Saturday, May 22, 2010

Afternoon Sky

This is what I see when I gaze out of the kitchen window at work. The Slade, a condo on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, FL. Built within the last several years, with spectacular views of the Intracoastal Waterway and Palm Beach to the East. So what, you ask? Why devote an entry to this? Count upward to the 11th floor. A guy named Sonny Peixoto leapt to his death from there in May of 2007. This building. Right next door to where I work.

I knew of this sordid tale from the local paper and from a detailed, grisly account in Laurence Leamer's Madness Under the Royal Palms. I shook my head and lamented another terrible tale. It stayed with me. Leamer's book really paints a vivid picture of a con-man who buffaloed high society and paid with his life and soul. But one day recently I was speaking with some co-workers in the kitchen/breakroom. They spoke of the time another co-worker had left for the day and saw a crowd under the palms next door. All gathered around a corpse. Sonny's. When I made the connection, I was chilled. This tragic event, so close to my everyday world. Some unexplainable contamination.

Oh, West Palm Beach is a crime-laden city, make no mistake. I've had patients survive gunshot wounds through the skull while working in local spots, places I've patronized for years. I've walked and driven through locations where cars had been riddled with hailstorms of bullets, muggings had occured, Lord knows what else. Always discomforting. But something about Sonny's story is even more disturbing. I guess it's mainly about him: a fringe dwelling poseur who snaked his way into parties and lied as naturally as he breathed. A dishonest fool, yes, but I feel badly for him. What went wrong is his short timeline? What led him to drop through the afternoon sky right next to where I work?

I stare out that window daily, often just to drink in the lovely view of the water and sky. It's a nice break for my hectic schedule. The Slade also reveals a pool area to the West, a spot some of my co-workers like to stare upon for "bird watching." Since I've learned about what happened next door, that view can never merely be for pleasure any more. Sonny, you sad, pathetic guy. You left deception and murder in your wake. May the Lord have had mercy upon you...

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Roger Greenberg is a walking case study, a passive-aggressive, deeply narcissistic 40 year-old male. That is almost a redundant description. Have you been around any lately? There seems to be this resigned malaise among a sizable group of pushing 40 to 40-something mainly American guys who can be overheard whining over a Yuengling or a Maker's Mark about what could've been. Assorted Willy Lomans and John Qs, distraught of their plight. Not just in bars, though. They're also at backyard picnics, living rooms during the holidays, in line at Starbucks. It's also interesting to observe how this near middle-aged discomfort knows no bias to religious or political leanings.

Lamenting the mediocrity ("this is not my beautiful house...") is not patented by Generation X. The Boomers and every generation before were also quite adept at it, if not quite as vocal. Ben Stiller himself is a 40-something who seems to understand the frustrated male behavior patterns quite well. At least onscreen. His performance as the titular GREENBERG is quiet mastery, perhaps his best. His character finds himself back in Los Angeles to housesit for his brother after several years in NYC, part of that time spent in a rehab for initially vague but gradually very understandable reasons. His current goals? Not to do as little as possible, but to do nothing at all.

You've probably at least brushed against a Greenberg specimen type somewhere along the way. He's caustic, prone to simmering in a corner, then randomly exploding into fits of rage. He broods, ocassionally cracking wise and being charming, but mainly a black cloud hovers over him. He often wounds the more tender souls in his wake, even if he doesn't mean to.

One of his victims is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a nanny to his brother's family. She is an attactive, yet unassuming young woman who, even in her early 20s has the persona of a wizened (yet shy) old soul. She's caring and sweet and vulnerable, unsure of how to express herself to others, particularly Greenberg. She likes him. Sure, he's 40 and old and all, but she feels a connection. But what an ass the guy can be. She'll open up to him and he'll just piss all over her transparency. Likely because he also doesn't know how to express himself.

Greenberg has lots of baggage, perhaps more than others his age. He's another of the millions of also-rans who had hopes and, being his own worst enemy, doused them early on. Specifically, he ruined his old bandmates chances of getting a record deal and moving on to greater things. As Greenberg seeks out his former comrades in L.A., he repeatedly hears the damnations of his ego, his self-righteousness that cost them all success. Things don't go swimmingly on this "vacation."

There's also the awkward encounter and follow-up lunch with a long-ago ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their scene in the restaurant is rife with unease, so perfectly played by Leigh as she nervously tries to flag the waitress to rescue her form Greenberg's self-loathing. The sort that likely drove her away years before and doomed any chance for a long-term. Her body language and line delivery is so accurate, and we've probably all been there at various times, on both sides of the table.

Another telling restaurant scene takes place at Musso and Frank's, a landmark L.A. eatery that's been serving since circa 1919. As a side note, I recently went to the City of Angels and had intended on visiting this place, but the schedule didn't permit. From what I've seen of it in several films, TV shows and in photos, it's a stale, very old school establishment complete with original woodwork and rude service. In other words, my sorta joint. Greenberg, Florence, and old friend/bandmmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans) join to celebrate Roger's birthday there, and of course the whole event turns sour. The ancient waiters (of various origins) come out singing with a cake, prompting Roger to throw an ugly scene and storm out.

I've never witnessed the above scene in real life, but I understood the sentiment. It was one of several painfully astute moments I had while watching GREENBERG. I have felt exactly the same way, wanting to lash out and exit when off-key wait staff come out and awkwardly croak that damned song. I'd want to castigate my friends for staging such an embarrassment. I even remember a warm feeling on my neck, that time I was 15 or so when I happened to look out the living room window to see friends of mine walking to the door. It was my birthday, and they were surprise guests. Ugh. I hated them and my parents right then. It was a invasion of my hallowed space, my sphere of control.

