Monday, August 13, 2007

Jackson Hole: Where Bush Hides His Dick

I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and so, theoretically, does Vice President Dick Cheney. I say theoretically because he really doesn’t. There is this rule in the Constitution that says the President and Vice President can’t be from the same state, and Dick was living in Dallas at the time he was nominated, so he quickly came to Jackson and registered to vote here. I’ve seen the voting registration lists and he’s the only one in the valley with General Delivery for his address. They won’t allow the other transients to register General Delivery, on the theory that people should live somewhere before they vote.
Dick was raised in Wyoming, but way over on the other side of the state. We don’t exactly claim him. His granddaughter played with my daughter one afternoon at the library. She seemed like a normal little girl — no sign of Devil spawn — except for two large goons with really bad haircuts and yellow dangly coils coming out of their ears who sat over by the cardboard cut-out of Angelina Ballerina, the dancing mouse.
Whenever the news folks say the Vice President is in an undisclosed location, he is here, fishing. He’s supposed to be in hiding, only two ambulances follow him around wherever he goes, so locals tend to keep track of the man without help from CNN. If you miss the ambulances, a sure sign of Vice Presidential occupancy is quick, little jets darting through the valley, or oversized helicopters hovering over the Snake River.
Those helicopters were a bone of local contention the week after Katrina wiped out New Orleans. Besides the obvious literary comparison of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and Cheney flyfishing while New Orleans drowned, there were those who thought the helicopters could have been used for rescue work instead of tracking a #14 dry humpy lost in the willows.
I think Cheney got a bad rap on that one. He was on vacation for Chrissake. We shouldn’t expect him to care what happened to New Orleans. Black people don’t vote Republican. I think he did just what he should have done. He fished.
Here is what I meant to write about before I got sidetracked. I find this interesting:
Teton County, Wyoming, has three registered Republicans for each registered Democrat. This is the Vice President’s hometown, and yet (I’ve written nine novels and this is the first time I’ve ever typed “and yet”). And yet, Teton County was the only county in Wyoming that voted for Kerry in the last election. How can that be? My only theory is that people who actually live near the Dick and know him, won’t vote for him.
Maybe there is another reason. If anyone has any ideas why the man’s Republican neighbors won’t vote for him, I’d like to hear them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why I Left Hollywood: Part II

In a bizarre example of irony on parade, after I wrote that last blog full of George and Dick jokes, I went down to Valley Books here in Jackson and had run-ins with both the Secret Service and Dick Cheney. The Dick run-in wasn’t so much a run-in as a stand-next-to while Dick and Lynn bought books and I talked to Ashley the book sales girl about my run-in with the Secret Service outside. The Cheneys bought nonfiction, but I don’t know what. I should have looked, only I was distracted by Ashley, who was more interesting than the Vice President.
I did fight off the nearly irresistible urge to thrust one of my novels in his hands, but Dick just didn’t seem to type to read about Vice Presidents on coke or three-ways in nursing homes. The Honey Don’t tour (the Vice President on coke book) took me to Washington D.C. and one of the book buyers at Politics and Prose told me Republicans don’t read fiction.
“What do they read?” I asked.
“They watch television.”
The actual run-in part of the day happened earlier, outside with the Secret Service. I would wager there is some poor drudge of a bureaucrat whose job is to read all the blogs that mention Dick or George, searching for teenagers or Unabomber wannabes who post threats. If so, this is for him. Or her: Tell the Secret Service that if they identify themselves before pushing people around, they would save themselves and the people they push a lot of grief.
I thought this guy with the Mormon missionary haircut was saving a parking place for his wife who was driving the Winnebago around the block, and I told him to get his ass up on the curb so I could park.
“It’s unethical to save parking places,” I said.
In my mind, the man overreacted. He said, “Get out of here.”
The conversation deteriorated from there and I was ten seconds from digging into the glove compartment for bear spray when I noticed several other guys of similar build and hairstyle closing in.
I said, “Shit. You’re Secret Service.”
He sort of blinked a Yes. The turkey never did say it out loud.
I said, “I thought you were a tourist jerk.”
He said, “I don’t have time for this,” and I drove off. Had to park a block away, then when I finally make it to the bookstore — walking past the Secret Serviceman who didn’t seem to recognize me — there was Dick Cheney, browsing.
Which isn’t at all what this blog is about. I’ve written two political spiels lately, and that’s my quota for the month. There’s nothing worse that a highbrow blog evolving into an anti-government rant. Nobody wants to read that crapola.
This blog is about the screenplay I wrote for Jerry Bruckheimer. Jerry’s a famous person in Hollywood. He produced all kinds of movies from Top Gun to Armageddon to Pirates of the Caribbean, and why the nice folks at his company thought of me when it came time to write a script about a coal miner strike in Kentucky, I’ll never know. I am known for Rocky Mountain humor, not Appalachian angst. The project was based on a book by John Yount, who is one of my personal heroes. He wrote a book called Toots in Solitude that should be required reading for anyone before they are allowed to write a novel. This project wasn’t Toots, it was based on a book called Hardcastle, and I think the fact that I owned the book and had read it before they approached me was what sealed the pitch.
You probably think this is one of those bite the hand that fed you and allowed you to move indoors pieces, but it’s not. The Bruckheimer people were a pleasure to work with, especially his wife Linda. She is the finest example of quality folks in Hollywood. They flew me first class, put me up in a high-end hotel (I forget which one, some place they took for granted I had heard of before) and they never tried to hustle me for free drafts. All the other producers I wrote for hustled free drafts. Out there, you either get paid like you’ve never been paid before, or you work for nothing, and the labor is the same either way.
But Bruckhemer Films isn’t like the normal producer. They know the writer is the rock that keeps everyone else out of the water.
About four drafts in, someone finally showed Jerry himself a copy of the script. They flew me out from Wyoming and picked me up in a limo and drove me out to Santa Monica where I was given a fancy bottle of water and shown into this room straight out of your Hollywood fantasies.
A guy named Chad said, “Jerry wants you to kill a white guy by page twenty.”
I said, “I can do that.”
Chad said, “Great,” and they flew me home.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Styrofoam: It’s only cold when you fall in it

