Saturday, December 30, 2006

Poor William's Almanack 12-30-06

A lighter shade of 'Borat'

The message in a New Year's e-greeting card sent by an Ecuadorean friend yielded a rather crude rendering by's "Babel Fish" translation tool, reminding us of the vulgarities and cross-cultural clashes of sensibilities in Sacha Baron Cohen's hilarious film

"Que Dios bendiga este nuevo ano y les llene de luz, paz, salud y sobre todo AMOR,

came out as:

"That God blesses this new anus and fills to them of light, peace, health and mainly LOVE, REMEMBERING to THEM ALWAYS"

Almost worthy of a "Marci-ism"! Maybe start a new category, "Margoth-isms"?

Happy New Year to the Cordova family and their huge circle of friends!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

HP Weekly Report, Dec. 26 2006

Weekly historic preservation report from the city HP Office

Kevin Weight, lead historic preservation planner, provides the Dec. 26 report in HP Officer Barbara Stocklin's absence.

Oakland Triangle Area Historic Designation
On Dec. 19, Historic Preservation (HP) and Planning staff met with opponents to the historic designation of the Oakland Triangle Area (generally bounded by Grand Avenue, 7th Avenue and Roosevelt Street). The opponents indicated that their primary concerns with the proposed HP zoning are limitations on infill development and ambiguity under the current HP design guidelines. HP staff hopes to create a specific set of design guidelines for the proposed historic district that will be agreed upon by both the proponents and opponents. A meeting with the proponents is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2007.

Sacred Heart Church Historic Designation
HP staff met with Aviation staff on Dec. 21 to discuss historic designation for Sacred Heart Church, located at the Sky Harbor Center (near the NE corner of 16th Street and Buckeye Road). The property is one of 22 undesignated sites that were recommended eligible in the Hispanic Historic Property Survey recently completed by the HP Office. Both departments agreed that the building should be designated along with a 25-foot buffer around the structure. HP staff will request that the HP Commission initiate the historic designation on Jan. 22, 2007.

Other properties scheduled for initiation at that time include Grant Park (701 S. 3rd Ave.), Harmon Park (1425 S. 5th Ave.), American Legion Post 41 (715 S. 2nd Ave.), Sotelo-Heard Cemetery (1302 E. Weber), Santa Rita Hall (1017 E. Hadley), Luis Lugo Bakery (415 W. Sherman), Betania Iglesia Presbiteriana (301 W. Pima), Phoenix Housing Authority Office (1305 S. 3rd Ave.), Cartwright School (5833 W. Thomas) and the William Grier House (1942 W. Adams).

Community Noise Reduction Program Meeting
HP staff had a bi-weekly meeting with staff from Aviation’s Community Noise Reduction Program (CNRP) on Dec. 22, 2006. A strategy for evaluating the historic significance of additional residential properties in Phoenix that are eligible for sound mitigation treatments was discussed. Because Federal Aviation Administration funds will be used to reimburse Aviation for these treatments, the project must comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to ensure that there are no adverse impacts to historic properties or that any such impacts are satisfactorily mitigated. HP staff presented a proposed survey methodology and documentation plan, which Aviation will discuss with FAA. If the survey finds any properties eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places then an existing Memorandum of Agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office will need to be amended to include additional stipulations regarding the treatment of these HP eligible properties.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A few capsule (and lengthier) film reviews

Reel Roundup

If you're considering going to a movie on New Year's, here's a few tips on what to see, what to avoid:

Spinning Charlotte’s Web
That gander sure is goosey-whipped. Also, Steve Buscemi can’t top Paul Lynde for oily self-involvement in this wonderful film’s weak predecessor. Hooray for big words! Too bad “Stuart Little” strayed from White’s original.

‘Destiny’: Tendentious D
More cowbell, less cornball antics! The musical duo-ism shown when KG and JB meet on the beach was awesome; they should have replicated that throughout. Devil take the hindmost.

Déjà Vu: Encore & Encore!
Great film; fortunately all the stars are very watchable, as it takes a while to get where it’s really going. But what, really, was Jim Caviezel’s beef? Not enough residuals from “The Passion of the Christ”? Oy, McVeigh! (Note: The ending is virtually the same as in the great romantic comedy, "Heaven Can Wait.")

Meyers, oh Meyers: It’s a girls’ world after all
Throughout “The Holiday,” I kept rooting for Jack Black to break character and dump one—literally, kind of like something out of his role in “Orange County”—on this film. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat all the way through a pure chick flick such as this, and I wouldn’t have—except … my chick was clearly enjoying it. I think the MPAA ought to come up with a cautionary rating for films like this. I have never seen so many women jump, both feet off the floor, in unalloyed, girly joy, as happens in this film. Do grown women actually do this? Do they have “jump-for-joy” muscles in their legs we don’t have, as they have “high-pitched-scream” vocal chords that we guys likewise lack? According to the Talmud, I think this is actually the way to deprive witches of their power: lift them off the ground. Speaking of witches, when hollow Cameron Diaz finally sheds a tear, I could only think of the scene from “The Third Witch” in Barbara Leonie Picard’s wonderful book of fairy tales, The Faun and the Woodcutter’s Daughter: “And in that moment, she knew she loved him. So, because she was a witch, and could not love, the piece of flint that was her heart cracked in two, and she died.”

‘Pan's Labyrinth’: The moral (if any) is what’s really a-maze-ing
Purports to be a moralizing fairy tale, with awesome production and costume design, great casting and acting—but is just brutal, without the purported redemption. Key characters are killed off without that furthering any ultimate philosophical or moral clarity, so that those deaths are meaningless and an artistic affront. The graphic gloominess reminds one of the Spanish artistic esthetic evinced in Picasso’s “Guernica,” Goya’s “The 3rd of May,” and “Saturn Devouring His Son” (note the similarity to the eating of the fairy by the monster in the world beyond the wall). Interesting contrast: The baby here ends up being given over for political purposes, or in a politically charged gesture, while in "Children of Men" (a worthwhile though philosophically thin effort), that travesty is assiduously avoided. In the final analysis, though, "Pan's Labyrinth" can’t figure out whether it is mainly an homage to the rebels against Spanish fascism, or an exploration of childhood imagination and innocence (and their loss)—or whether, trying to be both, it fails at either. A gorgeous waste.

It’s the sustainability, stupid (Gibson does get it)
This film turned out to fulfill exactly what I expected of it, especially as set up by the native interlopers telling Jaguar Paw’s tribe they just want unfettered passage through his hunting grounds, as their own land has been ravaged. But by whom? Earlier in the year, a friend e-mailed me some comments by great debunker Michael Crichton, that you didn’t have to wait for the white man’s arrival in this hemisphere to find oppression and domination—New World peoples oppressed each other. Not exactly: Some oppressed others. It’s historically accurate to depict the great, advanced hierarchical civilizations of Mesoamerica as the same kind of monoculture-based, unsustainable societies as those found in the “march of progress” of Western Civilization, as characterized by Daniel Quinn in his fascinating book Ishmael—technically a novel, but actually a deconstruction of the difference between “Taker” cultures such as Pharaonic Egypt, Mayan Mexico and “Manifestly Destined” America, and the “Leaver” societies of nomads—pastoralists and hunter-gatherers. I took my son to see “Braveheart” when he was about 8, at the same time as I was also reading Little Big Man to him, so I noted the parallels between the hill-clans of Scotland and the tribes of Plains Indians, fighting the respective Taker imperialist cultures of England and the United States. —Even down to the use of war paint, as well as the technological disparities. (I also pointed out the Hanukkah story is the same kind of tale—just substitute the zealously anti-Hellenic Maccabees vs. the Hellenized Assyrians.) But as in one of the points “Braveheart” makes, it’s our wits that makes us men, and technologically backward or not, men have been men—and pretty smart, when they apply themselves—as smart if not as learned as any modern videogame player or high-tech military hardware operator—whether a modern aboriginal or a Cro-Magnon of 25,000 years ago. So from this film’s early moments, I was already primed to witness the magnificent, yet rotting Mayan city—whose denizens preyed upon the backward people of the forest—and to continually expect, eventually, the arrival of the Europeans. In the movie’s terms, that event was not the beginning of the end of the New World’s paradise-on-earth: that paradise has perhaps been found mostly among the “Leaver” peoples, spread around the globe—and threatened—in many places. Taker societies, whether the Romans’, the Mayans’ or ours, tend to end up rotting from within due to their abuse of everything from their people (and enslaved neighbors—the multitudes at the base of the system of production on whom the entire edifice depends, and in whom religion is inculcated as reinforcing the whole fragile scheme) to the environment. They thus eventually only need a nudge from outside to collapse—and this is clearly the point of the epigraph by historian Will Durant emblazoned on the screen as the film opens. This thrust—underlined by the inevitable appearance of the European conquerors at the end—is not only the clear intent of the film, it is the only thing that gives it more weight than what it otherwise appears to be—a bunch of aboriginals running around, fearfully, heroically, steadfastly seeking to keep their promises to their family, not to mention their way of life. Last year’s “The New World” makes an interesting counterpoint to this one, with the Europeans there indeed intruding on the earthly paradise of an Indian culture.

Poor William's Almanack - 12/24/06

More Marciisms

My wife, Marci, usually hears only partial information about news and current events, digests what she hears poorly and later regurgitates it almost unrecognizably.

Marci heard that Time's "Person of the Year" for 2006 is someone called "You." Who's that Asian guy they named?" she asked. Or maybe, "Hu's that Asian guy they named." With her, it's hard to tell.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Believing in Santa—and surnits

Kids not more gullible, says shrink

Psychologist: Children are actually using reason and evidence in believing in Santa—because adults dupe them by planting clues as well as creating the whole social context for the belief. (As well as for other, crazier and more consequential lies, according to this blogger.)

