Anthony Bourdain’s Passing – Three Years Ago Today – Reminds Us How Important Our Mental Health Is

Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. I was at the deepest point in a decade-long depression. I got lucky in the aftermath. I got well. But, even as I finally got my depression under control — the mood stabilizer I take moderates my emotions which allowed me to get to the root cause of my depression (I’d kept a secret from myself that I was sexually molested twice when I was fourteen by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged) — I understood that my darkness, though being kept at bay, always knew how to get to me. I feel a certain perverse kinship with others driven to such despair. The arguments inside their heads might not be the same as mine in their details, but thematically — we all sang the same song of self-loathing. Our darkness is wrong. It’s lying to us. It doesn’t care that our demise will be its demise. But then, no one ever said depression knew what it was doing.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide came out of the blue for those of us outside his immediate sphere. I’m sure those closer had a different perspective. His past struggles aside, he was in the middle of shooting an episode for his CNN series when his darkness reached up from deep inside him and took him. That’s some potent darkness. It convinced a person that talented, that loved by other people, that on top of his game that he didn’t belong here anymore. You have to take that kind of persuasion seriously. Only Anthony Bourdain knew his demons the way he knew them. That’s true for all of us. But, we have to hold one essential fact about our demons above all others — whoever we are: our demons lie. Anthony Bourdain’s demons lied to him.

It’s just a stone cold fact: life is hard and living it is filled with hardships and pain. There is beauty, too. And joy. And bliss. I know this to be so because I now walk around in a state of perpetual bliss. Oh, I’m keenly aware of how dire our situation is. Read my blog? What makes my life blissful is knowing that I’ve freed myself from bullshit’s shackles. I call this blog “How To Live Bullshit Free” because that really is my mission in life. I do not want to live another moment in bullshit’s thrall. Other peoples’ bullshit is off limits to me. I only can worry about mine — because I’m really the only person who can call me out on it. Sure, other people can do it but, if you’re like me (and you are), you completely ignore when other people call you out on your bullshit.

There’s no one way to keep one’s demons at bay. Talking about them helps a lot. Medication can help — it can put “breathing room” between you and your emotions. Sometimes, that’s all one needs to begin healing. In my case, medication gave me the chance to confront a terrible truth I’d been denying. But that truth explained a lot of what happened to me — in particular why my bullshit had such a hold on me. Confronting what happened to me when I was fourteen was hard but I was never going to be happy unless I confronted it and stopped holding myself responsible for what an out of control adult did to me.

In the end (long story short), I came to understand Yehuda — my molester. I don’t forgive him. I will never do that. But I now see what he did in its proper context. Perspective. That’s the game changer. Gain it and you get healthier. Lose it and the opposite happens. It hurts when anybody leaves here before their time. It hurts a little bit more when super talented people go ahead of time. They still owed us the full benefit of their being here.

That’s how I feel about Anthony Bourdain. We had not yet gained the full benefit of his being here. We all got cheated. That’s why it’s incumbent on every one of us to live the fullest lives we can. It’s the only shot at cosmic revenge we’ll ever get. Sure, it’s good to live a long life (so long as you’re healthy), but it’s even better to live a rewarding life filled with purpose and passion.

Things You Must Believe If You Want To Be A Practicing Conservative

For the longest time in this country, conservatives presented themselves as America’s perpetual adults in the room. That was the GOP’s wink to America at the end of the 2016 coup d’etat: “Don’t worry your pretty little selves about Donald Trump, America, whenever he tries to go too far, the “adults in the room” will reel him in!” Problem was (and is), the “adults in the room” were corrupt children who’d broken into the liquor cabinet, drained it dry, then set about burning the whole house down to cover up their liquor theft. The Republicans have NEVER been in control of Trump, rather they’ve been in his thrall and at his mercy. You can’t be in business with Trump without being compromised by him. Or stiffed by him. Or abused by him or betrayed by him. None of that is news to conservatives. They’ve always known who Trump was. They’ve always known he was corrupt. Some of them knew he was a traitor, too. And yet, that fact didn’t seem to change anything.

Why would anyone overlook Trump’s terrible, criminal behavior? Obviously, there must be something in it for them. How do you go from “believing” as Lindsey Graham did in 2016, that making Trump their nominee would be the end of the Republican party —

— to believing now (as Lindsey does) that without Trump, there is no Republican Party? That’s quite a swing — if you see only the swing. I have a feeling we’re going to understand exactly what made Lindsey swing like that: kompromat. I bet we’ll hear a story about how, one day, on the golf course (early in their relationship), Trump let Lindsey know what he and Russia had on him — and how hard they were willing to play that information. It must be way more than just embarrassing (surely Lindsey knows that if he’s worried about being outed, no one cares about that anymore). It must be downright criminal what Lindsey was photographed doing. Shame about his distaste for sexual partners with pubic hair.

Does Lindsey really believe it when he insists Trump was a great POTUS? Of course not. Lindsey doesn’t believe IN anything. He’s as cynical as he is crooked — and that’s a lot of crooked. So what does Lindsey or any Republican “believe”?

Being cynical, they assume everyone’s as big a scumbag as they are. Isn’t everyone heartless and greedy? Being white-entitled, they think they ‘re all gods. Heartless, greedy gods aren’t good for anyone who encounters them. Conservatives believe that “how the world was” is far better than how it is now and not even comparable to how might become if Progressives have their way. But, the name “conservative” itself does all the heavy lifting. It tells us clearly and transparently what conservatives want at the end of the day: they want to conserve. Okay — so, WHAT do they want to conserve?

Well, obviously one can’t “conserve” the future since it hasn’t happened. That leaves the present and the past. Conservatives would be perfectly happy if all progress stopped right now and the world was guaranteed that how things are now is how they’ll always be forever and ever. That, after outright living in the past, would be every conservative’s wet dream. What of the past does any conservative want to conserve? That’s the question. It can’t be the equality back then because there wasn’t any. Can it be how women’s rights were? Uh, no — women didn’t have rights either. Can it be because we treated the LGTBQ community better? Good one! Back then, we treated that community even worse! Back then, we used a religious manuscript to justify slavery. More recently the same people used their Bibles to justify anti-miscegenation laws.

The Bible is every conservative’s favorite book though they’ve only ever read it for the “good parts” — the parts that justified their terrible behavior. Most conservatives are also deeply religious — or, at least, they say they’re religious. Most of them are utterly phony. They will insist they believe in a higher power — a God who smiles upon them because they are righteous! Surely, considering their good fortune, God must be smiling upon them — so therefore God likes them! God sees how special they are and communicates that fact to them. And, ya know, God doesn’t do that with everyone. Most people don’t get the “special treatment” from God. But this guy does.

Imagine being so beloved by God — and knowing it! That’s the tell. “Knowing” they’re “loved by God”. Hey, God talks to them and through them, doesn’t He? When things happen, they know what God’s take is without even having to think about it — that’s how well they know God: they even think like him! Don’tcha know? They think like God because they ARE God. That is every uber-theist’s big secret: they don’t believe IN God, they believe they ARE God.

That’s what every conservative believes in the rock bottomest part of their blacker-than-coal hearts: they are God. They are the supreme power in the universe — and just you wait till all they start using the magic that apparently comes with the title. They will hurt us in ways that haven’t even been invented yet because that’s what Gods do.

That is the thing pretty much every conservative enters believing: in the beginning, there was them. THAT is what they want to “conserve”.

Why Do American Men Turn To Guns To Solve Their Emotional Problems?

Adam Lanza

Another mass shooting in America — Eight murdered at a Fed Ex facility in Indianapolis — and the news media needs to know: “What’s the motive?” As if the gunman’s particular issue with the world would explain why he reacted exactly as he did. Our news media is good at wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth at these moments. But they’re guilty of giving credence to bullshit arguments. I’m old enough to remember when they’d regularly give climate science deniers equal time because, hey — they have a “point of view” so therefore because they have it, it must be valid. Here, as always, on one side is a majority of Americans who do not own guns and resent the fact that gun owners can’t keep their damned killing machines to themselves. On the other side are gun owners whose hair catches fire immediately because, damn it, as former NRA president Chuck Heston put it, we can try and pry their guns from their cold, dead fingers.

What is this mania to have guns in the first place? Yeah, sure — out in rural America, something or other. That seems to be the argument’s meat: we’re different. We’re threatened by neighbors who live miles away and by strangers we’ve never met. In case those zombie-people come, swarming by the dozens, those guns will be all that stands between us and the zombie apocalypse.

America’s gun problem is borderline intractable in large part because we’ve spent so long giving credence to bullshit arguments about guns. Rather than dismiss fears of marauders out of hand, we indulge this nonsense. We nod along to their white terror: “Oh, yes, of course it could happen — Black or brown people are probably plotting right this second to break into your house and eat your children for lunch. Have all the weaponry you want!” The data says that won’t happen. But — the data again — it could happen that one of those guns ends up killing someone who live in the house — by way of an accident or suicide or a moment of intra-familial rage.

That’s the other lie about guns that our news media happily propagates — that “responsible gun owners” don’t have these problems. There is no such thing as “responsible gun ownership”. Nancy Lanza thought she was a responsible gun owner until her son Adam shot her with her own legally purchased Bushmaster XM15 semi-automatic rifle before taking that weapon — and ten magazines with 30 rounds each to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Adam Lanza used a gun to resolve his emotional problems. Whatever was bothering him, he became convinced that the solution to it would spit from the muzzle of that Bushmaster.

Nobody turns a gun on other people — on strangers or on people they know — because they’re happy with them. You point a death machine — that’s what a gun is by design — at someone in order to threaten them. Do what they say or they’ll kill you with that gun. Gun violence killed 20,000 Americans last year. That’s a lot of anger. Another 24,000 Americans used guns to commit suicide. If the guns that were used to end those 44,000 lives hadn’t been available, how many of those people would still be here today? Most of them, that’s who — if not all of them.

Our gun laws all flow directly from our racism. If white people thought for two seconds that, say, Black people were arming themselves to the teeth the way white people already have? They’d re-write the gun laws just like that. Here’s my “let’s make a deal” to gun world: I’ll be honest if you will. Yes, in a perfect world, I admit it: I would insist that we carry out the Second Amendment to the letter. We’d arrange for a “well regulated militia” to formally take over the job of deciding who among the citizenry will be permitted to “keep” or “bear” the militia’s arms. The arms, you see, would BELONG to the militia; the word “own” doesn’t appear in the Second Amendment. Do you suppose that’s an accident? I don’t. The word “own” was perfectly good back then. Yet, strangely, they didn’t use that word to describe anyone’s relationship with a gun — as its “owner”.

Maybe the Constitution’s framers understood that some people couldn’t be trusted to have a gun in their hands. They might want to be in the militia but the militia wouldn’t want them; they’re nuts.

The whole tone of the gun rights argument smacks of emotional neediness. Virtually none of these people need their guns for “protection”. C’mon — I was honest — I said I’d take most guns. The other side needs to be honest, too: they need to confess why they REALLY feel threatened enough to “keep” a death machine within reach. What do they REALLY feel threatened by?

I write this as a suicide survivor. I tried to step in front of a bus. It seemed, in the moment, a sure thing. It wasn’t. Ah, but if I’d had a gun — I’d have been 2020’s suicide gun death number 24,001.

Why Do I Call This Blog What I Call It? Because Bullsh*t Nearly Killed Me, That’s Why!

Devout atheist that I am, I consider myself “born again’. I have seen with my own eyes the havoc bullshit can cause in both my daily life and over the whole length of it. I bear witness to bullshit’s remarkable power to convince us that it is truth and truth is bullshit. Actually, bullshit’s much more clever than that. Bullshit convinces us that our feelings are more valid than facts. That empirical truth does not exist outside our own heads, making it as fluid as our thoughts. If we think something’s so, it is so, no receipts required. . Bullshit tells us that Life is how it is and people are how they are and there’s nothing we can do to change it — that the cynicism tugging at us is correct. Paired with an angry, confused, judgmental deity, that cynicism can turn deadly. Happiness, we become convinced (by bullshit) is a matter of how we navigate our way around our bullshit and everyone else’s. In bullshit’s defense, bullshit has that half-right. The trick to living life with even a modicum of success or happiness is to focus on your own bullshit FIRST before worrying about anyone else’s. If your experience is anything like mine, dealing with your own bullshit will be a full-time job; you will literally NEVER have time to even think of anyone else’s.