Fiction writers write a series of lies that add up to Truth. Capital T. Nonfiction writers write a series of facts that add up to a point of view, if you are kind, and a lie, if you are tacky. I write novels, which means my lies are Truth. President Bush’s lies are lies. Your sanity depends on your ability to tell the difference.
And, besides being a professional daydreamer and storyteller, I live in a tourist trap, which makes me a double liar. The whole world over, locals lie to tourists. Remember the Fountain of Youth. That was a lie locals told tourists in something like 1526. It’s been a tradition ever since, culminating in the official Wyoming state animal — the jackalope.
At times, my tall tales get me in the soup. I like to think my stories are so tall, nobody would be gullible enough to buy them. But, there are those who are beyond gullible. Especially in Oklahoma. Consider the following Letter to the Editor that was actually published in the Jackson Hole News. My neighbors blamed me, of course.

To the Editor,
My family and I visited your beautiful valley this past summer and we had a wonderful time, but I must register a complaint. While my husband and I were waiting in the line to dump the Mini Winnie’s tanks in the RV sewage disposal at Signal Mountain campground, a nice young man walked over and we got up a conversation.
He said he lived year-round in the Teton area and I said he was lucky and he said, “Yes, ma’am,” polite as could be. Then I asked him what was the white stuff on the mountains. We’d been arguing about it all week — Bert and me. Bert said he thought it was snow, but this was August and I was born and reared in Oklahoma. I never heard of snow in August.
The nice young man told us the white stuff was Styrofoam so the mountain climbers wouldn’t get hurt when they fell off the cliffs. Made sense to me, and who would dream a native person would spread misinformation, so I said, “Told you,” to Bert and he grumbled some and that was that.
Back here in Oklahoma, last month, I told my beautician Wanda Jo Henderson that the park people spread Styrofoam all through the mountains so climbers won’t get hurt when they fall. She said I was nuts and one thing led to another until I bet her twelve dollars (which is the price of a wash and set) that I was right. I mean a local native told me.
You know the rest. I’m out twelve dollars, my hair looked like a Brillo pad for a week because Wanda Jo was laughing so hard that she botched the job, and now all the girls, and Bert, are telling the whole state what a fool I am.
So I think that young man owes me twelve dollars and an apology. If anyone there knows who I’m talking about, I’d appreciate you slapping his face and getting my money. The young man was taller than me and had a beard. You’re bound to recognize him because he had on sunglasses with a silly strap around the back of his head. He wore jeans and a T-shirt that said Skipped Parts. He had on sandals. Get him for me.
Kathy McLish
Norman, Oklahoma

Monday, July 30, 2007

transition on over here

I need help from all you Sandlinistas and free floating internet junkies out there on the web. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher has been using transition as a verb. “We will now transition to the playing field.” Transition is not a verb. I don’t want people talking like that around my precious child.
I would rather she say shit. Shit can be a verb. Ain’t is at least in the dictionary, even if it is an example of the wrong way to talk. Transition as a verb is not in the dictionary.
Leila loves her teachers and her school. Heck, I love her teachers and her school. It’s an amazing school full of amazing people and she’s happy as a tree squirrel in spring there. The last thing I want is for them to turn on my daughter because I’m a language prig. But how would you feel if someone said, “It’s time to transition into the lunch room,” in front of your impressionable child?
So, what should I do? How do I let the teacher know this is something that matters? No one likes to be corrected. It’s probably some teacher-talk thing she learned in grad school. For all I know, kindergarten teachers across America are all using transition as a verb and my daughter’s generation has gone down the tubes before they’ve turned six.
Any advice you can give would be appreciated.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bear spray and mosquito spray are not the same thing