Do You Believe in Surnits?

Published: December 23, 2006, New York Times

Austin, Tex.

We delight in our children’s belief in reindeer that can fly and a fat man who fits through chimneys and travels the whole world in a single night. Many children believe fiercely not only in Santa Claus but also in other fantastical beings like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy from the time they are about 3 until they are 7 or 8.

Their eager belief contributes to the common view, shared by psychologists and other scientists, that young children are credulous (and conversely, that adults are not). Children believe everything they are told, we assume, with little regard for logic, a sense of the real world or any of the other criteria adults use to debunk such fictions as the Loch Ness monster or Sasquatch.

But are children really that different from us? A study that my colleagues and I conducted at the Children’s Research Laboratory at the University of Texas suggests not. We found that, in fact, children use many of the same cues adults use to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Our experiment was designed to investigate how a young child, upon encountering a fantastical being like a unicorn in a storybook, decides whether it is real or imaginary. Adults often make the call based on context. If, for example, we encounter a weird and unfamiliar insect at a science museum, we are more likely to think it is something real than if we find it in a joke store.

To see if children could also use context in this way, we described “surnits” and other made-up things to our study group. To some of the children, we put surnits in a fantastical context: “Ghosts try to catch surnits when they fly around at night.” To others, we characterized them in scientific terms: “Doctors use surnits to help them in the hospital.”

The 4- to 6-year-olds who heard the medical description were much more likely to think surnits were real than children who were told they had something to do with ghosts. The children demonstrated that they do not indiscriminately believe everything they’re told, but use some pretty high-level tools to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

If children are so smart, why do they believe in Santa Claus? My view is that they are exhibiting their very rational and scientific cognitive abilities. The adults they count on to provide reliable information about the world introduce them to Santa. Then his existence is affirmed by friends, books, TV and movies. It is also validated by hard evidence: the half-eaten cookies and empty milk glasses by the tree on Christmas morning.

In other words, children do a great job of scientifically evaluating Santa. And adults do a great job of duping them. As we gradually withdraw our support for the myth, and children piece together the truth, their view of Santa aligns with ours. Perhaps it is this kinship with the adult world that prevents children from feeling anger over having been misled.

So maybe this holiday season, when the children come rushing in to see what Santa brought, we should revel not in their wide-eyed wonder, but in how sophisticated and clever their young minds really are.

Jacqueline Woolley is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Our response:

Hello Prof. Woolley,

Just read your article in the NYT, and I understand its point that it's not that children are more credulous (gullible, prone to fantastic beliefs) than adults.

You point out we actually do a great job of duping them, providing them with at least some evidence and authority for such beliefs as in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. As a psychologist, do you have an opinion as to the harm such beliefs (and our encouraging them) do? Is there any research on whether encouraging children to believe appealing fantasies helps lay the groundwork for irrational future (religious, ideological, etc.) beliefs (many of which are held contrary to moderate standards of logic and evidence)?

Likewise, when children eventually are disabused of many of their incorrect but well-authorized beliefs, perhaps it also weakens their trust in the reliability of their epistemological framework, so that though, ironically, they might be more prone to endorse and adopt beliefs less well supported by the usual markers of truth and factuality. Perhaps these people are then more susceptible to belief in Creationism (Creation "science"), as an example. (Although, admittedly, this scheme and others attempt to adorn themselves in evidence and logic-based raiment. It is their religious underpinnings that are more manifestly anti-rational.)

It seems a truism that belief in Santa Claus is practice for, or an analog to, belief in the theistic God. (Be naughty/nice, get distant-future reward vs. punishment, etc.). However, it seems to me to also be practice for all the other forms of doublethink engaged in and even encouraged by society at large.

I was recent reading the sequel to Prof. Frankfurt's On Bullshit—On Truth—in a bookstore while waiting for my wife to do her shopping. Amid other sensible comments, he then started saying that a society that evidences a disregard for the importance of truth—casualness about whether things said and beliefs held are true or not—cannot flourish.

That's when I put the book down, as obviously (and unfortunately) at odds with the facts. (Of course, a society can't disregard truth in its engineering, scientific, economic and public policy-related activities and long flourish, but apparently those can be somewhat disconnected from other areas of collective life in which truth and falsity also could be operative concepts, but, sadly, generally are not.)

E.g., with you being from the great state of Texas, can you account otherwise for the fact that our current president, a former oilman from a major oil-producing state, etc., was elected twice by people who would not otherwise prefer to be paying 50% to 100% more for their gasoline than when he took office, among all the other burdens heaped on average working people during his administration?

Cheers --and Merry Christmas!


Prof. Woolley's response:

Dear David,
Thanks for your thoughtful email regarding my NYTimes op-ed piece in December. My apologies for not replying sooner. You were wondering about relations between Santa beliefs and later religious and ideological beliefs. Unfortunately there is no research of which I am aware that addresses your question. I do plan to conduct research into relations between SC beliefs and God beliefs, tho' it can be hard to get ethics approval for those kinds of studies. Cindy Dell Clark ("Flights of fancy, leaps of faith") argues in her book that SC belief provides the foundation for "faith" and ultimate belief in God. Jehovah's Witnesses and other Fundamentalists discourage SC beliefs for fear that it will negatively impact God beliefs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that children often try to figure out how the two are related, and often think of them similarly. There is some research on children's beliefs in creationism; it may be cognitively "easier" to believe in God than to "believe" in evolutionary theory (Margaret Evans, Pascal Boyer). Re: your final comment re: our great state, I do need to pass along that Travis County (where Austin is) voted overwhelmingly Democratic in the last election; we are a blue county in a red state. Our president presents a fascinating case in point regarding the challenges the fantasy-reality distinction continues to present throughout the life-span.
Jacqui Woolley

Jacqueline Woolley
The University of Texas at Austin
Department of Psychology
1 University Station A8000
Austin, Texas 78712-0187
Office:SEA 4.212
FAX: 512/471-5935

Blogger's note: There would be value in publishing and commenting here on a column in a Wall Street Journal Personal Journal section from last winter (2008, at this point) a commentator's argument that he encourages his sons' belief in Santa, though Santa doesn't exist, because, "Yes, Virginia, there is a God." You could look it up. Kind of pathetic. –DT

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pearls before ... peers

Blogger laments that 'campaigning' fell on deaf ears

Recommendations that fellow film critics give serious consideration for awards to a variety of challenging and difficult, but ideologically and artistically rewarding films go unheeded.

After learning of the practice a few years ago, I "campaigned" lightly for some films I found interesting, and potentially overlooked or misunderstood (see the very first post on this blog: some comments on and exchanges with a fellow critic over the plot and meaning of "The Fountain"). Below see a few sketchy such messages sent to fellow Phoenix Film Critics Society members, in some cases with some of their responses interpolated. (Also just a stray review or two, not yet published, or bit of publicity company feedback.)

The immediately earlier posting is the Society's awards given to films this year, with a comment that consists of the ballot offered by this critic. There was clearly very little overlap between the two, as this critic gave most of his nods to some films that are either somewhat aberrant and/or of limited release, while PFCS as a whole largely stuck to more middle-of-the-road contenders.

Apart from how this movie stacks up in the history of film noir, what’s interesting to me—and is an aspect most people seem to have overlooked—is the parallel in the plots, the two “current” plots with Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, P.I. One is the subplot of his paranoid psycho client, who loses his mind, wife, and freedom over his baseless suspicion that she’s cheating, a theory he’s hired Simo to prove (in vain). The parallel lies in the fact that by the end of the film—despite all the viable hypotheses as to who could have murdered “Superman” George Reeves—Simo realizes it’s as likely that Reeves did kill himself, and that he (Simo) has been pursuing the same kind of possibly misguided, obsessive hunt for a villain (and at a similar risk to everything he holds dear) as his hapless former client.

Campaigning comments Dec. 3
I want to recommend "The Proposition" as possibly a sleeper of a film but one that I think rightly ought to at list make the short list in several categories, including Best Picture, Cinematography, acting (Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson and, in a twist, Danny Huston, who seems to have evolved since a somewhat shambling performance in "Silver City," via "Constant Gardener," to this year's roles--also interesting in "Children of Men.")

But is "The Proposition" eligible? ImDb says it was released in '05. Anyway, I thought it was the best "classic tragedy" since "House of Sand and Fog."



"Babel" impression e-mailed to publicity rep (also see review Nov. 20 print edition of
The Midtown Messenger).
Excellent, but can a "Crash"-like film win a BP Oscar two years in a row? Those who think this Pitt's sudden "Best Acting" turn should recall "12 Monkeys," "Se7en," among other roles. Anyway, an excellent impressionistic view of the irony of fragmentation and alienation in an increasingly globalized world.

"The Good Shephered" impressions given to publicity rep ... nominated DeNiro for "best breakthrough - behind the camera," as best director.
As to the length, it can take a while to depict a character's long, slow descent from apparent idealism into ethical compromise. (Later gravitated toward peer's view that Matt Damon's "Edward Wilson" was never idealistic, so to speak, but determined, ruthless, discreet ... and patriotic, if you will.)

As to scenes and direction, as well as acting, this film is long (and, euphemistically, as a nod to David Ramsey, "leisurely paced"), but every piece eventually fits into the larger puzzle. E.g., the necklace Wilson finally has returned to Laura. Also the suicide note his father left, which he finally opens and reads ... and burns.

But although Wilson seems high-minded and conscientious, he is "patriotic," but apparently only on behalf members of his ethnic clique, as he makes clear in the conversation with Joe Palmi (Joe Pesci—great makeup job).

