The Night Marty Feldman Almost Ran Me Down on Sunset Boulevard

It is 1980. photographer-16022_640

KUCI DJ Patrick Zetterlund and I are shooting the Sunset Strip on a Friday night. Between us we have several cameras. lenses and a bunch of film.

Our line is that we’re from a Swedish magazine. Patrick is Swedish, so that’s easy. I’m half Swedish on my mother’s side. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. We decide he’ll do all the talking and then ‘translate’ for me into Swedish. I know how to say ‘thank you’ in a reasonable accent.

We start shooting traffic as the sun goes down, doing some time exposures of head-and-tail lights on color slide film. We’re breaking down our tripods when a Porsche Carrera passes us at a ridiculous speed, followed immediately by a white Highway Patrol Trans Am. We follow the tail lights as they disappear around the bend.

Our next stop is Tower Records. Patrick pitches the manager our story and the guy swallows it like he’s at a Smörgåsbord.

We roam the store taking pictures of the customers looking at records, at the staff waiting on customers, and cover the store. We’re about ready to leave when the manager says “I bet you can get some really good shots from on top of the counter.” I almost blow it by jumping directly up next to the register, but manage to wait long enough for Patrick to ‘instruct’ me in Swedish.

We move up the Strip, shoot the exterior of the Whisky A-Go-Go and walk the line, taking shots of all the punks waiting for the show. Then we return to the other end of the Strip to finish at the Roxy and the Rainbow Grill. We park on the street and walk back to the Roxy. There isn’t much going on. We wander across the driveway to the entrance to the Rainbow.

We are talking to the valets, trying to find out if there are any celebrities inside when a dune buggy comes flying up the driveway. I turn to find Marty Feldman driving at me wearing a ball cap with moose antlers. I dive out of the way just in time. As I pull myself to my feet and try to get my camera into shooting position, Feldman stumbles into the Rainbow.

An Eye For Beauty

BeautyI think of the stupid shit I bought when I was younger because of beautiful sales girls. In the late 70s I bought a pair of jeans that were the biggest bell-bottoms ever. They were the pants equivalent of wide lapels, with so much extra denim it was like wearing sails. Years later I see Ashton Kutcher wearing them on ‘That 70s Show’ and they look – no, they still look really stupid.

It is 1988.

I am living with one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. We go to Century City for dinner and wait with the crowd outside Brentano’s. She goes to check on our progress, disappears into the crowd. I know when she’s coming back. I can’t see HER, but there is a mass, coordinated movement, like a crowd doing the wave, or synchronized swimmers. The head of every straight man in the crowd locates her, then clocks with her as she moves towards me.

She is THAT beautiful.

We are at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, checking on her grandmother. We get on the elevator and hit five. Just as the doors close, Bruno Kirby makes it on and presses four. It starts up. He turns, looks at us. We smile, nod. He smiles, nods. At me. Then he looks at HER. He smiles. He seems to go somewhere in his head. His eyes glaze over. He seems to forget he is smiling, or that he has a face.

She makes some comment and we all laugh. It gets quiet as the elevator reaches four. The doors open. He doesn’t get off right away, like he forgot it was his floor. The doors start closing. He is startled, then looks surprised – not that the doors are closing but that HE IS IN AN ELEVATOR.


He steps off, turns and looks at HER. He wishes us both (HER) a good evening. He moves to the drinking fountain adjacent to the elevator. He doesn’t take his eyes off HER. Somehow his hand finds the knob as he leans down, still looking at HER. He turns the knob.

A stream of water leaps from the faucet, arcing through the air.

Into his eye.

I don’t feel so bad about those pants anymore.

Curtis Hanson: In Memoriam

Curtis Hanson died last week. He had not been well for some time and rumors In Memoriam Curtis Hansoncirculated he was suffering from the onset of a form of dementia. His last film was, Chasing Mavericks in 2012, but he was unable to finish the film due to ill health. He was replaced by Michael Apted

Hanson was born in Reno, Nevada. In something of a parallel to Stanley Kubrick, Hanson dropped out of high school, finding work as a freelance photographer and editor for Cinema magazine.

Hanson worked on the screenplay for ‘The Dunwich Horror’, based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft, in 1970.

He began making small-budget films, working up to larger productions. He wrote the screenplay and directed ‘The Bedroom Window’ and directed ‘The River Wild’.

Hanson claimed as influences Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. He gravitated towards suspense thrillers.

