Dear Kindly Person or Persons Curious about 'Bored to Death,'
I think I vowed last week to not procrastinate the writing of this week's blog-letter.
So, naturally, I've procrastinated and it's late Friday morning and I was asked to submit this blog-letter by early Thursday morning. I'm twenty-four hours late and I've just started. I'm lazy and confused and distracted.
Also, my upper spine is in pain and my right nostril is impacted and this has me thinking that my brain won't work as well because of my ill-informed notions of left-brain, right-brain behavior, combined with my other ill-informed notions of yogic breathing techniques and how one nostril sends oxygen to one part of the brain and you can affect your thinking with alternating left-right nostril-snorting, which I used to do when I read a book on yoga nearly twenty years ago.
So I'm worried that the creative side of my brain, necessary for writing, is not being fed oxygen, but I'm never sure which side of the brain is creative. I always want to think it's the left side, because I associate all things on the left with being liberal and free and more sexually wild, but I do think it's the right side of the brain where creativity comes from. But does the right nostril feed the right side or the left side? I think it's like sailing. You're supposed to lean to the left to go to the right and this never makes sense to me, because the left side of my brain, the rational, budgetary side of things, is probably under-developed and can't understand sailing or which nostril feeds which side. So I think the right nostril, for some reason, feeds the left side, but I could be wrong and I probably am, because my right nostril is afflicted...Oh, god...I'm all over the place.
Anyway, I do want to say that I did yoga before it became a total craze. I was like an early gentrifier, exercise-wise. A girlfriend and I took a class together in 1991 and I rather liked it. I've never taken a class since, but I recall it fondly.
Anyway, all of this throat-clearing at this start of this blog-letter is a feeble excuse and apology in advance if what I write is boring and dull. I'm like someone taking to the tennis court and saying, "I haven't played in years, just so you know..."
In this instance, my excuse is that I'm not having proper air-flow to my brain and my upper spine feels like it's being strangled by a scary man with a large and cruel hand.
Okay, I'll shut up now and begin. With a tangent.
Because of the show, I have health insurance for the first time in many years and I noticed that the plan included dental. Previous to this, due to financial struggles, I hadn't been to a dentist in about sixteen years, which may account for my extreme phobia of having bad breath. Anyway, for a long time and to this day, I made up for not going to the dentist by practicing self-dentistry. I buy these scrapers at drug stores and I work hard removing the plaque from my teeth, but, still, I was worried that sixteen years without seeing a dentist was risky. My fake tooth in the front of my mouth had turned mud-brown and I worried about my gums receding, just as my hair had receded. You can live without hair, more or less, but no gums is not good. So having health insurance inspired me and I made an appointment.
I told the dental hygienist that I hadn't been to a dentist since the twentieth century and she got upset. She said I would need two appointments, two cleanings, and this seemed to really annoy her. I guess she was frightened to get in there. But she went in and to her great surprise, my teeth were remarkably clean! My self-dentistry had worked wonders! She was duly impressed and I didn't need a second appointment. We sort of bonded over the whole thing, I explained my scraping technique, and I could tell that she was looking at me as a sort of colleague. Then the dentist came in and I was frightened - who knows what he might discover after sixteen years - and I asked for gas, which he gave me, and I really enjoyed myself. I closed my eyes and pretended I was a dog wrestling with other dogs, which is more or less my vision of paradise.
Then he took the gas off me and told me that I had no cavities! It was a real triumph! I was so ebullient that I let the dentist convince me to buy from him a fancy electro-sonic toothbrush, the kind they probably use in the space shuttle, though I decided to keep my muddy tooth, which he offered to replace, since I'm rather attached to it in a kind of superstitious way.
Now for the tangent I want to mention - this NASA-inspired toothbrush forces you to brush your teeth for two minutes and I find this to take a very long time. So, nowadays, I avoid brushing my teeth because I don't want to commit to the whole two minutes. This is insanity! I went to the dentist to improve my health and got this fancy brush and now my teeth are probably getting worse. I'm too lazy to use an electric toothbrush! I bring all this up, because of my laziness associated with not writing this blog-letter when I should...
But I will say that just last night, in thinking about all this, it dawned on me that I don't have to brush my teeth for the whole two minutes. I'm not a slave to the electronic brush! I can turn it off after one minute, if I like. But do you see how easily I was bullied by the imposed timeframe on the brush? It really shows why people just fall into lock-step when fascists take over. It didn't occur to me that I had agency, that I could question the brush and do what I wanted.
Now I can begin discussing the show, but I do want to go on one more tangent, and I thank you, if you've read this far, for bearing with me.
I went to New Orleans last weekend and had a really lovely time. I met up with this old friend, Michael Patrick Welch, who is a great writer and musician. He has a one-man band called The White Bitch and he wrote a fantastic novel, The Donkey Show, which is all about Mardi Gras. I believe he dubbed himself the "white bitch," because that's what his students called him - he teaches music to kids in New Orleans. He gave me his most recent album, "Prey Drive," which I really love and which you can find on iTunes.
In addition to being a great artist, Michael also owns a pygmy goat named Chauncy, whom he's written about extensively in relation to getting his goat and his girlfriend out of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. I got to wrestle a little with Chauncy and it was different from wrestling a dog, but very pleasurable, nevertheless. Chauncy responds to having his head pushed against - his skull is very thick and his neck is extremely powerful - and like a little ram he would butt against me and then rise up on his tiny hind legs in a fighting posture. He loved to do this and when I would stop playing with him he would look at me with quite sorrowful eyes. Like horses, goats have very beautiful eyes. You can fall in love just looking at the eyes of horses and goats. They seem to have such deep souls, but I'm not sure that they do. Well, they probably do. They're both very patient animals, from what I can see, and patience usually indicates a deep soul.
Now, all tangents having been dealt with, I need to get down to business, though I could go off in a million directions like a psychotic bicycle wheel with endless spokes, because, you see, the coffee I drank is really kicking in and the cruel man seems to have lessened his grip on my spine, and my nostril, for some reason, is now less impacted, but let me get on to 'Bored to Death' and episode four, "The Case of the Stolen Skateboard," though, first, I do need to say something about episode three, "The Case of the Missing Screenplay."
If you noticed, there was a moment when Jonathan points out to Jim Jarmusch that his name has been misspelled on the script that Jarmusch wants him to consider revising. Well, strangely enough, in the credits for the show, the director's name was misspelled! It should be Michael Lehmann, but it was spelled Michael Lehman. Only one 'n'! Michael's own mother asked him if this was done on purpose as a kind of playful nod to what had transpired in the episode, but this was not the case, though I do like it as an inadvertent nod.
Michael, being the superb gentleman that he is, was very good-natured about the whole thing and appreciated the inanity of it and the odd connection to that moment in the show. I also want to say that he did a brilliant job on the episode, just as Alan Taylor was magisterial in his direction of the first two episodes, and episode four, which I will now discuss, scene by scene (or most of the scenes), was directed beautifully by Tucker Gates.
Okay, I had better speed through this, since I just got an email from HBO that the blog is needed sooner rather than later.
Also, I need to be a little careful with what I write. I shouldn't lose my mind and get too sexually graphic just in case a child should happen to read this blog-letter, which is unlikely of course, but not beyond the pale considering the nature of the Internet. One of the producers on the show was a little worried last week that I had perhaps gone too far with my description of breast-feeding, but since children are usually the main recipients of breast-feeding, I think it's all right. If I do have to discuss things of a sexual nature I will try to use vocabulary words that will fly over a child's head. But did that fly over a child's head?
Anyway, in this scene, Ray is - damn, this isn't easy - meditating in a way that only adults can meditate, and the end result of his meditation is to go into a urine cup.
I conceived of this whole scene because I think it's always an embarrassing challenge to urinate into a cup, and this made me wonder about men who go to fertility clinics, meditate, and fill up cups, though I wasn't sure what kind of cups they used. I asked Sam Sklaver, who was on my writing team, to find out what kind of cup is used for adult fertility-inclined meditation, and he's a whiz with the Internet and discovered that a basic urine sample cup is the preferred chalice for such an endeavor.
So Ray fills up such a cup, joins the dinner party, and says, after a little dance, "All that jizz!" Jizz, kids, is just a magical, happy thing, like dust from the stars above, and nothing to worry about or ask your parents about.
Anyway, this line, which I was very pleased with, came out of a collaboration between Zach Galifianakis and myself. It wasn't scripted and for several takes, when the camera wasn't on him, Zach was doing these great dance moves before putting the cup on the table, and it reminded me of Roy Scheider playing Bob Fosse in All that Jazz/ I then said to Zach, "When you finish the little dance, say, 'All that jism!'" Zach then improved on my suggestion and said, "All that jizz!" Jizz is much closer in sound and spelling to "jazz" than "jism" - thank you, Zach! - and I really love this moment in the show.
Another unscripted line that I really like is at the end of the scene when Ray says, "Goodbye, Picasso." I had our wonderful master of wardrobe, Daniel Lawson, put Zach in a striped shirt, which appealed to my eye. I thought it made Ray look like Picasso - there's some famous photo of Picasso in a striped, sailorish shirt - and then seeing him in the shirt gave me the idea to have him say the Picasso line, which is also an allusion to Michelle and Lisa's desire for an "artistic" baby.
Heather Burns, who plays Leah, is magnificent in this scene, and I love her girlish, spastic throw of the urine cup. All the actors were just great in this scene and it's one of my favorites of the whole season.
Four little behind-the-scene anecdotes come to mind for this encounter between Jonathan and Allison (the fantastic Parker Posey):
1. As in episode two, I'm sort of working out my ongoing desire to eat properly and my heartbreak over the state of our food in America, which is why I have Allison talking about raw food and live food and slow food.
