Freudian Slips: August 2005

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome Hurricane Shelter

With Hurricane Katrina moving inland from the gulf, about 20,000 destitute Louisiana residents were made to wait outside for hours to enter a shelter of last resort, The Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints of The National Football League. The homeless, the poor, the aged, and the frail emerged from the city’s catacombs to stand in a single file line waiting for permission to enter a sports arena without any other place to go. The Superdome has hosted many events including the Super Bowl but crowd control looked nothing like this. A ticket less entry, armed National Guardsmen searched every stitch of clothing coming into the stadium ONE person at a time on an ordinary folding table. I understand that this is the age of terrorism so I am not objecting for the need to make the world a safer place but people waiting single file for hours to enter a public building in the pouring rain seems like part humanitarian effort and part indignity. I cannot believe a more efficient and civilized system could not be employed on the eve of one of the worst national disasters in this country’s history?
I watched TV host Geraldo Rivera turn to his field reporter for an interview of two National Guardsman. The soldiers were standing over a pile of contraband seized from people who did not even have the resources to make an exodus out of New Orleans. How many weapons were confiscated? Arguably none from the film footage. I witnessed live television document about fifty household items laying rather innocently in a small pile. The items included pliers, a screwdriver, nail file, needle nosed pliers, a pen knife, teasing comb, and nail clippers. Not a round up of the usual suspects for sure.
A camera close-up showed nail clippers as the most notorious smuggled item. Come On. Keep it real. Impose a mandatory evacuation forcing people to leave their homes indefinitely and setup temporary housing elsewhere and they can’t pack a nail clipper in The Big Easy? What about the nail file? The owner of the nail file was leaving home not attempting to break out of prison. I would even argue the usefulness of a penknife while becoming prey to nature’s elements for who knew how long. There were no revolvers, grenades, hunting knives, pistols, or ammo in the mix. On the contrary, it was merely a pile of ordinary household items that incited no danger to this country. Better safe than sorry? The National Guard may as well have confiscated children’s water pistols during the height of the hurricane instead of the nail clippers from brittle diabetics or a sharp toothed comb from a hippie. During the telecast, they heavy handidly even called a pair of seized pliers a wrench? Geraldo Rivera found more contraband in Al Capone’s empty vault than the National Guard found in the possession of these stranded souls.
I became outraged at this nonsensical footage. Watching live television can leave much to be desired. Why did I watch pre-coverage of a hurricane thirteen hours from making landfall? Like the catastrophic winds of hurricane Katrina, I got sucked in by the media.


August 28, 2005

Quote The Raven Nevermore

Somehow birds have turned my house into a homing pigeon. While preparing a crock pot meal, I heard my wife's voice call my name. What a crock this turned out to be because she wasn't home! At any rate, I turned around to face the front door. Nobody was there. I returned to the food preparation wearing goose bumps.
I reckon a man needs to give his wife's ghost undivided attention too because I heard her voice again. She sternly called me by my first name. I stopped what I was doing. I tip toed through the open foyer expecting to find her in either the library or the living room. Nothing. I then looked out the front door to see if her car was parked in the driveway. Nope. I remained the only one home besides the disembodied voice. This may sound a little weird but stranger things have happened to me. On my way back into the kitchen, a bird flies smack dab into the kitchen window. I saw the whole thing unfold but the thud scared the bejesus out of me. Before the feathers had time to settle on the wood deck, I got on the phone to my mother. I called my mother asking for an explanation because she had her own strange experience involving a sparrow a few days before.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I don't know what to make of it, Joe." Mom plainly replied.
The phone call pretty much ended there. I would never admit to it in public but my bird talked and sounded awfully like my wife.
Two days later, two birds hit the window of the room I occupied, one after the other. I opened the front door to find two twitching mortally wounded birds on the porch. Neither talked but their splat sounded familiar.
Two days later, another bird crashed into the palladian window while I walked up the staircase. Thank goodness these are small birds and not storks because I would have four broken windows and eight kids with who knows how many more on the way.
A couple of days later, I took a gander at the backyard woods. If I saw any dive bombing kamikaze birds I was going to cry fowl and call Animal Control. I observed a raven perched on my deck railing giving me the evil eye. I have never ever seen a raven in my lifetime. What the heck is going on? This bird didn't talk either but even if it had I would quote the raven not once and nevermore.


