Monthly ArchiveOctober 2012



Family life 25 Oct 2012 06:57 am

Rooftop fishin’

Less than two weeks before Halloween and I was facing my fear of heights to fish a bag of poop off the neighbor’s roof.

I wish I could say I was a Good Samaritan, that the nice couple next door had reached out in need because hooligans had taken the “trick” part of “trick or treat” to heart.

But I can’t, because I threw the poop up there myself.

Before I go further, let me explain that I’m not the world’s best neighbor. Living next to Chris Schillig doesn’t exactly guarantee property values will drop, but it is a sign that you should contact a real estate agent soon.

You know the neighbor who obsesses over his lawn and shrubs, trimming and pruning to surgical precision, using a leaf blower the way a holy man might wield a crucifix, covering porch railings and mailbox with fresh coats of paint every spring whether they need it or not?

Well, I’m not that neighbor.

My sole goal for mowing is to set a new PR each time I pull the cord. My idea of weeding is to run that same mower through the flower beds, as long as it doesn’t detract from my overall time. I consider Mother Nature to be the best leaf blower, especially when she shuffles fall’s foliage out of my yard and into somebody else’s. The one time I tried my hand with a paintbrush, I stopped mid-stroke and hired somebody else — the cheapest somebody else I could find — to finish the job.

In other words, I’m less Ward Cleaver and more Homer Simpson.

But I do have standards, lax though they may be — weeds in the crack of the hypothetical sidewalk that even I refuse to cross. And tossing feces on the neighbor’s roof definitely is on the wrong side of that line.

Not that I intentionally threw the poop there, of course.

See, while I am in other regards a neighbor to be avoided, if not outright abhorred, in one regard I am the picture of fastidiousness: cleaning up after my dog.

Whenever I walk him, I take an ample supply of doggie bags, and not the kind they give you in restaurants. Wherever and whenever my pooch squats, I am there, usually with plastic Walmart sack in hand, plucking every last trace of steaming doggie DNA from the frosty autumn grass.

The problem is that I fancy myself a major-league pitcher. When I return home, I stand at the end of the driveway, between my neighbor’s house and mine, and hurl the bag of poop toward my detached garage, aiming for the garbage can.

Usually, I miss the target. Bags often carom off the backyard fence, the side of the house and my wife’s car.

But on one memorable Thursday night, the dog jerked his leash as I went into the windup and the bag did not shoot down the drive toward friendly-fire targets, but rather up, up, up into the air and splat! onto the neighbor’s roof.

It was awfully dark that night, so inky black that I wasn’t certain where the bag had landed. But I hadn’t thrown it high enough to escape the atmosphere and enter orbit, and it hadn’t come back down, so I suspected the worst.

(Actually, the worst would have been through their living room window and into their laps as they watched TV, but still …)

For one moment, I considered slinking inside the house and pretending like I hadn’t violated a social norm bigger than Antarctica.

And actually, that’s just what I did.

But then my conscience kicked in, and I knew I would have to confess.

So that’s how, one day later, I ended up balanced precariously on a ladder, using a broomstick to bridge the gap between the top of the highest rung and the offensive bag of feces.

It was a growth experience in many ways. Halloween should be all about facing your fears — whether a fear of social embarrassment or a fear of heights.

For me, the first was much worse than the second. Not only did I have to confess to my neighbor that I’d thrown a steaming bag of crap on his roof, but because I’m the kind of neighbor who isn’t the least bit handy, I also had to borrow his ladder to get it down.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Oct. 25, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Media & Movies 18 Oct 2012 09:17 pm

Granddaddy of shock

franky

It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

— Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein”

The ghastly patchwork monster who haunts so many dreams is the inspired creation of 18-year-old Mary Shelley, who first published “Frankenstein” anonymously almost 200 years ago.

