Friday, October 12, 2012

Nuevo Laredo Film Shoot

Nuevo Laredo, shooting on location. The film is about the drug cartel wars. Couldn’t be a more dangerous film to make under more dangerous conditions. The camera is hidden in the director’s lapel to disguise what we’re doing. I’m acting in a scene with Ed Asner in a crowded plaza. It’s intimidating to work with such a notable actor, but I do my best.  Asner is right in my face, shouting about a terrible shooting he just witnessed. “Wow, this is an intense scene,” I think, then realize he’s not acting. Gunmen are roaming through the plaza, randomly killing people. The director doesn’t even say “Cut.” He just starts running. We all run … blood and mayhem everywhere … I run for a parking garage, the gunmen right behind me … can’t find my car … a car speeds out of control down the ramp—the driver has been shot through the head … bullets still flying … only one thing to do: as the car passes, I grab the door handle and hold on for dear life flying towards the exit, gunfire all around … “I’m going to die!” … the car careens out of the garage onto a street of restaurants and clubs. On a balcony, tourists sit calmly sipping margaritas … the car hits the building, the balcony collapses … I pull myself out of the wreckage and see lying next to me two debris-and-blood-covered American women still drinking their margaritas, continuing their conversation as if nothing has happened …


Monday, October 08, 2012

The Things You See

Today, I remembered something I hadn’t thought of in a long time. It was something I saw when I was four years old.

I was standing in the Sears store in Arlington, Texas, when I heard a loud clip-clopping noise. Turning, I saw coming towards me a legless woman walking on her hands. On her hands she wore a pair of shiny red shoes, and as she moved, the shoes smacked the floor with a clip-clop clip-clop.

I was astonished. Being a young child, I had not yet learned it was impolite to stare at a disabled person. Nor did I understand the concept of disability, or realize there was anything wrong with the woman. I thought she was supposed to be that way. To me, it was simply wondrous that she walked on her hands. So I stared at her, smiling in delight.

As she passed, she flashed me an equally delighted smile, then disappeared down an aisle, clip-clopping away.

Oh, the things you see as a child, and because you see them with fresh eyes, they have such a magical quality and your reactions to these things are completely authentic and without the least inhibition.

I remember another incident. This one too involved a store, and I was about the same age. My mother and I were walking in downtown Fort Worth. We passed a department store window full of mannequins, all of them posed in their usual positions, everything normal except for one thing: they were all completely naked.

I burst out laughing at the sight, and laughed wildly, uncontrollably. My laughter caught the eye of the woman in the window who was preparing to dress the mannequins, causing her to laugh as well.

I do not remember if my mother laughed, but I do remember her pulling me away from the window and telling me to tone it down.

Oh, the things you see, the things you see … and, of course, not all of them are funny.

I was a little older. We were coming back from a family vacation on the coast, traveling down a two-lane highway somewhere in Central Texas. The traffic slowed to a crawl. There was an accident up ahead.
As we drew nearer, we saw what had happened. A car had hit a horse-drawn wagon. You still saw the occasional wagon on rural roads in those days, as there were still a few die-hard old farmers who either could not, or would not, buy a truck. It was, of course, dangerous for wagons to share the road with cars, as this accident demonstrated all too well.
The wagon was smashed and lying on its side, and lying nearby were two dead horses.
The owner of the wagon and horses—an old man in overalls—was not hurt, but he appeared to be in shock. He stood there looking at his horses with a blank, hopeless expression.
My eyes began to water, then the tears poured. Nothing upset me so much in those days as the death of an animal, and here were two dead animals …
A couple of years later, I saw another tragic highway scene. I was riding with my father when we came on the scene of an accident. An ambulance, a cop car, and several other cars were pulled over to the side of the road.
My father pulled over and went to see what had happened, while I waited in the car. After a few minutes, he came back and said a boy had been killed trying to cross the road to the farmhouse where he lived. He had gotten off the school bus, excited to see the family’s new TV set (their first, I imagine) and had run straight into the path of a car.
As we drove past the accident scene, I saw the car that hit the boy. Inside sat a woman behind the steering wheel, crying.
That image still comes back to me from time to time, whenever I think of the sad burdens people carry in this life …
When I was eleven, I became old enough to explore the Midway at the State Fair by myself—as long as I kept my eye on my watch and met my parents on time in front of Big Tex.
After riding a number of rides, and losing money at the coin toss, I came upon the freak show. I’d always wanted to see the freak show, but my parents had always said no. But now, there was nothing to stop me. Now, finally, I could see with my own eyes the Octopus Boy, the 1,000-Pound Woman, the World’s Tallest Man, and all the others. Their painted images on the banners seemed so fantastic I could hardly believe they were real, but the barker gave his personal guarantee that they were indeed real, and anyone who doubted need only pay one dollar to see for themselves.
I paid my dollar and went into the tent, where a large group of people were listening to a man on a platform talk. And boy, could he talk. He talked and talked, and talked, promising any moment to show us the most amazing things we’d ever seen, or ever would see, in our lives. I was excited, but also getting impatient.
Finally, he announced that he would now show us a Medical Marvel, the likes of which had never been seen anywhere before, until now—a Freak of Nature so stupendous, so shocking, so awe-inspiring, that we would regret it for the rest of our lives if we did not see it. And it only cost a quarter.
I had exactly a quarter left, and felt a little cheated, having already spent a dollar just to listen to this man talk. But I realized, looking at my watch, that time was running out and if I did not spend my quarter, I would never see any freaks.
So I paid my quarter and followed a crowd of people into another partitioned area of the tent. There, on a small wooden platform, sat a man on a folding chair next to something covered up with a sheet. The man smoked a cigar and was cross-eyed. I hoped he wasn’t the promised Freak of Nature.
When the room was entirely full, the other man—the talking man—came into the room and told us that what we were about to see was One-Hundred-Percent Genuine and One-of-a-Kind: it was a two-headed baby.

