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G to the U to the C to the K

Ms. Gucky, if you're nasty

August 29th, 2016

I have heard Gene Wilder speak more often than most other people. @ 09:53 pm

I am sick of celebrity memorial posts. But here is my celebrity memorial post.

It sometimes confuses people who know me that BLAZING SADDLES is on my list of favorite movies. I'm a movie snob and BLAZING SADDLES is, at best, problematic even in Mel Brooks's canon.

I am in fourth grade. My parents, battling pretty awful heroin addictions, have just separated.

I am not unhappy about them separating, as I've been recommending divorce to them since I heard about it as a concept. I am selfishly deeply unhappy about my living situation.

My mom has moved into a tiny apartment in downtown LA with a creepy cab driver who offered my mom a Bruce Springsteen concert ticket and wants us to go to a rock and roll Christian church held in a weird school on weekends. My bedroom is a (not walk-in) closet and all my toys have been put in a storage unit that my mom is defaulting on. I now take two city buses to get to my school bus to ride for 45 minutes to the magnet school in Laurel Canyon. My mom disappears for days at a time with her boyfriend without leaving me money for food. I still go to school and I work in the cafeteria so I can get a meal without filing for free lunch (since, on paper, we might still be middle class since there's no raging drug addiction deduction).

My dad has moved to Oakland with his friends Jeff and Judy Cohen (who are two of the best people in the world who have purposely left the LA scene so Jeff can take up his dad's family business as a toy distributor. He is showing off a new book and dice based game called "Dungeons and Dragons."). My dad is going through cold turkey withdrawal in a big, old house near Fruitvale BART.

Because it's pretty awful where I am and because I miss my dad, I end up going up to Oakland quite a bit before Thanksgiving. I am not sent back to my mom LA until after the New Year. This is one of the best periods of my childhood.

This is a tall, old house that, in my memory, is pretty similar to the house on CHARMED. You know, if it were actually a Bay Area house. Jeff and Judy have a dog (Toots) and, being a toy dealer's home, have a lot of toys: inflatable Godzillas, an army of D&D figures, Sea Monkeys kits, three competing electronic talking bear brands, paint brushes with built in paint, battery powered plastic uzi machine gun water guns. There is Coke in bottles, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup in the fridge and aluminum cups that make everything taste cold in the cabinet.

During the day, both Jeff and Judy work. And my dad, well, he tries to play D&D solo campaigns with me but he mostly sleeps or takes hot baths.

So, I entertain myself by walking the dog down to Safeway to get the bottle deposit on the Coke bottles to buy dog treats. Watching the neighbors train their pitbulls to swing on a bloody rope. And, if I'm really good, using the brand new Betamax player. I am in love with the Betamax player. Movies on tape is the most mind blowingly awesome thing I can imagine.

Jeff and Judy, however, only have a growing collection of Star Trek taped off TV and a movie called BLAZING SADDLES.

You know how some kids watch Barney fanatically? Or Dora on constant repeat? My daily routine quickly becomes to drink as much milk as possible to get to the bottom of the gallon so there's just about a cup of milk left, pour chocolate syrup into the gallon milk container, put on BLAZING SADDLES and jump on the bed to mix up the milk and chocolate.

I understand racism - I grew up in Daryl Gates's LA after all. But I don't understand all the sex jokes and who Randolph Scott was. I watch BLAZING SADDLES 2-3 times a day for more than a month.

I go back to LA - I barely understand the timeline in hindsight. I get terrible grades for the school year because I've missed 48% of educational days. The school won't let me sing "I'm Tired" as my audition song for the school play and I don't understand. My parents get back together and we live in the really bad part of town. A cop knocks me down and breaks my plastic machine gun water gun and tells me I'm lucky that he didn't shoot me. My parents are not good to each other and themselves.

I wonder if Jeff and Judy will just be my parents. I sit and try to remember all the lines from BLAZING SADDLES start to finish. From what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here to nowhere special. No one from school shows up to my birthday party. No one shows up to my birthday party. My parents call their business partner/dealer to bring his kids over to eat the cake.

