3 03 2013




Au revoir, Monsieur Heston

10 04 2008

Charlton Heston died more than a week ago. How are we doing now that he’s dead?

Heston was as close as Americans ever got to a yankee-style movie hero. By “hero” plan “b” means the image and idea of what large numbers of people had to do to survive. Heston was “Moses” enraged, lonely, bearer of bad news. He was Judah Ben-Hur, who threw every success away on a hunch. He was the the last human in a world run by monkeys aping humans. He was the sweaty, glistening sheriff in a corrupt border town where the stray shoe on the street would have a foot still in it.

Charlton Heston was an “American Hero” and by “American” plan “b” means a hero in the realm of confounded borders, the ones that can’t contain and the ones its people bring with them from wherever they came from. Charlton Heston was the one who crossed the line from safe to dangerous.

If this sounds complicated it really wasn’t. In the worlds Heston had to cross he was strong, alone, miserable and most of all without hope of assistance. Alone, Heston’s characters could not have been more alone. That was very simple. When he crossed the line he entered “every man for himself” welcome to America.

Charlton Heston’s films showed Americans what they were up against: they were the individual in the crowd and the crowd could not help them. Charlton Heston’s movies were the useful tales of men who lived in a highly developed human wilderness where no system, no government would help them.

Foreign audiences have often commented on the American film tradition of the Strong Silent Type. In those movies a group was probably a lynch mob. American westerns of the 1950s, among them masterpieces of American film, are a record of this political suspicion of the “crowd.”

In Heston’s wake live the flickering tough guys who knew what they had to do, gritted their teeth, and did it. John Wayne’s films have left a much more complex story, with a fair number of unquestioning patriots but also with inconvenient, critical, dark subversives.

Charlton Heston’s death officially leaves American with no living model of what an American is to do. plan “b” has tried but can think of no replacement for him. In a culture of obedience relieved only by attacks of (temporary) insanity, Johnny Depp’s deepening screen study of the Physical Outlaw doesn’t have mass appeal. Nor does George Clooney’s investigation of the intellectual outlaw. Both of these actors create characters that exist in larger contexts that are themselves the real subject of the film.

“Huh? This is America, give us something we can use!”

This week plan “b” will mourn the unknown complexity of a life that caused Heston to recant his earlier work for gun control to die reviled by many for his final support of guns. This week plan “b” is more inclined to remember Charlton as a man who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement of the 1960s when it might’ve cost him his bright, shiney new movie stardom.

She is imagining the Hollywood actor who loaned his celebrity to causes like civil rights and gun control after the murders of MLK and Robert Kennedy at his own peril (See

plan “b” is sad that Charlton Heston isn’t out there somewhere puttering around his house. She remembers him as the cordial but ultimately bewildered host of hostile documentary interviewer, Michael Moore (NB. whom plan “b” also admires).

An interview that brought the two guys from Michigan together in the hospitality of Heston’s home ended with aggressive NRA questions. As Moore and his crew withdrew they filmed Heston who watched their departure.

Impossible to know what was in Heston’s mind at that moment. plan “b” took the look on his face this way: poignant, human, a man who had just met another man he’d liked. They had things in common, they understood some of the same things and yet it ended in anger. The film crew left and Heston was alone.

Part II: Hard times for american grrrrls

25 02 2008

In the last episode…American Girl Place, where the dolls have more expensive wardrobes than plan “b” is showing its own signs of the times: a move away from its posh street address up into a shopping mall and a staff cut to the tune of the company of actors that play the dolls.

If indeed the current widespread hard times have touched the high-maintenance dolls-they have a hair salon in the Chicago Avenue store and are served tea and luncheon in the doll house’s restaurant-plan “b” has a helpful suggestion or two. Not that plan “b” is eager to share these with people in the business of indoctrinating little girls with toys that act richer than their owners.

However, it’s really quite simple, besides the obvious suggestion of giving every doll on the premises a deep-discount makeover, American Girl Place must quickly launch a series of dolls that reflect the current history of potential buyers.

This new collection of historically accurate American Place dolls might begin with two dolls locked in mortal combat:

New Doll #1, let’s call her Marisa, is an Armani-clad, MBA wielding accountant who’s become the lead person on an international mortgage company’s foreclosure team. Marisa is unflinching and doesn’t mind making her job “up front and personal.” She showed herself one of the rare accountants who could confront defaulting home owners when the bank needed an accountant who would come out of the office.