So it's not too hard to connect the dots of his career of corruptedness, from when he authorizes his first murder—of the German translator he spent the night with—to his later authorization, by declining to object to it, of the murder of his son's fiancee. His having the incriminating goods on FBI guy (William Hurt) all along also shows how he kept his own counsel, heeded the advice that he couldn't trust anyone, and was calculating and untrustworthy himself all along.

The scenes of the murders of both women are disturbing, though brief. The scenes of Wilson with his son, where tender, are also affecting, though the one where his son realizes his fiancée is not showing up, Wilson Sr.'s supporting embrace is of course a cover for his culpability in her demise—and the shot of the son being held by the father, son not standing on his own two feet, is sad and ironic.

The earlier scene where he doesn't stay to comfort his son in his night fears but instead answers the phone, is telling, and stands as evidence against his later protest to Margaret that "he never abandoned anyone."

Seemingly nice guy, but NOT. Interesting, well-crafted character study.

Only the fact that it seems highly convenient to the story that his son overheard the location of the Bay of Pigs invasion, setting up the final, highly compromising moral choice, is a weakness of this film, from a credibility point of view.


Dec. 8 exchange with PFCS president David Ramsey about the society's choice of "Blood Diamond" as best film of the week (average 8.3 out of 10 rating), in same week in which "Apocalypto" was released ...

Reviews of the films in today's New York Times tend to validate my preference for "Apocalypto."

I agree with you and it was one of the closest votes of the year.

On the other hand Roeper of Ebert & Roeper said "Blood Diamond" is the Best Film of the Year.

More reasons I don't pay attention to other critics.


David Ramsey

I don't know the general value of Roeper's opinions as expressed on the show, but I can tell you this: Someone gave me a remaindered book of his—his agent turns out to be a woman I know in NYC, who I thought had better judgment. It is full of a bunch of lists, such as how you can tell which characters are going to get killed in the first 20 minute of the film, etc., most overlooked films of all time, etc. etc., and it's the biggest bunch of blatantly unsupported, frivolous opinions and various other BS I've ever seen in printed form.

Some critics are definitely more worthwhile than others, though we all have our idiosyncrasies and subjective tastes. And sometimes they do offer a way of looking at something, or something I'd missed, that I am glad to be made aware of.

I'm about as opinionated as they come, but I really do enjoy getting the benefit of other people's opinions too, when thoughtfully arrived at (even if wrong).


Message to fellow PFCS members Dec. 14 as ballot deadline approached
I quite liked "Shortbus," but again, as a Thinkfilm DVD their reproduction problems rendered it unplayable, in this case about 2/3 of the way through—better than the 1/3 of the way through screwiness several of their other DVDs experienced. At least I saw more of it, but that also whet my appetite to SEE HOW IT ENDED!

FYI, my second copy of "Tideland" still had problems, but at least I was able to finish watching it. Campaigning Campaigning Campaigning: Besides the awesome performance of the young actress Jodelle Ferland, the score for this film was very interesting and effective (though long portions had no music), as well as the cinematography—and makeup, so to speak. If anyone was put off by this highly idiosyncratic film's garishness, I urge them to give it further viewing and deliberation. Likewise, the gratuitous chatter on and the explicit, non-simulated sex in the film "Shortbus" should hopefully not deter serious critics from enjoying and considering this intelligent, amusing and well-acted film for whatever awards it may merit: ensemble acting? (that's said only slightly jokingly). I also considered "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" an excellent ensemble film, and it was much, much different, and better, than I anticipated it would be. I also chime in in support of the award mentioned in a recent e-mail for "Half Nelson."


Last bit of campaigning before PFCS voting, in response to a Dec. 15 campaigning message urging consideration of "United 93" for best picture (a great film, recipient of PFCS nod in the end, but other films overshadowed it in the view from here.) In other news, "Fending off closest rivals "The Queen" and "The Departed," "United 93" was voted best picture of 2006 by the New York Film Critics Circle on the fifth ballot."

While we're at it, I want to commend "The Dead Girl" as a film of significant merit, with some outstanding performances and other values, easily overlooked for whatever reason. While Toni Collette is more visible due to "Little Miss Sunshine," I am thinking of nominating her for best supporting actress for "The Good Girl"—even though it's an episodic film and she only appears in the first segment.

As far as that goes, Giovanni Ribisi is usually very worth watching, as here, though he was a bit wasted in "Lost In Translation" and some smaller indie film he agreed to star in in which he plays a paranoid star thinking he's being stalked. But anyone recall his role in Sam Raimi's somewhat overlooked Cate Blanchett vehicle, "The Gift"?

I know there needs to be a certain amount of groupthink or all is chaos and people voting for outlandish things are wasting their vote, but as long as we have a top 10, there's room for quirky choices.



Final balloting note: This critic had not as of this post seen several films widely well-regarded and likely worthwhile: "The Queen," "The Prestige," "Hard Candy," "Volver," "Venus," "Casino Royale" and "Days of Glory ("Indigenes").

PFCS 2006 film awards announced


Phoenix, AZ (December 19, 2006) – The Phoenix Film Critics Society (PFCS) is proud to announce their award winners for 2006 and the list of their Top 10 films.

Taking top honors for Best Picture this year is Universal Pictures' "United 93," with "Casino Royale" receiving the second ever Best Stunts award.

"The Departed" and "Little Miss Sunshine" dominate the Seventh annual awards with both films taking best screenplay awards and Martin Scorsese being named Best Director. Jack Nicholson is taking home the Best Supporting Actor award for "The Departed" while "Little Miss Sunshine" collects Best Acting Ensemble and Best Performance by a Youth - Female for Abigail Breslin.

Proving that acting is in the genes Will Smith's son Jaden was named Best Youth Actor – Male for his performance in “Pursuit of Happyness.” Other big winners included Forest Whitaker as Best Actor in "The Last King of Scotland", Helen Mirren Best Actress in "The Queen" and Cate Blanchett wins Best Supporting Actress for her performance in "Notes On A Scandal".

Jennifer Hudson had her breakout performance co-starring in "Dreamgirls" while Emilio Estevez had his breakout performance behind the camera directing “Bobby.”
"Letters From Iwo Jima" was named Best Foreign Language Film, "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore's warning on global warming was "Best Documentary", "Flushed Away" Best Animated Film and "Charlotte's Web" Best Live Action Family Film.

The Phoenix Film Critics Society (PFCS), founded in 2000, is comprised of recognized Valley critics who review regularly for Phoenix area print and broadcast outlets. Current members include: David Ramsey, KMLE-FM/KNXV-TV/Arizona Player Magazine, President; Roger Tennis, CLIPS TV Series, Vice President; Frances Rimsza, Foothills Focus/Gear Chatter, Treasurer; Gayle Bass, KTAR-AM, Secretary; Michael Dixon, KTAR-AM, Director; Neil Cohen, Echo Magazine; George Grorud, Java Monthly; Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic; Kathy Cano-Murillo, The Arizona Republic; Richard Nilsen, The Arizona Republic; Scott Craven, The Arizona Republic; Randy Cordova, The Arizona Republic; Craig Outhier, The Tribune Newspapers; Arne Williams, Arizona Informant; Andy Hill, The Ahwatukee Foothills News; Colin Boyd, KZON-FM/College Times; Michael Clawson, West Valley View; Kris Mason, Nearby News; David Tell, The Midtown Messenger; Mark Moorehead, Tempe/Chandler Wrangler News; Jim Ferguson, KGUN-TV/TV Guide Network; Randy Montgomery, Xpoz Magazine/Greensheet; M. V. Moorhead, Wrangler News; Sharon Stenger, Foothills Focus; “Hollywood” Dave Sozinho, KTAR-AM/KRZS-FM; Phil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star; Jamise Liddell, Arizona Christian News; Lisa Fuller-Magee, KTVK-TV; Stan Robinson, Sonik Magazine; Steven Gregory, Clear Channel Radio.

The complete list of Seventh Annual Phoenix Film Critics Society Award winners:

Best Picture
United 93

Top Ten Films (In Alphabetical Order)
Children of Men
The Departed
The Last King of Scotland
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen
United 93

Best Director
Martin Scorsese - The Departed

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Helen Mirren - The Queen

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Jack Nicholson - The Departed

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett - Notes On A Scandal

Best Ensemble Acting
Little Miss Sunshine

Best Screenplay written directly for the screen
Little Miss Sunshine

Best Screenplay adapted from another medium
The Departed

Best Live Action Family Film
Charlotte's Web

Overlooked Film of the Year
Hard Candy

Best Animated Film
Flushed Away

Best Foreign Language Film
Letters From Iwo Jima

Best Documentary
An Inconvenient Truth

Best Use of Music

Best Cinematography

Best Film Editing
The Departed

Best Production Design
Marie Antoinette

Best Costume Design
Marie Antoinette

Best Visual Effects
Superman Returns

Best Stunts
Casino Royale

Breakout Performance of the Year - On Screen
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Breakout Performance of the Year - Behind the Camera
Emilio Estevez - Bobby

Best Performance by a Youth in a Lead or Supporting Role - Male
Jaden Smith - Pursuit of Happyness

Best Performance by a Youth in a Lead or Supporting Role - Female
Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine

Monday, December 18, 2006

Film reviews that didn't make the Dec. 18 issue

Films out now, recently, or already on DVD or in second run:

'Copying Beethoven' doesn’t copy ‘Immortal Beloved,' thank god
They probably got B’s personality right, and, unlike in that abomination, “Immortal Beloved,” they got the music right—didn’t go on repeating the shmaltziest stuff over and over, such as the Emperor Concerto’s middle movement. And didn’t try to make his music-making a refuge from the trauma of alleged abuse by his father. And are correct in having him called, colloquially in the tavern, “Louis” (as in my unfinished screenplay about him). Uneven dramatic arc, though, since the climax with the performance of the immortal 9th comes virtually in the middle of the film. The aim of exploring B’s later, more impenetrable, even grating works, such as the Grosse Fugue—there must be a different way it could have been handled. And Ed Harris has the presence, but not the right voice for the role. Tommy Lee Jones would have been just right, with he and B sharing a pretty pockmarked complexion, in addition to the angular bone structure. But again, the voice ...? “National Treasure’s” Diane Mueller handles herself well, except the tripe written as “her composition”? Somebody fell down on that one. (Like B as if on his whoopee cushion, so unkind.)