August 25, 2005

The Game Ball

The ashes of Gregory Richard Tornatore being interned.
Being hit from the rear in a fender bender accident on the way to an internment has an unsteady way of moving one forward in life. Life is full of bumps and bruises. My dad's life was besieged with the kind of setbacks that can scar you for life.
Four years following his passing, my father's ashes were laid to rest in a military ceremony at the Gloucester County Veterans Cemetary on August 22, 2005. Immediate family paid their respects to a man who went by husband, father, and grandpa. Dad served his country as a veteran of the Korean War so he earned a military sendoff. Four volunteer riflemen shot three volleys into the air and over his ashes. It was a 21 gun salute on the shy side. I had nothing but buried emotions until Taps was played on a bugle. Taps embodies sadness and melancholy in a blend that is both haunting and soulful. It is a song of only 24 notes but its power lies in evoking emotions of the deceased. While Taps was being played, I had flashbacks of my father teaching me how to grip the seams of a baseball then some thirty years later my laying a baseball in his casket. A cruel parley of thoughts.
So I returned from the interment to re-read the eulogy I delivered at my father's funeral three years ago. Reading it filled me with the deeper emotions I was not able to resurrect during the internment. This I undoubtably wanted. I wish to reprint the eulogy to illustrate, if nothing else, that long before the Freudian Slips blog was created, I thought of life in terms of irony. Irony has always been on my playing field for me to derive meaning from.
The Eulogy for Gregory Richard Tornatore 1929-2001
Although his son, I was not born of Gregory Richard Tornatore. Rather, he took me under his wing when he married my mother in 1964. He adopted me, gave me his hard to pronounce last name, and raised me to the adult who stands before you. My relationship with him was no different than that of any of my brothers. He father too.
The last time I saw my dad alive was at the hospital on Saturday. knew all too well. Bedside, we shared a few light moments talking baseball. Baseball dad knew too well. During a more somber moment of the visit, I asked my father, if reflecting back on his life, did he harbor any bitterness or regrets. His answer came forthright.
"No regrets. Sons galore, a wonderful wife, steady jobs, and nice homes all of my life."
There are common denominators in life that help define us as human beings. As children, my brothers and I benefited as recipients of dad's caregiving. As adults, our roles reversed. Faced with dad's declining health and physical limitations, we had the opportunity to return caregiving to him.
There are also sad ironies in death that leave the living to wonder. Besides it being Good Friday, today is the anniversary of the 1985 operation that went terribly wrong and left Dad partially paralyzed. In the end, Dad lived to be 71 years old, a long time considering the length and course of his medical problems. I trust he is at peace now.
When I think of my dad, I envision toughness and courage in the wake of adversity. But more often than not, my memories often return to the game of baseball. Many of you know, dad loved baseball. In 1948, he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies before an arm injury ended his baseball career.
Baseball, like life, has a game plan for all of us. Selfishly, I hoped dad's life would go a few more extra innings to see me re-marry this August. This was not to be. On the night my dad died, it is no coincidence that his last breaths came watching a Phillies broadcast, the very same evening I played baseball with my stepson ten miles away. This is the circle of life.
On behalf of your family and friends, we love you. From me, dad, you get my game ball.
People enter our lives like a knock on the door. Some leave our lives to the sound of Taps.


August 23, 2005

Claire Fisher of HBO's Six Feet Under on the Price of Gas

this is an audio post - click to play


America Over A Barrel

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of individuals to change the world." -Margaret Mead
Gasoline is the rape of an industrialized nation and fossil fuel should go by way of the dinosaur. I yearn for the high price of gasoline to lead to a non-violent revolution. I believe that high gas prices must permanently imprint on the consciousness of the populous before we can begin to take proactive measures to lessen our dependency on foreign nations. The time is ripe. The price per gallon of gas is the highest in my lifetime. In New Jersey, gas hovers around $2.50 cents a gallon. While there hasn't been a shortage of gasoline in this country, the consumer is unequivocally overpaying for its return. It is almost to the point that you can't pass a gas station without needing gas. Consumers can't shop for gas economically because they are wasting precious gas driving for a better price. The other day I took note of the price of gas at my usual filling station. On the return trip home, the numerals on the billboard had already been changed. Gas was more expensive on the way home. A lesson to be had, it can only be rape when they get you coming or going.
The time is long overdue to revolutionize how we transport in the land, air, and sea. The price of gasoline effects virtually every commodity in the final cost to the consumer. It destroys the ozone layer. Call me cynical, but petrol could even cause an ugly war in a desert country. Nobody wants to see that happen. An idea fifty years behind its time, the world needs to lessen its dependency on other countries for gasoline.
Hybrid technology is finally making its way to the American consumer. Hybrid automobiles are powered by electricity and gasoline. Many hybrid models get over 50 miles to the gallon. A movement needs to take afoot whereby people trade in their gas guzzlers for more economic models. I hope people learn to embrace hybrid models as reliable and efficient transportation for the future. An increase in supply and demand can only propel more research and better technology. The hybrid cars of today may be the nanotube powered cars of tomorrow. Government regulations are forcing US automakers to carry at least one hybrid model in their fleet by 2007. Some automobile companies are ahead of the game with models entering their second generation. Partisan politicians should wean themselves from the deep pockets of greedy oil backers and stop holding a nation back.
I am not in the market for a new car but the price at the pumps prompted me to check out my first hybrid car this week. I went looney tunes over the Toyota Prius. While hybrid cars do not have all the bells and whistles, the return on a cleaner environment and pocketbook is a tradeoff worthy of deliberation. I doubt any country is looking to start a war over electricity.