Little did she know that she was setting into motion a literary phenomenon that would serve as catalyst for countless imitations, adaptations and parodies in mediums known and unknown in her lifetime: stage plays and comic strips, musicals and models, television comedies and toys.

And, of course, movies. Lots and lots of movies, two of which will be shown as part of the Turner Classic Movies Event Series on Wednesday at Cinemark Tinseltown.

“‘Frankenstein’ has remained in print since 1818 because it is both a Gothic novel, which has never gone out of style, and because it is a novel of ideas that have become ever more relevant,” said David Thiele, assistant professor of English at the University of Mount Union. “It has the Gothic thrill of violating taboos and the charisma of a Satanic antihero in Dr. Frankenstein. It also has anxieties about the Scientific Revolution at its heart, anxieties about altering the natural order.”

Hollywood picked up on these thrills and anxieties early.

By the time Universal Studios filmed “Frankenstein” in 1931, the novel had already been adapted for the screen by no less a luminary than Thomas Edison, whose studio produced a silent version 21 years earlier.

Universal’s interpretation, however, under the control of visionary and eccentric director James Whale, established the benchmark for all future comparisons.

The adaptation keeps the basic kernel of Shelley’s tale, but adds plenty of ghastly flourishes. Young scientist Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive) sequesters himself away from his loving fiancée (Mae Clarke) and university mentor (Edward Van Sloan) to conduct experiments of a most unethical — not to mention ghoulish — variety.

Not present in the original but prominent in the film are the hunchbacked assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), and a mountaintop laboratory that is the site of Victor’s greatest triumph — and failure.

The centerpiece of Universal’s Frankenstein is, of course, the Monster itself. Played to perfection by English actor Boris Karloff, the creature never utters a line, yet still evokes both sympathy and horror as a creature stitched together from graveyard parts.

Nearly hidden beneath heavy makeup and prosthetics designed by Jack Pierce, Karloff lets his eyes do the emoting. By the film’s final reel, when villagers set a windmill ablaze in an attempt to kill the creature, audiences feel a mingled sense of relief that he is gone and outrage that his creator, who abandoned him, finds a happier ending than he deserves.

The original “Frankenstein” was such a success that Universal went back to the well for a second drink, a decision far less automatic in 1935 than in Hollywood’s later, sequel-happy years.

“The Bride of Frankenstein” reunites Whale and most of the original cast for a bigger-budgeted production. In the second edition of “Universal Horrors,” the definitive account of the studio’s horror years, authors Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas note that Karloff was saddled with 62 pounds of costume and makeup for his encore performance as the creature.

At least he gets several lines of dialogue, which would be parodied decades later in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.”

Elsa Lanchester secures brief but pivotal roles in the sequel. She plays author Shelley in an opening prologue and, later, the titular Bride herself. Lanchester’s teased-up hair, herky-jerky movements and alley-cat hissing are highlights of a film that many critics believe outshines the first.

In the years that followed, the Frankenstein monster cheated death time and again to return in sequels that were never the equal of Universal’s first two films. Karloff would play the creature only once more, in 1939’s “Son of Frankenstein,” although he would appear as an evil scientist in “House of Frankenstein” (1944) and, years later, as the grandson of the original Frankenstein — the scientist, not the monster — in “Frankenstein 1970,” confusingly released in 1958.

Fans of classic horror who want to meet the great granddaddy of modern-day fright franchise stars such as Michael Myers (“Halloween”), Freddy Krueger (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Jason (“Friday the 13th”) have an opportunity to see both “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” on the big screen at Cinemark Tinseltown in North Canton in a unique double feature at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday. Along with both films, the NCM/Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal-sponsored showings will feature a video introduction by TCM historian Robert Osborne.

For more information or to purchase tickets, see cinemark.com or fathomevents. com.

Originally published Oct. 17, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

Commentary 18 Oct 2012 08:43 pm

Scheming in the dark

In a subterranean laboratory forever hidden from the sun, they are building him.

With cogs and levers, demographics and opinion polls, they are building him.

