Friday, December 21, 2012

The Peaceful Island

this is a little book I self-published
written just before Halloween
right until Election Day, 2012.
The World’s Most Hated Man
Walking the Dog Story
The Cloud Driver
The Wall
The Great Mysterio
4 Sharp Pencils
Trick or Treating
Radio Forest
The Tiger

Garage Theater
The Shoe Salesman
Recycle Day
The Plastic Forest
20th Century Factories
Washed Ashore
Garage Ghost
Some Place of Peace

these pages are from 
my notebook:

mountains this morning

the view from where I work

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Caruso Returns

I just got a report from Michael Paulus who 
“was on my way up to Mt. Hood on a new route 
bypassing all the ugly highway stuff and we 
stopped off at a junk store/auction house” 
which turned out to be BJ's! BJ was the 
infamous auctioneer who sold Mike and I 
the Super-8 camera we used to film our 
7 minute film CARUSO back in 1995 in 
Portland. Mike continued, “Well, it said BJ 
on the building and we walked into a cold 
and vast space filled with tons of stuff and 
an old cowboy came to the door and said 
his name was BJ…He no longer has a cage 
he preaches from above the guests at his 
auctions but still has auctions in the rear 
building every Tuesday. He said old Jim 
passed away last year...” I am sad to hear 
about Jim, he was a truly great comedian. 
BJ’s painting makes him look like a character 
on The Bullwinkle Show, which I guess is 
what he is.  

The following is the story I wrote about 
our experience, interspersed with stills 
from the movie. This story originally 
appeared in my book Home Recordings 
(Bird Dog Publishing 2009).
Filming Caruso

The idea arrived in the phantom light of 2 AM.
A 50 watt bulb on a cord clicked on, notes were
hurried down until they were done. 

In the morning I was at the café washing dishes.
Think about the storyline while the machine keeps
rolling out white plates and steam. 

Long after a forty cent meal from a box,
I sat with a cup of coffee and explained to Mike,
"The film is called Caruso." I stopped to let it
sink in to another sip of coffee. Just the name
should roll upon the air like thunder.
While I waited for my Director’s reply,
the waitress came by and I caught her arm,
"More coffee please."
She paused and dead-pan delivered,
"Would you like to order any food with that?"
"No," I told her. "Coffee’s fine."
She was slow about it though. While she poured
by drop, I laid out the story-line across the table.
"Here it is," I said. "Read it and weep." 

We saw our camera waiting for auction,
numbered on a shelf with Bermuda souvenirs
and radio-controlled toys. First we had to wait
through the antics of fishing poles being sold
by the cowboy calling from his cage above.
"What about this stereo?" his voice rodeoed
"Jim, turn that on, let the folks hear it."
A shriek of noise wouldn’t stop.
"Jim, turn that off!"
We watched poor Jim struggle with the bent dials
He mumbled something up. The cowboy yelled
on and on at him. The crowd sat in folding chairs,
fanned the heat with folded magazines. At last,
Jim followed orders and unplugged the set.
The charge died. Some neon signs were next to go
before the cowboy finally ordered Jim to hold out
the Super-8.
"Seven dollars!" I heard the Director shout.
Miraculously, that was enough. Everyone else was
waiting for junk. 

Black and white Super-8 film is a thing of
the past. As of that day, we had bought the last of it.
Whatever was left would have to be enough.

Filming began on a sunny day in the graveyard.
We parked the borrowed car next to a slate colored wall
and got out. Make-up was applied to my feet (cornstarch
and water, dots of red ink) and I fitted the pig mask over
my head.
It needed a retake to film the simple path of pig
between cemetery stones; the Director was laughing
and the camera shook like a candle landslide. 

Painted on the wall was the Budget descent,
figured in pennies. The minute we lost to laughter
had cost us six hundred of them. 

The next bright day was all railroad shots.
Pitiful feet dragging shoes on the tracks. Some
Mexicans pulled up chairs beside the blackberries
to be entertained. The heat of the sun in the mask
was unbearable.

At the mortuary, I was chased down
the steps by a pale ghoul in a dark suit. At the
traffic roundabout, the Director risked his life
leaning out of a circling car, camera rolling at 40
miles per hour. A Russian tourist slurred advice.
A pigeon shadowed over the bricks in Chinatown
where the missions were early dawn releasing the
bleary back to the streets. A church service was
interrupted to capture their slamming door on film.
I couldn’t afford a nail for a prop, so I stole one from
the hardware store. And more seconds and minutes
were taken from the air. 

For a moment we considered giving
the reels to a someone somebody knew.
There was a bathtub involved. Picture it
with lion claws, a rusty ring, filled deep
with chemicals and the seaweed kinks of our
developing film. 

In the end, we chose to run the Budget
into the ground. Check enclosed, Caruso was mailed
off in a yellow envelope with the imposing return
address: MGM Jr. A couple of weeks would
have to pass. 

The news arrived fast as I pulled the last load
of glass from the dishwashing machine. The Director
clawed at the screen door like a firefly. "It’s here!"
he gleamed. Yesterday we had rented the editing
equipment by posing as college students, tonight
we could hammer out the film seam by seam. 

A little crank pulled the film through.
Peering over his shoulder, I watched the smallest
window reveal white leader, then black.
Slowly, as if driven by Bela Lugosi in a   
cape, the black ebbed away, leaving the title
shimmering . . . Caruso. 

Fevered, we strung the midnight basement
room with clotheslines. Bit by bit, we cut lengths
of celluloid and numbered them with tape.
The story hung from spider webs.
Sticking them all together into one roll
took the moon a long journey towards Japan.
By the phantom light again, we watched in awe:
the fade into trees, cut to a rose in a garden, written
The End.

watch the CARUSO Super-8 masterpiece here: