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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

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Four winters ago, toward the end of my Hollywood period, my wife Carol, Leila, and I house-sat for the woman who directed Skipped Parts: the movie. She and her husband had this monster truck of a house that the Welch family of Welches Grape Juice and Jelly built under the Griffith Observatory there in Griffith Park. The Welches planted grapevines all over the mountain that is now an upscale L.A. neighborhood. The house had six marble staircases, a veritable nightmare for a couple with a two-year-old daughter. More than once I called Carol on the cell phone because I couldn’t find her, even though I knew she was somewhere in the house.

Tamra, the director, who is wonderful in every way, is married to a nice guy named Michael Diamond who is in a band called the Beastie Boys. They had some interesting friends, coming in and out of the house. On their son’s birthday, Michael, whose friends call him Mickey D., played disc jockey all afternoon while the kids yelled and ran through the garden and down by the pool. I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs he played. They were all on vinyl record albums.

Normally, it would be bad form for a house-sitter to mention this stuff, but they have since moved, so I think it’s okay now. I enjoyed the winter, in spite of the constant struggle to keep Leila from tumbling down steps. They had a screening room where we watched eight-foot tall Telly Tubbies dance and fall down backwards. Imagine that.

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But this blog is not about house-sitting; it’s about fan mail. You see, street kids in L.A. stand on the corners of major intersections selling these things called Star Maps. Tourists buy them and drive around Hollywood, looking for the houses where their favorite movie stars live. So far as I know, the Star Map addresses are wrong. For instance, they gave the address where we were staying as belonging to Brad Pitt. This was back when he was still with Jennifer Aniston, so far as anyone knew.

Later, I asked Tamra and neither Brad Pitt nor Jennifer Aniston had ever lived there. Neither had ever visited the house or lived nearby, but this didn’t stop a daily dribble of cars from driving by the front gate while tourists craned their necks and sometimes even touched our mailbox. Once or twice a week, an airplane or helicopter swooped over the pool and some pushy type leaned out to take my daughter’s photograph.

Once we got past the fear of a nutcase fame-chaser climbing over the fence, we weren’t bothered by the gawkers. Heck, we probably would have had tourists anyway, if they’d known it was a Beastie Boy house.

But the thing was — the mail. Brad and Jennifer got a lot of mail. Someone must have posted the address on the internet. It tapered off later, but the first few weeks brought ten or twenty letters a day. I guess if I’d known where Brad lived I could have boxed up his mail and taken it to him. It would have made a nice icebreaker with Jennifer. But I didn’t know and I don’t think they wanted the mail anyway, so I did what any other normal American would do with a pile of unsolicited mail addressed to Brad Pitt — I opened it.

Not all of it, of course. I had better things to do, like watching eight-foot tall Telly Tubbies jump out of holes in artificial turf. But I opened enough to get the general drift.

I used to receive fan mail myself. Nothing like Brad and Jennifer, mind you, but enough to establish a pattern. Very few were scary. Most of the writers said they enjoyed my books and I should keep writing. Sometimes, guys who’d recently lost girlfriends would get drunk and write these two a.m. twelve-page rave-ons, putting down all the pain they would never dump on their friends. A surprising number of girls wrote to tell me how their boyfriends were in bed.

“I don’t much like him and I would break up with him but he’s so good at . . . ” and then they would describe a procedure I’m not sure is physically possible.

A number of letters started out, “I always wanted to write Such-and-So but then he died, so I decided I should write you before you die.” My not dying years ago seems to have gratified many readers.

Very rarely, someone would say, “I’ve had such an interesting life, everyone tells me I should be a writer. How about if I tell you my story and you type it up and we’ll split the money.” These letters tended to come from guys in prison. My theory is Sex and Sunsets was one of the few hardbacks with Sex in the title, so it sold well in prison libraries. Whatever the cause, I used to be the swamp where prison mail went to die.

