Holiday Letter from Albuquerque
I write this in the aftermath of my 39th birthday—boys and empty bottles are still strewn casually about the room. I really have to think about picking up soon; the cats won’t stop batting them playfully behind the sofa, and the boys are starting to get cranky. As is my tradition, not to say my wont, I spent The Day Itself at the movie theater, catching up on my pop culture. Because multiplexes are the one thing Albuquerque does especially well, I was able to take in four movies in a row at the new Century 24. This theater complex is so huge it’s almost like one of those Roman city-states you read about in classical history. If Albuquerque had been attacked by Killer Fog while I was there, hundreds of us could have survived for weeks on what they’ve got stocked in the concession stands (though there might have been trouble about the chocolate cheesecake—I took one of the last slices). It even has its own web page. My capsule reviews follow:
Red Corner—Here, Richard Gere turns his attention to the making of anti-Chinese-Communist propaganda. And why not, I say. A guy’s got to turn a buck, even a Buddhist. This whimsical remake of The World of Susie Wong in native context works the Mysterious Asian Beauty angle to death. On the other hand, co-star Bai Ling acts wide circles around RG and has a mug you could stare at for hours. After his arrest for a murder he didn’t commit, Gere is beaten about the face and shoulders by the Head Bad Chinese Man during the requisite “Interrogation by Bad Chinese Mens” scene. With each slap, I said to myself, “That one’s for Cotton Club! And take THAT for King David! And here’s another for And the Band Played On. One found amusement where one could.
I Know What You Did Last Summer—So do I. You made an especially awful slasher movie. The only redeeming feature here is Freddie Prinze, Jr. (What? You didn’t know FP had a kid?), who is excessively easy on the eyes. On the other hand he (a) can’t act and (b) doesn’t take his clothes off even ONCE! Still, he Gets the Girl in the end, and that’s not nothing in an American film. No wonder the tame little school teacher who penned the short story on which this debacle is based is waging a campaign to dissociate herself from the film. Five dead bodies. No breasts. No weenies. One hand torn from its socket and fished out of the ocean in a seine net. Hit-and-Run Fu. Drowning Fu. Ice Hook Fu. Wendell Bob says check it out.
The Devil’s Advocate—I know what you’re thinking. Any movie with Keanu Reeves in it is a must-miss. Well, you’d be right, except for Al Pacino, who is God. (Except in this movie, in which he’s Satan.) Still, Keanu adds a few more facial expressions and a discernible emotion or two to his repertoire in this movie. (Hollywood Gossip: AP is no longer taking calls from KR because KR sucked so bad in the making of this film. But when you’re Al Pacino, pretty much every other actor must suck.) Devil’s Advocate has a wicked little sense of humor, which you had to love, and the premise is one you haven’t seen recently. The American Bar Association, however, is boycotting this film on the grounds that lawyers really aren’t the Spawn of Hell, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Keanu “I’m Not Gay But Somebody Has Been Teething on My Nipples” Reeves does display that oh-so-intriguing scar down the middle of his belly but not much else; it’s a shame, especially considering that there are so many nekkid females in this movie I had to come home and read a Playgirl so as not to wake up hetero.
And, finally, Boogie Nights—Let me put it this way: If you promise not to see this movie, I WILL SEND YOU seven bucks. This nasty-minded, pathetic, depressing little send-up of late-70s excess fits the Supreme Court definition of pornography: Not a single redeeming social value. Imagine Bret Easton Ellis meets Long Dong Silver. I felt so icky afterwards I wanted to invite everyone in the theater back to my place for a shower. And not a cold one, either. With the opportunity in hand, so to speak, to make Hollywood history by constructing the first phallus extender ever to be shown in a mainstream movie, the makers of this adolescent sex farce managed to create, instead, the world’s ugliest fake penis. Besides, by the time you get to see Marky Mark’s prosthetically enhanced Unit in the last scene, you are so tired of hearing about his dick you’re ready to go over to the lesbians. The special-effects people in this movie ought to be taken out and beaten to death with dildos. (Note to Dan Quayle: Or should that be “dildoes”?) And that’s alls I know.
