Apr/May 2002  •   Salon

Stuff to Consider

by Tom Dooley

It's the spring of another year. I'm one year older, and with that year has come an accumulation of wisdom. Some of it I figured out myself, and some of it I learned from others. Perhaps the greatest wisdom lies in sharing, so here's what I've got...


Why it's better to have homeys than friends

You can kick it with your homeys. Homeys got your back. When shit goes down, your homeys can feel you.


How to know if you're living in perpetual retrograde

Computers and cars are always malfunctioning. Appointments are always being cancelled. People from whom you haven't heard in years are always popping up out of the blue. Nothing works out as you planned. You're feeling constantly out of sorts. It's been that way for a long, long time.


Proper etiquette when submitting to an online magazine

Read the magazine first. Find out who the editors are. Send all of your submissions in or attached to one email message containing a cover letter. Do not send 15 separate poems over the course of three weeks. Do not send a story and then send the same story a month later because you had no idea where you sent it. Do not send the same submissions to more than one magazine. Either be patient or write more. In your cover letter, state who you are. Capitalize proper nouns like your name—if it was ever clever or profound to write exclusively in small caps, it isn't anymore. Proofread your stuff until you're sure there isn't one comma fault or one grammatical mistake. Then have someone else proofread it. Then proofread it again. If you don't know what a comma fault is, pick up a writer's handbook and educate yourself on that and all other mechanics. You are a writer, so learn the tools of your trade. Above all, try to keep things in perspective and don't be a nutjob. Whatever that means.


How to be a total nutjob

This guy sent us poems. At first glance, we thought they were pretty awful, but we filed them for consideration for the next issue. Three days later, he sent us this:

Dear Editor,

Nevermind. I've reviewed your publication further and am now aware of the complete PIECE OF SHIT it actually is. I would NEVER want my poetry included in with such garbage. I would rather die. Please, ignore my submissions and please, don't let anybody know I was so desperate as to submit to you!

Sorry for the confusion.

Martin Rutley
39 Grant Street
BB11 4LN

We're not sure what we did to elicit this response, but we figured Mr. Rutley has every right to have his opinions heard, and as an added bonus, we thought we would publish one of his poems after all. Maybe the overall quality of our magazine will even be improved by its presence.

The Cartoon Vandals
by Martin Rutley

Servants to the reptile priest
Saviours of the chameleon guard
The cartoon vandals abandon salvation
Blessed with the deviant heart
Condemned to corporate revelation
Distant machines define strategies
The apologetic victims of protocol
In ritual extremes of divine illusion
Porn factories cage the severed youth
As pretend Angels bleed neutral despair
Sacred structures of the data engine
Let primate frequencies seduce extinction
Analogue pleasures stripped sterile
Automatic death contained within
As distortions violate ancient systems
Of the integral shapes of isolation


Some good stuff possibly overlooked

In 1988 a band called The Jack Rubies released the album Fascinatin' Vacation on TVT Records. It's pretty good. Kind of a mid-80s REM meets the B-52s meets Midnight Oil, but they don't really sound like any of the above. Highlights include the title track, "Be With You," "Wrecker of Engines," and a cover of America's "A Horse With No Name."

A movie called Firelight. 1998 film written and directed by William Nicholson (who wrote Shadowlands, Nell, and Gladiator) and distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, starring Sophie Marceau, Stephen Dillane, Kevin Anderson, and Lia Williams. Looks like the classic chick-flick at first glance, but acting, writing, and cinematography are superb. Never lapses into schmaltz when it could easily have done so. A period piece that somehow pulls off not feeling like one. Marceau stands out in an Oscar-worthy performance, and the film as a whole makes a good argument for smaller budget, writer-director labors of love being the best movies.

The original Prince Valiant comic series by Hal Foster. I don't think anyone could realistically argue latter day comic strips (and I didn't say comic books, before anyone gets up in arms) in general and latter day Prince Valiant in particular have any real literary value, but the original Valiant series was art, literature, and even a kind of history combined. Probably the best way to read them is in the collected, four-volume, full-color series from Nostalgia Press. The comics were originally run in the 1930s, and the collections I own were published in 1974. The address for Nostalgia is as follows (I have no idea if it's still current):