Nowdays, I don’t get much post office reader mail. It comes in over MySpace or the Timsandlin.com guest book. I enjoy hearing from readers, although the occasional angry person can be trying. I got a message the other day from a man who said he would have been a best-selling author if he lowered himself to writing sex scenes, the way I do. Humorous fiction brings out the hate in people.

But enough about me, let’s get back to Brad Pitt: Before I grew bored and quit reading his mail, I probably opened twenty letters and not one followed the drift that I get in my mail. No one said, “I like your work,” or “Congratulations, Brad!” or even “I wanted to write you before you died…” Every letter to Brad wanted something from him.

They wanted him to read their script. They wanted him to get them a job as a producer. They wanted him to introduce them to Jennifer Lopez. A lot of them started out, “You’ve had luck and I’ve never had luck and I deserve to be as famous as you, therefore you owe me . . .” So on. So forth. A bunch came at once demanding that he stop smoking on screen. It must have been a campaign because those all hit in one week, then stopped. Any number of the letter writers simply wanted money. Postal spare-change artists.

So, here are the morals to my story: First, don’t write Brad Pitt, asking him to do something for you- The address is wrong. Second, don’t write the federal government and tell them I opened Brad’s mail. I will deny it. Third, don’t write me, asking me to stop smoking on screen. I don’t smoke and I’m not on anyone’s screen. Fourth, don’t go looking for any Beastie Boys over by Griffith Park. They moved. Fifth, don’t send me a CD and ask me to forward it to Mickey D. I don’t know him that well. I was his house-sitter, for Chrissake.

I can’t think of a sixth.

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Let’s talk language. Pudenda is a word meaning “the external sexual organs of a human being, especially those of a woman.” It comes from the Greek word pudendum, which means “something to be ashamed of.” Consider the implications of that. It will give you meaningful insights into civilization.

I’ve taken a number of writing workshops, and taught even more, and I’ve never seen or heard an intelligent discussion on the proper way to write a sex scene. Maybe the teachers were afraid of being fired. The thing is, many, if not most, novels these days contain sex scenes and most authors are botching them up, probably because no one ever wrote the literary sex manual.

I’m at the stage in my career where public shunning might do me good, and I can’t be fired, so here is my take on literary copulation:

Beginners and Pulitzer Prize winners alike fall into two primary traps: 1) too many technical terms. One is enough. Or 2) Vague euphemisms. I had a student who kept writing about his “manhood.” It took me two stories to figure out where his manhood was. If that organ defines you’re manhood, you are basically a useless man. I thought he meant trigger finger until it started throbbing.

Romance writers tend to talk in terms of flowers. Or maidenheads. If I was a maiden and someone called that thing my head, I would be offended. Romance novels have a lot more sex scenes than my books, but my books are considered racy. No less than some crankcase in the New York Times Book Review claimed my last novel had too much sex between senior citizens. It made him feel icky to picture old people doing it. With luck, he won’t grow old or won’t be doing it when he does.

There’s only one real sex scene in the book. People think my novels are racy because my characters are true to life: They think about sex and talk about sex, more or less continuously, but when it comes to the real thing, they only pull it off every 200 pages or so.

I use sex in my books for the same reason I use it in life itsownself — for comic relief. Making love without laughing is like eating without tasting. You might not starve, but you’ll miss the fun. Might as well watch cooking on TV, if all you want is to kill some time.

The way to write fictional sex is through dialogue.

“Higher, dammit.”

“You’re on my hair.”

“When was the last time you cut your toenails?”

“Wrong hole!”

I know biting body parts sounds hilarious, but it’s been done before. Gross out humor belongs in the movies. Us novelists need to be more subtle.

The sexual ambiance needs to be unique in some way, or you might as well skip to breakfast, now that it’s no longer cool to skip to the cigarette. In nine fairly racy novels, I’ve only written one graphic scene between two regular adults who like each other, and I put that one in the catacombs of Paris, witnessed by six million dead people.

