FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS

My grandparents had a narrow trap door in a small closet in their house. It led straight down to the basement. In reality, it was nothing more exotic than a laundry chute. A quick, convenient way to drop a heavy pile of soiled clothing and bed linens down to the basement, where the perpetually shaking washing machine monster lived.

If this description sounds slightly fantastic, it’s because the memories are those of a small boy. Like Alice’s Wonderland, things might seem larger or smaller (or dark and scary) depending on who it is that’s peering through the looking glass. As a six year-old boy, I was scared of falling through that little door. I thought I might just keep falling, forever. That I wouldn’t land on a nice big pile of sheets, warm from the dryer, but would in fact continue to fall deeper into the dark basement, through the cracks in the floor, down deeper and deeper, forever.

But because I was a boy, I was also fascinated with the trap door. Despite my fear of it I couldn’t stay away from it. That attraction to the dark is the story of my life.

Now–as a 40 year-old man–the fascination is gone. I don’t have to keep opening the closet door and looking down at the little wooden knob on the floor. But I still feel like I’m falling. The difference is, the cracks are real.

I have never felt this isolated or alone in all my life. That sensation of falling through the cracks is made all the more real  because each time I slip a little farther down, I get farther away from anyone who can haul me out before it’s too late.

“So get yourself out” is what you may be thinking, right? Don’t you think I would if I could? If I saw the way, believe me, I’d take it.

My life has deteriorated way past that opportunity; if it was ever there, I’ve missed it.

Do I have family and friends who could help me? Sure. But for all my “talents” with language, I’m pretty close to retarded when it comes to simply expressing myself, one person to another. And with the exception of my immediate family, I despise asking for help.

I think those who still care for me are simply tired. I can certainly understand this, so it’s hard to be angry with them. I mean, I’m tired. I’m tired of being tired, and that’s far past any kind of conventional exhaustion I know how to deal with. Basically, I’ve become a source of nothing but misery for everyone including myself.

I cause nothing but pain to others, and if they may still be too polite to admit this openly, I’m not. I’m not writing these things down because I expect or want your pity. I’m writing this down because I just want someone to know what happened.

And what DID happen?

I fell through the cracks.

Down here: I can’t walk without pain. On some days I just lay there, doing nothing. My left foot is leaking and swollen…sometimes it’s about twice the size of my right foot. Striations of infection follow the lines of the bones in my largest toe, and up the long bone in my left leg. The toe is turning an unnatural color. I have pictures. Diabetes has left me with few choices: two years ago I had a career, a life, goals and dreams. I had moved back to northeast Alabama to start a new life, taking a job as a reporter for a small but respected daily newspaper. Life wasn’t perfect, but whose life is?

I figured I would work at the smaller papers and write my novel at night and on weekends. My plan was simple but well-thought-out: by the time I had enough experience with the smaller newspapers to apply for a better position with a larger paper in Atlanta, I would have finished my novel. If it sold, I would have the choice of being able to continue to work for smaller papers, giving me more time for my writing; if things weren’t moving as fast, I would have the resume I needed to get a better job.

Before falling in the crack, back In Florida, there were a few warning signs. They were actually quite frightening. I passed out behind the wheel a couple of times. My blood sugar records (tested at the ER and by my doctor) were all over the place. But I never got a full diagnosis until 2008. By then, the neuropathic damage to my feet and legs had been done. “There’s not much we can do about that,” my doctor said.

It’s hard to explain to someone what neuropathy feels like. You lose sensation in areas affected by the nerve damage, so most people assume that you can’t feel anything. Kind of like being numbed up at the dentist’s office. Because of this description, it’s normal to think there is no pain involved.

But there is a tremendous amount of pain. Sometimes it feels like my foot is burning. Simply touching the skin causes pain. The worst pain is the deep ache, what I call “bone pain” (I have no idea if it is related to the bones) that seems to run along certain bones in my feet.