August 21, 2005

Gilligan's Island of Discovery

I caught a few minutes of a reality television show called Return to Gilligan's Island. It reminded me of an unusual experience while working as a behavior modification program technician in an institution. Residences were divided by cottages. I was assigned the behaviorally involved unit comprising thirty six developmentally disabled misfits that the world had failed. The worst of the worst surrounded me. I tried to make the most out of my job.
Human behavior adheres to few absolutes but it is absolutely fascinating to study. Sometimes behavior can be molded and other times it is like a jungle better left untamed. You never know until you try. Danger is involved in behavior modification because it is often met with resistance. While my yearly clothing stipend reminded me of the danger, behavior modification is not a job for the weak-minded or chicken littles.
As the facilitator of socialization programming, four groups of nine individuals moved through my classroom during the day. I honestly forget what I was trying to teach the day that came under illumination. Call it boredom, call it filler conversation, call it coincidence. Don't ask me why but I began to sing the theme song from Gilligan's Island out of the deep blue yonder.
"With Gilligan, the Skipper too. A millionaire and his wife. The movie star, the professor and Maryanne all here on Gilligan's Island."
Call me Gilligan but I heard an echo in a room full of non-verbal clients. I looked around the room and found a few clients responding to my acappella rendition. The loudest respondent, Cammy, was actually humming the show tune. I have always had a loud subconscious but this left even me wondering aloud. It you let it, life happens like this.
Cammy was a stoic solitary man, who savagely beat himself in the head hundreds of times a day. He was non-verbal and generally misunderstood but somehow the Gilligan's Island theme song awoke him from slumber. I wish I had videotape of what I am about to describe. Picture plugging a zombie into an electrical outlet. Cammy had an awakening, a magic moment. He went from flat lining to animate at mach speed over a television show jingle! He grinned ear to ear. His head beat in rhythm. Stop the singing and Cammy would deflate like a punctured tire. It was bizarre! Each time my hoarse voice sang the stupid song I got a reaction. I eventually went public with our duet. I showed the disbelieving staff, who immediately looked for marionette strings.
Once I got the actual Gilligan's Island theme song on a cassette tape I went to work. This was no Broadway production but I began to pair good behavior with the motivational music. Cammy wanted me to just play the music as a theme song to his uneventful life but I wasn't a play therapist. I was a behavior modification program technician. Cammy came to understand my expectations of him although initially it wasn't smooth sailing on a three hour tour. Through behavior modification I trained him to work for short periods of time on a variety of tasks with his hands. When put to productive use, his hands were incompatible of committing self-abuse. As hokey as it sounds, after Cammy worked I would then reward him with the playing of the Gilligan's Island theme song. His incidence of self-abuse began to wane.
For all you special education teachers out there, this may not seem like much progress. For someone so profoundly retarded with severe behavior problems this was akin to finding buried treasure on an uncharted desert isle that irony had put on the map.


August 17, 2005

Crash Test Dummy

It was a wise man who said news is conversation. Let's talk. Daniel Rubin, a saucy reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, made my blog Freudian Slips news. Rubin read my August 14, 2005 blog post called On the Set of Invincible and wrote about it as a lead story. He reprinted an accurate quote and wrote a summary of my experiences filming as a fan in the sports movie called Invincible. Rubin held onto my every word for he posted my exact word count of 2,273. A word to the wise man, the reference to the word count should have counted for more than the words it did. Rubin proceeded to lampoon me as if I were the only surviving crash test dummy at an automobile accident. The jab did nothing to deflate my confidence as a storyteller or actor and it had its merits in humor. While extra press for being an extra is extraordinary, allow me to set the record straight with some extra credit.
On a movie set full of dawdling newspaper reporters, many extras chose to hangout with the dummies. Unlike reporters who fancy themselves with the last word, dummies don’t talk back and they have yet to take anything out of context. During breaks in the filming of the movie, I had ample opportunity to sit next to reporters but I preferred the company of dummies. I have never ordered a grilled Rubin sandwich in my life.
If Daniel Rubin returns to my blog, I hope he can take a joke as far as he promoted this one. Laughter allows life to pass by even in the Blinq of an eye.


August 16, 2005

One Man's Trash, Another Man's Treasure

"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Luke Skywalker after witnessing his master complete the impossible.
"That is why you fail." explained Yoda
I don't believe in coincidences but I have a habit of explaining away psychic phenomenon as merely coincidence. Coincidence is more mainstream and digestible to disbelievers of psychic phenomenon. I am no psychic but some unexplainable stuff has happened to me. Let's not forget that irony is also the cornerstone of Freudian Slips and that is no coincidence.
Let me attempt to explain what is not easy to explain. I try and put into my head what I would like to extract from the day. I don't always find all the pieces to the puzzle and no not where the parts come from. It may sound like a silly notion but I use my mind to engineer my own desired outcomes. I put positive thoughts into the world and see what vibes come of it. It could be called the power of prayer in religious circles, a Guardian Angel in spiritualism, wishful thinking in prosaic precincts, or lunacy in mental hospitals.

Allow me to use the unlikely example of trash picking to further this notion. First let me set the stage. Everyone knows I have a preciosity with order and organization. I replace what is broken. I put things in there place. I am a tireless task oriented worker to a general fault.
Less than a mile from a hardware store where I planned on buying chicken wire, I got a distinct feeling that I no longer needed to make this purchase. That is when I saw a man putting his trash to the curb. In his hand he carried a huge roll of chicken wire. I calmly pulled my car up curbside and lowered my window.
I asked, "Is that chicken wire considered trash, sir?"
"I'm afraid so. I have no use for it."
"I'll take it." Just like that the man hands it to me like efficient service at a drive-thru window.
On my way to Walmart to buy lounge seats for the kids to play their video games, I took a shortcut off the beaten path. I saw a man closing his garage door before retreating back into the house. He must have just set out two black leather video seats by the curb because they were cool to the touch. They were mine a minute later.
While on my way to the drug store to buy a blank videotape, I drove by a yard sale that had can't miss signage VHS Videotapes 4 for $1.00. The hand made sign had everything but my name on it. I was in and out of there with what I needed in a minute.
A more recent example of coincidence occurred two weeks ago. It freaked even me out and I put the original thought out there. Recently, I have been selling big ticket items on Ebay. It is a packaging nightmare often calling for double boxing(two different sized boxes one placed inside the other). I just sold a Fender Stratocaster guitar on Ebay and needed to ship it pronto. I put the positive thought out in the stratosphere that I would find a cardboard box of the right dimensions on the ride home from work. My eyes scanned storefronts and dumpsters. The closer I got to home, the more reality set in. I entered my housing development all but convinced this was an unanswered thought. As I made a left-hand turn into my driveway, I noticed that my next door neighbor had put his trash out early for the next day's pickup. I walked over and picked up not just an empty cardboard box but an actual Gibson guitar box!
Sometimes it is no coincidence to find the very thing you need in the world right outside your front door. You can't always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need.