While I admire the grit of Hanson’s film ‘8 Mile’, his films based on the books of James Ellroy and Michael Chabon were my personal favorites. It was Hanson’s adaptation of Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential’, the third novel in his ‘L.A. Quartet’, where it all came together.

Brian Helgeland met Curtis Hanson during post production on ‘The River Wild’. Helgeland had been trying to convince Warner Brothers to let him make ‘L.A. Confidential’. But Warner Bros. hired Hanson instead of him. Hanson saw promise in Helgeland, who recognizes Hanson took a chance when he brought him aboard the project.

“Curtis started out as a screen writer and had done horror films in his younger days, as I had,” said Helgeland in a recent interview. “In a funny sort of way, Curtis saw a younger version of himself in me.”

“We basically worked on our own dime a lot of it. I did a lot of drafts that I didn’t get paid for, but Curtis was always this cheerleader for the film. Not rah rah, just this kind of grim cheerleader and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so it was kind of, that was his big thing was to just put this thing on his shoulders and not put it down till he got it made.”

Hanson’s belief in the project, and in Hegeland, paid off handsomely. The film is the best adaptation of Ellroy’s work to date. ‘L.A. Confidential’ was a hit at the box office and has had a long life in rentals and streaming. Hanson and Hegeland shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for their work on ‘L.A. Confidential’.

And Hanson’s career was made.

After L.A. Confidential, Hanson worked on a screenplay and read scripts looking for his next project. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, (The Fabulous Baker Boys) had written a script based on Michael Chabon’s second novel, Wonder Boys. Hanson loved the characters. They made him laugh. He identified with the Grady Tripp character and the frustration building inside him. The film ‘Wonder Boys’ is a beautifully crafted comedy of errors that completely captures the chaos and hilarity of Chabon’s book.

Hanson continued to make features and, in 2011, he directed Too Big to Fail, based on the 2009 Andrew Ross Sorkin book. It was the last film he was to complete in his lifetime.

Regarding which character in their film Hanson identified with the most, Helgeland said:

“I think ironically, he associated more with Kevin Spacey’s character, [Jack] Vincennes, because Vincennes had sort of existed on the fringes of Hollywood. And not that Curtis was on the fringes of Hollywood, but he wasn’t an A-list go to guy at the time. And I think he had a lot to prove cause he loved Hollywood so much and he loved movies so much. And he knew he had this great movie in him, but…he had to give himself the chance to make it. It wasn’t going to be given to him.”

Curtis Hanson will be missed.

Some Thoughts on Seeing Dr. Strangelove on the Big Screen

Dr. Strangelove

Production model of the War Room set, from Dr. Strangelove

‘Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ is my favorite film. I was pleased to learn that John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola both held up Dr. Strangelove’s absurdist humor as the example of what they were trying to achieve in writing the screenplay for their film, ‘Apocalypse Now’ (My second-most favorite film).

I recently saw Dr. Strangelove again for the – I don’t know – 25th time? But it was only the second time I’ve seen it on a big screen. The first time there was a projection problem with the first reel. They gave us our money back and let us stay for the rest of the film. It was okay from the second reel on. But I don’t fully count it as having seen the film in a theater.

I noticed several things that I’d never noticed before. First, I noticed a typo in the opening credits. These credits are famous. The design, by Pablo Ferro, has been much-copied over the years. I can’t believe I noticed it but it’s never going to show up the way it did if you’re watching it on even the largest large-screen television.

And the funniest part to me is that the typo is on the writing credit. It says ‘Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern.’ Then, underneath that is the credit to George’s book, ‘Red Alert’, which was the original material Kubrick planned to base the film on.

The credit reads ‘BASE on the novel ‘Red Alert’ by Peter George. I wonder if Kubrick ever noticed it.

The next thing I noticed, again because it was on a BIG screen, was that Miss Foreign Affairs, the centerfold in the Playboy magazine that Col. Kong (Slim Pickens) is reading, is Tracy Reed, who plays Miss Scott, General Turgidson’s (George C. Scott) ‘confidential secretary’. Apparently this was intended and I just never noticed it before.

I’d also never noticed a couple of shots with General Turgidson in the foreground during the War Room scenes in which other men seated at the table behind him are slightly out of focus. One of those men appears to have the hair and tinted glasses of Dr. Strangelove, but it doesn’t look like Peter Sellers to me.

I noticed that there is a point in the final scene when Sellers, in the Strangelove character, is explaining the concept of using mineshafts to preserve a portion of the country’s population. Actor Peter Bull, who plays Soviet Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky, stands behind and slightly to the left of Strangelove’s wheelchair.

It is well-known that Sellers’ improvisations drove large sections of the War Room scenes. Kubrick admitted to laughing frequently and heartily at Sellers while filming. But Bull, whose stern countenance completely melts down can barely stifle outright laughter at Sellers. Kubrick must have been faced with the choice of using the only take of a brilliant Sellers improv or leaving it out.

I thought I’d found something new, but I googled it to see if I could find another reference.


The first item was the Wikipedia entry for ‘Breaking character’. Bull’s performance is second on the list.

That final scene, by the way, wasn’t the original final scene. In fact, the final scene was shot and not used. It featured a pie fight in the War Room in which every character ended up completely covered in merengue. Kubrick decided it against using it. So, in a way, he was stuck using the take with Bull breaking character.

Something else I learned as I was writing this. The advanced screening for Dr. Strangelove was not held. It was scheduled for the evening of November 22nd, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy would, a few days later, prompt Kubrick to bring actor Slim Pickens into a dubbing studio to record the word ‘Vegas’ to replace the word ‘Dallas’ in his commentary on the contents of the bomber crew’s survival gear.

“A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff” wasn’t funny anymore.


The Galloping Gourmet to the Rescue!

It is 1978.Galloping Gourmet

I am invited to a dinner party – my first – hosted by my friends, Valerie Riordan and Noelle Harris. They live in a duplex in a nice neighborhood near Cal State Long Beach. I’m excited about going to a dinner party.

I knock and Val and Noelle open the door. They are stunned.

“You are an hour early,” Val tells me. They seem very stressed.

I’m embarrassed. How did I make such a mistake?

They are not happy. At first I think they are not happy with me showing up early.

Then they look at each other. Something is communicated between them silently. They both turn back to me.

“Can you make crepes?” Noelle asks.

I am somewhat taken aback by her question. Then I realize why they are so stressed.

“Yes. I think so.”

I’ve never made crepes before in my life.

“Why do you think you can do it?” Val asks. They wave me in.

 “I watched Graham Kerr do it once on the ‘The Galloping Gourmet’.”

 Val and Noelle look at each other, shrug. Back to me again.

 “The kitchen is this way.”

For anyone who grew up in the 60s – 70s, Graham Kerr was the host with the most. He cooked and drank his way through afternoon television, his catch phrase going to commercial “Now it’s time for a short slurp!”.

I loved watching him cook. I saw many, MANY episodes of the show. I don’t remember anything else. But I remember him demonstrating a technique for cooking crepes. I remember it because it was so weird. He cooked the crepes on the BOTTOM of the pan.

On the kitchen counter is a bowl of batter. Beef Stroganoff is ready to be put in the oven nestled within the as yet unmade crepes. I ask to see their pans and find one of suitable size and without a coating inside the pan. I butter the bottom of the pan and light the burner.

I burn the first two. But after that I make a steady stream of crepes. Val and Noelle take them as fast as I can make them, rolling up the beef and putting them in a large baking dish.

When the doorbell rings, the smell of cooking Stroganoff crepes greets the other dinner guests.

Scott Wannberg: Mad Roman Candle

Charles Black organized the readings and made the flyers on his computer at work. His was a unique spirit, and he drew poets from across the Westside to this tiny place, where we’d drink Guinness and listen to poetry. And that is how I met the poetic roman candle that was Scott Wannberg.

Scott was a bear with breathing problems. He managed Dutton Books in Brentwood. His hair was always greasy and his gigantic forehead always glistened. He en-THUSED. When Scott was there he was your biggest fan. And we were ALL fans of Scott’s. Inside Scott was a pair of lungs that weren’t up to the challenge and a heart that BEAT.

He was, very simply, the BEST poet. Even with his under achieving lungs, the man would get up with a sheaf of papers and WAIL, his delivery half Television’s jerk, half Ramones rampage. He plowed through poetry that came out of him like the sweat. He was PRO-lific.

Scott loved movies. We were sitting at a table one night during a break, admiring a particularly beautiful cascade on a pint of stout when I mentioned I had studied film in school. I don’t know how it came up, but we discovered that in addition to a common interest in film, we both really, REALLY loved John Frankenheimer’s film ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. Scott got really, REALLY excited and began sweating profusely. We drank Guinness and swapped reasons we loved the film.

