Politics in America 22: Big Al’s Big Al Day

Big Al Fresco rose early that Election Day. He rose with a big grin on his face. It was the grin to beat all grins. When Al grinned, his grin was the grinningest. He was about to crown a king and that king was P F Sneeze. Against all odds, a pig farmer from a no-name town of twenty-five was about to become the leader of the free world. And Big Al was responsible for that.

On top of all that, his rump in the hay the night before was good. Very good. At his age, he had thought he didn’t have it in him anymore. Then he met Ellie May. Oh sure, he had seen her movies. But they were nothing compared to the real deal. And Ellie May was the Real Deal. Life was so good it couldn’t get any better.

On an Election Day, Big Al was usually up before the rooster crowed. Not this Day. P F Sneeze had Little Twerp licked but good. What could go wrong?

Evidently Big Al was not expecting a case of the Murphy’s Laws. You’d think he would have known better. He’d been around politics since he was knee high to a grasshopper. He’d seen elections come and elections go. If he knew anything, he knew that something can always go wrong.

Big Al gave Ellie May a big smooch, then straightened his tie and walked through that motel door and out into the nice bright morning sun. If a man could float on air, Big would have been floating on air. He opened the door of his black caddy and slipped into the driver’s seat. He started up the engine and off he went to Campaign Headquarters for the congratulatory congratulations.

He hated to brag but he had pulled off the coup of the century. Maybe the coup of the millenium. It was indeed the coupest of the coup.  He had a lot to brag about. At least, that was what he thought as he pulled up into the empty parking lot of Campaign Central.

“Where the hell is everybody?” he asked himself, that Texas drawl of his sliding off his tongue real easy-like. Then he realized everybody must be at the polls or picking up voters. That kind of stuff you do on Election Day. But there was no one but no one in the parking lot. There should be at least a few workers manning the phones. He walked into the offices. The silence was silent. The quietness was quiet too. It was very deadly. And the room was totally empty. There wasn’t a single solitary soul in the joint. Made Big Al feel like a bartender who had just run out of booze.

Suddenly the skip in his step went away. Something was wrong. And not just wrong but very wrong.

Then the phones began their ringing. Every one of them all at once. He walked over and picked one up. It was a reporter on the other end.

“Finally,” Mr. Reporter said. “Can you give us a statement?”

“A statement?” Big Al asked. “About what?”

“There is a rumor that all the P F Sneeze Campaign Workers were raptured last night. Is that true?”

“What in the name of Billy Bob Thornton are you talking about?”

Next Wednesday All Hell Breaks Loose 

Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: The Martians Are Coming! The Martians Are Coming!

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Mars Attacks!” (1996).

May 9th. Lockjaw, Kentucky. A day that will live in human history forever.  That was the day that a farmer in “Mars Attacks” drove up to his neighbor’s house. Asked the neighbor if he was making barbecue. It wasn’t barbecue the farmer smelled. It was a herd of cows with fire on their back, running away from a flying saucer.

Suddenly Earth was being invaded. Not just invaded but inundated by Martians. It was about to be “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds” rolled into one.
Tim Burton has given us one heck of a parody of all those cheap science fiction movies of the fifties. Based on the Topps cards, he gathered a star-studded cast that included Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Danny Devito, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Jim Brown, Jack Black, Pam Grier and a whole bunch of Martians for a  comedy as big as any extraterrestrial invasion could be.

On top of all that, Jack Nicholson does double duty as President James Dale and Las Vegas developer Art Land. Even though this is a Tim Burton movie, there’s no Johnny Depp anywhere to be seen. Unless he’s a Martian. The Martian ambassador does have that Johnny Depp kind of smile though.

With Jack Nicholson as President, Earth shouldn’t have anything to fear. Who could have said a more sincere, “Why don’t we all just get along” than Jack? After all, he was very convincing as a Mafia hitman in “Prizzi’s Honor”, as the Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman” and as the Devil in “The Witches of Eastwick”.