August 15, 2005

On The Set of Invincible

I ain't no dummy!

I answered a casting call on a whim and just finished filming as an extra in the movie called Invincible. Invincible is based on the true story of Vince Papale, the oldest rookie to ever play in the National Football League. Down on his luck, Vince shows up for an open tryout for his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Vince makes the team without ever playing a down of college football. Ergo, I decided to walk onto a movie set to see if I could make the final cut in a movie about my favorite football team. When I came home with a mint condition 1976 Eagles jacket the night before the shoot, my wife told me I was taking the movie way too seriously. The true underdog of this movie is Mark Wahlberg as Papale while Greg Kinnear plays coach Dick Vermeil. My miniscule part called for wearing winter clothing outdoors in 94 degree heat for 13-16 hours a day. I highly recommend the experience of being on a live movie set but the wardrobe I could have done without. Behind the scenes was gritty and unglamorous but a fantastic experience nonetheless.
As an extra, I learned what a wrangler does on a movie set. Wranglers herd actors from spot to spot. I learned the art of pantomime. I learned the difference in the class structure between the bagged lunches of non-union workers and hot buffets for distinguished members of The Screen Actors Guild. I learned that in a football movie a play does not end in a tackle, but rather, it ends about 15 seconds later when the director shouts "Cut!". That takes some acting for a sports fan to get used to. Mostly, I learned that acting is 95% mindless waiting and 5 % the opportunity to hit your mark.
The production company motor coached the actors over to the set from a designated parking lot at 21st and Oregon in Philadelphia. On the bus, I wound up sitting next to a seasoned actor of the Screen Actors Guild. Tom plays a newspaper reporter in Invincible. He also appears playing an admiral in the movie the The Wedding Crashers. Ironically, Tom didn't know he was in the recently released The Wedding Crashers until another actor enlightened him on the bus.
"I was in the movie?" Tom answered quizzically. "I haven't seen the movie yet."
"Wedding reception. I recognized you right away, you Silver Fox. You could be seen on the screen for about two seconds."
I said in a friendly way, "Sounds like you crashed The Wedding Crashers."
The clientele on the bus was like a giant bird nest of every struggling thesbian in the Delaware Valley. Conversations on the bus focused on auditions, the exchange of head shot photos, resumes trading places, leads on upcoming projects, etc. I struck up a conversation with Tom. After Tom read me his resume in an engaging presentation, he asked me what movies I had notched on my belt. Maybe the shiny Eagles jacket I carefully carried on a hangar gave Tom the wrong impression. I didn't know what to say so I bluffed my way through the awkward moment.
"I appeared on an episode of Ripley's Believe It or Not!"
"You what? Son, you are a rookie in the minor leagues."
I took it all in stride. Like Vince Papale, I had nothing to lose. During the bus ride, I gobbled up a few pointers that Tom tossed my way before we arrived at The Palestra where it was on to wardrobe and make-up departments. The pallets and hangers of 1970's clothes in wardrobe was truly astonishing. It looked like they airlifted every stitch of clothing used on TV's That '70's Show. I couldn't believe I once wore those clothes and was glad I finally got rid of them last year! Wardrobe didn't carry any Eagles apparel so I was the only extra with an Eagles jacket for the shoot. After makeup, a plump lady almost sat me down in a chair for a fake pair of long blond sideburns but instead she said I could pass for a fan. I was whisked off to a holding tank of processed extras. Tom was probably sitting in a lounge chair somewhere with air conditioning sipping mimosas.
Wranglers soon escorted us over to venerable Franklin Field, where the action shots were being filmed. Only about 500 extras were on hand so the rest would be left to clever editing to fill a 62,000 seat recently imploded stadium where Vince Papale actually played football from 1976-1978. When I entered Franklin Field for the first time, I saw a half-full stadium of subdued fans. Wait a minute? They were not people at all but dummies. Some casual inspection determined that there is such an enterprise as an Inflatable Crowd Company in Van Nuys, California. They ship inflatable people that staff on the set mask, wardrobe, and position. I realized the only difference to now between the dummies and I was that I could walk to my seat. The wranglers wore headsets and repeated directions from the director, a straw hat donning Ericson Core.
Football players began to appear on the field to stretch and toss footballs around. I knew I was in hardcore Philadelphia when the extras posing as fans actually booed the actors playing Philadelphia Eagles for dropping balls they should have caught. Only in Philly! We took our seats among the dummies and were given instructions about the first take. Another wrangler handed out a smattering of pennants through the crowd.
I pointed to my kelly green jacket and shouted, "Perfect match, huh?"
The wrangler took one look at my jacket and honest to God, he replied, "Pass this pennant down to Super Fan."
Did he just call me Super Fan I thought to myself? What a freaking coincidence. (See post January 27, 2005 entitled Super Bowl 39 for mega irony). So I was one of only approximately 20 Eagles fans with a pennant and the only one wearing an authentic Eagles jacket. If I couldn't play the part, at least I now dressed the part.
Mark Wahlberg whisked by riding shotgun on a motor cart. He pumped his fist in the air to excite the troops. Everyone cheered but the mute dummies. During filming, anytime I had a chance for a more prominent part I volunteered my untrained services. When they asked for actors with birthdays in the month of February to randomly stand up for a cheering scene, I moved my birthday up. When they asked for actors whose first names began with the letter B to stand up and boo, my name was Bubba as far as anyone knew. Anyone with a Social Security number ending in five, had to stand and follow the flight of a punt. I changed my social security number and watched the pigskin fly on my tippy toes.