I began expounding on one of my favorite scenes. Scott grabbed a steno pad and started writing as I described how Frank Sinatra’s character (Major Marko) first encounters Janet Leigh’s character (Eugenie) on a train. Major Marko is going through a sort of breakdown as the brainwashing he received at the hands of the Communists is leaking into his conscious mind. Leigh watches him as he tries to light a cigarette, only to drop it in his cocktail and flee the compartment for the seclusion of the end of the car. Leigh joins him, speaks to him slowly, pleasantly, as she lights a cigarette for him.

The more I talked, the more excited I became. And the more excited I became, the faster Scott wrote. He gripped the pen like it was trying to get away. They wrestled, filling the page of the steno pad.

“The way she spoke to him, the things she said,” I told him, “and the things he said to her…It was like a rendezvous between two spies, exchanging some complicated set of passcodes in order to establish each other’s credentials.”

Scott tore the page from the steno book. He slid it across the table and took a long drink from his beautifully-cascading stout. I looked at what he had written. It was a poem called ‘Steve’. It was where we were and what was happening around us. I was telling him about ‘The Manchurian Candidate’.

He wrote it in real-time.

In ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac wrote:

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Scott was a wonderful man and an amazing poet who Kerouac would have liked, because no one embodied those mad yellow roman candle spider stars more than Scott Wannberg.

Scott Wannberg

The Ramones: A Long Way From CBGB’s

It is 1978. I am slowly coming to terms with punk rock and new wave music. My boss atRamones the Public Information Office, Steve Emmett, is tall and thin, with a neat brush cut. Steve talks about playing beach volleyball all the time. His skin is pale. I ask him about it. He tells me he uses super strong sunscreen. I ask why. He admits that he is a punk rocker. The brush cut gets brushed up when he’s out seeing bands.

He is very excited – The Ramones are playing at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

My colleague on the college newspaper, James Gibson, has two tickets to the show. He invites me to go. He’s reviewing it for the paper. I go because I’m curious. It is my first exposure to live punk rock. Talk about going from zero to sixty in no seconds.

Before the concert is an announcement: Dancing will not be permitted. Above the stage, on the proscenium arch, is a quote: “Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found indispensable.” I point this out to Jim and we laugh at the irony of The Ramones playing a venue like this. They are a long way from CBGB’s.

The band takes the stage. Dee Dee Ramone counts off : One two three four. My life changes forever. We stand up. The entire audience stands up. I can’t tell you what song they play first. Or second. Or third. But they play them all with only a four-count in between. They play four songs before they stop and Joey Ramone talks to the audience a little. Then the four-count again and they launch into another burst. When all your songs are under 2:30, you can play lots of songs at a show. This night they play everything.

We cannot stand still. Security is patrolling the aisles looking for violators of the ‘No dancing’ dictum, but we pogo wildly in front of our seats. The music is loud and fast and powerful. It MOVES me. I grin from ear to ear. I have never had this much fun at a concert, and I’ve seen a few.

The audience is a surging sea. Security guards drag a tall, thin guy with a brush cut up the aisle. It is my boss.

The Fifth Wheel and the Belly Dancer

belly dancerIt is 1980.

I am the fifth wheel – two couples and I. I hate being the single guy all the time. I’m in a dry spell. But my luck is already changing – I just don’t know it yet.

We are at Apadana, a Greek restaurant in Newport Beach. After finishing our moussaka and lamb kebabs, the waiter invites us to watch the belly dancing. We are seated at a table for four in the front row on the aisle. ‘Fifth Wheel’ is seated in a chair on the aisle.

Like a baby.

The show starts. Samar, the first dancer, is gorgeous. I have never seen belly dancing except on TV and you don’t get it on TV. Eye contact is the difference. Watching a woman (Or a man, if that’s what floats your boat) undulate around the dance floor, occasionally making eye contact with me – and every other man in the place – is amazing.

As she concludes her dance, she moves towards our end of the dance floor. I watch as she passes around behind me into the aisle. The men in the crowd become very enthusiastic. I don’t want to do an ‘Exorcist’ head-turn to watch so I sit politely looking at my friends, waiting until she moves to my other side. I watch the faces of the two couples I am with. Suddenly, they all grin. I am puzzled.