Why not call it ‘The History Girly-Boys’?
Did they intend to prove that all Englishmen are really queers? Or just confirm that English “public” schools are rife with casual, “experimental” homosexuality (as well as the more ingrained kind)?

'Little Children'—Full-grown whiners just seem like adults
Perhaps we sometimes benefit from not being a top-tier city. (Why not all films released are screened here?) Well, I was misled by comments on into expecting “Little Children,” viewed on DVD screener, to be a fine film. Don’t be misled! While the acting is OK and the themes are of some importance, the script is extremely clumsy and the thrust obvious—and the general spurious grotesqueness of the behaviors and events reminds me of Pat Conroy’s work (The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides). There is intelligent exploration of the question of whether classic tragedienne Emma Bovary is struggling justly for happiness or is merely a selfish, unrealistic, foolish woman whose poor choices hurt her and others*, but overall, this film is one of the bigger stinkers I have seen in quite a while. If this were 20 years ago, the film would be accused of featuring a great deal of yuppie whining, ineffectuality and gratuitous angst. Oh, what the heck: This film features a great deal of yuppie whining, ineffectuality and gratuitous angst. To say your kid “refuses” to sit in its car seat? Give me a break.
*My wife read me a passage recently from Philip Roth’s novel Deception that contained a very good assessment of the false and injurious approach to love that Emma Bovary’s attitudes and behaviors represent.

'For Your Consideration,' for your consideration
Spoiler alert!!!: For the record, I guessed that Ricky Gervais, as the Philistine movie company executive, was warming up to suggesting that--and would succeed in getting--the film-within-the-film to tone down its “Jewyness” (to use Jon Stewart’s less politically correct term for it). Jennifer Coolidge as the similarly clueless but more ingenuously immured “producer with the heart of gold” is also watchable, for that and other reasons. Overall, the film is mostly pretty amusing, especially Fred Willard’s constant in-your-face sarcasm and other gratuitous but well-aimed vulgarity and offensiveness. (Especially enjoyed his snarky comment on foreign film: “Yeah, what’s with all the writing along the bottom of the screen? That ain’t breaking news! …”) Some other gags are rather predictable, such as agent Eugene Levy answering his cell phone in the middle of telling client Harry Shearer there’s nothing more important to him than … Then there’s Shearer’s dead-on understated “shmo-ness,” and the wonderful moment in the scene in “Home for Purim” where his Southern accent suddenly becomes Yiddische, like the chain jumping the sprocket on your out-of-adjustment 10-speed. If you liked “Guffman,” “Best in Show,” you’ll want to add a notch to your bedpost for this one, too (though it’s likewise probably not a very mass-appeal film. Then again, how’d the similarly inside-joke/cultish “Prairie Home Companion” do at the box office? This is better than that, at least.). (And now we learn Christopher Guest is married to Jamie Lee Curtis? What a stud. Stud? What a mensch!)

'The Last King of Scotland' star kind of a pretender
It’s weird: By contrast, I thought Forest Whitaker, who plays the jolly and charismatic but brutal and paranoid Ugandan dictator Idi Amin here, seemed really really empathetic in “Species.” (And James McAvoy seemed more principled, and less casual in his morality and superficial in his idealism, as Tumnus the Faun in “Narnia.”)

Encanto Historic District update

California developer files appeal of HP designation

Council OK'd overlay for garden apartments, other properties, overruling planning boards

Scott Haskins, owner of properties at 1302 W. McDowell affected by the HP overlay OK’d by Council Nov. 1, filed a takings appeal on Nov. 28, but has indicated he may waive his right to an initial hearing within 30 days, which would place it during the holidays. The appeal is governed by existing state law, not the just-passed Prop. 207.

From our Nov. 20 print issue: Prop. 207 passes. Who's to blame?

Ballot initiative Proposition 207 wins big

Sold as eminent domain fix, property rights measure; preservation now to face tougher challenges

