Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finding Faith
Chapter 4

“Sisterly Love…”

Phil approached the funeral home in a state of hazy dread. Although he had spent most of the last 48 hours on or near his bed, almost none of it was spent sleeping. So this morning he felt like a zombie on a brain fast. And it was not just brains he was deprived of. Phil hadn’t eaten since before he’d heard the news either. In other words he was in great shape for the emotional marathon he was about to run. The way he felt Phil would be lucky if he made it through the door.

The day was going to be divided into four separate but equal rings of hell. The first two would be the visitation and memorial service to be held at the Wade funeral home starting at the Un-Godly hour of 10:00 a.m. At noon, immediate family and selected friends (Phil among them) would go to the cemetery, for the internment. At 2:00 p.m. they would return to the Blessing home for a reception. Phil estimated the earliest he would be able to make it back to his room would be 3:30, given the vagaries of the transit system unless he could con somebody into giving him a ride. If there was ever a day that he regretted not getting a drivers license, it was this one.

To add to his misery, it was an absolutely beautiful day. He wanted it to be raining. Hell, he wanted a tempest of Lear like proportions. He wanted a convenient hurricane to devastate the city. He wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

As it happened Phil had never been to any funerals before this one. For one thing Marigold didn’t believe in them (among the laundry list of things Marigold didn’t believe in, despite any and all evidence presented to her that these things actually existed), and for another she had so alienated her family that if any of them had died , she would literally be the last one to find out. As a result Phil was unfamiliar with what was customary as he entered the funeral home, and was confronted by Mr. Malcolm.

Mr. Malcolm was a tall, cadaverous look gentleman, which made him the perfect fit for his job. It would have been difficult to guess his age without carbon dating. He stood so still at his post, that he startled Phil when he actually moved and spoke.

“Are you here for the Blessing visitation?” Mr. Malcolm inquired. He had the voice and delivery of a Victorian actor. A real “opera singer” as Olivier called them.

“Yes” Phil answered.

“That’s fine. The visitation is in Room 1 on the right. The memorial service will be held in the chapel in one hour’s time…” Phil started towards the room, but Mr. Malcolm stepped in front of him. “Please sign the register”

“It’s okay, I don’t need to sign the register, and I’ve known the family for over 30 years.” He again tried to enter the room, and once again was blocked.

“Please sign the register so that the family will know you were here” Mr. Malcolm was polite and pleasant, but insistent.

“The family will know I was here because I’m planning on talking with them” This time he attempted a pivot around him, but the old man was faster then he looked.

“Please sign the register so the family will have a memento of the occasion” Mr. Malcolm said calmly.
“I really doubt that the family will have much trouble remembering this occasion”

“Please sign the register” The old man wouldn’t budge. Phil finally gave in and signed the register. Mr. Malcolm gave him a death’s head smile, said “Thank you” He and finally allowed Phil to pass, which the latter couldn’t do quickly enough. From behind him he heard Mr. Malcolm request yet another signature to the register of the damned.

Room 1 was large and there were flowers everywhere, in arrangements from simple to one that looked like the DNA molecule. People milled about the sickeningly sweet smelling space, stood in small groups or sat in on uncomfortable looking sofas or chairs. Phil scanned the room and didn’t see Amanda there, but he found Matthew’s parents, Judith and Joshua Blessing, sitting in a particularly nasty looking love seat at the back of the room. He approached them slowly, and reluctantly.

“Mr. and Mrs. Blessing, I just can’t tell you how sorry I am. I mean…Matthew was my best friend …and …Well, I’m just so sorry” Phil struggled, “He was so special. You must be devastated”

“Oh no, dear” Mrs. Blessing said “We’re just fine”

“We’re fine, son” Mr. Blessing agreed. They were both smiling quite pleasantly.

“Oh, at first, we were taken aback” Mrs. Blessing explained.

“Oh yes, quite taken aback” Mr. Blessing confirmed.

“I mean with the suddenness of it all” Mrs. Blessing continued.

“Yes, it was all very sudden” Mr. Blessing backed her up.

“But then we realized that it was all part of God’s plan, and that Matthew is now in a better place” Mrs. Blessing concluded.

“God’s plan was to take Matthew to a better place, we realized” Mr. Blessing explained.

They were both positively beaming, practically giddy it seemed. Phil felt his stomach start to roll over.

“Yes, well I guess that was God’s planning, all right…Would you excuse me please?” he managed.

“Of course, Philson, you go right ahead, and thank you for coming” Mrs. Blessing said.

“Thank you for coming, Philson, and you go right ahead, of course” Mr. Blessing reiterated.

Once out of their eyeline, Phil physically shuddered. He didn’t know which bothered him more, the lack of change in their cheery demeanor (Matthew’s parents had always been like that, or their unwavering dedication to the idea that God was the hit man and that was perfectly okay by them. Between the flowers and his own unfiltered emotions, he was getting a headache of epic proportions, and they had only just begun. He spied Spencer sitting on a sofa, his head buried in his hands, and far enough away from the Blessings to make it viable. And Spencer would probably have drugs, legal ones of course, Spencer being one of the world’s great hypochondriacs. He would be prepared to forgive his housemate for not be home to give him a ride this morning, in exchange for a couple of Extra Strength anything he happened to have on him. Phil crossed the room, and sat down beside Spencer.

“Jesus Christ!” Spencer moaned “Do you have to bounce so much? Don’t you know how to sit like a normal human being?”

“That figures. Here I thought you were grieving, and it turns out that you’re fucking hung over!” Phil griped.

“For your information, I am not hung over I am sick. I stopped into an emergency room on the way here” Spencer grumbled. This was no surprise to Phil. Spencer was always going to the emergency room for one reason or another. Phil thought they might be giving him frequent flyer miles or something. If there hadn’t been universal health care in this country, he believed that Spencer would have moved to one that had it, just for the trips to the emergency room.

“What have you got?” Phil asked

“I’m not sure, they’re still running tests. I’m hoping it’s not a Hantavirus, those can kill you” Spencer sniffed.

“I meant in terms of pharmaceuticals, Spencer. I feel a big ass cluster headache coming on” Phil rubbed his temples, unsure of what it was supposed to accomplish other than to push the pain inward.

“Tylenol 3’s?” Spencer suggested, as he was searching the pockets of his suit jacket/ portable drug store. Once he found the right one, he produced the bottle and asked “How many?”

“Six” Phil said, blandly.

“I’ll give you two. Have you eaten? These shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach” Spencer advised, while handing the white pills to Phil anyway

“After I eat them, my stomach will no longer be empty” Phil reasoned, and then dry swallowed the pair. He hoped they were fast acting and that the codeine would take some of the edge.

“I think you may be the one that’s hung over” Spencer commented.

“I haven’t had a drink in 3 Days”

“Which would explain your charming attitude. Withdrawal Symptoms”

“It’s a fucking funeral, Spencer. Somebody has to look like they’re sorry he’s gone.” He snapped. He hadn’t meant to, it had just come out.

“And fuck you, Lawrence! He was my friend too, in case you forgot. You do not have the monopoly on grief here. Amanda’s so upset they had to take her home and sedate her, but nothing matters unless it affects you, does it. Well fuck you and your black hole ego” He had had the class to whisper this diatribe in Phil’s ear, but it hadn’t dampened the inherent fury of the words.

Phil took a long look at Spencer. This was a guy who had opened his home to Phil nearly 20 years ago, never complained when the rent was late, put up with Phil’s temperamental outbursts, and had patiently and brilliantly designed and lit virtually every set for every play Philson Lawrence had directed thus far. They had co-founded North Rose Players together, and yes Spencer had also been friends with Matthew. He’d earned a little respect, and Phil realized that he was giving him very little indeed. “I’m very sorry, Spencer. You didn’t deserve that. I apologize” Phil said, simply and sincerely.

Spencer put his hand on Phil’s shoulder“It’s okay. I know you’re hurting. You just have to remember that other people are as well. As for sorry, if you want to see sorry, take a look over there. Spencer directed Phil’s attention to the other side of the room.

She was sitting in one of the pseudo-antique looking wing chairs, trying to control the actions of 2 rambunctious toddlers with curiousity of your average kitten from that position. Phil guessed she was over 200 pounds. She was wearing a skirt suit that was a size small for her and too much makeup, presumably trying to distract from her body. Her hair was the same cascading brunette he remembered, but there were fine threads of grey running through it.

“My God,” Phil said, softly “That’s Hope”

“I thought it might be. I could never tell them apart, and haven’t seen any of them for years. It could have been Faith for all I know.” Spencer said.

“That’s not Faith” Phil stated, a little too emphatically.

“It does give one pause, though. I mean they always were identical. Do you suppose they still are?” The grin was implicit in his voice. It was rare for Spencer to do the bitchy queen bit, but when he did it was to perfection.

“That’s not funny, Spencer.” Phil muttered. Truth was he hadn’t seen Faith in almost 5 years. She could be the size of a house for all he knew, doubtful given her perpetual outdoorsy athleticism, but it was possible. “Besides, they were only identical if you didn’t really know them.”

“In the biblical sense…But then I guess you’re the only one who would be able to confirm that particular hypothesis, having boinked all of them” Spencer postulated.

“I did not boink all of them,” he said, then more quietly added “I only boinked Hope and Charity”

“You’re still sticking to that story about nothing happening in the tent that nobody believes, aren’t you?” Spencer asked, shooting him a “Are you for real?” look in the bargain.

“Nothing happened in the tent” Phil stated, flatly.

“How noble, and totally out of character, of you” Spencer then turned his attention back to Hope and mused “Just think, one of those charming little nursery trolls could be yours.”

“I’d better go over and talk to her” Phil said, voicing what he should do, as opposed to what he wanted to do which was avoid Hope Blessing-Jones and her progeny for the rest of the day if at all humanly possible.

“I’ll roll bandages” Spencer offered, helpfully

“You do that” Phil responded, and rose to his feet

It had been a torrid affair when they were in High School. For a while it was even good. Phil liked Hope for herself, and not because she was a substitute for Faith. But every once in a while, at a family gathering, or maybe in school, Hope would catch him looking at her sister a little too long, and that would lead to animosity and accusations. The end came at their senior prom.

