John Mahoney as W.P. Mayhew

“The truth, my honey, is a tart that does not bear scrutiny.”

There are many Johns in the Coen brothers’ weird thriller Barton Fink (Turturro, Goodman, Polito), but the chameleonic Mahoney, playing a tragic caricature of William Faulkner, always stood out to me. An ostensible gentleman with a pleasing Southern accent, Mayhew is a lot like the movie’s protagonist: a celebrated writer who’s sold himself to Hollywood, he’s a bit haughty, a bit selfish, and completely incapable of listening. He’s also a raging drunk and a woman-beater, a man we’d easily hate if he didn’t seem so sad, so lost, and so lonely.

You know what? Maybe I should just stop here. As much as I love Mayhew’s character, there’s little I can say about him that could provide any unseen insights. I think you’d do better to read this little celebration of Mahoney’s great work, and assume that its views mirror my own.

Of Dicks and Donalds

A few nights ago, I was treated to a lovely discussion about the finer points of semen and masturbation, courtesy of the forklift boys on the dock:

“Hey guys, what do you think is more like semen? Cottage cheese or Jell-O?”

“Tell me what happens to your semen after you jerk off in the shower.”

“What about you, boss? How often do you jerk off?”

“Hey, I got a wife.”

“Oh, yeah right! Like that’s enough for you.”

“I’m not saying I don’t do it. I just have a wife and three kids. I ain’t got no time.”

“Hey, I don’t always have time either, but sometimes I’m flipping channels, and I see some big tits, and I say, ‘Hey, might as well.'”

Now, I can only thank God that I wasn’t part of this conversation. I work in the office on the other side of the wall. Had I been among those guys, I would’ve taken the first opportunity to escape to my car. Then I would’ve looked for something shiny to throw, so as to distract them and turn their teeny minds onto something else.

So men are apes. I think we all know and can accept that.

But now this tape comes out about Donald Trump grabbing women and women liking it because he’s a silverback in Stuart Hughes, and…everyone’s getting upset? Like they’re fucking surprised?

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tothereader I don’t really think Donald Trump would make a good president. This post may be many things (e.g. misanthropic and ill-informed), but it’s certainly not an endorsement. Okay? Good.

I have to be honest: Trump used the perfect terminology when he called his tape “locker room banter.” Have people not heard how the alphas talk when they’re amongst each other? Is this sort of thing really that shocking? Can you blame an alpha for being an atavism? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I can’t blame the media either. Trump practically is the media, and he’s melded with it to create some unique symbiotic life-form. The media may be sensationalistic, but Trump can’t live a day without saying something sensational. A man of his ego doesn’t like attention, he needs it. We should all be used to it by now.

This is important, because it’s plain to me that this latest liberal anger has nothing to do with arguing presidential qualifications, and more to do with swaying the swing voters. “Hey,” they say. “Hey look! Hear what that guy said? Isn’t that naughty? We don’t say things like that!”

Uh-huh.

Of course, this is demonstrably untrue. Morrison, Edwards, Wu, Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton. Get real, people.

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For all their posturing about moral superiority, all Democrats care about right now is winning. Winning, winning, winning. It’s smelly, ugly, prick-waving dressed in a pretty pantsuit. Whether they want to tax rich people or not, we’ve still got two groups of gorillas screaming and scratching and clawing over the water pit.

How many sex scandals in politics must we hear of before we realize that this is what happens when we give our power and faith to other people? Have we all got amnesia? Did we forget the lesson we learned in high school, from our days among the jocks and the rich boys? It’s a fucking law of nature: social elevation creates horny entitlement. No, it’s not fair. No, it’s not sensible, but it’s what we are, and we need to stop pretending that we’re beyond it. People regress to lower beings when they have power, and that’s why our economy, our politics, and our world are so fucked up. The people with the money detach from humanity, they gain access to too many things, and they forget simple societal demands, like, say, compassion and decency. Capitalism is right in rewarding hard work, but when riches are gained without it, we get shit like this, folks.

But we’ll forget. Once Election Day is over, we’ll all forget about this, and then put up the affronted act when it happens again.