With spongy brains and a stony heart, with $100 haircuts and perfectly shined shoes, with a million-dollar smile, a closet of Armani suits and two pairs of blue jeans, they are building him.

He is the Perfect Candidate, cipher of special interest groups, beholden to nobody singular and everybody corporate, with photographic recall of talking points and photogenic intuition to look severe or stricken on cue, with robotic strength to press the flesh and invoke God’s name whenever substantive issues arrive.

His programming will be supplied by the highest bidders, he will have corporate barons on speed dial, he will uphold the rights of the common person only insofar as they do not interfere with the interests of the overlords who have created, bought, sold, leased, folded, spindled and mutilated him.

He will lead us further into the era of outsourcing and insourcing, whichever plays best to whatever audience he is addressing at the time. To the oil barons, he will sing the praises of the combustion engine; to the environmentalists, the birdsong of solar power. To the poor, he will hum a lullaby of tax breaks and prosperity built on the greater contribution of the rich; to the wealthy, he will belt out the same tune, this time financed on the backs of the poor.

He will embrace contradiction as he embraces the elderly — not to help them, but to woo them at public events so carefully choreographed that they put the ballet to shame. He will stand in fields and cry for the plight of family farmers from eyes connected to artificial tear ducts controlled remotely by his handlers, who will croon sweet-nothings into his invisible earbuds and remind him that he is late for his next meeting with agribusiness giants who have squeezed the life’s blood from the very ground that now receives his tears.

He will grind public education beneath the heel of his designer shoes even as he holds open the school door for his profit-driven cronies who have both created the problem and provided the solution — a new national curriculum sponsored by special interests.

His image will be ubiquitous, shouting from billboards, smirking from steel mills, sighing from pulpits, shalom-ing from temples. He will score highly with women, who will admire his smart, strong — but not too smart or strong, goodness no — wife, similarly sculpted (along with their three children and a dog) in the same underground workshop that gave rise to Perfect Candidate himself.

He will ascend to the highest office in the land and rule and rule and rule, to be replaced only by another of his ilk, similarly programmed to speak out of both sides of the mouth, to obfuscate facts and blur edges until things get all wiggy from the brightness of his electoral halo.

He — and they — will do this because we are a nation that has lost its way, that values sizzle over steak, that cannot discern between message and messenger, that has become a victim of demagogues and shadowy puppet masters who sell presidents the way Coca-Cola sells soda.

Lest you think this nightmare is the result of a deluded mind, that we as a nation would surely recognize such a shallow creature if he stood before us, I present for your (dis)approval a current presidential candidate.

While he may not have all the attributes of Perfect Candidate above, he has enough. This is a candidate, after all, who rejects a national health plan even though he championed a similar program in his home state; a candidate who says he isn’t “familiar” with any legislation about a woman’s right to choose that would be part of his “agenda” but who, if elected, could become familiar rather quickly and who will almost certainly have the opportunity to place at least one pro-life justice on the Supreme Court; a candidate who claims to care about all Americans but who, by his own words, already has written off 47 percent of us.

If this candidate wasn’t built in an underground lair, he was at least taken there for cosmetic work, his platform and policies pieced together the way a mad scientist stitches the flesh of his latest creation.

If this candidate wasn’t melded by a sinister cartel, he was certainly advanced by the interests of an elite who bid him rise, revive and perpetuate a socio economic hegemony that should be antithetical to every conscientious citizen.

Should be, but isn’t.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published in The Alliance Review on Oct. 18, 2012

Commentary & Family life & education 11 Oct 2012 05:51 pm

New ways to manage conflict

My wife is taking a class in conflict management, so our marriage has turned into one big laboratory experiment.

I grew up in an era when people managed conflict with their fists. If the school bully gave you grief, you invited him outside at recess for a pummelling.