If you must write serious literature, I would advise skipping the thrusting manhood or angry urethras and going with emotions. Make the sentences read as poetry — man on top, iambic, woman on top, trochaic or even serpentine free verse. (You poets can work this out with other positions and forms). Typing “bitch” fifty times is boring and has been done. So has having a woman repeat “fuck me” over and over for two chapters. Don’t do it. I liked the Woody Allen movie where he said, “Slide,” because thinking about baseball made him last longer.

I don’t feel like talking about funny sex. I don’t feel funny. My dog died today. Nothing funny about that. And I saw “No Country for Old Men” last night, my first grown-up movie in months. It’s quite good from an artistic standpoint, but if you’re the type whose insanity level can be affected by movies, books, or music, I would avoid the whole thing. There will be people hospitalized from seeing that movie, and if you’re suicidal because your dog is dying, it might throw you off the roof.

Thirdly, (is that a word?) I’m having a colonoscopy Wednesday and I can’t eat all day tomorrow. I get dizzy and make poor choices if I don’t eat every three hours. I don’t know if I can handle thirty hours, or however long it is between right now and Wednesday morning when I come back from gassy-world.

It’s just a routine test, like you’re supposed to get at my age. My wife keeps bringing up people who died from routine anesthesia they didn’t really need since they weren’t sick. Our novelist friend Olivia went in for vanity facial manipulation and never came back. Then there’s that rapper fella’s mother.

I’ve got enough anxiety without friends forwarding horror stories from the internet. Please don’t. The medical profession has transformed healthy people into plants for years. Only now, it turns up on YouTube.

Shit. She was a nice dog.

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My daughter, Leila, who is six and was named after a J.P. Donleavy novel and not an Eric Clapton song, has been pulling out the old books I read to her when she was two. Now, Leila reads them to me. How many of you are familiar with the plot of “Go, Dog. Go!” One dog insults another dog’s hat and they all end up at a big party in a tree. I learned a valuable lesson about containing conflict from “Go, Dog. Go!”

What makes the book interesting to me are the three different punctuation marks in the title. You hardly ever see punctuation in a title, except for that silly colon in nonfiction. “I Did It My Way: The True Story of Transgender in NASCAR.” Does anyone else out there know of a book with three different punctuation marks in the title? Am I the only one who cares deeply about this?

Here’s the deal. I will send a free copy of “The Pyms: (note the colon) Unauthorized Tales of Jackson Hole,” (available only on Timsandlin.com) to anyone who can find me a title with three different punctuation marks. I don’t count titles using punctuation to disguise dirty words — C;:ks?!ker!

Leila asked me to tell her a bedtime story last night and because this is Thanksgiving week, I told her the old Isuzu legend about the true meaning of Easter. The Isuzus were a splinter group of Arapaho that lived in Yellowstone after the Battle of Greasy Grass. Other Indians considered them the bastard spawn of Custer, and it is true many of the Isuzus had blue eyes and a tendency to self-promote. Their tragic flaw was the fact they were high-centered and prone to rollovers.

A missionary named Sister Leslie Gore converted the entire tribe to Christianity in 1888 by teaching them the alternate words to “Jingle Bell Rock.” But some of their Christian traditions intermingled with the Happy Hunting Grounds faith system, such as the belief Mary was impregnated by a geyser.

Leila didn’t believe me. Clutching her little Piglet stuffed pig, she said, “You’re making this up as you go along, Dad.” I said if she didn’t go to sleep the Sandman would rub dirt in her eyes.

Anyway, the true meaning of Easter in northwest Wyoming, according to Isuzu legend as told by me to my daughter:

Two thousand and whatever years ago, the established church and an occupation government conspired with the media to have Jesus put to death on a cross between a couple of telephone solicitors. Jesus’s last words, were, “Forgive me Father. I do not want to change my calling plan.”

Later, he was cut down and body was hauled off to a cave. While the Bible says he would be dead for three days, any first grader knows Friday sunset to Sunday sunrise is only a day and a half, but you have to suspend some disbelief here, to be a true Fox News Fundamentalist.

So, after three days, Jesus rolls away the rock covering the cave and rises from the dead. He steps out of the cave, and if he sees his shadow he runs back in and we get six more weeks of winter.