2. Jonathan's story of the corset comes directly from my life. When I was eight years old, I had back spasms due to fear and precocious anxiety issues, and I had to wear a corset for a year. What kind of crazy doctor did my mother take me to? Shortly after I started wearing my corset, my left testicle elevated and wouldn't come down. I was off to a great start in life - I had only one ball and I was wearing a constricting Victorian garment.
3. I had Allison and Jonathan stretch together because one night Parker and I went out - she wanted to talk about her character and after dinner, I walked her home. We went into her lobby and somehow we began to do stretches and yoga moves in the lobby of her building, which has a very nice carpet near the elevator bank. I was impressed by Parker's flexibility and thought this could be utilized comedically in the scene and so we added the stretching moment.
4. After shooting her wonderful makeout scene with Jason (I love the shot from above, they both look very beautiful, their dark hair fanning out), Parker sent me a very sweet text message the next day, that went something like this: I adore you and all your alter-egos. And I wrote back something like: I wish I could have played Jonathan Ames yesterday.
Tucker did a great job shooting all these skateboard action sequences, really making them come alive, and when Jonathan talks to the one kid on a bridge, I was hoping to create a sort of noir-ish, truant officer feeling.
The body of water you see in this scene is Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, which is famously polluted. In fact, I read just the other day in the NY Post that the Canal actually has gonorrhea. How is this possible? I guess if one cheated on one's wife and got gonorrhea, you could say that you fell into the Gowanus. I pass this along to any married men who live in Brooklyn. Better yet, if you're going to cheat, wear a condom. And even better better yet, don't cheat!
For all its pollution, I find the Gowanus, which is right near my house, to be beautiful. It's kind of that beautiful-ugly thing I was talking about in last week's blog-letter.
When Jonathan talks to Caroline, his editor, played by Bebe Neuwirth, about his Kama Sutra novel, this is a reference to a book I thought of writing years ago called 32 Positions. I had heard that the Kama Sutra had sixty-four positions and I was intrigued, comedically, by the notion of someone who had only gotten halfway through the Kama Sutra and kind of hit a block, like a writer's block, which is sort of funny since this is the novel that Jonathan is struggling to write.
When I was thinking about writing 32 Positions, which I never did, I thought of all the strange positions, as it were, I had assumed in my erotic life and wondered if I was sending some kind of hieroglyphic message to myself. And, if so, what was I trying to tell myself? I saw the positions, spread out, almost like letters on a beach, viewed from an airplane...Probably what I was trying to say was: Help! I've said it before, but if there's one message in everything I do, if it can be boiled down to one word, it would be: Help!
George's whole armpit story, like Jonathan's corset story, is directly from my life. I was mesmerized by a girl's beautiful armpit in the sixth grade on the school bus. Twenty years later, on a Greek island, a German woman raised her arm to point out the location of some ruins I was searching for and I had the same experience - I was privy to a beautiful armpit filled with light blonde hairs. That moment on the Greek island was, for me, like Proust's madeleine, but with an armpit.
To this day, I love women's arms and I do slightly fetishize the armpit. A line of Jonathan's, a question to George, that was cut in the editing room was: "How did you end up on the armpit, you cycled through all the other parts?" But, George, like myself, hasn't cycled through all the other parts, he loves them all, as I do, but late in life I am a bit fixated on the armpit, it's this other secret, intimate place, and so I've given this love of the armpit to George. I should add that I thought Ted Danson's monologue about the armpit was full of comedy and pathos, something he's so wonderful at.
During a health-kick, I was jogging in my neighborhood, always around the Gowanus Canal, it's my only access to nature, and near the canal are these hilly streets. One day, I saw some kids skateboarding at the top of one of these hills and I got this picture in my mind of Jonathan sitting on a skateboard, paddling his way down the hill, fleeing a troupe of kids giving chase. This was meant to be my homage to the first two Mad Max movies, which I love.
I was also inspired to do this whole skateboarding episode because there's a skateboard shop right near where I live, Homage on Smith Street, and I love how kids of all ethnicities seem to gather there and join together around their common love of skateboarding. As a child, I wanted to skateboard, but my parents wouldn't let me. I guess I was a bit fragile, wearing a corset and all that, so filming all this skateboarding was a chance for me to live vicariously through all these kids, to at least watch what I had wanted to try as a child.
Well, I guess that's all I'll write this week. So I thank you, as always, for reading my blog-letter, if you in fact have gotten this far.
All the best and none of the worst,
PS To hear the hairy call, click here.
PPS To see Throwdini, a master knife-thrower, throw knives at me, select the video from the Related Media section. Throwdini threw knives at me at a reading I gave a few months ago, to cut the ribbon, as it were, for the publication of my new book, The Double Life is Twice As Good, which contains the original short story that 'Bored to Death' is based on. This knife-throwing and reading took place at my local Brooklyn book shop, which is also my favorite bookstore in New York, Bookcourt.
Posted 12:00 AM | Oct 12, 2009