The doctor says I can’t work. Being a reporter requires walking. Moving around, taking photographs, et cetera. I applied for social security but that takes forever, I’m told. I’ve also been told I don’t qualify for “normal” social security benefits because I don’t have enough work credits in the right time frame. If I had applied when I started having problems (in my early 30’s), they could not use this against me. But because I still held out hope that things would get better and I could go on with a normal life, so I didn’t apply then. I went back to school instead. Again: planning on helping myself and being a productive member of society. By not using government resources I am now being punished.

But there is another form of social security that only deals with health issues: disability.

The lawyer says I’m not an ideal candidate because I’m young. Again, I fall through the cracks: either I’m too young or too old, sick…but not yet sick enough.

During my tenure with the newspaper, we changed insurance companies. We also changed business managers (twice). I told the new business manager I wanted to take out long term disability insurance. This was before I was diagnosed; before my foot started turning into zombie foot. She filled out the forms: I have a copy of them, in her handwriting. But she never actually submitted them.

So after my personal leave and vacation time was exhausted, I took unpaid medical leave. Then I was dismissed, as I had no disability to help me through the months to come.

Those papers, like so much else, fell through the cracks.

I saw a lawyer (I want to say who he was, because it is actually funny, considering that I was asking whether I should bring a lawsuit against the newspaper…but I respect him too much to do this), and though he couldn’t represent me, he told me someone who could…and encouraged me to go for it.

But after a one-sided and biased “hearing” with the State Board of Labor and the secretary-turned-business  [Note: now the Publisher of this paper…sigh], I lost the anger to press the lawsuit, even though the lawyer had plenty of anger for both of us. It fell through the cracks.

I find it increasingly difficult to prepare food, so I don’t eat or eat poorly.

I can’t clean up, so I live in squalor. By myself, in a small RV. Few visitors find me.

But who would WANT to come visit? I wouldn’t.

I’ve fallen through the cracks.

My parents don’t want to play nurse, so they’re willing to help financially; but the thought of having to actually take on part of this burden I have become to everyone horrifies them. As it does me.

They would rather I go to a nursing home than come back to Florida.

But who can blame them?

Even so, I can’t do this by myself anymore. And no matter how loud I yell no one hears me.

I guess it’s hard to hear me now, way down here. In the cracks.

[Other than my father’s death a couple of years after writing this…after which I DID return to Florida…I suppose this post is the most personal one I have ever written. I found it yesterday, in the “Drafts” folder and decided to post it. I’m 46 years old; I wrote this 6 years ago. The six year-old boy I speak of who was afraid and at the same time attracted to the trap door in his grandparent’s closet…well, that was forty years ago. As hard as that is for me to wrap my head around.]

 

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The New Nancy Grace Circle of Hell Opens

 

Nancy Grace

Nancy Grace (Before Burning In Hell)

One of the regular features of EVIL ROBOTS is ‘Rants’…which is (and with no apologies) simply “hate therapy”. Quite frankly, finding topics to rant about has never for one moment been difficult. Most of the time I need only click on my trusty Sony Trinitron and the subject matter pretty much oozes off the screen and onto…well, the other screen. After all, I’m a 30-something American living in the first decade of the 21st Century. Hate is kinda my birthright. Got Hate? It’s what’s for dinner.  Of course, ever so often the target of a Rant is just TOO easy. Take Nancy Grace, for example. Having been assaulted by her own particular brand of vitriol recently, the Rant I am currently preparing to rock-n-roll with is pretty much writing itself.

And it is particularly fitting that in my last Rant I mentioned Dante’s infernal classic Inferno. Because in THIS Rant I shall take artistic license from the long-cold fingers of Dante Alighieri (i.e. God’s Favorite Italian) and begin construction of a new Circle in the ever-widening concentric beauty of a small town called Dank Pitt. Since this gated suburban community is to be the home of Nancy Grace and Nancy Grace ALONE (she’s hurt ENOUGH people to allow her to bring any suffering to even a Homeowner’s Association in the Hereafter of Hades), I can think of no reason to pollute the sulphurous reek of Greater Hell with her cheap perfume and bitter ardour. Therefore, she is hereby consigned to a gated community in the suburb of Dank Pitt. Where you might be asking is Dank Pitt? It’s an upper-middle class suburb of Birmingham, Ala…err…I mean Hell. The gated communities that populate this hellhole are favored by rich, “pilates-n-crystal meth”-skinny white women with bottle-blonde hair. Weird how these little pockets of socioeconomic purgatory pop up, isn’t it?