Unfortunately, I was always the party who got pummelled. (At least once or twice, I was the bully, too). The conflict was usually resolved when I stumbled off the playground holding my stomach. And a few teeth.

I know now, through the secondhand wonders of my wife’s higher education — and a textbook copyrighted in 1979, the same year I was being whaled on behind Ye Olde Red-Brick School — that violence is not the answer.

Instead, I should have resolved issues with reasoned speech. For example, when the class thug held me upside down by my ankles and shook the lunch money out of my pockets, I should have said, “When you threaten me, I feel uncomfortable. Please stop.”

I have no doubt this would have led to an extended debate in the boys’ room, whereupon I should have said, “When you stick my head repeatedly in the toilet (glub, glub), you make me feel (glub, glub) sad. Please (gasp!) stop.”

My wife isn’t nearly as intimidating as the neighborhood bully. Instead, this class has made her much worse.

Now she trots out a fancy psychological battery of expressions at every opportunity, which has raised her threat level on the Homeland Security Advisory System from blue (guarded) to orange (high), with some of our discussions edging my anxiety needle into red (severe).

Over the last month, I’ve been hearing lines like this: “It makes me feel secure in our relationship when you send me roses at work.” Or “When you rub my feet, I can tell you really love me.” Or even, “If you would pick a nice romantic comedy for us to watch, it would be a wonderful extension of your feelings toward me.”

Oy.

Based on the listening-skills chapter, whenever she complains about something or someone, I’m supposed to validate her by saying, “I can tell you’re really upset,” or “It bugs you when so-and-so treats you that way.”

At which point she would likely turn to me and say, “No feces, famous detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” or the shorter, alliterative version of the same.

I should also summarize her complaints to be certain I understand them. After she bores regales me with a 10-minute harangue about some minor incident at work, I’m supposed to say, “You were upset that Nicole laughed at you when you slipped getting out of the car.” This would be better than my usual response, which is to shrug my shoulders and go back to watching TV.

The most preposterous section of the book, however, is a hypothetical situation where a wife calls her husband “fatty,” as in, “Boy, fatty, look at you putting away that pie. You’re really packing on the pounds.”

The husband replies, “I don’t like it when you call me names, and if you continue, I’m not going to talk to you any longer.” Then he refuses to respond to any communication that uses “fatty,” until, after two days, she stops using the word and apologizes.

My wife asked me if I would use the same method as the husband in the book.

“I’m not fat,” I replied.

“But if you were.”

“But I’m not.”

“But if …”

(Hypotheticals are hard for me.)

So: I do not believe it would work, nor would it be my method. Instead, if my spouse insisted on calling me “fatty,” I would respond by calling her the most appalling, horrific, vile word I know; an expletive so irredeemably foul that it has never been uttered on cable TV, not even on the upper-tier channels where you have to pay extra for the good stuff; an epithet that would cause all the hair on her father’s head (if he had any) to straighten, curl, straighten again and then fall off; a term so scathing that it has been outlawed in several foreign countries and rejected by every dictionary with the moxie to even consider it; a train-wreck of a word, an atomic bomb of a word, a mincing, gnawing, mine-shaft of a word; a fiery nugget more spirit-deadening, more devastating than ten thousand “fatties.”

I’d say that, and nothing more. Where I come from, we call that the “turnabout-is-fair-play” type of conflict management.

I don’t think I’d do well in this class, which is why next semester I hope she’ll sign up for a course in human sexuality. At least those techniques would be fun to try.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Oct. 11, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 04 Oct 2012 07:27 pm

Where’s the proof?

Ed Law does a mean Obama impersonation.

Law is the voice actor in “Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception,” a DVD documentary mailed recently to Ohio voters. It is scheduled to appear in mailboxes across other swing states over the next few weeks.

The documentary was produced, written and directed by Joel Gilbert, who really, really doesn’t like Obama. That’s his right, of course, just as it’s the right of his company, Highway 62 Entertainment, to flood post offices with the discs. But before he and his supporters spent millions of dollars, maybe they should have made sure the documentary was, you know, good.