By David Tell, Messenger Editor
© 2006, Quicksilver Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Amid all the Election Day results that thrill some and depress others, one outcome that ought to be of particular concern for preservation advocates and neighborhood activists is the resounding success at the polls of Proposition 207. Billed as a “property rights” measure and marketed as a response to last year’s “Kelo” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming the transfer of private property to another private owner under an economic redevelopment rationale, the citizens initiative was one of several similar measures placed on the ballot in states around the country.
In Arizona, where eminent domain has been in the news and on the legislative agenda over several years recently, the measure apparently resonated with concerns of many residents, and passed by a wide margin.
As is often the case, however, among the provisions in the measure are some that go beyond the stated aim of eminent domain reform. Of particular concern to many is the fact that the proposition provides for private lawsuits against governments by property owners who might seek to prove that a land use change applied to their property has reduced its value. Some are concerned that this will open a floodgate of expensive litigation against municipalities in particular, leading to the hamstringing of efforts to protect and preserve neighborhoods and structures, and leading to greater caution by governments in pursuing some types of land use planning and protective zoning.
The Protect Arizona Taxpayers Coalition was one group formed by concerned individuals and environmental, preservation, government and neighborhood organizations to attempt to get the word out and defeat Prop 207. In the aftermath of the election, players from that anti-207 coalition are expressing their regrets about the outcome, and in some cases questioning why they were unable to mobilize more voters in opposition to the “property rights” juggernaut.
Paul Barnes, a respected activist who heads the Neighborhoods Coalition of Greater Phoenix, was centrally involved in the anti-207 effort. In talking about the vote’s outcome, Barnes sounded frustrated that the hard work to fight the initiative seemed to have had so little impact. He is also concerned about a process for getting measures on the ballot in the state that—not exclusively to this case—allows out-of-state interests to come in and create new political and economic conditions that they themselves do not necessarily have to live under.
“Obviously, I was disappointed with the results,” Barnes said. “As to what I think it will mean near-term: I’m concerned about its effect on the ability to pass new historic overlay districts, neighborhood special district plans—as well as on this urban form planning.”
“Urban form planning” is a new approach being used elsewhere and currently being considered in Phoenix that elevates design considerations in urban land use planning.
“I think it’s going to have a serious negative impact on neighborhood preservation efforts,” Barnes added. “Perhaps most alarming of all is the fact that you can have an out-of-state group come in and basically buy an initiative—get it on the ballot with out-of-state funds—and be successful with what even the Republic said was a very misleading campaign of what was involved. They used the Trojan horse of eminent domain to cover up the real issue, which was land use planning and the whole legislative takings issue. Their advertising was misleading on television as well as on radio. I think that’s very unfortunate.”
Barnes went on to express some views that he emphasized were exclusively his own, rather than in his role as part of any organization.
“Personally, I think some of the responsibility for having this situation has to rest with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, as well as the city of Phoenix,” he said. “This past legislative session, I think it would have been much better for them to have worked out a satisfactory solution on eminent domain, rather than taking the ‘higher ground’ that they did, which gave Howard Rich and people of that persuasion an excuse to conjure up this ballot statement.”
Howard Rich is a wealthy New York resident who supported efforts to place similar property rights initiatives on the ballot in a number of states this year.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, deflected Barnes’ finger-pointing. Strobeck said hindsight is 20/20 and admittedly, there are always things you wish you might have done. However, “We worked through the entire session on 19 different eminent domain bills. We had a piece of legislation that we proposed that we think was a very good compromise, but that tried to answer concerns of people who thought eminent domain is out of control,” Strobeck said. “The Legislature did not even give that bill a hearing. Howard Rich paid $14 million for this kind of initiative to be run in 11 different states; this was a measure the was going to come down the tracks [no matter what else happened]. Whatever did pass was not going to be enough.”
Strobeck didn’t itemize all the areas or items where he believed the League’s proposed legislation better met the concerns of eminent domain reformers, but Barnes said an area the league and its constituents had previously balked at included tightening up the definitions of slum and blight.
But Strobeck said he thought that concern had been fairly addressed. “We agreed to do a property-by-property finding of blight and slum areas,” he said. “That was one of their big pushes, that a finding can’t be block-by-block.”
Strobeck said some outlandish criteria for a finding of blight, such as the existence of curved streets (as has been mentioned in our letters column by downtown resident and eminent domain critic Erick Baer) are relics that are rarely if ever used. “That’s in the original statute that goes back almost 100 years,” he said. “Pull them out in today’s context, you’d go ‘That isn’t blighted.’ —Some of those really obscure provisions, cities don’t hang their hat on things like that. We agreed to leave those things out.”
Strobeck’s rebuttals notwithstanding, Barnes feels negotiators dragged their feet on coming to the table with needed concessions to get a viable eminent domain reform bill. As it was, a bill passed, and Gov. Janet Napolitano nixed it, in her record-setting use of the veto pen. That’s not what bothers Barnes: “The bill that did reach the governor was clearly not acceptable,” he said. However, of the League’s never-considered proposal, “They weren’t early enough with a bill that would be a sufficient compromise to keep everybody happy. Initially they were holding out for too much, and by the time they came around, it was too late,” he said, adding that lack of a timely willingness to tighten up on the definition of slum and blight “was part of it.”
Moreover, “Neither the governor nor the mayor were willing to come out strongly against this [proposition], regrettably. The governor was silent on it,” Barnes lamented. “Schwarzenegger came out against [a similar initiative] in California and it didn’t pass there. I don’t feel we got the support from the people that we needed. It could have made a difference.”
Mayor Phil Gordon’s failure to use his bully pulpit against the proposition is especially culpable, as “the things they want to do downtown are going to be seriously hampered by 207 as it was passed,” Barnes said.
District 6 City Councilman Greg Stanton, who authored an anti-Prop 207 column for this publication last month, also rues the outcome, and while he prefers not to lay blame, he agrees there is responsibility to go around for not adequately educating the voters about the ballot item. And he also gives credit where credit is due.
“Paul and the citizens group that came together did the best job they could on a shoestring budget,” Stanton said. “I think we all learned an important lesson: There should have been a more organized and funded campaign against 207. On a statewide issue, in this day and age, you really need a significant budget. With so many issues on the ballot, there could not be a well-funded effort on all of them.” That said, “There wasn’t a huge amount of intensive outreach” on the anti-207 side,” he said. “The public bodies as a whole really have to do some thinking about this one, everyone needs to look at themselves and say ‘Did we do enough?’—because this passed overwhelmingly.” The measure was approved 65 percent to 35 percent.
“We were never fully able to educate folks on the implications on the ‘diminution of property values’ side of the issue,” Stanton said. “Collectively, for those of us who represent cities and the people, this was not in the best interest of the people I represent, to protect our neighborhoods.” Barnes is one of Stanton’s constituents, living in the Arcadia area, which is full of large-lot homes and has a zoning overlay to protect its character. Some vintage areas of north central Phoenix with historic or other zoning protection are also in Stanton’s district.
Stanton agreed that the proposition was misleadingly marketed, and rode a wave of popular ire over the “Kelo” decision, in which some longtime Connecticut homeowners were displaced to make way for a private development.
“Prop 207 led with the issue of private property rights, and if you talk in those terms, it’s a hard issue to overcome. Everybody wants to protect private property rights, and with ‘Kelo,’ Bailey’s, private property rights have been brought to the forefront. Those things are protected. We have one of the most restrictive eminent domain regimes in the country—that’s why we still have Bailey’s Brake Shop; he’ still operating,” Stanton said. But “I don’t think the proposition was fully vetted, people didn’t understand its full impact. The measure’s creation of a cause of action against government for diminution of property values—there are instances when people are reasonably going to ask their government to step in and act on behalf of historic preservation, and [now] it won’t be able to. Once people see down the line, there will be an attempt to revise this measure,” Stanton predicted. “I have the feeling there will be changes made to this law. Historic preservation, special planning districts, are things the public supports.”
In the meantime, though things will be more difficult in those arenas, Stanton predicted.
Asked whether the risk now is that governments will pull back from reasonably regulating land use in some instances; that there could be large payouts from diminution-of-value lawsuits in some cases; or that such suits would hobble the system, Stanton said “All of the above. Whereas the city has a very strong and vibrant HP effort, that will be set back. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to do HP at all, but in the controversial cases, where we do a ‘gut check,’ things might come out differently [than if based on an analysis of the merits],” Stanton said. “The kind of votes where there is significant opposition are the ones in question. The easy votes will still be easy. But because of the cost to the people of this city, the harder cases might give us pause. That’s not a hypothetical.”
Asked whether the current controversies over extending historic overlays in the Encanto-Palmcroft and Oakland historic districts are the kinds of cases that might be affected, Stanton answered cautiously. “I hate to put it in terms of a specific case; the dynamics of each case are different,” he said. But, “When you have HP zoning of an area where the property owner doesn’t want it, that’s exactly the kind of situation at issue” under the newly passed law.
Stanton said ideally, owner support should not weigh heavily in such decisions. “When we analyze HP, the question should be, ‘Is their area historic, is it deserving of the status of being historic?’ Occasionally that means the property owner doesn’t want it,” he said. “But just because of being designated historic, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop your property. There are significant limitations, you may have to wait a year, ponder, think it through ... I’ve never viewed HP as some kind of draconian land use designation; it strikes a balance between the interests of the community as a whole and the property owner.”
But, as a case of another protective zoning move that perhaps wouldn’t happen under Prop 207, the “Warehouse District Overlay, we’d have to think long and hard before we’d do that again,” Stanton said. “Land use is an area where the issues are often very complex, issues are subtle. We’ll take the individual cases, and we work hard on them. In most cases, HP is done in partnership with property owners. Most cases are promoted by people who love preservation, and in most cases, the zoning adds value to a property.”
In the end, “HP was one of the big reasons why I opposed 207, that’s where it may have the most unintended impact,” Stanton said, “Preservation has been a pretty good priority of City Council.”
As important as HP is, the potential effects of 207 go further, Stanton said. “What if we want to upgrade our design standards, for big boxes, for example? Arguably, that’s a restriction on property, that adds a cost to developing that land,” he said But ultimately, “It’s improving the community.”
“From my political position, the Supreme Court was wrong in ‘Kelo.’ That was wrongly decided,” Stanton said. “I don’t think they should have allowed a private taking in the case without blight; I was surprised East Coast states apparently have such loose restrictions on the use of eminent domain.”
But as a regrettable outcome of the measures passed in reaction, “The effects of 207 will be a hotly debated and hotly contested issue in the years to come across the state. This will be a field day for lawyers,” Stanton—a former lawyer himself—concluded.
Strobeck agreed with Barnes and Stanton that the outcome is unfortunate and that the measure was misleadingly sold. “We’re very sorry that it did pass. It’s one of those things: People thought they were voting on eminent domain, heard so much about that, were not aware of all the things stuffed into the measure,” he said. “The regulatory takings provision, that’s going to be litigated for years, will be very costly for all levels of government—and first, for citizens.”
Strobeck confirmed it was the League that sued a few months ago to try to get the initiative knocked off the ballot, for failing to meet a requirement adopted in recent years, that citizen initiatives attempting to create new programs entailing government expenditures identify a funding source to pay for them. For example, Proposition 203, which creates child health and education programs, also adds a new tobacco tax to pay for them.
“We analyzed the measure from a whole bunch of different angles, and our attorneys decided that was the strongest angle, that it did not have a funding source identified,” Strobeck said. “Voters passed an initiative [with that provision] two years ago, but that requirement only applied to state government, not to counties or cities.
“We got a ruling from Superior Court; it said ‘You’re right, it probably is unconstitutional. But they declined to invalidate it, saying ‘That would be getting into the substance of the measure.’ It came down to a question of ‘ripeness,’” he said.
Strobeck said he doesn’t know whether that legal challenge will now be renewed. “We haven’t made a final decision,” he said. “We did look at the Supreme Court decision yesterday [Nov. 10] upholding that decision. They also threw out the finding that it was clearly unconstitutional.”
Strobeck said the measure isn’t invalid for having multiple subjects, as that only applies to proposed constitutional amendments. But interestingly, that issue has some relevance to the rejection of the legal challenge to 207, based on the courts’ insistence it was premature to invalidate it reading it for problems of substance, rather than form. “Our attorneys have said using the Supreme Court standard that they put in yesterday, even a ‘multiple subject’ lawsuit would have to be a post-election challenge, as it would require the court to read the essence of the measure.”
But given the latest ruling, to fight the initiative now, “We would have to bring a new suit,” he said.
As for Phoenix’s outlook, “I have a meeting set with the Law Department to find what implications are,” city HP Officer Barbara Stocklin said. “Clearly there will be implications for the HP office and our programs.”
According to Larry Felix, an attorney in the city’s Law Department, “I was at several meetings about this” during the campaign season, and city staff “were saying they expected lawsuits to be filed.”
Felix said he isn’t the specialist in this area and that City Attorney Gary Verburg or Deputy City Attorney Bill Bock would probably be part of meetings such as the one with Stocklin, as well as city staff attorney Margaret Wilson, who specializes in zoning.
In the meantime, “There’s quite a bit of work the city is involved in, on the consequences the city will have to live with,” due to 207’s passage, Felix said. In Oregon, where a similar statute has been in effect a couple of years, “there has been $7 billion in claims,” Felix said. He wasn’t confendent of the magnitude, but if it is that large, it’s probably because there, “the law was retroactive.” Here, as far as he can tell, it is not.
Also looking more widely, a Wall Street Journal editorial (Nov. 11-12 edition) commented that “three states that rejected similar measures—California, Washington and Idaho—did so in part because proponents overreached politically by insisting that landowners should be compensated when government regulations diminish their property values. Opponents were able to portray this as a threat to state budgets and fiscal prudence.”
As for the Protect Arizona Taxpayers Coalition, it released a statement following the passage of Prop 207:
“If the initiative process is to remain viable and retain its integrity we must ensure that our rights as voters cannot be auctioned off to the highest out-of-state bidder. Close to $1.5 million was spent by special interests from outside of Arizona to put Prop 207 on the ballot and mount a deceptive campaign designed to trick the voters into voting yes. The organizations that bankrolled this initiative are all connected to Howard Rich, a wealthy real estate speculator from New York.
“Now that we’ve given Howard Rich a foot in the door he will most assuredly be back with even more extreme measures.
“Proposition 207 will result in serious consequences for the state of Arizona and could have a devastating affect on our quality of life and our ability to enact laws that protect our neighborhoods and communities. Under the guise of addressing eminent domain, Prop 207 goes far beyond. It includes an extremely confusing and deceptive measure that forces taxpayers to pay land speculators for unrealized profits caused by community planning restrictions or waive the restrictions for them.
“We must now pull together as a state to figure out a way to right this wrong, and commit ourselves to remaining vigilant in the future so that we cannot be fooled again.”
On a broader note, does the change in political winds nationally signify a resolve against “getting fooled again?” Maybe, maybe not: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” (Coincidentally, The Who are now touring to promote their first new album in decades.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'Apocalypto' review taken a step further

Here's the response to the film as given to the publicity agency representative following the press screening ... for the complete review, pick up a copy of the Dec. 18 Midtown Messenger, or visit here a week later for the complete review, and others ...

