A ball hit a mask

A writing experiment/draft about John Cusack's recent visit to Toledo, my recent visit to Toledo, art, the entertainment industry, the Cubs and Indians World Series, my mom and dad, surrealism and stuff like that.

YOU ARE WELCOME TO READ THE FOLLOWING, BUT A MUCH SHORTER, FINISHED VERSION IS HERE.

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“This is me breathing.”

A line from Grosse Point Blank


I have always been a bit rebellions.

The typo is big: black letters on a bright yellow background, shown on the movie screen above two empty chairs. The spelling mistake dissolves into a question:

In their family’s living room, the Cusack family once did a production of Cinderella. John played:

a. the evil stepmother

b. Cinderella  

c. the prince

d. the dog.

 Next to me is Mari Goround, probably the only Asian in the audience. We’re in the balcony, the “cheap seats” that cost us a hundred and six bucks. We wish we’d bought drinks. And eaten. Below us are couples and groups of middle-aged Caucasians. Some pink hair, some green hair, some went-to-my-stylist-this afternoon-hair, grey hair, no hair.

Soon, Grosse Pointe Blank will start and then John Cusack will answer questions. And then...

  In Mari’s  purse is a book called Ernie Banks, Home Run Slugger. In the envelope on my lap is an AR ONES tee shirt. Don’t ask me how, but before the night is over, John Cusack will sign her book and wear the shirt. We’ll take photos-- and then: internet here we come!

My hands are still cold; I returned five minutes ago. I went outside again, to the backstage door, hoping to catch John in a good mood. Unlikely that he would be there, I know. All that was there was a freezing, gusting Arctic front, black ice, a long white bus with no lights on and a few cars going east and west on the Ohio Turnpike. I rushed back in, past the no firearms sign on the doors, past the autographed High Fidelity merchandise  and the line of Midwesterners buying beers and little boxes of popcorn. Two guys were standing beside a guy in a wheelchair, all smiling as a woman in torn jeans photographed them in front of the Vet Tix poster.

  Once Mari gets that autographed book, she’ll be able to crowdfund a film about Yosh Kawano, a relative on her mother’s side. Yosh was one of the Cub’s living legends. He took care of the clubhouse, from before World War Two until he retired in 2009. He was interned in one of the camps, and then released so he could fight in the Philippines and New Guinea.He received medals.

  A photo of John wearing my AR ONES tee shirt will help me crowdfund the ARphabet Tour.

The shirt cost me thirty-two dollars and fifty cents at Franklin Park Mall. The last time I was in Toledo, I ate a salad there. It caused me a great inconvenience while I was driving home.

The tee shirt shop had a bunch of shirts with variations of the ‘carry on and remain calm’ meme: Keep calm and rub some bacon it, Keep calm and let me take a selfie, Keep calm and go away etc. I wanted the one that said: I can’t keep calm. I’m from Toledo.   

  We walked through JC Penney and out into the empty parking lots bordered with sad piles of grey snow. The wind was strong. The graffiti on the bus shelter benches was predictable. The warmth of the bus made us lightheaded. ‘Tom Dunn needs a kidney’ it said on a billboard. We saw a truck loaded with nine white cars. The traffic lights were softened by the snow flurries, and again and again I didn’t recognize new buildings. Secor Road, lined with Pizza Huts and Dollar Trees, seemed alien, like I was there for the first time. We passed the University of Toledo, which my grandfather worked on as part of the WPA. We passed one of the high schools I went to.

I know almost nothing about Grosse Point Blank. Something about an assassin coming back to his hometown of Grosse Point, a suburb of Detroit, to do a job and  go to his high school reunion, possibly with the girl he dumped on prom night. John Cusack is in it, of course, and so are Dan Akroyd and Minnie Driver.

Like the assassin, I have  returned to my hometown. Mari is here because John Cusack and I are here. John is here because his market is here. Backlot Productions arranged this; next month William Shatner will be here, because they’re screening Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

I’ve been in this theatre twice before, both times decades ago. The first time, there was a special offer at the Head Shed: spend twenty bucks or more and get a ticket for George Carlin. I bought Stage, a live Bowie cassette. The other time, I saw Kenny Loggins; I shouldn’t have.

  The lights finally go down. The credits start. The audience roars a little happiness that becomes louder when the bubbly perfection of Blister in the Sun starts. The opening scenes set the tone, or more accurately, the tones: film noir + comedy + thriller + boys with guns + high school romance teen flick. John’s sister Joan plays Marcella, his secretary. At one point Martin Q. Blank (John's character) looks at Marcella’s outfit and calls her Sergeant Pepper.

After the  bus lets us off across from The Blade, we walk towards the 31H, the bus that will bring  to the Stranahan. We stop in the bitter cold so I can photograph Mari in one of the dull parking lots, with the grey sky and nondescript buildings behind her. The wind swirls her long uncut hair above the cheap coat we bought in Shenzhen. Her eyes are watering and her nose is red. Beautiful, beautiful.

The 31H takes us past the High Level Bridge, the Maumee River, the Toledo Zoo, and then Monroe and Detroit, where Swayne Field used to be. My grampa, my dad, my mom and Hank the barber have told me stories about the area that is now a shopping plaza. Hank Aaron played there, Casey Stengel coached there. A bunch of guys my dad knew once had a few belts at one of the nearby bars; they ended up trying to have a picnic near right field until they got kicked out. Swayne Field is now a shopping plaza.

