My First Porn Star

Sometimes half the fun of these things is coming up with a title.

Last night (or two nights ago, technically. This happened Saturday, June 28th.), a local bar hosted an event called Judigras. And it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Mardis Gras in June, or at least a facsimile. It went how you’d expect. There was revelry and beads for boobs, body painting and heavy drinking. A live band played (a live band is almost always playing at this bar), there was a wet t-shirt contest, a twerk contest (for fuck’s sake, why?) and some other stuff I missed because I spent the bulk of my night on the deck.

See, my friend is the bartender on the deck and he and another friend and I tend to spend most of our weekend nights shooting the shit and getting some fresh air. Most of the people go out to the deck to smoke. I don’t. I just prefer the atmosphere out there. Plus there’s a grill set-up and this guy cooks a mean reindeer hot dog like you wouldn’t believe.

I was there Saturday night to get drunk and have a good time. I had the following day off, I knew my pals would be out there and I feel like I keep making an ass of myself with a girl I like. Additionally, in a twist I should have seen coming but did not, Judigras ended up scoring about a half dozen women I dated and/or slept with as rabble-rousers, so I was on the edge of losing my mind.

I did run into an exotic dancer friend of mine I hadn’t seen in quite some time. She’s a beautiful, creative soul who shares a lot of the same tastes as I do in terms of fiction, film, fashion and art. She’s very intelligent, which made it an absolute delight when some almost-jocks recognized her from the club, talked to her as if she were on the clock and she promptly shot them down so hard and brilliantly that all they could do was stare and mumble something.

Gentlemen: strippers do not give a shit about you. They do not mean the nice things they say while you’re fishing your money out to buy a drink that costs way too much. They don’t want to fuck you just because you pay them to pretend that they do. And if you forget that they are actually women with a job and you treat them like objects when they’re not at their job and thus have no reason to tolerate your sexism and idiocy, they will put you in your place. Hopefully I’ll get to see it again. It’s a goddamn delight.

Anyway, I hung out with her and her friend for a couple hours, catching up, engaging in witty banter. They got painted; I did not. I did get green glitter brushed all over my face. I haven’t looked closely in the mirror since then, but I’ve already prepared to look like I took a fairy money shot for the next ten years.

The biggest draw of the evening, however, and what brought the three of us together for a little bit, was that Jenna Jameson was IN THE HOUSE. She had done a meet and greet up in Fairbanks and then flew down to show up for one night in Anchorage.

I didn’t think I would get excited. I don’t think of myself as the kind of guy who gets easily star-struck and seeing as how Jenna is mostly known for being naked and often penetrated, I don’t know that being star-struck as a single male in this case is necessarily a good thing.

But I did get excited and I ended up being a little awkward and once I had a chance to think about it, it didn’t surprise me all that much.

Before I ever knew Jenna Jameson was a porn star, I knew her as a knockout blonde that I thought was a model. Sure, I had heard she did Playboy, but so did Marilyn Monroe. Discovering later that she did porn didn’t change my perspective or make me think less or more of her, that’s not what I’m trying to say. I just want to point out that I had this deep and abiding crush on her as a teenager that continued for years based on knowing almost nothing about her.

Was it shallow? Absolutely. I was a kid with hormones whose hobbies were trying and failing to hook up with girls, and masturbating. And comic books.

Come to think of it, that list has pretty much stayed the same for ten years

Anyway, I thought Jenna was one of the most gorgeous women I had ever seen. I haven’t read it, but by most accounts her autobiography (How to Make Love Like a Porn Star) is prettt excellent, and my respect for her grew just by knowing that. She was also married to Tito Ortiz, because I also apparently needed to know her significant other could, in fact, kick the shit out of me.

I grew older and grew wiser (probably) and developed relationships of my own with a wide variety of “types” and found beauty in many different areas. My single-minded lust of that poster image faded into the past as I matured while the respect for the woman more or less stayed the same.

Truth be told, before a week ago, I hadn’t thought of Jenna Jameson in a few years,  not since the girl I was dating at the time (and yes, she was at the bar Saturday, too) was telling me how great the autobiography was. And that’s probably natural, not thinking about porn stars regularly, so I feel like I’m in the clear. All the same, the nostalgia of this hypersexualized image that I looked at every day for four or five years (I neglected to mention I worked in a comic and collectible shop that sold posters; hers was on the outside) came rushing back, so I was curious to see what was up.

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The first thing I was surprised to find out was that she was letting people take pictures with her for free. Not just one picture, but at least a few. Not only that, but she was a fucking champ. She adapted easily to whatever pose requests she was given. She didn’t try to rush anyone off the stage. She was friendly to everyone and eye-banged the hell out of whichever camera was flashing.

The second thing that impressed me was that she was charging $10 for an autographed photo of herself, but that it was going to a breast cancer charity. I hadn’t intended on buying one before that knowledge, but:

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“Take me,” it says. Oh, Jenna.

Finally, it was my turn to go up and meet her. She was skinny. Tan. The work she had done on her face was obvious, and yet when she smiled or puckered her lips, if you looked into her eyes, that beauty was still there. She seemed a little flighty, but if I had to meet a bunch of drunk assholes with dirty thoughts in Alaska, I’d be drunk or high off my ass. The guy she was with, and I don’t know who it was because – and I can’t stress this enough – I really need to not be invested in the love lives of porn stars…the guy she was with was a gentleman. He smiled at everyone that came up, he made sure Jenna knew to sign a photo (it got a little crazy on the stage considering how many people were there), and was just generally really chill.

