Godzilla

Remember those silly Godzilla movies that came out of post war Japan? The Godzilla monster was loveably menacing, played by some guy in a rubber suit thrashing around in a cardboard Tokyo. What was not to love?

These movies originated  when the words ‘Made in Japan’ were a joke. Japanese industry was struggling to rebuild from the ravages of war. This was long before it became the industrial colossus it is today.

These movies were the source of numerous jokes about people speaking out of sync. We kids had many laughs trying to talk ‘out of sync’. It was only later that I understood how that happened.

Godzilla movies were always on Saturday morning TV. But I don’t think I ever saw one from beginning to end until I worked on Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” in 1997. It was a hoot. But it wasn’t a very good movie.

As monstrous as the traditional Japanese Godzilla monsters always were, the audience also loved them. Emmerich’s Godzilla was nasty and unsympathetic. His German sensibilities took a Japanese wood block print and ‘perfected’ it into a relentless killing machine. He took what was in a sense, the spirit of post-war Japan, and transformed it into the spirit of pre-war Germany.

Emmerich missed one of the most attractive themes of the whole franchise, that the audience identifies, for whatever reason, with Godzilla more than with the two-dimensional human characters occasionally populating the landscape.

Then in 1999, I got the chance to work on a Japanese production of “Godzilla 2000”. It was a joy to work on.

Whatever its perceived flaws, it held true to the classic Godzilla movies with cheesy optical effects, out of sync dialogue (which we tried to fix), and a deliciously suitable nemesis monster, Orga. This monster made it even easier to root for Godzilla who becomes the preferred monster, the monster ‘savior’ who saves, but who also must be destroyed.

Godzilla was never as ‘cuddly’ as King Kong but he held the same space in our collective unconscious, that untamable, demanding id, a dark side from which wells our creative energies.

Godzilla was dangerous and destructive, but Godzilla was ‘our monster,’ not some grotesque, shape shifting thing from outer space. He might wreak havoc all he wanted, but Godzilla would be damned if he would share his playground with some interloper.

An added perk to working on this was, I employed my six-year-old daughter, Natalia. For reasons I’ll never understand, she could produce an otherworldly roar out of her pint-sized body. We recorded her demonic vocalizing for use in the movie.

After the recording session, Natalia came out to the lobby where a couple of twenty-something wannabe ‘starlets’ were passing the time. They looked with amusement at my daughter and asked dismissively why she was there.

Natalia stated confidently that she had just recorded growls and roars for the monster. Barely suppressing yawns they said, “Really? Can you roar for us?” My daughter agreed. These girls had no idea what they were in for.

Natalia planted her feet and let out a sustained roar that had these two twerps crawling over the back of the couch and looking for cover. People came out of their offices to ensure everyone was safe. Natalia smiled demurely and accepted their thanks.

I always said Natalia was a force of nature. These two really felt that force. If you ever see “Godzilla 2000,” every sound from Orga, came from my daughter Natalia.

One of my co-editors, Nick has a son whose birthday fell near the date of the movie’s premier. He invited my kids and me to their Godzilla themed birthday party. His wife, Yoko, who is Japanese, made a piñata in the shape of Godzilla for the party.

I looked forward to seeing all the kids at the party tear into the piñata and give Godzilla his just desserts.

Each kid took his turn wailing on it with a broom handle, but no one could make a dent in this monster piñata. It was odd.

Refusing defeat by a candy filled toy, the men at the party each took their turns. Nothing. Nick produced a baseball bat. Nothing we did made a difference. We sat, exhausted and sweating, vanquished by this piñata from hell.

How could this be? Godzilla left us all physically spent while remaining undamaged. No one could make sense out of it. Piñatas are usually made of papier-mâché, and will disintegrate after a few well-placed blows.

But not this Godzilla piñata. This piñata, like its namesake, was indestructible.

On investigation, we found that Yoko, wanting the very best Godzilla piñata, applied generous amounts of duct tape to the inner structure of the shell. A chain saw wouldn’t have taken this piñata out.

Yoko applied an enduring truth in her design of the Godzilla piñata. Even in the movies, Godzilla might be defeated, but he never really dies. Everyone knows you can’t kill Godzilla. He will always return. And he’s not all bad.

As one of the characters notes in “Godzilla 2000”, with mixed emotions of awe and terror, “There is a piece of Godzilla in all of us.”

I hope so.

Take the plunge!

High Flying Professionals

I love to fly. I love soaring above the earth, surrendering to the experience. I once gained serious perspective at the sight of the Grand Canyon and other national monuments looking like abandoned sand castle construction.

There is nothing like the thrill of watching a distant thunder storm light up the sky like a cosmic fireworks show. After surviving a tornado, I’m not fazed by minor turbulence. A bit of a rough ride comes with the territory.

What I hate about flying though, are delays. It is so annoying to show up at the appointed time and be treated like the 250 passengers and I just happened by randomly to no purpose.

