mental health, narcissists, nostalgia, psychology, TV

“Be your own hero…” Life lessons from 80s era TV.

Throughout the 1980s, I was a big fan of the cheesy TV show, Fame. I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Even in the 80s, I knew it was a really cheesy show. I wasn’t involved in the performing arts at that time in my life, although my parents were. I just liked watching the reruns every night, which came on an independent, local television station in my area, WTVZ, channel 33. The independent version of WTVZ that I knew during my childhood went defunct years ago. It was bought out by a much bigger, national network. But, back in the day, I used to love watching prime time hits in syndication or reruns on channel 33. Now, I can do that on YouTube.

Yes, this is a cheesy and silly number, but there is wisdom in this song.

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, WTVZ ran episodes of Fame every evening at 7:00pm. I used to watch that show religiously. I still remember a lot of the musical numbers from the show. One such song was sung by the character, Coco (Erica Gimpel). It was called “Be Your Own Hero.” Actually, the song’s lyrics, themselves, aren’t that wise. They’re kind of corny and trite. But, the title is catchy, and the melody is upbeat and positive. And even if all you do is just look at the song’s title, you can take something away from it.

Fame was about talented kids in high school who hoped to make it big in show business someday. They knew they faced long odds of finding success, even though they were obviously gifted people. Being talented isn’t always enough, though. Luck plays a part, as does working hard, and believing in yourself. A big part of success, in any aspect of life, is not letting “the bastards” get you down. Because, as unfortunate as it is, there are always people out there who just like to watch the world burn. They like to see people fail. And some of these folks don’t even have the courtesy to be “real” about who they are. They put on a convincing act, and don’t reveal their true colors until after some time has passed. So, as the song goes, you gotta “be your own hero”, if you want to make it. You have to advocate for yourself and take opportunities as they arise, as you avoid falling into traps and pitfalls. Only you know what your reality is. No one else knows you, like you know yourself.

I am thinking about this song today, having had a discussion with Bill this morning about three situations in which we’ve managed not to be suckers. I’ve talked and written about these situations a lot over the years, but today was the first time I saw a pattern. It was a pattern of success– of us “being our own heroes” by knowing the differences between legitimate opportunities, and traps. This morning, we talked about three different scenarios that came up over the past twenty years, or so. These were circumstances in which other people were trying to take advantage of us. They were using the classic manipulative tactics to get what they wanted, when they weren’t entitled.

I’ll start with an old chestnut that I’ve trotted out umpteen times over the years– Christmas 2004. Detailed versions of the story of that holiday season are easily found in this blog, so I won’t rehash the tale. Basically, Ex was holding Bill’s daughters hostage– or bait, if you will. They were like carrots on the proverbial stick, as she used the prospect of Bill being allowed to see his own kids as reward for letting Ex come in to Bill’s father’s home and control everyone for the holidays. I was supposed to go to that gathering, but I saw it for the trap it was, and wisely stayed out of it. Yes, there was backlash, and plenty of people think I was wrong not to cooperate with Ex. However, I could plainly see what she was doing. I knew that no one– not even Ex– would benefit if I did what she wanted me to do. So I disobeyed her command to spend Christmas with her, and stayed home.

Now, Ex did retaliate, by stepping up her parental alienation campaign and being more toxic. In the years following that incident, there was a price to be paid for not acquiescing to her demands. However, if I had obeyed her, the price would have been much higher. In the long run, her actions have made her look like an asshole, and at least one (and probably more) of her kids know she’s an asshole. And I don’t have the memories of having to spend time in her presence. I was my own hero in that instance, because I realized that my own mental health matters. I don’t have to give in to emotional blackmail. If I had gone along with her plan, there was no guarantee that there would have been a reward of any kind. In fact, if I had given her the chance to know me in person, it might have made things a lot worse. The end result is that I haven’t had to deal with 20 years of her interfering with my marriage or trying to manipulate my husband, or me. Yes, she still manipulates other people, but we can’t control that. They have to be their own heroes and realize what she is, and what she does. Younger daughter has managed to do just that. I have high hopes that she will break the cycle of narcissistic abuse, at least in her own family.

The second scenario happened in 2009, when we busted then 21 year old former stepson secretly changing his last name as he continued to take child support from Bill (who isn’t his legal father). Ex had gotten the lad’s name changed to Bill’s when he was a toddler. When he was 21, he decided to change it back to his original surname (probably at Ex’s behest). But he still wanted Bill’s financial support, so he took these steps in secret. I later found out about it, quite by accident. I told Bill, and he decided to see if he could prompt the young man into coming clean. He never did.

For some reason, Ex had not filed for child support arranged by the state. My guess is that she knew that if she had the state handling child support, she wouldn’t get as much money. Bill was giving her $850 per child, which was a lot of money. When former stepson turned 18, Bill started paying him directly, which was what was required by their divorce agreement. Ex had a change of heart about that. She tried to get Bill to stop giving former stepson money directly. I guess she realized that the money gave her son power, and the ability to get away from her influence. But she did manage to get him to change his name, which was fine. He just should have had the common courtesy and respect to tell Bill what he was doing. Former stepson had neglected to do that, so it was left to Bill to practice some tough love.

As we realized what former stepson was up to, Bill came up with an idea. He’d given former stepson a chance to tell Bill about the name change, but former stepson had kept mum. So Bill, who was handling the “child support” payments directly, abruptly cut off the boy’s money. After a couple of days passed, and the child support money didn’t land in his bank account, as expected, the lad surfaced, asking what was going on. That was when Bill confronted him, and told him he had just declared himself no longer in need of getting “child support”. Changing one’s surname is, after all, the action of an adult.

Naturally, former stepson was angry that the man he had disingenuously been calling “Dad” had found out that he was changing his last name. His initial response wasn’t shame, embarrassment, or contrition. It was outrage. But there was Bill, now in charge. He had “been his own hero”, and not let this kid use his generosity to control and manipulate him. Bill had realized that letting his former stepson get away with this deceptive and shady behavior wasn’t good in the long run. It would make their relationship transactional, encourage more shady behavior in the future, and frankly, make Bill his former stepson’s lackey. That would have done some serious damage to Bill’s self-respect, while it gave former stepson a victory that he shouldn’t have. It would have been bad parenting for Bill to let his former stepson get away with what he was doing.

Yes, there were repercussions. Former stepson was furious, and now he doesn’t talk to Bill anymore. But we’ve heard he also doesn’t talk much to Ex, either. He’s paying his own way now, and has a family of his own. Bill is sorry they don’t talk anymore, but he also knows he’s not in a relationship with someone who only values him for money. Maybe someday they can heal the rift; but if they don’t, it’s okay. Bill will survive. So will former stepson. Hopefully, neither of his children will ever pull the same shameful bullshit with him when they get older.

And finally, we were our own heroes a couple of years ago, when our former landlady tried to steal our security deposit after we left her hovel. In retrospect, we should not have stayed in that house for four years. We should not have allowed her to treat us the way she did. Being nice and acquiescing to her demands only emboldened her, and apparently made her think that she could egregiously break German law and ignore our rights. At the end of our time in her house, we were left having, once again, to be tough and confrontational.

I had determined the year before we moved that ex landlady was going to be a major pain in the ass about our deposit when we moved. Actually, my concern was that she might try to sue us, because the 17 year old awning on her house had collapsed on my watch (due to high winds, NOT my negligence– in fact, she was negligent in not having it repaired by an actual technician, instead of her husband). I talked Bill into getting legal insurance, thinking we might need it if she tried to take action against us, even though it would have been ludicrous and probably doomed to failure.

What ended up happening, though, is that she simply refused to give us our money, and became very rude and insulting. She said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had, not realizing that she was the least professional landlady/landlord we’ve ever had. She did a lot of things wrong. She hadn’t done a proper protocol when we moved in, and she never did a former reconciliation of our “other costs”, which is required by German law. She also made false accusations against us that we could prove were false, and there was strong evidence that she had broken and entered the house when we weren’t home. That’s a huge “no no” in Germany.

When Bill received a very insulting, berating, and downright mean shaming email from the former landlady, he resolved not to respond to her. Instead, he closed his computer and went to sleep. He knew exactly what he was going to do next, and it was going to come as a very unpleasant surprise to the old bitch. She was expecting him to roll over for him, as he had done when we still lived in her house. Instead, he called a lawyer and had her write a letter demanding over 9000 euros, to include our stolen deposit, and the “other costs” she had received from us, but never reconciled. Naturally, ex landlady went berserk, and threatened to countersue. However, she had zero case against us because she couldn’t prove her claims. What’s more, we had a whole stack of rude, unhinged, hostile emails she had sent to Bill, at the end of our tenancy. Bill, on the other hand, had stayed professional and polite.

Ex landlady hadn’t had any respect for me, or what I do– writing blogs, taking photos, and the like. But the fact that I do these things– keep records, that is– was her downfall. And because I am a writer and researcher, we had that evidence to submit in our support of a lawsuit against her. If she had gone to court, it would have likely been a fucking massacre– especially since she falsely accused us of theft, and we could easily prove that her accusation was patently false. It was obvious that she wanted us to buy her a new, fancy awning. But she’s damned lucky that we let her file an insurance claim, under the circumstances. The awning wasn’t repaired properly. If it had fallen on me and caused injury, she would have been liable.

In the end, she settled with us, and was forced to not only give back most of the money she had illegally withheld, but she also had to pay for our lawyer, her lawyer, and court costs. And she’s now blacklisted from renting to anyone in the U.S. military community. I mean, I suppose she could rent to another contractor, like Bill. But most military contractors know that they can access the list of unapproved landlords. If they’re smart, they avoid renting from those folks. And government workers and military servicemembers won’t get government support/housing allowance if they rent from her. Her house is definitely nothing special, so I can’t see anyone paying out of pocket to live there.

That situation was very stressful for us. It gave us no joy or pleasure to sue our ex landlady. But as awful as that situation was, it was also exhilarating not to be someone’s chump. Bill actually described it that way to me. People underestimate him all the time. They take his kind, gentle nature as weakness. They are usually very surprised when he reminds them that he’s spent his whole adult life as a Soldier. Soldiers engage in war for a living. Soldiers are often career heroes. So she should not have been surprised. Bill was just doing what the Army trained him to do. Bill was “being his own hero.”

There have been other incidences of us “being our own heroes”, but this post is long enough already. I write these stories for those who find themselves in similar tough spots. I think our culture teaches us to “go along to get along”, or take the path of least resistance. That’s not always a bad thing to do. Sometimes, cooperating really is the best course of action. But, when you’re dealing with a bully who has no respect for you, it’s usually best not to negotiate. They will always try to make it so that you’re their chump. You can’t expect a fair shake from these people, and if you give them what they want, you will only embolden them to do worse things to you, or other innocent people. So be your own hero.

When you are confronted by high conflict bully types, try not to react emotionally. Stop for a moment. Don’t dash off a response, especially in writing. In fact, you might want to go radio silent and privately hatch some plans. As you can see from our stories, the element of surprise can be very effective in getting these people to fuck off. Above all, realize that you matter, and your mental health matters. Always advocate for yourself, and in a situation in which there isn’t a “win-win” option, do what suits you best. Most of the time, that will be the healthiest choice for everybody. Especially if you’re dealing with a high conflict person.

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movies, TV, videos

Repost: Desperate Lives– a delightfully campy anti-drug flick starring Helen Hunt…

I am reposting this old Epinions review, written June 26, 2012, because I mentioned Diana Scarwid today and she was in this movie about drugs in the 80s. I did recently write about Desperate Lives, but that post didn’t include my review… and I worked so hard on that review! So here it is– as/is– for the interested. I had some fun with this writeup, didn’t I?

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, which means that my childhood was inundated with anti-drug propaganda.  One of the most memorable made for television films from my youth is 1982’s Desperate Lives, starring Doug McKeon, Diana Scarwid, Diane Ladd, and a very young Helen Hunt.  This film has some unintentionally hilarious moments in it, which is why I would ever think of it 30 years later.  Though it has been available on VHS in the past, it eventually went out of print.  I see it’s now being offered for $9.99 on Amazon.com, or you might be able to see it for free on YouTube, which is what I opted to do.  Or, you can just read this review, which will be very snarky and includes all of the major details of the plot.

The plot

Guidance counselor Eileen Phillips (Diana Scarwid) is new blood at a high school where the kids are all stoned.  She wants to do something about all the blatant drug abuse, but the teachers and administrators don’t care.  Can a couple of special students help Eileen convince the kids to stop doing drugs?

A blow by blow… (cuz are you really going to watch this?)

*Spoilers– skip this section if you don’t want them.* Diana Scarwid, who famously played the adult version of Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest, plays Eileen Phillips, a young guidance counselor.  Just eight years out of high school herself, Eileen Phillips has an annoying, odd, southern accent that sounds like it inspired Eric Cartman fifteen years later.  On her first day on the job, Eileen runs into Scott Cameron (Doug McKeon) in the parking lot.  Scott appears disoriented because he and his sister, Sandy (Helen Hunt), have just taken a ride in a van where other young folks are doing drugs.  Scott apparently has a bit of a contact high.

Eileen immediately takes a shine to 15 year old Scott and asks another guidance counselor if she can trade one of her students for Scott.  Later, we see Scott in Eileen’s office and she tries to talk to him about his future.  But he’s coming down from his high and is angry and irritable.   They have a bonding moment when Eileen implores her new young charge to trust her.

At a pep rally, Eileen is enjoying the band and the cheerleaders until she looks around and spots some unruly boys up in the bleachers shoving stuff up their noses and smoking pot.  The football coach stirs up cheer by telling students they “have to get high”.  As everyone roars approval, he quips “That’s not what I mean…”

Eileen corners the principal, Dr. Jarvis (William Windom), and immediately takes him to task for all the druggies in his school.  Having only been on the job two weeks, Eileen sure doesn’t mind upsetting the apple cart.  Dr. Jarvis doesn’t seem to care.  He continues greeting students as Eileen tries to talk to him about trying to stop all the drug use.  The good principal just can’t be bothered.  Later, we discover that Dr. Jarvis will soon be retiring, which explains his apathy.  He warns Eileen not to rock the boat too much.

Eileen is in the pool with the students when she spots one of them floating.  She shouts for someone to call the paramedics because the young lass isn’t breathing.  Miraculously, after a few seconds of CPR, the young girl starts breathing again.  When Eileen asks what happened, the only response she gets from the other kids is that the girl is just a “dumb doper”. 

The music turns sad and ominous as we end up at Scott and Sandy’s house, where their mom, Carol (Diane Ladd), is setting up for dinner.  Scott starts complaining to his mother, who tells him he hangs out with “a bad class of people”.  Scott gets p!ssed and storms out of the house as Carol calls to him to come back.  But Sandy tells her to let Scott go out and blow off some steam… or maybe just to score some blow.  Later, when Sandy tries to talk to Scott, he calls her a b!tch and accuses her of being a doper, too.  But Sandy says she only “experiments”; she’s not a drug fiend.

The familiar strains of an 80s era arcade play and I hear the sounds of Donkey Kong.  Scott’s there to pick up a stash from his dealer, Ken (Sam Bottoms).  Ken apparently sees himself in Scott and recruits him to help him sell drugs.  He shows Scott his car and apartment, offers Scott a beer, and tells him to open a briefcase he got handmade in Italy, which Scott pronounces as “gnarly”.  The dealer doesn’t drink or drug, but he likes his money.  He sees the same qualities in Scott as he introduces him to a lucrative life in designer Jordache jeans!   

There’s more ominous music as the scene shifts.  Poor Carol is in bed with her husband, John (Tom Atkins), lamenting about how crappy Scott is.  The parents are losing control of their kids and hating it.  Dad can’t reach Scott, but he can keep a 16 hour a day job at the post office so he can pay the bills.

Scott is soon approached by a pretty 15 year old girl named Susan (Tricia Cast) who’s heard he sells drugs.  He doesn’t want to sell her any drugs, but she tells him “everybody else is doing it”.  Ahh… famous last words.

Eileen busts a group of b!tchy teen girls in the girl’s bathroom, who are sitting in there getting high.  They tell her the same thing… that everybody does it.  But Eileen isn’t having it.  Her voice is low with disapproval as she reminds the teens that she’s been around and knows what’s going on. 

Next, we see Sandy in the chemistry lab with her boyfriend, Steve (Grant Cramer) a cutie pie football player.  He’s got some PCP and wants to celebrate their six week anniversary.  Sandy tries to resist, but Steve lays on the peer pressure.  She snorts; he kisses her.  Then we flip back to Scott as he asks out Susan, the cute girl who wanted to buy drugs from him. 

Suddenly, we hear ungodly screams and shattering glass as we see Sandy jump out a second story window!  Under the influence of that PCP, Sandy has landed on the ground, screaming and writhing, miraculously with no apparent broken bones, cuts, or even bruises.  Scott wrestles Sandy to the ground and she goes limp as she passes out.  When a student says that only the crazies act like this, Eileen screams that she’s glad everyone’s so sane.  Yes, this is one of the unintentionally hilarious parts of this film.

Eileen Phillips is now lamenting that the problem is overwhelming.  Her boyfriend, Stan (Art Hindle), is annoyed because Eileen is too much into her job.  He’s especially irritated when Eileen asks Stan if he minds if Scott joins them on their bike date that weekend.  Eileen wants to show Scott a “new way to get high”.  And Stan reluctantly agrees to being cock-blocked by a drug addicted adolescent.

Eileen takes Scott fishing and finds out that Scott has a sense of humor.  Then they’re with Stan as appropriately cheesy 80s music plays while they ride their bikes without helmets and take crazy risks doing stunts.  They have a good day, but Scott still has a dark side. 

In the very next scene, he’s snorting a couple of lines of cocaine just as he’s about to practice swimming.  He does a lap, then his cute little girlfriend, Susan shows up.  They talk about drugs and Scott is annoyed that she’s on something.  It seems the young lady has a complex about being like “Little Bo Peep” and thinks drugs will help her grow up.   

Next Ken, the nasty drug dealer, is shown roughing up Julie (Michele Greene) one of his female teenaged clients, who begs him to supply her with something.  But he heartlessly shoves her aside, refusing to hook her up.  Then, just as Ken is about to leave, Scott shows up and confronts the drug dealer, telling him to stay away from his girlfriend.  I’m wondering if Scott is just hoping there will be more for him.     

Eileen Phillips, still taking her job very seriously, tracks down the drug dealer and confronts him.  I can’t help but think Eileen is a dummy, messing with a drug dealer without any backup.  These were the days before cell phones after all.  But the dealer is surprisingly mellow… until the two of them find Julie, the shrieking young girl the dealer had kicked out, dead on the floor of his apartment.  She has committed suicide.

At swim practice, Eileen pulls Scott aside and reads him the riot act.  They have an argument as Eileen tells Scott that he’s a doper.  Scott finally breaks down and tells her he has to do something to get away from “all the crap”.  And Eileen, in all her wisdom, tells Scott to try a movie or a book.  Somehow, I can’t imagine that advice is going to go very far with the average drug addict.

Then at a faculty meeting, Eileen delivers a sermon about all the druggie kids at the school, and poor dead Julie is a good way to raise the issue with the kids.  Here, we see Dr. Joyce Brothers in a cameo, playing Mrs. Watson, a woman who couldn’t care less about the drug problems and wants to discuss band uniforms.

Over Thanksgiving dinner, Scott’s family is trying to engage him.  But he passes out, his face landing in his plate full of turkey and mashed potatoes.  Then as Eileen and Stan have a picnic, they argue because Eileen is too hung up on the druggie teens and doesn’t care enough about their relationship. 

Sandy, now sporting black eyes and casts on her arm and leg, takes Scott out for a walk.  He tells her he’s taken Quaaludes and that’s why he passed out over dinner.  Sandy tries to talk Scott out of using drugs, but Scott takes off on his skateboard, leaving poor gimpy Sandy standing there.

As Scott is angrily skateboarding down the street, the music turns hopeful.  Susan pulls up in her car.  She’s fifteen, so she’s clearly driving illegally.  The window rolls down and Scott calls her “Sandy” instead of Susan.  Oops!  She invites him to get in the car with her.  They decide to go up to the mountains.  While they drive, Susan tells Scott to open the glove compartment, where she’s stashed some primo angel dust.  Susan reassures Scott that this angel dust is “clean” and they can enjoy it without worrying about freaking out like Sandy did.  The two have an annoying conversation, peppered with some very contrived sounding teen lingo.  They light up while Susan is driving and the two of them are completely out of it as the road grows curvier.  Finally, Susan is stoned out of her mind and still driving… neither is wearing a seatbelt, mind you, as Susan’s car goes through the guard rail and down an embankment.  Another unintentionally hilarious moment happens as we see a very cheesy special effect.  The windshield cracks, but it looks like it was done in cartoon rather than for real!

Eileen comes to the hospital.  Thunder rolls and it’s pouring outside.  Eileen introduces herself to Scott’s parents, who have gathered around their son’s hospital bed.  We see Scott looking out of it, his hands restrained in leather straps.  Scott has a nasty concussion and doesn’t even ask about Susan, his darling girlfriend who has perished in the crash. 

It’s Christmas time, two weeks after his Thanksgiving accident.  Scott still doesn’t know what’s happened.  Eileen visits him at his home.  Scott asks what happened.  Eileen tries to change the subject, but he presses her for details.  Eileen tells Scott that “God has a way of blocking painful memories from our minds so that we don’t replay them over and over again…”  Not sure God has a lot to do with it, but it sounds good.  Eileen talks to Scott’s mom and I have to say, Diane Ladd does a good job playing the anguished mom, wondering how she ended up with two druggie kids.  Later that night, Scott wakes up screaming like a banshee as he realizes his cute girlfriend, Susan, is dead.  He’s hysterical as he throws a chair through the window.  Is it the drugs or grief?  The paramedics come to take Scott away, presumably for a shot of Thorazine.

Eileen reflects on what’s happened to her favorite student.  She has finally had enough.  During a Christmas assembly, Eileen goes through a bunch of lockers and collects a bunch of drug stashes.  She puts it all on a cart and pushes the cart into the gynmasium, where she proceeds to burn the drugs in front of everyone.  I can’t help but wonder how the burning drugs don’t make everyone high,  but I guess the writers were going for a dramatic effect.  On another note, the fact that there’s a Christmas assembly and the choir is singing a religious song really shows how dated this film is.  In any case, after Eileen collects all the drugs, I’m left thinking this was one stoned school! 

Eileen delivers another unintentially hilarious speech in front of the student body as she lists all of the students who have been maimed or killed thanks to drugs.  She’s presumably sober when she does this.  Just say no, kids!  And shockingly, Eileen’s speech seems to get through to everybody!  One by one, the students come up to the burning cart with drugs on it and drops more into the flames, apparently just because of Eileen Phillips’ speech.  A round of applause erupts as the kids decide to go straight.  I wonder if they’ll still be straight tomorrow or the next day, but the ending does at least allow this film to end on a triumphant note.

My thoughts

Desperate Lives was obviously meant to be a very serious film.  I know it was shown at schools in the 1980s as a way to dissuade students from taking illegal drugs.  But I have to say, Diana Scarwid’s performance is pretty trippy.  I was impressed by some of the other actors, namely Doug McKeon and Helen Hunt, who are clearly much too talented for this tripe. 

I don’t think this film is particularly effective, despite its strong anti-drug propaganda bent.  The dramatic moments go way too far, which makes this movie too over the top to be taken seriously.  Yes, it’s true that some people ruin their lives over drugs.  But Desperate Lives only shows the most drastic and dramatic pitfalls to drug abuse peppered with the Valley Girl speak that was so popular in the early 1980s.  From the moment we see Helen Hunt jumping out of a window, screaming her head off, it’s very clear some of these scenes are intended to shock and scare straight.  And what they ultimately end up doing is making viewers laugh.  Or at least they make ME laugh.  At least we’re spared seeing these kids in rehab.

Overall   

This is your typical 80s era movie of the week.  I watch this and wonder if people were really that simple in the 80s.  I can’t imagine today’s teens taking this movie seriously at all.  If you watch it, you will probably laugh.  I certainly wouldn’t spend money on this film, but it’s fun for a laugh on YouTube.

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bad TV, good tv, movies, nostalgia, TV, videos, YouTube

Angel Dusted, Desperate Lives, ended with a Final Escape…

Happy Saturday to everyone. It’s cold and grey here near Wiesbaden, Germany. Good news, though. My new Thunderbolt cable just arrived, so now I don’t have to hang around the house waiting for the delivery guy. Or maybe I do. There is one more package I’m waiting for before I declare my Christmas shopping done for 2021. It could show up today. It probably won’t, though.

It’s been quite a dramatic month so far, and it’s really flying by. Pretty soon, it’ll be 2022, and people are already noticing…

Yikes!

Actually, I’m not that afraid of 2022. Being fearful of the future isn’t productive. It will happen no matter what. Besides, we’ve already survived 2020 and 2021. How much worse could it be? Don’t answer that!

I’ve decided that today, I’m going to write one of my “fun” (for me, anyway) TV nostalgia pieces. I don’t feel like ranting about irksome behavior from strangers, opining about people who are in court, or writing very personal stuff about my life. Nope, today I’m going to write about some stuff that was on TV when I was a child. I love to watch old crap from the past on YouTube, and I’m grateful to content creators who are there for me with an impressive collection of that stuff. It’s always a bit unsettling to realize how long ago the early 80s were. It seems like yesterday.

Over the past 48 hours or so, I’ve watched some 80s era TV that was universally entertaining, but for different reasons. It’s easy to forget that the 80s were very different for a lot of reasons. For one thing, for a good portion of the decade, there were only three major networks, plus public television. If you had access to cable, you might have had 20 or 30 channels. I think when my parents got basic cable in 1980, we had about 12 or 14 channels, which seemed like a lot at the time. Consequently, there were a lot of movies of the week and TV shows that everyone watched. Some of the TV fare available in those days is truly laughable today.

In 1981, I was 8 or 9 years old. I was 8 until June of that year, anyway. And one movie that aired and I missed was called Angel Dusted, which premiered on NBC in February of that year. In fact, I had never heard of that movie until I stumbled across it, totally by chance, yesterday morning. It starred the late Jean Stapleton (aka Edith Bunker) and her son, John Putch, as well as the late Arthur Hill. Helen Hunt also has a role. Gosh, she was so pretty when she was a teenager!

There are a couple of videos with this movie on YouTube, but I’m uploading this one, because it also includes ads from 1981. They are a hoot to watch, especially since I remember them well and realize how strange they are 40 years later!

Back in the 80s, there was a lot of press about drug abuse. That was the “Just say no!” era, championed by Nancy Reagan. Drug abuse is a serious problem, but some of the films put out about them in the early 80s were truly ridiculous. I’m happy to report that Angel Dusted is actually a very well done film, save for the hokey title. I never saw Jean Stapleton in much besides All in the Family, so it was a pleasant shock to see her in this film with her talented son, John Putch.

Putch plays Owen Eaton, a high achieving college student who attends an excellent university and is under pressure to make top grades in a demanding major. One night, Owen smokes a marijuana joint laced with PCP– angel dust– and it makes him have a psychotic breakdown. The doctor at the infirmary where he attends school calls Owen’s parents, Betty and Michael Eaton (Stapleton and Hill), and they rush to the other side of the state to pick up their boy. They arrive at the infirmary to find him strapped to the bed, screaming and wrestling. The doctor at the infirmary, played by familiar and prolific character actor, Jerry Hardin, tells them that Owen needs to be hospitalized.

Betty and Michael soon find themselves plunged into a crisis, as their son is put in a psychiatric hospital for several weeks, completely unable to function and surrounded by people who have organic mental illnesses. Betty is the dutiful doting mother. Michael is ashamed and withdraws. Their other three children, Mark (Ken Michelman), Lizzie (Helen Hunt), and Andrew (Brian Andrews) are forced to deal with the shifting focus in their family as Owen recovers from the psychotic reaction.

Parts of this film are very 80s and make me feel older than dirt. It was weird to see nurses in white dresses and caps, remembering that in those days, that’s how they looked. I also noticed things like the house, with all its wallpaper and big boxy televisions. This was all normal when I was a child, but now it’s different. We have flat screens, textured walls, and people don’t necessarily have dinner in the dining room. A lot of newer houses don’t have dining rooms! Some of the dialogue is also pretty dated, too.

But– I really thought this film was well acted and had a compelling story. I also liked that touch of early 80s cheese and over the top drama that made it interesting and entertaining in 2021. There’s a lot more to Jean Stapleton than Edith Bunker, that’s for damned sure! I don’t know how common it is for people to smoke PCP laced marijuana joints these days, and we certainly have a very different attitude about marijuana nowadays. But I do think Angel Dusted is well done and worth watching if you have a couple of spare hours and enjoy movies of the week circa 1981. The cast is excellent, too.

MOVING ON…

The next film I would like to mention is another one from the same time period. It also featured Helen Hunt. This time, she wasn’t playing a put upon sister who was inconvenienced by her brother’s ingestion of PCP. This time, Hunt is the one who goes a little crazy!

The film is called Desperate Lives. In the past, the whole thing was posted on YouTube. Nowadays, it looks like only a few of the funnier clips are available there, although I did find the whole film here. I’ve seen that movie enough times to comment on it, though. It aired in March 1982, and it was very entertaining, but for very different reasons than Angel Dusted was. Desperate Lives was also about the evils of drugs and the terrible things they do to young people. But instead of realistically focusing on what can happen when someone gets on a bad trip, this film employs really stupid special effects and bad acting to get the point across. Below are a few clips I’ve found on YouTube.

A song by Rick Springfield, who was big at the time.
Diana Scarwid, who played the adult version of Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest, is a high school guidance counselor who tries to shave everyone’s buzz.

It’s the beginning of a new school year in California. Young guidance counselor, Eileen Phillips, has arrived all bright eyed and bushy tailed for her new job. She is newly graduated and enthusiastic for what she expects will be a rewarding career, shaping young people’s lives as they embark on adulthood. But the school where Eileen works has a terrible drug problem and all of the adults who run the school are turning a blind eye. Eileen is determined to straighten everybody out and, in the meantime, entertains viewers with some truly ridiculous scenarios.

Oh lord… this scene is particularly infamous. Helen Hunt jumps out a window, lands on her back, and gets up physically fine as she screams.
“I’m glad we’re all SANE!”
An ad for Desperate Lives. Actually, you could watch this ad and get most of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Doug McKeon, who was in On Golden Pond, tries to add some credibility to this film. He’s a special student and a swimmer on the swim team, which puts him closer to Eileen, as she’s also the swimming coach. Helen Hunt, God bless her and her prodigious talent, really gave it her all playing a “crazed” girl on PCP. But this movie, compared to Angel Dusted, just sucks. However, it IS entertaining, just because it’s unintentionally hilarious. I definitely got the point that drugs are bad, mmm’kay? This might have been a better movie with a different leading lady. Diana Scarwid was very attractive in the early 80s, but she’s not a very good actress, in my opinion. Diane Ladd and Dr. Joyce Brothers also make appearances!

And finally, I would like to comment on a 1985 episode of the New Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I remember when this episode, titled “Final Escape” originally aired. I was really affected by it at the time. At 13, I was the kind of viewer television executives loved. I could easily suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoying a TV show.

Season Hubley plays a nasty bitch in prison who has a scary end…

Season Hubley plays Lena Trent, a woman who has been in and out of prison, and has a history of escaping. She’s shown having been convicted of murder, and sent off to a life sentence in the big house, Mojave Prison, where just four hours after her arrival, she gets into it with the prison queen bee. But Lena is very manipulative, particularly toward men. She charms the warden, again played by Jerry Hardin, who was also in Angel Dusted (and also had a couple of memorable turns on The Golden Girls). The warden yells at Lena for getting in a fight, but then inexplicably gives her a job that gets her away from the other inmates and puts her at a level of lower security.

Lena then works in the prison infirmary, where she meets a kindly Black man named Doc (Davis Roberts) who has super thick cataracts and can barely see. Doc helps out on the ward and buries the prisoners who die. The dead prisoners are buried outside of the prison walls. Lena is nice to Doc at first, listening to him moan about how the state doesn’t want to give him the money to get cataract surgery so he can see better. She soon realizes that he has free access to the outside of the prison, when it’s time to bury the dead; this causes her to hatch a new escape plan.

One day, a letter from the state arrives for Doc. In it, Doc is notified that he has been granted the money for the surgery. But Lena has another plan. She breaks Doc’s glasses on purpose, effectively making it impossible for him to see. Then she reads the letter, telling him that his request has been denied. Naturally, Doc is disappointed and pissed! Lena tells him she has a lot of money and will give him the money to get his surgery if he’ll help her escape.

Doc agrees… with tragic and scary results.

If you haven’t yet watched the episode and don’t want spoilers, stop reading here. I do recommend watching the video if this description has piqued your interest.

Lena asks Doc to bury her with the corpse, and then dig her up a few hours later, when the coast is clear. Doc initially refuses, telling Lena that she’ll suffocate. But Lena assures Doc that she can hang for a few hours, and once he’s done her this favor, Lena will pay for his eye surgery (which of course, she wouldn’t, because she’s a nasty bitch). Doc tells her to come to the infirmary and climb into the coffin with the corpse, which Lena does.

Sure enough, she gets buried. It’s never explained how two bodies managed to fit in one coffin. It’s also never explained why no one noticed how much heavier the coffin was, with two bodies in it, one of which wasn’t embalmed.

We see Lena in the coffin, somehow with enough air to talk to herself. She’s sweating and seems uncomfortable, but she has her eyes on the prize– a final escape from Mojave Prison, with Doc’s help. Finally, after a few hours, Lena starts to worry. She somehow lights a match, which would have used up some of that precious oxygen. That’s when she realizes that the corpse she’s sharing the coffin with is Doc! And no one else knows she’s been buried!

Of course, this could never happen. Even in the 1980s, there’s no way someone with Lena’s history would score a job with lower security standards. And there’s no way she would fit in a coffin with another corpse. And there’s no way she would light a match in a coffin like that… But it did make for compelling and scary television, back in the days when people didn’t mind suspending belief.

Well… it’s been fun writing about these old gems from the 80s today, instead of kvetching about people who piss me off, exploring psychology and narcissism, and dishing about the Duggar family. I suspect this post won’t get a lot of hits… or maybe it will. Sometimes, people surprise me. I know that Desperate Lives is a guilty pleasure film for a lot of people. And I can see on YouTube, that I wasn’t the only one who was permanently traumatized by that episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Angel Dusted is less notoriously cheesy, but is probably the highest quality production of the lot, at least in this post. Perhaps if this post is well-received, I’ll write another. I love watching this stuff.

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lessons learned, movies, poor judgment, true crime, TV, YouTube

Repost: Sage advice from DC Cab– “That which makes you can also break you…” and “Don’t let your dick run your life.”

I just ran across this post I wrote for my original blog on November 14, 2018. I am reposting it today, as/is, as I think about what today’s fresh content will be about.

Many years ago, for the very first time, I watched a comedy film starring Mr. T.  The film, which was made in 1983, was called D.C. Cab, and it was about a group of misfit cab drivers in Washington, D.C.  It was a mostly forgettable movie, but it did have a few funny lines in it.  For that reason alone, I bought it on DVD and still watch it when I need a cheap laugh.  One of my favorite lines in D.C. Cab comes at the very beginning.  The late actor Whitman Mayo, who plays a character called “Mr. Rhythm”, says to the camera, “Don’t let your dick run your life.”

Sage advice from Mr. Rhythm, and cheap, too!

This topic comes up after I spent about an hour yesterday watching videos on YouTube starring Chris Hansen of “To Catch a Predator” fame.  I remember back in 2007, when Bill was in Iraq, sitting at home on weekday evenings watching Hansen busting would be perverts who were caught trying to meet teenaged girls they met on the Internet.  These guys were chatting and sending dick pics to people they thought were young girls, but were actually young looking police officers posing as teens.

A few months later, Bill and I moved to Germany the first time, and I lost track of Hansen’s show, which I think was eventually canceled.  But then yesterday, I discovered that Hansen was back with a newer show called Hansen vs. Predator, which aired in 2016.  Someone uploaded a bunch of videos from that show on YouTube.  Below is the first one I encountered.

32 year old math tutor Mike Manzi, who goes by the handle “Mike Thrilla” online, arrives at a house intending to “chill out” with a thirteen year old girl while he smokes marijuana.  Instead, he meets Chris Hansen and gets busted.  Then, amazingly enough, he argues with Hansen when Hansen tells him who he is.

Before he visits the “girl”, Manzi admits that he shouldn’t be talking to her.  He has suspicions that he could be walking into a trap.  And yet, he takes the risk anyway… obviously not having seen D.C. Cab and heard Mr. Rhythm’s excellent advice.  Hansen asks Manzi what he’s doing at the girl’s house, and Manzi claims he came over just to make sure “everything was okay.”  Yeah… I don’t think so.  Don’t let your dick run your life, buddy.

Mr. Rhythm also says “That what makes you can also break you.”  Given that the origin of life is at the end of a man’s penis, I think that’s also good advice.  After all, without a man’s contribution, a woman can’t get pregnant.  So don’t let your dick run– or ruin– your life.

Contrary to his big plans for the day, Mr. Manzi doesn’t spend the afternoon smoking weed with a young girl.  He begs Hansen to let him go.  Hansen says “no” and Manzi goes to jail.  But he’s not the only one who gets caught in Hansen’s web.

Here’s a guy from Boston who brings pizza to meet a 13 year old girl… and offers Hansen a slice just before Hansen drops the hammer.

I sat there yesterday and thought to myself that the sex drive in some men must be extremely irresistible if they’re taking these kinds of chances.  Obviously, these dudes have seen Chris Hansen on TV.  They know what’s going to happen if they run into Chris Hansen.  And yet, when they are trapped in Hansen’s clutches, they try to wriggle out of them in a most pathetic way.  If only they’d listened to Mr. Rhythm.  His advice is so good.  

Come to think of it, Mr. T.’s speech is worth listening to, as well.  Dignity, self-respect, and pride… all well worth maintaining.  And if you’re chatting with adolescents on the Internet with the intention of getting busy with them, you have no dignity, self-respect, pride, decency, pot, or pizza…  What you have is a criminal record and public humiliation as you get publicly busted on primetime TV and/or YouTube.

Adults, male or female, have no business “chatting up” teenagers on the Internet, particularly when it comes to anything sexual.  And they have no business going to a child’s house in search of companionship or to make sure they’re “okay”, especially after they’ve been caught having explicit chats with them online.  

Here’s Jesse Velez, 28 years old, and looking for companionship with a boy he thought had only just turned 13, but was actually a young looking 19 year old actor.  Velez had actually been chatting with Lori, a police officer.  When Hansen confronts Velez about sending the “boy” a picture of his private parts, the guy tries to deny it.  How embarrassing!

I’m glad all three of these guys were busted and didn’t actually harm anyone.  I don’t envy today’s parents.  I’m sure it must be a challenge to constantly monitor their children’s Internet activity, as well as the adults with whom they come into contact.  On the other hand, there was no Internet during my childhood and I still managed to run into a pervert.  

I guess it just goes to show that it pays to be vigilant, and make sure you’re thinking with the right head.  If you let your dick run your life, you may find it impossible to talk your way out of the mess.  So remember Mr. Rhythm whenever you get the urge to make rhythm with someone inappropriate.  Remember, that what makes you can also break you. 

Fresh for 2021: I might have to watch DC Cab today… It’s a good one.

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Netflix, TV

We fell into Squid Game over the weekend…

In spite of the beautiful fall weather we had over the weekend, Bill and I ended up staying home on Saturday. I was sitting on the bed, flipping through Netflix, when I landed on Squid Game. I didn’t know much about it, although had seen a lot of press about it. I was initially kind of turned off by it, even not knowing anything about the story. I could see a lot of weird colors and settings in the photos and I had a feeling it was going to be bizarre.

The trailer…

But anyway, since we didn’t have anything else to do, I decided to press “play”. The show began, and Bill quickly joined me. It’s not that often that I land on something he really wants to watch. Bill is a typical guy, and he likes action and violence more than I do when he watches TV or a movie. We watched five episodes on Saturday and the remaining four last night. I thought I would have nightmares, like I did after I watched The Handmaid’s Tale. To my great surprise, no bad dreams haunted me last night or the night before, although I do remember that Saturday’s dreams were pretty busy and vivid.

At first, I wasn’t sure that I’d be interested in Squid Game, even as the series began. But then I was intrigued by the very American sounding voices that were dubbed into the original Korean. And then, the actual premise hooked me, even as I was absolutely horrified by the violence and dark themes.

There they were, all of these Koreans, basically tricked to going to a hellhole, where they are forced to play children’s games. They were there because almost all of them desperately needed money to pay off debts they otherwise could never repay. The payoff for success is a huge pot of money, dumped into an enormous piggy bank that is suspended over the players. Not succeeding means death– quick and sure, with a single shot to the head or chest. It’s brutal and shocking, and ultimately kind of sad. But then there are interesting quirks and twists, and a few comic elements. Plus, there’s a lot of symbolism and uses of color to make the show even more visually appealing and intriguing.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot about this series, because I know a lot of people are still watching it or haven’t seen it. I don’t want to spoil the ending. Do I think you should watch it? Well, that all depends…

In some ways, I think Squid Game is as dark and dystopian as The Handmaid’s Tale is. It’s certainly very violent as it makes a point about the relentless pursuit of wealth. I had some flashes of depression and shock as I watched the players suffer and the tensions build as each one was dispatched, with no thought at all for the people left behind and the witnesses. With each death, a cheery female voice announces that the player has been eliminated. It’s jarring, and surreal.

But on the other hand, as the story progresses, some depth and wisdom emerges. The main character, who was kind of a careless loser at the beginning of the series, develops some decency and turns into a man. It wasn’t unlike the character of Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman. He starts off as a callous jerk, who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. By the end of the film, he’s developed heart, courage, leadership, and decency. That part of the story appealed to my heart, even as it was broken watching all of the carnage.

Indeed, at the end of the series, we see that the game continues, with new players… not unlike officer’s training school continues in An Officer and a Gentleman, when Gunnery Sergeant Foley delivers his spiel to new recruits. The difference is, of course, most people either get through officer’s training just fine, or they decide to quit. Losers in Squid Game die. And it’s all for the mighty pursuit of money.

I had no idea how serious the debt problem in South Korea is. I suppose that’s another reason why so many Americans are drawn to this series. I think debt is a serious problem in the United States, too. It’s so easy to fall into it, and so hard to get out of it. I could see how some people would be attracted to play a game that would lead to their early deaths. Of course, there were a few times when I had to suspend disbelief. For instance, I wondered how the game could continue, when so many people played it and suddenly disappeared. Wouldn’t people wonder where hundreds of their friends and family members disappeared to with each new round?

Teasing is fun sometimes.

But I also know that people love a good fantasy… Squid Game is a good fantasy, I guess. Some of it is downright creepy and weird, and I marveled at how someone came up with this story, with its twists and turns and special effects. I also thought the actors were great. I found myself wanting to learn more about Korea. The series made it look like such a cool culture.

I was once offered a job teaching English in South Korea. I decided not to take it. There were a few reasons for that. I did kind of feel sad about turning down the job, since I thought it would be exciting and interesting. But I had student loans to pay, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it on what the school would pay me. Also, I didn’t know if I would appreciate the lifestyle in South Korea, or the culture. Now that I’ve watched Squid Game, I think I’d like to know more.

Anyway… I definitely think Squid Game is an interesting series. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is disturbed by gratuitous violence. I’m glad I watched it. I’m not sure if I would want to watch another season of it… I wouldn’t be surprised if one materializes, though, since I think it’s going to make Netflix a lot of money. But the creator has already said that if he does make another season, he would use other writers and directors. I’ve seen what happens when new people come in and change a show’s vision. It’s not always good. On the other hand, Bill told me the director lost six teeth making the first season. Teeth are a terrible thing to waste.

Now that I’ve seen Squid Game, I may have to learn more about that part of the world… I’ve already read a lot about North Korea. Maybe it’s time I read more about the southern part of the Korean peninsula. I still don’t know if I want to visit, though. I definitely wouldn’t want to be playing Squid Game myself. It’s amazing what’s coming out on television these days. I grew up in an era when we were all happy with cookie cutter sit-coms.

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