I shook Jenna’s hand. I don’t know why I did that. That’s such a weird thing to do. Then I kind of awkwardly suggested some poses. The conversation went like this.

“I was thinking it would be funny if, maybe, like if you grabbed my tit.”

“You…want me to grab your…tit?”

“Well, my chest. Yeah, like if you were groping me instead of being groped, cuz…like a joke.”

“Uh…sure.”

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And then I did this, because I’m a fucking weirdo.

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And then she signed my picture, blew me a kiss, and I left to go get another drink and think about how I couldn’t possibly have been less suave about the whole situation.

Jenna Jameson has changed a lot in ten years, as would any person. I didn’t go in expecting to see the woman from the poster I adored. Shit, I didn’t go in expecting to meet her, take a picture with her or have her grope me, either. I went in curious and though our encounter with each other was brief and not terribly special or noteworthy, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction anyway. Seeing how receptive she was with her fans, how willing she was to just provide a good time and a fun picture, it was rewarding. It was such a deep pleasure to see someone who has achieved notoriety and fame still be an absolute gem to a crowd of people who each weekend largely seem to try to prove that they’re horrible.

Jenna Jameson is not the first woman I’ve seen naked. She wasn’t my first fantasy. She wasn’t the first adult starlet that I turned my filthy eyes on. But I had a big, fat, ol’ crush on her for a long time. She’s incredibly sweet. She’s the first porn star I’ve ever met, and I couldn’t be happier at how it turned out.

An Unexpected Invitation

This is a contuation of the story that began in Beer Run. Let’s just jump right into it.
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The staircase fell away from them like a set of impossibly clean, crooked teeth. There were no railings to guide them,  only darkness that fell away to nothing. Both men stepped carefully as they descended, arms held out a ways from their sides to provide a balance. They walked for several minutes; a look back showed the freezer door growing distant while the block of light at the base of the stairs came only marginally closer.

“You’re sure this isn’t your basement?” Clarence asked. There was a tremor in his voice, but it could have been attributed to a loss of breath as well as it could fear.

“No, it’s not our – what kind of basement is this far below ground? We don’t even have a basement.” Brandyn paused and looked back over his shoulder. “Do you want to go back?”

Clarence hesitated, considering. He shook his head. “No, let’s keep going. If anything, I just wish we had grabbed a drink before coming down.”

“Yeah, me too. Just one, though. Last thing I need is to stagger down these steps.” Brandyn looked off the edge of the staircase, continued to see nothing. Both men laughed nervously and continued on.

It felt like a half an hour had passed before they reached the block of orange light and stopped again. It was shaped like a door, but only darkness surrounded it. There was nothing that resembled a structure supporting it and though the glow wasn’t bright enough to be blinding, it obscured whatever may lay beyond. Brandyn reached out with the tips of his right index and middle finger; the passage was warm and pleasing to touch.

“What are you thinking?” Brandyn asked.

“That this is fucking crazy. Can you put your foot through? Feel for something solid?”

“What if something bites it off?”

Clarence’s eyes grew. “Do you think that’s a possibility?” he asked incredulously.

“I don’t know. Maybe. Hold on to my arm just in case. Move so if you have to fall back, you fall on the stairs.”

Clarence muttered something unintelligable and shuffled his feet to the side. He took a firm grip on Brandyn’s bicep and held tight as the other man stretched his foot out experimentally. He disappeared through the orange up to his ankle.

Brandyn leaned forward slightly, putting his weight on his outstretched limp. He felt resistance. Solid, like concrete. Certainly not carpeted and definitely not a substanceless void.

“There’s ground. Or something. It’s not giving way, anyway. I’m going through.”

“Right behind you, buddy,” Clarence said tightly through clenched teeth. He didn’t let go of Brandyn’s arm.

Nothing builds a friendship like weird shit.

Together they stepped through the passageway and into a large, open room. Almost everything was the same white as the stairs they had come from, immaculately carved from what looked like ivory. Massive pillars lined all four walls, sculpted like arms holding up the ceiling with seven-fingered hands. Two golden doors were set in the back wall, one to the far left and one to the right. They had no doorknobs, but the hinges – also gold – seemed to indicate they swung in and out.

These doors were not the first thing they noticed.

In the exact center of the room was a long dining table. The cloth that covered it reached down to the floor and was the bloodiest red either man had ever seen. Golden dishes, chalices and silverware were set at up in front of seven spots. The chairs, like the tablecloth, were a deep crimson. Everything was empty, save for an untouched roast of unknown origin in the middle, next to a golden flagon of what they assumed to be wine.

The dinner set-up was not the first thing they noticed.

On either side of the table sat two men, four total, dressed in white robes. Their arms rested on the table, palms down. Their backs were straight. Their eyes, all blue, were the only things that moved and they rolled as hard as they could in the direction of the newcomers with a silent plea contained within. Silent, because these frozen men had only a stretch of skin where mouths should have been. They looked to the two empty chairs nearest to the newcomers and the indication was clear for them to sit.

The diners and their invitation were not the first thing they noticed.