My parents send me to live with my aunt and uncle in Illinois while they get clean. I have no idea if they'll ever get me back or if they'll ever get clean. My uncle washes my mouth out with soap. I have a bedtime for the first time in my life and it's before "Moonlighting" comes on. The sun is still up when I go to bed and I can hear other kids having fun at Kiddie Kingdom across the highway as I stare at the bottom of the top bunk, because my cousin got the top bunk. I am angrier than I've ever been in my life. It's pretty clear that I'm a burden to my aunt and uncle, my uncle doesn't like me at all, and my parents aren't really interested in me.

"If a man drink like that and he doesn't eat, he's going to die."

My parents move to Illinois clean, sober, and completely in hate with one another. We move into a house on a commercial street with a brand new video store just a few doors down. I rent BLAZING SADDLES on VHS whenever I get a free rental. I eventually tape it off of cable in between my dad's constant viewing of CNN and ALIEN NATION.


But in the best part of my childhood, there was Jim, aka The Waco Kid. The guy who wasn't racist in a town of racists. The guy you hope you'd be: gentle but all powerful, supportive and brave and smart, loyal until the literal end. The guy who is in on all the jokes with a minimum of mugging.

We saw him at The Castro Theater for Sketchfest about 6 years ago. He was doing Q&A after YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. He said he didn't want it to be a musical but Mel needed the money and he wanted Mel to be happy. Someone asked him to sing the "Pure Imagination" song from WILLY WONKA and he said he didn't know the words. Someone handed him the lyrics and he sang it. I teared up a bit, but it wasn't really for WILLY WONKA.

I own BLAZING SADDLES on Blu-Ray now. On DVD. On Super 8. There's a VHS tape somewhere around here.

When I am feeling alone and unloved and scared about the world - or just have a migraine too strong to cope with - I take a hot bath and then get in bed and put on LABYRINTH or BLAZING SADDLES and listen along, with scenes I know so well I don't need to open my eyes for it. With stuff so baked into my brain, I'll fall asleep and dream along with the rest of it.

I don't expect celebrities to live forever. Or pretend like I have some personal, emotional connection with them that would make us friends if we met. I don't think it's surprising that the older end of the baby boomer generation is passing away at a reasonable age for people to pass away.

But there's something weird about Gene Wilder growing older, getting ill, dying that doesn't quite line up with the very dated, pretty inappropriate movie.

Also, now that I know Randolph Scott, the cowboy hero the racist town worships, was also Cary Grant's gay lover, there's an even better thing that would make the townspeople faint.
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Date:August 30th, 2016 04:09 pm (UTC)
Forgive me for saying so, but your parents really infuriate me – you deserve better. I don't know what else to say about that because I am so angry at them.

And I am embarrassed that I have never seen Blazing Saddles in its entirety – only snippets and excerpts here and there. Now, I fear that when I see it, I'll be reminded of your childhood and an experience of humor will be filled instead with deep sadness.
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Date:August 30th, 2016 05:01 pm (UTC)
I don't want to ruin BLAZING SADDLES for you. It's pretty great - if dated. I have notes that explain each and every single reference in it with links, but there's no legal way to share it. There are some moments that make me uncomfortable in it now, but the fact they got Cab Calloway and his band to play in the middle of a desert, the constant references to Hedy Lamarr - er, Hedly. It really is a bright spot in my life that gave me joy in a really dark time.

As far as my parents. I get it, but they were brave enough to do what it took to get clean and get me back. It would have been fairly easy for me to just have been raised by my extended family. I'm insanely proud of both of them and have nothing but deep sympathy for the horrible spiral of addiction (now). I am also glad they are no longer together and have found their own ways of being good people in the world and in their communities. Not everyone comes back from that. But that forgiveness was hard won - by them and by me. But making peace with it (mostly. I still have a bit of abandonment fear) has made me better.

Not so much better than Mr. Wilder's death doesn't have me thinking about it though, I guess.

G to the U to the C to the K

Ms. Gucky, if you're nasty