By this point the girls had long since rebelled against the dressing alike business, much to Mr. and Mrs. Blessing’s disappointment. And although at that time they were physically still identical, their individual styles had begun to emerge. Faith favoured a natural look, her long hair loose and flowing, minimal makeup, simple clothes. Charity favored her hair up and whatever the she’d seen on Dallas or Dynasty the previous week. Hope was an experimenter, never being able to settle on any particular look, for any particular length of time.

At the time of the prom Phil was still going through his flirtation with Film Noir and wore a 3 piece black suit, black shirt, with a gleaming white silk necktie (Marigold told him he looked like a 5 dollar pimp, and Phil replied that if anyone knew what one looked like, she would). He completed the ensemble with the de rigueur Fedora and trench coat. And of course in those days he still smoked, so when he lit up he looked like teenaged Humphrey Bogart wannabe, which was to say ridiculous. Still, it was a style, and at that time style mattered more than substance, and Phil liked the look. He approached the Blessing home, with visions of Ingrid Bergman, and Lauren Bacall dancing through his head.

She opened the door in a shimmering white dress, remiscent of Jane Greer in “Out of the Past” or Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. Phil’s jaw dropped. It was lucky he had ditched the cigarette outside or it currently would have been burning the interior hall carpet. She smiled at him.

“She gave me smile I could feel in my hip pocket. She was enough to make a Bishop kick in a stained glass window”he said, his best Robert Mitchum, which was none too shabby. He grabbed her and pulled her towards him.

“But I…” She protested.

“Baby, I don’t care” he said and went in for the kiss, but he never made it, because at that precise moment Hope came bounding down the stairs. She was wearing a tailored, three piece black suit and a fedora, just like he was. It was supposed to be a surprise, and it was, but not the way she intended. He let go of Faith, and yes, he knew it was her all along, and tried to make light of it. “Sorry,” he chuckled “But I always wanted to play that scene”

Faith said nothing.

Hope yelled “ We’re going” to noone in particular, grabbed Phil and yanked him in a manner startlingly similar to one Marigold had used 10 years earlier.

It was silent on the drive to the Westin Hotel, for the most part. At one one point Phil attempted to broach the subject but was immediately stopped. “Shut up. We are going to the prom” was all she said during the ride.

Once they’d reached the hotel, it was as if nothing ever happened. She smiled, laughed with friends, even posed with him for Prom pictures in their matching outfits, looking as if she was having the time of her life.
Needless to say, he avoided any and all contact with or mention of her sister Faith, and for her part Faith did likewise. Matthew had opted not to attend his senior prom, because Amanda couldn’t make it.

It was on the dance floor that she made him suffer. She would only dance to slow songs and during them whispered an unending string of invective for his ears only, through lips locked in a smile. Every so often she would accidentally misstep, which landed her knee in his crotch. And he took it. Whether it was out of guilt or sheer masochism, he took it for the whole night

So it came as a complete surprise to him when she agreed to come up to the hotel room he had reserved, in anticipation tonight being THE night. Once the unmentionable happened he had given up Hope, or so he thought. But she seemed to have mellowed during the course of the evening.In fact she had gotten downright affectionate. She apologized for her earlier behaviour , she said. She realized that it was a misunderstanding, and that she had over-reacted, she said. And during the couple of room parties they had put in an appearance, she had been all over him like fleas on a stray mutt. And in fact they did go back to his room.
And when she undressed he was happy to discover that she hadn’t decided to copy his style of underwear too.

It was the first time for both of them. There was awkwardness and fumbling, and in the end it was all too brief. But it was nice. And the second time was not as awkward, there was no need to fumble, took a good deal longer, and was much nicer. They fell asleep in each other others arms and that was very nice.

And when he awoke, he was alone, his bird had flown. And she’d taken his clothes with her, everything except the trenchcoat in the pocket of which she had thoughtfully left his wallet, and a note on Westin Hotel stationery. “I’m glad I’ve finally seen you for what you are, and now so will the rest of the World. We’re through, Hope”

He put on the trenchcoat, folded the note and put it back in the pocket, and calmly walked out the door of the room. The front desk was disappointingly non-reactive when he checked out, as though they saw this type of thing all the time, which they probably had, particularly after prom nights. He didn’t have enough cash for a taxi, so he waited for the next bus. No reaction, a couple of furtive glances, but again no big deal. When he got home Marigold just laughed, and that was the end of it . He never tried to contact her again. There was no point. It was over, and he knew it.

All this came flooding back with hi-def clarity, as he approached the much changed Hope, who was oblivious to him, as she was in the process of dealing with her children. The girl he guessed, was about 4, Blonde and fascinated by the flowers which she was attempting to taste. The boy was about a year younger, toe headed and a brunette the same shade as his Mother and her sisters. At the present moment she trying to keep him from taking off his clothes. “Quit squirming, you little turnip. Now keep those on or I’ll put you back in the car” Then she looked up and saw Phil. In her eyes were the shock of recognition, followed by good old fashion hurt.

“Hello Hope” he said, and braced himself for the oncoming assault. But she said nothing. She just glared at him. That should have been enough to deter him, but he was not exactly thinking clearly at the present time, so he foolishly added “How have you been? You look great” That was enough.

“Well, well, well, well, well…If it isn’t Phil’s Son Lawrence. The world famous sister fornicator…Ruth, take that flower out of your mouth right now or I’ll make you eat the whole thing. So, did you ever make the triumvirate or has lucky Faith cointinued to elude the Stud Master?”

“I’m fine thanks, Hope” Phil replied “And you?”

“Oh, I’m just swell, thank you so very much for asking . My brother who I loved dearly just died. My husband left me, causing me to gain another 50 pounds to add to the 75 I added carrying his hellspawn…Put the bug down Gabriel…And to top it all off my ex high school sweetheart, who has been not so secretly been in love with my one sister, and not so secretly fucked my other sister, comes up to me at my brother’s funeral, and acts like there should be nothing wrong between us, and pretends that I don’t look like Shamu, the killer Whale in this outfit. Ruthy! Leave the flowers alone, honey. I see you finally got a new suit” She managed an ugly half smile at that one.

“Look Hope, I just came over to say how sorry I am that Matthew died. I don’t think we need to rehash ancient history right now” It was an attempt to make peace. A futile attempt, he knew, but an attempt nontheless.

“Why not. Actually I…Ruthy get your little brother away from the plug! Actually I was hoping for a reunion. What do you say, Phil? You and me? A little one-nighter? Gabriel! This is the last time I’m going to tell you! Drop the bug! Or don’t you sleep with fat women?”

It was then Phil decided to stop being pleasant as it didn’t seem to be working anyway. “Oh yeah, I sleep with all kinds of women Super-sized, fat, Medium, thin , skinny anorexic, black, white, oriental, hispanic, native, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, and at least one wiccan that I’m aware of. They’re all the same to me. But I do have some standards. There is one kind of woman I absolutely refuse to have sex with, and that’s the North American Self Pitying Hostile Bitch, so I guess that lets you out. Excuse me” He turned and started to walk away.

Hope struggled to get out of the chair, but was surprisingly quick once she did. She managed to stop Phil in his path away from her. “Wait a minute, Phil. I…I’m really sorry. I deserved that. I was being… everything you said I was. I really am very sorry for what I said. It’s just with Matthew dying, and Gerry leaving…I just…I just kind of snapped when I saw you…I’m…just so…angry…and sad….and…” She began sobbing and collapsed in to his arms.

“Is this the part, where I forgive you and end up getting mugged on the way to the cemetery for my shoes?” Phil asked, and much to his surprise she began to laugh, in between the tears. It made for a kind of hiccuping sound. She looked up at him, and the tears were real. “I apologize, Phil”

“ I know Hope. And it’s okay, I know where you are” Phil said, and he meant it.

“You do?”

“Yeah, I think I do”

“Where am I , Phil?” There was a childlike pleading quality to her voice, that touched him.

“You’re right about here” he said, pointing at her.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she giggled in spite of herself

“I have no idea. It just seemed like the right thing to say”

“Ever the smooth talking bastard” she smiled.

“Ever thus” he agreed. He hugged her and watched as Gabriel finally ate the bug

“Thank you, Phil. Now, If you’ll let go of me I have some midgets to hurt.” She squeezed his hand as she left. “Ruthy, put the urn back where you found it. Gabriel, where did the bug go?”

Phil actually smiled. He couldn’t help it. Then something he heard outside made him stop. It was the all too familiar sound of a ruckus. She wouldn’t, he thought, not today.

But she would, and she was. As he stepped out into the hallway, saw what he expect to see. It was Marigold in a confrontation with Mr. Malcolm.

“Please sign the register” he was saying, predictably.

“ I did sign the register. See?” Marigold pointed to a space in the book

“That is not a real signature” Mr. Malcolm said, dismissively.

“ I know it’s not a signature. That’s my symbol, just like the artist formerly known as Prince used to have before he became Prince again. It’s a Marigold. That’s my name” She was trying to be civil, Phil could tell, but it wasn’t going to hold for very much longer.

“It doesn’t look like a Marigold” Mr. Malcolm said after some appraisal.

“What are you? An Art Critic?” she sneered. Phil considered stepping in but a perverse part of him was enjoying watching Mr. Malcolm get his.

“ Look Lurch, My son is in there, and I want to see him. Now if you don’t let me in , I’m going to take that tie and shove it so far down your fucking throat that your testicles will be in a Windsor knot. Does that compute?"

“Please go right in” Mr. Malcolm apparently liked his tie.

“Much obliged, Mr. Munster, say Hi to Lily and the kids” she said as she blew past him. But before she could reach the visitation room, Phil intercepted her and hustled her back outside onto the sidewalk.

“What the hell are you doing here, Marigold?” he asked, through gritted teeth

“I just came to see my sweet little baby boy. I was worried about him. Happen to know where he is, Fuckface?” She hissed.

“Gee, I get all warm and runny when you call me that. This is Matthew’s funeral, in case you forgot”

“I know it’s Matthew’s funeral, you little shit. I’m the one that told you he was dead, remember?” She put special emphasis on the last word.

“Aren’t you the one who said you didn’t believe in Funerals, remember” Phil countered.

“I didn’t say I didn’t believe in them. I said that they were meaningless ceremonies to comfort the living, and had precious fucking little to do with the person who actually died”

“My mistake. You gave them a ringing endorsement! It still doesn’t explain why you’re here?” He was beginning to lose the last remaining threads of what little natural patience he had to begin with.

“I was concerned about your welfare, peckerhead. When you dropped the phone, and them never called back, and those idiot people you live with said that you hadn’t come out of your room in 2 days …I got worried, and thought you might do something stupid, not that your life thus far has been a ringing testament to your genius. I’m trying to tell you I love you and I’m worried about you, you flaming shitheel!”

“Jesus, Marigold, if you’re gonna go all maternal on me like that, you leave me no choice but to throw up all over your poncho” He was taking part in their usual biplay, but her real concern was a welcome surprise.

“It wouldn’t be the first time. And you’re avoiding the central issue. Are you okay?” Her eyes mirrored the sincere urgency of the question.

“No. No, I’m not okay. I’ve got a huge ache where my diaphragm used to be, and it seems like I’m looking at everything through gauze. I’m raw inside and out. But I have no immediate plans to end my natural existence by own hand at this time, although I’m having a little trouble understanding why. Does that answer your question?” He was having a hard time looking in her eyes, but managed it in the end.

“That’s what I’m asking” she visibly relaxed “ Well, that’s a good thing since I have no desire to have one of these meaningless ceremonies for your sorry ass, so I’d probably end up putting you out on the curb in a green plastic garbage bag, and what with Thursday being garbage day and all, I needed to know. But since you assure me you have no such intentions, I believe I will go home and watch my soaps. Anyway, those Blessing people give me the creeps. I suspect they are not made from natural fibres. Besides, Rabies needs worming and I assure that will give me a great deal more pleasure than this would” Rabies was her 12 year-old cocker spaniel. As she wandered toward her rust and twine purple VW Beetle, she added “Live , long and suffer”

“By the way, I love you too…Now get the fuck out of here, Swamp Witch” he called after her.

She stopped “ Admit it. Wouldn’t you rather have me than the Stepford parents in there?”
“You mean I had a choice? Shit! Now you tell me!”

“Bite me, Sonny boy!” she shouted, as she slammed the car door. The ancient piece of junk coughed to life and lurched off only to be immediately replaced by a gleaming white corvette stringray. The car was not the only thing gleaming and white. So was the driver.

She emerged from the car in what seemed like slow motion. This was less film noir, however, than 80’s music video. The outfit matched the car. She wore a white mini-dress, with matching jacket, white hose and heals. She looked like Hugh Hefner’s nurse. The sun glinting off all that white gave her something of an ethereal glow. She moved with a purpose, and she didn’t so much walk as undulate, but the thing that surprised Phil most of all was that she was headed directly towards him. Before he thought to react, she had her arms wrapped around him and her tongue in his mouth. It was undulating too.

When Phil came up for air, normal time had resumed, and he let go of her. “ Hi, Charity” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Hi Larry, it’s been a while” Charity Blessing replied, just as flatly.
Phil began walking back towards the funeral home entrance “ It must be. You’ve forgotten how much I hate to be called Larry”

“You used to let me call you anything I wanted to” She was matching him step for step, but looked much better doing it.

“Used to wet the bed too, but I don’t do that anymore either” He replied, not looking at her. “ Nice ’Vette. Yours?"

“A gift from an Ex- Boyfriend”

“Uh huh, and did he know it was a gift, or did you just help yourself?” He asked, strictly out of morbid curiousity.

“Let’s just say it was in the nature of a settlement” She grinned.

“I see. So you’ve graduated to extortion” He inferred.

“Whatever pays my bills” She didn’t bother to deny it.

“ I see you’ve dressed appropriately” He sniped

“It’s traditional for Buddhists to wear white to funerals” And she said it with a straight face.
“ You’re a Buddhist now?”

“ No, but one of my exes was. Besides, it goes with the car.”

“ I see” Phil said, and then asked “ So, what do you wear when you wear plaid?”

“ I don’t wear plaid” she said, and darted through the door in front of him, race won.

Mr. Malcolm attempted to get her to sign the register, but couldn’t manage to articulate a single decipheraple word, just pointed at the book and gaped at Charity. She sauntered past him, without noticing and most importantly without signing the register. She went directly to Room 1. Mr. Malcolm was not having a very good day, and yet he was smiling.

Phil followed the sign to the upstairs men’s room, filled a sink with cold water and dunked his head in it. It was the most human he had felt all morning. He just hoped to hell there were paper towels in the room somewhere. He hadn’t bothered to check. There were, thankfully, and after a few minutes he thought he looked together enough to take another stab at the visitation room. In retrospect he would consider coming out of the bathroom one of the bigger mistakes he made that day.

Phil returned to Room 1 only to discover that his friends were having an in depth conversation…about him, and apparently hadn’t noticed his reappearance. Even though he felt slightly foolish, how often did an opportunity like this present itself. He faded a little further into the background.

“ You think he’s going to be okay?” Margot asked. It seemed to be the burning question of the day. ‘Is Phil going to be okay?’ Unfortunately nobody knew the answer, not even the subject of the question itself.

“It’s hard to say. Today was the first time I’d heard a word out of him since Monday. Apparently he didn’t think I was grief-stricken enough” Spencer responded

You flaming bastard, Phil thought, I apologized for that, and you supposedly forgave me. It was all of maybe 10 minutes ago, remember?. But he kept his silence.

“Not a good sign,” Margot opined.

At this point James, who hadn’t really been paying attention but had in fact been staring at Charity Blessing, decided to join the conversation. “What’s not a good sign?”

“Keep up, James, you’re falling behind the rest of the class” Margot chided, then turned to Spencer again, “Have you seen him eat anything?”

“ No” Spencer replied, “but then there’s never really any food in the house, so that doesn’t really mean anything”

“ Maybe he’s in love” James offered. The other 2 stared at him.

“What?!” Margot finally squeeked out.

“Well, I don’t know…Who are we talking about?” James sputtered.

“Phil, you moron!” Margot cried.

As a professional actor and director , Phil’s natural instincts told him he wasn’t going to get a better entrance cue so he took it. “You called?” he asked from behind them. He almost thought he saw them make a tiny jump.

Margot immediately went into spin and damage control mode, which Phil loved to watch because she wasn’t particularly good at either “ Oh, Hi Phil. We were just talking about you…I mean I was just talking about you, and I wasn’t actually calling you a moron. I was calling James a moron, which I guess sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it, and then you came along. Bad timing, really. Not that we aren’t glad to see you, I mean. How are you?” She finally stopped.

“I think I was okay until I walked over here, that is” Phil said “So, what were you saying about me?”

“ We thought you might be in love” James replied which got him an elbow from Margot “I mean I thought you might be in love” he corrected, which got him another elbow, so he turned to her and finally asked “Why do you keep hitting me?”

Margot opted to ignore him, and spoke directly to Phil instead “ Look, we were worried about you. We know how depressed you are about…well, you know…I mean, you were shut up in your room all that time…”

For some reason the tune to “Same Old Song” began running through his head and once more he explained “Look guys, I’ll admit that I’m very low right now, but eventually I’ll be okay, I think. In the meantime, stop worrying. You don’t have to hide the sharp implements or anything”

“Were we going to do that?” James asked, and this time Margot slapped him.

“You’re lucky I’m a woman” James shot back. The rest of them just stared at him. “What?” he asked and before Margot had a chance to strike again, Spencer deftly removed him from the line of fire, and into another area of the room, leaving Phil and Margot together, where Margot began her favourite past-time, Catty Bitching. Spencer and she were pros at this non Olympic event.

“Haven’t seen Faith yet. Think she’ll show up?” She was just trying a few practice pitches.

“Of course she’ll show up” Phil muttered.

“I suppose. My God! Can you believe how fat Hope has gotten?”

“Well, she’s had problems” Phil responded. His attitude towards Hope had softened , almost as much as she had.

“ Problems keeping the refrigerator door closed, you mean. And did you catch the nerve of Everybody’s favorite Charity wearing white to her own brother’s funeral” She was on a roll now. Phil considered sneaking off, but he was too tired. Instead he fed her her next straight line.

“Buddhists wear white to funerals” he offered up Charity’s own rationale.

“Do they now? Well, if she’s a Buddhist, I’m the fucking Dalai Lama. It’s obviously a plea for attention from a fading sex bomb…” Margot began ranting. When it came to Charity Blessing, she had no objectivity and thus went from Catty Bitchiness to Bitchy Bitterness in the blink of an eye. She was good for another hour on Charity and Phil felt himself fading out.

In the end it was all his fault, and even if it wasn’t Margot would go on blaming him until the end of time, he supposed. He would forever be the one who crushed her dreams of stardom and discovery, not to mention denying her the role of a lifetime in favour someone whom she considered to be second cousin to the Whore of Babylon. But it wasn’t really like that, or at least he didn’t think it was like that.Was it?

It was 5 years earlier and the New Rose Players were feeling flush and cocky. They had come off a season that had built success on success, and all the while alternating the classics, Canadian , and cutting edge theatre, the 3 “Cs” of their mandate. When Phil had announced that he had chosen “ A Streetcar Named Desire” as the classic selection for the season and that he would be directing it himself, Margot Morrelli’s eyes nearly popped out of her skull. She had been quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, campaigning for the play since the group had been founded. So it came as absolutely no surprise to anyone when she found a replacement to carry out her duties as executive producer, and showed up at the auditions, dressed like Vivien Leigh from the movie. And her audition was good but…

Casting a play is a quirky art, dependent on a number of intangibles and variables. It depends on who comes out, how they read, do they play well with others, chemistry, particularly if there’s supposed to be romance involved and, yes, looks. It’s a delicate thing, and if you get one aspect wrong it tumbles to the ground like a human pyramid.

So when it became obvious that when David Giraldi was the front runner for Stanley, it put the kibosh on Margot’s chance to play Blanche DuBois. The main reason for this was his height. David was 6’3”. Margot was 4’11 in heels. It would have been a jarring effect, over emphasising Blanche’s powerlessness, or as Phil put it “It would have looked as though Stanley Kowalski were beating up a representative of the Lullaby League, and it wasn’t quite the image I was looking for”

It didn’t help, that the obvious choice for Blanche then became, as Margot had dubbed her, “Everybody’s Favorite Charity”

Back in the present, Margot was still going on about it “I should have had that part. I was so “Southern” I could have owned Slaves. I was so fucking genteel I had trouble farting. I had Chinese Lanterns on every lightbulb in the house. And then everybody’s favorite Charity comes along, blows the director, and cheats me out of what was rightfully mine.”

“Jesus, Margot give it a rest! Just for one day, please? Especially this day…”

“Why should I be a hypocrite just because Matthew died?” she glared.

“Because you’re so good at it, for one thing, and because the primary reason you didn’t get the part was that you were and continue to be a munchkin. And finally Charity didn’t get the part because she blew the director.” He was saying all of this very matter of factly, without emotion.

“Right” Margot sneered.

“Look, I was that director and, while I admit to a somewhat eclectic view of morality, I would never sacrifice my artistic integrity for a lousy blowjob” He said.

It was, in fact, a spectacular blow job, but it hadn’t affected the casting either. Not that either Margot nor Charity, for that matter, would ever believe it. When it came to his work Phil was the soul of integrity, and sexual favors from all of the triplets in their prime wouldn’t have gotten Charity the part had Phil not thought that she was right for it.

“ It was my goddamn part!” She spit “ And I don’t recall Tennessee Williams writing that Blanche had minimum height requirement!”

He looked at her for a long moment, then walked away from her shaking his head.

At that moment Mr. Malcolm appeared in the doorway and solemnly requested that the Blessing Family and Friends please move into the chapel. Phil found himself unable to move, but then then was propelled into motion when Hope had grabbed hold of his arm and was moving him forward. She had a vice grip on him, and he was trapped. He looked around the room as it emptied and saw no sign of the missing triplet. He resigned himself to having to sit through the service. He could accept that.

What he had trouble accepting was the casket at the sitting in front of the Chapel.

It was open.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Finding Faith

Chapter 2

“Prepare ye…”

It was dull and cloudy outside so the view from the front window of Art’s Haus was less than inspiring, but it kept Phil from looking at, and hence wanting to strangle Margot Morelli as she prattled on about “…responsibility to our subscribers and to our mandate, as well as being mindful of the fiscal bottom line”. He was being backed into a corner, yet again, and he didn’t like it today anymore than he had when he was 8, nearly thirty years ago now. Ironically it had to do with the same subject in a round about way. He waited until he sensed her coming to a conclusion and then stood up and started to pace.

“I don’t care what the reasoning is…I can’t direct the damn thing, and I’m the one who’s going to have put in the hours.” He said, when she finally finished.

“I’m afraid the church is insisting. It’s a condition of their approving the extension of our lease.” Spencer Mackenzie chimed from the sofa, where he currently was currently horizontal, showing a complete lack of respect for the decorum of the meeting, but nobody was going to say anything.

Art’s Haus was technically Spencer’s house. He had inherited it from his Uncle Harold, and rather than bear the burden of the mortgage and renovations himself, he had invited a group of his artsy friends to move into the five bedroom monstrosity in Parkdale. Over the years, the place had gone from near dilapidation to structurally sound, but with a bizarre looking exterior that reflected both its owner and occupants. Stripes and solids clashed with patterns. Brick and wood lived not quite in harmony and, having used leftover set pieces from Rose North Players various productions, several divergent architectural periods were represented. It all made for a place that was interesting to look at, but not, in any sense of the word, pretty.

“Quite simply” Spencer continued “If we don’t do the show, we have to find a new performance and rehearsal space, which we basically can’t afford to because it will cost us half our audience, and we’re hanging by a thread as it is financially.”

“I don’t understand what the big deal is, Phil” Margot piped in. “It’s a good show and it’s a draw. We could make money for once! Is that such a bad thing?”

“The big deal, Margot, is that it’s a dated piece of pseudo religious hippy dippy, lovey dovey, singy songy crap.” They were, of course, talking about “Godspell”, the Stephen Schwartz musical based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, that had begun life as someone’s doctoral, or at least that was what Phil thought he had read somewhere. “And since when do we give in to cultural blackmail?”

“Since you insisted we do “Hurly Burly” over the Easter Holiday last season” Spencer said, flatly.

It was true. And while Mr. David Rabe’s slashing indictment of Hollywood types, is a great piece of theatre, it also contains a lot of words not generally said in church, not to mention the sex and drug use. Even this would have been fine, had not the new Reverend’s wife attended a performance just before Good Friday, and been understandably appalled at what she saw. She had called the board, and the board in turn had called Margot, the executive producer of Rose North Players. The production of “Godspell” in time for Christmas was the compromise that had been reached in Phil’s absence. As artistic director he should have been there, but it was a morning meeting and Phil was still hung over from the cast party. At the time, he hadn’t taken it seriously, but they had set audition dates and were now deciding on a rehearsal schedule and he was forced for the first time to face the reality of the situation. It was not the optimum time for a director to decide he doesn’t really want to do a play, but that was Phil.

“Why the hell does it have to be that show? Why can’t we do Superstar? Same story, and that at least has some balls to it.” Phil grumbled.

“He gets crucified at the end! What more do you want?” Margot countered.

“I know, but in “Godspell” he gets crucified cutely. The whole thing is too cute. The clowns…The songs…”

“I like the songs” James Chaney chirped in at exactly the wrong moment. The newest member of the North Rose Players executive was a keener who had actually volunteered to be secretary, despite having no previous skills that the position would seem to require. He wasn’t that swift, but he sure was eager. That and he happened to be Margot’s Boy Toy du jour, made him a shoe-in for the job. Up until that point he had been sitting quietly at the big dining room table they had acquired for the Gurney play, pen at the ready to take notes that had so far not materialized. Then he compounded the error by starting to sing “Day by Day. Day by Day. Oh dear Lord, three things I pray…”

Phil fixed him with a glare that appeared to be able melt steel, and James wisely decided to stop the performance. Fortunately the phone chose that particular moment to ring. James had literally been saved by the bell. He was about to express that and then decided not to would be the safer course of action.

Phil picked up the receiver and nasally answered “Rose North Players! Cute Crucifixions are us! How may I direct your call?”

“Philson?” It was Marigold, the last person he wanted or needed to hear from today, so of course she called.

“Hello, Marigold I…” He was about to say that he was in a meeting and that he couldn’t talk right now, which is what he probably would have said even if he hadn’t been in a meeting, but he never had the chance because she cut him off.

“Oh Philson, I’m so sorry. I called as soon as I heard. Are you okay?” She sounded as if she had been crying, which was totally out of character for his Mother, the bitch goddess, so something must be terribly amiss.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking and heard what?” He was hoping that this was some incident on one of her beloved soaps, but her tone was all wrong.

“Oh Shit! You haven’t heard. You don’t know, do you?” And now he was aware that the Iron Lady of Ontario St. was actually in tears.

“Know what, Marigold? Spit it out!”

“It was just on the noon news. There was an accident” He could hear her stop and gather herself before delivering the punch. “Philson…Matthew is dead”

And that’s when time froze, and the world seemed to go out of phase.

Phil dropped the phone and walked out of the room. None of the others said a word. The look on his face was enough to tell them it was something really bad. They still heard Marigold on the other end of the phone calling her son’s name, but none of them wanted to pick it up for fear of finding out what had caused that look.

Chapter 3

“Assume a Virtue…”

As far as Phil was concerned it wasn’t an accident that had killed his best friend, it was sheer stupidity. It was the stupidity of the student temp who had been cleaning the inside of the tanker truck , had dropped his goggles, and was then dumb enough to go back down into the tank to fetch them, where he was overcome by the fumes. It was the stupidity of the co workers who ran for their manager instead of doing something themselves. It was the stupidity of the manager, who also happened to be Phil’s best friend Matthew of taking it upon himself to go down into the tank to rescue the idiot kid, and then himself succumbed to the fumes, lost consciousness just as he was able to lift the kid to safety, fell backward, and broke his neck when he hit the bottom. It was sheer senseless stupidity all the way down the line.

But perhaps the stupidest thing of all was the fact that Matthew Blessing was still working at the goddamned brewery after all these years. It was only supposed to be a temporary job to pay his way through university, which it had. But in the end Matthew found that he was happier as a manager at Labatt’s than he would have been as a business administrator, Vice President of Exxon, or Prime Minister of Canada. It was a disappointment to his family, but they knew that when Matthew made up his mind, that was the end of the argument as far as he was concerned. The final irony was that Matthew Blessing didn’t drink. Not even the beer he ended up giving his life for.

When asked why he had chosen this particular path his reply was simply “I like the people”.

“Yeah, and look where liking people gets you” Phil muttered to the musty air of his cluttered room in Art’s Haus. After he had watched the news report on Pulse 24, he had turned off the TV, and went straight to where he had spent the last 24 hours, sitting on his bed, with the lights off, staring straight ahead, seeing nothing but the past…

They had done everything together since childhood. The incident with Marigold at the church was nary a blip on the radar of their friendship. And the fact that they were such opposites in everything seemed to make their bond that much stronger. Matthew was the sensible, grounded one while Phil was the artsy, fartsy , space cadet.

From grade school to high school and then onto University, they were together even though they had completely different majors. Phil continued to pursue his theatrical bent, hooking up with Spencer and the other residents of Art’s Haus along the way but his ties to Matthew remained strong. That was until he became engaged to Amanda. Then it became more difficult…

Phil thought of their last real night together. It was a week before the wedding and, being he was Matthew’s best man, Phil was determined to take his friend out for one gigantic fling. The fact that he was probably going to be the only one doing any flinging was not lost on Phil. Spencer had wanted to join them, but Phil shut him out. He wanted Matthew to himself this night, because somehow he sensed that it would never be like this again.

Prior to going out Matthew had made Phil promise to behave, and Phil kept his promise. The problem was that Matthew hadn’t specified how he should behave, so Phil chose badly. Against his better judgment Matthew had let Phil talk him into going to Doon’s, a seedy joint in the west end which offered females taking off articles of clothing for entertainment purposes.

They sat at a table close to the stage, where the divine Ambrosia was dancing to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. She had strategically placed doves covering various parts of her anatomy, not real ones of course. That would have been too high end for a hole like this. Matthew was still sipping his first ginger ale, while Phil was on his second screwdriver.

“Oh yes, come to me to me Miss Audubon.” Phil said, chairbopping to the music.

“These places always bore me” Matthew stated, honestly.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. That’s it, baby! Yeah! Work it! Martha Graham would be proud of you, honey!” He grinned at Matthew, who was determined not to laugh.

“I mean, seriously, what’s the attraction?” Matthew asked

Phil pointed to Ambrosia “She is! The mostly naked woman up there doing the interpretive dancing! She’s the attraction!” Ambrosia grinned at Phil for the compliment, and Phil blew her a kiss in return.

“I don’t see it”

“You don’t see it because Amanda’s got you so whipped you’re starting to look like Quasimodo on the pillory”

“Not true” Matthew replied, aware that he had done so a little too quickly

“It’s totally true, and you know it. For instance, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get home tonight?” Phil stared at his friend and arched an eyebrow waiting for his answer.

“Close the Door”

“And the second thing?” Phil leaned in.

“Lock the door” Matthew hedged. He knew where this was going.

“And once you’re finished playing with the door, what will you do?” They were practically eye to eye now.

“Call Amanda and tell her I’m okay” He gave an exaggerated sigh just for Phil’s benefit.

“Aha! My Point, I believe” Phil cackled, triumphantly.

“She worries about me, you know”

“Yeah, and she especially worries about you when you’re out with me” Phil finished the second and was signaling the bartender for a third.

“Well, you are a heathen” Matthew observed with a stone face.

“And I’m damned proud of it too! A heathen he calls me, no less. Well at least I’m not about to marry someone I met at Bible camp, when I was 14.”

“I was 15 not 14, and we were both counselors”

“That’s even worse!” Phil was getting louder. Even he noticed it, but it didn’t stop him “At 15 you’re supposed to be listening to the siren song of young budding hormones eager to spread themselves over anything that moves. You are not supposed to be getting engaged to the first femme who strikes your fancy…I mean if you’re into that sort of thing. I myself have never liked for my fancy to be struck. It’s painful, and not in that ‘hurts so good’ way”

“We didn’t get engaged until last year and you’re getting drunk” Matthew said, matter of factly.

“Yeah and you’re ducking the issue. And tomorrow…I’ll probably be getting drunk again.” This last was said quietly, almost as an aside.

“Anyway you’re hardly in a position to criticize me on that score, Old sport” Matthew grinned slyly.

“Should I stand up? And what’s with this ‘Old Sport’ shit? Are you suddenly Jay Gatsby?”

Matthew ignored him. This time it was his turn to lean into his friend “You’ve been in love with the same woman since you were 8 years old”

“Fuck off. I have not. I just liked her”

“You’ve been tongue-in-the-dirt-puppy-eyed-freaking-Barry-Manilow-humming in love with my sister Faith since you were 8 years old, and don’t bother denying it.” Matthew sat back in triumph.

In the meantime Phil’s jaw had dropped open. “Freaking? Did I actually hear St. Matthew Blessing actually use the word ‘freaking’? Gosh Matthew, that was nearly ‘fucking’. You must be serious”

“Listen , Sparky, just because my best friend has a potty mouth, doesn’t mean that I have to” Matthew took another sip of his ginger ale then continued “ And speaking of “nearly fucking”, have you ever “nearly fucked” my sister, Faith?”

Phil looked at Matthew blankly for a moment before he responded “No. No, I haven’t nearly fucked your sister, Faith. I haven’t even actually fucked your sister Faith. Oh, and Matthew?”

“Yes, Philson?”

“In the future, I would suggest that you leave the use of the words “fuck” or “fucked” or “fucking”, or any variations thereof to the professionals like me. It just doesn’t sound right when you say it” Phil said, meeting his friend’s eyes.

“Why’s that?” Matthew asked

“I don’t know…It’s just that you make it sound like a dirty word” Phil answered.

“It is a dirty word, Phil”

“Well, yeah, the way you say it.”

They looked solemnly at one another, then simultaneously burst out laughing.

Once they recovered, Matthew was still curious. “You’re telling me nothing ever happened?”

“…nothing ever happened” Phil echoed.

“You were in a tent with my sister, Faith Blessing, of the famous Blessing Triplets, all alone for 2 days in the wilderness. And you’re telling me with a straight face that you didn’t make a single move on her? A woman you’ve been in love with since the first time you laid eyes on her, and you didn’t do anything?”

Phil stared at his drink “No, I didn’t”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but why not?”

It took a long time for him to answer, but when he did he decided to try to be honest for a change. “I didn’t do anything because I was scared. I didn’t want to screw things up. It was too important to me. I didn’t want to intimidate her, I didn’t want to take advantage of her, and so in the end I ended up doing nothing.”

“Then why did you ask her up there?”

“What me? It was her idea. Are you kidding? I never would have had the nerve to ask her to go camping. I hate nature. I’m a city kid. I was born at the corner of “Down” and “Town”. Anyway it was a long time ago…Its dust”

There was a brief lull in the conversation, and then Matthew began to chuckle softly. “I just find it really funny that the same guy who can walk up to virtually any woman and charm the pants off them, figuratively and literally, can’t even talk to the one woman he really wants.”

“Oh hell, we talked. We still do occasionally. She and I have had great conversations. She even knows how I feel about her. But I could never follow through because…well…because she’s Faith”

“I think maybe you should have tried a little harder” Matthew concluded.

“And I think you should stop trying to pimp your sister. It’s unseemly. And speaking of unseemly…” Phil’s eyes traveled to the latest eccdesiastical marvel taking the stage. She went by the name Nyoka, the Jungle Queen. She wore leopard skin in places Tarzan never dreamed of and had a Bettie Page style hairdo. Phil, who was a big fan of retro in movies and, of course, strippers was immediately smitten. He stood up.

“Come to me you nubile young sex monkey!!” He then unsuccessfully attempted the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell. He was about to take another shot at when his view was blocked by an escaped Gorilla, complete with nose rings, dressed in a leather jacket.

“Did I just hear you call my girlfriend a Monkey?” The Gorilla asked, with astonishing clarity for a simian, Phil thought.

“Not just any monkey, Koko. I called her a Nubile Young Sex Monkey. It’s a very rare breed indeed. You’re a lucky primate” Phil clapped his hand on the Gorilla’s shoulder, then gave him a congratulatory handshake, and was out the door before the great ape realized he was gone.

Matthew came out of the club a few moments later. They began walking down the street in silence, until Matthew finally said “Nubile Young Sex Monkey?”

“How was I to know that Konga was her boyfriend? Hey, it was worth a shot. The Nubile Young Sex Monkey is known to be very fucking fickle…or is that very fickle fucking? I must remember to ask Jane Goodall. Either way I might have gotten laid if it hadn’t been for Digit back there. Let’s see, now where shall we spread our special brand of Joy?”

Matthew sighed “I don’t know about you, Dr. Leakey, but I’m going to spread myself over my bed. I’m tired.”

“Again? Aw Jesus Christ, Matthew” Phil shouted, and immediately regretted it.

“Hey!!” Matthew warned.

“Sorry…Fuck…Shit, I did it again” Phil moaned.

“I don’t mind the “Fucks” and the “Shits”. It’s the use of the name I object to”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry, but don’t kack out on me again tonight, Matthew. It’s you last week of freedom, and it is my mission as your best man to send you into wedded bliss as totally debauched as humanly possible”

Matthew was quiet for a moment then cautiously said “Okay, this one time, but you know I don’t debauch easily”

“I know that about you, St. Matthew, and I respect it. I don’t completely understand it, but I respect it. And it’s because of that very respect, and the fact that you are my very best friend in the world, that I plan on doing most of your debauching for you” Phil smiled, benevolently.

“You’re too good to me” Matthew said, in mock gratitude.

“And don’t think that I don’t know it” Phil agreed, and then he added “Hey, can I borrow 20 bucks.”
The evening continued much as it had begun. They found another strip joint. Matthew watched Phil drink and get rowdy, but they both laughed and were having a good time, until it came to the drive home. Then the tone shifted. As they headed towards their respective homes in the west end along the 401, there wasn’t much in the way of talking. The radio was set to Matthew’s favorite oldies station and Michael Jackson, the younger, and his brothers were pledging “I’ll Be There”

“So what’s next for you?” Matthew asked, finally

“You mean after the Wedding? I told you. We’re prepping “The Comedy of Errors” for October.” Phil replied. He was tired and not as drunk as he wanted to be.

“I meant what are your plans for the future?” Matthew glanced over at Phil.

“I plan on getting me one of those flying cars, like in the Jetsons. I’ve always wanted a flying car” Phil quipped, in a vain attempt to steer the conversation from where he was sure it was headed.

“I didn’t mean…”

“I know what you meant,” Phil interrupted testily “I have no idea. I don’t think that far ahead, you know that. You’ve always had the answer to all those questions. You’re the original answer man. You’ve always known where you were going, who you were going to marry, where you were going when you died, and presumably what color suit you were going to be wearing at the funeral…"

“Blue” Matthew said, quickly

“Of course, blue. But in case you hadn’t noticed in lo these many years, I’m not like you. I’m the Question Man. What if I don’t like where I’m supposed to go when I get there? If I don’t ever get married, will people think I’m gay? And if I’m getting cremated anyway, does it really matter what colour suit I’m wearing.?"

“You missed one” Matthew observed

Phil started to answer then stopped himself, sort of. “Oh, no you don’t! I am not getting sucked into this conversation yet again. Sorry, but I pass”

“You brought it up”

“And I’m letting it back down again” Phil said with finality

“Okay” Matthew said, but he knew his friend well enough to know that once started it wouldn’t rest for long.

“I don’t feel like doing this tonight” Phil griped


“I mean it, Matthew!”

“I know you do, Phil”

There was a loaded silence between them, filled by the Monkees singing ‘I’m a Believer’. Finally Phil couldn’t stand it anymore. “Okay, what?!” he demanded

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it” Matthew grinned.

“Just spill it so we can move on” Phil grumbled.

“I was just thinking that I was worried about you, you know. I mean for all your external confidence you seem like you’re lost. And I was just going to put forward the notion that some of your questions might get answered if you took of your soul for a change, instead of denying that you have one. Minor stuff like that” He had said all this while staring straight ahead at the road.

“Fuck off” Phil said, simply

“Good Answer!” Matthew replied without missing a beat.

“One of the reasons that you and I have remained friends so long is that, but for the occasional slip up like Easter, 1978, Christmas 1985, and now, you have never tried to push your religious beliefs on me. Let’s just keep it that way, okay?” He feigned trying to go to sleep, but it was a non starter and he knew it.

“Hey, I would never push my beliefs on you. You know that. Besides, I have ample evidence that what works for me wouldn’t work for you. Not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t want to risk crossing Marigold again. I just see you kind of floundering, what with all the drinking and indiscriminate fornication. I get the feeling you’re looking for something that you’re not going to find by either method.”

“And where would you suggest I look, Pope Pius?” Phil was not enjoying this conversation at all, but he couldn’t help himself.

“Somewhere inside yourself, which could end up leading to somewhere outside yourself” Matthew said gently.

“I don’t get it” Phil said, resorting to the familiar.

“And I can’t help you to get it. Especially at the moment on account of I’m too tired and you’re too drunk, and besides you’re home”

Phil stared at Matthew for a long time, then was suddenly aware that his friend was staring right back at him. They had come to a stop in front of Art’s Haus, and he hadn’t even realized it.

“Are you going to be okay?” Matthew asked, sincerely

“Apparently…Apart from my immortal soul, that is. Don’t try to save me, Matthew. I’m not drowning.”

“Not yet…And I’ll never stop trying to save you. You always were a lousy swimmer” He grinned in that perfect Matthew way. “I’ll call you tomorrow. We have to pick up the tuxes.”

“Not too early, I plan to be ill” Phil managed to figure out the door and got out , and then as an afterthought added “I still think Lime Green is the way to go”

“I’ll think about it” Matthew restarted the Civic

“Good Night, St Matthew” Phil said, with genuine affection

“Repent, you heathen, you!” He reversed the car and then drove off.

That had been 10 years ago. In the intervening time they had remained, close. But it was different. There were always other people around. It was rarely if ever just the two of them. There was Amanda, of course. They had never had kids, but they were active with various children’s charities and had actually recently been discussing adoption. Phil had the theatre company, and all the thrills and headaches that that entailed. They would get together at performances, holidays, and the occasional party, but it was hard to avoid the fact that the once dynamic duo were leading largely separate lives. It was never intended to be that way. It was just something that happened. It always does.

Now Matthew was gone. He was gone because of stupidity, and because he was always trying to save somebody.

Phil finally got into bed, pulled the covers over his head and wept quietly for his lost friend.

Friday, September 08, 2006

So I got some requests to post what I wrote during the 3 Day Novel Contest, because...Oh hell I don't know. Some people are gluttons for punishment. So here is the First Chapter...More to Follow. Hell Maybe we'll turn this into a Dickensian Serial, only not as well written.

Finding Faith

Chapter 1
“What’s past is prologue…”

It was one of those mornings Norman Rockwell would put on a Saturday Evening Post cover, a study in bucolic Americana, except that this was a Sunday Morning in March of 1978, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth.

A joyful noise was emanating from the locally celebrated St. Simon’s choir , well, most of them. The 7 year old tenor in the second row was periodically nodding off and hitting whatever note felt right when he came to. The choir master would glare at him, but the kid could barely keep his eyes open, so it was to no avail. There would be retribution at the next practice the choir master muttered to himself. Believe it.

Meanwhile, in the Sunday School class being held in the church basement, Philson Lawrence was confused. This was not an unusual state of mind for him. First of all he was 8 and 8 year olds tend to walk around in a state of confusion. This generally goes on from birth ‘til the teen years when the powers that be bestow total omniscience. But at this particular moment in time he was years away from all knowing status, and he didn’t get it.

“I don’t get it”, Philson Lawrence said.

He was sitting next to his new best friend Matthew Blessing, also 8, who obviously hadn’t heard him. They had met when Phil had transferred to Rose Avenue Public School in January, after Marigold had ditched the latest in a series of soulmates. Matthew Blessing was quite simply the perfect kid. He was handsome. Not cute. At 8 years old he was handsome, and possessed of a confidence and attitude none his peers seemed to possess, particularly Phil. Phil was none of those things.

He was shorter than most of his classmates, with dark brown hair down the middle of his back Peter Frampton style, which would have been fine 5 years earlier, but at this moment in style time, short hair was in. Then there was the matter of Phil’s wardrobe. First off it was home made, and there was nothing wrong with that, except that Marigold’s fashion sense left something to be desired. Her clothing tastes had been codified in the mid to late 60's and, consequently, every article of apparel she produced was an homage to that era. Secondly, Marigold had fairly liberal ideas as to what constituted suitable materials for the aforementioned clothing articles, so jeans may or may not have been made from denim, or a peasant shirt or dashiki might have a pattern of brightly colored balloons, butterflies or Superman symbols covering it. As a result Philson Lawrence spent most of his childhood looking like a hippie clown in the midst of a dacron, polyester, and hair gel circus. Still Matthew Blessing was his friend, and that was yet another thing that made Matthew perfect, at least in Phil’s eyes.

On that Sunday, Phil was wearing red denim jeans, tan mocassin boots , a black leather fringed vest and a dark blue peasant shirt with a lifesaver print.

And he was still confused.

“ I don’t get it,” he repeated. It was a phrase Destiny had apparently decided would be his lifelong mantra.

“ Don’t get what?” Matthew asked back. Both boys were whispering for fear of drawing the attention of Miss Navely, the Sunday School teacher, in the midst of the today’s lesson, The Resurrection.

“If he was dead, how could he come back?” Phil thought it a reasonable question.

“He’s Our Lord Jesus, he can do anything” Matthew explained , patiently. In addition to all his other attributes, Matthew was the poster boy for patience and tolerance. It could really get annoying, or it would if he weren’t so..well…Matthew.

“He can do anything?” Phil repeated, in question form.

“Anything” Matthew confirmed.

“What, you mean like Superman?”

“Yeah, well…kinda”

Phil tried to roll this one around in his head for a moment in his head, but it seemed to have a flat. After little while he came to this conclusion, “I still don’t get it”

“What don’t you get?” Matthew asked

“Well, if he was like Superman, why did he let himself get nailed up on that thing in the first place? I mean were they using kryptonite nails or what?” The concept of a super being allowing himself to tortured and killed just didn’t work for Phil.

“Boy, you really don’t get this, do you?” Matthew was genuinely awestruck.

“I guess not” Phil shrugged.

He tried again to focus on the lesson, and yet again found his eyes wandering over to the other side of the class and The Blessing Triplets. The Blessing triplets were Matthew’s little sisters. They were identical. Their parents went out of their way to keep them identical, by dressing them alike. Today they were in pristine white church dresses with blue ribbons in their brunette hair. Given the spiritual leanings of the Blessing family their names were, of course, Faith, Hope, and Charity. But Phil had no time for Charity or Hope. He was stealing a glance at Faith. Still another question reared its head.

“Do your parents always dress the girls alike?” Phil inquired.

“Yeah, they think it’s cute or something but the girls can’t stand it, to tell the truth” As if Matthew Blessing could ever tell anything else.

“Why do they do that? They don’t really look that much alike”

Matthew stared at Phil incredulously. “Are you kidding? They’re identical. I can’t tell them apart. My parents can’t even tell them apart. They look exactly alike”

Phil shook his shaggy head “Not to me”

Matthew was about to protest when the wrinkled face of Miss Olivia Navely suddenly appeared before them. Both boys started backward and nearly fell out of their chairs.

“Will you boys please stop that chattering?!” She rasped, “Our Lord Jesus wouldn’t like it.”

“Yes ma’am, we’ll be quiet” Matthew apologized, but Phil wasn’t as contrite.

“How do you know?” He asked, blankly

“I beg your pardon?” Miss Navely responded. She wasn’t actually begging , in Phil’s eyes, nor did she really seem to want his pardon. In fact she seemed annoyed at being spoken to at all. But Phil pressed on.

“How do you know Our Lord Jesus wouldn’t like it? Do you talk to him?” There was no sarcasm or guile involved it. Phil simply wanted to know.

Miss Navely puffed herself up proudly, and baring a perfect set of false teeth in a broad, but not especially friendly smile. “Why yes! As a matter of fact I do. I talk to him everyday”

“How do you talk to him?” Phil asked, “On the telephone?”

The rest of the class erupted in laughter, a sound which bothered Miss Olivia Navely’s ears, so she was quick to silence it “Children! Please!” She growled then, turning on Phil “No. Not on the Telephone. I pray to him”
Phil stared back at her “What does that mean?”

“You don’t know what praying is?” The confrontation was suddenly gone from her voice. She stared at Phil as though he were some strange alien life form. Meanwhile Phil had the song from that movie about the deaf , dumb, and blind pinball player Marigold had dragged him to suddenly running through his head. ‘And Tommy doesn’t know what praying is’ He suddenly felt more freakish than usual.

“Only what they do at school before the announcements, but I have to go stand out in the hall for that” He was growing increasingly uncomfortable at where this was going. He glanced over in the triplets direction only to lock eyes with Faith, who was smiling at him in sympathy. He suddenly felt much better.

“And why do you stand out in the hall during morning prayer?” Miss Navely seemed truly shocked that such a thing was possible.

“Cause Marigo…My Mom says we don’t believe in this stuff, you know, the whole Jesus and God thing.” There was an audible gasp in the room, and Philson Lawrence felt like one bug under 30 different microscopes.

Miss Navely swiveled her jaw, pursed her lips, and then through gritted dentures, sounding for all the world like Clint Eastwood, had he been playing an old woman “Your Mother says that, does she?”
“Yes, ma’am” he managed. This old lady was beginning to scare him.

She paused for a moment, then moving within an inch of his face, her breath smelling of the odd combination of old cigarettes and cherry Halls cough drops, said “Well, I think you’re a big boy and it’s up to you whether you want to believe in something or not” She glared at him for special emphasis and added “Don’t you?”

Phil swallowed hard. He felt trapped. He gave the only answer he could given the circumstances. “I guess so” he whispered.

Suddenly the smile was back, but it had a distinctly shark –like aspect to it. “Very Good” she purred “Why don’t we teach you how to pray right here and now? Would that be all right with you?”

Again the feeling of being an animal caught in a snare. Desperately he looked around for some escape route, only to see the smiling face of Faith Blessing. Now instead of a trapped fox, he became a deer caught in her headlights. She was nodding.

“Sure” he heard himself saying, “Why not?”

“Excellent!” Miss Navely positively chirped, then turned to the class, “Attention Children! We are now going to help Matthew’s young friend learn to participate in the joy of prayer. Let us get down on our knees…”
Practically as a unit the rest of the class, followed her directive, except for Phil who slowly joined them, and Miss Navely who was taking her own sweet time due to arthritic knees…

“Let us close our eyes. Let us clear our minds…” She intoned when she finally was able to assume the position. Her voice was taking on a hypnotic quality Phil was finding hard to resist. He tried to clear his mind by thinking of blank paper , but it always ended up with the image of Jesus in a Superman costume on it.
“Let us talk to God…”

Phil snuck a peak upward to see if God might actually show up, but all he saw was that the Sunday school classroom ceiling needed the services of a good plasterer. He closed his eyes again.

Miss Navely began an emotional recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, joined by the children of the St. Simon’s Sunday School. Phil listened to the words, and tried in his own way to make sense of them.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven…” That meant that God, presumably all of our fathers, was in Heaven (wherever that was) and not that his name was Art. So far, so good. Yet he thought he heard something else. Underneath the words, in the distance was a disturbing sound, but he couldn’t quite make it out.

“Hallowed be thy name…” There, you see! His name wasn’t Art, it was Hal… Hal Owed! No, that wasn’t right. And there was that sound again, like a low rumbling freight train that was picking up steam.

“Thy Kingdom Come…” Okay, Kingdom I get. He has a castle up there, presumably a big one, and eventually we’re supposed to come to it. Phil could deal with that, but he now feared that he was never going to get to see the Disney style fortress in the sky because he suddenly knew what the threatening sound was. In fact, it called him by name.

“PHILSON!! PHILSON! Where are you?!” it roared.

Of course it was Marigold. And the true horror of what was about to happen came to him. He began his own fervent prayer.

“Oh God, if you’re there, please don’t let this happen…”

“Thy will be done” the class continued, still blissfully unaware of the impending danger.

“PHILSON! You better not be in here, or I’ll find you!” The voice moved relentlessly closer.
“On Earth, as it is in Heaven…”

And now Phil began pleading with desperately with God, who he’d only just recently began talking to, and yet now was begging for a miracle. “Please God. Not her. Not now. Not in front of the rest of the kids. Not in front of Matthew! Not in front of Faith! I’ll do anything you want. Just don’t let this happen!” Of course none of this was said aloud, but in his mind Phil was screaming.

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

And still the voice of doom advanced, “I’M COMING FOR YOU, PHILSON!!”

Now everybody heard that. All eyes snapped open and looked towards the door to the room beyond which the monster seemed to be bellowing, for what else could it possibly be? Phil saw the fear in some of the eyes. It was a fear he was all too familiar with.

“God, if you’re up there, I could really use a favor here.” Phil actually said out loud.

Uneasily, the class returned to the prayer. “And forgive us our trespasses…”

“PHILSON!!!!” The Creature screamed, as only a true demon can.

Again the prayer stopped. The terror was real now, and it was close. And just as before it began again, but the conviction was now shaky.

“C’mon God…” Phil whispered, but in his heart he knew it was too late.

“As we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The door slammed open. Some of the children actually screamed.

She stood there in the doorway. She was all of 5’1”, maybe 120 pounds, but the energy emanating off of her made her seem much larger. Her puffy blonde hair streamed down to the middle of her, and she wore a floral print caftan that made it look as if the Sixties had thrown up on her, but at present she looked like nothing less than a professional gunfighter from the old west. Steely-eyed, she sought out her prey. Bowing to the inevitable, and possibly to save the others he wasn’t quite sure, Phil stood up and stepped forward.

“Hi, Mom” he said, pretending a calm he did not actually come close to feeling.

Marigold stepped forward, and one still expected to hear the chink of spurs on a dusty road. It was enough to cause the rest of the class, Miss Navely included, to scatter for the perceived safety of the surrounding walls. At least they would be out of the direct line of fire. Phil’s attempt at familiarity had done nothing to calm the storm of her rage.

“Hi MOM?!! Hi MOM?!! Don’t you ‘Hi Mom’ me, Buster!! You goddamn well know my name!” She yelled.

“Okay… Marigold” Phil replied, softly.

“Okay who? I can’t hear you!” She suddenly sounded like Sgt. Carter from Gomer Pyle.

“ Okay, Marigold” he said more forcefully, then gathering courage for the inevitable battle he continued “I was just trying to let these nice people know that you were my Mother, and not just some crazy lady who bursts in Sunday Schools shrieking like a banshee for no apparent reason”

“I don’t give a flying fuck what these ‘nice people’ think. As far as I’m concerned these nice people can go straight to the goddamn Hell that they’re so goddamn afraid of…”

With each swear word there had been a gasp from the spectators, then at the curse of the fiery pit, one girl burst into tears. Miss Navely took a step forward, then thought better of it. The little blonde with the foul mouth intimidated even her, and she had worked in a frontline hospital in Europe during World War II.

“I told you I didn’t want you hanging around these places!” She continued.

“It’s a Church” Phil countered.

“I know it’s a Church, asshole! That’s the Point! Come on, we’re going home!”

Again Miss Navely took a step forward, but this time Marigold saw her and glared at her with such power that the old woman found herself genuflecting, despite the fact that she was a devoted protestant.

As he was being dragged from the room, Phil managed to get one last longing look at little Faith Blessing standing between her sisters. She smiled again and even gave him a little wave. He only had time to lift his free hand before he was yanked through the door by the other.

Once outside, Marigold continued to hold Phil’s hand in a vice like grip, even though he had ceased struggling once Faith had smiled at him again. It gave him enough residual courage to confront the lioness again.

“I don’t get it. What’s wrong with going to church?” he asked, simply.

She stopped and rounded back on him, releasing his hand and getting into his face at the same time. “You know very well what’s wrong with it! We’ve discussed this at length at home. We don’t believe in Organized Religion. We don’t believe in abandoning personal responsibility to a convenient mystery deity! We don’t believe in the God compromise!”

“Well, what do we believe in?” He really wanted to know.

She glared at him and then, quite simply, said “We believe in us” She turned and stormed down the street away from him. She looked like a runaway psychedelic parade float. Phil watched her walk out of view and then sighed.

“Then ‘We’ are in big trouble” he said to no one in particular, and began to trudge home.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Summer Movie Stuff

So the Summer is half over and the usual bunch crap has been dumped out for the movie going public to sit through because hey, it's hot outside. And like the rest of you I've sat through my share of dross. For no purpose other than to vent my spleen ( I have to vent it occasionally or it explodes and makes a big mess) here are my utterly valueless thoughts on what I've seen so far this summer...By the way, these are just Chock a Block with spoilers, so if you still want to see any of these and you dont wanna know, stop reading now...Seriously...Right now

X Men : The Last Stand- So Bryan Singer makes the first 2 X Men movies, and they are generally well-written, and while the action in them is good (particularly in the second) what really makes them work are the way the characters are handled. Yes, they are from a comic book, but Singer never makes them cardboard. They are real people, all with their own issues, flaws, prejudices. They just happen to have these powers which, for the most part only add to their problems. They make them different, and we all know how well people with differences are tolerated

It's clear where we're going from the first scene in the Original X Men Movie. In the Warsaw Ghetto of World War II, 13 year old Eric Lehnsherr is being separated from his family who are being put on the trains for the concentration camps. As he is being dragged away by Nazi soldiers, he reaches out towards his parents and the fences between them begin to buckle and collapse, and only a rifle butt to young Eric's head keeps them from being destroyed completely...Eric grows up to be Magneto, and he's the VILLAIN of the piece

This scene signaled that this wasn't going to be just another comic book movie (and by the way, most people who use the term comic book dismissively haven't actually read one in the past 3 decades. Some of the best writing I've seen is going on in so-called comic books, courtesy of the likes of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Judd Winick, and Kevin Smith...yes, THAT Kevin Smith, about whom more later).

I wish there was something in the 3rd installment of the series that came close to matching that one scene, but alas Bryan Singer apparently took all that good stuff with him when he decided not to carry on with the trilogy and took, what from all reports was an offer he couldn't refuse from Warner Bros. to resuscitate the Superman franchise (whether that proved to be a wise move, gentle readers, we shall see later).

X Men: The Last Stand is at its best during the many action sequences. It's good that it has a lot of them, because when it tries to tell a real story, it falls flat on its ass. And here's where Singer's touch is missing. The established characters seem to be phoning it in as if to say "I only signed on for 3 of these things, and this is the last one", the acting equivalent of a kid watching the clock on the last day of school before Summer. Sir Ian steals the movie yet again, but he doesn't have much in the way of competition this time. Jackman's Wolverine goes through the motions, but the edge is gone. Halle Berry, who apparently demanded her part be expanded or she wasn't going to do the film, needn't have bothered ( Geek Note: I always thought Angela Bassett would have made a much better Storm who, as the name tends to imply, is supposed to have power. Ms. Berry is just pretty, whereas Ms. Bassett would have been a badass) And Famke Janssen as Phoenix (the resurrected Dr. Jean Grey who it turns out , after 2 previous movies where it is never mentioned, has a split personality), who is a fine actress normally, lets the jaundiced makeup and contacts do most of the work for her. James Marsden doesn't get much chance to grow in the character of Cyclops because he gets killed off in the first half hour by the aforementioned Phoenix (probably as punishment for also following Bryan Singer to Metropolis). I missed Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, and resented the substitution of Kelsey Grammer as the Beast (Apparently youre only allowed 2 blue mutants per movie, and since Rebecca Romijn is always one of them...) Anna Paquin as Rogue seems to have decided to get off this train too, although its just as well. They never knew what to do with her character after the first one, anyway.

And since there will no doubt be a mass defection of the principals after this movie (Don't let the "Last Stand" thing fool ya, they've left plenty of wiggle room for sequels, as evidenced by the tag after the closing credits. Have we learned nothing from Friday the 13th movies?) we are introduced to a whole new crop of mutants, bad and good (Remember, Bryan Singer's gone and there are no shades of gray here) Unfortunately they're not given enough to do so you can't tell whether they can carry a movie or not. Again lots of action...little character. You don't know these people because, unlike the first 2 films, these are Action Figures not realized characters. And the film is a lot like those games you played with them as a kid, only with better effects and waaaay more


The Movie does get bonus points, however, for discovering yet another use for CGI. In the opening sequence Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen, in a flashback, visit the Young Jean Grey. The two have had 20 years digitally knocked off of them, without ever having to go near a plastic surgeon. This means, of course, that we'll be seeing Sharon Stone's cooch for another few decades, but I guess you have to take the good with the bad...But we'll leave Basic Instinct 2 for someone with a stronger stomach.

The DaVinci Code: Didn't read the book. Don't really get the controversy. I'm just judging it as a movie, and as a movie...Well...About 20 minutes in, my body had its own review...I fell asleep. During my nap, I apparently missed 3 more murders, but I noticed that our heroes (Audrey Tautou and the Weirdly Haired Tom Hanks) weren't much further ahead from when I was awake, but Ian McKellen was there, and since he wasn't wearing a red cape this time, I felt safe in assuming that I hadn't woke up in the middle of X Men III again. The movie is confusing enough without having missed a good portion of it. Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman have revived the trick they used in "A Beautiful Mind" of floating text magically rearranging itself into some pattern that is supposed to make sense...It doesnt , but its still a neat effect (and if I were them I wouldn't do it again). And Hanks looks tired in the movie, not exactly the attitude you want in a thriller (and possibly what led to my slumber...Sympathy Sleep). And the surprise ending is no big surprise even if you missed stuff...And the tag after the real climax doesnt make any sense, but there you go. It fits the rest of the movie perfectly in that respect. The pacing is sluggish (also not a big seller in a thriller) and the dialogue has to do a lot of work in getting the plot over and ends up sounding like a series of disconnected lectures. It could use a few more jokes too.

As for the plot points that have everybodys spiritual knickers in a twist, a couple of things:

1) Since when are the Gospels considered "history"?

2) For you to buy into the central conceit of this movie requires leaps of logic, coincidence, and credibility that even Superman couldn't make...Speaking of which...

Superman Returns: In 1932 a couple of bespectacled nerds ( the original comic book geeks) created a Pop Culture Icon, and a fantasy for every kid who ever got picked on for being different. After six years of trying they unwittingly sold the rights to said Icon for 132 bucks (They thought they were selling a story. They didnt realize they were selling the rights to the character as well. They were kids.)

Nearly 70 years later their creation, Superman, is back on the big screen for the 9th time (Yes, I can count. Take the Fleischer Cartoons as a body, and dont forget the 2 Kirk Alyn Serials and that Superman and the Mole Men, George Reeves debut in the role that made/doomed him, was a movie first...Geez... How geek defensive was that? ). Yes, Superman Returns and having seen the movie twice now (IMAX 3D and regular), I'm still not sure how I feel about that.

Here's the thing. I'm in the middle of writing a musical about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the aforementioned bespectacled nerds, and I've been immersed in research about them, their creation, changes the character went through over the years, the various media versions...So for the past little while I've been totally swamped by the Superman Mythos. Therefore I feel I come to this discussion with some credentials, for lack of a better term.

I've been wrestling over my thoughts about this film for a while now, and they are a mixed bag to say the least. I guess its easiest to break it down into what I liked, and what I didnt like about it. The simplest ways are often the best

Like: The fact that the movie actually, finally, got made after being talked about for nearly 10 years. I'm also glad it wasn't made by Tim Burton, with Nicolas Cage in the lead.

Didn't Like: The almost slavish dedication to the Richard Donner films from the opening credits, to the attitude, to the look (mostly), to the end fly by (at least they didn't do the patented Chris Reeve smile at the camera, but I bet they wanted to). Yes, they were good (I say they in anticipation of the long awaited Richard Donner Cut of Superman II coming in November. To me the existing version has always looked like it was mashed together [the credited director being Richard Lester, who was brought on after Donner was fired, and did a lot of reshooting] with completely different visions of the material. So different, in fact, that you can pretty much go through the movie and tell which director did what scene.) but I think it was a mistake to make it a virtual sequel to Superman II (presumably the Donner Version) and not start over again a la Batman Begins. I know we dont need another version of the origin story, but a new approach wouldn't have been unwelcome.

Liked: That Jack Larson and Noel Neill actually got speaking parts in the movie (albeit small ones) and not just cutesy cameos. They've done their time for Big Blue and they deserved it.

Didn't Like: Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane. She's cute and all, but where was the spark, the fire, the (dare I say it?) spunk? I didn't buy her at all. There was no there, there. And considering it's supposed to be one of the great romances in pop culture, that's kind of a big thing.

Liked: Brandon Routh's Clark Kent. Yes, it was a virtual Chris Reeve impression, but it had its own little tics and foibles. (By the way, much was made about how much he looks like Reeve, which didn't floor me nearly as much as how much he SOUNDS like Reeve.)

Didn't Like: Brandon Routh's Superman. Here's where Routh and Reeve part ways. How do you play an all powerful being who at his core has to be not only human, but humanity at its best (even though hes an alien)? Reeve was confident, but not cocky. Sincere without being a goody two shoes (... he looks at Lois underwear, fer cryin out loud, and probably had before she asked the question...and she's embarrassed, he's not) Superior without being smug. He knows what he is, what he can do, and he's only here to help. You believe him when he says with a completely straight face (and despite the whole double life thing) "I never lie". And, maybe most importantly, Reeve's Superman has a sense of humor. The most you can say about Brandon Routh's take on the Man of Steel is that he's stoic. He takes his job way too seriously, so much so that when he tries to pull off one of the signature lines from the first movie ("I hope this little incident hasn't put you off flying. Statistically its still the safest form of travel") It falls flat. I'm not ragging on the poor guy, though. It's a hard part to get right. Hell, only one actor has been able to pull it off so far. 9-1 are pretty long odds. Also the new suit doesn't help...The rubber/leather wear look is more suitable for fetishism than heroics, and the S is too small.

Liked: Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor. He brought something to the role that no other actor, save John Shea in "Lois and Clark" has. Danger. Gene Hackman was having way too much fun., Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) has yet to scare me, but Spacey's Luthor is funny, brilliant, and teetering on the brink of insanity. Now if we could just get rid of the lousy sidekicks... (Sorry, Parker).

Didn't Like: The Fact that Lex Luthor is the only Superman villain deemed worthy of screentime. I have one word for the producers of the presumed sequel (although until the domestic grosses hit 200 million, that isn't a given). Brainiac. Take a look at "Superman: The Animated Series". You'll see what I mean.

Liked: The Effects. Absolutely Amazing. This time I believed a man was flying.

Didn't Like: Superman's powers have gotten way out of hand. In his original incarnation Superman could jump over buildings, lift cars, and "nothing less than a bursting shell could pierce his tough skin". I'll accept flight as a substitute for jumping around like a grasshopper. Strength, sure. Near invulnerability, fine. But He Lifts a Freaking Island out of the Ocean and flies it out into Space!! C'mon, guys...I think his powers need a serious ramping down. That's why they've always had trouble finding decent villains with credible threats. And while were on the subject of threats, Can we get together on what Kryptonite actually does or doesn't do to him? It seems to be pretty flexible in terms of how long and how much damage. Hmmm? Can we get a standard here? Please?

Liked: Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen, although for the life of me I don't know why.

Didn't Like: Bryan Singer's lack of a personal vision. While I think he is a very talented director with a proven track record, his biggest mistake on this movie was letting another director's previous interpretation dominate. I would rather see Bryan Singer's Superman than Bryan Singer's continuation/vindication of Richard Donner's Superman. That decision comes at the expense of what Singer's great strength as a director is, and that's character. It's not here, particularly with the principals. What's missing in "Superman Returns" is Superman. Unlike Singer's X Men movies, we get no sense of who this guy is, what he thinks, what he wants...except in one moment, where he tries to show Lois how he sees the world...but can't really communicate it because it hasn't been set up properly. Maybe Singer's just tired of superhero movies and wants to go back to neo noir, or something new. But there's a disconnect here that throws the whole movie off kilter, and despite some great moments, the whole doesn't come together.

And don't get me started on the kid...

Art School Confidential : If you saw Ghost World, (and who didn't?... Okay...Never mind) there are a number of scenes where Thora Birch is forced to attend a Summer School art class. Art School Confidential is essentially those scenes expanded into a 90 some odd minute movie. And why not ? Same Writer and Director, right? Well, yeah...except there's nothing new here. It's merely cliché heaped on cliché . The Moral of the story is that most people who call themselves artists are talentless hacks, and most real artists can't get anywhere because of them, and the people who run the art scene wouldn't know real talent if it bit them in the ass. Get it? Got it? Good...Moving right along.

Clerks 2: You get the sense that Kevin Smith really wants to grow up, but he's got this fan base that is totally content with dick and cum jokes. So that's what he gives them. He tried to make a straight movie and was roundly slapped for his troubles. Despite what you may have heard, and apparently more people heard about Jersey Girl than actually saw it, it is a decent movie with a heart. It's just not Clerks. And unless there's a connection to Clerks (i.e. Jay and Silent Bob) the fanboys just dont wanna know. So after getting beaten up for Jersey Girl, and withdrawing from "The Green Hornet", which he was to write and direct (and which I secretly hope he still does) he decided to go back to square one and make Clerks 2

Smith had talked about doing a Clerks 2 for a long time prior to actually doing it but I get the impression that it was always a fallback position. But then he made the mistake of saying that "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" would be the last appearance of everyone's favorite hetero lifemate dope dealers. As Sean Connery could have told him "Never Say Never Again".

This preamble sounds like I'm going to slam the movie, but I actually liked Clerks 2. Yes, it's familiar territory. Yes, the dick and cum jokes are back galore. Yes, Jay and Silent Bob dealing again (although Jay has apparently found Jesus...And he got Mary Magdalene knocked up...Oops...wrong movie). Dante still whines and Randall finds new ways not to work, and yes it's all very funny...but...The 800 pound gorilla in the room is "Arent we a little old for this shit? Isn't it about time we grew up? Don't you want more than this?" And Smith is not only asking himself these questions, he's asking his audience too.

I just hope he gets the right answer...