But not for long.

I hear a breathy female voice in my right ear. “Are you ready for this?”

I’m not sure I am, but my mouth says ‘Yes’ anyway.

Reverse motorboat. That’s the only way to describe what happens. Samar steps up behind me, rests my head between her breasts, and begins shaking them back and forth. My friends tell me later they could see me blushing in the dark.

The place goes crazy. Men are waving money in the air, fives and tens, their wives and girlfriends either laughing drunkenly or glaring at them woodenly.

Samar backs away and moves up the aisle, allowing white-haired men in suits and ties to stick their money in the waistband of her costume. But for all that money, not one of them gets a motorboat ride.

I feel used. But I’m okay with that.

‘I Confess’: The Religious Hitchcock

HitchcockIn the recent HBO documentary HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, director DAVID FINCHER describes directors in general, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK in particular.

“If you think that you can hide what your interests are – what your prurient interests are, what your noble interests are, what your fascinations are, if you think you can hide that in your work as a film director, you’re nuts, you know. And I think that he was one of the first guys who said I’m gonna go with that. I gotta be me.”

The Three Sides of Alfred Hitchcock

There is a triptych of films that define Alfred Hitchcock: VERTIGO, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, AND I CONFESS. Each film explores a completely different aspect of Hitchcock’s personality. Vertigo is the artist representing his (perhaps unconscious) desire to recreate his infatuation with his lost icy blonde, GRACE KELLY. SHADOW OF A DOUBT is Hitchcock’s greatest exploration of his core subject matter – a serial killer drops into Our Town. But Hitchcock’s I Confess is representative of the religious, the Catholic Hitchcock.

Hitchcock: Growing Up Catholic in Kensington

Hitchcock was born in the closing days of the Victorian era to a pair of Roman Catholics who clung to their religion, being surrounded as they were by Protestants in their Kensington neighborhood. Hitchcock was brought up as a Roman Catholic and educated by Jesuits at St Ignatius’ College in Stamford Hill, London.

According to THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK ENCYCLOPEDIA by STEPHEN WHITTY, the Jesuits were a traditionally rigorous order, though their methods seem a bit diabolical.

“The experience schooled him in logic and discipline but also left him with a sense of fear – in a sneaky form of torture, corporal punishment for any offense was scheduled, so that the student was forced into dreadful anticipation – and of human duality, ‘a consciousness of good and evil, that both are always with me’.”

Fear is not the first word that comes to mind, though it certainly applies. By scheduling punishment for a future time, the Jesuits didn’t just create fear.

They created suspense.

The Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview

The film Hitchcock/Truffaut documents the marathon interview in which François TRUFFAUT, a passionate film critic and journalist who had himself become an established director, interviewed Hitchcock over the course of several days. The interview produced over 20 hours of audio tape. Truffaut’s questions were respectful – he prepared for the interview with intense research.

During their interview, Truffaut asked Hitchcock “Do you accept the idea of being considered a Catholic artist?”

Hitchcock responded: “Go off the record.”

The tape machine was shut off. We have no way of knowing what Hitchcock said to Truffaut until the tape recorder was turned on again.

Hitchcock later explained “I don’t think I can be labeled a Catholic artist, but it may be that one’s early upbringing influences a man’s life and guides his instinct.”

Later in the interview Truffaut stated “It would have been impossible for a non-Catholic filmmaker to shoot the prayer scene in THE WRONG MAN.”

Hitchcock responded “Yes, that’s right.”

Truffaut reiterated his thesis.


Hitchcock later added, “I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

Hitchcock’s ‘Wrong Man’ Paradigm

Hitchcock claimed that his father sent him to the neighborhood police station with a note instructing them to lock him up to show what happened to bad little boys. This is the great repeating trope throughout a large part of his oeuvre. A man is falsely accused and must prove his innocence. It is at once a dream image, a la Kafka, and a spiritual one.

In the entryway to Hitchcock’s home hung a painting of the death mask of Christ. Can there by a more sublime illustration of ‘the wrong man’ than Jesus Christ?

The Catholic Hitchcock

When talking about his schooldays, Hitchcock told Truffaut about his odd situation and about the moral sense he developed.

“Ours was a Catholic family,” he said, “and in England, you see, this in itself is an eccentricity.”  Hitch added that at school “a strong sense of fear developed—moral fear—the fear of being involved in anything evil.”

