Archive for February, 2012


Almost a Man

by mdjb

A secret is a funny thing. Uncle Jack and Marti and I arrived with the children at the Bensons’ apartment at about three. It was going to be a surprise party for my little brother Raymond.
Uncle Jack always remembered birthdays just like Mom and Dad used to. On the way up the stairs, I remarked, “I wish someone would do this for me.”
Uncle Jack said, “You’re almost a man, Philip.” I was fourteen. “This one’s only four,” he added, trying, I guess, not to spoil the surprise for Raymond, who on hearing the word four seemed to know he was being talked about.
Nobody answered the door.
We walked in and the place seemed deserted. It was so quiet.
We soon found everyone sitting around the dining room table or lying on the floor. At first I thought they were all sleeping, which seemed a strange thing to do at a party. The children with colorful hats on sat slumped forward onto the table. I checked their pulses as I had been trained to do in my Phys. Ed. class. They were all right, just unconscious. The two women, Mrs. Benson and her grown daughter Marion also seemed to be comatose. Then I saw a pair of legs. Ernest Benson had no pulse. He lay in the corner against a smaller table, halfway behind the chair in which he usually sat. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn’t breathing.
Alison had tears welling, and Marti, with her hand over her mouth, backed out of the room; then ushered Raymond and Alison toward one of the back bedrooms, as there came a knock on the door. Uncle Jack went to see who was knocking and I picked up the telephone to call the police.
Uncle Jack opened the door, but there did not appear to be anyone on the other side. Suddenly, he clutched at his chest and fell to the floor. As the door slammed shut, I could see no one in the hall.
I didn’t know where Marti had gone with the children and I could not move. I tried to call out Uncle Jack’s name, but my throat was dry and produced no sound.
I stood rooted to the spot with the telephone receiver in my hand. Not sure what to do next, I stood there a long time.
Somewhere very far away I heard a voice saying, “There appears to be a receiver off the hook. Please hang up the telephone, then lift the receiver and dial your number…There appears to be a receiver off the hook…


The Sequel

by mdjb

Russell Crowe, walking on deck, meets a woman dressed in the flouncy skirts of Colonial times. He too is dressed in a costume of the past, the outfit he wore in Master and Commander which took place during the Napoleonic Wars and had nothing to do with Colonial America. It suddenly dawns on him he must be in a sequel to that film, or Hollywood’s version of a sequel, which doesn’t always adhere to the conceits of the original story.
A consummate actor up to any challenge, he steps into character and asks the woman, whom he does not recognize, but nonetheless admires for her lack of artifice, if he may help her in any way. She responds in the negative, thanks him for the uneventful crossing, and says she did not experience the mal de mer customary on long voyages. Russell tips his tricorner, says, “At your service, ma’am,” and walks aft. A moment later he recalls there were no women on board in the first film, but figures it will make a nice piece of acting if he turns to quietly survey this attractive female. However, when he pivots, she is nowhere to be seen. There is only the empty deck.
Perhaps she was a mirage, the scriptwriter’s way of letting the audience know although the ship is filled with solitary males, at least the captain still has manly desires. If that’s what it was, Russell applauds the unobtrusive effect.
His reverie is disturbed by the voice of a deckhand coming from one of the portals. It is Chris Rock who says without humor, “Captain, New York is in sight. Shall we prepare to dock and go ashore?”
“Eh?” he responds, thinking that like several comedians before him, Rock must have taken a serious role like this to get his shot at a supporting Oscar. “Why certainly.”
Chris makes a gesture at tipping his hat while saying, “Yes sir,” but bareheaded, his action only parallels Russell’s of a few minutes earlier.
Nice comic touch, he thinks. Everything cyclical but subtle.
Soon all the men are on deck but the focus is on Russell behind the man steering. Through his eyes we see the low skyline of Olde New York coming into view. Though impressively reconstructed, he’s thinking, this is not how the story goes. He cannot remember how the script develops, and doesn’t recall this scene from the O’Brian books, but not wanting to appear difficult or incompetent, he remains in character and displays a look he hopes expresses longing, or better – knowing anticipation.
Blunt cut to the men disembarking. Many are meandering off to discover the place, but a carriage is waiting for Russell and his firstmate, who has no lines. Maturin is not around, must have gone to research the flora and fauna. Chris Rock puts the captain’s things on top of the carriage along with a little bundle which is his own then climbs up to sit next to the driver. He glances back to see the leather bags and his little red kerchief-tied bundle. These things make their own statement through juxtaposition.
Our attention is soon diverted by the authenticity of the town, appearing more real than Scorcese’s Gangs of New York but oddly, though not disconcertingly, anachronistic for the time period we thought we were in. This is New York of perhaps 1870. Playing fast and loose with history, the designers have gone through great pains to make everything look authentic albeit for another story.
The carriage approaches a square. Chris notices a statue he assumes to be a pilgrim and remembers in the present day a statue of George Washington stands there. “Oh my, will you look at that,” he says aloud. However, as the carriage rounds the statue it disappears so only the plinth remains visible, as if the carriage’s movement has brought everyone a little further back in time before there was a monument to either.
The streets of the town are festooned for a coming or recent celebration. There are garlands of flowers strung from building to building. But people in top hats and tails are going about their work as if festivity were the furthest thing from their minds. In a window of one of the wooden buildings we see the face of the woman Russell had met on the ship. She looks sad. The hint of a smile as she eyes the passing carriage tells us she is hoping for release from a desperate situation. These men from elsewhere may be her salvation.
Inside the carriage we see Russell, the face of stoicism. He’s hoping someone will arrive to cue him on his next lines. It is strange indeed no one has called, “Cut,” in a long time, but grown weary of being known as difficult he will not be the one to break the mood.
Cut to the interior of an old building. Chris and a friend, whom we hadn’t seen before, are waiting outside an office where the captain has gone to speak to someone. On the door is a placard with the name B. Luhrman.
Chris says to his friend, “I think this other door leads to the roof. I’m going to see how the place looks from above.”
The other man says, “Better be careful not to change anything. You know how altering the past can affect the future.”
Chris looks at him as if to ask, “What are you talking about?” then shrugs and proceeds through the door.
Alone in the hallway, the man fidgets and paces. Now is when the viewer begins to question the sanity of everyone involved in this piece. We, like him, feel on the outside of knowing. If things are to proceed any further, an explanation has to come from someone, before the fourth wall fully materializes
At that moment, Russell comes out of the office. “Where is he?” he asks.
“Sir,” the man sputters, “Captain, sir, he went through that door to have a look from the roof.”
“Oh my god! He shouldn’t have..”
“I told him, sir, to be careful. I told him he could affect history. I said…”
“Stop gibbering, man. That’s not the problem,” Russell says, “We haven’t gone back in time.”
“It’s just been made clear to me we’re in a sequel occurring in an alternate universe. I don’t think there’s any way out.”
Suddenly, Luhrman announces from behind his door, “That’s right captain and remember my advice regarding sunscreen,” followed by the voice of a castrato singing something unfathomable offstage.