The Story I Prefer

So my forty days without candy are almost up, and Jesus is really proud of me. I don’t know this for certain, since I’ve never actually spoken with the Messiah; he only speaks to televangelists. But I’ve no doubt Jesus is somewhere warm and sandy right now, checking up on all the many peeps under his roof. He’s probably in some remote locale that Trump has no idea even exists, sipping on a long tall glass of Sangria that was water before he held it in his mighty grip.

I think he probably marvels at the complications and wonders how we ignore the miracles on a daily basis. And I really do hope he has a great sense of humor, seeing as how I gave up candy inside this season of reflection. As if pushing away from the candy counter makes us square.

The ephemeral nature of my separation from a sugar rush is symbolic of something greater . . I get it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find irony and humor in the exchange rate; seeing as how the exchange rate is in everything we do.

Think about the things to which we abide, and how we give them currency. We believe a diet makes us disciplined. That reading about the stoics makes us pure. That attending church every Sunday makes us ready. That praying has two ends of a line. We actually believe that holding on to liturgical observances is a testimonial to the sacrifice of someone to whom Stephen Hawking, the smartest man in the world, believed was a fairy tale.

This isn’t to damn any of it. To the contrary, this is to celebrate the idea that we even try. Because every time we step into an idea and make it ours,  we’re not simply adopting these sacraments, we kinda become them in the trying. We win and we lose and it can be beautiful and ugly . . both. And there’s a magical fascination to that, I think.

Which is why it doesn’t turn me on to think we are simply the progeny of some totally spontaneous thrust in the belly of the universe. The idea that we’re nothing more than one big lab experiment may be the prevalent explanation, but the Shakespeare of it all really sucks.

Who’s to say the math is right? Who’s to say the universe isn’t some gigantic art museum that sprang a leak in the roof one day and let us in? After which the Boss fixed us up with a sweet crib, whose origins are thornier than a rose garden and whose stories are taller than Andre the Giant?

And we made it a home, somehow and some way. We, the highly combustible elements of an epic union, making our way through the great blue yonder in our search for clarity and meaning. We gain and we falter, magnificently. And so what of it? Are we handed a big fat meh of a pink slip when all is said and done? Is that the end of the story?

Or is there a maybe to all of this? The kind of maybe that stands a chance against all our technology and snark and smarts?

Like, maybe there is something else . . and maybe it’s been hiding in plain sight all along . . and maybe there is a star in the universe that belongs to every single one of us from the beginning of us. And when we leave this patch of grass, we get tucked into the sacred blanket, next to Prince and Carrie Fisher and Richard Wagner and Hawking and Bowie, and on and on.

Forty days is a grain of sand inside all the beaches on all the planets in all the universe. But . . it came to mean something to me, the way Pi Patel’s story of a Bengal tiger meant something to him. It’s a favorite book of mine, and I always get a lump in my throat when I get to the part where he asks the interviewer which story he preferred. Because I prefer that story too.

And so, if there is a God . . I like to think his son might actually appreciate the try. Personally, I like to think there is a Jesus. In spite of myself, and because of it. And if so, I like to think he wishes and he dreams, just like us. I like to think there is a day he looks forward to, a day separated by oceans and planets and the forever impossibilities of such a trespass. And I like to think it humbles even him. But still, he keeps walking and wishing and dreaming. And perhaps most of all right now?

I like to think he has a sweet tooth.

Taking the Reboot to Godfather III

Having grown up in John Gotti’s neighborhood, I am admittedly a fan of the wiseguys. And as such, mob movies have a special place in my cold, dark heart. Specifically, the Godfather franchise. Based on the Puzo novel, Francis Ford Coppola created a genre which helped set the standard for mob movies. Until his rush job with the third installment effectively killed what should have been the triumphant conclusion to a hall of fame collection.

Many would argue that Godfather III wasn’t horrible, and they are completely missing the point. No, it wasn’t horrible. In fact, as a stand alone mob flick, it was fine. But here’s the thing, fine isn’t what made the first two pictures all timers. Fine is what Casino is. And that, is just not good enough.

I blame Coppola, who took the money and ran. He had resisted a third go round for more than a decade before finally agreeing to it in the late ’80’s. I wish he would have left plenty well enough alone. To those of you out there who remember the great Willie Mays, Godfather III was the New York Mets version of the Hall of Famer. Not the same.