My own personal bullshit had me convinced I could disappear from Life without causing my family excessive harm — that money would eventually assuage the “bad feelings”. Talk about bullshit. But, bullshit won the argument. Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. A decade-long depression got triggered by Trump’s seizing the presidency (he did not “win” it legitimately) into full-on self-destruction. The thing about depression is, it robs you of perspective. The deeper the depression, the less perspective you have; I had come to believe that the world was the narrow, future-less tunnel I saw it as. It wasn’t, of course. It never was. And, as my personal darkness drove me toward increasingly irrational action, I did it having denied for 45 years that at age fourteen, I was sexually molested twice by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged.

I had gotten it into my head that me getting sexually molested was MY FAULT. It wasn’t, of course. That was bullshit!

Long story short, being molested put me on an island because only my molester and I knew that secret about us. Anyone else? Nope! That meant (in the irrational reasoning of my young mind) that if you didn’t know this about me, you didn’t know “me”. Since I wasn’t sharing my secret (and my molester definitely wasn’t), no one was ever going to really know me. No one. And, as you sit there, on that island, you slowly begin to blame yourself for being there. And every terrible thing that happens to you? Well, hell — that’s YOUR fault, stupid! I can only speak for and from my own experience. Once you’ve opened the door to self-loathing, it’s a hard, HARD door to shut. What makes it so hard? It’s bullshit that’s fighting you every time you try to close it.

When I first realized how close I had come to hurting myself because bullshit told me to, I literally laughed out loud. “Ya dumb sonofabitch,” I said to myself, “You came within inches of bullshitting yourself to death!” Could anything possibly be stupider?

Yeah — bullshit can kill. It kills. I still think a lot about Anthony Bourdain. The guy was at the top of his game but his darkness got him anyway. Anthony Bourdain’s bullshit won out over Anthony Bourdain. That’s no knock on Anthony Bourdain. That, in essence, is a respectful tribute to the strength of Mr. Bourdain’s bullshit — it convinced him he didn’t need to be here anymore while literally everyone else on the planet saw it differently.

We just lived through four years where bullshit ran amok. Hell, bullshit convinced us that a president who bullshitted us every damned day was “how it was”. Talk about bullshit!

I knew my darkness had me in its thrall but I feared medication. My dad was a surgeon; I grew up in the medical culture; I don’t see doctors demagogically. My dad saw what he did as equal parts science and guess work. He saw the insurance companies as greedy gate keepers with hospitals as their equally greedy collaborators. The Hypocritic Oath doesn’t mention profit incentive anywhere. While I had a GP I liked and trusted, I knew however that they had little to no background in mood stabilizers and how to prescribe them correctly. Probably the only mood stabilizer they even knew about was the one a pharmaceutical rep left behind on her last customer service visit to the office. “Hey,” the Pharmaceutical Rep said as she set the samples down on the counter, “If you have any patients complaining of depression, try these!”

The problem with this class of drug is it takes time to reveal whether or not it’s working. Since everyone’s brain chemistry is different, it’s hard to accurately predict what any one mood stabilizer will do to or for any one person contemplating it. Normally, it takes six to eight weeks to get an inkling of whether it’s working or not. It’s entirely possible that the mood stabilizer could take a bad situation and make it worse. As Screenwriting God William Goldman said of the film business, “No one knows anything”. FFS, we do not even know how we’re all doing this — writing blogs, reading blogs, having conversations — having thoughts themselves. We don’t know where our memories come from — yeah, sure — we know what part of the brain they seem to emanate from. But we don’t know how they convert from lived experience to remembered experience.

And we have to consider THAT in the context of teenage boys who seem to walk around with zero remembered experience. But, I digress…

After seeing quite clearly that in a moment of sheer irrationality I now had it in me to commit to that irrationality completely, I drove straight to my GP’s office and told them what had just happened. I immediately got great service. Just like that, I was sitting with not just my GP but the head honcho doctor too! I told them everything. Told them my fear of medication — and why I felt as I did. But, I also told them of the research I’d been doing on my own. I’d looked into every mood stabilizer there was, looking for the one that might hold my depression at bay while leaving my hypomanic side mostly alone. I’m bipolar, ya see. I worried that if the mood stabilizer I chose dealt with the depression but made writing impossible, I’d be right back in the darkness’ thrall. I’d read anecdotal evidence (the only evidence there is) suggesting lamotrigine could be my answer.

Immediately, my GP and his boss whipped out their smart phones and looked up lamotrigine. Yes, they agreed, that could definitely work for me; they agreed to write the prescription. I took it, picked up the meds from my local pharmacy, went home and told my family what I was going to do. Swallowing that first .25 milligram little white pill, I expected a long period of wondering to begin. Instead, I got lucky. Within thirty-six hours, I leveled. I felt it. I experienced my first evidence not only that the lamotrigine would definitely work for me but HOW it would work.

My anger back then was volcanic. Once triggered, it was usually a matter of seconds before the rage in my gut exploded out my mouth in a profanity-laced screed. Anything could set me off: a stupid political argument I heard on the radio, other drivers, me if I dropped something (and bigger still if it broke). I don’t remember specifically what sparked the rage in my gut, only that it sparked — and, once sparked, it flowed back on itself like a blocked toilet. I felt the rage rising in me like it always did, picking up speed as it blew past my stomach, racing upward toward my mouth. And just as I fully expected that metastasizing anger to metamorphose into a lava spew — “Paf!” — the rage dissipated like a soap bubble popping.

I knew I had just felt the rage — felt its hold on me — and just like that — I knew I had felt the rage in the abstract but I did not feel it in any practical way that I could point at. It really was kind of like the anger “never was”.

Realizing that my darkness could no longer dominate me liberated me. In time — a few months — it even gave me the confidence (that’s the biggest, best benefit of perspective — it builds your confidence) to go at it head on. Now, able to confront my demon without that demon destroying me, I confessed my own truth to myself. Yeah, the night I spent weeping quietly on the bathroom floor (because I didn’t want to wake my wife and have to explain) was long, lonely and hard. But it destroyed the bullshit chains forever.

That’s the night I was “born again” — as a person. That was the day I started living my life unencumbered by the giant piece of bullshit that, unbeknownst to me, had dominated my life.

And it felt AWESOME!

Seeing everything in context also was awesome. “Hey,” I said to myself, suddenly feeling good about things, “bullshit nearly killed you. Are there any other ways bullshit’s making your life harder than it should be?”

I bet you can guess the answer to that question. Bullshit, it turned out, was dominating virtually every aspect of my life. For starters, I hadn’t slept well in years. Financial difficulties and sleep aren’t pals. I had been using (abusing really) OTC products like Simply Sleep. They’re anti-histamines. They don’t so much produce “sleep” as “unconsciousness for a while”. You wake up in the morning — if you sleep — feeling groggy and unprepared for the day. I wanted no part of anything stronger. I was terrified of what my brain would do with Ambien in it. Bullshit had convinced me that this problem was forever. It wasn’t. I live in California. I got myself a medical marijuana prescription and from the first day I started using cannabis as a sleep aid, I’ve slept wonderfully.

With bullshit negating my sleep, I’d start each day by putting on my bullshit colored lenses while breathing deeply from bullshit scented air. Lie in for another ten minutes, I’d bullshit myself, it won’t matter (bullshit — it did!). Never mind missing this deadline — they’ll be cool with it (they weren’t!). Ignore the warning signs that your marriage is struggling; those problems can wait till later (no, they can’t). Everything bad happening to me is my fault. No, it isn’t — but, then, it isn’t everyone else’s fault either. The world is more complicated than that: take off the bullshit-colored lenses and SEE IT.

That’s why I started this blog. I’m learning as I go and sharing my notes. Is living bullshit free for everyone? I have no idea — that’s someone else’s bullshit to worry about. That’s not to say that if another person’s bullshit gets them in trouble that I have zero obligation to them. That’s bullshit too. If I have to put my own bullshit aside to help them because of their bullshit — that’s what I must do. In the aftermath, I can only hope that, with this newfound perspective, that person, too, will have discovered bullshit’s hold on them and, like me, will want to break that hold.

We live in a new cycle where the Biggest Story There Is (after the worldwide Covid pandemic) is “The Big Lie”. To call it what it really is, it’s bullshit. One of our two political parties (and its mob boss leader) is trying to shove bullshit down our collective throats.

I guess if I wanted to be a hundred percent accurate I’d call this blog “Learning How To Live Bullshit Free” since that’s what I’m really doing everyday — and writing about it here. I gotta keep reminding myself: the second I get it into my head that I “know” how to live bullshit free? The bullshit will be winning again.

The Only Confession Booth Anyone Needs Is Their Own Bathroom Mirror

No confessions required. We all do this. We just do. We stand in front of a bathroom mirror and we get real with ourselves — realer than we get with anyone else because the person we’re getting really, really REAL with is US. When we look into our own eyes, we see a version of us that no one else sees because no one else can (or ever will) — the you YOU know. The you you are. We speak to ourselves with a voice we don’t use for anyone else. It’s the most honest voice we have; maybe the only honest voice. Don’t think we can’t bullshit ourselves. We most certainly can and do. But we know, deep down, that we’re bullshitting ourselves even as we do it. We see that lack of belief in our own eyes.

I named this blog after a book I’m writing — “How to Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To NOT Killing Yourself” — in which I tell my personal story — how a secret I kept hidden from myself for 45 years finally achieved a kind of critical, self-destructive mass inside my head and tried to kill me. Between a great therapist, a mood stabilizer that successfully mitigates my depression and copious amounts of THC to mitigate my creative hypomania so I can be creative, I beat back depression’s grip on me. The thing about one’s darkness — the thing causing one’s depression — is that it knows you better than you because it is you. It knows where all your bodies are buried because it helped you bury them. The more you listen to your darkness, the less perspective you hold onto. That’s depression’s MO — it robs you of perspective, convincing you that the whole world is the ever-shrinking misery-nubbin you live on. There’s nothing else out there so why bother going on?

Except that’s not true. There’s plenty out there. Hell — there’s EVERYTHING out there, beyond the reach of your darkness. If only one could figure out how to open one’s eyes to it.

My darkness had me convinced that I was responsible for being sexually molested twice when I was 14 — by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. The man who molested me put me on an island with him — an island built upon the secret we shared about what he did to me (and the fact that I never reported him). If you didn’t know that secret about me, I told myself as I grew up, you didn’t really know ME. And since I wasn’t sharing that secret with anyone (I was even keeping it from myself, remember), there was NO WAY for anyone to get to know me. My molester condemned me to 45 years of self-destructive isolation where long-lasting, deep, trusting friendships were hard to come by because I had no idea how to forge and maintain those bonds.

I remember looking in the mirror at myself wondering why I was so unhappy. I would stand there, searching my eyes for a clue while, ironically, all the clues I needed were right inside my own head. If I had to describe the inside of my own head, I’d call it a black box theater. Think a shoe box, painted all black on the inside then turned over. Anything can happen inside that space. You can put the audience anywhere, the lights anywhere, the actors anywhere. You can have as much or as little set as you like. Meanwhile, in addition to the performances going on inside the black box theater that is my mind, there are a dozen or so projections — movies in black and white, color, technicolor, sepia. There are lasers and lightning flashes of black light. There’s music and sound and… what I think of as a wonderful kind of chaos.

But there’s also a stairway — attached to the theater’s back wall. The stairs lead up to a platform up in the rafters just beneath the black box’s roof. On the platform, there’s an office. Go in the door and you’ll see there’s a closet in the back of the office. In the closet (open the door), there’s a filing cabinet. Open the top drawer and you’ll find a memory, glowing white hot: my molestation. It was always like I stood in the black box theater’s doorway, down on the ground, but I was always keenly aware of that light burning up in the corner, unseen but not unknown.

Between therapy, the mood stabilizer and the cannabis, I was finally able to confront my demon — the fact that I was molested. It happened as I stood, late one Friday night, in the bathroom, gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror. “You know what happened, right?” I said to myself, “You know what that man did to you.” I nodded. And then I broke down and sobbed on that bathroom floor for hours, crying not so much for me as for that 14 year old boy who felt so alone and isolated from the world.

That first confession was brutal. But, damn if it didn’t set me free.

Confession isn’t easy. It’s hard. Harder still to confess your deepest, darkest “shouldn’t have’s” to yourself: “I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine… shouldn’t have said that… shouldn’t have betrayed that confidence or violated that trust”. But, also — shouldn’t have taken the blame. Unfortunately, part of getting mentally healthy is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There’s no easy route to it — but there’s a route. That’s key. There IS a route and we all deserve to be on it.

Use it like a mantra: “the truth WILL set you free”. And being free is the first step to being happy. Living a lie and living happily are mutually exclusive propositions.

Go on — look yourself in the eyes. Tell yourself the truth the way you know it is. In the end, you will thank yourself.

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.

Dear Dennis Miller: Just Shut The Hell Up!

Apparently, world wide pandemics cause all sorts of lowlifes and scum to come out & start yowling. Today, comedian & failed sports color commentary guy Dennis Miller went on Sean Hannity’s show with some fresh “comedy stylings” about life in the times of coronavirus. Dennis — being Dennis — he sees it all from the coronavirus’ point of view.

Because that’s the kind of “person” Dennis is.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fox-news-host-sean-hannity-cracks-up-over-dennis-millers-coronavirus-jokes-but-not-everybody-was-laughing-2020-04-16

I think Dennis Miller is a very talented man. I do think he can be incredibly funny. But around all that funny is so much hurtfulness — Dennis makes the mistake of laughing at his audience rather than getting his audience to laugh with him. Comedians in general are not a happy bunch. That’s why they do comedy. It’s part of their therapy.

Dennis is an unhappy man. I’m sorry for him. But he needs to work on himself before inflicting himself on any more people. Not that that’s going to happen any time soon.

Clearly, Dennis Miller has not changed one iota since I worked with him while making the feature film “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood” in 1994. As a matter of fact, the story of that movie fills a whole chapter in a book I’m writing — “How To Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To Not Killing Yourself”. The chapter about Dennis is called “Bordello Of Blood: How NOT To Make A Movie”.

I wrote & produced the show Tales From The Crypt for 4 seasons (everything after season two). It was a great gig. How could it not be considering the amazing people I got to work with while doing that show. With very few exceptions (a handful of people, really), everyone I got to work with from the very biggest people (the first thing Tom Hanks ever directed was an episode of Tales From The Crypt for me) to the craft services person was awesome. It was awesome on steroids.

We also got to make two Tales From The Crypt feature films — “Demon Knight” and the aforementioned “Bordello”. “Demon Knight” has achieved a kind of minor cult status. It’s a pretty good movie — very well directed by the super talented Ernest Dickerson and the cast is wonderful to a person (Jada Pinkett, Bill Sadler, Billy Zane, CCH Pounder, Charles Fleischer, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller). Bordello, on the other hand…

It’s got its fans. But I’m not one of them. I know too much. I was there every stinking day of that movie’s inception, pre-production, post-production & post-post production. Part of me still lives in that goddamned thing’s shadow.

For real.

Like I said — I wrote a book. I write openly, candidly & very, very honestly about Dennis (and a lot of people whose names you probably know: Sylvester Stallone, Angie Everhart, Joel Silver, Cory Feldman, Bob Zemeckis — and Dennis Miller). I didn’t write the book to settle any scores. I have none to settle. The book is me walking through my life to point out where I (I now realize) made mistakes that I now choose to build on (having survived a deep, deep depression and a suicide attempt).

The point is — on part of my journey, I worked with Dennis Miller. He’s a talented man but an asshole. If he insists on opening his yap — I’ll open mine.

I’ve included the whole chapter here. I apologize if all you want is the Dennis Miller dirt — it’s in there. But I do promise the rest of the story is worth your time. It’s hilarious. Painfully hilarious (painful to me mostly — making that movie was a daily dose of the Battle of Waterloo). And Dennis features prominently in that nightmare.

Imagine — having a nightmare experience while making a horror movie.

As my non-writing producer friends like to say “It practically writes itself”.

CHAPTER FOUR

BORDELLO OF BLOOD:  HOW NOT TO MAKE A MOVIE

If you’ve never been to Vancouver, British Columbia, you’re missing something.  

Flying into it can take your breath away (same as flying into LA can – on a clear day when you can see all the way from Catalina to the San Gabriels).  There’s the same juxtaposition of ‘gleaming city’ against a backdrop of mountains.  But, while LA sprawls like a languid teenager, Vancouver sits properly, its posture perfect.

Vancouver is really, really Canadian in all the best ways.  And it’s perched between so much Natural Beauty it should be illegal.

The first time I ever visited Vancouver was while Gil was shooting The Hitchhiker for HBO. 

From the point of view of the American entertainment business (there IS a Canadian Entertainment Business, too) – Vancouver is a service town.  In our case, American productions – originating in LA – use Vancouver because labor is less expensive and the exchange rate between the American & Canadian dollars usually favors us.  Canadian productions also used Vancouver as a service town – for productions originating in Toronto.

Back when Gil first worked up in Vancouver, the talent pool (crew-wise) wasn’t anything like it is now: deep.  When Gil first started working in Vancouver, there were about two good, professional-caliber crews.  After that, you couldn’t be sure what you were getting.  Not that the people weren’t well-meaning and talented – they just lacked the experience that most larger American productions preferred.

When we arrived in Vancouver to scout ‘Bordello of Blood’, the situation had improved considerably.  Still, as we cleared customs, Gil and I, Greg Melton our production designer and Tom Priestley, our director of photography, weren’t thinking about the crew we’d get or the city we’d be getting it in.  We were miserable.

Our very skilled Vancouver production manager – Colleen Nyquist – set us up in the Sutton Place Hotel and got to work shuttling us around.  But none of us wanted to make the movie we were there to make.

I don’t know for sure why Universal cancelled ‘Dead Easy’ and made us do ‘Bordello of Blood’ but I’ve always had my suspicions. Again – I don’t know this but – here’s my theory…

At the time (1994), a company called DREAMWORKS had just formed.  For those who don’t know, this is the Entertainment Behemoth created by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.  From the moment it launched, everyone wanted to be in business with them.  Who wouldn’t?  That, I believe was what scared Universal Pictures – who became worried about one of the prizes in their talent stable – my boss Robert Zemeckis. 

Just as I see Bob Z as my mentor, Bob saw Steven Spielberg as one of his.  And Universal – my theory – was afraid that Bob might migrate his deal away from them and TO Steven (David & Jeffrey) and their brand-spanking-new High End Production Company.  Among Bob’s strengths is fierce loyalty.  And one of the people that Bob Z has always been incredibly loyal to is his original writing partner Bob Gale.  The Two Bobs wrote all the ‘Back To The Future’ movies together – and Bob Gale is a First Class Writer.  But he’s not a director in the way Bob Z is (though Bob Gale has directed).  

The Two Bobs met when both were film students at USC.  The Film Department, at the time, wasn’t the Juggernaut it is now.  It was the late 70’s – Academia loved the French New Wave and hated Hollywood. The two Bobs preferred Hollywood.  They thrived nonetheless at USC. Wrote a ‘first screenplay’ together: “Bordello of Blood”.

It is entirely possible that at some point, because he’s a great and loyal friend, Bob Z (and, perhaps because also it gave Bob Z a way to ‘help’ Universal keep him on their roster instead of leaving for DreamWorks’) asked Universal to purchase “Bordello”.  They did.  For $500,000. 

Having spent half a million bucks (again, I’m speculating based on what I know), Universal wanted to ‘lay off’ the money – find a way to spend it rather than lose it.  And then it struck them – they already HAD a project on their schedule that would solve their problem.

Next thing ya know, ‘Dead Easy’ is dead.  We were now making ‘Bordello of Blood’ as the second Crypt movie (whether we liked it or not).   And, while they were having a go at all our hearts, Universal turned to me and said, ‘You’ll rewrite the script, yes?’

As in ‘You’ll re-write your boss…’.  Feeling like I was being set up to lose, I called Bob to ask what he wanted from this.  “Go make a movie,” he said, genuinely.  He told us not to worry about rewriting the script.  Whatever the script evolved into was just as good as what it already was.  That helped.  But it did not put any of the toothpaste back into the tube.  The assignment was still ‘Bordello’ and not ‘Dead Easy’.

Let’s be real – creative latitude was limited.  We were prepping for a movie script we’d only just read.  Just because we’d stopped making one movie and started making another didn’t mean the clock had stopped.  We were given a few more weeks to prep – pushing our start date into mid-summer; the goal was to have the movie ready to distribute by The following Halloween (1996).

There wasn’t time to re-invent anything.  And THIS was the script the studio bought.  They didn’t have a problem with it.  It said ‘Zemeckis’ on it.  That’s what mattered – and it did make total sense – from their point of view.  

This is a good time to digress and explain WHY I’m even bothering to tell this story:  The making of ‘Bordello of Blood’, a movie that, really, nobody cares about.  It ain’t the movie itself that’s the point.  It’s the deeply flawed process by which we made Bordello that’s instructive. 

I’ve mentioned before that the assembled talent and experience should have at least produced a polished turd at the end of all the squeezing and straining.  Instead we produced a below average turd.  Over the course of the two+ years we spent working on the project, we might have made every conceivable mistake possible – and a few really creative ones no one had thought of before.  Hooray for us.

From the get-go, we were making a movie we didn’t like.  As you’ll see, we cast actors we shouldn’t have, shot the movie in a place we shouldn’t have, treated our Canadian crew in a way we shouldn’t have, and, for good measure, treated the fact that we were IN Canada in a way we shouldn’t have.

We didn’t make these mistakes for any reason other than the fact that we were hooked on our own bullshit. 

When I watch ‘Bordello’ these days – through fingers splayed over my eyes – I am mostly aware of how the Making of Bordello was a kind of ‘Master Class’ on ‘How NOT To Make A Feature Film (or a TV show for that matter).  But it’s so much more than that.  ‘Bordello of Blood’ is like a master class in ‘Bullshit’ itself.

The movie story was basic:  Down-on-his-luck detective discovers a local mortuary is actually fronting a den of voracious female vampires.

That’s it.  The whole shebang: a movie about vampire whores.  It doesn’t sound quite as awful to me now as it did then.  But it doesn’t hold a match to the movie we were supposed to be making

I put the ‘money’ – what little of it there was – into the two main characters – RAFE and KATHERINE.  I won’t even pretend that we ever talked in detail about the characters, who they were, why they did whatever the fuck they did… It was hard to justify anything any of the characters did.  That’s why we made them quirky instead.

Unless we’re talking about Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn’s character in ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ – whose quirkiness is the point), most writers make a character quirky because they hope like hell that the boring secretary’s compulsion to build cheddar cheese castles with fudge-and-boysenberry turrets in her filing cabinet makes her less boring.  Only if we get to the bottom of WHY she’s doing it could she be even remotely interesting.  But no one is that quirky: Quirky for no reason.

And yet, we went there with Rafe Gutman.  He was quirky-for-no-reason. 

I cannot tell you how HARD it is to write a character or a scene if you don’t intrinsically understand them. How can you write dialogue for a character whose voice you can’t hear or whose thoughts you can’t ‘speak’?  How would you really know what they’d do?    

In order to write a character, you have to understand them from the inside out and on the most intimate level.  Actor Robert DeNiro was famous early in his career, for knowing how to play a character only after he could say definitively what the guy had in his pockets.  Writing a character is like that.  Only deeper.

If you really know what you’re doing, the characters literally speak for themselves.  They really do just – ‘speak’ – while you type away furiously, trying to keep up with them. 

RAFE GOODMAN, the hero of Bordello, never spoke for himself like that.  He came to us a small town detective – in an environment (small towns) where a detective probably wouldn’t find a lot of work (remember – college kids with limited real-world experience imagined this; they grew up to be very talented filmmakers, but they WEREN’T talented filmmakers when they wrote this script).  Not seeing a way toward real and relatable, we plunged deeper into ‘quirky’.

We made Rafe’s office an abandoned movie theater.  Couldn’t tell ya why.  Inside, the seats were all stripped away and Rafe’s desk was set up just beneath where the screen used to hang. Surrounded by junk and chaos.  Quirky by the bucket. 

