Lately there has been several people that I know rather personally that have developed some serious illnesses. It's been a year of unexpected medical problems and a year of people looking their own mortality squarely in the eyes. Reflecting on this fact caused my mind to wander even farther and my memory drifted to a funeral that I attended about three years ago. Actually I was more of a participant than an attendee. I was asked to be a pall bearer for the service of an elderly man at our church that had passed away from natural causes perhaps but really more than that, from age. The man was probably in his nineties. I had witnessed this man month after month and for years take his seat at the right-hand end of the front and center row during the eight A.M. mass service. I imagined him to be a quiet, godly man, a mannered man, a man I expected to be there forever I suppose. Well it turns out he wasn't there forever. He died, as all people do, and now I was helping to bury him. I didn't know his name until I heard it during the service. I was sorry about that. Now I'm not going to launch into a lecture about how we should all appreciate our neighbor and get to know them before it's too late. That's probably never going to happen. The thing I can't get out of my mind is that after the cemetary gathering when we pall bearers were all talking about him one of the guys just casually mentioned that this guy had been a personal secretary to Douglass McArther during the war. Someone else verified that statement. I was floored! What I wouldn't have given to have know this, to have sought him out for conversation. So I guess my message here is that what the General said in his famous speech at West Point really is true: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away". That's true for old soldiers. That's true for old friends. That's true for everything living. When we ignore people we miss a lot. I helped bury a piece of living history, but maybe that's not all. I buried a quiet, well-mannered, godly man. I don't know if that fades away nearly as fast. I sure hope it doesn't.
'm watching the 1964 classic "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians" and of course my mind begins to wander away from the plot (yes it had a plot....at least somewhat). It seems that the Martians are upset their children have become obsessed with T.V. shows from earth that extol the virtues of St. Nick and the Martian leaders send a group to earth to kidnap Santa. I'm not sure how that's going to help anything, but trust me, that's the plot.
Now the fun begins, at least for me, when I start picking apart the weirdness in this film. These Martians carry around ray guns that look exactly like blow dryers and I'm puzzled not because they're apparently armed with hair care appliances but because the movie is so old that I don't think hand-held blow dryers were in wide spread use in 1964, so I guess in a sense the movie really is futuristic at least in that way. Next I notice that the invaders appear to be wearing leather football helmets and I'm starting to get sort of pissed because I have always wanted one and these clowns appear to have found the motherlode. The leader of the group "Vulgar", pronounced "Vul-Gar" is a black guy with a bushy fu-manchu that seems to have come straight out of one of those blaxploitation films. I mean it's Fred "The Hammer" Williamson as "Vul-Gar" or at least it could be. The body-hugging outfits these guys wear is adorned with symbols such as the moon and stars, the atomic symbol and oddly enough, if you stare closely, a crucifix. It's good to know the King James Old Testament is alive and well on Mars sometime in the future. Pia Zadora was in the movie and she's hot even though they had to go to extremes of the imagination to figure her into the scheme of things.
This all set me to thinking about science fiction outer space movies in general. Do you ever notice that the people in the movies always wear the hairstyles that prevail at the time the movie was made even though it's supposed to take place far in the future? Ever notice the aliens seem to like to wear that stretchy polyester material? In the future we are going to realize all that stuff about healthy breathable cotton fabric was just a bunch of unenlightened bullshit. Good to know. Do you notice that often the aliens , especially in the older movies are just like earthlings except with one ugly feature that sets them apart? The alien will look just like Cary Grant for example except maybe he'll have really big ears or a bulbous forehead or an extra arm sticking someplace it shouldn't be. The women from space all have incredible figures but might have a crazy looking set of eyes or maybe even an extra eye. Furthermore, there are no fat or flat chested women in outer space. It's an intergalactic law of nature.
My final thoughts on "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians" and si-fi outer space movies in general and then a helpful tip for viewing these movies: Are we really supposed to believe that the Martian kids were sitting around all day watching American T.V. shows? I mean, come on, there were only three channels back then! And my tip: Watch the feet. Look at the footwear. In the really older movies (think black and white and cinemascope era), the wardrobe departments didn't pay a lot of concern to the shoes these guys wore. You see there wasn't a lot of full length close up shots and certainly very little panning to the feet of the extras in the crowds. You'll see people from Mars and everywhere else wearing whatever they left the house with. Army boots, sneakers, wing-tips, you name it, it's all in the crowd.
Oh, and one more tip: Don't watch old movies with me. I'll drive you crazy with this very kind of stuff. It's a disease or affliction of some sort. I just can't help it. Enjoy your popcorn.
