to think about panic attacks for fear of triggering one, and for 50 minutes I asked him the questions. What's it like being chief of Psychiatry at a prestigious hospital? What was med school like? His family. His leisure activities. His students. It was great fun, and he answered every one of them too. Not a bad way to make $200 an hour, eh Rich?

Without even realizing it really, in the course of about 6 months, I went from non-stop terror, to occasional uneasiness and mild anxiety. I got off the Xanax, because the good doc felt that Xanax simply masked symptoms and was also subject to abuse. I kept a bottle of the .5s in my medicine chest just in case because as Glass told me, "The goal is to get you med free, and symptom free, but we'll take symptom free for starters."....and, as it turned out, Rich was right. Xanax became one of the most widely abused prescription drug through the 90s, so I'm glad I got off of those little orange friends. It's a very nice, mellow buzz.

Have a tough day? Pop an X and everything's OK, ...but it only seems that way.

By the end of a couple of years, I had practically no symptoms at all. I desperately wanted the whole thing to be in my rear-view mirror. Told Rich that I wanted to take myself off the tricyclic antidepressants and see what happened.

He said "that's fine, but let's keep an eye on you a little closer. If you start to feel a return of those symptoms, I want you to start taking them again, and I want you to call me and set up an appointment right away." (By that point we were down to once every six weeks. He seemed pleased with my progress.)

A couple more visits, and everything was fine. My little dance with insanity was apparently over, and at our last session I told Dr.Glass something I've repeated many times since. To fully appreciate sanity, one must taste insanity. You can't fully appreciate how good "normal" feels, until you've felt abnormal. After you've been through full blown panic attacks, waking up and feeling normal feels more like euphoria. (Glass preferred the word "natural" to "normal.")

I told him that he had become one of the best friends I'd ever had in my life, and that in a way, I felt like he'd saved my life. No telling where I'd have wound up if it weren't for that guy. And then I told him, that if he didn't mind, I never wanted to see his face again.

He smiled, and shook my hand. And that was 20 years ago this coming June. Haven't had an attack since, and I never needed to go back on the meds. I would have if I'd had to, because the goal is to be med free and symptom free, but we'll take symptom free.

He was a very smart man, and still is I'm sure.

So I hope you're still playing tennis my friend, and thanks again Dr.Glass wherever you are.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Let's Have a Tea Party!

Running from yesterday through tomorrow, the National tea Party is having their very first Convention in Nashville, TN.

Tea Party Nation is pleased to announce the First National Tea Party Convention. The convention is aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for the purpose of networking and supporting the movement's multiple organizations' principal goals. This event is co-sponsored by other national groups that believe in a responsible and limited federal government that is responsive to all the people. Our Sponsors include Tea Party Emporium, Judicial Watch, Eagle Forum, The Leadership Institute, Vision America, SurgeUSA, Smart Girl Politics and National Taxpayers Union. Participants include: The Memphis Tea Party, The Voices of America.org, Young Americans for Freedom, The Evergreen/Conifer Tea Party, North Carolina Freedom Tea Party, Joseph Farah, Angela McGlowan, Judge Roy Moore, Tom Fitton, Bruce Donnelly, Phil Valentine, Ana Puig, Steve Milloy, Mark Skoda, Keli Carender (aka Liberty Belle), Dr. B. Leland Baker, Walter Fitzgerald,, Dr. Rick Scarborough, David DeGerolamo and Lori Christenson

Former Colorado congressman Tom "Keep Them Furriners Outta Here" Tancredo (R-Asshat) is one of the featured speakers.

That's the same Tom Tancredo who told Tea Baggin' conventioners that John McCain's defeat in November was a good thing.

"Thank God John McCain lost the election" he said. "Or we wouldn't be here!"

"Had John McCain won the election, there would be no Republican in Teddy Kennedy's Massachusetts senate seat!" shouted Tommy to the dozens of frenzied crackers in attendance.

In expressing his delight at McCain's defeat, Tancredo called Barack Obama's victory in November 2008, the "cause of a revolution."

But the most exciting news is that the Tea Party Convention's keynote speaker will be Sarah Palin!

Sarah Palin? Ya mean John McCain's running mate? That Sarah Palin?

You betcha!

I know I've said for some time that the two party system sucks, so I guess this seems like a real good opportunity to be the first guy to say that the three party system sucks too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Torn between two posts

I was going to write something about the Illinois primary today. Seems weird to vote on Feb 2.