To make it quirkier still, we kept Rafe in the dark cos there’s always a movie being projected. Needing to somehow tie this back down to ‘reality’ and our story, we added one more quirk:  Rafe was an aficionado of porn.

Which brings us to Katherine – now working as a church secretary – but, formerly, a well-known adult film actress named ‘CHESTY O’TOOLE’.  You see where this is going, yeah? 

Rafe turns out to have been a fan of Katherine’s when she was ‘Chesty’.  So at least they have ‘something’ to talk about when they first meet.  If the premise were any thinner, it would be in an ICU, hooked up to life support.

Katherine has come to hire Rafe to look into the disappearance of her good-for-nothing brother, Caleb.  Rafe goes to the bar where Caleb was last seen – meets the same guy who directs Rafe toward the same funeral home.

But, when Rafe goes to the funeral home, nothing happens.  The funeral home looks like a funeral home. Rafe stumbles onto the truth:  there are vampire-prostitutes – living in the ‘basement’ where they hold nightly orgies that always end up with the vampire whores – led by Lilith, their self-appointed ‘queen’ – ‘consuming’ all the guests. 

A taut, psychological thriller this was not.

One more ‘story’ complication:  The church for which Katherine serves as secretary, is run by a charismatic televangelist who, it turns out, was responsible for bringing Lilith from the place where she’d been hidden to this very town where, the televangelist hopes, she will ‘consume’ all the sinners.

It doesn’t work out that way, of course.  Does it ever?

The climax of the movie occurs – at night time – in the LARGE GLASS MEGA-CHURCH from which the Charismatic Televangelist broadcasts his Big-On-Production-Values religious services.  The Good Guys live happily ever after while the villain gets it in the end.  At least we think she does.  It’s a horror movie, right – which means there never actually is an ending…

Revisions had to happen fast.  The goal was to get up and running and into production as quickly as we could.   

Script notes (thank you, Scott) were downright cruel.  And absolutely right.  It’s like in tennis (or most ball sports) – if you don’t play the ball, the ball will play you.  For the first time, I was keenly aware of the politics going on all around – and how ill-equipped I was to engage in them.

There were other issues brewing.  Since we weren’t going to New Orleans, the first thought was we’d shoot Bordello in LA.  But the IA was still in the catbird seat.  Our Los Angeles production would therefore be under a union contract – which was not in our budget. 

Having no choice (and savoring a chance to stick it right back to the IA), Joel decided to move our production OUT of Los Angeles (which, in addition to being a big ‘Screw You’ to the IA also was a Big ‘Screw You’ to our crew).  We should have put our foot down, Gil and I.  I wish we had fought back at least a little.

But there was another possible reason for ‘Why Vancouver?’  Joel was about to go into production on “Assassins’ starring Sly Stallone and Antonio Banderas with Dick Donner directing.  While ‘Assassins’ was shooting in Seattle, Joel could hop across the border to Vancouver – a quick 30 minute plane ride away. 

So, just like that – we were off to Vancouver in May 1994 to meet and job interview Canadian production managers, scout locations and hunt for a stage space.

Now, let me say right here, right now – it is (almost) always wonderful being in Vancouver.  If you could take ‘Bordello of Blood’ out of the experience of being in Canada (getting to keep the money, the per diem, the terrific housing), being In Vancouver was fantastic.  It was summer.  The days lasted forever.  The restaurants (though not as incredible as they are now) were still incredible nonetheless.  Canadians are unfailingly polite (even when they shouldn’t be).  Take away the damned movie and being in Vancouver was like being PAID to go on vacation for four months.

Problem was, ‘Bordello of Blood’ & Vancouver were a package deal.

FIRST VISIT TO VANCOUVER

It is a natural human instinct to try and make lemonade from the couple of squished seeds, lemon skin and pulp life gave you.  And so, we took our situation and began to concoct a lemonade stand in our heads.  The only customers for the nasty ooze would be us but – by that point, if I remember, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome was beginning to kick in.  We were still getting paid and we were still making a movie after all…

And being driven around Vancouver by Colleen – Our too-competent-for-us Production Manager – the idea of being in this beautiful place with its endless summer-long days filled with gorgeous light – it started to seduce us.  

While we weren’t going to have our LA crew with us, we were going to bring up several key department heads – Production Design, Wardrobe and the Editor.  Our production designer – Greg Melton – joined us for the trip north.  Remember – the talent pool wasn’t anywhere near as deep as it is now.  And we needed to maintain a continuity of look; Greg had been Crypt’s PD since Gil and I took over.

I never had the chance to tell Greg to his face what an amazingly talented person he is.  I’ll do it here:  Greg, man, you were consistently amazing. 

Being an anthology, we never had the luxury of standing sets (aside from the Crypt).  We had to (well, Greg had to) ‘reinvent the wheel’ every episode – create a whole world out of nothing – then tie it to locations we’d find outside the studio.  Sometimes, the ‘guiding principle’ behind your production choices isn’t what’s on the page, it’s what’s expedient for the schedule.  This is one of those places (in TV production) where literal circumstances on the ground often force you to invent, re-invent, write or re-write on the fly. 

Having collaborators who can easily keep at your wing makes life so much easier and Greg Melton is a designer who can zig and zag like a Zen Master.  Aside from once or twice, I don’t think I ever saw Greg sweat.

Also joining us for the ‘recky’ was our Director of Photography Tom Priestley. 

We found all the locations we needed – including an abandoned power plant outside of town that would have cost a bomb to build.  And – most important – we found the Crystal Cathedral-like church that plays throughout the script and where the movie’s climax would take place.  Our church was actually the convention space at BC Place on the inlet just off English Bay. 

Then Colleen pulled the last bit of ‘Wonderful’ from her pocket:  A stage space big enough to build ANYTHING inside it with enough room for our whole crew and maybe every other crew in Vancouver.  Just east of Downtown was an old, abandoned GM factory.  With a quick cleaning, the offices became functional and the factory floor – which went on and on and on – became ‘The Home of Bordello of Blood’.  How lucky for it.

We made our relationship with Colleen formal and, as we headed back to LA, she began to put her crew together.

BACK TO LA – CASTING

Turns out – even a disaster doesn’t always feel like a disaster.  And we didn’t know yet – emphasis on ‘yet’ – that we were in the midst of a disaster.  We were still feeling plucky, angry at our misfortunes and heady from having just spent a few nice days away in a beautiful location – working hard but eating well to make up for it.  We felt ‘upbeat’ about Bordello.  Okay, it wasn’t going to be the movie we wanted to make, but – the climax in the glass church was going to be awesome!

With that improving mind set, we started looking for actors.  All the small parts would be cast up in Vancouver using the local talent pool.  The leads and supports would all be cast in Los Angeles. 

We had gotten pretty good response from the agencies when we sent out ‘Dead Easy’ – our New Orleans psychological thriller script – for casting.  We did not get the same reception when we sent ‘Bordello of Blood’ out.  Don’t get me wrong – the agencies all came back with lots of head shots.  But they weren’t the ‘caliber’ of talent we’d gotten before.  We weren’t surprised.

Joel focused on our leads.  He casts instinctually – from his gut – his instincts having been mostly very good.  But nobody’s perfect.  Being the boss, Joel would have final say over three leads.  Not having the same casting instincts as Joel, Gil and I focused on the script for casting clues.  For Rafe, we liked Danny Baldwin.  For Katherine – Bridget Wilson.  And for our villain – Lilith – Robin Givens. 

Joel liked how we were thinking but wanted time to come up with a few ideas of his own.  We turned – reluctantly, uneasily – toward the secondary roles.  There were four especially important ones: Reverend Current (the minor villain), Caleb (Katherine’s brother), McCutcheon (the funeral director) and Prather (the henchman).

For Reverend Current we got Chris Sarandon – lovely guy.  Would work with him again in a heartbeat (I hope he still feels the same way). 

For Caleb we went ‘family’:  Corey Feldman.  Corey had worked with Dick Donner on ‘The Goonies’ and Dick – being an empath – saw a kid desperately in need of a lot of TLC.  I would not want to grow up in this business the way Corey did.  It’s not good for your ‘soul’ (whatever you perceive it to be if you perceive it at all).  The part was perfect for Corey and it made Dick happy that we could help Corey (and cast a good actor for the role in the process).  Win-win.  Not many of those to go around.

For McCutcheon, I asked our casting director – Victoria Burrows – to bring in (among the other actors) my friend Aubrey.  Aubrey Morris (who passed away a little ahead of this writing) played Mr. Deltoid (a small but memorable role) in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (Mr. Deltoid is the ‘hero’ – Alex’s – parole officer; Aubrey plays Deltoid with a deliciously affected smarminess).

Excuse me while I geek out for a moment.  Aubrey was a great dinner companion with thousands of amazing stories to tell about his career – including his career in the London theater.  He appeared, when he was at the Young Vic, in a production of ‘Arms And The Man’ by George Bernard Shaw – a production Shaw saw; GB Shaw took a liking to young Aubrey.

You may not know the name George Bernard Shaw if you’re not a Drama Major or Theater Person.  But, in the English Language – if we’re talking theater – there’s Shakespeare at the very top – and then there’s Shaw.  He wrote ‘Pygmalion’ (which was turned into ‘My Fair Lady’), ‘Man And Superman’, ‘Candida’, ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’, ‘Major Barbara’.  I studied Shaw at Vassar.

And here was my dinner companion telling me about having drinks with Shaw himself – and getting hit on by the Great Man. 

I know we read other actors for Aubrey’s part but, fortunately, Gil felt as good about casting Aubrey as I did.  In the greater scheme of things, having Aubrey to hang with was one of the few good things that happened during Bordello.

For the part of Vincent Prather, we read little people (because it was written that way), finally casting Phil Fondacaro.  Now, I’ve worked with actors of short stature before.  I don’t exactly tower over anyone myself.  It never occurred to me that being of short stature gave Phil a particular kind of celebrity.  An amazing kind of celebrity.

I had so much to learn still…

CASTING OUR LEADS:  DENNIS MILLER

As I said – Joel casts instinctively.  He goes with his gut.  And his gut was screaming at him NOT to hire a Baldwin to play the lead in our movie, but to hire Dennis Miller instead.  I honestly don’t know why.  I can only assume that Joel liked Dennis’ comedy.  I know it wasn’t Dennis’ politics. 

Dennis Miller is a very talented man.  He’s smart, well-read, intensely analytical.  He’s funny, too, of course.  And he’s Dennis Miller.  People don’t show up for a job and suddenly turn into somebody else.  We hired Dennis Miller and we got Dennis Miller. 

That puts the onus squarely on us.  But even Dennis knew he wasn’t right for the movie.  His audience was not our audience.  He hated the script. 

He turned us down.  Said he’d play the part only if we gave him $1 million – figuring that would be the end of the discussion.  No one had paid him, to that point, anywhere near $1 million to act in a movie. 

Joel said yes to Dennis.  Yes to $1 million.  That’s pocket change now, but back in 1994 – to us – that was more money than god.  It was certainly more money than was in our budget for the actor playing that role.  We had $500.000. 

Universal wasn’t interested in Dennis – but wasn’t uninterested enough to FORCE us NOT to hire him (a bizarre conundrum).  Universal more or less wanted us to take our money, go make our movie, give it to them and otherwise leave them alone.  As far as Universal was concerned, we could have any actor we wanted – so long as WE made up the half a million dollar difference.

We tried one last time to plead for Danny Baldwin – for the budget’s sake.  No dice.  Hire Dennis, cut the budget.  We chopped the money from the one place we had money to ‘play with’ – special effects makeup.  We were cutting money from the thing our audience was coming to see – Great Special Effects Makeup – and putting it into an actor they couldn’t have cared less about.

Not a Phi Betta Kappa decision. 

But, did we resist it as hard as we could have?  The more I think of it now (hindsight being so warm and snuggly), we should have walked off the movie.  We should have at least threatened to walk off. 

We surrendered instead.  That never seems to work out well.

THE ERIKA ELENIAK PROJECT

When Joel put forward the idea of Erika Eleniak instead of the actress we had read and wanted (Bridget Wilson), we were surprised and, actually, pleased.  We liked the idea.  A lot.  But Erika brought baggage with her – of a kind.   

