August 09, 2001 News » Cover Story

Getting a Woody

Ever since I've admitted my addictions to food, work and bad alliteration, my guilty pleasure is sneaking a peek at Woody Allen's movies and books. To me, he is the only contemporary worth quoting, a Voltaire of nihilist America, anti-hero of anti-intellectuals.

Of course it's not politically correct to enjoy the nebbish-ish cradle robber. "Life doesn't imitate art; it imitates bad television," quips Woody, and it's true: His life seemed to imitate a Jerry Springer episode when he dated, and then married, his stepdaughter.

Like Clinton, Woody is the assumed archenemy of my feminist soul, but it ain't necessarily so. I love the way Clinton loved women (expansively and rather naively) in the former case; regarding the latter, Mia Farrow always seemed a bit tedious to me, pinched and obsessed with child-collecting. What would one expect from Woody, anyway?

"I did not marry the first girl I fell in love with because there was a tremendous religious conflict at the time. She was an atheist and I was an agnostic. We didn't know which religion not to bring the children up in."

Woody gives delightful voice to my inner pessimist. At 45, I've had my fill of cute kittens, rainbows, sentimental stories forwarded by e-mail, New Age platitudes and the nauseating squeals of the impossibly perky. Deliver me from "positive" people and their frantic but futile missionary work.

"It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more."

Occasionally I want to lose myself in a big city where I can conclude that it's all pretty much a mess, and still go out and find a great Thai restaurant. Woody is my urbane tour guide, and he says it's always fashionable to wear pearls and a little black ... humor, that is.

"Take the case of the ant and the grasshopper: The grasshopper played all summer while the ant worked and saved. When winter came, the grasshopper had nothing, but the ant complained of chest pains. Life is hard for insects. And don't think mice are having any fun, either."

How can you despise a man who revels in the fun of despair? In his Kafka-spoof, The Condemned, he wrote, "Why go through this hollow charade called life? Why, except that somewhere within us a voice says, 'Live.' Always, from some inner region, we hear the command, 'Keep living!' Cloquet recognized the voice; it was his insurance salesman. Naturally, he thought -- Fishbein doesn't want to pay off."

Like Don Quixote, without the sex appeal, Woody takes on all the big windmills of modern society -- science, business, psychology. Nothing is sacred for the wise fool playing the part of subversive court jester. Pointing out that the big ass on the throne of power is bare of integrity is irresistible. His most biting observations are reserved for the strange, but equally pompous, bedfellows of modern existential philosophy and organized religion.

"(Nietzsche) said that the life we live we're gonna live over and over again the exact same way for all eternity. Great. That means I'll have to sit through the Ice Capades again."

"What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet. If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank."

"The lion and the lamb will lie down together; but the lamb won't get much sleep."

He even takes on New Age sacred cows like a literary Dave Thomas:

"Mr. Albert Sykes reports the following experience: 'I was sitting having biscuits with some friends when I felt my spirit leave my body and go make a telephone call. For some reason, it called the Moscowitz Fiber Glass Company. My spirit then returned to my body and sat for another twenty minutes, hoping nobody would suggest charades. When the conversation turned to mutual funds it left again... I could tell that it was re-entering my body, because I felt a sudden chill, and a voice said, 'I'm back. You want to pass me those raisins?'"

Ironically, if there is any theorem that proves the existence of a Supreme Being, it has to be humor. Somewhere between our most debased and exalted moments, we've all had that realization that we're playing straight man to the Cosmic Joke. Woody Allen is its High Priest.

"It's not that I'm afraid of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

"We know that the most advanced computer in the world does not have a brain as sophisticated as that of an ant. True, we could say that of many of our relatives but we only have to put up with them at weddings and special occasions."

And prophet. If you don't believe me, take a look at his vintage Sleeper video of the '70s, before he decided to become a "serious" filmmaker. (Oh, Woody, et tu?) In it, he foresaw cloning's ethical dilemma, and with the raging success of Viagra, the flick's Orgasmatron has to be right around the corner. Not to fear. We can face any Brave New World as long as we remain capable of ridiculing it with impunity.