Before I’m pilloried as just another liberal Obama lover defending his president, let me say that I went into the piece with an open mind. I wanted Gilbert to win me over, just as when I read a novel or see a film, I want it to be good and want to be entertained. Yet Gilbert failed on every level to convince me of anything.

Well, that’s not quite true. After watching the documentary — which claims Obama is secretly the son of Communist-agitator Frank Marshall Davis, who took nude photos of the president’s mother, and that Obama is a secret socialist whose objective is to eradicate both capitalism and the middle class — I was convinced of three things:

1. There was a Russian Revolution in 1917. (Gilbert uses many photos of that.)

2. Frank Marshall Davis read a lot of his (bad) poetry aloud.

3. After wading through so much muck, I desperately needed a shower.

Probably the most controversial decision that Gilbert makes, and the one that costs him almost all credibility, is to have “Obama” tell his own story. Except it’s Law who reads the first-person script, delivering an impersonation that would be the envy of any “Saturday Night Live” alum, if only it were funny.

Instead, the allegations are sordid, sad and without proof. I lost track of how many times the narrator refers to “my real father, Frank Marshall Davis,” as if by mere repetition Gilbert could make it so. Using photos of Obama and Davis, the video sets out to prove the two are related by pointing out supposed similarities in eyes, brows, noses and lips. Later, their deep voices, age spots and shared smoking habit are offered as further evidence.

“The rock upon which I built my career was only a fairy tale,” intones Fake Obama, his image surrounded by an animated fairy godmother and a castle. It is followed by images of a decidedly less charming nature: nude photos that Gilbert claims are Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, posing for Davis, who — so the story goes — had already impregnated her.

Obama’s grandfather, to keep his CIA job after learning his unwed daughter was expecting a child with a — gasp! — socialist, concocted a cover story and found a fall guy in Barack Hussein Obama Sr., who agreed to marry Dunham in exchange for tuition money.

Later, the future president reconnected with Davis and studied at his feet, learning the evil secrets of demagoguery even as he was inculcated with socialist philosophy.

As the documentary proceeds, all the usual suspects make an appearance: Obama is secretly a Muslim, his birth certificate is forged, and his other pseudo-father figure is that malcontent, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

For Gilbert, everything Obama has ever done has a sinister socialist connection, including marriage to his “bitter half,” Michelle Obama. “I married my father,” Fake Obama says simply, one of the creepier moments in a video filled with creepy moments.

And, it bears repeating, no proof. Only half-baked innuendo and a constant superimposing of Davis’s face next to Obama’s, which suggests nobody could find even one picture of the two of them together.

By the time the documentary addresses something substantive — Obama’s accomplishments before and during his presidency — it’s too late for anybody except the most ardent Tea Partiers to take it seriously.

Yet here’s the rub: Even if all of Gilbert’s accusations are true, why would it matter? In America, people can transcend their roots. Children of lawyers can become philosophers, children of Catholics can become Jews, and children of Republicans can even become Democrats. Why couldn’t the son of a socialist father, who received instruction in socialism along with other systems of government, become president?

Because he’s black, of course, an other, an outsider, a message so vile that even Gilbert can suggest it only surreptitiously, through references to Obama’s supposed idolization of Malcolm X and his attempts to empower marginalized minority voters. Gilbert’s message would be right at home coming from somebody wearing a white sheet and pouring gasoline on a wooden cross.

Of course, the mainstream media is in on the cover-up, having been infiltrated by socialists decades ago, which is why — according to Gilbert — his accusations have never received their proper due.

That claim, like so many others in Gilbert’s fauxumentary, is groundless. But I’ll give the man one thing: He found a great Obama voice impersonator. Would that he had been as successful in compiling his conspiracy theory.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

Originally published Oct. 3, 2012, in The Alliance Review.