Category: Uncategorized

Roger Ebert

In 2010, I stood outside the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, holding the door open for a gentleman who exiting the building. Film critic Roger Ebert looked at me and said “I don’t remember your name. But, I do remember that you are an asshole.” I smiled and said that I had read that he had been ill, and hoped for his rapid and complete recovery.

Of course, there is a backstory. In 1987, I conducted a seminar at the Hawaiian Internatonal Film Festival in Honolulu. The topic was “What Producers Need to Know About Distrribution and the Marketplace.” It went very well. During the last half hour, Mr Ebert and his entourage came into the small theater, sat in the back and started having a party–a very loud and disruptive party.

I told him that we would soon be finished, and I would conduct the Q&A session outside so that he could begin his lecture on time. In return, I politely asked him to keep it down until we were finished. He would have no part of it. He said that business had no place at a film festival.

I contended that 70% of producers that had produced a film were never able to produce a second one, largely because they mishandled the business side on their first one. I was trying to make sure this did not happen. Mr Ebert was unmoved, and spoke to me like an idiot as he repeated that film festivals are no place for business.

Now, I was pissed. I told him that business is always secondary. Just like it was when you dumped public television for more money with Tribune Broadcasting, and then dumped Tribune for Disney.

“My personal finances are none of your business!” he roared. I responded that not every failed screenwriter has a career in film criticism to fall back on. He stormed out and, I found out later, went directly to the festival office and demanded that I have my credential taken from me. Otherwise, he would leave that night.

When chased down by the organizers, I made a deal with them. Other than the Governor’s party the next night, I would attend no official events. As for Mr Ebert, I never spoke with him again until that brief encounter at Cannes. He died in 2013. I’d be a liar if I said I miss him.

Brad and Cynthia’s Wedding

Normally, mixing drugs and alcohol is not a recommended practice. But, if you can’t make an exception for your best mate’s wedding, what kind of friend are you?

The trip from Murwillumbah to Brisbane last August (the middle of Austral Winter) was uneventful. Despite the good motorways, finding a good vein while riding in an SUV is a greater challenge than one might imagine. Laureen avoided bumps and pot holes as much as possible, which i really appreciated.  She is so considerate–even remembered to bring along my bleach kit.  I was feeling fine as we approached the train station at Varsity Lakes, just across the border of Queensland and New South Wales. She parked the SUV and we boarded the train heading north..

Should have been clear sailing from there to South Bank Station in Brisbane. However, with security cameras everywhere and Big Brother’s prohibition on public alcohol consumption, my aspirations of dissolution were put on hold for the time being. Fortunately, I was able to drink Bundaberg Rum from a flask, uncontested on the one kilometer walk between the train station and the River Cat ferry.

I must admit that I was not feeling my best on the ferry to Kangaroo Point, as Neptune himself takes issue with the inebriates who ply His waters. Well, I have news for him: He is no saint himself!

As we disembarked at the Holman Street ferry stop, Laureen guided me to the Anglican Church, where I took a nap around the corner from the main entrance. Some time later, I awakened to an odorous and unpleasant moisture emanating from my torso and legs. I asked Laureen if she was feeling better. But, with her characteristic Bart Simpson laugh (the one with the slight cackle at the end) she informed me that I had, in fact, vomited upon myself. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to wear a Hawaiian shirt (one of those classy ones with the coconut shell buttons) that camouflaged my chunder. My khaki trousers were less forgiving. I felt betrayed by my own pants.

By this time, Laureen, satisfied that I would be okay, went to confer her greetings to the assembled crowd. I sought a faucet to mitigate my arguably soiled condition. But, was surprised to learn that when I turned on the faucet, sprinklers just around the corner soaked the assembled the wedding party. What were the odds on that!

Nevertheless, I went around the corner, removed my potentially offending garb and conscientiously cleansed my clothing in the soothing sprinklers . I then dressed and took a seat next to Laureen in the cold stone church. She really loves weddings. In fact, she has been married seven times.

I slept through much of the ceremony, and don’t remember much about it, except for admonishing a five year old to “watch it with those flowers!” as she spread rose petals at the initial procession. I do remember awakening when the priest said “You may now kiss the bride”. I obediently staggered towards the altar, only to be stopped by that killjoy Greg Dunny. The padre should have been more specific and Greg should have minded his own business.

Laureen and I walked to the reception nearby (the longest half kilometer of my life!). There we discovered that my name was absent from the list. That was okay. While Laureen had a good feed, I sought the refuge of a sleeping space among kindred souls. With a view of Storey Bridge and a cool breeze to comfort my soul, I savored thoughts of the happy couple, enjoyed the view and looked forward to the warm and forgiving embrace of my beloved Laureen.

=====

Michael T. George
28 December 2018

 

The Chinaman’s Chance

When the cashier at the hotel coffee shop in Rock Springs, Wyoming appeared at the cash register, the old Chinese man had already removed from his billfold a Hong Kong tendollar note and a US twenty dollar bill. His wearing gloves had made the process more
difficult. The cashier was fascinated by the plastic Hong Kong note. The Chinese offered it to her as a gift. “It’s worth barely a single US dollar”, he said. “Please accept it as my gift to you.”, handing it to her with both hands.

She gave him his change. He departed into the sub-freezing cold, below clear skies.
Snow drifts fringed the parking lot. She proudly showed the plastic note to her co-
workers, all bemused by the novelty of the gift.

Meanwhile, settled into his rental car, the old Chinese changed his lighter gloves for a
heavier pair. The frosty interior of the windshield was still new to him–never before
encountered by him back home. He tried wiping the windshield with his forearm and hand before allowing the defroster to finish the job.

A drive to the tourism office proved fruitless. His request for directions to the cemetery in
which the Chinese were buried was met with a cold stare. Tourists were welcome. But,
troublemakers were not. No massacre had taken place in the 1870s. The rumor that
Chinese immigrants–newly unemployed after completion of the Transcontinental
Railroad—had competed for mining jobs with locals had no basis in fact. No, the Chinese
had moved either to San Francisco or elsewhere, he was told.

On his own, he found the town cemetery. But, it offered no clues. Graves dating to the
1840s were to be found. (Many were of those passing through on the Oregon Trail.) But,
none contained Chinese.

The old Chinese was chagrined as he left town, thinking ahead to his return to his
hometown of Sah-In in Guangdong province, where he was a distinguished, though
generally regarded as an rascible chemist. Meanwhile, he passed the hotel on his way to
the I-80.

Slowing at an intersection, he could see an ambulance in the parking lot, its two EMTs
were loading a young lady onto a stretcher: the hostess he had encountered earlier. A
second ambulance almost ran him off the road and into a snowdrift as it squeezed past
him. A third ambulance could be heard in the distance, its siren growing louder by the
second. He was relieved that he had avoided a collision and was happy that he would be
in Salt Lake City in time for his flights to San Francisco and Shenzhen, followed by the long bus ride home.

=====

Michael T. George
4 May 2017

The Ecstasy of Instant Coffee

In my youth, I was both precocious and an over-achiever. So, it was no surprise when I was sent to a reform school for teenaged boys when I was only 11 years old. It was a progressive facility, teaching skills that would be useful when we matriculated to adult prisons.

In one shop class we were being taught to make shivs from toothbrush handles. Mine was roundly praised for being exquisitely sharp while being concealable in body orifices without causing internal damage. It was truly the Mona Lisa of illicit weaponry.

In the informal contest, mine was assumed by all to be the finest.

However, the teacher’s punk was given the highest marks. I was inconsolable. My mates sought to make things right by providing me with a life-changing consolation prize–a sachet of Folgers Instant Crystals coffee.

I will never forget that both the aroma and the taste exceeded any sensory experience I ever had. The subtle froth alone was worth a pack of cigarettes. The taste alone would turn the most devout Mormon into a Jack.

My anticipated career path has not gone as expected, as I have remained outside the prison population. I found myself as a full time advocate of instant coffee. True, I have shared my joy, and gained many new converts along the way. But, not at a certain cost.

Maureen D had spent over A$700 on an espresso machine a week prior to her conversion to instant coffee. At first, she tried to sell the chrome plated disaster. But, the constant reminder of her mistake induced her to throw the machine away. Meanwhile, M Durney discovered that her new found distaste for the pretensions of French Press coffee were hard to give up. What would she do with the drawer full of berets?

The satisfaction of conversion to new and better things has its challenges. However, the rewards far exceed the costs. One must always be willing to go that extra sip on instant coffee’s journey of ecstasy.

=====

Michael T George

Fiction. Brad and Cynthia’s Wedding

Normally, mixing drugs and alcohol is not a recommended practice. But, if you can’t make an exception for your best mate’s wedding, what kind of friend are you?

The trip from Murwillumbah to Brisbane last August (the middle of Austral Winter) was uneventful. Despite the good motorways, finding a good vein while riding in an SUV is a greater challenge than one might imagine. Nonetheless, I was feeling fine as Laureen and I approached the train station at Varsity Lakes, just across the border of Queensland and New South Wales, where we parked the SUV and boarded the train north..

Should have been clear sailing from there to South Bank Station in Brisbane. However, with security cameras everywhere and Big Brother’s prohibition on alcohol consumption, my aspirations of dissolution were put on hold for the moment. Fortunately, I was able to drink Bundaberg Rum from a flask uncontested on the one kilometer walk between the train station and the River Cat ferry.

I must admit that I was not feeling my best on the ferry to Kangaroo Point, as Neptune himself takes issue with the inebriates who ply the waters. Well, I have news for him: He is no saint himself!

As we disembarked at the Holman Street ferry stop, Laureen guided me to the Anglican Church, where I took a nap on the side of the church opposite the main entrance. Some time later, I awakened to a odorous and unpleasant moisture emanating from my torso and legs. I asked Laureen if she was feeling better. But, with her characteristic Bart Simpson laugh (the one with the slight cackle at the end) she informed me that I had, in fact, vomited upon myself. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to wear a Hawaiian shirt (one of those classy ones with the coconut shell buttons) that camouflaged my chunder. My khaki trousers were less forgiving. I felt betrayed by my own pants.

By this time, Laureen, satisfied that I would be okay, went to confer her greetings to the assembled crowd. I sought a faucet to mitigate my arguably soiled condition. But, was surprised to learn that the device I engaged coincidently occurred with sprinklers on the other side of the church being activated, soaking the assembled the wedding party. How about that!.

Nevertheless, I went to the other side of the church, removed my potentially offending garb and conscientiously cleansed my clothing in the soothing sprinklers . I then dressed and took a seat next to Laureen in the cold stone church. She really loves weddings. In fact, she has been married seven times.

I slept through much of the ceremony, and don’t remember much about it, except for admonishing a five year old to “watch it with those flowers!” as she spread rose petals at the initial procession. I do remember awakening when the priest said “You may now kiss the bride”. I obediently staggered towards the altar, only to be stopped by that killjoy Greg Dunny. The padre should have been more specific and Greg should have minded his own business.

Laureen and I walked to the reception nearby (the longest half kilometer of my life!). There we discovered that my name was absent from the list. That was okay. While Laureen had a good feed, I sought the refuge of a sleeping space among kindred souls of a similar disposition. With a a view of Storey Bridge and a cool breeze to comfort my soul, I savored thoughts of the happy couple, enjoyed the view and looked forward to the warm and forgiving embrace of my beloved Laureen.

Migration Policy: USA

Immigration reform is an inflammatory issue for many people. Here is my take on it.

In 1931, immigration policies were introduced during the Hoover administration that severely restricted immigration. Quotas were placed on immigrants from all countries, with a special accommodation for political refugees. Preference was given to prospective immigrants with trades that were considered to be in short supply, such as engineers and medical doctors This system more or less stayed the same until Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.

The system worked. By giving preference to prospective immigrants with marketable skills fetching high wages, the competition for both lower-end jobs and housing was minimal. The disparity of income was very low by historical standards in the USA. Periodic shortages of migrant farm workers during and after WWII were met with contract workers from Mexico, as a part of the Bracero program.

In 1982, the rules for immigration changed under Ronald Reagan, but the changes were already over a decade inn their formation.

In the early 1960s, California was dominated by the Democratic Party as it is now. Attempts to sell a conservative agenda failed. Richard Nixon failed to win the election for governor in 1962, just two years after losing the presidential election to JFK. Ronald Reagan had been the past president of the Screen Actors Guild. But, had no conventional political experience and, had few political convictions other than being a staunch anti-communist.

Aside from being an actor in such classic films “Bedtime for Bonzo”, he was a pitch man for General Electric and host of the popular tv anthology series “Death Valley Days”. He was well liked by the public.

Two powerful, conservative businessmen (Justin Dart and Eli Broad) thought he would be the perfect man to sell the conservative agenda, and supplied him with the financial resources and grooming to become the next governor of California in 1966. He won the election against incumbent Edmund G Brown.

While Mr Dart and Mr. Broad were Republican loyalists, they shared a common objective: the liberalization of immigration policies. Mr. Dart wanted an influx of poor immigrants from Latin America to put downward pressure on the wages he paid for his low-skilled light manufacturing subsidiaries. Mr. Broad–who owned the largest property management company in California–wanted higher rents by having greater competition for his low-end rental properties. Since immigration policy is conducted at the federal level–rather than state level–it would seem that putting their resources supporting Mr Reagan were misplaced. But, they were willing to play the long game–anticipating that Mr Reagan would run for president in the future.

When Mr Reagan left the governorship after two terms in January 1974, he was anticipating a run for the GOP nomination in 1976. What he did not anticipate was that only seven months after Mr Reagan left office, Mr Nixon resigned, and Mr Reagan would be facing an incumbent president (Gerald Ford) in a spirited primary campaign that was won by Mr Ford. Jimmy Carter won the general election. Mr Reagan had four more years to hone his message and further develop his campaign skills.

The first two years of his presidency introduced far-reaching policy changes. Reagan had struck a deal with his closest allies. As long as the powers that be supported his desires for immigration reform and higher spending on defense, Mr Reagan would support the party line on lower taxes for the wealthy and a reduction in government spending–the centerpiece of the Reagan campaign.

Secretary of the Treasury David Stockman wrote in his book that Mr Reagan would sit at meetings with his eyes closed, listening to the proceedings as he planned his pitch to the American public–a skill at which “the Great Communicator” was a master. He was apitch man, not a policy wonk.

A favorite of example mine was his claiming that he was recently in line at a grocery store where he was standing in line behind a woman who paid for liquor with food stamps! (Such a fiction created an impactful image that superceded the illogic of it being decades since he had been in line at a grocery store.)

His strategy for selling the public on immigration reform was equally brilliant. His objective in allowing large influxes of poor immigrants was to create competition for low-end jobs and housing. But, he sold it on humanitarian grounds. “Family reunification” was his preferred approach. It was a brilliant ploy–and the immigration policy has remained largely unchanged since then.

Migration Policy: Australia

On a map, Australia looks very isolated. But, the world’s fourth most populated country (Indonesia) is but a short distance to the north. They have had their own refugee crisis for years–and the mechanics are very similar to what is faced by the Greeks and Italians.

People smugglers put migrants on flimsy boats and take them to international waters, and abandon them–assuming that Australian ships will bring them ashore.

Handling the matter has been a controversy for Australia since the year 2010 when Kevin Rudd was prime minister. Australia made arrangements with both Indonesia and the tiny island nation of Nauru to build detention centers. It was made absolutely clear that boat people would be refused entry into Australia. (Most of the boat people have made their way from Iran and Afghanistan to Indonesia to attempt asylum in Australia.)

Today, the boats have stopped. No one is dying at sea trying to get to Australia.  Word has spread that life on Manus and Nauru is worse than it is where they are. Admittedly, the conditions are draconian in both places. Suicides, riots and psychological stress–especially among children–have occurred at high levels.

The majority of the migrants have been resettled in the USA in exchange for Australia taking in migrants that had illegally entered the USA. (No Somalis or Iranians have been allowed in the USA.) Many in Australia were shocked that Australia turned down New Zealand’s offer to take some of the migrants. But, I agree with the refusal. Relocating the migrants to other countries would encourage the smugglers and lead to more deaths.