Unfortunately Jack isn’t persuasive enough. The Martians don’t want to get along. Isn’t that always the problem with a higher civilization when it has to deal with the indigenous people? And the Martians don’t want to party either.  They’re mad about something and they’re not telling.

Part of the problem is that they can’t understand plain English. Or any other kind of English either. We keep letting them know we want to be friends in a number of different ways. They keep firing little space ray guns at us. It’s pretty obvious they don’t want to be friends. Especially after they blow up Congress. ‘Course we could consider that they are doing us a favor. Nobody likes Congress, and that’s a fact.

What can President do? Nuke the Martians? Throw a pie in their faces? Throw a temper tantrum? Create an Adopt a Martian Day? No. He goes on tv and speaks to the American people, letting them know everything’s going to be all right. Right.

The Martians have other ideas. They plan on visiting the Washington Monument and touring the White House? Not. Instead they take out the Nancy Reagan Chandelier. Then they’re off to that capital of Western Civilization, Las Vegas. There they’ll play the one armed bandits, take a chance on some twenty-one and catch a Tom Jones Show. They’re real fans.

And they just love fireworks. Especially when they’re in charge of the pyrotechnics. When the Martians get hungry, there’s nothing they like better than a nuclear weapon for lunch. In other words, they’re real badasses. They even have a transformer on their side.

There’s only one thing that will save Earth. I won’t give up a spoiler here. Let’s just say, “Thank the Good Lord for Slim Whitman.” You just never know when an “Indian Love Call” will come in handy.

The moral of “Mars Attacks”: The next time a Martian shows up at your house, offering peace. Don’t believe him.

Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick: Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl

It’s Thursday again. You know what that means. Uncle Bardie’s Weekly Music Pick. Uncle Bardiie gives a double thumbs up to this week’s selection. “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl” (1972) by Looking Glass:

This one is a guilty pleasure. I don’t know what it is about this song and this band together. In 1972, I was just getting ready to start college. This song kept on coming on the radio. Maybe I fell in love with it because I was just so young and dumb. Maybe I just loved the sound. It was another time and another place. Anyway I thought I would throw this one out into the cosmos. Take or leave it. It’s still fun music.

Politics in America 21: The Great Muffin Attack

It wasn’t that the ingredients were not great. They were. It wasn’t that they weren’t good muffins. They were mmm-mmm-good. That was the problem. Nobody had paid much attention to muffins until…Well, let’s just say, the muffins were a problem.

Mrs. P F Sneeze was bored waiting out the election back home. She’d done a jim dandy job of campaign managing, but her husband’s election was a pretty well foregone conclusion. Big Al noticed the homesickness in the eyes of his partner-in-crime. So he packed her bags and sent her home with a “It’s in the bag.”

When Betty Sue got bored, she cooked. It was a good way to pass the time and to keep her man happy. P F Sneeze was the best fed man in Podunk County. On top of that, Bessie Mae was the best fed hog. Betty Sue’s cooking had turned a scrawny, itty bitty thang into the blue ribbon pig she was. In the cooking vocation, B S Pudding would have given Julia Child a run for her money Weazel Sneeze style. Guess you might say, Betty Sue Pudding was a great cook.

She came by it au naturel. She got it from her mama and her mama got it from her mama. The mamas went all the way back to the Mayflower. There had been one of her mamas at Plymouth Rock. There had been another at the Salem Witch Trials. That Puritan lady had handed out special treats to the judges to make sure they came to the right verdict. There had been still another, feeding George Washington on the day he licked the stuffing out of Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown. There had been one at the Constitutional Convention, serving up grits and jowls for the delegates. That was why it had taken all summer to knock that Constitution out. So you might say she got it the old fashioned way. Her mama taught Betty Sue good.

After hanging up the phone with Brandi Wine Moonglow, her old rival in high school, Betty Sue thought, “Now what?” After all, she knew that idle hands were the devil’s workshop and she wasn’t about to have none of that nonsense hanging around her neck. I know that is a mixed metaphor. But what are you going to do? After all, this is a Weazel Sneeze tale. Like all Weazel Sneeze stories there are bound to be a few mixed metaphors. It’s in the water, so to speak.

