24 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p8)





Earl said, “Brankton, do me a favor and let me look into this. I'll make a few phone calls about Marcus and then call you back. In the meantime, I’ve got this.” Earl stood up from his chair, a man about to swing some of his Fred Flintstone physique around. “What is your assistant’s name?” He dug his toes into the shag white area rug that framed his desk with an extra three feet of matting. Earl was wearing his best grandson birthday party shorts and Riviera Country Club golf shirt with his sandals slipped off somewhere near the ottoman next to his desk.

Brankton's admin was still in his office occupying his $1,200 chair. “Sophia,” she said answering Earl.  She heard the door open in the “reception area” where her desk was. “Hello?” she said.  Sophia and Friday both jumped when the door slammed behind the security officer’s entrance, shaking the wall as it always did when visitors arrived.

“NBC Security!” said a beefy, recently honorably discharged U.S. Marine. "Is Mr. Brankton Newhan here?”

Brankton looked up at Moises Yauch and pointed to an area of the courtyard, asking if he could sit there on the low brick wall. The Rebbe gave him the pointer-thumb okay sign.

“Sophia, can you please put me on speaker phone,” said Earl.

The door opened again, and for a moment Friday thought security had left the office. But, a distinctly high-pitched Brooklyn accent said, “NBC Universal Security!”

The Marine security officer rolled his eyes at his security guard colleague from Brooklyn, “I just said that,” he said. “What, you don’t see me standing here?”

“Yeah, but did you mean it?” asked Brooklyn security.  Brooklyn had been at NBC for twelve years and Marine all of three months. Brooklyn held a visceral and visible chip on his narrow shoulder because some jarhead from Newport Beach, California, already outranked him and was telling him what to do. It didn’t matter to Brooklyn that he himself never graduated high school and that Marine was an officer in the Marine Corps for six years, two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a degree in Criminology from University California Irvine.

“Where are the banker’s boxes?” asked the Marine.

“I thought this was a priority walk-out?” said Brooklyn.

Marine walked back and opened the door a third time, “Here’s the priority: go get several boxes for this office to pack up some personal belongings and double-time it back here.” Marine gave Brooklyn wide berth to walk out the door with some semblance of dignity to carry out his assignment.

“Hello?” said Friday as she walked down the hallway toward Brankton’s office. She and Sophia looked at each other and shrugged shoulders.

Marine turned back to his assignment. He pulled out the email from Marcus Spilka’s office and re-read it to confirm the odd name of the executive he was to escort from the lot. “Is Brankton Newhan here?” he said as he walked in next to Brankton’s office looking about.

Friday with her long-legged stride met him within a few steps. She placed herself between Marine and Sophia. “Can I help you?”

“I don’t know if your office was made aware of this communication, but our Security group has been notified to escort Mr. Brankton’s office from the premises immediately.” Marine held up the email.

“May I see this please,” said Friday firmly as she tried to snatch it out of Marine’s hands. She was surprised how rapidly he moved it, leaving her with an awkward swipe at nothing. “Well, no we didn’t get this communication, and I’d like to read it,” she said.

“Yes, then this must be surprising to say the least, so I apologize,” said Marine ignoring her plea to read the directive and folding the email into his back pocket. “Is Mr. Newhan here or on the campus, because we have to escort him out as well?”

Brankton and Earl Buntz were both speaking, answering Marine and asking questions of their own, but could not be heard because Sophia hadn’t put the line on speaker phone properly. “Brankton, let me,” barked Earl with some finality as to which of them would be speaking to NBC Universal Security. Brankton now quiet in Austin, and Earl Buntz with a lung full of bated breath ready to pounce; both men waited for Sophia to remedy the speaker situation.

The door opened again. A slender 5’ 7” Brooklyn stood with the banker’s boxes next to 6’2” Marine who filled every seam and stretched every stitch of his paramilitary security uniform like some ancient wineskin.

“Let’s get these filled up ladies,” said Brooklyn as he tossed one in Brankton’s office and then another down the hall toward Friday’s office. “You’ve got three and a half minutes.” Brooklyn once heard a colleague say something similar to this some ten years earlier, and it just sort of slipped out of him now, like the kid who knocks the glass of chocolate milk with his elbow and knows it's on its way to the floor and that there's nothing to be done now but watch the final results splash out in an ugly way.

“Hey, what is going on here?” Friday immediately disliked the little guy with the accent that reminded her of her first husband who also just happened to be a full four inches shorter than her height of 5' 11" without heels.

Sophia added, “Yeah, who in the hell are you?” Sophia looked down at the speaker phone waiting for a word of authority to finally emanate from her GE phone system and realized her snafu. She punched the button, “Mr. Buntz, sorry about that – you’re on speaker phone now.”