I would like to be remembered as the man who invented the word gazillion. Not that I did, but most people given credit for creating things didn’t. I would encourage you to tell your friends that Tim Sandlin coined the gazillion.
Which isn’t what this blog is about. This blog is about human evolution.
On our way to Yellowstone the other day we came upon a major bear jam up around Pacific Creek. A couple hundred cars were pulled over and the display of photo equipment was truly impressive. There were lenses the size of bazookas aimed at this mother grizzly and three cubs that appeared to be grazing out in the field. I know, you are thinking grizzlies don’t graze, but it sure looked like they were eating grass. Maybe it was for the same reason my dog eats grass — so they could crap indoors.
Anyway, the token idiot from Utah wandered out in the field for a close-up. Suddenly, the interesting nature lesson became one of those Darwin Award deals. All the hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment left the bears and moved to the idiot. I blame YouTube. And those TV shows of Stupid Human Tricks, or Nature Gone Wild. Any tech weenie with a cell phone can get rich selling tragedy to network news now, so nature itself takes a backseat to the chance to make a buck.
People were saying, “God, I hope she just rips his arms off instead of killing him outright. It’ll make for much better footage.”
I told my daughter the man was committing suicide and we might be able to watch. All these comments about his brainless, stupid, Utah-like behavior were made within hearing distance of the man’s wife and kids. After a bit, the woman herded her children back into one of those pickup trucks so big it takes six tires instead of four to keep them on the road. And the cab is big as a limo. They idle loud as a lawn mower. The boy was playing some kind of handheld game where he got to kill people, which is modern life for you. Kids are more interested in wasting electronic humans than watching their dad buy it from a grizzly bear.
The bear stood on her hind legs and looked at the guy, but she never charged. The crowd was disappointed.
She did pick off a jogger a week later. Bit him in the ear and shoulder. People who live in grizzly country don’t call it jogging. We call it trolling.
A photographer in Yellowstone was mauled the same day as our near but not quite adventure with the idiot. The guy in Yellowstone was two miles from a trail and three from a road. The bear ripped out his eye, and the guy walked three miles with his eyeball hanging off the side of his face. I think. The news story said the bear ripped out his eye, and another story said doctors spent so-many hours putting his eye back in, which means he either carried his eyeball in his hand for three miles or it was hanging by mucus or whatever off his cheek there. Both make an interesting image.
I wonder if he could see out of it. I read that Frenchmen who were guillotined were able to see for around three minutes after their head popped off their body. I don’t know how the scientist who figured this out figured it out, but I suppose it’s possible. The eye and the brain are both there together. You could see until oxygen became a problem. It would be fun to write a poem under those conditions.
Back to the title of this little piece: Last year a woman from Texas sprayed her kids with mosquito repellant then did the same with bear repellant. Results were about what you would expect.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why I Left Hollywood: part 1

I wrote five novels about my problems and then I ran out of problems. The fact that I stripmined myself for five fairly good books shows just how deeply screwed up I was. I have always thought a novelist with nothing to say should shut up, so I did, waiting patiently for new problems to appear. In the meantime, I wrote screenplays because you don’t have to have anything to say to write a movie. You just have to be able to give good meeting.
In seven years I wrote 11 scripts for hire, which means they paid me to write them, and created hundreds of takes and treatments. Generally, you don’t get paid for those. Three of the last projects I worked on in good old L.A. were biopics. This means biographies loosely based on someone strange. My three assignments were Gorgeous George, Ron Popeil, and Brian Zembic.
Gorgeous George was the first true TV star. Or at least he tied with Milton Berle for first. George was a wrestler. The earliest hit TV shows were professional wrestling and it’s been going strong ever since. G.G. created the villain as star. He discovered that by pretending to cheat and preen and taunt, he was much more popular than the good guys. he faked the bully, cheating, homosexual, so people would hate him. This concept is foreign to me. While there are people the world over who don’t like me much, I’ve never gone out of my way to foster animosity.
Since then, many TV stars have found love through hatred. My favorite was J.R. Ewing back on “Dallas.” I guess they do it on that Survivor show all the time. And Bill O’Reilly has adopted all of Gorgeous George’s techniques for making people think he’s an arrogant ass. I’ve been told O’Reilly is a regular guy until the camera comes on. He says all those incredibly stupid things so people will believe the opposite. Without him, the Democrats wouldn’t control Congress.
Ron Popeil invented that stuff you spray on your head to make it look like you have hair. And the Pocket Fisherman and the In the Shell Egg Scrambler. He created hundreds of products no one knew they needed. Where would civilization be without the Veg-O-Matic? He also coined the phrase, “As Seen on TV,” as if being on TV makes an object or person legitimate. His dream is to sell people products they don’t need.
Brian Zembic is a flaming redneck who underwent a boob job to win a bet. I spent a week running around Vegas while he chased Chi Chi (I believe is how it is spelled), and hustled poker. He’ll bet on anything. He’s best at Ping Pong and backgammon, not bad at blackjack. He once made a bet taht he could watch continous porn for ten days straight without abusing himself. He won, but he told me porn has never been the same.
Brian has really big knockers. The other two guys were just treatments but I actually wrote an entire script for Brian. It’s called — get ready — “Stacked.” I made him considerably more charming in the screenplay than he is in real life. You can read it on if you want. Anyone with two million bucks should send me a message. There’s some good actors attached. And a director.
The point of all this is I’m not like these guys. I would never try to make someone hate me. I would never sell anyone something they don’t want more than life itself. And I wouldn’t, as a rule, get large knockers to win a bet.
After these three projects —Voila! (how’s that spelled? This is harder than Chi Chi) — I had enough problems to go back to writing novels. I’ve been doing it ever since.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Proust and the hernia