The down time backstage proved to be a hoot. I have never seen so many 1970's clothes that should have burned with the disco records of the 1980's. Just eyeballing people in tasteless plaid pants, scarves, and vests using cell phones, Ipods, and MP3 players was worth all the money I made on the job. Backstage, I came across the actor playing #68 of the Philadelphia Eagles. He looked physically imposing but I couldn't remember who he was playing. When he turned towards the bathroom, I caught the last name on the back of his uniform. It read Gay. I must have looked like I had seen a ghost.
I collected myself to interject, "Blenda Gay? How is your marriage?"
"Do I know you?" he winced. "Did we film together?"
"I would sleep with one eye open if I were you. Blenda Gay, your wife bludgeons you to death after this football season. You're playing a dead man."
I don't think he heard me but I wanted to tell him to play this game as if it was his last but I realized the actor did not share my warped sense of humor. On with the show. I came to know that when a wrangler said out loud "Eric wants". They referred to the director's transient needs. During the scene to track the flight of the kickoff left to right, the extras were positioned in the first three rows of the grandstands with the dummies behind us. I heard a wrangler say to another wrangler, "Eric wants". The wrangler in receipt of the new information pointed to me.
"Super fan. You're wanted as pedestrian walking through the concourse during kickoff."
I jumped out of my seat like an audience member forging their way to Contestants Row on The Price is Right. A wrangler took me to my mark, which was in the concourse facing the playing field at the 50 yard line. A camera was positioned right across the stadium and faced in my direction. It was poised to catch the ball's flight coming across the screen with a natural background of me and an army of fans. When the director said Action! I strutted my way into the stadium. On the second take, when I got to my seat I found water bottles at the base of my seat. My feet got tangled. There are 205 bones in the human body. All of them fell forward into my seat. I ended the take a twisted twit. I wasn't too happy with my performance. The guy hunkered in the seat next to me apologized for littering the area.
"I doubt whether the are going to use that angle. Sorry."
I said disgustingly. "I guess not. I nearly knocked two dummies off of their moorings."
The extras who attended the first days of filming, were rewarded with bigger parts than a latecomer like me. It was not only who you know but who you knew first. I quickly determined that the bigger the part, the shorter the distance between you and the camera. In the late afternoon, I watched a camera get lifted on a boom to the upper deck. A crew set the camera on a tripod in the middle of an upper deck section. Every extra in the end zone shoot was instructed to go hydrate then sit in the shade with the dummies on break. I ain't no dummy. I was looking for a different kind of break. I hung around a wrangler looking every bit out of place. The wrangler guarded the only section open to the upper deck. You needed a special password to go up into the upper deck section and for good reason. They didn't want different people sitting in seats previously occupied and already filmed. This would create a logistical nightmare for editing.
Having stolen the password from a fellow thesbian, I still felt like a fool when I asked a wrangler, "Do you need any replacement Huckleberrys?"
The wrangler looked at me funny but he called upstairs. It was just two of us in the entire section of the stadium. The players relaxed in the locker rooms. The extra minions remained on break across the stadium.
"Ricardo, do they need any replacement Huckleberrys? I got an eager beaver in an authentic Eagles jacket down here."
I heard the answer come through the walkie talkie. "Hold on, they are reviewing the footage from the other day to see who is not here and where they might need to backfill."
After a few minutes pass, the wrangler got word. The wrangler said to me, "It's your lucky day. I got you an aisle seat. Get going."
I wound up in a cheering section of about 50 rabid fans in the famous 700 section. I couldn't believe I had weasled my way to be only 20 feet from the camera. Staff began to pass out cold beverages with a clear plastic lid. I was living large and getting jiggy with it. I removed the plastic film and swigged it.
The guy next to me lays into me. "That was a prop for the scene. You bleeping $ss*o>#!"
I had never swallowed a prop before but by golly it was mighty refreshing. Hand an unsuspecting fan a cold drink on a stifling day with 52% humidity and see if history doesn't repeat itself. The camera filmed at my back with the live football action moving towards the near end zone. After the first take, a wrangler came whipping down the aisle. He came right to my seat. He instructed me not to raise my pennant so high because it was cutting off the camera shot to the field below. I knew I was in prime real estate. Can you say Best Supporting Actor?
The director's voice boomed over the public address system. "Reset. Take your places everyone. Picture is up. Everyone remember what to do for play 16? Root, Suspense, Cheer, then Sustain until Cut. Roll'em and........................................Action." I didn't have the foggiest idea what to do at first so I just faked it. An hour later, I was leading an E-A-G-L-E-S cheer like a drunken yahoo and low fiving low income actors up and down the aisles.
I filmed as a background extra in the end zone, a pedestrian walking into the stadium, and a nose bleeder. For a non-actor, I was doing a convincing job pretending to be other people. I was Huckleberry Hound, Bubba Mac, and a man with a social security number ending in 5 who had a birthday on leap year. I would have done this gig for absolutely nothing. So it was a bonus earning wages acting and getting free breakfast and lunch. I grabbed three breakfast sandwiches and ate two bagged lunches. Like so many wannabe actors surrounding me, I refused to be a starving actor.