As Brandyn and Clarence walked through the doorway of light into the room, their eyes were drawn to the last seat, the one at the head of the table, the one facing them directly.

A man-like creature sat there with perfect poise. His alabaster skin matched the room he sat in. The large, shark-like black eyes matched the charcoal suit he wore. Black, ridged horns like that of a goat started at the edge of his brow and crested backwards and down. He held a fork and knife in his hands and smiled through paper-thin lips. His teeth were as needles.

“Welcome,” the thing said, its voice like polluted air. “Feel free to join us for dinner.”

Brandyn had never whimpered before, so the one he swallowed down felt strange. Behind him, Clarence groaned softly.

“I should have just told my wife she was right.”

Checking In

I’ve been remiss in updating my blog as often as I was growing accustomed to. My Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule hasn’t kept up, though I’ve been at least trying to update three times a week. It’s tricky, trying to balance a full-time work schedule (which is growing busier and includes more shifts while we’re short-staffed), a blog, a social life, and (finally) work on a book.

I’m pleased to say, though, that in the last two days, I’ve clocked in over 4,000 words on this fantasy novel. That’s almost four times what I’ve done in the last two months! So there’s that. That’s good.

I want to keep this nice and short for now, but only because I have a short fiction update I’ll be posting tomorrow. I just wanted you to know that I’m not dead, I am writing, I’m ridiculously handsome (according to my mom), and I’m shitty at math.

Happy Hump Day!

The Last Few Days

I’ve been a little preoccupied the last few days. With work, with my mind, with other people. It’s been frustrating not writing, but it’s also been nice not to worry about it.

Thursday night I went out on a date. Part of me was worried she wouldn’t show up because part of me always thinks that. I’ve been stood up before. A lot. It always kind of baffled me because I never thought my personality was so bad that someone would pass up a free meal, but whatever. I started carrying a book with me, just in case. I’d still eat. I mean, by that point I was hungry so hell, I might as well buckle down and have a good dinner and a good read.

But this girl didn’t stand me up. It was our second date, the first being a dinner on my birthday. The second was even better. We had a good dinner. Followed it up with a local film festival that was delightful not only because the films were good but because the crowd was so interactive, knowing or being someone that was involved with the short films.

Following that, we hopped across the street for drinks and karaoke. I didn’t sing. She did. I’m absolutely addicted to her voice. I could listen to an album.

We went back to my place afterwards. I had chickened out on my birthday, but I took a gamble here and kissed her. It paid off. We went inside and watched whatever was on at 3AM in the morning which, and this shouldn’t be a surprise, consisted of divorce court and Nicolas Cage movies and I’m here to tell you that is totally fucking awesome.

We didn’t talk much, instead curling up with each other and losing ourselves in Academy Award-winning Nic formerly-Coppola’s riveting performance in National Treasure. And that was perfect.

It has been a long, long time since I’ve been on a date where I didn’t feel out of place or pressured to be a certain way. It was easy and it was fun. And regardless of where it goes from here, it was a night I needed after losing two friends and being stressed out at life. She makes me want to write and writing is my life.

She left around 4:30, I went to bed, woke up renewed enough to trudge through eight hours of work and then went out to see Crystal Method play at a local bar. I like electronica alright and it was solid, but I found myself out at the deck bar more often than not. And it was raining. In fact, it was pouring and I was drenched and I kind of loved it.

I’ve talked about my love for rain before, but this was a different. Very little is similar between hearing the chatter of rain drops on rooftops and being in the middle of a downpour. I felt cleansed. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, rare occasions for Alaska. As people staggered around me and even as I slipped into a more inebriated state, I was fascinated by the sheer naturalness of the weather. It felt amazing. I think I’m going to get pneumonia, though.

Cut to yesterday and I’m at work again. A customer at the table next to me sagged in his chair and then collapsed onto the floor. My co-worker and I both tried to catch him but were too late. He hit hard and seized a little. Coincidentally, one of the other customers in the store happened to be an EMT and he took care of the man until the emergency services arrived. He was responsive and coherent as he left and I hope he makes a full recovery.

The entire thing left me shaken and I resolved to get a beer after work. Just so happened the Spin Doctors were in town to play a free (to the public) show down by the railroad station just a couple blocks away. I got off in time to catch the last hour or so of the set.

I stood on top of a hill under a grey sky, plastic cup full of beer gripped tightly in my hand, looking over hundreds of people of all ages. They were dancing and drinking, fighting and kissing, sitting and staggering. I saw dozens who stood in one spot, eyes closed and bobbing their head to the music. I had arrived wondering how many people showed up hoping that they would hear Two Princes because that was the only song they could sing along to. I left realizing that it didn’t matter. Music – like paintings or sculptures or prose – is art and people take in art to escape from the world for a bit. Fans are nice. They’re the bread-givers to artists. But here it didn’t matter if these people had bought every album or just needed to unwind; the Spin Doctors had showed up to give their gift and these people received it by having a goddamn good time.

I don’t know that there’s a point to this entry. It feels like I’m writing into my diary, hoping that the other end of it isn’t Voldemort. I do know that I have spent the last month mourning and sulking a bit and doubting and the last few days have kind of put things into some perspective.

I forgot how nice it is to be liked and to hold someone in your arms. I was reminded how fleeting life is and how suddenly something can happen. I found myself in positions where I appreciated the smaller things in life, be it music or rain, and made a promise to try and do so more often.