"God is silent. Now if we can only get Man to shut up."
Rebekah Shardy

Sneaking a Peek

Here's some guilt: Women's magazines! Not the serious ones like Vogue and Ms., but the real down and dirty, beauty parlor gossip, sex- and appearance-obsessed rags like Cosmo. It's a strange and wonderful world, full of lumpy thighs waiting to be toned, perfect lovers just waiting for you, not to mention hair! Makeup! Clothes! I love Cosmo; I think that any man who seeks to understand women should read it regularly; but I'm not quite secure enough to, like, actually read it in public ...

And supermarket tabs! Let's face it: They're at the cutting edge of our national obsession with Celebrities Who Behave Badly. Open the Enquirer, and you won't find a word about George W. or his equally dull spouse. Nope, you'll get a two-page spread about Bill Clinton, and the hot blonde model whose butt he allegedly pinched, not to mention a page or two about the drunken cavortings of the Bush twins. When the ultimate sex/politics/celebrity scandal comes along, you just know the tabs'll have it first... "Hillary Catches Bill & Chandra & Jenna & Barbara in Shocking 4-Way!!!"...
-- John Hazlehurst

Only the Mailman Knows

It started innocently enough. The line at the grocery checkout was long; I was bored. The flashy cover photo beckoned. "I'll pass the time for you," the magazine promised, "without taxing your mind."

Without adding much to my intellectual self-image, either, which is why my fascination with People Magazine has remained such a dirty little secret. Now, mind you, I have my standards below which I will not drop. I'll arrive at the dentist's office a little early to browse through an issue. I always select the longest checkout line at the market. But I never pay for People; that would be too sordid. I'll admit I've been enticed on occasion by the subscription promos -- Cancel within six months at no charge to you! -- and I've disgraced myself in the eyes of the mailman -- but I always cancel before money is involved.

What is it that so seduces me? When Time started People decades ago, I sniffed with disdain at the premise. Mostly pictures, minimal content, superficial information. It's riveting. Who doesn't want to read (I say with boorish defensiveness) poignant animal stories, see the latest fabulous star fashions, and stay current on the cultural history of Hollywood glitterati (who Brad dated before Jennifer; who Julia jilted before she hooked up Benjamin Bratt)?

But hold on. That Famous Couple is uncoupled -- according to a recent cover story with a delicious grammatical ambiguity in its headline: What Went Wrong. No punctuation. Is that a declarative statement or an interrogative? Is it possible the editors at People don't know the difference?

It took my English major breath away. As does the writing, consistently trite, punnish, gushing with enthusiasm (or dread, or poignancy). Lovers are always deliriously happy. Tragedy is a near miss. Luck strikes the least suspecting. Life goes on.

Reading People is like making a meal of potato chips. Not that I ever would.
-- Nancy Harley

Confessions of a George Michael Fan

It was apartment-hunting day and I had been bopping around on my plush blue velour car seat listening to George Michael's Freedom. Yes, a new residence is a veritable freedom to anyone (especially someone in her mid-20s) still livin' with the folks, and it was time to celebrate. But when my potential landlord saw it peeking out beneath my car seat, I felt exposed, like I'd discovered someone going through my dirty laundry. "Is that George Michael?" Oh, God. I blushed. No one's supposed to know.

It's a double CD collection, The Best Of George Michael, with a portrait of the impeccably coiffed stud star on the cover. It comes complete with two booklets with nothing but lyrics and gobs of pictures of him: a close-up of George with a long cross-earring. George looking serious. George looking even more serious, deadly serious. George with leather jacket swung around his shoulder. George with pilot's sunglasses on. There's even one with George and a golden retriever! (Como se dice egomaniac?)