'Apocalypto': It's the sustainability, stupid. (Gibson does get it)

In "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson continues where he left off in both "Braveheart" and, in a minor way, "The Passion of the Christ."

Following one of "Braveheart's" themes, he continues to uphold the essential value and goodness of small-scale "sustainable" societies (i.e., Daniel Quinn's "Leavers") and documents their ultimately vain struggle against imperial, hierarchical civilizations (Quinn's "Takers").

Following an implication of his professed Catholicism, he points out that Mesoamerican civilizations were not some kind of paradise, but corrupt, decaying and evil--cultures of cruelty and death--as much a "Taker" type of civilization as any to be found--and which also depredated their nearby "Leaver" peoples.

This is historically accurate. So, in his view, it presumably should also rob us of much sympathy for the way the Mayan and other large Mesoamerican civilizations fell victim to the Western invaders. (I.e., consider the Will Durant epigraph at the opening of the film.)

Understood in these terms, the storyline is exactly what I'd hoped it would be. Acting, cinematography, production design, directing etc. all seemed masterful to me, though the casting was somewhat off, with the producers mistakenly thinking anyone of brown skin would fit as New World aboriginals, while some of the actors were clearly of Midde Eastern ethnicity (e.g., Jaguar Paw's wife).

The gore (and the hero's superhuman stoicism and resolve) were classic Gibson--as well as the gimmick of having people look distasteful in proportion as they are evil or corrupt. (E.g., the fat little Mayan princeling on the temple summit, the diseased little girl "prophet" with the facial boils, etc.)

I did enjoy the proud mantra: "I have hunted this forest with my father, as he did with his father," etc. As I recited to Wendy (the screening rep): "My name is Inigo Montoya. I have hunted this forest with my father. You killed my father. Prepare to die. ... My name is Inigo Montoya. I have hunted this forest with my father. You killed my father. Prepare to die. My name is Inigo Montoya. I have hunted this forest with my father. You killed my father. Prepare to die. ..." etc.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

New Garfield infill housing unveiled

Dana Johnson of the Garfield Organization’s Revitalization and Economic Development committee invited the public to an unveiling of new, single-family infill houses in the neighborhood.

An Open House around the unveiling was held Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 1025 E. Portland, Garfield Neighborhood, Phoenix. The following announcement describes the significance of the housing toasted at the event.

For over a decade, Garfield Organization (GO) has partnered with Neighborhood Housing Services of Phoenix and the City of Phoenix’s Neighborhood Services Department to develop infill houses. The goal: to fill vacant lots in Garfield neighborhood with single family homes, inviting new homeowners. Garfield Organization has a vision of what is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, and has always insisted on infill housing that fits that vision.

After working to support two new historic district overlays in the neighborhood, Garfield residents further responded with a request for new house designs to express a more contextual esthetic in infill housing in their neighborhood. In response to GO’s request, an RFQ was issued and several architects were interviewed.

The winning proposer was Roberts Jones Associates, an award-winning architectural firm with a reputation for designing high-end custom houses from Carefree to Sedona. Their designs for Garfield’s infill houses demonstrate that affordable housing can fulfill the requirements of historically appropriate context, while also meeting financial and market constraints. Roberts Jones Associates accomplished this goal while also exhibiting attention to detail both in materials and in use of vernacular design elements.

Poor William's Almanack - 12/10/06

APHORISMS, or, notes for a stand-up routine

David "Poor William" Tell

The suffix of the word “misogynist” seems to imply that merely by adding a little focus, one can refine a general, perhaps casual hatred of mankind into something more a hobby or art.

If the valley in which Phoenix lies were meant for human habitation, the Hohokam would still be living there.

I’ll never forget the time my wife told me the difference between me and her is that she doesn’t dwell on the differences between people.

She also once admitted that once she gets breast implants, she’ll probably find other aspects of her body to be dissatisfied with. “Yes,” I said, “but at least then you’ll be able to take your mind off it by playing with your boobs.”

Filial love probably arises in early childhood from the sycophancy of being “in” or “tight” with the most important person you know.

I like product names. I noticed an RV with the model name “Intruder” emblazoned on it. I imagined the tagline or slogan to go along with this product: “And we’re parking in your neighborhood!”

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is “my wife’s and my movie.” It’s about a couple who get a second chance at their relationship because HOW MUCH THEY HATE EACH OTHER HAS BEEN BURNED OUT OF THEIR MEMORIES!

Or, to put it differently, paraphrasing Santayana: “Those who can’t remember the history of their relationship are doomed to repeat it.”

This is true: My toilet paper brand found an innovative place to put a coupon to buy more of their product. Actually, I didn’t notice it right away. But the clerk I hand it to probably will.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Ode to a Civic Structure – With a Phoenician Turn

As the extensive expansion and revamping of Phoenix Civic Plaza grinds toward completion, it seems fitting to post here a poem written by Midtown resident Amy Taylor, submitted to The Midtown Messenger for publication in July of 2004. Amy said in a cover note that the poem was written before the existing Civic Plaza was completed in 1972, when she worked as a nighttime answering service operator near Central and Thomas. In that stint, she said, a Civic Center guard who would report in by phone from the site offered her a private tour at midnight one night. Amy was 47 at the time, and married, and her relationship with the guard--and their rendezvous for the tour--were strictly platonic, she said in her note. Amy added that she provided the poem to the Maricopa Recorder’s Office after writing it in 1972.

Editor's additional note: Attempts to call Amy at the number she gave in 2004 and one found online reached "number not in service" messages. If anyone who knew Amy knows her current whereabouts and health condition, please contact us. In any case, we hope her poem's publication here gives it exposure that Amy would find gratifying.

Phoenix Civic Plaza

Manifestation - Revelation

I asked “Is that [the] new civic plaza
Where you’re working as guard?”
He said “Why don’t you come see it,
I can show you, ’tisn’t hard.
First you find Fifth and Van Buren,
The turn south through the stop gate,
Then stand and wait,
Blow your horn, and I will listen
For the sound, I’ll be around.”

Velvet dark the Phoenix sky,
Stars twinkling Andromeda,
Noise of traffic moving near,
Sounds of city,
Sounds of fear,
Midnight, waiting for the guard, Locket,
He will show me round the civic plaza.
I have found, the best way to see the sights,
Is ask the people working nights.

Airplanes gliding overhead,
Electricians in their beds,
The building looms a solid mass,
Wire gates for the trucks to pass,
Chain link fencing circles round,
Construction trailers on the ground.
All visitors must check in at
The Del Webb building, think of that.

Police cruisers on the prowl,
Three hippies pass, their night to howl,
Sit and wait,
At the gate,
Lights are flashing, getting late,
Listen to the radio,
Solid rock, full of life,
People’s problems,
Songs of strife,
Noisy love songs, loud and clear,
Are playing while I’m sitting here.

There’s a car along the street,
Here comes Locket looking neat,
Cowboy hat, pants as tight as skin,
Victory sign, it must be him,
He looks as cute as cute can be,
Smiling as he looks at me.

Overhead doors in a row,
Vast empty rooms, light fixtures glow,
Massive chambers, dark and quiet,
Box offices await the crowd,
Planned for people by the thousand,
Our footsteps on the bare floor pound
And echo as we cross the space,
Transformers hum,
Architects’ schemes,
To make a background for his dreams.

In visions I can see the place,
Filled with all the human race.
Conventions here from every state,
The entrance at the going rate,
For trailer shows, boat, car and coin,
All people here in Phoenix join
The kids crowding through the gates,
To many various shows, a spate.

Stairways leading from the ground,
General offices abound,
The ghostly figures pass,
In dreams behind the blackened glass.

Walkway taken over Third Street,
Third Street dipping underneath,
Square on square of patterned concrete,
Squares of velvet for our feet,
Round reservoir, which is in truth
Mythological fountain of youth.

Main entrance to the concert hall,
Solid glass three-eighths inch thick
Rising up to fifty feet.
Silicate of tinted glass
Defying the bright sun to pass.
Concrete shell to catch the sound,
Smooth, elliptical and round.

In a little room the phone is.
Locket made a call to Burns,
To record the fact that he was working.
Then he turns.
Amy do you see the drawings
That they follow as they work.
See the rolls and rolls of blueprints,
Book of plans is inches thick.
See the rolls and rolls of dreams
Transformed into reality,
Then rolled up and tucked away.
Dry leaves curled on an autumn day,
Victims of autumnal blast,
When their usefulness is past.

Moving through the empty spaces,
See the vast and darkened places,
Hydraulic orchestra pit lift,
Musicians offered up, a gift.
Power lifted elevator for unloading scenery,
Exit signs are glowing red,
I can see way overhead.
Light is on the second floor
Shining on an open door,
Dressing rooms are all around,
But the keys cannot be found.
Walking on the concrete bare,
Carpeting will soon be there.
Hear applause, the actors bow,
See the visions then and now.
When all assembled and complete,
Two thousand and more it will seat.
Dark - a flashlight - on the stage,
Scaffolding’s intricate maze
Reaching heavenward so high,
Seeming that they touch the sky.

In one corner of the stage,
To reach the gridiron overhead,
A Jacob’s ladder, round and round,
Black spiral staircase is found,
From ground to gridiron, eighty five feet,
Metal, black, and very neat,
Like smoke rising to the sky,
Curling to the heavens high.
Or a black dust devil dancing,
Swirling in the desert bare
While the stormclouds are advancing,
Ominous the desert air.

Manila ropes connect to cables,
Cables connect to the pipes,
Pipes to hang the scenery,
Single purchase counterweights,
Added weights to compensate,
Ropes for curtains by the score
Actually sixty five or more.