Our planet is not the biggest, but that doesn’t mean it’s small. There is so much that happens on every level. Chemical reactions, volcano eruptions, animal friendships. We create incredible things to be shared. We have relationships.

All the same, we are mortal. We spend so much time worrying about what we’re doing or how we’re going to make something work or pining over someone or something and we aren’t literally taking the time to smell that gorgeous bouquet of flowers. To smile at someone who looks blue. To pet the sweet dog that ran up to you at the park. To say hi to the girl or boy with their nose in a book.

I spent the last few days celebrating and appreciating life in a way I haven’t in a while and I liked it quite a bit.

The Anatomy Of a Kiss

A strange thing, the anatomy of a kiss
Drawn out into a million seconds
Vivisected with the respect it deserved
I observed the curvature of her words
Through two lips as delicate as tulips
Flushed with blood and a flood of
Electricity that tingles the touch
Through the skeleton holding up loose limbs
The heart pumps, thumps and
Despite this, the mind is stumped
High temperature with sighs and
Eyes close, rose rises and like
Fine wine grows sweeter as
Time slows and grows deeper
Words wither as tongues grapple
Becoming sign language with…
Is that a hint of apple?

The anatomy of a kiss is a body of work
A volume of life
Sometimes a twist of the knife as the kiss cuts back
A duet or a bid adieu
It’s a strange thing, always anew
A fine science with limitless truths
The anatomy of a kiss

4AM

Took the last few days off to clear my head and get my thoughts straight. Wrote this to hopefully tide you over:

4AM is for lovers
Loners
Kissers of stars
Crafter of dreams that have escaped the confines of sleep
Choosing to dance instead behind
Tired eyes and under dark skies
4AM is a thousand miles of journey in an hour
A thousand wanting words in a whisper
One thousand plans wrapped in regrets and served with a side of promises
More than midnight, 4AM is past and present
The cradle of tomorrow in the last waking moments of yesterday
4AM is for the darkest parts of artists clawing for the sun because

4AM is for lovers
With hope and pain rolled into one

Daddy Issues

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads and people who have ’em. Where I’m at, it’s a little windy but the sun is out, the air is warm and the birds are singing. I’m walking down the street as I type this and some guy just drove by in a three-wheeled motorcycle contraption. He looked happy. I’m glad for him.

Father’s Day is always a little weird for me on account of never knowing my biological father and not even finding out there was a biological father to not know until my checkered stint as a teenager. It was kind of a fucked up time for me, to be honest. I was working and hanging out with a bunch of 21 and ups at the time. My grandparents, who I lived with and who knew them,  were more or less okay with it, although they had their reservations. My dad, who I did not live with and who did not know them, forbade it.

Now, at the time I didn’t realize my dad had adopted me in the aftermath of his wife’s liason with someone who may or may not have been a marine biologist. As far as I knew, he was just the drunk promise-breaker who couldn’t get a driver’s license anymore and who had only recently been released from the jail sentence he spent two years in Nevada trying to avoid. We had a very public falling out in the hall of a mall I worked in. I said some pretty shitty things about his failures as a father and how dare he spend years out of my life just to come back and suddenly try to tell me how to live it. I left him there in the mall, biked home to my grandparents and stopped taking his calls.

It was a November. I don’t remember if I spent Thanksgiving with his wife and him. I know I ignored him on Christmas. The following February was when I found out that he wasn’t my biological father, that my grandparents weren’t mine by blood.

Emotions can be a difficult thing to articulate. Needless to say, it was the shittiest I’ve ever felt in my life. I saw my dad, Rick, in a different light. Was he a great father? Not even good, not even close. But he was a man who did his best to step up. He knew his wife had cheated on him and the baby she almost didn’t keep wasn’t his. But he put his name on my birth certificate and he named me after his late best friend.

He had his demons and he slipped up, time and time again. But when my mom went back to rehab and while my stepdad was tearing shit up on the hillside, Rick took me to his parents because he knew them to be good people, and they were, and they taught me how to (at least try) to be a good man.

My grandparents told me later that Rick would call them up in tears, wanting to tell me that I was adopted, wanting to apologize for everything. My mom had sworn my grandparents and him to secrecy. Now my mother had told me, my grandparents knew I knew, but I asked them not to let Rick know. I wasn’t ready for the conversation because I was wracked with guilt over the way I treated him, so I let him go a few more years torturing himself about not telling me. I didn’t think that through. I was a kid and I was selfish.

Eventually, Rick and I were in the living room at my grandparent’s house. We sat next to each other on the couch. Everyone else had gone to bed. The tv was off. Rick said, “I have something I need to tell you, something I should have told you a long, long time ago.” I responded, “You’re my dad. My father.  Nothing will ever change that.”

I hugged him tight. I left him to cry. It’s the only time we’ve ever spoken about it. I haven’t seen him in years now, nor have I spoken to him. He texted me this last birthday. I’ll try to call him when I’m finished with this.

I’ve written before about the lessons I’ve learned from Rick, and his father Dick, my adopted grandfather who was more a father to me than anyone. I’ve written here about what it’s like to grow up with a stepfather like Terry, a hard man who exposed me to the beauty of women and the ugliness of the world.