My least favorite excuse is the “mechanical issues” excuse, as if the fact that it is mechanical makes a two hour delay acceptable. Of course, I’m glad they found the problem, and are fixing it. Nothing like a “very tiny oil leak” at 30,000 feet to give one pause.

But why didn’t they look for this two hours earlier? Weren’t they expecting to use the plane today? Isn’t the essence of ‘preventive maintenance’ its routine regularity? Why the surprise? On Star Trek, they weren’t constantly putting the show on hold for pesky maintenance. When Capt. Kirk spoke, Scotty got the job done.

If the servicing of the plane resembles the ‘service’ part of the customer service offered in most terminals, we all have something to worry about. Nothing like getting the equivalent of “Go away kid, you bother me,” to raise my hackles. Why should I mind being treated like a child when my time, money and perhaps my life are at stake?

Flying is tiring. Unexpected delays make people cranky. Add fragmentary information and/or rude behavior and the word ‘mutiny’ starts floating into the fuzzy consciousness of many distressed travelers. When these passengers finally board and discover the cramped seating configuration was stolen from the catacombs, you have the potential for mayhem. Ever open a can of angry sardines?

Hardly a week goes by without some news account of an airline passenger ‘suddenly going berserk’ on a flight due to what is described as a minor inconvenience. However, the relentless accumulation of outrage preceding that snap never gets documented. Only the sad outcomes are featured and attributed to ‘madness’.

These events must be terrifying to the other passengers. However, to anyone who read Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” in school, they aren’t entirely surprising.

Years ago (1999), I was on a gig with Matthias, a co-worker and engineer. We were sent from Los Angeles to exclusive and historical Jeckyll Island, Georgia, to record three lines of replacement dialogue from the actress Charlize Theron who was there, acting in “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” a Southern gothic love story. We were in advanced post production on John Frankenheimer’s “Reindeer Games,” a Christmas themed thriller.

Ms. Theron completed her role in our movie the previous winter so her hesitation in reprising her past role whilst submerged within her markedly different, current one was understandable. But our assignment was to ‘get those lines.’

The hotel granted us a cicada free room in which to set up our recording equipment, and we awaited Ms. Theron’s schedule to open up. And waited.

And waited.

Over the course of the next three days, the production company emailed us a stream of additional dialogue lines for Ms. Theron to perform in our ‘studio’. How could she refuse? She is a professional after all.

When she arrived for her session, about 8pm on the third day, Charlize balked at the list of thirty new lines. I foolishly perceived this as the opening volley of a negotiation. I called the production company to get support. They would get her cooperation.

Just as I got Marty, the producer on the line, Ms. Theron grabbed the phone from my ear:

“Marty?… I agreed to do three lines, right?… So I’m doing only three lines. Understood?… Good.”

She slammed the phone down and said, “Let’s do it.”

It was a brief negotiation.

Within half an hour she was gone. The precious dialogue was successfully recorded. She didn’t invite us to join her at dinner, or schmooze us, or say good-bye.

Matthias and I packed our gear and we caught the next plane.

We had a layover in Chicago. I hadn’t slept in about 24 hours.

A voice came over the PA system imitating someone gargling through a snorkel. The plane was experiencing ‘mechanical problems’ which were being repaired. Boarding would ensue shortly.

Ha!

Five times over the next three hours, we were beckoned for boarding only to be told “Thank you for your patience and sorry for any inconvenience but additional safety tests are being conducted and we will soon be boarding at your earliest possible convenience.” Passengers started repeating it with her in a ragged chorus.

Someone asked for details and she made a joke about the fire department being called. No one laughed.

Exhausted but unable to sleep, Matthias and I got coffee. Soon after we set up camp, a pilot entered and sat nearby.

Introducing Matthias and myself, I confirmed that he was our pilot.

I’m sure what happened next was due to my frantic need for sleep (and perhaps the lingering effect on me, of Ms. Theron’s abrupt treatment).

Shaking his hand, I thanked the pilot for taking his job so seriously by ordering so many safety checks, time consuming as they were. Leaning in, I then told him I was concerned about what I heard from some other passengers.

The pilot also leaned in with concern on his face. “What are they saying?”

“That you’re a wimp.”

The pilot sat back and nodded with narrowed eyes. Matthias’ attention was suddenly drawn by a travel poster he hadn’t seen before. A chill descended on the café.

The pilot exited.

We heard the boarding announcement and the boarding ensued without further delay. The rest of the trip was uneventful and restful.

When disembarking the plane, the pilot caught my eye. I thanked him for the excellent flight and he nodded.

Taxi Driver Uber Alles!

If everyone drives for Uber, who will ride with Uber?

Am I the first person to ask that? Uber is aggressively recruiting and I feel the call.

My driving skills are superb. The only thing keeping me out of the ranks of the millions of Uber driver millionaires is the possibility my decrepit car won’t meet Uber’s stylish profile. My car has a quarter of a million miles on it. Need a ride to the moon? I know a short cut.