While we knew we had Dennis about two weeks before shooting began, we didn’t cast Erika until the weekend after we began shooting (as usual, on a Thursday). 

We had started with two fairly light days of work – scenes in the bar where we meet Caleb’s friends and the biker who turns them on to the bordello.  I was having preliminary conversations with Erika’s agent about wardrobe and other minor issues when he dropped a bombshell on us:  Erika had a problem with the script.

“A problem?  What kind of ‘problem’?  How can there be a problem – she said ‘yes’?”

“Erika is uneasy with her character’s past”.

“Her… past… You mean that she was a porn star?”

Bingo.  Erika’s manager told me (I think with a straight face) that Erika didn’t want to play porn stars and strippers any more. 

All well and good.  Actresses should want to grow as artists.  But she accepted the role of a porn star, I explained, trying to keep pieces of my brain from flying off into space.  She said ‘yes’ to playing a former porn star who’s a character in a movie called ‘BORDELLO OF BLOOD’.  Did her copy of the script come with a cover page that said ‘Hamlet’ by accident?  I could appreciate her disappointment then.

But Erika’s manager was insistent.  He didn’t care if the changes Erika needed screwed up story points including scenes we had already shot (okay – we hadn’t shot scenes that would be screwed up, but he was asking for the impossible).  Except it had to be possible.  Otherwise, Erika would not be getting on a plane the next day to be in wardrobe the day after that, and then on set the day after that. 

I have a photo that was taken that Saturday.  Gil and I had gone out for brunch with our wives.  Before the food even arrived, Gil and I were outside on our phones – Gil putting out one series of fires and me begging Erika’s agent to please, please, please be reasonable. 

It’s not like we could bore in on Erika’s character for insight and something to write about.  Too much poking and prodding would bring the whole flimsy house of cards down. I needed a reason for Rafe to recognize Katherine.  Her having sold him insurance once just wouldn’t cut it.

Finally, Erika’s manager relented – slightly.  We settled on a compromise.  Erika’s character had been an OVERWEIGHT porn star named not ‘Chesty O’Toole’ but ‘Plenty O’Toole’ and had slimmed down to the point where she was now unrecognizable as ‘Plenty’.  My god – it even hurt to type that it sounds so idiotic.

But, the compromise got Erika onto a plane the next day and that was what mattered.  I wasn’t allowing myself the ‘luxury’ of thinking about what impact that would have on the rest of the movie.  I would drive off that bridge when I came to it. 

THE ROAD TO ANGIE

Angie Everheart is a wonderful person.  My experience of HER – just her (and not all the baggage that came with her) – was entirely positive.  I liked her as a person.  I respected her (and respect her still) as a person.  I empathize with her.  Empathized with what she was going through at the time with her significant other – Sylvester Stallone.  The problem was she was acting in our movie.  And we were asking her to do something not in her range (certainly not in her range then when she had just started acting).

As we entered pre-production, Joel was already in production on ‘Assassins’ in Seattle.  At the time, Stallone was still engaged to Angie. 

Apparently, one day, on set, Sly approached Joel with a ‘genius idea’ – to cast Angie in our movie as the villain.  In the Real World, suggestions that strange get met with a cocked eyebrow.  In the movie business it got a ‘Hmmmm, let me think about that…’.

Prior to casting Angie, we read about two dozen actresses.  Lots would have worked.  We gravitated toward Robin Givens.  Word was she ‘could’ be a challenge to work with, but it would have been those same ‘odd angles’ in her personality that would have given shape to her version of the character.  Remember – we don’t cast actors to act, we cast them to be.

Aside from Meryl Streep and a handful of technically genius English actors who really can vanish inside another human being’s psyche and being, we hire actors because of who they are and not because of who they can act like.  Within the context of ‘who they are’, we need them to be brutally honest.  We need them to expose their emotions as nakedly as they can.

In my opinion – Robin Givens would have been a better Lilith because she started out a lot more like Lilith.  Less ‘acting’, more ‘being’.

But here again, Joel was listening to his guts and his guts were telling him he was ahead of the curve on the next Big Movie Trend – and the ‘Supermodel turned Super Star Actress’ wave was going to be led by Cindy Crawford when her movie ‘Fair Game’ opened. 

Unfortunately, ‘Fair Game’ performed poorly at the box office and another ‘Great Movie Concept’ died on the vine. 

But that was in a near future that would not benefit us.  We wouldn’t learn in time that audiences didn’t care one way or the other about Super Models in Movies.  It didn’t make anyone buy a ticket that wasn’t already going to buy one.  We were going to be part of that data set.

We pointed out to Joel that what made Billy Zane’s performance in Demon Knight work so well was that he ‘had villain chops’ whereas Angie had more ‘sweet-natured-Super-Model’ chops.  Joel wavered. 

We learned that Billy Friedkin had worked with Angie – playing a small role in Billy’s feature Jade.  We got Billy on the phone.  “Can she handle the part,” we asked.

Billy paused.  Too long.  Way too long.

We thanked Billy, hung up and got Joel on the phone.  What if we shoot a screen test, we suggested – hoping that by showing Joel what we meant – that Angie, while good, earnest and determined, just didn’t have the gravitas needed to play our Villain. 

Joel responded excitedly.  We had just stumbled on the way he’d play it to Stallone – who was advocating very hard for his fiancé.  We’d shoot Angie’s screen test and show it to Joel who’d show it to Sly.  Everyone would come to their senses and not do this to us, to the movie and to Angie. 

Except when Joel and Sly sat down and watched Angie’s screen test, they zigged when zagging was expected.  In retrospect, I suspect Sly wanted Angie on our movie set so that she wouldn’t hang around on his.  We were being used as a kind of beard.  The most important character in our horror movie was being cast as a means for another actor on another movie set to ‘have the freedom’ being in a committed relationship didn’t afford him – to fuck around.  To philander.

For real.

In my mind, people can do whatever the fuck they want.  They can behave like immature children every day of their lives if it’s what they want. But they do need to own their behavior.  Our movie didn’t matter to Sly Stallone.  Angie Everheart didn’t matter to him.  I hope he’s been a big enough, secure enough man to own that.

For better or worse, Angie was now our movie villain.

I really, really want to be clear about this:  I have no problem with Angie’s performance in ‘Bordello’.  Once we cast her, we made a decision.  And we KNEW – we absolutely knew – what the ramifications of that decision would be.    

Allow me to jump forward in time 5 years to 1999.  I’ve just been hired to go aboard ‘The Outer Limits’ as a Coordinating Producer.  The first script I wrote for OL is called ‘Alien Radio’ – about a Howard Stern type radio guy who, after humiliating a desperate UFO Believer on the air, learns (when the UFO Believer dies horribly in front of him) that the UFO Believer was absolutely right – there ARE aliens – and they ARE living inside people…

I wrote the script thinking of Howard Stern.  The actor-voice I had in mind was Denis Leary. 

My chief executive producer on Outer Limits that first year – Richard Lewis – cast, as Joel did, instinctually (and, sometimes, with his own ulterior motives).  Richard – for his own reasons – decided that the part should be played by the actor Joey Pantoliano – who Richard went ahead and hired.  

Now, I had worked with Joey a few years before – on Crypt.  I didn’t know Joey well, but I knew his ‘voice’.  I knew his cadences – world-weary Jersey Guy with a bone dry wit.

When Richard cast Joey, he made a choice that ran counter to how the script was written.  That doesn’t mean the choice was bad or invalid.  It just means the actor and the part were starting out with a glaring incompatibility.  Those don’t just vanish – they persist. 

We shot ‘Outer Limits’ in Vancouver but our production offices – where Richard was most of the time – were in Los Angeles.  My episode ‘Alien Radio’ was chosen to be first up for production.  A small honor.  Our show runner was uber-mensch Sam Egan.  By the time Richard saw the first day’s dailies down in LA, we were already well into DAY 2 (of 7). 

I had no problems with Joey’s performance in the first day’s work.  But Richard, it turned out, did.  He called me and before ‘Hello’ was even out of my mouth, Richard was asking me – pointedly – how the hell I could let Joey fuck up my script.

 “What’s Joey doing to the script?” I asked (knowing what the answer was).

“His energy’s all wrong,” said Richard. 

Well… kinda yes and kinda no.  Kinda yes because the script was written for a different character type than Joey.  But kinda no (almost entirely no actually) because Joey was playing Joey to perfection.  “Joey’s doing a great job,” I told Richard, “He’s acting exactly the way we hired him to.” 

“But he’s ruining the episode,” Richard insisted.

Again, he pressed me to ‘do something’ about Joey.  Again, I put my foot down.  I told Richard that I didn’t want to go to my lead actor on the second day we were working together to tell him, in essence, that I thought his performance sucked (when I absolutely did not).  I did not want to tell him to ‘act like’ someone else – because that’s not a good idea.  It would guarantee a confused, terrible performance and a toxic set. 

I told Richard that if he wanted to tell Joey he was unhappy, he could do it himself.  Richard demurred.

In part, I think, Richard saw that I was right.  It IS like the old saw says – casting IS 90 percent of producing. 

Angie gave us everything she had.  I bet, if we had thought a little harder about how to work with her, how to play to her strengths, we could have helped her even more.  That was our failure of imagination.

Playing villains is harder than it looks.  For starters, you can’t ‘play’ it.  You have to ‘be’ it.  If you skipped over the previous digression, go back and read it. 

The ‘Do It Like This’ example is Billy Zane in ‘Demon Knight’. 

Billy was the perfect Crypt Feature villain – equal parts malevolent and sardonic.  What we needed from Angie was a ‘Billy’ performance.  That was asking a lot.  And wasn’t like there was a whole lot on the page to work with.

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?

Before production began, we had to approach our Canadian crew with a difficult request.  Dennis, at the time, was doing a show for HBO.  The show went up live on Friday evenings.  That meant Dennis was not available to us Thursdays (for rehearsal) OR Fridays (or much of Saturday since he’d be traveling and recovering).  On a tight schedule like ours, that was unworkable.  So, we agreed with Dennis to shift our week – and make Thursday-Friday our weekends during production while we worked Saturday & Sundays (everyone else’s weekends).

Most American crews would do that without even thinking.  Our Canadian crew had a problem.  And rightfully so.  Not getting to be with their families on weekends was not part of the deal they made with us.  These wacky people had it in their heads that you work in order to live – not that you live in order to work.  And – strange thing – working on our movie did not rise to the level of ‘So Important That You Do It Just Because’.

Coleen, our production manager put her reputation on the line.  She promised her crew that the experience would be worthwhile.  The crew relented – and began to regret it almost immediately.  So did Colleen.

Monday morning rolled around.  We had a female lead.  We had two days in the can.  We were feeling good and we were on location at one of Vancouver’s strip clubs. 

Dennis had flown in the night before and was driven to the strip club, so he could meet Gil and we could all talk about Dennis’s work on the movie.

If the rest of the movie had been like the first ten minutes of meeting Dennis, regardless of how the movie turned out, the experience of making Bordello would have been fun, funny and fantastic.  Dennis was low key and affable.  He made a joke that relied on a ‘Bert Remsen’ reference.  I laughed – because I knew who Bert Remsen was (he was a long-time character actor).

Dennis looked askance at me – surprised that someone would get an obtuse Bert Remsen reference.  “Look at you, Katzy,” he said.  He might even have been genuinely impressed with me.  If he was, that didn’t stick.  The name however did. 

As we chatted, I learned that Dennis’ wife was Canadian – she was from Vancouver – so, for Dennis, his doing the movie was a kind of home-coming.  Everything was lovely and Kumbaya.  Inside my head I even flashed on Dennis and I becoming chummy over the course of working together – of finding synergy of some kind.  Working together was going to be pure joy.

I drew Dennis aside to update him on the changes we had just made to the script – to Erika’s character.  I handed him the latest draft. 

Now, again, I have to contextualize.  The script I handed Dennis – telling him, ‘please, feel free to contribute’ was entitled ‘Bordello of Blood’, not ‘Casablanca’.  Dennis opened the script to his first scene and pointed to his very first line of dialogue. “I can’t say lines like this,” he said. 