No, I didn't actually pay for this album. I'm not that much of a weirdo. My sister had one of those Columbia House accounts where she got a dozen or more free CDs and she couldn't pick out enough for herself. So I picked this one out with the intention of giving it to my sexy Mediterranean gay friend Marco for his birthday. (Unfortunately for Marco, I loved it so much I just sent him something else ... )

There really is nothing quite as dramatic as those first few beats and sorrowful sax of "Careless Whisper." Come on! I hear that and my shoulders roll in tandem. I can see myself mocking the sappiest daytime romance soap star, lip-glossed pouty lips and all! I fumble around the dash and car seats for a pen, soon to be ... microphone. It helps transport me to a 1980s black-and-white-checked dance floor. I'm in sequins, hair feathered, collapsing to my knees as I point to that special someone in the audience and plead, "We could have been so good together, we could have danced this dance forever. But noowwww... who's gonna dance with me? Please stay!"

There's only been one dear friend with whom I've been able to completely share my Careless Whisper indulgence: my friend Karen, a beloved punk-rock opera-singer diva friend from San Francisco who's soon to be a mega-star herself. She came out for a quiet vacation in the mountains, and, wow, did my car windows ever rattle as she helped me belt out those lines: "And I'm never gonna dance again, the way I danced with you-ou-ou. Oh-oh-ho-oh!" It's been a soft spot between us ever since, great female bonding. Like sharing a whole bucket of Chunky Monkey ice cream while watching a trashy romance.

Honestly, George. I'm never gonna car dance to anyone, the way I car dance to you-ou-ou!
-- Brooke Robb

Love in the afternoon

I love the daytime soaps, especially those on CBS where the residents of Oakdale, Springfield and Genoa City, USA, are continually seducing their best friends' husbands, getting pregnant by their husbands' best friends, going blind, getting amnesia, being kidnapped/raped/tied up and rescued, all while looking like a million dollars in low-cut, tight-fitting outfits, perfectly accessorized and sipping drinks from a cut-glass decanter at all hours of the day. Nobody on the soaps has bad skin. Kids on the soaps grow up in two or three years. The roller coaster of love never ends; it just goes through the craziest maze of ups and downs, then lands safely until the next ride. During the lull, grownups make love every night beneath silk sheets in rooms filled with hundreds of candles and nobody's hair or makeup ever comes undone.

But here's my real guilty confession: I keep a tiny television on my desk, not to watch news bulletins or the News at Noon, but to watch Guiding Light while wolfing down a take-out lunch. It's like a brief visit with my weird, fantasy family once a day.
-- Kathryn Eastburn

Nocturnal Transmissions

Voyeurism and sexuality at your fingertips, while you drive -- what more could you ask for?

Loveline is a syndicated radio show that can be heard on KBPI (www.KBPI.com) in Denver Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. to midnight. It is a phone-in "advice" show, hosted by Adam Corolla (this was his gig before "The Man Show," and he still does it) and Dr. Drew (an actual MD). They field call after call from some of the most twisted and disturbingly stupid people -- people who sit on hold for hours waiting for their moment with Adam and Drew.

The theme of the show is sex. Problems range from "What is this thing on my dick and should I worry about it?" to "My boyfriend refuses to do a threesome" to "I'm a 25-year-old virgin." The conversations are kinky and gross and funny, definitely the dark side of reproductive rights. This is Car Talk for the demented set.

The answers and questions are hilarious, mostly because Adam is such an obnoxious pig; his mentality was fossilized somewhere around the age of 15. Like a precocious little kid, he's immensely popular, which encourages him to say whatever is on his mind. And unlike say, Howard Stern, Adam's actually funny. Dr. Drew is not without his charms, and makes a nice foil for Adam's outrageousness. They also have all kinds of guests, generally ranging from porn stars to rock stars.

Mostly what I think I love about Loveline is that it is the aural equivalent of shopping at Wal-Mart: It makes me feel so much better about myself, my intelligence, my relative mental health. It is far more entertaining than standing in front of a mirror spouting aphorisms.

I hate myself for loving Loveline; it makes me feel dirty, and yet I cannot turn away. Sometimes (frequently) I will be in Denver at a concert and will leave early and head home; you know, the encore is a little predictable and if I leave now, I'll be entertained all the way home. But I swear, I've never phoned in.

Michael Salkind

Dirty Laundry

My sweetie says I shouldn't share this sort of thing; says its just not becoming. People will find me less erudite, less desirable dinner company. I may even lose business, become destitute and attain pauper status because of... my taste in movies.