Betty Sue Elmora Doris Bobbie Jo Pudding-Sneeze, being Betty Sue Elmora Doris Bobbie Jo Pudding-Sneeze, was never one to leave well enough alone. She took herself a gander out the front window and saw the Secret Service guy just sitting there. He looked hungry. Betty Sue had a right neighborly solution to that. She made him up some of the best greens and hog jowls West of the Mississippi. And East too. She served that plate up hot with some nice cornbread and big glass of ice tea.

Mr. Secret Service finished his plate clean. It was so clean it looked like a barrel of locusts went through Mormon territory. That plate was clean. He looked up from his plate and smiled that big Secret Service grin of his and said, “I haven’t had food like that since my mama’s cooking, Ma’am. Thank you kindly.”

Betty Sue was pleased as punch that he’d enjoyed her cooking so much. She could not quit there. She was like a drug addict in search of a new hit. Once she started, she could not stop. She had to keep on cooking. Like any alcoholic will tell you, “You just can’t stop with one.” Betty Sue was hooked and she was hooked big time. Her drug was cooking.

Betty Sue had never tried muffins before. Why not?” she surmised.She rambled through her “Joy of Cooking“, her “Betty Crocker” and a dozen or more cookbooks till she found the purrfect muffin recipe. It was in her “Sunday Go To Meetin’ and Have a Good Time, Y’all Extravaganzer”. Right there at the very center on page 451 of that guidebook for delicious Southern eats.

She headed out to the storehouse and collected the muffin fixin’s. Then it was back into the kitchen. I would tell you what Betty Sue Pudding put in those muffins. If I did that, I would have to kill you. Or rather Betty Sue would have to kill you, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we? Lets just say she put a little of this, a lot of that and a smidgen of the other, and she whipped up some fine-and-dandies. Then she slipped them muffin babies into the oven. She went into the living room and twiddled her thumbs waiting.

After a while, she was back in the kitchen, pulling those babies right out of the oven. Only now they were full grown adult muffins. She slipped her fork into one just for a taste. She let it cool, then slid it into her mouth. That muffin was so good she just about had an orgasm right there and then. It was like she’d died and gone to heaven. It was that good.

Now, for a person of the cooking vocation, no cooking is good until it is shared. She lovingly placed a pile of those muffins on a platter, poured a big glass of sweet milk and took it out to her Secret Service Guy. He took a bite out of a muffin and he was gone. He couldn’t stop himself even if he tried. That day he must have put on forty muffinized pounds.

Betty Sue could not quit there. It would have been an act of cowardice. The world wanted her muffins. The world needed her muffins. Pretty soon she had the kitchen stacked plumb full of muffins. Only one thing to do with all them baked goods. She had Corn Cob Jones bring the official Weazel Sneeze pickup truck over. She loaded its bed with boxes and boxes of muffins and gave instructions to pass out every last one to the citizens of Weazel Sneeze.

There was no stopping her. She continued her baking. She baked and baked and sent all those muffins off to campaign workers as a personal thank-you for all their hard work. They were UPSed and FedExed to campaign offices all over the country. The campaign workers loved them.

There was only one problem. Everyone who ate a muffin ended up stoned for five days. Tuesday morning of Election Day, not one Do Naughty Campaign worker showed up at their station. Not one campaign worker picked up voters. Not one campaign worker got out the vote. Not one campaign worker even voted.

Because of this, the vote for P F Sneeze and Little Twerp went neck and neck. It was about to be closest Presidential election in history. The Do Evies could not have done a better job of evening the odds than Betty Sue Pudding and her muffins did.

Next Week: Election Day Blues

Uncle Bardies’ Movie of the Week: A film noir that is the film noirest

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Double Indemnity” (1944).

