Dancing With The Chicken Slacks

It’s a cold autumn afternoon and the unrelenting rain that’s been falling for days has me wallowing in a pit of melancholy. I override my nesting instinct and trudge over to Lenny’s to warm up with a bowl of matzoh ball soup. I might catch a flick at the Bijou later but the need for sustenence in the form of comfort food is foremost in my mind.

Bob is sitting in a booth when I arrive, sipping coffee and reading a book of poetry by Ezra Pound. Scott and Gary are in the next booth with Curt. Bob looks up at me and nods. I say hello to Molly at the counter, she gives me soup, and I take the seat across from my mentor.

On the jukebox, Sam Cooke is singing about a place, somewhere up in New York way, where the people are so gay, twisting the night away. I laugh, my mood beginning to shift, as I recall aloud a moment the other night when I was hanging out with Joe and we heard the same song; which inspired a lively debate on the questionable fashion of wearing chicken slacks.

“Sam is giving us a delightful example of semantic noise” Bob says when the moment comes back almost a minute into the song. “Like when Hendrix sings, ‘scuse me, while I kiss this guy. We know we’ve misheard the lyric but something in our mind convinces us that we’re hearing the truth.”

“We want to believe Sam is singing about dancing in chicken slacks,” I say. “It’s funnier and more absurd.”

“Especially, after he’s just sung about a man in evening clothes,” Gary says.

“It makes sense,” Curt says.

“It’s sensible,” Scott adds.

And then we start merging instances of semantic noise with Freudian slips (when you say one thing but you mean your mother) and the alchemical mixture of soup and witty banter has chased away the dark wet clouds overhead.

We completely fall apart when Sly & The Family Stone plays next.

Bonus Content:

The image I used for this piece is a still from the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin’ with two swing dancers from Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The group was formed in the 1920s by Herbert “Whitey” White and disbanded in 1942 after its male members were drafted into World War II.

The incomparable Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart are the featured musicians, with Slim on guitar and vocals and Slam on standup bass.



On the value of transcribing…

I have a habit of transcribing recorded conversations and passages from books as a way of gleaning a more in-depth understanding of a subject. There’s something about transcribing for me that aids in the digestion of certain concepts that enter my brain in that specific manner.

There’s a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle, wherein the narrator asks a “vacantly pretty” woman of twenty named Francine Pesko—who is introduced to him by a Dr. Breed as the secretary for a Dr. Nilsak Horvath, a famous surface chemist “who’s doing such wonderful things” with films—the question: “What’s new in surface chemistry?”

“God,” she said. “don’t ask me. I just type what he tells me to type.” And then she apologized for having said, “God.”

“Oh, I think you know more than you let on,” said Dr. Breed.

“Not me.” Miss Pesko wasn’t used to chatting with someone as Dr. Breed and she was embarrassed. Her gait was affected, becoming chickenlike. Her smile was glassy, and she was ransacking her mind for something to say, finding nothing in it but used Kleenex and costume jewelry.

Since Cat’s Cradle was published in 1963, we can say that Miss Pesko’s attitude was not unusual for the era, but the excuse just doesn’t hold up for me when I think of my grandmother, who was a medical transcriptionist in 1963 and forty-one years old at the time.

My grandmother soaked in the knowledge she gained from transcribing and decades later, when I was an adult, she would rattle off medical facts in conversations that made her sound like she, herself, was a seasoned medical professional.

I’m very much like my grandmother in that way. In fact, I consider myself a knowledge junkie. And, I don’t understand how people can affect an attitude of willful ignorance about things with which they are in daily contact.

There’s no excuse to remain ignorant when most of us have access to a tremendous body of knowledge at our finger tips.

Add “ing” to a movie title.

Here’s a writing prompt that’s sure to stimulate your imagination and get the creative juices flowing and it’s a level up in the game of adding “ing” to movie titles. Not only do you have to add “ing” to the title, you also have to write a description.

DIE, HARDING

A dark comedy about the rivalry between Olympic ice skating champions Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. In the aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan by Harding’s former boyfriend, Nancy Kerrigan hallucinates a graphic medley of revenge fantasy murder attempts on Tonya Harding. With a screenplay by Bret Easton Ellis, this film has been hailed by critics as a labor of loathe.

LADY BIRDING

Meryl Streep’s tour-de-force performance as a 19th-century Englishwoman struggling for acceptance as an equal in the company of a group of men that belong to an elite club of all-male bird watchers. Directed by Jonathan Livingston Seagal.

A GHOSTING STORY

Where did they go? What did I do? Was it something I said? Everyone leaves me and relationships suck. Directed by Roman Polanski.

THORING

A shy young man with a lisp overcomes his insecurities and, in spite of his speech impediment, he becomes the Top Gun of glider pilots. Starring Tom Cruithe.

ENTERING THE DRAGON

Shrek’s pal, Donkey, finally releases the sex tape nobody wanted.

PITCHING PERFECT

A tedious biopic of a baseball player with a pitching technique so perfect that no player can hit his balls. No hits, no runs, no game. Solid performance, though, by Kevin Costner as the aging ball player.

HOUSE OF WAXING

A sinister Brazilian esthetician sets up shop in Beverly Hills and makes a killing in the bikini waxing business. Produced by the Weinstein Company.

DIAL MING FOR MURDER

Flash Gordon’s nemesis gives up his throne on Mongo to become a contract killer for the mob.

STARING WARS

Han blinked first.

DYING HARD

A tough homicide detective exposes the deadly danger of Viagra addiction in this modern film noir. Narrated by Peter O’Toole.

Charlie Chaplin’s Inspirational Great Dictator Speech

The Great Dictator (1940) was Charlie Chaplin’s first talking picture and the film is a magnificent parody and a scathing condemnation of fascism and Adolf Hitler. The movie was still in production in 1939 when Britain and France declared war on Germany on Sunday, the 3rd of September, and Chaplin heard “the depressing news” over the radio while he was on his boat in Catalina over the weekend. The allies could no longer stay out of the fight after the invasion of Poland by German forces two days earlier and the news was delivered in depressing tones by British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain.

Two years earlier, in 1937, when war was in the air and Nazis were on the march, Charlie was struggling to write a story and a role for his twenty-nine year old wife, Paulette Goddard, who had shot to fame the previous year as leading lady to Chaplin’s character, the tramp, in Modern Times.

“How could I throw myself into feminine whimsy or think of romance or the problems of love,” Charlie would later write in his autobiography, “when madness was being stirred up by a hideous grotesque, Adolf Hitler?”

Enter, friend and fellow filmmaker, Alexander Korda—whose own wife, film actresss Maria Corda, was unable to make the artistic transition from the silent era to the emerging age of the talkies because of her strong Hungarian accent. Korda made the audacious suggestion to Chaplin that he make a film about Hitler based on mistaken identity, because the resemblance of Charlie’s famous fictional character, the tramp, was often compared to the infamous real world character of the dictator, as they both sported the same sort of mustache.

Coincidentally, Chaplin and Hitler shared other similarities, in addition to the style of the hair below their noses. Born four days apart in April of 1889, both men idolized their mothers, had ugly drunks as fathers, and had risen to success from the experience of living in great poverty. They were also both consummate actors.

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This is the first page of a projected six-page piece on The Great Dictator.