There is one father, though, that has given me nothing but life and a shitload of issues: John Buchanan.

I’ve heard conflicting things about the man. I heard he was working up here as a marine biologist. I heard I look just like him. I heard he babysat me a few times as an infant before fucking off forever. Everyone knew but me, and when I found out, I told all my friends. I was torn up at the time because a huge portion of my life was essentially a lie.

My mom gave me an address to reach him at, and I did. I wrote him a letter about myself, my interests. I told him I wanted to know more about him. I included a picture of my date and I from our junior prom despite the unfortunate mustsche/goatee/long hair combination I decided to rock. He sent me a letter back, no picture. He was living in Sacramento, said he owned a bike shop. He had no family at the time, no kids. That was 10 years ago, so that may have changed. He sajd he wanted to talk with my mother more before we had any future correspondence.

I told my friend Amber the next day. We had, ironically, marine biology together. She gave me a hug to keep me from breaking down. I’m a sensitive guy, you see. I never figured out what happened to that letter. Frankly, I don’t give a shit.

A few months later, I was at my brother’s birthdat party with Melissa, my first love. She and my mother had never met. My mom found us by the banquet table. This is the brief but unforgettable conversation that followed.

“So John called me.”
“Oh, yeah?”
“He said he’s interested in meeting you.”
“Wh- really? Wow, that’s…”
“But he won’t come up until a DNA test is done.”
“Seriously?”
“And he doesn’t want to pay for it.”
“…you know what, fuck him. I’ve gone this long without him in my life. If he doesn’t want to be a part of it, I don’t need him in it.”
“And I don’t know what to tell you, Jered, but if he’s not your father, I don’t know who the fuck is.”

My mother, master of tact. I haven’t told many people that story. Melissa took my hand instantly, I accepted a joint my mother graciously offered and I went to my friend’s to get completely hammered on Jack Daniels.

I’ve never talked to John again. My friend and I stopped by his Sacramento home during our road trip move to Los Angeles. I knocked on the door, not sure if I would hit the first person who answered. Nobody did. A mail check revealed that he had moved. I have no idea where he is now, if he’s alive or dead, married or not. If I have more brothers and sisters.

It’s a strange feeling knowing that someone who should give a shit about you doesn’t find you worthwhile to be in your life. It’s stranger still to find a bunch of people who have no reason to care who will love you unconditionally. I have had many father figures in my life, including the phantom form that was the absence of one father. I’ve learned a lot from them, about them, about myself, about the world.

Part of me wants so bad to be successful just so John will see me on TV or buy one of my books and realize that he fucked up and I’m awesome. It’s a petty dream and one I’m sure holds me back on some level. But I get to see so many of my friends step up and be incredible, loving dads to their children. My best friend has brought me into his kid’s life as an uncle. And you know, there’s a freedom to not have a legacy of fame or infamy to live up to or be crushed under.

I’m my own man with my own talents and a future that is completely my own. Whatever impact I make on this world will be of my own doing, because I summoned the strength within myself to do it. There is something empowering by that.

So Dick, thanks for bringing up another child, one you had no reason to.

Rick, thank you for loving me like your own and for trying your best.

Terry, thank you for giving me strength, for taking away fear and for showing me that a hard will can take you places.

John, hell…thank you for showing me that the only person who can truly put value on me is me.

Dads: love your kids and keep up the good work. Happy Father’s Day.

A Memoriam

I have been remiss in posting the last few days. That’s on me. I was coming up with the third part of my Care Needed series (focused on sequels) and it was a little bit more difficult to formulate into words expediently than I expected.

So I thought, well, I won’t get it out Thursday, but I’ll pop it up Friday. Friday rolled around and I thought,  eh, I don’t want to post it so late, we’ll just swing Sarurday and I’ll apologize.

Then my best friend called me up to tell me that a mutual friend (and one of his best friends and one time brother-in-law) passed away a couple days back from a brain tumor he had been dealing with for a couple years. Frankly, I stopped worrying about updates. I did, however, feel compelled to write something so I could try and deal with the feelings.

Even so, I’m unsure of the words I want to choose to put down. It’s difficult, sometimes, to articulate the ways someone impacted your life. The loss is much more difficult for my best friend who had a stronger and closer friendship with him. Even so, the man was someone I had many interactions with over the years and was engaged to someone I loved very much. I was invested in him too, and though we were never terribly close, I admired him for his intelligence and his humor.

His sarcasm was on a whole different level. People often weren’t sure if they should be offended or not because they had a difficult time understanding the jokes he was making. He liked to push boundaries and buttons but he also was very loyal to the people he cared about and he was excellent at helping brighten a situation or a mood with a well-timed joke.

He was smart. Very smart. He was hilarious. He was loyal. He was good-natured and strong. He was far too young.

I went out last night with the intention of losing myself in a booze stupor. I was in a funk and my response to that, unhealthily, is to drown it. I felt sorrowful and was content to languish.

That didn’t happen necessarily. I took my new roommate out. He moved up from Oregon and knew nothing of the Anchorage nightlife, so I took him to the biggest bar in town, introduced him to some of my friends and we played pool (meaning he slaughtered me, because I am terrible at billiards). When we got there, I ran into this girl I like.

It’s funny. She’s beautiful. Artistic. Sings like nothing I’ve ever heard and I can’t get it out of my head. She’s funny. A bit nerdy. Most of all, she’s just fucking easy to be around.