August 14, 2005

Mark Wahlberg after a good take.


August 11, 2005

Call of Duty

Screenshot of Joe killing his friend Mark with a Thompson submachine gun.

Time to confess to an addiction. I am hooked on Call of Duty, a simulated virtual reality multi-player on-line war game. It is a first person shooter game and the vast weaponry is authentic to the World War II period. I kill with pistols, German lugers, FG42's, anti-tank guns, grenades, panzers, Bren machine guns, and scoped sniper rifles. I will even swing my elbows to kill an opponent when the weapon has been shot out of my hand. These are my killing fields. It is full of gratuitous violence and gore bar none.

I would never survive in war and yet therein undelies my real attraction to the game. To die without consequence. Plain and simple. I get goose bumps walking the battlefields because the action is chillingly real. You can hear crickets chirp at night, the roar of planes flying overhead, the boots of soldiers transversing staircases, the tink tink tink of thrown grenades. My mind shoots endorphins while I play. My pulse and heart rate go up before a kill or a great escape. I have become quite an assassin for my age. War is what is wrong with this world yet I catapult myself into the mayhem a few times a week for fun. I have been known to share my bad habits with others and Call of Duty is no exception. I have hooked my friends and brothers to the blood sport. Our childish play is often aided by phone headsets to enable ordering our squad to flank right on command.

I will sacrifice sleep for a chance to play this game. I have withheld bodily functions just not to leave my seat to toilet. I have skipped meals. The longest I have ever played in one sitting lasted seven hours. I have played morning, noon, and night. I confess to playing on more than one Christmas Eve and sadly after attending a funeral. People all around the world play Call of Duty. The mayhem never stops thanks to international time changes and the networking of millions of personal computers. People take this game so seriously they recruit the best soldiers to band together to form fighting clans. It is a subculture of computer geeks, most of whom are half my age. I realize people are so addicted to on-line gaming they are shirking school and work and not paying their rent and mortgages. This is no joke. It is a betting parlor without chips. Computer gaming is a drug that should be added to the addiction list in high school health classes.
American soldiers are dying in Iraq while I hoist a toy rifle with pageantry. I am ashamed but I cannot get away from it. I tried once. The longest I stayed away was three months. The reason for the moratorium - I built a better war room, a two station oak computer desk from scratch. Then I bought new computers with better graphic cards and two huge 17 inch high resolution monitors. A soldier can never leave a battlefield. I left the battlefield only long enough to build a desk. With the war room complete, I returned to playing Call of Duty with reckless abandon. Now I understand deer hunters building deer stands. It is a symbol of my weakness to willingly die over and over again in make believe battle but it is my Achillis heel. It is insane and I haven't been able to help myself. War games. Those are two words that should never be brought together side by side. Call of Duty The Sequel is being released this Fall. God help us all.