I used to drive cab in Minneapolis. Twelve hour shifts are not for everyone. To start my 2:00pm- 2:00am shift, I would get up around noon. I’d ride my ten speed bike from downtown, through the Lake District and up into the suburbs to the cab company.

The contrast of riding a bicycle from manning a taxi for a twelve hour shift can hardly be exaggerated. Riding a bicycle fully engages the senses.  The intense physical exertion, the constant scanning for danger, pot holes and the like, and taking in the sights and sounds of the environment, can hardly be replicated any other way. Riding late at night, one moves silently except for the working of the chain on gears and the subtle thrum of tire on pavement.  Cool air flows around you and you are scarcely aware of your breath.

Once, while riding to work, a guy made a turn right in front of me.  He didn’t see me until he heard me bounce off the car. No damage though.

Driving a car is much more sedentary and intermittent in its demands. The endurance is more in the hours involved than in any mental or physical effort expended. And you are swaddled in that metallic cocoon of protection.

On arrival, I checked in, and claimed the taxi, recently cleaned and gassed but still smelling of stale dust and who knows what? This was a Ford fleet car, not one of those grand Checker Marathons.

A couple of fast food burritos via the drive through and I would start my shift. The stuffy car smell and the flavor of the burritos mingled in a totally unique fashion. Sadly, after I left that job, those burritos lacked that je ne c’est quoi that made them so delicious.

I lived downtown, adjacent to the posh lakeside neighborhood where Mary Tyler Moore’s character lived in the hit sitcom named after her. I lived on my tips and banked my checks.

The corner café on my block, featured a waitress who, when not serving food, filled the time by scratching a scab on her leg. As I said, I lived adjacent to the posh neighborhood. I once witnessed two women fighting, rolling in the street as traffic stopped and gawkers spilled from a local tavern.

The movie “Taxi Driver” was years from release but I knew the life it depicted. Of course, the mean streets of suburban Minneapolis could not hope to compete with those depicted in the Robert DeNiro film. And that is okay.

For instance, there was an old regular, who didn’t want to go anywhere. He just wanted to ride, slowly. No drama. No tip.

Once a pair of wild and crazy guys, in town from the South, insisted on being dropped where they could get some local “poon tang”.  Something about riding a cab makes guys want to open up and share their most personal fantasies. As if I would care. On his way to visit his daughter, one guy boasted about his love for women. His goal was to ‘get’ them all (as in “every one of them”) before he died. Such love.

I can’t tell you how many fast friends I made, who I never saw again, and never missed. Be it a ten minute cab ride or working peripherally on a job, people presume to know you and therefore, to have some claim on you. What do they know? You collect the fare or leave that job and these ‘dear’ acquaintances evaporate like windshield wiper fluid.

One joker insisted on stopping for an errand en route to his destination. Leaving the meter running, I followed him, ensuring I didn’t lose him out the back door. I discovered his ‘errand’ was in a quiet bar catering to African-American professionals. This chump just had to share his too-clever-by-half observation that sickle cell anemia was caused by licking food stamps. Who does that?

One fare claimed to be a successful writer. He traveled the world so extensively that every city now bored him. How jaded. Each second is a threshold to eternity.

One night I picked up a drunk at a bar downtown. He said to just drive west. He would guide me. My first mistake.

He lived in the sticks, where unmarked streets meandered around unknown lakes.  I had to rouse him for directions at every fork in the road. He’d point and fall back asleep. Round and round we went. I should have radioed in.

He saw the meter read over $25 and went ballistic. Getting the address allowed me to get him there. He refused to pay though, saying I gave him the run around.

His wife was yelling at him for being so late. I got out to speak with her about the fare and he attacked me from behind. She screamed at him for that.

The small claims judge awarded me the unpaid fare but the headaches persisted. A tip was not forthcoming.

The airport run was good for racking up big fares and good tips. One driver dropped his fare and the meter read $19.80. The passenger tossed him a Jackson and said “Keep the change. The driver bolted from the car and threw two dimes at him. “You keep the change!”

I heard the legend of a cabby hired to drive some guy 150 miles, all the way to Duluth. Drivers talked about that fat tip wistfully. I never went to Duluth.

One driver planned to buy a fleet of Cadillacs and call his company ‘Caddy Cab.’ He was ambitious. He told me he thought I was someone who always knew exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have a clue.

He invited the drivers to his apartment to play Risk after our shift. We were just getting rolling when his girlfriend stormed out of the bedroom yelling about the time. It was only 3am, but she kicked us all out. She could have played too, if she’d wanted.

Was that the night I saw her? It was late, no traffic. No lights, but the moon was bright. Just me coursing through silent neighborhoods on my ten speed. I sailed down the hill and turned onto a tree lined street rounding the lake. I came through a curve fast and she emerged from the gloom. I almost hit her. Crossing the street in a robe and slippers, she heard me and turned, startled. I swerved by. Our eyes locked for one silent second. Her perfume lingered.

Then she was behind me.

Was she Mary Tyler Moore? Maybe not.