Caverns underneath the buildings
Waiting for a thousand cars,
Supporting pillars, full of grace
Like atlas hold the world in place.
Think of the hole they dug before
The concrete mixers start to pour.

From Monroe south to Washington,
That’s two blocks wide, and three blocks long
A vision, yes, a lovely dream
Is rising in this Phoenix scene.

Beneath the overpass we walked
On empty Third Street, and we talked
Of Phoenix, how we felt about her,
The lack of night life in the center,
How Tucson has much more to offer,
Las Vegas is more to our choice
Where day and night blend into one,
No clocks to tell the time of day,
To drift along bohemian way,
And never have to say,
“That’s closed, we must go home.”

It would be nice, if, in this scheme
They'd plan a nightlife for the scene
So when conventioners arrive
The nightclubs would grow and thrive
When people came they'd have no fear
Of what they're going to here.

We found the door, the metal stair,
And climbed to catwalk waiting there,
I looked below, beyond the lights
And was amazed to find my knees
Which usually would shake with fright,
And with sheer terror I would freeze,
They didn't shake when looking down.

We climbed aloft, until we reached the roof,
Then walked beyond and viewed the fairy city,
How fabulous and truly pretty,
The sky a shade of gentian blue,
Even of the darkest hue,
The lights were twinkling all around,
As far as we could see,
And we thought what a pity,
The smog obscured mountains beyond,
There were no edges to the pond,
The water lay as though below,
With stars reflected in the glow,
The sky above, the air was chill,
The view gave me such a thrill.

We slowly walked down to the ground,
To powdery dust that's all around,
And walked and talked of life and such,
Of many things, yet not of much.

I said goodbye, he locked the gate,
The very strangest thing is fate,
That I should meet a guard like him,
And on a momentary whim,
Be privileged alone to view
The Civic Plaza - all brand new.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coronado neighborhood announces its first Visual Award, to a 1925 home

Award winner open, exhibiting art on First Fridays

Coronado resident and activist Wayne Murray announces the first-time award and explains the process, event.

The Coronado Awards Panel has chosen the home of Thomas Blee-Carlyle and Aaron Carter as the first recipient of the “Coronado Visual Award.” It was on the 2006 Coronado Home Tour and since then, the outward improvements speak for themselves. This award was brought to this point by Katie O’Neal and panel members Jody Clute, Brian Enas, Richard Freshley, Mary Henningsen, Wayne Murray and Brian Vance, and was discussed with many more neighbors at the Day of the Dead event.
Aaron and Tom work constantly to improve and rejuvenate the East Side of Coronado. Each First Friday the doors of their home are open to neighbors to talk as they host an art gallery showing. Please come meet Aaron and Tom some First Friday soon and see why this home was selected.
They have gone above and beyond in the renovation of this rare Phoenix home to grant our community with a treasure now to be honored with the Coronado Visual Award. In gratitude for their efforts, Monica at MacAlpine’s has generously donated dinner or lunch for two as part of this award. Congratulations and thank you Monica!

Click here, SCOTSCRAIG AWARD, for a link to slideshow of the home. (Wait a moment for buffering of the Windows Media video.)

Below is a description of the home written by Aaron Carter. The award panel offers the homeowners an opportunity to write their own words about their home.

Built in 1925, the Tudor Bungalow is affectionately named “Scotscraig” after the name of the original development. An important design tenant was to integrate the desert and period colors with the visual and physical elements of the home. The 18-month custom period renovation restored historic details both inside and out while being sensitive to the environment and modernization. Tom and I tried to visualize then harmonize these visceral aspects: color, light, sound and texture.
The front landscape uses desert plantings. The bright reds, oranges and yellows resonate with the red pavestone, red rocks, cement entryway, decorative painting on the portico, and large boulders. In this way, the warm colors are brushed across the fragile salvia blooms, the enduring pavestone, and hand-painted portico. The 1940’s barn is cloaked in marigold orange, agave green, and geranium red. The color palette expands to include the antique copper mineral tone of the landscape lighting, announcing the homes location in Arizona. The mountains around are symbolized by the granite grey of the pea gravel, river rocks, stones and fountain. The period olivine greens and browns of the half-timbering and trim, as well as the painted red wood fence, represent the wooded forest one might find a Tudor Bungalow.
Black and white striped fabric awnings further enhance the graphic qualities and present a framing for the entire scene. The post lights offer their fire at night, and the fountain captures the essence of life while bringing a calming sound. An integration of location, environment, history and flora results in a friendly visual award-winning appeal.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Read this preview chapter of a new memoir, promised in the review of "Running With Scissors" in our Nov. 20 print issue

Here is Chapter Four of the memoir-in-progress, My Life and High Times, which loosely emulates James Thurber's My Life and Hard Times, in covering about the same period of my life as his memoir did his--my life also serendipitously suggesting chapter titles that, again, echo Thurber's. I wish I could also say the writing is similar and, especially, that the humorous touch is as light as his. I tried, but alas, my style is my own, such as it is. And it's my life, anyway. Welcome to it ...

The title of this chapter alludes to Thurber's "The Day the Dam Broke." I dedicate it to my two wonderful, more or less drug-free children, now that they are adults and the question of obtaining custody is entirely moot.

Chapter Three

The Day All Hell Broke Loose
© 2006. All rights reserved.