For one thing, the story line was hard to swallow. Michael Corleone wanting to go legitimate by getting in bed with the Catholic Church? So . . he stops doing dirty by doing business with more dirty? Come on! And the poison canoli scene . . how do you subject sister Connie to that kind of Murder She Wrote ridiculousness?!

The casting was another miss. Not bringing back Duvall because of the money is just plain dumb. Made all the dumber when they switched him out with George Hamilton. And Sofia Coppola, bless her pretty little heart, was no substitute for Winona Ryder. The first two movies were packed with Academy award winners, and so will this reboot.

A quick summary . . .

The year is 1986 and the Italian mafia finds itself at a crossroads. The Corleone family, while still prominent, is no longer the most feared crime syndicate. Their power structure has eroded for a variety of reasons- no legitimate ‘heir’ to the empire, the rise of other crime organizations and an Attorney General who is banking his political future on taking down the mob.

The other players are intent on taking their time with Corleone, who is more negotiator than enforcer now, out of necessity. The Barzini family rules the original five families, led by John Sangiovese, who takes command after assassinating the Boss outside a Manhattan restaurant on Christmas Eve.

Edgar Donovan is the new face of organized crime. Rising from the tenements in the Bronx, he has gained a foothold in the drug trade. But it is his control of the political machinery that once belonged to the Corleone family that proves most troubling to Michael. Donovan is the voice of reason, the bridge to how organized crime bosses do business in the present day. He doesn’t fly off the handle, he simply gets shit done. He is perfectly content to join forces with certain of his enemies in order to gain traction in the ever expanding world of crime syndicates.

Add to this an Attorney General hell bent on bringing down the mob, a former consiglieri (Tom Hagen) who turns state’s evidence, an estranged nephew out for revenge and a rising news anchor who happens to be in bed- literally- with the enemy, and things are looking grim for Michael Corleone.

Enter John Sangiovese. He is a fashion plate gangster every bit as ruthless and cunning as a young Michael Corleone. If he bears a remarkable resemblance to the late John Gotti, that’s because he is that guy- in fictional splendor. He belongs to the Barzini crime family- the new king of the five original families. And he’s coming for Michael Corleone.

Sangiovese has a button man who also serves as his second in command. And here’s where things get spicy. His right hand man- Salvatore Corleone- is the illegitimate son of one Fredo Corleone. So yeah, there might be a Hail Mary or several in Michael Corleone’s future.

And if you’re looking for the Luca Brasi character in all of this, that would be Nicolo Stassi. He is on Michael’s speed dial for a reason.

Here then, the cast of Godfather III. 

Al Pacino

Michael Corleone- I won’t be standing for the crew cut look Pacino sported in the original 3. No, in mine he goes with the parted, longer locks. He’s a more studious looking individual, but he’s still a python.

Leo

John Sangiovese- Leo is the guy. Reason being, he’s got the Al Pacino effect. You understand he is a monster, but he is so fucking cool about it that you can’t help but appreciate his blood lust.

Denzel

Edgar Donovan- Denzel made his bones in the mob movie genre with his turn in American Gangster. He is the face of the modern day gangster in that he will take your ass out before finishing his breakfast. But he would rather do business, seeing as how blood is a really big expense.

Robert Duval

Tom Hagen- Robert Duval’s character- Tom Hagen- is the character who goes legit. He turns state’s evidence and quickly becomes a media darling. He scores a show on cable as a talking head and retires to Connecticut to write his mob memoirs.

Sandra Bullock

Victoria Sangiovese- Sandra Bullock as Mafia Milf. What’s not to love? She will be the wife of the new Boss; a tough, great looking mob mom who doesn’t meddle in the family business unless it concerns her children. In which case, hell ain’t hath no kind of fury like hers.

Michael Shannon

Nicolo Stassi- Michael Shannon is a fucking crazy man. Like him or loathe him, you can’t say he doesn’t bring it to every single role. He is the perfect modern day Luca Brasi. As the Corleone button man who replaces Brasi in the late seventies, Shannon’s character will go rogue after Michael is taken out. He will lurk in the shadows . . waiting for his opportunity.

Daniel Day

Peter Greco- Daniel Day as the fictional Rudy Guiliani. He looks quite comfortable dressed in sharp suits and political ambition. It’s easy to see him in the role of Mob Slayer with dreams of a Mayoral run in the offing.

San Sebastian Film Festival: Steve Buscemi

Salvatore Corleone- Steve Buscemi as button man in Leo’s rise to the top? Hells yeah. He may not be the imposing figure that Sammy Gravano was (Believe me, I know first hand), but he is a reckoning in his own right. As my pal Dale remarked when we chatted about Buscemi, God was in a bad mood when he created him. Oh yeah, this guy is plenty capable of making peeps disappear.