New Doll #2, we’ll call her Toni, is the eldest child in a family of five that is in the process of losing its home through mortgage default. Her parents were laid off three months ago and Toni and her two sisters wonder how long it will be before they divorce. The family talks about where they might live when the Sheriff’s office puts them out and removes the locks but they really can’t think of a place that would let them stay more than a couple of nights. Toni and her sisters wonder where they’ll go to school. Meanwhile public school administrators and principals have found a name for the growing new matriculation of homeless children. The homeless child who tries to go to a new school is referred to as a “crasher” (Chicago Tribune, 2/23/08). Toni will soon be a crasher.

Ideally little girls should acquire both the new Marisa doll and the new Toni doll. To play the 21st century version of “house” (where did it go?).

Part I: Hard times for american grrrrrls

23 02 2008

Word from Chicago Avenue in Chicago is that American Girl Place might be feeling the pinch of what “may well be the beginning of a recession” (the current media name for the current American economic turbulence).

This week the Chicago Tribune broke the story that the pricey purveyor of historicized zombie dolls was dismantling its in-house theatrical troupe (something about not the same since the 2006 NYC actors strike that appealed to non-union American Girl Place performers).

The second big news out of the doll’s mouth was they were moving off the street, leaving their plum location next to the grand Chicago/North Michigan Avenue digs of wealthy dreams factory Ralph Lauren.

American Girl Place will move a couple of blocks north and east to the upper nethers of Water Tower Place, the once thrilling but now sedate vertical shopping mall that set the pace for the neighborhood make-over as a world-class shopping destination for class-ascension tools.

Since it opened several years back, American Girl Place has slightly frightened plan “b.” Even as a child, plan “b” failed to understood the allure of dolls. It seemed like it was the really cruel girls who liked dolls. They would make their dolls do things. They would torture their dolls. They would force feed them liquids until water or juice seeped out of their dolly armpits. plan “b” wondered after she grew up if “toy” dolls and voodoo dolls were somehow related.

The inescapable sight of the perfectly humanoid dolls being escorted up and down Michigan Avenue by little girls always reminded plan “b” of the first version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” the one with Kevin McCarthy.

This time the “pod people” from outer space had chosen the dolly delivery system and those little girls and their adoring families were already changing. The crowded North Mich. sidewalks had two kinds of beings on them, the humans and the doll people.

It seemed that it would never end, that bobbing stream of the big burgundy American Girl Place shopping bags full of historically if not anatomically correct accessories, suitably priced to tog a doll with a price tag dripping digits. It was well known on the Avenue that many of these dolls had been taken to lunch in the doll and human dining facility inside the store. Lucky dolls had also been taken to the theatrical review to see their roll played by humans yearning to unionize. Or to be a real life doll and carried down the avenue to a lovely suburban bedroom.

plan “b” has only heard of one little girl whose American Place Doll suffered and that little girl was given the doll without demanding it. When she unwrapped it, she looked it over, threw it in her closet. She remembered it sometime later when she got interested in hair-cutting, did a trial on the eyelashes: cut them off entirely and then, confident of her talent as a cutter, she cut all its hair off and threw it back in the closet. About a year later a friend of hers found it in the closet, asked if she could have the doll and left with it, happy.

How do the little girls who so violently desired their American Girl Dolls treat them, once the dolly is at home and in their power? This plan “b” does not know. As they carefully, triumphantly carry their dolls away from the store, the little girls on the street look nothing less than ecstatic.

These are not the girls who drag their baby doll through the dirt by one foot. Until further research is carried out, “b’s” working theory is that these dolls are treated like the “princess” so many little girls are told they are (Americans tending to have no actual knowledge of the harsh treatment most dynastic princesses were subjected to).

What is suggested here is that the desire, the actual passion for these dolls is unabated. Yet the delerious doll economy of American Girl Place appears to have changed enough that they are planning what can only be described as budget cuts, moving off the street, eliminating their theatre company.

plan “b’s” preliminary hypothesis is that doll sales may be bruised by “what may well be the beginning of a recession.” Put another way, the dramatic increases in home foreclosures over the past year may have caused more than one little girl to forego her American Girl Doll because there was no longer a house to take it home to.

It is into this breach that plan “b” now steps, with a plan “b” for American Girl Place.

“Loonier eclipse”

21 02 2008

What to do when words were said on both sides, one of those situations where each person is persuaded that the other’s words were more inforgivable?

Plan A is always don’t speak for how ever long it takes to get bored with not speaking.

He resorted to plan “b” and called last night to remind that the “loonier eclipse” was in progress and rush to a window. plan “b” is what worked.

There won’t be another one until 2010 so for those in need of some way to avoid an avoidable ice age, might begin with the word “loonier…”

Anachronize this!