Leila sat up in bed. “Is that true?”

I said, “It’s Gospel.”

“What about the Easter bunny?”

“The Isuzus didn’t believe in a rabbit who hid eggs around the house and then forgot where he hid them until they started to stink in mid-summer. They bought into the rising dead guy theory, but they just couldn’t swallow a holiday hare.”

Leila hit me with her Piglet.

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My friend Meg died last week and we held a remembrance for her Saturday. Rocky Mountain dead social get-togethers are nothing like the ornate, formal wallowings of the South, or the drunken melees of Ireland, or even the celebrations of life they put on in California. Western events tend to be more low-key neighborhood potlucks.

Meg’s remembrance was a cookie exchange. Leila made fudpuckers, which are Reece’s cups dropped into shells made from peanut butter cookie dough. The occasion was sad and dignified, without the outward pretensions of sadness. The Wyoming way is to feel deeply but keep it to yourself. Keep the smooth side up and the rough side down.

Afterward, I hiked up Taggart Creek to my favorite thinking rock — the place where we scattered Mom’s ashes a couple of years ago — and worked out the percentages of this death thing.

You should know that about me. I work out percentages on any given problem. There’s a fictional detective — Hercule Poirot, I think, but I’m not about to go look up it up. Blogs should not need research — who likes to say, “Rule out the impossible and what you are left with will be the answer, no matter how unlikely it appears to be.” Or something like that.

So I discarded the after-life theories that struck me as impossible and looked at what was left, which wasn’t much.

First off, I think of the Great Mystery out there beyond what we can see as the internet, and the various faith systems floating around as browsers and search engines. For instance, Christianity is the AOL of spiritualism, because the user’s manual says one thing and the practitioners do the exact opposite. How Pat Robertson can pray on TV and make all that money is totally bizarre to anyone who has read Jesus’s parables. But, whatever. If it gets you into the Web, it works.

Personally, I use Safari, which is a bit like the Cheyenne Medicine Wheel. It’s only useful if you are Cheyenne or own a Mac. Everyone else is out of luck. You could stretch the hell out of this thing and equate Muslims with Internet Explorer and Buddhists with Firefox, but what the hell. You get the idea. It comes down to access.

As I sat on my rock, watching the leaves change color, I wasn’t concerned so much with the door as to what lies on the other side. Odds-wise (what a cool word, odds-wise) you would figure a white-out would be logical. No sequel. Ashes to ashes. But, for me, the void doesn’t compute. I look back at eternity, stretching forever and ever off one way, and forward, at eternity stretching forever and ever off the other way, and then compute the odds against this moment, a dot in an eternal number of dots, just coming up. These odds are way beyond the odds against streets of gold, or happy hunting grounds, or recycling, or any of the Wishful Thinking theories. The odds against Wishful Thinking being true are one in the number of digits of pi, but the odds against this random moment appearing on its own, compared to the number of moments randomness implies, are way the hell and gone past that.

Which means, either time does not exist — Tralfamdorianism — or there is something going on that is unlikely. Compared to nothing going on which is impossible.

My personal theory is we’re in a computer game. Reincarnation only with a physical machine somewhere instead of a spirit that leaves the body, wanders the Whatever until it attaches itself to another body, and comes back. This religious belief doesn’t take a smart person to figure out. There are hordes of books and movies based on the idea that we are nothing but bits of information — from Matrix to Cyberchase — but I personally haven’t read or seen a story that takes it all the way into a theory as to why time does not exist and therefore eternity does. They’re probably out there. I don’t read much science fiction, myself. Or religion.

Look at the guy running around in Final Doom. If we take him far enough, he becomes aware of himself (“I think, therefore I am”) but is he aware that he is in a game? The question I haven’t nailed yet is this: Am I the space marine in the game or the kid playing the game? And how do you know if you won? Most kills? Most love? Longevity? I hope to hell the scoring is more subtle than Final Doom.