Dante Alighieri Smiles For The Camera At The Opening of the “Nancy Grace Circle” of Hell in Dank Pitt, Wednesday.

So WHAT did Nancy Grace do to deserve her new diggs? I’m sorry, but if you REALLY need to ask me that you are obviously in need of your own address in Dank Pitt’s toney 90210-666 ZIP code.

Easier and quicker to ask what did she do LATELY.

Well, TODAY she managed to rake a guy over the coals because his wife apparently(NOTE: back when I was a member of the evil media cabal I would have been forced to say ‘allegedly’ here, instead) smoked a joint, drank a bottle of vodka and then killed 8 people (including herself and four children) by going the wrong way down a New York highway before ending things with a head-on collision. Now, despite the fact that this poor man just BURIED his daughter, three neices and his wife who apparently/allegedly is responsible for this carnage, Grace decided that (as usual) death was not enough punishment to sate her thirst for “responsibility”. The man–through a lawyer–had the temerity to offer some medical-related issues that might have played some part in his dead wife’s impaired condition.

Of course, the fact that grieving parents have to lawyer-up nowadays before their loved-one’s are decently covered by a spadefull-or-two of earth is apparently lost on the salt-of-said-earth, Nancy the Graceless. It COULDN’T be because lawyers-turned-media figures are inflaming a public sensibility obsessed with making everybody PAY with Quentin Tarrantino-sized amounts of blood and revenge…could it? <GASP!>

After all, the guy-in-question was MARRIED to this repugnant woman. He MUST have KNOWN about his dead wife’s love of Absolut and purple nuggs of New York skunk…right? Hell, he probably force-fed her the 10-shots of 80-proof liquor, the psychopharmacologic effects of which one of Grace’s “experts” sagely described in detail.

Of course, the highlight of Grace’s graceless death-mongering was worth the elevated blood pressure preparing this Rant has caused me. It was priceless, really. One of her “experts” managed to sneak in an audio-only reply that Grace’s producers must have been unable to cull from the broadcast. An expert who had probably been checked to make sure her comments were likely to be Nancy-friendly. But, right before a break (conveniently enough) her guest/expert told Nancy very matter-of-fact: “Well, Nancy, not all tragedies have to end up with a jail sentence.”

Apparently this comment (admittedly not verbatim, since I was shocked into silence by its utterance) was NOT nancy-friendly. No acid-dripping reply came from Grace’s southern sweet-tea mandibles. Her producer managed to cut off the video (oh and THAT look would have been priceless!), and before the show switched to commercial break, the video was replaced with a color still publicity shot of Nancy, with info on how to purchase her just-released first crime novel on a ticker underneath the frozen, sweet-as-iced tea rictus.

Hell never looked sweeter, Nance.

The Horror of Horrors

Have Another Go, Greg.

Thanks, I will! I never get tired of complaining about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

I watch a lot of movies: at least one a day; usually two, and sometimes even three or four. That works out to—at the very least—360 movies a year. Sad but true, this means I spend an average of 60 hours a month (or about 15 hours a week) staring at a 32” Sony Trinitron screen.

Now, before you go climbing on your high horse and riding to the top of your Ivory Tower, Mister or Miss High-and-Mighty, let me say a few words in defense of my own personal Opium of the Masses:

The average American watches x-number of hours of TV a week.  I watch zero. I pollute my garden of carefully cultivated organic mental vegetation with no pap-popstar smears from newspapers (even when I write for them) or talk radio or glossy magazines. So if I take in a bit more than the average in the form of film—noir or no—then who are you to judge? Besides, this diet gives me a certain expertise when it comes to moving pictures. And, until virtual reality technology catches up to the hyperspeed of science fiction imagineering, film remains the most true-to-life artistic translation of reality.