  I’m writing this section of Catching Cusack  in the house where my mother lives and my father was born. My father lives in another house. At this moment he is driving to a hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about 40 miles from here, about 45 miles from Detroit.  Last night, while Mari and I were at the Cusack event, my mom was at a birthday party for a friend she’s known since first grade. Eighty years old. She made him a scrapbook filled with black and white and faded color photos, as well as cartoon illustrations of the greatest inventions of the past eight decades: bottled water, ATM, credit cards, TV dinners and microwave ovens. Right now, my mother is baking something with cinnamon in it.

Baking and dancing are my mom’s favorite things. I’ve gained weight: anyone would. In the past two weeks she’s baked dozens of heart-shaped sugar cookies, a carrot cake, a coffee cake, Irish soda bread, muffins; and cooked all kinds of things for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. For the ARphabet Tour, she made mango sticky rice.  

Last Sunday she told us about dancing at the Bavarian Club. Today, at lunch she told us about her volunteer work with the police, Swayne Field, the Tony Curtis movie she appeared in, and the ice cream store that used to be in front of the Babcock Dairy. Yesterday, for no specific reason, we found ourselves talking about death (as opposed to her finding a name in the obituaries.) Cremation or burial; she has crossed out and rewritten each word more than a few times.

I was in this room on the night of February 12, 1967. That was a Sunday night. My parents dropped me off here so they could go bowling. While my grandparents watched Lawrence Welk on the black and white TV, I sat at that table with crayons and paper. My grampa was sitting here, in the chair that’s now over there. (It was reupholstered by my mom.) My gramma was on the couch. They watched Lawrence Welk. At eight o’clock I came in, sprawled myself on the wheat colored carpet with wooden blocks. The Ed Sullivan show came on, and I didn’t understand it most of the time. But that night was something that seemed natural to me. Now, when I listen to it, I appreciate how revolutionary it was. That night, like millions of Americans, I watched a short video called Strawberry Fields Forever.

My grandparents had very loud conversations. When a car would drive by very fast, one would say, “Someone’s going to the  hospital.” Or, “Where’s that cowboy going?” In the summer my grampa would take me, sometimes my brother too, for a walk down to the store with a concrete floor. We’d buy orange pushups. Sometimes, my gramma made banana cream pie.There was always something good in the fridge.

The Latin name for the biggest tree in the backyard is Liriodendron, meaning ‘lily tree’. The day of the ice storm, the snow was crisp; it sounded like I was walking on a giant white potato chip. I looked up at that tulip tree and saw a few dried flowers, each coated with ice as clear as glass. The tree is very tall, maybe twice the height of the house. Everything, from the wild geometry of the thinnest branches to the trunk, was coated with ice, dangerously so. The wind or another raindrop might have broken a branch, ending my contemplation of tree and sky.

Grosse Point Blank, the John Cusack movie we are about to watch: I know almost nothing about it. Something about an assassin coming back to his hometown near Detroit to do a job and  go to a high school reunion, possibly with the girl he dumped on prom night. Dan Akroyd and Minnie Driver also star.

Like GPD’s assassin, I am returning to my hometown, Toledo. Mari is here because John Cusack and I are here. John is here because his market is here. Backlot Productions arranged this; next month William Shatner will be here, because they’re screening Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.

Four or five decades ago, there was a special offer at the Head Shed: spend twenty bucks or more and get a ticket to see George Carlin, here, at the Stranahan. I bought Stage, a live Bowie cassette. I sat down there, in the middle and to the right. The only other time I was here, I saw Kenny Loggins; I shouldn’t have.

  The lights finally go down. The credits start. The audience roars a little happiness that becomes louder when the bubbly perfection of Blister in the Sun starts. The opening scenes sets the tone, or more accurately, the tones: film noir + comedy + thriller + boys with guns + high school romance teen flick. John’s sister Joan plays Marcella, his secretary. At one point Martin Q. Blank (John's character) looks at Marcella’s outfit and calls her Sergeant Pepper.

BLAM BLAM BLAM … Grosse Point Blank has gun scenes, including a John Woo-ish blastathon between Blank and Felix La Poubelle (Benny "The Jet" Urquidez). The massive exchange of bullets takes place in the Ultimart that was built where the Blank home used to be. The Ultimart dies a fireball death, a victim of the old bomb in the microwave trick. This segment, and a few others are heavy handed, so much that the GPB’s tempo is lost, to the point where it feels like a running gag instead of a showcase of clarity, insights and daring. Instead of the richnesses of blacks and whites and reds, GPB’s palette is bubblegum and grey.

However, the  love that went into this movie is obvious. Minnie Driver is perfect; a captivating puzzle of emotions in nearly every scene. The “flying” scene in the bedroom, the simple cutting between the faces of Blank and a baby, and the father’s grave scene are classics. Its high ambitions and daring ideas would have benefited from a bit more polishing, but Grosse Pointe Blank is indeed, a gem.

more to come, of course...

3 Responses to A ball hit a mask

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