James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote pulp fiction that stamped American literature with an edge. These guys were no Hemingways but their influence was just as powerful. Film makers turned their novels into the black and white movies that the French labelled film noir features. Film-noir-ism explored the underside of American society. They featured murder, but not just any murder. It was murder in that twilight zone of lust and greed and passion and failed ambition.

The movement began with Billy Wilder and the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” It is the story of a pair who cross over to the dark side into the film-noir-zone. Fred MacMurray plays Neff, an insurance salesman on the prowl for new customers. Since he’s in the vicinity of a client who needs to renew his auto insurance, he figures why not stop in and collect the renewal fee.

Neff shoves his way past the maid who answers the door, demanding to see the man of the house. Of course, the man isn’t home. His wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), is. As Neff stands in the living room, she appears on the second floor. She has nothing on but a towel. She tells the maid, “I’ll be right down.”  When a woman that looks like Barbara Stanwyck tells an insurance salesman she’ll be right down, it is a pretty good idea that the insurance salesman should run like hell. Because there is a good chance she is up to no good. Of course, that is exactly what Phyllis is up to.

She suggests Neff come back the next evening. Her husband will be home then. Then she changes her mind. She calls and suggests Thursday afternoon would be better. When Neff shows up, the husband is nowhere in the house. And it’s the maid’s day off. Some coincidence, huh?

Phyllis wants to purchase accident insurance for the hubby. Just in case he loses his life working the oil rigs. And she doesn’t want the husband to know.

Neff tells her no and leaves. But this is not a woman who takes no for an answer. She puts on the persuasion and pretty soon the insurance salesman has gone patsy. Phyllis is out for murder and she’s found a patsy. Did I say murder? Yes, there is a murder. And the motive smells like honeysuckle.

Neff has a plan. To get the husband on a train. If he dies on the train, the policy pays double indemnity. So it’s murder on a train. Agatha Christie did it. Alfred Hitchcock did it. So why not Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

After they’ve pulled off the murder, Phyllis returns home. Neff sneaks back into his apartment, so he’ll have an alibi. He wasn’t seen leaving it. He goes downstairs and says hello to the garageman. More alibi. From there, Neff goes for a walk and has a realization. “That was all there was to it,” Neff narrates.”Nothing had slipped. Nothing had been overlooked. There was nothing to give us away. And yet, as I was walking down the street to the drugstore, suddenly it came to me that everything would go wrong.” These are the words of a doomed man, words written by a master of dialogue, Raymond Chandler.

Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keys, Neff’s friend and the insurance investigator who probes the if, ands and buts of the victim’s death. When the insurance company president claims the husband committed suicide, it is Keys who says it couldn’t be suicide. Jumping off a train that slow wouldn’t kill a fly. Just as Neff thinks they got away with the murder, Keys shows up at Neff’s apartment. He’s got a hunch. When he gets a hunch, he’s like a hound dog on the trail of a prey. He don’t let up.

The perfect murder isn’t perfect anymore. And somebody is about to find out he’s been a patsy.

With “Double Indemnity”, Billy Wilder put the noir in film noir. Only his fourth film, this was his first masterpiece. It was the one that put him on the road to becoming one of the most important film directors of the twentieth century. Over the next twenty years, he would give American audiences some of the best movies ever made. Movies like “The Lost Weekend”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Ace in the Hole”, “Some Like It Hot” and “Sabrina”.

For a screenwriter, he chose Raymond Chandler to be his co-writer. It was Chandler’s first screenplay. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson were hesitant to come down off their pedestals to do what they thought would be a B-movie. Somehow Billy Wilder convinced them. And all three’s careers were enhanced because of it.

In addition to the seven Academy Award nominations, “Double Indemnity” showed that Fred MacMurray could step out of his safe zone and give one of the best performances of his career. It provided a transition for Edward G. Robinson from leading man to character actor.

So, if you are looking for a movie to see on a dark and stormy night, or any other night for that matter, think “Double Indemnity”. You’ll be treating yourself to a humdinger.