According to Father Mark Henninger, writing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL, Hitchcock worked to downplay his Catholicism. Father Henninger came to Hitchcock’s home to conduct Mass for Hitchcock and his wife, Alma. According to Father Henninger, Hitchcock created the impression that he was not a religious man.

“Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”

In his interview with Truffaut, Hitchcock had said, ‘I am definitely not anti-religious; perhaps I’m sometimes neglectful.”

“There’s a little bit of Catholicism in most of Hitch’s films — even if at times it isn’t much more than an Ash Wednesday smudge,” JOEL GUNZ writes, via his website THE HITCHCOCK GEEK. “As such, it’s easy to say that he belonged to the 20th century’s small handful of Catholic modern artists — a very short list that also included GRAHAM GREENE, (with whom he had tried to work), Expressionist painter GEORGES ROUAULT and not many others.”

Imagine Greene (Who wrote THE THIRD MAN, TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, and OUR MAN IN HAVANA) collaborating with Hitchcock. The mind reels.

Hitchcock’s Ultimate Wrong Man: Father Michael Landon

I Confess out-wrongs The Wrong Man for one very simple, very Catholic reason. But even The Wrong Man is a very Catholic movie.

The Wrong Man is based on actual events. According to Gunz, “The story is about an everyman, a Queens, New York-bred Italian Catholic named Christopher Manuel (Manny) Balastrero (HENRY FONDA), who is wrongly accused of committing a series of robberies. In this case of mistaken identity, he is arrested, put on trial and nearly convicted in place of the real culprit.”

Balastrero must prove his innocence in order to be released from jail and to restore his good name.

In I Confess, there is, what is in simple terms referred to as a ‘plot complication’. Father Michael Logan, played by MONTGOMERY CLIFT, is the wrong man. But the real killer committed the crime wearing one of the priest’s cassocks, and hid the blood-stained garment in the priest’s footlocker.

And then, he confessed his crime to that very priest, knowing that his confession would be safe and that the priest could never reveal the truth, even if he went to prison.

He effectively prevented the only witness from naming him as the murderer. And he makes damning statements that focus the attention of the investigators on Father Logan. As a result, Father Logan is unable to clear his name.

He, in effect, becomes a stand-in for the real criminal, as Jesus was for the insurrectionist, Barabbas.

Perhaps Father Henninger is correct, that Hitchcock deliberately downplayed his beliefs and practices to separate them from his very public persona. But, like Truffaut, it’s hard to watch films like The Wrong Man and especially I Confess without a sense of a deep and profound belief.


This Train is Bound for Glory – With Stops in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan

It is 1991. I am driving east on I-10 on my way to Joshua Tree. On the right side of the Railroad Crossing Signfreeway I see a train ahead. Four locomotives pull this train, which is the most I can remember ever seeing. As the train approaches I can see the first of the flat cars behind the engines.

There are tanks, one per flatcar. I don’t mean tank cars. I mean tanks. We are months into the Gulf War. I assume this train is taking its load to March Air Force Base to be loaded onto C-17s. The train lumbers under the weight of all this mechanized armor.

I see past the first cars as the train moves around a bend. Behind the flat cars carrying tanks are – more tanks. And more. I’ve never seen so many tanks. And they keep coming.

More and more pass me by as the train continues on its way to March. I’m not counting but I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t fifty tanks behind those locomotives. Then I see something in the distance that changes things up a bit. The flat cars are no longer each carrying a single tank, but a single asphalt spreader.

The asphalt spreaders come on, car after car. As I watch another fifty flat cars pass, it occurs to me that this train is a symbol of what it is we are doing in Iraq. We are blowing shit up, shattering the infrastructure. And then we’ll come along with a dustpan and broom and clean up.

Suddenly I see the caboose. That there is only one seems strange, considering the overwhelming number of everything else on the train. As my car passes the caboose, a man in denim overalls stands at the back with a gigantic screwdriver, turning a gigantic screw.

Suddenly I realize that I have been fooled by an optical illusion. The train isn’t moving at all. It appears that this man has ultimate control over it. All of this destructive power is under his hand, controlled by that gigantic screwdriver. For all of its power, it goes nowhere if he does not want it to.

That’s a lot of power for one person to have.


If you liked this piece, please share it with your friends, follow me on Twitter (@sdeeble), like the Facebook fan page for my novel, ‘Persistence of Vision’, and subscribe to my blog. Thanks!