Life goes on, it’s an old story, the fight for love and glory, and we keep hoping. We’re humans, right? Not animals. We can transcend our primal urges and improve our society, can’t we? I’m sure that, as long as we keep chugging along the way things are, we’ll get some good people in charge, and close this shameful chapter of history.

I’m not saying I’ll run for office, of course. That shit’s hard work.

Top Cartoons: Snoopy Come Home

There have been over forty animated Peanuts TV specials, and five feature films. There’s a timeless quality to these tales of precocious youngsters. Their lives, activities, pains, and pleasures — baseball games, flying kites, pulling pranks, fitting in — have rarely deviated from what children deal with even today. Snoopy Come Home maintains the themes of the comic, but it pushes them farther than they ever went before.

This is the second animated Peanuts feature, written by Charles Schulz and directed by Bill Melendez. As the title says, the focus is on Charlie Brown’s independent, imaginative, attention-loving beagle, but instead of playing vulture or chasing the Red Baron, he gets trapped at the peak of what amounts to a symbolic love triangle.

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There are tensions in the Peanuts neighborhood. Snoopy’s been spending too much time away from home, fighting with the Van Pelt kids, and standing up his play dates. NO DOGS ALLOWED signs are cropping up at his favorite haunts, and even that round-headed kid is pounding him with lectures. It seems as though he just doesn’t belong anymore.

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So when a letter from a mysterious girl named Lila arrives, which spurs Snoopy on an impromptu road trip, everyone feels responsible.

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It turns out that Lila is Snoopy’s original owner, who, for some reason, had to give up her puppy when her family moved. She returned him to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, where Charlie Brown’s parents later discovered him.

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Now Lila is sick with an unnamed, but  serious disease, and misses her pup terribly. Snoopy and his bud Woodstock try to use mass transit to reach her, but NO DOGS ALLOWED signs stymie them, so they have to make the trip through unfamiliar towns and wilderness on foot. They travel a mighty long distance together, bonding, joking, and generally dealing with the rustic life. On one occasion, however, their adventure, and their lives, are put in serious jeopardy.

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Having gone without human companionship, Snoopy is pleased to spot Clara, a gal playing in the sand outside her house. He runs up and greets her, but she seizes him, kidnaps him, and attempts to forcibly adopt him.

Clara is more or less a relative of Tiny Toons’s Elmyra, with no awareness or empathy for an animal’s feelings. She gives Snoopy a flea bath, repeatedly dunking him underwater. She ties a hefty rope around his neck and yanks him around. She dresses him in hideous clothes for a tea party. Then, when she spills her tea on him, she blames Snoopy, and gives him a spanking.

It must be noted that Linda Ercoli, the voice actress for Clara, is amazing. At only thirteen years old, she gives Clara an impressive range of emotions, from giddiness to rage, and she’s always  horrifying. She even sings a very complicated patter song with aplomb and perfect rhythm.

After a crazy and intense chase, our wayward heroes make their escape, perhaps having learned something about dealing with strangers.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is haggard with worry. His friends reach out and provide advice to help him accept that Snoopy is likely gone for good, but nothing works.

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When Snoopy finally reaches his old friend, he has to make a tremendous decision. Lila feels so much better with her doggy around that she begs him to come back to her. It is here that Melendez’s direction best demonstrates its wisdom. Melendez understood that Snoopy’s comic strip thought-bubbles wouldn’t work in a film, so he instructed  his animators to pour their efforts into the pup’s physical expression. He may be a simple-looking cartoon character, but the agony Snoopy displays at Lila’s request is truly heartbreaking.

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What follows is a series of shockingly painful scenes, restrained only with a stingy sprinkle of humor. There are tearful, even maudlin, partings, and a haunting portrait of real depression as Charlie Brown is unable to eat or sleep in the absence of his dear friend. The sequence plays to a wistful lament called “It Changes,” which, while written with innocent and childlike language, will likely never be understood by any but the most scarred of children.

Speaking of music, one will notice that Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy piano themes are missing from this film. You won’t even hear the iconic “Linus and Lucy” anywhere in it. The score is by Richard and Robert Sherman, who also worked on Disney’s The Jungle Book and Hanna-Barbera’s Charlotte’s Web. Their work here swerves from pleasant and dark, just like the film itself.