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August 09, 2005

AAA Roadside Assistance - The Waiting not Wading is the Hardest Part

God bowled in New Jersey on August 8, 2005.
I pulled into the Hess gas station today riding on fumes. I felt on top of the world. My car didn't run out of gas. I took out a $20.00 bill and waved it at the approaching female attendant.
"Please turn off your engine." she politely ordered.
Perhaps I am used to a female barking orders at me because I silenced the engine like never before. With the price of gas at $2.29 a gallon I gave the sarcastic reply."Fill it 1/4 of the way up."
The attendant responded with a defiant stare like she knows the price of gas is outrageously high too. Talk about fuel for thought. She waited for clarification with a hand on the hip.
"As far as $20.00 will take me." I obliged in a quieter tone.
She gasses me up and I donate the proceeds to a nameless Arab country that has the United States over a barrel literally and figuratively. I turned the key in the ignition but my car won't start. After about a half hour, the attendant returned to my immobile car and asked me if I wanted anymore gas.
"What are you kidding?" I say astonished.
I can't tell if she is providing comic relief until she smiles. "At least you're running on all cylinders." I joked.
I waited another half hour while periodically trying to start the car. The ignition choked an Ergh-Ergh-Ergh sound but refused to start. Without the air conditioner running, my pampered body sweltered like a clam in a clam bake. My shirt became drenched from the humidity. The attendant passed by the front of the car, hesitated for a moment, then waved goodbye to me. She crossed the busy circle with relative ease.
I began to talk to myself in the car. "She is done her shift and is walking home. She is going to beat me home. She is mocking me. Why that wisecracker."
But I had bigger problems that weren't so pedestrian. I called Automobile Association of America's emergency roadside assistance. I don't know about anyone else but I have AAA's number as a speed dial option on my cell phone.
"Where are you and the car at?"
"That's an easy one. Brooklawn, NJ. Brooklawn Circle. Hess gas station."
"Sir, we usually tow to gas stations. Don't they have a mechanic on duty?"
"No, they don't have a mechanic. Not since 1945. I'm not busting your balls trying to inconvenience you to tow a car that I could push a few feet. I need a legitimate tow off the premises."
She advised, "That will be 45 minutes."
"That long?"
"Unless you are blocking the gas pumps in which case I can tag this a priority."
"I'm definitely broken down in front of the gas pumps causing a slight disturbance of the peace in liberal terms of course."
"Of course. Okay, then the window is inside 45 minutes. You are a priority."
I checked the time on my cell phone and began waiting. Tick Tock. It gets to be so stifling hot inside my car that I get out and pace. More time passed. I look around at my surroundings. The gas station might not have a mechanic but I'll be darn, there is a restroom when you need it. I walked over to the unisex defacatorium but the door is locked. For no known reason, I gave a male attendant the Universal Sign Language sign for toilet.
He sees me from the distance. "It's out of order, buddy." I think of the irony that the first thing I did when I got out of bed this morning was plunger a stopped up toilet. Shit happens.
So now I am not only uncomfortably hot but my Jethro Clampant size lunch is working its way through my intestinal tract and I don't have a bathroom. I am thinking about the female attendant who is home probably sipping her third Budweiser by now. That is when I heard a voice behind me.
A trucker says to me. "Can you fill it up and I'll take a pack of Marlboro?"
"I don't work here." I denounced.
The case of mistaken identity causes me to retreat back inside my car. I glimpse a AAA flatbed truck rounding the circle and coming towards me. No car is on the bed. This has got to be my tow. I leave my car and run out to the road and wave down the driver. The indifferent driver gives me a who-are-you-kidding brush off wave and heads up Route 130 North.
I am seething at the absurdness. I call AAA headquarters. They check with the dispatcher. "Just a liittle longer." she insists. "Help is on the way."
A few minutes later, I see another AAA flatbed truck rounding the circle. About time. I have been flying standby for too long. I wave to my rescuer. He blows right by me without stopping. I feel like a jack ass waving to people on a merry-go-round. A huge storm cloud gathers to my left. I can feel the barometric pressure dropping as my blood pressure rises. I get back on the phone to AAA.
I hear the same voice on the other end of the receiver. "If this is priority service, what do the common folk settle for - same day service?"
"Who is this?"
"Joe Tornatore. I have been waiting for an hour and forty minutes. People are asking me to pump their gas. AAA trucks keep passing me by on the road while I am doing my best approximation of an SOS wave. Can you tell the dispatcher to alert drivers in the vicinity that there are no hitchhikers trolling the Brooklawn Circle? It's just one unhappy AAA member. Now, I can't stress this enough - an awful storm is heading this way, my bowels hurt, and my car still needs a tow. Do you copy?"
"I'm sorry about the delay. Hold on."
While every part of my body is on hold, a tow truck pulls up on the pumps next to me. His signage says Delran Mobile. I think nothing of it. He does not move from his parking space by the pumps. He does not leave the vehicle. He looks to be getting gas.
"Mr. Tornatore, the dispatcher insists the driver is at your location now."
"Wait a minute." I approach the tow truck from the driver side and see that the driver momentarily stopped his vehicle to talk to the dispatcher, while the dispatcher was talking to AAA who was also conferencing to me. The biggest travel agency in the country has four phones chirping and nobody can find a wildly waving man at one of the biggest intersections in South Jersey. Go figure.
"Disregard this call. He's finally here. I see you sent me a driver just about from North Jersey."
That's when the darkened skies opened up with a battery of lightning and rain. For five bucks, I earned a dry ride in the tow truck. The driver was personable and real cool. We talked a lot about the Wendy Williams radio show in between lightning bolts. About TWO inches of torrential rain fell in some areas in less than a half hour. The deluge reduced traffic to a snarl. My snarl. The storm got so bad that we talked about nothing else but the weather.
"I have never seen rain coming down so hard or lightning bolts so thick." The tow truck driver confessed.
"This is like a scene in the movie The Day After Tomorrow." I commented. "Seems like a smart move to have tipped you when we were in the eye of the storm."
"Wow, feel that rolling thunder!" he said with amazement.
"That was God bowling. Did you see that? He just got another strike. " I quip with play by play commentary.
Before we got to the auto repair shop, we ran into road closings, detours, and police activity. We crept by the Bally's gym which I knew from experience was taking on water right about now(see post dated July 28th Bally's Gym Never a Rainout ). I smirked at the watered down irony. The driver again admitted to his fear of lightning. I quoted lines from the movie The Day After Tomorrow to amuse myself. He never saw the movie so I all but convinced him I worked as a climatologist. Just about every driver had pulled over their car to the side of the road to wait out either the bad weather or the end of the world. My Ford Taurus might have been broken down and riding piggy but it passed every last car on the runway. It wasn't the end of the world but it sure as hell felt like it.


August 07, 2005

Passing the Buck

Three daring men in La Grange, Indiana committed armed robbery on an Amish man riding a horse driven wagon. On an open roadway, they pulled around the Amish buggy and used their car to block traffic. The buggy stops. The robbers wield guns. The horse must have been as surprised as anyone. Looking down the barrel of loaded guns, the Amish man surrenders his wallet without incident. There is no truth that the car’s tires spat pebbles at the Amish man but the hooligans staged an easy getaway nonetheless. A horse entering a chase is a poor substitute for real horsepower. Bet the house when any old Ford races a clumsy chariot.
It goes without saying, bullies select easy targets but this was a little bit off the beaten path for armed robbery. The Amish aren’t known for carrying large sums of money in their possession. To the contrary, they are simple hard working people who live off of the land by bartering goods and commodities. The odds were slim to none that the Amish man would be couriering a bank roll and so no sure score was to be had. What were the robbers thinking? The suspects were arrested a short time later. The stolen wallet was returned to the rightful owner. All of the money was recovered from the robbery. You see, the wallet contained exactly one dollar. The robbers may have passed the buck but in the end the buck stopped here.