14 02 2008

Two things from this week need anachronizing. This means translation into another historical time:

1) “This may sound silly” said by an architect to his lecture audience. He was describing something that people 30-40 years ago would have understood in a blink and not imagined to be the least bit silly.

2) “Big Night. Big Mystery” This was an excellent (2/13) Chicago Tribune story by Phil Vettel and Monica Eng. Again, 30-40 years ago the big mystery wouldn’t have been so much mysterious as dramatically “far out, man!”

Let’s translate both of these examples into the mentality of 30-40 years ago:

1) An architect said “This may sound silly” to a group of Chicagoans at the Architecture Foundation this week. He’d just come back from a few days in California and he was really trying to get back into the winter mind of Chicago.

He threw pictures into the dark of something new he’d made out of something old, a record company and home out of an old tavern for some people from Reno. The project was on the northside of Chicago.

One image showed bare sunlight on a chair in a scrap of space over a stair. It was a place just big enough for one person to sit quietly in the sun, look out the window from time to time and go back to their book. “This may sound silly,” he apologized to Chicago.

It might sound silly to the City that Works, that always works, that calls its play work, that tries to aspire to 100% productivity with every cubic centimeter of air breathed productive of one minute of human productivity.

It might sound silly, he quickly explained, but his client loved that little spot in the sun best of all in the new space in a multi-million dollar project. She used it all the time.

2) Mystery:
Vettel and Eng’s story was prompted by a Chicago Chef, Michael Carlson’s decision to re-open Schwa after closing it abruptly, mysteriously some said, the day after the legendary 14 course banquet he prepared for a room full of the world’s most luminous chefs. That sentence was a mouthful and so was Chef Carlson’s arcane menu.

The chef’s culinary apotheose followed by the sudden darkening of his kitchen the very next day was the stuff of opera.

The Trib’s story attempted to account for Carlson’s action and concluded he was reacting to the brutal, some might say “macho,” work ethic of the restaurant world.

Vettel/Eng end their piece with comments from a local culinary college dean. Proper training, and by that the dean means professional education that combines business and accounting with all the culinary trades, might be the way for restaurateurs to bake their cakes and eat them too. No doubt. Perhaps.

Chef Carlson seems to have found a simpler way to return to his kitchen and start calling his waiting list: he’ll just work less. Less means less.

If he wants to play with his baby he’ll do that. If he wants to sit in a chair in the sun and read, he’ll do that. When he goes to the kitchen he’ll cook for a few people. Another day he’ll cook for a few more.

plan “b” loved this story (she is a big fan of Phil Vettel and Monica Eng, lusty eaters who know their stuff and are reasonably kind). But plan “b” could not help thinking that 30-40 years ago this chef’s story: big night, big closing, would not have been so hard to understand.

It would have fallen into the happy category of “blows my mind!” and all the many who heard the story would have been free to write their own explanations:
*the dude is bold, huge success, walk away;
*or nervous exhaustion, needs to kick back;
*or more simply, last night was then, and now surf’s up. Etc. Etc. Etc.

It occurred to plan “b” that Vettel and Eng rightly cast this story as one with gothic possibility for today’s Chicago readers. In the City that Works, the story of a man who leaves his career at its exquisite peak has latent darkness and tragedy. It is a mystery to contemporary readers that has the power to frighten them and give them terrible doubts about things best left unthought. It is a mystery that must be explained without further delay. The two Tribune food reporters found a brilliant, contemporary and local way of telling the story.

But 30-40 years ago the explanatory requirement would have been much lighter. “Dude, the man had enough to eat.”

A good breakfast (start the day with)

7 02 2008

Fine dining in the Red Line this week:
Parka boy knows how important it is to start the day with a good breakfast.

He lands hard on the train seat. As he’s landing he drops his breakfast on the empty seat next to him: a ripped open L’il Dibbuk raspbury polyster spongecake oozes from torn cellophane and a crumpled yellow page from the business phonebook floats onto it seconds later.

Then the old teenager thumps a blue gallon down hard on the salt-crusted train floor next to his heavy duty snow boots. This might be a jug of anti-freeze or it might be some sport drink guaranteed to make him sweat attractively blue. Hard to tell with teenagers. They are very open minded about some things.

He’s talking the whole time and since he’s not old and battered enough to be talking to himself it’s a good guess he’s on some kind of dangling telephonic thread.

All plan “b” can see of him is the tip of his nose, darting in and our of the black hood as the train rocks. Sometimes his hand finds breakfast and squeezes it like some tiny friend riding next to him that he can eat as soon as he gets rid of this clown on the phone.