I’ve always read the Fat Classics — the books people discuss at parties where they serve cold fish, the books most of the ones doing the talking haven’t actually read — on the toilet. I am one of the few college graduates who can boast of reading all 780 pages of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot with my pants down. Can you say that? Portrait of an Arist of a Young Man. Don Quixote. When the books were fast moving, so was I. When the books dragged . . . you get the point. I read 450 pages of Tristam Shandy before it dawned on me I wasn’t getting a thing from the book. This particular toilet experience was an outhouse in the Gros Ventre Mountains, so Tristam dropped down the hole.
I shall live and die without having read Ulysses, or Moby Dick. Sorry fans of literature. I’d rather read all 57 Bernie and Wooster novels by P.G. Wodehouse. It’s starting to look like I’ll pass on Harry Potter too, although with a six-year-old daughter, that may change.
The Fat Classic I’m reading these days is Remembrance of Things Past (Snobs call it In Search of Lost Time, but God knows I’m not a snob) by Marcel Proust. You probably want to know why.
Three years ago I developed a pain in the groin and side. Sharp pain, like my little sister shoving a Phillip’s head screwdriver into my gut. I thought the odds were good I was dying, but I didn’t have insurance at the time, so I had no way to find out the truth. An American without insurance is in big trouble, and, due to long stories of betrayal from New York and blatant ageism from Hollywood, I found myself on the wrong side of the statistical tracks. I’m covered now, with a mere five thousand dollar deductible. No need for you to worry about my welfare.
Anyway, I decided I’d read Remembrance of Things Past. It was one of those goals people make of things to do before going to the Great Whatever — such as learning ancient Greek or making love to Linda Ronstadt. Mine happens to be reading certain books. My other reason, which was even more important, is that I knew for certain I would never die in the middle of a book. Others may, but I’m not about to bite the big one until I read The End of whichever story I’m consuming at the moment.
Remembrance of Things Past comes in seven volumes and I figured, with time out for recreational reading, it would take a year to read each volume, so I had just given myself seven more years to live. Makes perfect sense to me.
I’m mid-way through volume three now, and, believe it or not, I’m enjoying the book. It’s kind of like a 1,200 hour riff by John Coltrane. I get moving on a sentence and three pages later I have no idea what the sentence is about or where it’s going. The words flow over and through me like jazz in the rain. Every 200 pages or so a phrase will jump out hit me like a maul to the deviated septum. Examples: “Happiness can never be achieved.” Or how about this one: “One lives rather uncomfortably when regret for the loss of another person is substituted for one’s entrails.’
(Have any of you English majors out there noticed Remembrance and Harry Potter are both seven volumes and each volume of Harry is almost exactly the same number of pages as the corresponding book in Remembrance? Can that be random?)
With most books, I finish a chapter before I set the book aside and drift off to sleep. With R of TP, at first I tried to find the end of a paragraph or at least stop at a period. I’ve long since given up that dream. Many nights I crawl to the nearest comma and call it quits.
The pain turned out to be a hernia, by the way. It was nothing ten thousand dollars and three days of pissing into a tube jammed up my pecker couldn’t fix good as new.

P.S. Speaking of urination, here’s something I discovered about a minute ago. When the air is quite choppy, it is difficult to pee in an airplane john. Not unlike pissing off the side of a canoe going through rapids. I guess it’s a guy thing.