Box 293
Franklin Square, NY 11010


Why the Oscars shouldn't be taken too seriously

Denzel Washington won an award he did not deserve because he may or may not have been passed over in previous years, which may or may not have been because he was black. Russell Crowe felt he was entitled to the award Denzel won because of his portrayal of a man even less representative of reality than when Julia Roberts played Erin Brockovich. Tom Wilkinson never had a chance of winning this award, even though his performance was, hands down, the most devastating of them all. Gene Hackman wasn't even nominated for an award, probably to make room for Ethan Hawke, probably so Denzel could win his Oscar, since people might be lulled into thinking Training Day was anything other than a "B" movie*. Halle Berry said a few months ago she did not wish to be thought of as a "black" actress, but rather as an actress, period. She felt it was not her responsibility to be a role model or a representative for all other black actresses. On Oscar night, she won an award she almost certainly did deserve, for a role she almost didn't get because she wasn't black enough, and suddenly proclaimed herself the person all future black actresses would have to thank for opening the door for them. She remembered to thank her mom and Warren Beatty (both of whom incidentally happen to be white, which wouldn't matter except that the whole evening appeared to be about race, so it seems worth mentioning), but not her co-star Billy Bob Thornton, who probably should've been nominated for two Oscars—one for his performance in Monster's Ball and another for The Man Who Wasn't There. She also became the third recent best actress winner to demonstrate a complete lack of dignity while accepting her award (Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts being the last two). Whatever happened to showing your elation and emotion without becoming a screaming, blubbering, hysterical idiot? Most people manage to do it. For example, when Benicio Del Toro handed the Oscar for best supporting actress to Jennifer Connelly, she kept her composure—although she might've just been too weak from all the weight she's lost to be any more animated than she was. Speaking of Benicio Del Toro, he just happened last year to become the only Hispanic male ever to win the Oscar for best actor**. Why no standing ovation for him, no media debate, no sense of entitlement, no insistence his speech run long because he and his people had been waiting for that moment for 73 years? Why wasn't he tearfully proclaiming he had opened the door for John Leguizamo, Edward James Olmos, and Cheech Marin? Instead of "Two birds in one night," he could've said "A bird in the hand..." Well, anyway, to wrap this up, the award for best picture went to a film that, while great in many respects, was also flawed in many respects. A Beautiful Mind was a great big cheesy Hollywood spectacle. Its cheesiness, not to mention inaccurate and therefore irresponsible treatment of mental illness and historical fact, should have been enough to disqualify it. It will not stand up to the test of time, and ten years from now it'll be just another Titanic, Gladiator, Braveheart... well, I guess that says it all. Every year the Oscar goes to a movie that somehow overwhelms everyone's good sense with what amounts to just a whole lot of hoopla. It isn't that these movies lack merit, it's that in addition to their many strengths, they're also overblown, sentimental, and ultimately, flawed. They just aren't going to be penciled into the list of 100 greatest movies next to the likes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Citizen Kane. In the Bedroom, on the other hand, is flawless***. Flawless. I say again, flawless. If there's a flaw in it, I'd like to know what it is. And if it's indeed flawless, why wasn't it the best picture?****


* My wife Julie gets credit for this idea, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. Not that she/I/we have anything against Ethan Hawke or Denzel Washington. On the contrary, Denzel probably should have won for Malcolm X, and he was great in The Hurricane, and as Julie says, "He's a fabulous actor." Nor do we think there was any kind of real conspiracy involved, beyond some very powerful people in Hollywood making some shrewd moves in the early going to set up a victory later. The Academy Awards, when it comes down to it, isn't much different from the Heisman Trophy "race" or the US Presidential election. They all involve campaigns to sway the opinion of a body of voters. Some studios are better equipped and/or better skilled at waging those campaigns, which is why Anna Paquin won best supporting actress for The Piano in 1993, but Jurnee Smollett not only wasn't nominated for her performance in Eve's Bayou, she was all but ignored by the movie-going public. And if anybody was ever robbed and/or marginalized, it must have been Jurnee Smollett, who hasn't been in a movie since The Salon's Cynthia Joyce raved her performance would be "likely to make her the most sought-after young actress since Anna Paquin..."

** This insight was all Julie's, probably due to Benicio Del Toro being her boyfriend of boyfriends.

*** Speaking of flawless, how about Sidney Poitier's***** honorary Oscar acceptance speech? Here is a man who teaches us all how to be men, a human being who teaches us all how to be human beings, and an actor from whom any aspiring actor would be wise to take lessons. His speech had all the classic stylings of a Mark Antony, an Abraham Lincoln, or a Martin Luther King, Jr. His presence served to underscore, in stark relief, just how foolish the rest of the proceedings ultimately were.

**** All this being said, I love the Oscars. They may be foolish, and they may be flawed, and they may be stuffed with cheese, but they still seek a worthy goal: to glorify a glorious human endeavor. It's something homeys of all persuasions can be down with.

***** Speaking of Sidney Poitier, besides the aforementioned Firelight, and besides the aforementioned Eve's Bayou, I'm also here to recommend a Poitier movie called A Patch of Blue. Shelly Winters received an Oscar for her supporting role in this very smart, ahead-of-its-time movie that might easily be overlooked next to Poitier's other classics.