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Mercifully, two wonderful payoffs await, and the film closes with enough joy to conquer the preceding misery.

Snoopy Come Home baffled most critics, and even Roger Ebert described it as “schizoid.” I agree that it vacillates from one emotional extreme to the other, but I don’t know if that damages the film in any way. Peanuts has always been tinged with anxiety, and I believe that’s part of its endearing nature. I don’t believe it would continue to be printed in today’s comics if Schulz hadn’t dared to mix his own insecurities and doubts into the minds of his cute little characters. I think this movie is quite an achievement, even if it would never play well with today’s audiences, who expect shiny computer animation instead of the exquisite hand-drawn work shown here.

To Understand Something, Note It in Your Own Words

Ego is identity.

We identify ourselves with what we believe about ourselves, how we carry ourselves, and what we want others to think of us.

This identity is a wrapper that we twist ourselves in.

This wrapper is safe because it tells what we can be, and where we can go. It’s also constraining because it limits us, and tells us where we have to stop.

I can’t do that. What will the others think?

The wrapper is a container, a border, a boundary.

True growth requires the puncture of this wrapper, the expansion of these boundaries, the destruction of identity.

Thus the need for ego death.

Eleventh Hour Desperation

Day Eleven, Depression and Friends: All these things that I’ve been talking about, these things that made this year so lousy, they fucking sucked. They disrupted, ruined, or flat out ended lives. I was very fortunate, however, in that none of them directly affected me. I was insulated, viewing them comfortably through the filter of a computer screen. I’m just a little fellow, in a wide world, after all. Sadly, knowing this doesn’t make my problems feel any smaller.

Just a few months ago, my life was very different from what it is now. I had a full-time job and my own apartment. I was doing pretty well. I had lived that way for four years before the relapse. When the depression struck me, it struck hard. I lost my will to work, and worse, my will to do anything. I lost all interest in life. It didn’t help that it seemed like my peers were doing great, building families and buying houses.

Getting degrees.

Depression and panic attacks first visited upon me when I moved to USC in 1997. They immobilized me and made it impossible for me to leave my dorm, let alone succeed in class. I had to withdraw, and give up a substantial scholarship.

I’ve since developed an indelible fear of college that’s left me scrabbling for dead-end jobs, and I had trouble keeping those. As for a social life, forget it; I had no foundation, no sense of who I was, and I shrank from the friendly faces that approached me. I finally thought I had a sturdy handle on things in 2008, when I got a fine job that I got pretty damned good at. The company was well-run, successful even in the dark days of the recession, and my supervisors treated me like a prince. Before long, I had enough money to finally get out of my parents’ house again, and live on a modest budget. I started going to parties, making pals, dating girls. Life was looking up, and I was grateful.

But I overreached. Lost sight of the sunny spot I was in. I became afraid of looking lazy, or unambitious, and I requested more responsibility. I got it, and it turned out to be a heavier weight than I could bear. I became tense, and then stressed, and then miserable. I stopped socializing. I stopped drawing. I stopped doing anything, really. As soon as I got home, I fell into bed. The days smeared into a dreary, gray blur of work, sleep, work, and sleep. I requested my old job back, only to find that it wasn’t available, at least not in full-time. There was nothing for it. I had to leave.

I found another job, but it paid less than my old job did, and my budget was crunched. I found yet another job, and it paid more than my old job did, but by then the panic attacks were in full swing, and I couldn’t bring myself to go there.

I was in a spot. I had already been living hand-to-mouth before the depression hit. Now I was too crippled to bring anything home. I burned through what little money I had saved. I had to give up the apartment and move back in with my folks. For the third time. Not long before, life looked like a shining skyline of upward mobility and romance. Now it was a bleak flatland of counseling and disability claims.

Turned out I wasn’t the only one in the house having a hard time. My father was fighting a long, tiresome battle against his former employers and insurance companies for workman’s compensation. He needed back surgery for years, and it looked like it was finally going to happen. My mother knew that he’d need help once the operation was through, so she struggled with the idea of retiring. She’d been at her job for over twenty years, and it paid a tidy sum that she was loth to give up. Still, she decided to take the plunge for the sake of my dad and I.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was ailing terribly. She was suffering with congestive heart failure, a condition that made it a challenge for her to simply walk across a room. It was clear she was going to need open-heart surgery. At eighty years old. As this was in the wake of Joan Rivers’s death, my whole family was on edge.