I needed that. I did. We didn’t talk much while she was there. She sat and watched me suck at pool and drank her wine and didn’t talk shit. It was nice just…having a presence there for a little bit that I knew was supportive.

After she left, the night was a blur. Shots and toasts and memories and stories. I didn’t want to break down in front of this roommate I barely know but I did get temperamental with someone over a pool table towards the end of the night which is something I’ve never done. So there’s that.

I woke up today unsettled. This was the second friend I’ve lost in a month. Both were young, incredibly intelligent, had a sharp sense of humor. Though the circumstances around their passings were vastly different, they’re equally tragic and came way, way too soon.

I’m reminded of the fragility of mortality and how fleeting is the passage of time. It is a jarring sensation that puts things into perspective. On one planet in the vastness of the cosmos, how much energy are we wasting on grudges and negative emotions,  on wishing on what could have been or should have been? It’s difficult sometimes to see the beauty in life, in the little things. The smell of a flower on the wind or the way the sun glints off snow. It’s difficult sometimes to appreciate the impacts other people have on our lives with something as simple and small as a kind word or a thoughtful gift.

I have seen and am seeing the reprecussions of death amongst the friends and family of those that have been lost recently and it is absolutely heartbreaking. You can’t measure grief or emotional devastation, nor can you predict the waves in which it comes. The personal pain I feel is magnified by the ache I feel for those who knew them better and I only wish there was something more I could do.

For my part, I think it’s time I put a little more stock in the appreciation I show others for being a part of my life. I want to focus on taking more chances on the things I care about, on not letting my personal demons get the better of me. I want to let past tragedies and mistakes go and focus more on my future.

Life can be so beautiful if we only endeavor to look. It can also be so, so short. Too short for harsh words and doubts and regrets and the things that were never said.

Rest in peace,  my friend. The world’s a little darker with you gone, but our hearts are much lighter for your having been.

Care Needed: Reboots

On Monday, I talked about a much-maligned trend in filmmaking: the tendency to crank out familiar properties instead of original stories. I pointed out that, as these remakes, reboots, sequels and adaptations tend to be cash cows, they’re unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon. I wanted to highlight some examples that are done well, as well as examples that are done poorly, so I could highlight how to turn even the familiar into something enjoyable.

Just because something is guaranteed to make money if you slap the favorite bits together and put a polish on it doesn’t mean you should. A good story doesn’t necessarily require a huge budget; what it needs is care from the people involved. These are worthwhile stories to be told. Even something like a blockbuster or a slasher flick are meant to entertain, to take away the stresses of reality for an hour or two. However, distracting one’s mind doesn’t need to be mindless. With proper attention to plot, character relationships, and the elements that put asses into seats in the first place, you can turn anything into something better than “run of the mill”. (SEE: Jered’s 3 1/2 Magic Rules For Writing).

In part one of this column series, Care Needed: Remakes, I talked about how recycling classic stories of adventure or horror or intrigue is actually a solid idea to keep the fantastic stories alive and relevant with multiple generations of audiences, provided the people involved in the project don’t sacrifice the soul of the story. Today, I’ll be talking about:

Reboots:

Reboots aren’t exactly remakes and they’re not exactly sequels (although Predators was sort of both sequel and reboot and Rob Zombie’s Halloween was sort of both remake and reboot). Instead, they serve to give a franchise new life after it has grown stale.

They serve as original takes on familiar stories. A re-telling, as it were, to get people interested again in a franchise that most people think should have died. I mention, in Create a Horror Icon In Six Steps, that one needs to know when to call it quits or go in a different direction.

Predators did this well. After an iconic science fiction horror film with Schwarzenegger and an under-appreciated sequel with Danny “Too Old For This Shit” Glover, and two terrible outings in cross-over films with the xenomorphs, the people in charge knew that a new direction was needed.

Gone was Earth. Gone were the good guy commandos. Instead, we got several unique mercenaries, serial killers, drug lords and convicts with fleshed out, distinct personalities. Still there was the hunt. Still present was the feeling that these bad-asses were out of their league. Still there were the neat traps and the iconic monsters and the mano a mano fights.

Friday the 13th benefitted from a reboot as well. The storyline involving Jason Voorhees’ disfigurement and Pamela Voorhees’ psychotic murder spree was explained succinctly early in the film,  getting it out of the way and setting up Jason’s appearance and subsequent massacre.

They keep elements of the original movies, like the fact that Jason gains his hockey mask later on instead of always having it. They have likeable – and detestable – characters (one of my six rules), which made the many creative kills both dreaded and rewarding. Many knocked the film for focusing on the violence and the nudity, but that’s what made early slasher films like Halloween, Prom Night and the entire Friday the 13th franchise popular. It’s joked about by Jamie Kennedy’s horror buff character in Scream. Hell, Kevin Bacon takes an arrow through the throat right after getting his rocks off in the first Friday film.

The thing is, the nudity in this film was worked not only for comedic value but also to show how careless these teens were. The characters were fleshed out enough that the audience felt a connection with them. They were fun. And the violence,  the murders, when they did happen weren’t played for laughs. They were brutal and unrelenting and it left the audience with the same kind of tenseness and dread that the original series once invoked.