The scene began when my old aunt Mildred called and ask if I'd come over and get her dog and bird for safekeeping over the weekend while she was gone to Hot Springs with a couple of friends . It seemed simple enough, just take both animals to my house on Friday night and she would come pick them up late Sunday afternoon.
I first must explain a little bit about Mildred. Mildred met my now deceased uncle Alvin in college long, long ago and at the time processed just enough looks to charm the guy that she had hand-picked for his future potential and possibilities. So she snares this timid and unassuming soul not so much because of lightening-bolt love but because she was a shrewd young lady and saw the future of a young man that was soon to hold a chemical engineering degree as a means to achieve her lifelong dream that she envisioned and cherished even at that tender and early age. A dream apparently of living alone without really having to worry about where the next meal was coming from and playing bridge with other old ladies twice a week and meeting for lunches in hotel restaurants with names like "Scruples" and " Cross City Café". Well, that may not all be entirely true, but that's how it looked to me. Mildred seemed to bloom in her own sort of way the year after Alvin died and she never looked back. I've never seen somebody so eager and willing to plant a corpse and head to the house as old aunt Mildred, but like I said that's just how it looked to me. So that leads me to now. You see I've sort of become of late, the second button on Mildreds life alert bracelet, the next number on her speed dial after 911. I'm sort of 912, or the number to call for "little emergencies" like tearing down a wasp nest, or in this case, keeping her dog and her bird for the weekend.
When Mildred introduced me to her doggie, a dachshund by breed, as her "dash hound", I politely supplied her with the correct way to pronounce the breed name so as to save her a little embarrassment in case she ever ran across somebody that might have a lick of sense to which she immediately replied "Oh, my. Well then it looks like I've committed a faux pas" which she pronounced "fox - paw". With this, I gathered the "dash hound" ( named Toby) and the mangy old bird (Taco) and headed to my house.
The hound was on his best behavior; just no trouble at all. He just did what a good dog does. He scouted out the house, ate his fill, curled up on the floor atop a throw pillow I had put down for him and went to sleep watching T.V. Actually that's the kind of thing I like to do too, so we got along well.
The bird went hay-wire as soon as we walked in the door. This was no ordinary bird. It was an African Grey Parrot. Now I've read that some of these fowl can live 100, 200, maybe even 250 years. Didn't mean much to me until I had to spend the night with one of em". This thing never shut up. He immediately started spewing forth the most vile and disturbing stream of free-flow bull shit I had heard in a long time. Mimicking stuff ( at least I hope he was mimicking) from the side streets of Lisbon, curse words from the sewers of Paris crap he heard on boats, in church lobbies, on trains. This thing had apparently been around the block a few times. In his life time I imagine this damn bird had probably been traded for seal skins, lowered into a mine or two, witnessed domestic quarrels, bar fights and probably a steam locomotive. Throughout the night, and the next day, and the next night he just kept talking and talking and talking. He talked about bawdy wenches and bloody whores, he talked about prize cattle, puffy clouds, and some boy named Billy. He threw in a squawk and a whistle here and there, he mimicked some ones' laughter, and stopped just long enough to catch his breath then would light right back in with "Tacos' a pretty bird" "Yes he is!" Sometimes he'd say "Mercy...merrrrcy! " or "Close the door!" then again..."Tacos a pretty bird" "Yes he is!"
Now this crap went on until I realized that I was never going to get to sleep so I covered the cage with a sheet and turned the thermostat down thinking that might take a little of the sass out of him, but it just didn't seem to faze him a bit.
I awoke the next morning to sounds coming from the cage that best as I could guess sounded like some kind of Choctaw threats or curses "Yalo-re-ma- tubbie" "Re-ma-ha-ish- tibbie!"
Well after about 30 solid hours of sleep deprivation, I'll be damned if I didn't start to like or at least appreciate his attitude. I began to think that maybe I was starting to "get" where he was coming from. This "Taco" bird....and keep in mind that "Taco" was just his name for the time being, hell this thing had probably had 4 dozen names over the years, ….this "Taco" had probably been through hell and high water only to end up on a table in a cage listening to Mildred and her "fox paws" for the last years of its miserable life. Staring out the window onto a subdivision and looking in the other direction at a dog that would rather sleep than eat. Hell, I thought about just killin' it right then and there. But I didn't....
And the next day Mildred came by to pick the animals up. I said "Does this bird not keep you awake all night" "How do you get any sleep"? And she said " All Taco ever does is flutter his wings and sometimes he says "Tacos a pretty bird" And I said "Oh. well. Did you have a good time in Hot Springs"? She then asked "Thanks so much. If the need ever arises do you want to keep them again sometime"? "I'm so glad I have a nephew like you. You're the best!" I said "Sure, any time. I'd be glad to."