I took a sick day and went to the movies. I like to go alone on weekday afternoons. People are at work, and the theaters are nearly empty. It was Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, and he badly wanted some poor sonofabitch to get off his lawn.
I chose a central seat a few rows from the front and glanced around to see just one other person sitting, oddly I thought, far away in a back corner. But to each his own, I decided, and turned my attention back to memories of other Eastwood films I’d seen. Several minutes later, as the previews were winding down, a man strolled down the aisle and sat directly in front of me — as if reporting dutifully to his assigned seat on the second day of tenth grade geometry. After glancing around the desolate theater a few times to be sure I was not the target of a practical joke or the subject of a social experiment, I began to analyze the possible motives behind this man’s most bizarre seating selection. I thought mental illness was plausible — but I finally decided that he was somehow oblivious to the imposition, and I’ll have to admit, this triggered a rage response in me, complete with fleeting thoughts of sudden violence.
But then Clint flashed onto the screen with his trademark technicolor scowl, and returning suddenly to myself, I switched to a more suitable seat a few rows back and let the projector’s pale blue opiate glow sing me down to the bliss of no longer knowing.
Tom Chalmers rested his elbow on the donut shop counter and watched as customers filed through the early morning line ordering coffee, donuts, and bagels thick with cream cheese. No one complained about Tom’s habit of craning his neck for a clearer view of certain transactions — if they noticed at all in the rush hour hustle. Tom spoke to no one, but he did nod knowingly from time to time, occasionally crooking his brow. Only Bill Peterson, seated quietly at a table nearby, observed Tom’s routine with any depth of interest. After months of observation, he had finally achieved clarity regarding Tom’s behavior and found himself standing on the brink of a startling new theory that was sure to turn the entire donut industry on its ear.
Here’s a poem I drafted years ago and have revised a number of times since. So far, no publications have been interested, but more than one friend has singled it out as a favorite. It’s not for me to say if it’s any good; I only know it’s true.
a brief examination
of tree or flower
and the way that
any living leaf will
lean toward light
through icy dagger wind
or blinding sand oblivion
into the sun’s embrace
tells all one needs to know
about the way to live
and why the poet sits
before blank pages
Not like that girl in that book
that became a movie with Natalie Portman
she had nowhere else to go
so she slept in a tent at Wal-Mart
No, I mean I want to move
out of my apartment today
into the land of name brands
I can neither pronounce nor understand
I want to live at IKEA
Bring me a life
where the beds are always made
and the most challenging of choices
lies between the two shower curtains
and their polka-dotted patterns
I want a life
that’s easy to assemble
full of color-coded parts
and an arrow to follow
when I lose my way
Bring me a life of designs
full of long clean lines
where every exchange begins and ends
with the promise of sugar and cinnamon
I want to live at IKEA
One of my primary concerns about American society is that we haven’t benefited sufficiently from the wisdom of Michael Caine. In the late 1980s, Caine made a workshop-style acting instruction documentary called Acting in Film. It’s a fascinating piece of work, full of genuine insights about movie acting. It’s also a masterpiece of accidental self-parody.
I’ve always held that Caine’s true intention with the video was to teach people about more than just acting. I like to imagine it’s his manual for everyday living and that he’s encouraging his audience to adopt the Caine lifestyle. In that spirit, I’ve selected a few key clips and included some of my personal notes about each. Watch the clips. Examine my notes. Live a better life.
Video #1 Notes:
Never change eyes.
Using a single eye, always look into just one of another person’s eyes at a time.
Blinking weakens you. Never blink.
All cameras will love you like a mistress or lover.
Theater actors don’t listen.
Video #2 Notes:
Oh! Calcutta! was a naked musical.
Never be nude because things will continue to move.
Always fight your tears.
Video #2 (in which Caine reflects on some of the lessons from his documentary)
Video #3 Notes:
Focus always ends immediately to the right of your face.
Always move backward and then walk slowly forward when you have something really important to say.