Let's be fair, though. I am one of the 0.3 percent of Americans who don't even own a television. What could I possibly know about mass media entertainment? But since this is the journalistic confessional, here it is: My two favorite movies are Dirty Dancing and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (part one, of course; not the one where they play board games with the angel of death).

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure must actually be sought out for viewing, which I have done seven or eight times. I have to find it in a video store, and convince a friend with a TV that it will be worthwhile viewing. Because of this one, I'm running out of friends who'll let me bring over a video.

Dirty Dancing, on the other hand, shows up regularly on mid-morning and afternoon television, as I channel surf during my all-too-frequent hotel stays. Ah, the bliss of a few unencumbered hours and Dirty Dancing on the television! Jennifer Gray is the quintessence of smarty-pants loveliness as Baby. She's so much more sexy than anyone ever thought she could be in her icky-sister role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off -- another really fine movie.

But I digress. A smart, sensitive, bold young woman with a name like Baby! But of course, the rapture doesn't end there. She becomes tormented and her innocence is transformed to a heady lust as she gives it up to ... none other than a tight-black jeaned, leather-jacket wearing, tough-attitude sportin' Patrick Swayze! And can he dance!

Now, ladies, look me in the eye and tell me I'm alone in this guilty pleasure. Whether you're hot for Jennifer or Patrick in this film, the dancing makes you swoon. The scenery is lovely. The dialogue is, let's face it, brilliant. But it's those characters doing that dancing that makes you swoon.

It's when they're having dance lesson--foreplay in the secluded loft.

It's when they're rushing to their forbidden performance date in a neighboring town.

It's in the after-hours dance party scene attended by the resort's "hired help."

Yes, it's the dancing. And of course, the best line in the movie. It's when Patrick Swayze has to leave -- he and Baby just aren't from the same side of the tracks; he's been driven out and she has to go home, study hard and become a doctor like her daddy. But wait! He just can't do it and he storms back into the Big Event and says, in front of everybody, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." He takes her hand and they dance! They dance! They dance!

I may never admit it in public again. But that's entertainment.

--Kimberly Dark is a freelance writer and performance artist living in California and Colorado.

Like a Man Possessed

Recently I found myself with about an hour of uninterrupted irresponsibility. It was an odd feeling. No calls, no visitors, no kids ... nada. For me, this meant putting on some growling, bluesy tunes at a level that might scare small animals.

I began with Melissa Etheridge ... and I was involuntarily, physically moved. In fact, I was moved to the point of dance (as irregular as it might be).

For the next few minutes the world was exclusively filled with sound, rhythm (not mine) and that odd spiritual feeling one gets at oddly spiritual times. I danced, pulsed and skittered about the living room like a man possessed.

My arms swung about like a manic Pete Townsend ready to musically battle any adversary. My lips postured in a fashion that'd make Mick grin and I hopped about like "a cat on a hot tin roof." It was ... it felt very smooth and very Southern.

For me, this was a chip of heaven. Yet, I knew my time was limited. ... As I danced, keeping an eye on the front door for any familiar noise, I seemed to lighten. My teeth-gritting tension loosened and allowed my jaw muscles to grin. The twists and turns and kicks arose from a spot my relatively shy demeanor normally denies.

After a few more songs from several long-gone musicians, my soul was refreshed. My view of the world became a bit more tolerable. I found myself idyllically humming, ready to I cruise back into work, but not quite yet ... .

In the din and noise of my ritual, I heard something, an offbeat -- and from a source other than my stereo. Ignorance being bliss, I paid no attention to the sound and danced on. But as the song waned the rapping got louder. Then, the synapses finally fired and I heard him. "Sir. Sir. Excuse me, sir." There, in the official tan uniform of the UPS, he stood outside my screen door, with a slight grin of amusement on his ambivalent face, quietly waiting. "Sir, you have a package."

I signed, smiled sheepishly and avoided eye contact. When the door closed, I knew I was lucky. At least this time I had my pants on.

--Jim Williams is a writer and recreation junkie living in Salida, Colo. His work can be found online at www.rectimes.com.


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