August 04, 2005

The Second Time is a Charm

"There are almost no people who are not dentists who can fix teeth, but there are a lot of people who aren't professional writers who write very well. This is one of the reasons why being a writer is tougher than being a dentist."
-Andy A. Rooney
It was a regular reader of Freudian Slips who suggested I ask The Mastocytosis Society to give me a byline column in their quarterly newsletter, The Mastocytosis Chronicles. The organization promptly denied my request so I gave them personal space where they professionally offered me none. There are only 20,000 people afflicted with my rare skin disease nationwide so how many of us can communicate effectively through words? Evidently, more than I presumed.
In all fairness, the gracious editor of The Mastocytosis Chronicles encouraged me to routinely forward suitable material pertaining to my skin disease. It wasn't just lip service. I have been published in the last two newsletters which travel around the world with a small circulation. I am happy to report that they just published my blog posting dated November 29, 2004 entitled One Man in His Time Plays Many Parts, a whimsical story about becoming an artifact in a Ripleys Believe It or Not museum.
Seeing my name in a story byline offers me a great sense of pride. Knowing the story originated from my blog makes it even cooler. I can be certain of one other thing. Being mistaken for a writer is a hell of a lot better than being recognized as an artifact!


August 02, 2005

Plain View Can Be a Two Way Mirror

"You can't handle the truth!"
Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men
My neighbor Leanore had been married for twenty nine years until her husband left her for another man. Leanore became suspicious when she found duplicate charges for airlines tickets on a credit card. When she called the credit card company to inquire about a possible billing mistake, the credit card company assured Leanore that her husband does not travel alone. He was a frequent flyer who had a pattern of purchasing tickets in pairs. To prove the point, the credit card company divulged information that her husband recently bought two round trip tickets on US Airlines to the Bahamas.
“The Bahamas?” she decried. “No! Dimitri is away on business in Atlanta.”
Becoming more suspicious at this point, Leanore calls the airline asking about details of the return flight. Saturday 2pm Flight 352 she is told. Leanore calls a family meeting minus the patriarch. The groupthink produces an audacious decision to confront Dimitri at the airport. Like junior private eyes, they tote surveillance equipment in the form of camcorders and digital cameras. Inside the Philadelphia airport terminal, Leanore’s husband comes off a plane escorting a blond bombshell of a man dressed in feminine drag. Makeup alone, they were not traveling light. Even for a few good men, the truth had to hurt the other parties involved.
Every member of the profundity party screams in disbelief. The mother-in-law confusingly shouts, “What is it?” Deragatory remarks incite the combatants. A fracas ensues. Security is called to the scene of the crash. The children see their father not like never before. Leanore wins the booby prize of taking the most pictures of any family vacation. The men leave together in a tizzy. The marriage is sadly declared terminal by the distraught wife inside an airport terminal of all places.
Two years have passed. Divorce forced the sale of the home which netted a cool half million dollars. Leanore’s door is wide open to the public and primed to be gutted on the insides. Leanore gives out Corona beers to anyone stepping though her spacious model home for the Contents of House Sale. She is in the throes of a nervous breakdown secondary to divorce. A week ago, she had trouble opening up a soup can so she walked down the street and asked my wife for assistance. Leanore must soon be out of her house but she does not know where she will live. She plans on going kicking and screaming from the house she loves, the man she loved. Her centerpiece for the Contents of House Sale is her tight-fitting blouse sporting tanned cleavage, overcompensation for insecurity issues I can only imagine.
“Come in.” Leanore greets to my wife and I. “Come in and buy from me what it took me a half century to accumulate.”
The cul de sac fills with walk-up ravenous buyers. U-Haul rental trucks and flatbeds trucks circle like chuck wagons before pulling up to the right house. Her house assumes the life of a fire drill. Everyone is trying to make it out of the house as fast as they can with as much as they can grab. Leonore tells anyone with an ear appendage about her tragic story to the tune of a heartbreaking country and western song. She jokes condescendingly about her husband’s lifestyle choices. She shows pictorial evidence of her husband’s affair in plain view for strangers, neighbors, and family members who have heard this story a hundred times. Leonore bitterly defends that she deserved better out of a life of devotion. Her inability to not let go of her failed marriage is convincing symptomology of an Adjustment Disorder but I have heard this woe before. I have seen her pictures. I refuse to be nothing other than a shopper. Someone else can be her pseudo psychiatrist.
It is an outlandish experience walking around someone’s house pillaging their possessions while getting stone cold drunk. The alcohol conjured up guilt of my participation but not enough to halt my shopping spree. Pass judgment if you will. Leanore sold us a beautiful 9 foot artificial Christmas tree for the price of tinsel. I tried to give Leanore a few extra dollars but she gave me back exact change then offered me another cold beer. I had to make several trips back and forth between the two houses carrying all of the luxuries we bought on clearance. I misplaced my beer twice.
On my way out the front door with four lavish silk flower arrangements in my grubby hands, something caught my eye on the wall by the grand staircase. It caused me emotional pause. Leanore had .25 cents marked on a family picture. It was stitch art of a man, woman, and two children with their last name embroidered underneath. I swallowed hard at the desolation. Memories that were suppose to last a lifetime. Memories that were now an ad hoc antonym and sold for pocket change. Memories of the way they were.


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