Anne Hathaway

Savannah Kelly- What self respecting mob flick doesn’t feature a hot side dish? Which is what Anne will be to Denzel. Theirs is the tightly sealed affair that is borne out of a subcommittee hearing in which the two meet. She, the fiery upstart representative from Manhattan and he, the bullet proof gangster. They use each other to get to the top, because in the eighties . . if it ain’t greed, it doesn’t lead.

My Godfather III is set in the ’80’s and as such, it will have a killer soundtrack. Blondie, Phil Collins, Prince, Billy Joel, Falco, Laid Back, Talking Heads, The Sugarhill Gang, John Lennon. I could go on and on.

When the original came out in 1990, it was quickly trounced at the box office by Goodfellas, which boasted a better cast, story line and soundtrack. Well guess what? The Godfather is taking it back. And so, let’s start with this tune, to open things up.

 

Drinks with Jack London at the end of the world

I had this fever dream that I was having friendly drinks with Jack London, and he was telling me how the world is on fire and how we are plum out of fire exits.

He spoke of how the world had driven itself off the shoulder of its Dharma in the middle of the night, with a gas tank that was running on empty and an engine that was shit for.

Jack said it was meant to be . . a fait acompli borne out of the wedlock of boomers and hippies and all those lies they built fortunes and fairy tales on.

Big lies, like the stunted pupils of one of those gated community white girls who think they’re bad ass because they shoot up while listening to gangster rap.

Me and Jack are drinking scotch and smoking Camels and making eyes with the ladies hustling C-notes in the billiards room in the same way Eve once tended to that garden.

The Jukebox spill is Elvis Costello, whose nasally quiver is singing about another love gone wrong. But I think he’s talking about the end of innocence.

Jack insists there was no beginning to innocence, that the game’s always been rigged. So it stands to reason we shouldn’t be holding any funerals for its death.

When the barkeep does last call, we double down. And then we talk up zombies and Marilyn Monroe, Tupac and Nixon and Julia Child’s unmistakable laugh.

I run my hands across the caramel veneer of the oak bar and Jack laughs a staccato whilst cursing in stiletto. He says I’m a purist and purists are fools.

To Jack’s way of thinking, Charles Darwin was a glorified safari guide and Isaac Newton was a frustrated astronaut and Paul Sartre was our greatest fucking truth.

We opine on Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes and the death of baseball doubleheaders and the curious timelessness of pirates and Liz Taylor’s porn star lips, and we both agree that Stalin would’ve shopped at Target.

I tell him the world is equal parts Gatsby and Garibaldi; it’s a beautiful lie dressed in Army boots, intent on planting a flag on the moon and then digging into a stack of pancakes.

Jack London says it’s more like Hemingway and Cobain. He says the world is a brilliant and tortured place, that it’s a great big tease of a loose marble, looking down the barrel of a gun.

He says we have it coming.

 

 

 

We sing to the find the beauty, we fight to find the song

I wrote this in a comment on another blog recently. I decided to jot it down because it was speaking to me, rather loudly. Sometimes I push the words, and sometimes the words push me. These ones made themselves known across a fleeting precipice of my imagination meeting up with my thoughts and starting a fire.

When you think about it, this whole writing thing is such a tenuous matter. The nuance of what goes into a piece and what should be removed would seem, on the face of it, to be akin to tooling around under the hood- just a matter of nuts and bolts and gaskets. Except, writing is sort of like tooling around under the hood and somehow building a Hemi that is capable of space travel.

This line I wrote left me ponderous. This line whose particular sentiment can be easily explained as an emotional response to a post I was reading about the tragedy in Florida last week. And so, okay . . that’s the why of it, but that can’t explain the how of it. How is it that those words showed up in that particular moment? That’s what turns me on.

A writer’s brain feasts on the scrabble, never knowing what they might gather from the voices in their heads. Our imaginations are a natural disaster of the real and the unreal, the known and the unknown, the here and now and the never was. And from this feast we cull and carve and oftentimes, cry.

I like to think we’re communicating with the cosmos when we feast on the scrabble and make sense of the voices and sublime our imaginations. We step inside whole new worlds without ever leaving our feet. And sometimes we find a simple line that makes us wonder aloud. The song and the fight, all wrapped up in this beautiful mystery.

The not knowing is what’s lovely.