I looked at the line.  Whatever it was, Dennis was right.  It wasn’t written for Dennis.  It wasn’t written in his cadences or his rhythms; and it was nowhere near as clever or witty or ‘Dennis’ as Dennis.  As written, Dennis’ dialogue would have sounded silly coming from him.  So, it was a Fact Of Life that Dennis was going to ‘tweak’ his dialogue at the very least. 

“Here’s what I’ll do,” he said:  He’d work with Gil to nail down what each of his scenes was about.  Then, with that in mind, he’d ‘find’ his dialogue on his own.  In other words, he’d improv. 

It had ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ written all over it, but I said “Sure, Dennis” – adding quickly, “But you and I will work on it, too, right?” 

Dennis nodded, smiling.  But he had no interest in me helping him.  Why would he?  I had just handed him a script filled with proof that I had no idea how to write for him.

We moved on to the next topic – Dennis’ trailer.  Because he was our million dollar star and because he was also doing his HBO TV show at the same time as our feature, we agreed to provide Dennis with the best, most tricked out, hi-tech (for the time) motor home in all of not just Vancouver but Western Canada – all so that Dennis could be in constant contact with his writers back in LA – not an unusual request for a comedian prepping for a weekly live broadcast on a major cable network. 

The motor home, I assured Dennis, was already in place back at our studio space, ready for him to call it home.

We had a van take Dennis back to the hotel.  Bordello was feeling like it might be all right as a film-making experience.

Meanwhile, another van headed to the airport – to pick up Joel who was flying in from his set in Seattle to spend a few hours on our set in Vancouver.   But what sounded remarkably simple turned… well… remarkable – but for a lot of other reasons.

Before I go on, remember what I said earlier about Joel.  He’s outrageous.  He’s a little nuts (I say that as someone who’s way more nuts).  He doesn’t act or react like your average person.

That’s because he’s not your average person.  I don’t say this to apologize for what I’m about to describe but to explain the context.  The same idiosyncrasies that make Joel a great producer also make him prone to what normal people might think of as ‘odd behavior’.  Yeah, it probably is ‘odd behavior’ but it’s a package deal.  It comes with that particular model of ‘Larger-Than-Life Movie Producer’.  I don’t know many creative people who aren’t ‘strange’ in one way or another.  Joel is just more ‘noticeably’ strange…

Joel flew across the border in a private jet.  When it landed at Vancouver International Airport, Joel had to clear customs – same as everybody else.  Except Joel had just travelled across an international border without bringing any sort of personal identification with him whatsoever. 

Because Joel was driven most everywhere by people who worked for him, Joel never had to bother carrying a driver’s license.  Though I’ve always assumed Joel could drive, I had never seen him behind the wheel of a car – or of any of his company’s 4X4’s. 

And, because Joel was traveling private – where you didn’t have to present ID or your passport to check in – and because this was way before 9-11-2001 and things were significantly more lax around airplane travel – Joel was never asked prior to arriving in Canada to prove who he was.

Except, now that he WAS in Canada, Joel’s inability to prove who he was presented a gigantic problem.  For him and for us.

Canadian Customs held on to Joel for hours.  I’ve no doubt he insisted that they KNEW who he was cos EVERYBODY knew who he was.  But they didn’t.  And the longer they held Joel, the angrier he got.  By the time they released him – in a completely different part of the airport than our transpo guy was expecting him – Joel was primed for battle.  He tore through the airport like the Tasmanian Devil in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

By the time our transpo guys found Joel – and got him into one of our production vans – Joel was hitting nothing but high notes.  The first place transpo took Joel was our studio facility at the GM Auto Plant.

Colleen, our production manager, had staffed the front office and nearly all the support crew with highly skilled women.  They were not prepared for Joel when he blew through the office that morning. 

I got a call from my assistant that I had better get the fuck over to the studio right fucking now – because literally the entire production staff was about to walk out the fucking door and quit.

By the time I reached the office, some of our staff were indeed on their way to the parking lot.  I pleaded with them to go back inside, promising to make it up to them somehow (how exactly, I didn’t know – but somehow!)

Being too Canadian for their own good, everyone agreed to stay.  For the moment.  I jumped back into my car and raced back to location.  I found Joel in the production trailer hanging with Gil – in a much better mood now that he’d spent his rage. 

If I had the moment back, I would say something to Joel – respectfully, as I should have, to my boss.  I would explain (and I believe he would get) that what just happened was not cool – certainly not for a producer of Joel’s caliber.  It did not reflect well on him – or on us as a production unit.  I would quietly remind him that no one – not even a movie producer – can treat people like that – especially when they work for us and we rely on their feeling respected to deliver their best.  Being a good person down deep – Joel would have heard it.

Or he might have fired me.

THE DENNIS CONUNDRUM

It didn’t take long for Dennis’ daily revisions to his dialogue to ripple across the production in various ways.  While Dennis’ improvs were getting him from entrance to exit, vital pieces of story information weren’t making it into the scenes. 

Without those vital pieces of information, the story – such as it was – stopped making sense. 

Next problem:  Dennis’s schedule was wearing him out even before we got up to speed.  Understandably – it was a brutal schedule.  Every morning, he’d send his assistant to my office to ask – very nicely – if we could shoot Dennis out early so he could go back to the hotel and sleep.  What that meant – in practical terms – was this:  We’d shoot the ‘master’ and Dennis’ side of a scene first with full cast.  Then, when we ‘turned around’ to shoot the ‘other side of the scene’ (the other characters interacting with Dennis), the rest of the cast would ‘act to’ the Script Supervisor (who was sitting by video village behind the camera).

And the script supervisor would be reading the lines that Dennis had improvised – rather than the lines the other actors had rehearsed to.  Sometimes the scenes made sense and sometimes they, um, ‘strained’ to… The rest of the actors didn’t always get Dennis’ references and clever but obscure jokes.  But they’re there in the movie just the same.

Then – because Dennis wasn’t ‘there’ for the rest of the cast, they began to resent him.  And because he was improvising all his own dialogue, they began to feel disconnected from their own dialogue and characters because their dialogue didn’t always jibe with Dennis’ improvs; nothing really made sense.

Angie, meanwhile, was flying off to Seattle on her ‘weekends’ to be with Sly. 

On her first southern jaunt, Angie told Sly about all the confusion surrounding the script.  Sly leapt into action.  He began rewriting Angie’s dialogue (dropping even more story details) – and directing her how to do it.  Fortunately, that only happened once.  A few weeks into production, Angie’s trips south stopped. 

Now, I don’t know for a fact if anything was going on between Sly Stallone and anyone else on the ‘Assassins’ set in Seattle.   I only know that, after the second weekend Angie flew south, we were contacted by someone in the ‘Assassins’ office asking if there was any way we could ‘hold on to Angie’ the next weekend – so that she couldn’t fly to Seattle. 

As we told them – ‘No’ – because what would we DO with Angie instead?  Take her on a long hike?   

We heard a story from the Seattle set.  I do not know if it is true (it could be bullshit).  But it’s a hilarious story.  Just to be safe, I’ll go a little vague on who it’s about. 

An actor goes into his trailer, unaware that the wireless mic clipped to his wardrobe is still LIVE and BROADCASTING to the Sound Cart.  Awaiting the actor in his trailer – a willing sexual partner who the actor instructs to ‘Stroke the shaft’ and ‘Cup the balls’. 

As the sex continues in the actor’s trailer, more and more of the crew begin to crowd around the sound cart – to listen to the show.  Before long, each ‘Stroke the shaft’ or ‘Cup the balls’ is getting bigger and bigger laughs.   

The next morning, the actor arrives on set – and finds that everyone in the crew is wearing the same t-shirt that reads in big, bold RED letters: “Cup The Balls, Stroke The Shaft”.

Like I said – our people heard stories from their people.  No idea what was true and what wasn’t. 

By the third week of production, our ‘issues’ had ceased lurking beneath the surface.

The cast had fallen into two camps:  The Dennis Miller Camp – which contained Dennis and his assistant – and Everyone Else.  Corey was especially ticked off at Dennis.

I sat with Corey in his trailer one night listening to some of the music he’d made.  It was raw output – some good, some self-indulgent, some crap, some a tweak or two away from genius.  Corey wanted to get one of his songs onto Bordello’s soundtrack.  I told him I would do what I could, but that decision was not one they offered to people at my pay grade. 

The reason I had gone to Corey’s trailer was to massage a sensitive subject – his travels across the border.  Because he’d had some legal run-ins related to drugs, each time Corey went from America to Canada or Canada to America, there was the possibility that he’d be held.  I wanted Corey to promise me he’d be mindful of his situation and his responsibility to ‘be there’ for us.

Of course, Corey understood.  It wasn’t a question.  The movie business may have made him miserable inside but Corey’s a pro.

The subject of Dennis came up.  The rest of the cast wanted him to be more respectful, Corey told me.  They wanted him to stop going home early.  I promised I’d try to do something to fix it.  I lied.  

Other problems:  Indulging Dennis was slowing us down.  We weren’t making our days the way we should have and that was costing us money.  Bigger problem still:  We were starting to doubt that the local Special Effects Makeup crew was up to the task of delivering believable special effects makeup.  We were asking guys with lots of enthusiasm but limited experience doing what we needed them to do to deliver an A Game they didn’t have and couldn’t have. 

We weren’t shooting the movie in Vancouver because it was the home of great special effects makeup talent.  Keep in mind – we had slashed the special effects makeup budget to pay for Dennis.  Throwing money at our problems was not an option.  Spending the limited money we had wisely was – but knowing how to do that takes experience – and we had flown fifteen hundred miles north of ‘experience’.  

One of the big set pieces that worried me was the ‘shoot-out’ in the bordello.  Rafe (Dennis) breaks into the mortuary basement – water guns ‘blazing’ (his water guns are filled with holy water which, the conceit was, cooks vampire flesh).  Lots of cast.  Lots of extras.  And Dennis.

Dennis, between takes, entertained.  He was incredibly funny.  And then he focused on one of our extras – a man who, though costumed, clearly had a very large penis.  An unusually large penis actually – even flaccid.

I was laughing too hard at what Dennis was saying to actually hear him.  But as funny as Dennis was, I felt awful for the poor extra – whose gigantic package had become the center of the known universe.  Again – I do not blame Dennis for doing what a comedian does – with a subject that begged for his attention – and an audience that was eating it all up. 

The onus was on the on-set producer to step forward and defend the extra – if gently and gracefully.  Alas, ‘he’ didn’t.

The next big set-piece on the schedule came a few days later.  Rafe enters the scene – a torture chamber set – leaps over a bannister, lands, picks up an axe and buries it in Lilith’s shoulder.  Gil and Tom Priestly had devised a very clever shot – positioning the camera behind Lilith so that she’s in the extreme foreground) as Rafe lands, grabs the axe and strikes Lilith with it – cleaving her shoulder in two (in the extreme foreground).

So – lots of elements – a stunt, a locked off master for our special effect and then dialogue (including important information we need to justify the movie’s climax in the glass church several scenes later).  If we screwed the pooch on any single element in the day’s work, we could take the whole damned lot of it and toss it into English Bay.  Better yet – set fire to it all first.

Dennis’ assistant was waiting for me that morning when I walked into my office.   As soon as she started with how tired Dennis was, I stopped her.  Not today.  Today just wasn’t possible – for all the reasons above – which I explained to her (pedantically, I’m sure). 

“Dennis won’t be happy,” she said.

Something in me snapped.  “I don’t care!” I said.  I reiterated how complex the day’s work was (even more pedantically).  If we screwed up any particular element the whole day was a waste. 

She didn’t look convinced.  “Okay…” she sang, heading out the door.

I stowed my exasperation and got on with my work – making sure (now that Dennis was ours for the day) that everything else went smoothly for Gil.  Also on tap – another visit from Joel.  This time (we were assured), Joel would have his passport with him – which he did. 

Joel arrived at our studio space and headed immediately for Dennis’ trailer.  Apparently, what happened there went something like this: 

Joel: “Dennis – how are you?”

Dennis: “I’m tired, man, I’m really tired – I’m doing your movie and my show, and I’m exhausted but Katzy won’t shoot me out early so I can go back to the hotel and sleep.”