Here’s what might be possible, and, if it is possible, then by Hercule Poiret’s theorem, it is trruth: The goal of each game is for the society within it to progress to the point of creating the game itself, before we destroy our environment and make a bell go off somewhere, a screen go blank, and some kid with bad skin say, “Shit.” The he goes to bathroom, gets a Coke from the fridge and comes back to push the Replay button. If we create the Existence game where thousands and thousands of lives can be played out in a short time, some of them leading to the creation of their own Existence games, whoever is at the top of the heap can go on forever.

Should the folks from “This I Believe” ever give me the call, that’s what I’m going to tell them. I’ll call it Timianity.

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My friend Janine Smith of the famous JZine site collects movies where at some point, generally toward the end of the second act, a character says, “I’m too old for this shit.” She’s found thirteen of them, enough to make a genre. I call it the-aging-actor-repeating-a-story-he-nailed-thirty-years-ago thriller. Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford are in the midst of deja vu careers pulling these roles. Because I’m living with a six-year-old, I watch a lot of Disney Channel, and I’ve noticed a similar repetition. I must have seen twenty made-for-TV Disney movies in the last year, and in practically every one, well-intentioned-but-misguided parents try to control teenagers who are torn between doing what matters and doing what other people tell them matters.
In the end, the kid finds proper values, but right before the climactic victory, the mom or dad who wants the kid to go to Harvard or be a sports star or something equally terrible whines, “But, honey, I hate to see you give up your dream,” and the balanced, together teenager says, “No, Mom/Dad, I’m giving up your dream.”
How many movies can use that line before producers start suing each other?
What brought up this trip down Insight Lane is I just got back from Oklahoma where my dad had surgery after yet another fall in the nursing home. He has this in-and-out dementia where he forgets he can’t walk and then he falls down and breaks bones.
Old age is a good time to get to know your parents. They’re stuck in a hospital bed and you’re stuck in a vinyl chair next to the hospital bed and there’s nothing much to do but reach closure with the past. Nobody feels judgmental, at least my dad doesn’t during the cogent hours, so you can talk without filters or fear.
I asked him why he and Mom never gave my grief about being a fiction writer. I mean, I turned 35 living in a tent, illegally squatting, on Forest Service land, working as a gardener for the Rockefellers three days a week and washing dishes in an Italian restaurant three days a week to make enough money so I could move indoors and write all winter. If my daughter is still homeless by choice at 35 I will personally drag her by the ear into an employment agency. I’ll say, “Grow up, for Chrissake. It’s time to get real.”
“Why didn’t you and Mom tell me that,” I asked Dad. “You must have thought it.”
“You still had a dream,” Dad said. “We couldn’t tell you that was wrong.”
Only now, when he has to be fed by hand and he craps himself daily, did I get around to thanking him. Or even realizing what he and Mom did. It’s too late to thank Mom.
On a slightly lighter note, he was in assisted living first and a nursing home later as I was writing Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty. The book is about an inmate revolt at a continuing care center full of aging hippies in 2022. It’s Cuckoo’s Nest meets Grumpy Old Stoners. The top nine layers are funny geriatric sex and drug use. The revolutionaries chant, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, AARP is going to win.” Half of them think it’s 1969 and Nixon is outside the walls.
But the tenth level, way under there, is serious as Alzheimer’s. Americans treat old people like dirt. We steal their dignity, self-respect, and pretend they are invisible. So it goes.
The interesting thing I found in assisted living is old people act exactly the way they did in high school. There’s the cool kids, the cliques, the petty jealousies, the geeks (me), the incredible importance of who sits where in the cafeteria, the gulf between those who drive and those who don’t. The sexual plotting is wonderful. Gossip controls the rec room. Meanness and kindness are doled out without thought.
Life is a circle, in the words of Kahlil Gibran or Woody Allen or somebody else wise. You’re in diapers, you walk, you drive a car, you have sex, you work like a sweatshop whore in Cambodia for fifty years, then you stop having sex, they take your car, you stop walking, and, soon, you’re in diapers again. Death and birth are the same thing.
This is true. You have to believe somebody, so it might as well be me.

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