In “those years,” my friends and I, like all subcultures, had our own little set of code words and specialized slang. In addition to articulated grunts, squeaks, clicks, whistles, whoops and burps, we also used a number of made-up words (or regular words with special meanings), the general import of all of which was that we were really cool. (We didn’t do too much with secret hand gestures or handshakes, though Colby Pressley and I did get in trouble once in 7th grade for what Mrs. Koontz oddly assumed were some kind of sexually suggestive finger motions. Actually, here’s what was going on: There was some odd bit of wispy lint or fuzz that I had noticed floating across the room toward me among the thousands of more minute motes and dust specks visible in a broad shaft of sunlight stabbing though our English classroom one slow afternoon. Now distracted from the blackboard exercises in grammar trees, I snatched the lazily wafting piece of fuzz, and, by rubbing my thumb and forefinger together, managed to re-release it, in Colby’s direction. We played “catch” for a few slo-mo back-and-forths with the amazing wisp of fuzz, but meanwhile, all Mrs. Koontz could see was that we were intermittently rubbing our thumb and finger together across the room at each other. After we failed to take the import of her deadly glare, she called us to her desk, where we cleared up the misunderstanding. I suppose we produced the fuzz-bit as evidence, though in my view, her guess that we were making some kind of dirty gesture was more outlandish than the real story. Jeez.)
Some of our druggie-era slang included “berry-face”: an allusion to someone having a beaming, perhaps even flushed face, though the beatific grin was the real clincher. This term was drawn from our fascination, when tripping, with the ripe dogwood berries ubiquitous around our landscape. These autumn adornments are a shiny bright scarlet as ordinarily beheld--and incandescent little drops of immanent godhead when you’re hallucinating. Another, more made-up term was “neckle-nozle peacock-eyes,” which referred to the eyes of someone having an LSD experience--luminous, shiny, and with telltale dilated pupils. Stan, one of the more creative, and correspondingly unstable, members of our little clique, came up with this one, among others.
So, just as smoking pot itself is kind of child’s play, the slang that comes from that part of stoner culture is clearly infantile compared to mature expressions such as this highly abbreviated version of our LSD-related lexicon. As for getting initiated into that subcultural niche, there’s a first time for everyone.
Mine came on an otherwise inauspicious Saturday, during the year when I was already seeing a counselor as part of a small group with some other “troubled but salvageable” kids. I suppose I was sent there as the outcome of a series of misadventures beginning with the time I didn’t come home till 3 a.m., which was about two days past curfew when I was 14. You see, as the youth theater’s “Fiddler on the Roof” opening night party wound down (I played one of kids betrothed to the younger girls, a non-speaking part--and worked behind the scenes on sets and lighting), Gordon, the lighting designer, and Wayne, another really cool older guy, asked if I wanted to go to some girl’s house where we would “get laid,” they promised. (It was a big gyp, of course; and moreover, the night’s featured coquette, Karen Hyde, was, years later, a thorn in my side in a Philosophy of Religion class at the local U., where I was an East-leaning atheist, and she was at that juncture a born-again Baptist. Gordon, who lived in William Jennings Bryan’s old home, actually somehow ended up coming over to my house to go to bat for me against the more dire punishments my parents had in mind. As a ressult, I ended up grounded for a month, sans the eight hours of rock-bustin’ on non-school days.)
I think the event immediately triggering the counseling, though, was when Stan, Drew, Steve Ward and I ended up having to be picked up at the police station at 1 a.m. by our parents, who were a little peeved about it. Drew and I had been spending the night at Stan’s and we snuck out and met Steve, and all went over to Robin Young’s, and we were throwing pebbles at her bedroom window, to get her to come out too, except we actually had no idea which was her window. Perhaps her parents thought it was a light shower of very small meteorites--although if I thought that, I would probably turn on the radio for a civil defense message, rather than calling the police. Jeez.
One of the other counseling participants was a girl with trichtilomania, which means she pulled her own hair out in handfuls. I think it was was whispering offensive come-ons in her right ear. She would have been kind of cute, too, except ... you know those dolls that little girls play with, with the synthetic hair, and after a few years, you can see the pattern of holes in their pink rubber scalp that the hair no longer hides?
There was another kid in the counseling, too, whose misdeeds I was never clear on. I hung out at his house a few times, and I think it reassured both sets of parents that our activity together never went beyond “listlessness.”
Our counselor was Don Boone, M.S.W., an early “tough-love” advocate who looked kind of like Dr. Phil except his shaved head and ears were shaped more like Henry’s, the silent kid from the comics. He comes into this story again later, in peanut-headed cameo.
So, this one Saturday, I was to meet this black kid named Daniel at Montford Park, in the once stately but now seedier part of town that my sister now lives in now that it’s getting gentrified all over again. I waited forever ... the kind of forever that, the longer you wait, the more sure you are you’ll just have missed the guy, and after all that time invested, too! He did eventually show up. From my own commerce, I later understood how little it may have been worth it to him to meet some suburban nerd just to sell a $3 pill.
The pill was, I think, Purple Barrel acid, which is just like the name sounds. I took it then and there, and that was the fatal mistake.
I already knew academically that LSD trips could last twelve to sixteen hours or more. I knew this from reading Dr. Joel Fort’s books about treating wacked-out druggies in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in the ’60s. That’s where also I learned Valium could keep me from going over the bright orange edge into the rabbit-hole of irreversible madness, if I had taken anything labeled “Eat Me.” I also checked the overdose level and “contraindications” of various fun pharmaceuticals such as Obedrin LA (a form of prescribed amphetamine--a white pill infused with flecks of red fun-crystals, and called “Strawberry Shortcake” by the depraved) and oxycodone (Percodan, or synthetic morphine), in my girlfriend Jennifer’s decased father’s Physician’s Desk Reference before lightly and casually abusing them.
I was a rebel, a bad kid--but also a Nice Jewish Boy. OK, I was a nerd.
Anyway, I took the acid, then started walking toward the east side of downtown from Montford, where I would be able to more directly hitch-hike my way to Jennifer’s house. This was about 3 in the afternoon.
Jennifer’s mom was one of those “pal” kind of parents who make their home a hospitable hangout for her daughters’ friends--in the spaces between shrieking at one or both of her female offspring, driving them to tears (and booze, drugs and the comforting embrace of horny young boys). Tina drank Champales all day with no evident effect except that it made her oblivious to our oblique derision. By the time she switched to vodka tonics in the evening, teasing her became a complete waste of breath, but she took up the slack by berating her friend Edward, who could also often be found hanging around the Vernon house. The tragedy of his having been a lobotomy patient made teasing him a little too guilt-ridden an exercise for outsiders, but at least we could watch the Vernons, including elementary-school-age Betsy and Billy, mess with his head.
Edward wasn’t there that day, but Don Boone, who also had a therapeutic relationship, separately, with the Vernons, dropped by. I smugly, breezily said “Hi” to Don, who himself kind of breezed in and out, and that was about the last breezy thing to take place that day, as my trip then moved from the phase of fascinating and peculiar physical sensations to one of total, tongue-tying, jaw-dropping mystical awe. So, had we run into one another a few minutes later, Don would have had the advantage. Even Edward.
The physical effects: First, “electric teeth.” Speed, I later learned, tends to make you clench your jaw and grind your teeth with an involuntary, pit-bull-like resolve. Acid has a similar effect, except your teeth tingle tantalizingly even before you, if instead under the influence of amphetamines, would have loosened them from the jawbone. So, you commence to clack them lightly together, and on contact, they seem to conduct the tingly electric current emanating from the big brain starting to wiggle and writhe nearby, elsewhere in your skull. And, as you slowly separate your choppers, or bring them nearly back together, uppers seem to repel lowers, as if like poles of a magnet. (I bet that happens even if you have ceramic, not metallic, fillings. It would be interesting to see what would happen if old people did acid: What about when they take their dentures out at night? Remember that old novelty toy, the wind-up clattering teeth? The idea must have come from somewhere ...)
This “electric teeth” phenomenon could occupy you for hours if not for the other things that begin to happen. These “other things” represent the transformation of perceptual distortions limited to one’s own body, into ones that start to involve the outside world. (Though these also start to raise the old question, left unanswered by most people back in infancy, and forgotten, as seemingly obvious: Where does my “self” end and the “outside world” begin? On acid, perceptually, the question regains some fascination, if not urgency ...)
One of these effects is “trails”--stubbornly persistent after-images of things in motion. Such as your arms--looking like they’re still where they were at the same time they appear to be where they now are (and at all points in between)--which you may begin constantly waving across your field of vision, watching the “trails.” If otherwise supple, you may be able to trick sober observers into thinking you’re practicing belly-dancing, with its accompanying, meaningful hand movements, while you’re actually watching “trails.” And even if you’re not too supple, and don’t fool anyone, this still might be good exercise.
(See Appendix A for a discussion of the phamacological basis of “trails” and other perceptual distortions caused by LSD, which occupies the receptor sites of the inhibitory neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain’s synapses. See Appendix B for what this implies about modern-day SSRI-type antidepressants, and how the confident social functioning they promote in many patients represents the opposite pole from profound insight into the nature of the Self and a mystical attunement with the Tao. In so many words, Prozac is firmly at odds with dedicated navel-gazing.)
As for this story, you may be worrying that not much hell has broken loose yet, and it is already almost, oh ... about 7 p.m. on The Day All Hell Broke Loose. That’s all right, it’s about to.
What happened was that my dinnertime absence triggered some implacable calling around to my friends’ houses by my Mom. She finally called Jennifer’s, where Tina informed her that I was there. This betrayal is distressing; given my condition, she could at least have informed her that I was not all there. Actually, I think the news was that I had been there; then I had walked over to Stan’s, and was picked up by my Mom en route back to Jennifer’s--this made all the easier by the fact that walking the black asphalt road had begun to seem like slogging though wet but shifting sand, the way the novel, geometrically shifting composition of the paved surface seemed to be trying to convert the substance of my tennis shoes likewise, to absorb them into itself. So, when my mom drove up, I couldn’t get away very fast, and she got me into the car.
(The “crystalline, geometric” thing is another characteristic perceptual effect that, fortunately, is there to take over when the novelty of “trails” may begin to wear off. That “crystalline, geometric” appearance that all surfaces begin to take on, at the same time renders everything as seemingly alive, organically interconnected, so that boundaries between things seem less significant. And, ordinarily nondescript things can become intricately beautiful. At Jennifer’s for instance, the wall-to-wall blue carpeting with yellow stains of dog pee here and there appeared like a splendid Oriental carpet--and their dog wasn’t even a Pekingese (much less a Shar-Pei or Shih-Tsu), but rather a regular old American Standard poodle.
With everything also pulsing, shimmering, undulating and so on, this is when things--such as your face in the mirror--can seem to the ill-prepared to be melting or morphing into Yourself As an Old Man, or a decaying corpse, or your cousin Joey who everybody used to say you looked so much like, while pinching both your cheeks. This is a good time to try NOT to freak out. It’s not OK to punch a feeble old aunt just because she’s pinching your cheek, no matter how much a painful pinch interferes with your cheek’s organic oneness with the All. (A warning, though: In this condition, when you may begin to feel “one” with Joey, or that you really can’t tell where you end and Outer Reality begins--neither of these realizations is conducive to acing midterm exams.)
Upon arriving home, I was ushered into my parents’ bedroom, where my Dad was waiting, kind of irritated, I suppose. His blood pressure, barely controlled at the best of times, was pounding in my supersenses. His face appeared to me livid, bloated with blood, like a rotting tomato filled with noxious gases and about to burst. “Nice berry-face, Dad!” I thought. At least, I think I only thought it, though he then lashed out at me, knocking off my glasses. I picked them back up and put them on, inarticulately indicating I had something of great importance to say. This at least forestalled further blows. I don’t think my Dad really wanted to hit me; he was just acting out the pre-programmed robot-like motions of a straight, unevolved mortal, so my Buddha-nature showered him invisibly with my compassion.
Thus, we all became aware of the futility of the interview, and I was allowed to go to the kitchen for the supper they had saved for me, oh boy! I was transfixed for a while, gazing at the awesomeness of the last few bits of soap suds valiantly hanging in there against the ravages of grease in the hamburger griddle, soaking in the sink. Then I sat down to contemplate the hamburger. Every sensation--biting, salivating, chewing and swallowing--was greatly magnified. Occasionally, even flavor wormed its way into my consciousness amid all the other, preoccupying sensations, like an orgasm achieved in haste, and accomplished despite an uncomfortable position.
That hamburger seemed to last forever. Not that I wanted it to.
I went and started running a bath, whereupon my Mom called me back into their bedroom. She handed me a book for parents about drug abuse and pointed to a paragraph about LSD and suicide. Somehow, though, I must have conveyed the incorrigible joy I took in being alive and that my “lightness of being” was entirely bearable, so they let me take my bath while they went on preparing for a party they were going out to.
In the bath, I again exulted and mourned the desperate travails of the suds against the grime, seeing in it a metaphor for all wordly, Darwinian struggles, and happy to be transcendent over all such petty, temporal concerns even as my trip was hitting the downhill slide. So it didn’t matter to me how water-puckered my hands and feet were by the time I got out of the bath; if it meant I was actually, physically regressing into Salamander Man or Toad Boy, then that was just my karmic fate. Was it not?
I think my little brother Sam wisely avoided me the rest of the evening, and my sister was out having her own thrills somewhere, having earned them by participating in the family dinner at the appointed hour. But my grandmother, who was living with us at the time, cornered me in the hall. “Why can’t you be a good boy?” she wailed, crying. “I will be, Gram,” I said, hugging her reassuringly--yet with the emotional remoteness of my amphibious nature.
A little later, I felt human enough to hop across the street to Nobby’s. Even though the LSD was now quickly wearing off, I was able to enjoy observing the trails, the persistent parabolas left by the ping-pong ball, as Nobby and his dad, Nobby Senior, played a couple of games.
I stepped up to play against Mr. Riedy, but my confidence that literally being able to visualize the ball’s trajectory would give me an insuperable competitive edge was sorely misplaced.