Joel: “What?  You’re tired and Katzy won’t let you go back to the hotel and sleep?  If you need to go back to the hotel and sleep, you go sleep.  I’ll take care of Katzy.”

Joel headed inside to where we were shooting, scanning the faces, searching for mine.  Finally, he found me – “Katz– Katz:  C’mere, c’mere!”

There are moments – as you are called to answer them – that you know in your bones will leave bruises and permanent marks. 

As I landed beside Joel, his voice went up a few dozen decibels – the better to be heard all over our noisy film set. 

“I gotta tell ya something,” Joel Silver told me in a voice so loud people in KAMLOOPS could hear it, “Your people skills ARE SHIT!”

Joel went on for a bit but stopped, having realized that my eyes had glazed over like the Possum character’s in ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’.

I had just experienced the most ironic moment of my life:  Joel Silver, a man whose reputation as an obliterator of employees was so well known that movies like Swimming With Sharks were made about him, had just told ME that MY people skills were shit…

It took a moment to find my voice.  I started to explain how complicated the day’s work was.  “It doesn’t matter,” said Joel.  “Actors are all assholes!”   He described some of the soul-crushingly stupid things he had to do to keep Bruce Willis going on Die Hard.  

Joel could see I still wasn’t ‘getting it’.  He told another story to illustrate his point. 

Michael Jackson, Joel began, was shooting a music video.  The producers told the crew there was only one hard, fast rule:  Do Not Talk To Michael.  Period.

Michael sees a prop assistant wearing a cast on his broken arm.  Michael approaches the prop assistant.  Asks the prop assistant how his arm got broken.  The prop assistant answers Michael – which the producers see.  They fire the guy – for talking to Michael.

The next day, after hearing the prop assistant got fired, Michael shows up for work wearing a makeshift cast – just like the fired prop assistant’s – OUT OF SOLIDARITY.

Michael doesn’t go to the producers and demand that they rehire the prop assistant, he does this instead. 

Joel arched his eyebrows at me.  “See?”

Ummmmmmmm… I stare at Joel, defeated – still not getting it.

Joel drew closer to put the pieces back together.  You have to do what your actors want, Joel insisted.  If you don’t they’ll kill ya, they’ll fucking kill ya!  I nodded, a sour knot of dread in my gut.  Not only was Dennis gone for the day, but it had just become impossible for me to say ‘no’ to him ever again.

Of course, the day’s work got screwed up because Dennis wasn’t there.  And, though we didn’t pitch it all aflame into English Bay, we might as well have…

Now here’s the punchline:  The biggest irony wasn’t Joel Silver telling me my people skills were shit.  It was that Joel was right. 

On that day, over the course of that project – my people skills (whatever they had been before) had indeed become shit. 

Retrospect has advantages – boy, does it.  But it wouldn’t have been rocket science to have taken a moment – when Dennis’ assistant first came to me that day – and said, “You’re right – let me tell Dennis myself what’s happening today, so I can explain it to him.”  Maybe Dennis would have gone along, maybe he wouldn’t have.  I never gave him that chance.

As Joel correctly pointed out – my people skills were shit.

I’m not telling this story because now I feel awful about it.  I’m telling it to describe how bullshit took over my life.  I didn’t realize how right Joel was at the time.  That there is bullshit.

Before we completely sail on from the Land of Shitty People Skills – midway through production, Sly broke up with Angie via long distance.  On the one hand, it wasn’t surprising.  On the other hand, she took it as badly as she had every right to.

To her credit, she showed up every day and was an absolute pro despite how torn up she was inside. 

As we began to rally resources and planning for our climax in the glass church, we learned that the special effects makeup team was well behind.  They tried to reassure us that they had the situation under control, but it was simply too complex for them.  We had set them up to fail.

I got on the phone to Todd Masters.  He agreed to come up and work with our Vancouver crew through the climax.  If anyone could save us from ourselves and the mess we were in, it was Todd – at least where the special effects makeup was concerned. 

With Todd working with us, I felt we had a fighting chance to get out of Vancouver alive – at least we had a shot at getting out of town with a movie that would cut together. 

Our last big set piece before the climax was the confrontation between Rafe and Caleb (Corey, remember) at an abandoned power plant.  Why an abandoned power plant?  Because there WAS one outside of Vancouver (in Surrey) and it looked cool when we scouted it.  So, we wrote it into the script.

Like anything else in the movie made sense?

All-Nighters are never fun.  Your body and brain are forever at war: ‘No, no, no – we don’t start work now, dude, now’s when we crash!’ 

It had been four weeks on a movie no one liked making with a Canadian crew increasingly alienated from its American producers.  The actors had all taken sides against the star.  We were already over budget and in danger of falling behind schedule.  We were a week away from shooting the movie’s climax and weren’t entirely sure we’d have special effects or special effects makeup that would rise to the occasion.

The night’s work began at ‘Magic Hour’ – sunset – when the light is… ‘Magic’.  In Vancouver on that Height-Of- Summer Day the magic began around 10:30 pm – as the sun finally eased past the horizon.  Because there’s so much water in the air, the sunsets in Vancouver on days when the cloud cover permits you to see them are beyond words.

We catch some great wide establishing shots of the power plant and Rafe (a stuntman actually) climbing over the high security fence that surrounds it.  That done, we move inside for the rest of the night’s work. 

First up – a fight scene that ultimately comes down to Rafe and Caleb – Dennis and Corey.

Coming into the fight choreography, Corey was pissed at Dennis for all the reasons we already knew.  But Corey also was angry at Dennis because of things Dennis had said to him and about him.  Personal things apparently.  As we blocked the scene, Dennis continued to needle Corey.  And, while they were choreographing the fight scene – AN ACTUAL FIGHT BROKE OUT.

It didn’t last long.  Not more than a few errant swings – all by Corey.  The awkwardness of it wasn’t helped by the crew cheering for Corey like he was Muhammed Ali (or Gretzky before he betrayed Canada and went to LA).  No one leapt in to stop the fight.  The fight choreographer – more by accident than design – blocked Corey’s two shots to Dennis’ face (thankfully!)

Slowly we went back to work – but with lead in our feet. 

Falling behind schedule put us in a tough spot.  We still had to shoot the movie’s climax in our glass church – Vancouver’s BC Place – and we had one night to do it now with no options if we screwed up (something we were getting good at). 

And then we crashed headlong into ‘The Biggest Folly of The Whole Stupid Enterprise’:  The ‘nighttime’ we were counting on in which to do ALL OUR WORK – shoot THE ENTIRE CLIMAX OF THE MOVIE – was going to last no more than three to three-and-a-half hours.  Because it was July and we were in Vancouver – and when you’re that far north at that point in the summer?  That’s how it is.

The sky simply did not become dark enough to shoot as night until well past 11 pm.  After the first hints of sunrise appeared in the eastern sky around 2 a.m.?  Shootable dark was good for no more than another 15 minutes depending on which way you were pointing the camera.  We were shooting a horror movie – which relies on darkness – at a time and in a place where darkness was notoriously absent.

We simply hadn’t considered it. 

Ironically – it was having the ‘glass church’ at BC Place for the climax that ‘sold us’ on Vancouver – that sent us on our way south thinking, ‘Ah well, at least the ending will be spectacular’. 

‘Spectacular’ was about to fuck us completely.

We looked into hanging blacks to cover all that glass.  Did I mention we were already over-budget? 

We looked at rewriting the script.  Unfortunately, we’d already done that.  To cut it back any further would be pointless; our audience needs an ending to justify the time they spent with us. 

We were going to have to dream big with the climax – get what we could – and hope like hell we could fix it in post.

There’s an old joke – “How do you make god laugh?  Tell him your plans”.  Time on a movie set works the same way.  How do you guarantee you’ll need ten hours to get the job done?  Have five in which to do it.

That five hours felt like five minutes.

I would compare the feeling to bailing water out of a rowboat that is going down no matter how fast you bail.  And you know it.  So do the sharks in the water.

Knowing we didn’t have an ending in the can slowed our pace even further.  When our next weekend rolled around, I decided to head south and spend a few days with my wife.  How perverse must things be that, in order to preserve your sanity, you have to escape to Los Angeles?

One of the perks I enjoyed was getting to travel first or business class.  As I strode through Vancouver airport, I felt my mood lightening.  The problems hadn’t gone away.  For the moment, I just didn’t care about them.

I boarded the plane.  Slipped into my first class seat and heaved the biggest sigh I’ve ever heaved in my life.  The Flight Attendant smiled – sensing the relief that came with the sigh as she set a glass of red wine down on my tray table.  She told me we’d be pushing back shortly.  There was just one more first class passenger we were waiting on.

Good, I thought.  I’d have company there in first class – as it was just me at that point.

And then the ‘other’ first class passenger entered.  It was Angie.  Doing exactly what I was doing – escaping to Los Angeles for her sanity.

Can I tell you – it is genuinely gratifying when a woman as beautiful as Angie Everheart greets you like a long-lost friend and hugs you – for all the world to see.  And I was glad to see Angie.  And getting to know her during those hours on the flight was genuinely rewarding – there was so much more to her than I realized. 

But as the flight went on, and the subject turned to Sly – and how hurt Angie still felt – I cringed a little, feeling guilty for having kept Sly’s secret.  She was torn, understandably, between missing the man she loved and reviling the shit who’d betrayed her.  As Angie went on, a line from Sly’s first ‘big’ movie popped into my head like an earworm and wouldn’t go away.  Lords of Flatbush.  Stanley – Sly’s character – is arguing with his girlfriend.  She threatens to reveal his big secret: “I swear, Stanley, I will tell everyone you cry after you come.”

Angie asked me what I was smiling at.  “Happy to be heading home,” I said.  But what I really was smiling at was the question that had popped into my head:  Did Sly cry after he came? 

Reaching LAX, Angie and I said good-bye, see ya ‘Monday’ (Saturday actually – our weekends were still screwy) and headed our separate ways.

We shot the movie’s opening sequence on the last day of principle photography – a series of shots of Prather (Phil Fondacaro’s character) and his weary crew trekking (it says in the script) to the furthest reaches of Tierra Del Fuego to find Lilith’s corpse.

We actually shot it just beside the snow-less Cypress ski slopes above West Vancouver.  Even with the extended daylight (this time being to our advantage), we dragged and dragged – and barely got what we needed. 

No one’s heart was in it.  It was a hot day in Vancouver.  It was sweaty.  There were mosquitos.  Everyone just wanted it to be over.  

A few weeks before we shot our ‘martini’ (the last shot of the day – or the whole film), the question was raised – ‘Where will the wrap party be?’  The American producers weren’t asking – the Canadian crew was.  The American producers knew well enough to not bother planning a wrap party since the crew was unlikely to show for it.  Feelings were that bad. 

Colleen threw a wrap party anyway – at her house.  The Americans weren’t ‘not invited’ but the invitation to us wasn’t exactly ‘effusive’.  It was still far kinder than we deserved.  Determined to try and make the best of it, I went. 

I think I know now what it must have been like to be a leper.  With a bell on.  Who’s otherwise naked.  Some things, you really can’t put a good face on. 

We packed up and headed home to LA, not having a finished movie in the can.  The climax wasn’t there.  It needed work.  Same with the makeup special effects.  Todd continued working with us to try and recreate – as economically as possible – a flaming Lilith Monster.

The goal was to be ready for release by Halloween 1995.  It seemed do-able.  But Universal didn’t seem in a hurry to finish Bordello.  Eventually they bailed on Halloween. Our release date got pushed to August 1996.  

August.  The Doldrums of Summer.  Where movie releases go to die.

But before we got there, we had reshoots to do.  We spent a few days back at the Van Nuys Airport (where we’d shot ‘Demon Knight’) doing pickups with Dennis, Angie and Erika. 

Finally, toward the end of the process, Bob Z came aboard to shepherd the movie its last few steps.  Bob tightened the cut and came up with an idea for a scene that… except for one pickup – we absolutely did not shoot because it wasn’t in the script.

There’s a scene in the torture chamber where Lilith (Angie) confronts Katherine (Erika).  Bob Z saw a way – using what we had (plus the pickup mentioned) to create the ‘illusion’ that Lilith and Katherine were engaging in a bit of lesbianism.

