Feb. 5, 2011

First Night Floor is Deck

by Victor W. Pearn

in the Marine Corps:
hat is a cover,
bathroom is a head,
Drill Instructor is a DI,
and we have become ladies.

Thoughts swirling
in your brain,
you have lived through
a worse nightmare
than you ever
dreamed possible.

You asked for it.
You enlisted.
This is temporary.
This will pass.
What is the best way to survive?
Go through with it. You will make it.

If you can call two hours sleep
a night. That first night
calm, silent, peaceful,
your eyes close, mind slows,
then you hear Gabriel
sounding his trumpet.

"First Night Floor is Deck" by Victor W. Pearn, from Devil Dogs and Jarheads. © Busca, Inc, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of cartoonist John Callahan, (books by this author) born in Portland, Oregon (1951). When he was an infant, a couple named Callahan adopted him from a Portland orphanage. He grew up in the city of Dalles, east of Portland. He had a strict father and was educated in Catholic schools, but he was a rebellious kid. When he was 12 years old, he stole a bottle of gin during his grandmother's wake, and soon became a serious alcoholic. He chose jobs based on whether he thought he could do the work while he was drunk. When he was 21 he got drunk and accepted a ride from an equally drunk acquaintance, who crashed the car into a telephone pole going 90 miles per hour. Callahan's spine was severed and he became a quadriplegic.

That was 1972. Six years later, he said, "I knew with utter certainty that my problem was not quadriplegia, it was alcoholism." So he went to Alcoholics Anonymous, got sober, and went back to school. He was doodling during English classes at Portland State University, and he realized that he had a talent for cartooning. He started by publishing cartoons in alternative weekly newspapers, and by the mid-1980s was syndicated nationally. He was eventually syndicated in up to 300 publications.

He was an extremely controversial cartoonist, not afraid to be politically incorrect. The newspapers and magazines that published his work received constant letters from offended readers. Callahan targeted everyone, including disabled people, and many readers didn't realize that he himself was quadriplegic.

One cartoon shows a bookstore with an angry female cashier saying: "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humor section!!!" In another, a sheriff's posse is standing around an empty wheelchair with the caption: "Don't worry, he won't get far on foot." He drew an exercise class for quadriplegics with the aerobics instructor saying: "O.K., let's get those eyeballs moving." Another, titled "A.A. in L.A." shows a man standing up and saying: "My name is Mort and I represent Chuck who's an alcoholic." Still another showed a man with prosthetic hooks for hands sitting at a bar, and the bartended saying: "Sorry, Mike, but you can't hold your liquor."

Callahan published two autobiographies, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (1990) and Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up? (1998). He died last year, at the age of 59, from complications related to quadriplegia and respiratory problems.

He said: "My only compass for whether I've gone too far is the reaction I get from people in wheelchairs, or with hooks for hands. Like me, they are fed up with people who presume to speak for the disabled. All the pity and the patronizing. That's what is truly detestable."

And he said: "I'm happiest when I'm offensive. I have a desire to tear people in half. I want to move people out of the suburbs of their mind. I want them to suffer, to feel something real. I have a lot of anger. I want to hurt people. At least a little."

It's the birthday of actor, director, and screenwriter Christopher Guest, born in New York City (1948). His father was a British diplomat and his mother was an executive for CBS. As a kid, he liked to look out the window and make up voices for the people who were walking by.

He went to college, spent a few years acting, and then joined the cast of National Lampoon, where his specialty was musical parodies. In 1984, he was hired for a one-year position on Saturday Night Live, and that same year he starred in This Is Spinal Tap. It was directed by Rob Reiner, but Guest and the two other stars ad libbed all the dialogue, so they are credited as writers. He played one of three members of a fictional 1960s heavy metal band called Spinal Tap, whose big hit is called "Listen to the Flower People." This Is Spinal Tap got mediocre reviews and not much attention when it first came out, but it went on to have a huge cult following. From then on, Guest used the model that had worked so well in This Is Spinal Tap — a barebones screenplay that let the actors improvise their own dialogue — and he has written, directed, and starred in several more pseudo-documentaries, often called "mockumentaries." His other "mockumentary" projects are Waiting for Guffman (1996), about a community theater in small-town Missouri; Best In Show (2000), about a competitive dog show; A Mighty Wind (2003), about aging folk singers who get together for a reunion concert; and For Your Consideration (2006), about actors who become obsessed with the rumor that they might be nominated for Academy Awards.

He said, "It's obviously inherently funnier to have in a comedy someone who isn't doing something very well."