In other news: I made a quick trip back to Hawaii in September to visit my mom, who is dying of three kinds of cancer and a blood clot. It’s all so not pretty I can’t bear to think about it. Still, it was a good trip—using the word “good” advisedly. What I mean is, it was a trip I needed to make and I was glad I went. My stepfather and half-brother are taking the brunt of the blow, since they’re the ones who have to be around for the radiation treatments and the wheelchairs and all the rest. They’re doing a good job, even though it’s not the same job I would be doing. But what you give up in exchange for living more than 3000 miles away for more than sixteen years is the right to bitch. And so I have. Still, it’s surreal. I go in and out of thinking that I should charge in and “save the day” by becoming expert on her symptoms and potential treatments and discovering heretofore unknown information about alternatives, as I’ve attempted to do several times in the past for friends who’ve had AIDS, but my gut feeling in this case is that such intervention is not welcome. When I was there she complained about nausea and loss of appetite. “I seriously suggest you start smoking dope,” I said, and she laughed, which was a better response than I probably had any right to expect.
I recently acquired a new kitty, which brings the total to three. I realize that pushes me right over the edge into eccentricity, but I’ve been teetering for years. This one is named Caliban, in keeping with the naming conventions (Claudio, Calvin, and Caliban); he’s black, because that’s my color scheme. He’s also hellacious, and seems to destroy everything he touches (I should have named him Shiva). I keep explaining to the kitties that their job is to provide writerly inspiration or, at least, to do bad magic on people I don’t like, but so far all they do is eat, sleep, and claw holes in the carpet. Against all reason, I continue to have high hopes.
Even as the newly appointed 1997-1998 Creative Writing Fellow in my department, I continue to do the Graduate Student Hard-Times, No-Bucks Shuffle, but at least now it’s with a purpose. I’m teaching one class this semester and have applied for other teaching jobs next Spring. In typical University of New Mexico fashion, however, I’m guessing they won’t bother to tell me anything definite until ten minutes before I’m supposed to report for class. Yes, I’m still disillusioned about my department and about their shitty-ass excuse for a writing program. That notwithstanding, I’m producing more than I ever have, most of it is being received respectfully (if not always enthusiastically), and I’m well on my way to having a book-length Ms. of short stories to start sending around after the first of the year. Great love for NM has not yet gripped me, and I don’t think it’s going to. The opportunities I’ve had to get out of Albuquerque have been wonderful, however, and I appreciate many of the things the state has to offer (thpugh I continue to consider ABQ a pit—I think I’ve already expressed my opinion that the best thing about this town is that Kentucky Fried Chicken delivers). I would, meanwhile, kill for some decent Chinese food, a video store whose window display is something other than a retrospective of Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks, and almost any kind of lettuce that isn’t iceberg. Speaking of icebergs, I also miss the ocean. Within the past eleven months, I have rediscovered and refined my love for DRIVING!—which you may find hard to believe after my many years of devout vehicular celibacy. And, having made it alive through this period of battling New Mexico drivers (this state has the highest drunk-driving AND the lowest safety-belt-use rates in the nation), I say: Bring on your damn sissy-ass New York drivers. I’m ready! After I left the multiplex on Sunday night, I drove around the perimeter of Albuquerque for the last forty-five minutes of my birthday, all the windows open, radio blaring, and cold air on my face. This is, I guess, what America’s all about: A boy and his car on a lonely road after midnight. It’s kind of epic, in a country-western-song sort of way.
Just in case you’re interested, since the beginning of the year, I’ve read the following books (the **s indicate that I recommend the title to you highly):
Aptheker, Herbert. Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion ~/~ Berendt, John. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (**) ~/~ Carr, Caleb. The Alienist (**) ~/~ Dostoeveky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov ~/~ Forster, E.M. A Passage to India ~/~ Hardy, James Earl. B-Boy Blues ~/~ Hellenga, Robert. The Sixteen Pleasures (**) ~/~ Hoag, Tammi. Dark Paradise ~/~ hooks, bell. Killing Rage: Ending Racism ~/~ Howatch, Susan. Glittering Images ~/~ King, Stephen. Desperation ~/~ Lodge, David. Small World ~/~ Morrison, Toni & Lacour, Claudia Brodsky (Eds.). Birth of a Nation’hood: Gaze, Script, & Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case (**) ~/~ Offutt, Chris. The Same River Twice ~/~ Preston, Douglas & Child, Lincoln. Mount Dragon ~/~ Stendahl. The Red and the Black ~/~ Sterne, Lawrence. Tristram Shandy ~/~ Styron, William. The Confessions of Nat Turner ~/~ and more squillions of short stories than I can count. Oh, and as many issues of the New Yorker as I could stomach. (By me, Tina Brown is still the anti-Christ.)
And that is the state of my soul. Much love and all good things for 1998!