It’s not much of a scene – as scenes go – but, watching Bob Z more or less ‘invent’ a scene out of bits and pieces of what we had shot – massaging it and rearranging it – was like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling (well – in our case, the Sistine Chapel Bordello).

Halloween 1995 came and went.  Crypt Life went on.  We had a TV Movie to do for Fox and the last season of ‘Tales From The Crypt’ ahead of us.  The malaise we developed in Vancouver endured and grew.  So did our loss of purpose. 

Rush Limbaugh Is The Poster Boy For What Happens When Conservatism Crashes Into Reality

I don’t wish cancer on anyone. Not out loud anyway. Inside my head might be another story but that’s between me and me.

For years, Rush Limbaugh used his radio show to 1) pooh-pooh the harmful effects of tobacco (and cigar smoking) while advocating that his audience take up the habit BECAUSE TOBACCO COULDN’T HURT THEM and 2) tell his radio audience that marijuana (medical marijuana in particular) was bullshit.

Don’t believe me — believe Rush

Oh, the irony — she is cruel, no? It seems that the very words Rush was reading and mocking came back to take a giant, lung-sized bite out of Rush’s ass.

The question isn’t whether or not adults can do things that might be dangerous to them. So long as they understand the risks involved and so long as they don’t drag anyone else into their risky behavior with them? Go ahead — smoke ten packs a day if that floats your boat. Just don’t breathe on me, dude. And don’t feed other people the same misinformation & bullshit YOU used to make your shitty, ill-informed decision. That’s criminal — propagandizing innocent people into self-destructive behavior.

Rush has also spent his career bleating about the dangers of medical marijuana. Rush says he’s never tried it — doesn’t have to. Still, “he knows” what the experience is like — “knows” its (lack of) efficacy as a medicine. What a shame for Rush then that, as he begins a course of chemotherapy, he’s turned his nose up at a product that could actually help him. If Rush had an open mind, as the chemo did its worst to him, he’d reach for a hybrid like Girl Scout Cookies or Dutch Treat. For starters, there’s the feeling of mild euphoria — a sense that whatever life’s throwing at you, you can now handle it. Then there’s the way it alleviates nausea — something that destroys chemo patients from within. Finally, there’s the fact that cannabis gives you the munchies — and eating is essential for chemo patients to keep up their strength.

Shame Rush got cancer. He has a chance now — with the limited time he has left — to demonstrate the capacity to learn. When I faced my own mortality (I attempted suicide), it changed me profoundly. After I overcame my darkness — and the compulsion to hurt myself — I felt “born again”. I approached my life and the time I have left with renewed passion. I’ve made it my life’s work to preach what I learned.

We all need to seize the day, live our lives to their fullest. Rush Limbaugh has a golden opportunity to change his legacy from ignorant, petty racist to very good man.

Everything that came before says it won’t happen.

If I wasn’t so convinced I’d die, I’d hold my breath.

What Being Deeply Depressed Taught Me About Life — And Being Happy

Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of harming myself, perhaps fatally. It was pure impulse — a flash of self-directed anger that I’d been building toward for a decade. Oh, the irony… even as I plotted to off myself, I didn’t know (or admit to myself) WHY I felt this terrible compulsion.

In my case, I’d been keeping a secret from myself: I was sexually molested — twice — when I was 14 by the religious director at the northwest Baltimore synagogue where my family belonged while I was growing up. For 45 years, I kept that bit of personal history boxed up deep in my psyche. I always knew this “thing” was there. I simply refused to acknowledge it.

More irony — it wasn’t until after I tried to kill myself — and sought treatment — that I had the emotional strength to face the fact of what happened to me. The night I came clean with myself — to myself — was the longest, loneliest night of my life. I understood myself in a way I never had before. I understood my inability to bond with other people the way everyone else seemed to bond with each other.

I understood why I felt so much emotional distance from the world. Why I felt like I lived, by myself, on an island from which I could never escape: if you didn’t know this terrible secret about me, you couldn’t possibly “know” me. Only two people knew the secret: me and Yehuda Dickstein, the man who molested me. Perversely, I kept our secret — kinda like Yehuda knew I would. He molested me twice — so, he knew for a fact that I never told anyone about the first time.

That’s the hook on which I hung myself for 45 years — the fact that I never told anyone — and then it happened again.

Like lots of victims, I blamed myself. I couldn’t rationalize the first time. That made absolutely no sense to me. It was too surreal. But the second time — I helped manufacture it by not saying anything — convincing myself even that it couldn’t possibly have happened. Then I walked in the door to the place where Yehuda awaited me — and I instantly knew: yes, it HAD happened and it was about to happen again.

We all have varying degrees of darkness inside of us. Comes with being a sentient being with intrinsic knowledge of our vulnerabilities. When healthy, we see the world with a high degree of perspective. We understand when we’re at fault and when we’re not. But depression allows our darkness to take the wheel. The more control our darkness has, the more perspective we lose until, finally, we see everything though a vary narrow, very dark lens.

Though I had lived a very good, successful life, something inside was holding me back. My inability to bond — like a time bomb — ticked away steadily. Worse, my secret was the silent foundation for feelings of incredibly low self esteem. I believed my work was good — but I had no belief in myself whatsoever. And when things started to turn — because life has its ups and downs — I took those reversals of fortune as my due.

My secret had convinced me that I absolutely deserved everything bad that happened to me. In fact, I deserved worse. My darkness’s naked cynicism became a kind of mantra.

I knew I was in trouble. I was in therapy — and that was working up to a point.

But there was great white shark swimming just below the surface. I was afraid of medication, having read and heard more horror stories than success stories. Having grown up in the medical culture (my dad was a surgeon), I understood that the most my GP probably knew about the mood stabilizers I was asking about was whatever the last pharmaceutical rep told her as he slipped a package of samples from her briefcase.

And even if the mood stabilizer might work for me, it would be six to eight weeks before we’d have an inkling of whether it would or not — and there was the distinct possibility that this mood stabilizer would make my depression worse. Add to the mix — I wanted the medication to deal with the darkness while leaving my hypomania alone (I’m bi-polar, you see). My creativity resides in my hypomania — and the thought of losing my mojo — that sounded like a shortcut right back to suicide.

I had done research and identified a drug — lamotrigine (lamictil) that could work for me. After my near run-in with mortality, I drove straight to my doctor’s office and told them what happened. Great life hack? If you want really quick medical service, tell your health care professionals you just tried to hurt yourself.

I got not only my GP (a terrific doctor) but one of the two HEAD doctors. They got from the look in my eyes that I was deadly serious. They asked me three times if perhaps to consider hospitalization. In said no — I was there to try and help myself; but, first, they needed to write me this prescription. My two GP’s whipped out their smart phones and looked up the drug. They agreed to write the script.

Then I got really lucky — even luckier than I realized in fact.

Whereas one normally has to wait six to eight weeks to see if a mood stabilizer works or not, I leveled within 36 hours. I felt the lamotrigine’s impact: I triggered.

I can’t remember why anymore but something caused the rage that had been living rent free in my gut to ignite. I felt it rising like a lava plume rushing upward toward my head and my mouth — and just as it got there — just as I would normally speed up, lose my cool and become utterly irrational — the rage vanished — poof! — like a soap bubble popping. I knew I had felt all that rage and yet… now I felt nothing. The rage was gone before it could take flight and overwhelm me.

I’ve never taken more than the 25 milligram minimum dose since. And my depression has been kept completely at arm’s length. Here’s where the extra bit of luck kicked in. My research? It wasn’t complete. Yes, there was anecdotal data that lamotrigine wouldn’t impact my hypomania. There’s way more anecdotal data (no one’s ever tested lamotrigine as a mood stabilizer; it’s used mostly as an anti-seizure medication) that says it absolutely would impact my hypomania — at higher doses.

That bit of luck aside, the first lesson my depression taught me was that until you finally stand up to your darkness, it will own you. And it knows it.

Look — standing up to your darkness is hard. There are no easy answers here. Terrible things put you where you are emotionally. The thing about standing up to your darkness though is it requires help. To beat your darkness you must reach outside yourself. Seeking therapy is essential of course. But it’s important that you actively engage with your therapy — that you see therapy (the act of seeking help) as you being pro-active. It’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing. But the real work of getting healthy remains ahead of you.

There’s no certainty in this. We’re not talking about concrete, we’re talking about the human mind — and we don’t really understand how we even “have” thoughts. And everyone’s darkness is a little bit different — because we are all a little bit different.

The goal always is happiness. The absence of suffering and emotional pain. The goal is to be the master of your darkness and not the other way around.

I’m a “devout atheist” to my core but I know exactly what born again Christians are talking about. Being able to see my darkness in its proper perspective — understanding WHY there was that darkness to begin with and WHY it had held so much power over me — liberated me. It can’t make the memory of that event go away. It can’t undo the broken relationships and poor choices. It can’t bring back all the time I lost to being depressed and having zero faith in myself.

But I can see that period of my life for what it was. And I can see my present for what it is and, more importantly, my future for what it could be — if only I pursue it. That’s the nature of hope — of believing in a future where happiness can blossom in its fullness.

That’s the biggest lesson my depression taught me. Happiness is absolutely possible.

A Thought Experiment: What If We “COULD” Sue Gun Manufacturers & The NRA?

Buy literally any other product in America and it causes harm — you can sue the product’s manufacturer because of the harm that product caused. The one exception is GUNS. For real.

You cannot sue a gun manufacturer because their gun hurt someone. Or even something (and we know how much gun-loving conservatives value property over people). Gun manufacturers got in tight with the NRA and then used the NRA to squeeze Congress into giving guns the freest pass in the universe.

Not only did gun manufacturers get a free pass legally, they bamboozled us into thinking the second amendment says the diametric opposite of what it actually says. They now insist that “well regulated milita” was a purposefully obscure reference to an obscure usage of those words that meant “well working gun of whatever size you want”. That’s not hyperbole. Look at the history. We started getting massively crazy the moment we let the NRA bullshit us about what the “framers really meant”.

How many dead gunshot victims lie atop THAT pile of lies?

You CAN’T sue a gun manufacturer. But what if you could? What if you could lay out the evidence to a jury how a gun is designed from the ground up to send a hot metal fragment flying through the air at a live target with the absolute intention of killing it. Guns are designed to kill. A gun that hasn’t killed something is a gun that has not done what it was designed to do.

Similarly — a gun locked in a gun safe is not doing what it was designed to do. It’s nice that, while in the safe, theoretically it can’t hurt anyone but — it just takes one moment’s distraction to change a responsible gun owner into the participant in yet another American gun tragedy. Adam Lanza shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But first, he shot his mother to death. Nancy Lanza was, by all accounts, A RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNER.

And then she wasn’t.

Responsible Gun Ownership is a myth.

Let’s add “Bullshitting the American Public With Fatal Consequences” to the law suit. Because that’s what the gun manufacturers and the NRA are truly guilty of — creating a monstrous lie that continues to kill us. Kill our children.

The NRA sold America a culture where men see guns as the most direct means of conflict resolution. Feeling really angry about something or someone? Get a gun and use it as a means to feel better.

That we have so many angry men — angry young men, too — speaks volumes about our culture. We’ve failed women horribly because we failed men. That is, we failed to rein men in. We failed to teach men that having a penis does not make you special — and penises don’t have the final say on where they go or what they do.

We’ve over-empowered penises in our culture. And now that men have to power share, they find their penises don’t know what to do. Confused penises are angry penises. And angry penises reach for a gun — because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. It’s not a coincidence that so much gun violence in America is men shooting their domestic partners, spouses, mothers or sisters.

Wow — this law suit’s getting massive. Gun manufacturers have sold us some pretty terrible things along with their guns.

If gun manufacturers could be held liable for what their guns do, they’d have done everything in their power to 1) make their guns as safe as possible, 2) as hard to abuse as possible (fingerprint access & palm ID), 3) much, much harder to get (cos who wants to get sued into bankruptcy by assholes?) and 4) share the cost of any potential damage costs by building their insurance into the cost of their guns.

The last part’s the kicker. If gun manufacturers built the cost of fixing what guns break into the cost of each gun? No one could afford to buy guns.

I guess THAT’S why you can’t sue gun manufacturers. Death merchants want to be free to continue selling us death.