Did it work? Well. The film had a budget of 19 million dollars and took in over 90 million. So, a little bit.

The Amazing Spider-Man was a reboot to the franchise a mere five years after the critically panned (but still financially successful), cluttered piece of shit that was Spider-Man 3. People lost their minds (yet forget that Batman Begins waa only eight years after Batman and Robin, and no one gives a shit that Batman vs Superman is coming a mere FOUR years after The Dark Knight Rises).

And sure, it ignored the first three films, and sure it told the origin again, but so has every Batman and Superman movie. Amazing Spider-Man at least took it in a different direction, with a focus on Peter Parker’s parents and his intelligence (fully half of Spider-Man’s character and an aspect the first three films ignored completely). They introduced a new villain instead of rehashing a popular one for the second or third time. The action was top-notch. They brought in Gwen Stacy,  Peter’s actual true love.

And despite some plot holes and revisions made in the editing room and the cluttered mess in the sequel (which I will talk about later), it was a solid film with a fresh feeling. It became one of the most successful reboots of all time.

If you’re going to completely reboot a franchise,  though, you need to have those familar elements. The same concept that would make a terrible remake can also make a fantastic reboot. You get those things that people crave and then you subvert expectations. You do things that haven’t been seen before. But you keep it tight, because if there’s too much clutter or too little familiarity, it can work against you.

In this way, reboots can potentially be more difficult to pull off than a reboot. With a remake, 80-90% of your work is done. You can tweak things here and there to modernize it and add your personal touches, but the core is the same. You have to be a lot more creative with a reboot, taking a handful of character types, signature creatures or weapons or locales, plot beats and twists, themes and concepts but then build a brand new story with it.

Look at Terminator: Salvation. It had a budget of $200 million and grossed over $370 million worldwide which, while not the box office success they wanted, does not equal a flop. But it has a 33% on Rotten Tomatos and is 50-60% on Metacritic and IMDB. Why? Because there was a cyborg. Because it took place entirely during the war with Skynet. Because Arnold didn’t show up until the end, sort of.

I loved the hell out the movie. Terminator 2 and Terminator 3 both showed there were other models besides Schwarzenegger’s. The first film showed there were killer vehicles and other android/cyborg types. So to see the earlier and more vehicle-looking designs should have been cool. Seeing the “new” Arnold model at the end should have been a fun reveal. But the entire film was set during the war instead of trying to preemptively prevent us losing it. Instead of the iconic T-800, we got the T-600. It didn’t look sleek and futuristic because instead of being set in the “past” (our present), it’s at home in the gritty, fucked-up, devastated future. It was too new, too unfamiliar and despite that I love the film, it’s an example of a reboot that didn’t deliver because it went too far in a different direction.

That movie has less than half the Rotten Tomatos score of T3 and grossed $60 million dollars less. T3 ripped off the high speed chase in Terminator 2 and had Nick Stahl’s acting and that ending to suffer through, but it had a T-800, the past fighting the future, and a shiny new-model villain in Kristanna Loken.

Audiences are picky, man.

Reboors are hard to do, but they can bring back terror and action and excitement as long as you care enough to keep the defining features/qualities that made the original concept so appealing and weave them into a narrative that feels comfortable and sensible, but also fresh.

Give a shit, is what I’m saying. Don’t sign on to do a project if you have no investment in it. It isn’t fair to the original concept, it isn’t fair to your audience and you’re short-changing yourself as a creator.

Next: Sequels

Care Needed: Remakes

It seems to me that a lot of people tend to complain about the plentitude of reboots, remakes and sequels in the film market. It might just be the vocal minority, though, considering how much money they tend to make.

“It’s a shameless cash grab” is the argument that tends to be made and that’s not necessarily inaccurate, but it’s also the reason they’re not going anywhere any time soon. That means we’re going to have to deal with them and that means we should take a closer look at these things we supposedly hate.

One of the biggest issues that stems from having so many series-related films is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for original storytelling. It doesn’t mean that innovation is dead, only that major studios tend to be less inclined to take a chance on something unproven. Reboots, remakes and sequels have established fan bases. They’re basically a given profit. So the studios will green-light those projects with far less hesitance than they would have with an original concept because the same level of risk isn’t present.

Now, this leads to smaller indy studios picking it up, or actor-produced films pr crowd-funding. This tends to result in a smaller budgeted but tighter story with less interference. And this can be good!  And this could also turn out really poorly. However, that could be said about anything.

So it’s not that original storytelling has disappeared so much as largely relocated. Major studios still take risks sometimes; we just, as an audience, have to hope it turns out more like Looper and less like Transcendence.

Now, the second major argument is that the bulk of sequels, reboots and remakes are a pile of shit. There’s always “the original was better” or “this didn’t need a sequel”. There’s the dreaded threequel that inevitably blows the goodwill of the first two movies. There’s a methodology to how bad things get fucked up, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to get fucked up.

I’m going to lay out some tips, some things to consider when constructing one of these stories. Because my blog isn’t (yet) followed by millionaires and producers and people of interest, this probably won’t change shit. But who knows? Getting the ideas out is a start, and I will start with remakes. I’ll cover the others in subsequent posts so that it’s not one unbearably long piece to digest.