He gave a signal to the cigar-smoking man, who pulled away the sheet, revealing a giant jar of formaldehyde with two dead babies floating inside.
“Siamese twins,” the man said. “As you can see, they are no longer attached. This was due to an attempt to surgically separate them—an attempt which they did not survive.”
The babies were white and withered, their eyes tight shut, their bony little arms drawn up to their chins. I stared at them in horror for a few minutes, getting my money’s worth, then left.
I was depressed the rest of the day, and though I returned to the State Fair many times after that, never went back to the freak show.
The things you see, the things you see …
But I should not end on such a gruesome note, but rather, tell of something else I saw as a boy. It, too, was in a tent, but had an altogether different effect on me.
A tent revival came to town one summer day. My friend Joe and I watched them set up the tent, thinking it might be a circus of some kind, and were disappointed when a man told us what it was and urged us to attend—and bring our parents. We left on our bicycles, with no intention of doing either.
But later that night, bored and with nothing else to do—and hearing the music and shouting far off down the road—we grew curious. We remembered the man had told us there would be faith healings—the lame would walk, the blind would see, and so forth—a spectacle we realized we could not miss. So, we hopped on our bikes and rode off down the road.
We were a little afraid to go inside, but it was an adventure, and adventures are few and far between in a sleepy little town. So not only did we enter the noisy tent, we even sat near the front to get a good view when the healings started.
The preacher was stomping back and forth on the podium, face red as a beet and screaming at the top of his lungs as he described the torments of Hell: oceans of boiling water, agony beyond description, and all of it lasting into Eternity. It was terrifying, which of course was his intent.
Above the podium was a bright light, around which a number of moths were swirling. They also from time to time swirled near the preacher who kept opening his mouth wide to holler, till finally—it was just a matter of time—one of the moths flew straight into his mouth.
The sermon ground to a halt as he began coughing and sputtering. Someone jumped onto the podium to slap him on the back. His eyes bulged as he coughed and gagged, trying to bring up the moth, which no doubt was fluttering around in his gullet, causing him considerable distress. A murmur of concern went through the congregation, as not everyone knew what had happened. He might be dying for all they knew. More concerned people poured onto the podium trying to help.
It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen. I knew I shouldn’t laugh, and tried not to—but when I glanced at Joe and saw him struggling not to laugh, it was all over. We both burst out laughing, and ran out of the tent into the darkness and fell on our knees in the grass, laughing till we hurt. And later, when we got back on our bikes and started home, we had to stop a few times to laugh some more.
Oh, the things you see …

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Dead

To date, the death toll in Afghanistan stands at 2,000 US troops and 13,009 civilians. In Iraq: 3,332 US troops and an estimated 119,000 civilians. Pakistani deaths due to ongoing drone strikes so far number 3,325 (some 474 to 881 of those were civilians, including 176 children).

If we add the body counts above—American, Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani—the total number of deaths so far from the “War on Terror” stands at 140,666 human beings.

I should add that the US death toll does not include war veterans who later died of their wounds, or those who commit suicide (estimated at 18 veterans per day). I should add, too, that the civilian death tolls above are conservative figures; the actual number could be much higher.

At any rate, this conservative figure of 140,666 is many times more than the 3,000 or so who died in the September 11 terror attacks—the provocative act that was used as the excuse to start this war.

It would be nice if this ongoing holocaust were an issue in the current presidential campaign, but both the Republican and Democratic candidates spoke only of a “strong national defense,” while the three third-party candidates who would have made it an issue were excluded from the debates.

Americans could demand something better of their political system. But will they?

The numbers above were collected from the following sources: