Monday, July 30, 2012

How to Kick Ass like Morgan Freeman: A Case Study

Three facts of life:  you got to slip Uncle Sam some green, you’re going to croak, and Morgan Freeman kicks ass.  Now, I don’t mean he can kick an MMA fighter’s ass or your ass or even your grandma’s ass.  At 75, if he tried to kick anyone’s ass, it would be probably his own when he slips and cracks his hip in a dozen places.

No, I mean Morgan Freeman kicked the ass of life.  Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, he was born a poor black child then became the type of person who deserves the second “very” in VVIP.  World-renown Oscar winner and penguin promoter.  Multimillionaire and dreamboat to ladies everywhere.  Granted, one of those ladies might be his own step-granddaughter, but hey, nobody’s perfect.  And lest you think I’m some sexist pig, imagine being a female Morgan Freeman—lolling in your mansion with Magic Mike painting your toenails and the Old Spice guy stroking your hand and cooing, “I love you just the way you are, darling . . .”

Now, why can Freeman have all this and you can’t?  Actually, you can.  All you have to do is play a vampire taking a shower in a casket.

Because that’s what Morgan Freeman did.  From 1971 to 1977, he was part of The Electric Company, a Sesame Street ripoff minus Sesame’s ratings or marketable merchandise.  Not a bad gig, sure, but when you aspire to be a star and can only get Vincent the Vegetable Vampire, it’d mess with your head.  It sure messed with Freeman’s for he began hitting the bottle hard and even his marriage went kaput.  When the show also went kaput, he was broke with zilch prospects on the horizon.

Morgan Freeman was 40 years old then.  He had been trying to become a serious actor for 15 years.

I wonder what he felt as he returned alone to his apartment, as the phone stayed silent and the doubting voices inside his head screamed.  What he felt about seeking success in an industry smitten with unlined skin, as the wrinkles on his face deepened and the gray began to fan across his hair.  As the years passed and he neared the big five-O with still no major roles, did he ever stare into the mirror and say, “You really screwed up your life, didn't you, Morgan?”

We’ll never know because in 1989, at the age of 52, he got Glory, Lean on Me, and Driving Miss Daisy, and the rest is red carpets, starlets, and respectability.

But what I want to know is this:  why hadn’t he thrown in the towel years, even decades, before 1989?  Like everyone else would’ve done in his position?  Was it some supernatural resolve?  Or insane belief in destiny?  Or just blind stupidity?

Actually, it was none of these.  Morgan Freeman didn’t quit because he’d purposely set himself to be incapable of getting any other kind of career.  As he’d said in an interview:  “I deliberately left myself nothing to fall back on. If you've got a cushion, where you land, you stay. You can't climb a mountain with a net. If you've got the net, you'll let go."

That’s it.  He’d not only burned his bridges, he’d dynamited them.  I’m sure if he had a direct line to the White House, he would’ve asked the president to thermonuclear- bomb them.  And if he hadn’t gotten Glory or Lean on Me or Driving Miss Daisy, he would’ve struggled on.  Into his 60s, 70s, 80s, forever.  He would’ve strapped on a pair of Depends and wheeled himself to auditions.  He would’ve only stopped when the casting agents carried him out in a box.

That’s why Morgan Freeman kicks ass.  That’s why he won.  And even if he hadn’t won, in that alternate reality where he’s a penniless, unknown 75-year-old actor, his life would still have meaning and fireworks in pursuit of a dream.

Now, we should do as much to chase after our own dreams, right?  If not, why not?  

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping Home Depot has a lenient return policy.  So I could maybe return that net I bought from them all those years ago?

Now, before you go off and start kicking ass, care to help me kick some by checking out my book? 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The best non-James Patteron, James Patterson-like books

I have a man crush on James Patterson.  Not because he’s super-talented but because he isn’t.  Sure, compared to the average person, he’s James Joyce, but compared to Stephen King, he’s Jimmy from 9th-grade remedial English.

Here’s the thing, though:  I always finish his books.  No matter how silly the plots (“dopey” is King’s apt description), laughable the dialogue (“We’re right on your sorry mythical ass”), or jaw-dropping the twists (maybe I’m wrong but doesn’t the villain die, like, twice in London Bridges?), I always finish the books—which cannot be said for Stephen King’s cinderblocks.

So if you can’t wait out that month or two before Patterson’s next book comes out, take a gander at this list.  Each of these 6 stories shares basic Pattersonisms—wall-to-wall action squeezed into bite-sized chapters—that we’ve all come to know and love.

1.         The Postman Always Rings Twice—James M. Cain’s 1934 potboiler makes even the most succinct Patterson novel read like Remembrance of Things Past.  How streamlined is Postman?  Boy meets girl on page 1; by page 10, they’re planning to kill the girl’s husband. 

2.         The Running Man—Before Stephen King began in midlife to contemplate his navel, he was writing action stories, and this novel of a homicidal game show is one of his best.  Imagine The Hunger Games if it’d only left the kiddie sandbox and force-fed a sumo helping of kick ass.

3.        The Boys from Brazil—Ira Levin is most known for Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, but this lesser-known work is a gem.  What starts off as a standard Nazis-planning-some-bad-shit plot slowly shifts into something altogether bizarre with a most satisfying and ironic climax.

4.         And Then There Were None—Agatha Christie’s most famous work and deservedly so.  Everything is sacrificed to the plot and pace.  Long descriptions, deep characters, normal human behavior, logic, gravity.  What replaces them is ceaseless momentum.  Imagine sprinting on a hamster wheel—one studded with knives and cyanide tablets.

5.         The 39 Steps—John Buchan’s 1915 thriller about a lone man against a vast conspiracy is the ancestor to today’s thrillers, the Cro-Magnon to the Homo Sapiens Pattersonus.  Indeed, the story is sillier than anything Patterson has come up with.  How does our imprisoned hero get of his cell?  By finding dynamite in a drawer, of course! 

6.         The Jazz Cage—Ray Chen Smith’s . . . okay, okay, I’m a schmuck.  I wrote this.  A mob bounty hunter is hired to track down two runaway slaves during the Roaring Twenties, sixty years after the South had won the Civil War.  Think of it as Uncle Tom’s Cabin meets The Untouchables, and if that ain't worth the price of a bag of Fritos, I don't know what is.