Roger Greenberg also hates surprises, but his own unpredictable behavior helps no one else. Scene after scene in writer/director Noah Baumbach's latest film features this character acting on the id in the most cringeworthy manner possible. After a while, you wish Baumbach would show something else, just so we can get some distance from this boor. Aside from a long opening credit sequence where we ride with Florence, we're always with him.

As for that opening, you might alternatively interpret this film as being through the point-of-view of the young lady, and how perhaps she sees men, but that's a bit of a wild stab, though would be interesting to explore.

Rather, perhaps, GREENBERG is a clear-eyed specific character study of not only arrested development, but possible accelerated regression. Like Woody Allen before him, Roger would just as soon make the journey back into the womb. Witness the party scene near the film's end, as Roger interacts with rowdy Generation Y types. "You guys scare me", he says, referring to how tech savvy they've been from an early age and how they've had parents who were friends rather than parents. He got an "amen" from me there. As the scene plays out, though, Roger quickly joins his juniors in their chemical fest, perhaps becoming even less mature by the minute, trying desparately to fit in, selling himself out, running in place at best. As the sequence goes on and eventually the film concludes, we may see a gradual clarity and healing, or just another episode and cycle. The film only shows a section of Greenberg's life, after all. I wonder what happened the next day....

Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Day of Prayer?

This is from an e-mail I just received. It excerpts the thoughts of a fellow Palm Beach Atlantic University alum. Food for thought.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand the need. I don’t see the value.
The National Day of Prayer.

First off, I believe in prayer and the value prayer plays in people lives. Prayer enables us to find peace and calmness in a world where both are greatly lacking. Prayer moves us closer to our God and the surrounding warmth of his presence. Prayer works.

This event seems reminiscent the prophets of old running around cutting themselves, dancing and crying out to the pagan gods trying desperately to get the attention of a distant god who needs so much pleasing to care. Again, I don’t get it.

Prayer should be a daily part of our existence, a very part of our being just as breathing is. Staging such events to show everyone we are prayer warriors seems insincere. Such propaganda is nothing more than creating infomercials to the holy for the sole purpose of securing a claim to God’s favor for our country and our people. God has no more love for the American people than he does the Dalit’s of India.

We can’t be greedy, uncaring, and judgmental all year and expect these cruel traits be overlooked because we gather with others to show our sincerity once a year on a crowed courthouse.

I like theatre as much as the next person. I wonder how God feels about it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Canyon Livin', Part III

Day four in San Diego saw another full schedule of AAA sessions and expo floor wanderings (read previous entry for more details). It was also our gracious hostess' birthday. She decided to whip up a BBQ and have some friends over.

Karmyn and John stock their pantry with mostly organic products, and the chicken breasts and eggplant that were grilled were excellent. The party was out on the patio, overlooking another wonderfully xeriscaped garden, much like the one we had seen at cousin Vinnie's a few days earlier. A wide semicircle path was surrounded by all sorts of flowers and bush that Sonia could identify (my botanical knowledge lacks a bit). We picked some strawberries and had a few with the snackies before the main meal.

We met an interesting fellow, an endocrinologist who was very easy to talk with, about a great many topics. I was also able to strike up a conversation with a speech language pathologist. Always nice to meet a colleague in the field (even a sister profession). She described her having to live with Multiple Schlerosis (she's 35, a typical age of diagnosis). Coincidentally, that morning the balance talk I attended addressed MS and the sorts of clinical findings one might see and associated symptomology, so now I was armed with more complete knowledge and questions.

Another couple at the party were neighbors from down the street, the wife born and raised in SD and happy to be back after a stint in Indiana. Her husband is a football coach and had taken a job at a high school there. He was a very down to earth guy, very grounded in his faith, yet his affect and words did not suggest the usual persona. Many Christians I meet follow this particular blueprint in terms of political leanings and interests. This gent confounded it all the longer we spoke, crediting his Catholic mother for the man he is and even questioning some of the Christian subculture mores. Maybe it's because he's been in California for a while. Yet another selling point for me.

And there are many. I spoke of the terrain. I love looking out in any direction and seeing altitudes, vallies. OK, so CA is not as green and lush as FL but that doesn't bother me. In fact, the lack of rain in CA was a topic at the party. You can almost count the # of days the state gets precipitation. Over the last several years, I have fallen out of love with rain. It's true. I hate it now. Yes, yes, I know it is essential to the ecosystem. I know. But the romantic nature of a rainy day is lost on me anymore. I used to love them when I was younger. Now, I just wish it would rain overnight when I don't have to deal with it (sorry, graveyard shift workers). California would be perfect for me because of the lack of rainy days. Yeah, they just bother me. But, listening to media outlets in South Florida proclaim there are mandatory water restrictions and that Lake Okeechobee is too low is even more annoying.

What a whiner I am, eh? If I were some obnoxious zillionaire, I might even wonder something stupid like, "who do I have to pay to control the weather? Heh Heh Heh."

Anyway, we lit candles on several banana bread cupcakes and sang the happy birthday song. There were several children at the party and they jumped off the swings and slide to sing along. A beautiful Southern California sunset bathed our scene. I wanted it to last, not slip away. Like ice cream that you want to savor but have to act fast upon or it will melt away.

We concluded the night on the family couch after all the guests had departed. We just chatted with our hosts about our lives while young Vanessa danced and played with her karaoke machine (hilarious). Skylar the cat lazed on the floor, her pregnancy sparked more conversation (she would have six kittens 2 days after we returned home). We spoke of how we'd love to live in CA. Someday, we hope.

We awoke before dawn Sunday morning to drive back to L.A. and our 10:15 A.M. flight home. We took the 5 with only one traffic snag; the trip took about the expected 2 hours. More great scenery. Hard to leave it. We'll be back.