It's the birthday of writer and comedian Frank Muir, (books by this author) born in Ramsgate, England (1920). He didn't go to college, but he joined the Royal Air Force and wrote some radio comedy shows to entertain soldiers. He got a job writing for the comic actor Jimmy Edwards. Edwards teamed up with the actor Dick Bentley for the BBC radio show Take It from Here. Muir hit it off with Bentley's writer, a man named Denis Norden, and Muir and Norden went on to write and perform together for more than 50 years. After years of writing for radio and television, they started appearing on the radio literary game show My Word!, and its spinoff, My Music.

Frank Muir was 6 feet 6 inches, spoke with a lisp, and always wore a pink bow tie. He published a memoir, A Kentish Lad (1997), as well as humorous books like An Irreverent and Almost Complete Social History of the Bathroom (1984), and a novel, The Walpole Orange (1993).

He said, "Strategy is buying a bottle of fine wine when you take a lady out for dinner. Tactics is getting her to drink it."

And, "Wit is a weapon. Jokes are a masculine way of inflicting superiority. But humor is the pursuit of a gentle grin, usually in solitude."

From the archives:

It's the birthday of the playwright John Guare, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1938. His family had always had connections to the entertainment world: he had two great-uncles who had been in vaudeville; an uncle who was the head of casting for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and his father had been an assistant to the playwright George M. Cohan, before winding up with a career on Wall Street, which disappointed him. John Guare said that his parents were unhappy people and lived in their own worlds, so he started living in his own world as well, reading everything he could, from Madame Bovary to Playboy.

One summer he was on a family vacation in Atlantic Beach with his best friend, Bobby. The boys read an article in Life about a group of 10-year-olds who made a movie out of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer during their summer break. John and Bobby were 11 years old, and they didn't want to be outdone by some 10-year-olds in a magazine, so John wrote three plays that summer, a trilogy he called Universe. He called up Life to inform them that an 11-year-old had written three plays, but they weren't interested. So he called Newsday and told them that not only had an 11-year-old written three plays, but that all the proceeds from the performances were going to be donated to the orphans of Atlantic Beach. But he didn't get a response. John and Bobby performed the plays in Bobby's garage for a week, and on the last day, a fancy black car pulled into the driveway, and in it were reporters from Newsday. They wrote up a review, and even published photos. Seeing the review in the paper was so exciting for John that he decided to become a playwright.

He went to see a play each week. And once he went to college, he started writing a play each year. He's written many plays since then, including Muzeeka (1967), The House of Blue Leaves (1971), Landscape of the Body (1977), and his best-known work, Six Degrees of Separation (1991). Six Degrees of Separation is based on a news story that Guare read about a teenage hustler who pretended to be Sidney Poitier's son and conned his way into the homes of wealthy New Yorkers.

It's the birthday of the novelist William S. Burroughs, (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1914). His family was wealthy — his grandfather had gotten rich inventing an adding machine. His mother was the author of a popular book called Flower Arranging: A Fascinating Hobby. He later described his hometown as: "Bare clay of subdivided lots, here and there houses set down on platforms of concrete in the mud, play-houses of children who look happy and healthy but empty horror and panic in clear gray-blue eyes."

He went on to Harvard but he didn't fit in there either. He kept a ferret and a .32-caliber revolver in his dorm room. He started writing, but when a piece of his was rejected by Esquire magazine he was so disappointed that he didn't write again for six years. He tried to enlist in the military, but he was turned down by the Navy, he failed to finish flight school, and when he got into the Army infantry, his mother arranged for him to be given a psychiatric discharge.

So, at 30 years old, he moved to New York City and got involved in a bohemian scene. It was there that he was introduced to two younger men, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He was attracted to their ideas about literature and society, and they were impressed by his wisdom about the world. But Burroughs was also drawn to the criminal subculture in the city, and he wound up getting hooked on heroin. He said, "You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default."

Though he already suspected he was gay, Burroughs married a woman named Joan Vollmer, and the two moved to Mexico City, where Burroughs planned to begin his career as a writer. He began writing a memoir of his experience as a drug addict. One night, he was entertaining some friends when he and his wife agreed that he would demonstrate his marksmanship with a gun by shooting a glass off the top of her head. Everyone had been drinking, and no one seemed to think this was a bad idea. But Burroughs missed the glass and his wife was shot dead.

Burroughs later said: "I am faced with the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death. … [It] brought me in contact with the invader, the ugly spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle in which I have had no choice but to write my way out.''

He eventually finished his memoir, Junky, which eventually came out in 1953. It was marketed as a "true confessions" paperback for 35 cents a copy, and it sold more than 100,000 copies. Burroughs traveled around South America and then moved to Tangier, where he sank deeper into alcoholism and addiction. He began writing a novel, and his friends said they would hear him typing away in his room laughing hysterically, and they'd find him surrounded by yellow pieces of paper covering the floor of his office. He claimed that the book had no structure and he called it "the endless novel which will drive everyone mad." But Jack Kerouac showed up and helped him edit a rough draft from all the fragments, and they settled on the title Naked Lunch (1959).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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