On the Dem ballot:

For Governor:
Pat Quinn, bears the stank of Blago, no matter how much soap he uses. He was there, and did nothing.
Dan Hynes, an old name in Illinois politics (son of Tom Hynes, former Cook County Assessor and former President of the Illinois Senate.) Dan went to St. Ignatius, which is a plus in my book, but he also attended Notre Dame. Which I hold against him.

Trying to take Barack Obama's US Senate seat, currently held by roland burris, are:

Cheryle Jackson
Alexei Giannoulias- Obama's basketball buddy
David Hoffman
Robert Marshall
Jacob Meister
The early money is on Hoffman, although if I decide to pull a Dem ballot, I may go with Alexei. Can't beat hoops with the Pres when trying to get some federal funds.

Lt. Gov:
A bunch of machine parts.

Atty Gen:
Lisa Madigan running unopposed, Current AG. Daughter of major power broker Mike Madigan. I don't care for either of them, so that may cause me to pull a Republican ballot right there.

Sec of State:
Jesse White running unopposed. I like Jesse a whole bunch. Best public servant in the state. Might just counterbalance my Madigan animus and compel me to vote Dem, although he's running unopposed so what's the diff?

9th District Rep:
Jan Schakowsky runs unopposed. She's pals with Barack too. Spending stimulus money like it grows on trees. Milwaukee Av resurfacing project only took three times as long as it should have.

2 people I've never heard of.

Cook County Clerk

David Orr runs unopposed. In a letter of apology after calling all Chicago politicians corrupt, Mike Royko told Orr's mother that her son is "suspected of being notoriously honest."

Tom Dart will win this one.

Cook County Board President:
A biggie.
Toni Preckwinkle- current favorite.
Dorothy Brown- Where to start? She has collected $45,000 from staffers, $3 at a time, in exchange for allowing them to wear jeans to work. Danny Davis has been robocalling my cell phone, croaking his baritone in support of Brown. Strike against Dorothy. I hate robocalls.
Todd Stroger- Current Board Pres. About to be ex-Board Pres. Hated by all, except his cronies, of which there are many.
Terrence O'Brien- The white guy.

And then there's a bunch of judges, and commissioners, and water reclamation people, and assessors. I generally play tic-tac-toe with those if there are no Irish names.

The Republican Ballot:

Adam Anrezndjewski or something. I'm not going back to spell check
Andy McKenna- Old name in these parts. Illinois Republican Party Chairman which is like being the center on a 6 foot and under basketball team.
Jim Ryan- He has the Nicarico stank on him. Part of the DuPage team that tried to kill Rolando Cruz.
Kirk Dillard- I have to say something mean about this southern Illinois rube just to piss off NickD.

US Senator-
Mark Kirk- North Shore guy who is afraid of bringing terrorists to Thomson for fear of attracting Al Qaeda to Illinois. Spent $5mil so far trying to get this $174K a year job.
(now that's what I call a list of Republican names!)

9th Cong Dist
Joel Pollak-
Susanne Ananus-

You know, I don't even know why the Republicans slate candidates up here.

The rest of the Republican ballot is a who's who of who's that?

Okay, I just decided, I'm pulling a Dem ballot. Hynes, why not? Stroger OUT. Jesse White stays. Alexei the hoopster in. Orr in. And I'll be a Madigan undervote.

Polls are open until 8.

Early results indicate Illinois Dems are not a happy bunch, and that Illinois Republicans are happy because Illinois Dems are unhappy.

The other post I considered writing is the story of the four Wisconsin women who Krazy Glued a man's penis to his stomach, simply because the man was canoodling with all four of them, and one of whom is his wife.

They tricked the poor guy into meeting one of them at a hotel, then all four showed up, and this part still isn't clear to me, the guy's dong wound up glued to his belly.

They were all arrested. I posted about this when it happened. Shocking example of women's inhumanity to man and all that.

Well, today was sentencing. A Calumet (WI) County judge gave them each one year probation, after after imposing and then staying jail sentences of between 30 and 60 days. Three of them apologized to the judge, saying they simply meant to confront the glued-penis guy, and things "spiraled out of control." Glued-penis guy's wife refused to comment.

I have friends up in Calumet County who were at the hearing, and they tell me that the judge could be heard laughing his ass off as he walked back into his chambers. I guess he must think that just because the guy was an adulterer, and with three different women at that, he deserved to get his dick glued to his stomach. I don't like the ruling at all. I'd have given them all 13 months probation. You've got to send a message that that sort of thing won't be tolerated. Or, now that I think about it, perhaps that's the message he did send.

"We're very sorry judge. Really. We mean that."