Of course, out of nearly 400 films a year, there is quite a bit of wiggle-room for the horrible death-throes of a few cinematic Beasts that beg for a decent slaying. Even so, I find it remarkable that in those endless kilometers of Kodak moments, I find precious few so bad that I can’t muster the energy to suffer through the credits.

But, once in a while, a movie does slip through my Crap Radar. Like Five Across The Eyes, a piece of nuclear Waste so bad that I actually felt compelled to beg people NOT to watch.

And in my defense, writing bad reviews is not my usual methodology. I rarely waste words on shite; this review was the first where the bad and the ugly received just as much time and energy as the good.

But I expect that this review will be unique even among film criticism in general, as for the first (and hopefully last) time, I’ve actually stopped watching a movie, then decided to give it another go, only to find EVEN MORE reasons to hate it.

When last I stopped the DVD from spinning on, obliviously, the movie had reached a point where I felt it was impossible for it to redeem itself short of some form of divine intervention.

And that night, I dreamed about a group of friends who had pooled all of their money in order to make a movie. It was their dream: a shared obsession they had carried since childhood; a passion to create, to produce something: a piece of truly great art. Or just a good horror movie. The kind they had loved to watch as kids: Evil DeadDay of the DeadNightmare on Elm StreetLast House On The LeftTrilogy of Terror

One of the friends was a writer, a guy not so different from myself; he had worked on the screenplay for months, typing late into the night on an ancient Remington with a sticky r. Another friend was an artist, and he’d dreamed of becoming a famous production designer. He just knew that if Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarrantino could see the incredible, mind-blowing ideas he had for dressing the minivan where some of the incredible scenes in his friends’ movie would take place, that one of the geniuses he worshipped would see him for the auteur he knew he could be.

And yet another of the friends in this dream was born to be a director; only a few weeks ago he had stripped naked and gone into the wilderness behind the suburban neighborhood where his mother and stepfather lived, determined to commune with the burning bush of his creative genius. After the poison sumac healed, he gathered his friends together and told them of the Vision: Five Across the Eyes. A story of friendship, survival, redemption…and love.

Waking from this dream, I felt awful. I had urinated on someone’s life work. I had slammed it, cut it into little pieces and then shat upon it…figuratively-speaking. I hadn’t even bothered to watch more than the first (very bad) 15 minutes. Perhaps the second 15 minutes would have revealed the fame and glory Warhol had promised everyone.

So I decided to give Five Across the Eyes—the story of five teenaged girls who just wanted to get home before mom got mad—another go…

 

I think I am hallucinating. Because what I thought just happened was…being chased by an angry soccer mom (enough to strike fear into any three year old), the teenagers decide to throw random objects from their vehicle at their pursuer. After chucking a few odds-n-ends at this MILF, one of the pretty teens squats and—you guessed it!—takes a big, steaming crap! Then she pitches the nasty loaf at the SUV chasing them. It hits the windshield, where the wipers smear it all over the glass and cause the suddenly shit-blinded driver to back off.

“Did you just—?” asks a horrified teenager, voicing the disbelief and confusion for all of us.

“It worked, didn’t it?” answers the smug doodie-thrower, who then asks for some wet-naps to wipe her hands with. Meanwhile, the stench makes another teen vomit into her hands.

Now, don’t confuse this odd occurrence with some David Lynch/John Waters-style weirdness. Or some well-timed potty humor comedy relief. The poop-poor (pun somewhat intended) cinematography not only has no real sense of climactic (or comedic) timing, but it never really shows much. Not that I want to see any more than I did, but—in this foul scene, we see nothing but the so-so reaction of the actors (who get points for at least reacting to the smell of such an act in an enclosed, moving vehicle) and a smear of mud across the windshield of the MILF’s vehicle.

It’s not selling, either way.

If that was supposed to be shocking…well, it WAS admittedly unique. But bad acting and poor shooting erased any real shock value the scene might have had. But I’m curious enough to go on…so I suppose in this way, the director was successful.

The poor cinematography doesn’t improve. Some of this is not really the fault of the camera (though some scenes are a bit overly-jerky, suffer from a dearth of focus, and depend on cheap trickery to sell the shot), but lies instead with bad edits and terrible continuity. Much of the movie is spent inside the teens’ vehicle, from which they occasionally depart after several equally-bad “accident” scenes. The crazy soccer mom then appears, brandishing a shotgun and much screaming and quasi-shocking antics ensue. For instance, the crazy woman (the worst villain in recent horror-movie memory) makes the girls strip and ten forces one of them to urinate on their piled clothing. There is no nudity, and the scene doesn’t even do a decent job of creeping you out or being particularly freaky. It’s just absurd.

While the teens are driving, we see shots of the woods to both sides and the road. In a couple shots you see what looks like a fairly well-maintained road with well-marked double yellow lines, then the next scene of the road shows a dirt road that looks like someone’s driveway. Perhaps to viewers who aren’t familiar with the South (or rural areas in general), the setting will look “creepy” but it just doesn’t sell to those of us who live in “the country”.

Of course, the movie seeks to capitalize off of that old familiar horror motif, the wild-n-witchy outback of the American South. Even though this movie is set in Tennessee and rides the bruised backs of so many other southern exploitation movies, only a couple of the teens have a (slight) southern accent; the boogey-woman badgirl sounds like she might be from Florida.

Thanks to movies such as Deliverance, anywhere in the South where more than three trees can be seen together seems to mean that the locals are likely to be insane, probably inbred, and prone to random acts of rape and cruelty. Five Across The Eyes doesn’t disappoint. The crazy MILF rapes and torments one of the teens with random items from a handy tool box. Sorta, kinda. This act could have been the thing that made the movie truly awful, creepy, and terribly violent. Instead, the acting does not even come close to selling the scene. Instead, the reaction takes us—the audience—out of the situation (yet again) and forces us to not only disbelieve the plot, but makes you laugh at the absurdity as it piles up.

And the only thing we really see is a bloody screwdriver that is immediately rendered impotent as a symbol of abuse and horror by the actor’s reaction to it. No doubt this reaction was meant to convey a sense of shock and the growing desire for revenge among the teen victims. It falls flat, in any case.

Rather than waste your time watching, here is a quick wrap-up that is likely to be light years more exciting than the real deal: the teens drive; they stop, and are attacked by the MILF; sometimes one of the teens is injured; the injured teen usually freaks out and then ignores the injury; eventually one of the teens is hurt badly and seems to be slipping into shock; the soccer mom (who is sometimes called a “crack whore” by the teens) apparently finds some drugs or some supernatural source of energy, and makes a final attack on the teens; they discover she has killed a whole car-load of other people; the teens are now pissed-off; they crowd around the crack-whore/MILF/crazy soccer mom and stab her—ritualistically—with screw drivers and tools; they take swigs of something that MIGHT be a combination of gasoline (or diet soda…I’m not sure) and the cremated remains of the teenage driver’s father, which was inexplicably found in an urn in the rear of the vehicle, after which another girl claims that it “tastes like concrete” and implies that it is not really human remains…this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever; the girls then pour some gasoline (with or without human remains mixed in it) over their tormentor, and light her on fire using the pop-out lighter from their vehicle…which, I believe, is actually impossible, or at least very, very hard to do; the girls make it back to the store where the movie kicks-off, where they discover the entire Dueling Banjo’s-playing crowd (whom we do not see) has been killed by the crazy, burned-up lady sometime earlier; they continue to drive. Inappropriate music plays.

NOTE: IF this movie was produced by a gang of high school kids with their parents’ camcorders…I am impressed. Now go to film school.

   

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