This year has felt like the final act of a very long movie, where everything is at stake, the tension is at its height, and long-running threads converge and, for better or for worse, resolve.

I thought about resolving them for good many, many times.

My saving grace was recognizing that I had support. I’ve known for years that I could count on my parents, for they are good people who help others in need. However, I also know that they are still just people, and can only give so much before they break, and my guilt often overwhelms me. What I only recently discovered, when I was so deep in the jungles of despair that I thought I’d never get out, was that my parents weren’t the only ones looking out for me. Someone, or something I can’t explain, was waiting for me to call out to it, too.

The Facebook Problem

There’s something you should know about me. I, Daniel Rocha, made a pledge not to look at Facebook for an indeterminate amount of time, for my own good.

How did I come to make such a bizarre promise? Well, it’s actually on the orders of my counselor.

My counselor, Mary Anne, told me that she has a number of patients coming in to her because of Facebook. It gets into people’s heads. It makes them question their own lives. It makes them feel inferior. She gave me a warning: “Stay away from Facebook,” she said, “lest it devour your good sense and poison your mind.”

Okay, she didn’t say it quite like that, but the message was intact.

So what, exactly, is it about Facebook that upsets so many people, including myself? I’ve asked myself that question many times, and the answer is pretty simple. Looking over my News Feed, and the self-aggrandizing posts that populate it, makes me feel like shit. People use Facebook, and most other social media, as a means to validate their own lives, to feel as though they’re “making it” in our bizarre American culture. In this culture, success is measured by popularity. How many subscribers do you have? How many people follow you? Are you a beacon that lures people with no lives of their own? Do people envy you and your good fortune?

Are you a celebrity, or do you at least look the part? Everything’s A-OK in your world? No problems, no issues, just a picture-perfect life? Well, it’s no good unless you can show it off.

In the First World, where the lower three tiers of Maslow’s pyramid are more-or-less taken for granted, esteem is the true measure of success.

I don’t value esteem. I value the success of my works, but not of myself. I just want people to enjoy the things I make.

The world of social media, however, seems like the perfect opportunity for the rest of us to play celebrity, and God damn, if those folks who need that validation didn’t take it.

I don’t know why it bothers me, or the others who go to see Mary Anne. Or maybe I do. Maybe I don’t like to see people getting recognized, celebrated, even worshipped, for doing nothing more than living their very simple, very ordinary lives.

Do followers, admirers, worshippers, really make you feel better about who you are? Or is it a cover stick for your perceived failings? Does it ease the pain of knowing you’ll never be Kim Kardashian? Or Nicki Minaj? Or any other inexplicably popular human being in this screwy country? If that sort of thing doesn’t affect you, why bother sharing your own adventures online? Why bother presenting the best possible picture to strangers? Whom are you trying to impress?

Maybe I’m just a crusty old thirty-something who doesn’t fit with the flow of today’s cultural currents. Maybe I’m a crazy man who’s suffering under the weight of my own failures, but I just don’t see the need to celebrate myself. I don’t like to talk about myself; I never have. I like to talk about cartoons. I like to talk about movies. I like to talk about drama, emotions, how to evoke the strongest possible reaction in people through words, images, and ideas.

I’m feeling more and more like an old man. Goddamned kids just like a twist, I guess.

Don’t Mess With Depression

Depression, that orange-eyed beast that creeps on spiders’ legs, has claimed another talented artist. Fucking thing is so sneaky and powerful it can slay even the greatest amongst us.

This cannot be allowed. We can’t lose any more artists to the black sadness. So I’m going to shout it now: don’t mess with depression! When you feel it coming, when that trigger is flipped, don’t revel in it, don’t collapse into it, don’t feed it. Get help! Do something you like! Be around people that cheer you up! Promise a loved one that you’ll call if you feel like slashing yourself. You fight it, and keep fighting it!

There IS a point to it all, but you have to live if you want to learn it.