Remakes:

There is a subtle distinction between remakes and reboots and I’ll do my best to explain it. To start with, a remake is basically a re-telling of a specific story that had been done before. When doing a remake, it’s important to keep most of the same details.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong did this pretty well, though it ran a little long (almost twice as long as the original). It kept the core of the story, the original characters, the dangerous natives, fucking dinosaurs. Most importantly, it kept the heart of the original story. King Kong isn’t just about giant exotic monsters and a damsel in distress, it’s about a creature that finds beauty in something exotic (Ann Darrow), being captured and exposed to a world it’s completely unfamiliar with and then dying tragically. It’s important to feel sympathy for Kong. It’s important to show the craziness of Skull Island to really ramp up the wow factor. And it’s important to keep the major plot beats there. The remake really was a love letter to the story that captured the imaginations of audiences in 1933.

The A Nightmare on Elm Street remake was also well done. The idea was the same: Nancy (Thomson in the original, Holbrook in the remake) and friends are haunted and murdered via dreams possessed by immolated child killer Freddy Krueger.

The plot beats are the same: it starts with Nancy’s friend, there’s a boyfriend accused of murder who gets jailed and dies in jail, there’s pulling pieces of Freddy into the real world. It missed out on the iconic and gruesome death of Nancy Thomson’s boyfriend (young Johnny Depp) but kept the twist ending.

What I liked about the remake was that it played with your expectations. It knew that it was going to be released to an audience that wasn’t alive when the 1984 original was released but it also knew fans of the series would come to see it. So you see the glove come up in Nancy’s bathtub and expect her to get pulled under. She doesn’t and leaves the bathroom without incident, but then her room is ashes. You see Nancy’s mom on the doorstep at the end and expect her to get pulled through the window of the door. She doesn’t, but then she’s murdered via the mirror just inside. It keeps the major things but tweaks them just enough to surprise and give love to the original.

This is kind of a side-note, but a couple other things they did well: the burn make-up they used on Jackie Earl Haley was fantastically grotesque. Much more realistic and unsettling than Robert Englund’s get-up.

And while I love Englund and I own all of the Elm Street films, one of the major problems was that the series stopped taking itself seriously as a horror franchise. It became campy and absurd, with Krueger dropping puns and cheesy one-liners left and right and finding increasingly absurd ways to carry out his murders. Haley, meanwhile, took lines of dialogue that could and would be used with slapstick anywhere else in the series and delivered them in a genuinely creepy,  horrifying manner.

Now let’s look at a remake that didn’t do its job: 2012’s Total Recall.

Now, when they announced that the film was going to be remade, they said that it was going to be closer to the Philip K. Dick short story than the 1990 film. As Screeenrant’s article HERE points out, though, it seems like they focused much more on recreating major plot steps and character relationships in Arnold’s film than the story Dick wrote.

So why does a film with Colin Farrel, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston have 43% on Rotten Tomatos while the original is in the 80s? Because people wanted to see what today’s graphics and a less campy tone could do for Total Recall.

The remake had twice the budget and yet they completely removed Mars from the story (they did do an insane amount of work in the background of the high speed chase which goes to show they had the talent to have great art direction).

They talked a ton about how one of the areas, the one hosting the resistance, was highly radiated. Do we get the mutant weirdness that made the original film so endearing? (“Open your mind, Quaid!”) NOPE, they’re humans.

Most obnoxiously, they removed the ambiguity the original film’s ending had. In 1990, you weren’t sure if Quaid had dreamed it all or was actually a spy who succeeded in his mission. In 2012, they pretty much tell you Colin Farrel was in fact a bad-ass the entire time. The Total Recall remake fell flat because it kept the skeleton of the story but stripped all the guts out and rearranged the bones into something that vaguely resembled the original animal.

Why remake a film at all? Because there are good stories out there. Classic ones that resonated with a different generation. Modernizing them with newer storytelling techniques, better technology and actors more relatable to the younger audiences allows them to experience the things we did and allows us to experience the things our parents did.

Stories have long lifespans and there is plenty of scary or thoughtful or exciting or fantastic or thrilling tales that genuinely deserve to be enjoyed by more than one generation. Human interests shift, though, especially in relation to emerging technologies. Ten years ago, the internet was pretty fucking slow. Twenty years ago, the idea of kids having smart phones was ridiculous.

The story can persevere, even largely in its original form, but there do need to be concessions in the way that it’s shot and paced and marketed. I admit, too, that plenty of films have stood the test of time and are incredible on their own (I’m looking at you, Carpenter’s The Thing), but again, a lot of teenagers will be hesitant to see a movie from the 80s or before on “trust me” alone.

Remakes can serve as bridge to appreciating the source material. “You liked that? You should see the original,  see how well it holds up”. And maybe they will think the dated graphics are cheesy and the acting is hammy and they’ll prefer the remake because it’s “their” version. And now they’ve taken ownership of it.

Remakes work when you pay attention to the qualities that made the original so spectacular. The scenes and moments and relationships that made you feel things. But if you’re going to remake something, you need to respect it. Straying some and making differences can serve to better the story and smooth out inconsistencies or weaker aspects, but if you lose the soul, you lose the audience.

Was I inspired to start these focus articles because I desperately want to pen the Creature From the Black Lagoon remake? Well, that’s anyone’s guess (Yes, I do).

Part Two: Care Needed: Reboots

Part Three: Care Needed: Sequels