“Who the hell am I?” Brooklyn looked up at Friday as he walked past her to show Sophia exactly who the hell he was. “I’m the guy who’s going to drag your bony ass up and out of here if you don’t get to steppin’, sweetie.”

Brooklyn grabbed Sophia by the arm and hauled her up and out of the Herman Miller chair. “Ouch, hey!” she screamed not so much in pain but fear and annoyance because no asshole should be allowed touch a woman with such disrespect. Friday immediately moved to the nearest object to swing, a silver platter sitting on its edge on one of Brankton’s bookshelves would have to do. It was engraved with the first public offering information for an Idealab company that Brankton was partly responsible for early in his career: four million shares were issued in its name raising over $22 million. It had never been used for anything but proud display, and with its two carrying slats on the side, it was perfectly suited for Friday’s double grip and her French tipped acrylic fingernails.

Marine hesitated for a brief second when he heard someone barking, “This is Earl Buntz! This is Earl Buntz!” He moved to go around the desk to grab a hold of Brooklyn's arm, hopefully snapping it in the process. He imagined throttling the little jerk’s neck as well once they got this office cleared.

Friday spun and aimed for Brooklyn’s head. Having played 3 years of softball and swung a hammer for almost 7 years as a contractor, she could bring the lumber when she needed to. She swung the platter with all of her might, wanting to knock Brooklyn into unconsciousness. She caught Marine mid-step and square in the side of the face instead. Pwang! The reverberation of the impact on Marine’s head almost broke Friday’s hand. She dropped the tray writhing in pain. The former-Marine security guard just stood there. Still. Not reacting.

“Son of a bitch!” said Friday. “Oh, my gawd, I think I broke my hand,” she grabbed her hand and held it close to her body. "Oh, my gawd!"

Earl continued, “This is Earl Buntz! This is Earl Buntz! My name is Earl Buntz! I am the President of NBC Universal.” Earl had a bank of three sliding doors that lead to his veranda. They were all slid opened and the entire party heard Earl telling all who had ears to hear that he was Earl Buntz. The clowns in clown make-up; the 6 yr-olds in Sponge Bob regalia; the moms and dads sipping on beers; the Mariachi band sipping on tequila shots with hot sauce between sets; and Earl’s wife Marjorie who just rolled her eyes. For about 30 seconds, the party turned in to an E.F. Hutton commercial waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Brooklyn looked on with full satisfaction at the left side of Marine’s face that was already turning three shades of red. “Oh, that’s gonna leave a terrific mark, Col. Oliver North!” Still, Marine just stood his ground.  He had once been in a Humvee in Falluja when his squad drove over an IED and the explosion threw the 6-ton jeep upside down and over the wall of a compound.  He and his men all thankfully survived the attack and subsequent burning vehicle and rocket-propelled grenades; the noise and pain was nothing like what just hit him in the side of the head.  Six years of near-death experiences and bloodcurdling combat, no problem.  Six months back and a sixty year-old, well-endowed administrative assistant  from NBC Universal knocks the living piss out of him but good.

Sophia twisted her arm free from Brooklyn’s grip like she had learned in self-defense class, “Let go of me.” She turned back to the phone, “Mr. Buntz, security is here trying to make us leave the office and we don’t know why.” She almost teared up, but fought it with all of her might.

“Who is there with you, Sophia? Can you read me their names that should be on their uniform,” said Earl.

“Sir,” Marine spoke up, “I recognize your name from your memos. Uh, we were told by Marcus Spilka’s office to come and escort Mr. Brankton and his staff from the lot.”  Marine yawned, trying to hear right.  His hearing was muffled, except for the ringing from platter up against the side of his head.  That was pitch perfect.

Earl cut him off, “Let me stop you right there, sir. I’m going to look into this right now. And, by "this" I mean the way Security treated our NBC colleagues in Mr. Brankton’s office and the sequence of events that lead you to believe you were supposed to escort these folks from the lot. And by "right now," I mean right effing now! If it is even half as bad as what I just heard, somebody’s going to lose a job. Sophia, are you and your colleague okay?”

“We’re okay,” Sophia looked over everyone in Brankton's office, and only Brooklyn seemed unscathed by the entire incident.  He was still smiling at Marine.

Brankton hung up the phone. He had heard enough. He knew someone would be calling him back with details, even if not good news. Brankton half-expected that there was a chance he’d lose his job this year, but he didn’t think Marcus Spilka would be the one terminating his livelihood. His hands were shaking a bit, so he rubbed them on his jeans and let out a long exhale -- a nervous habit from his mom the sigher. He hadn’t noticed at first with all of the yelling back at Team Brankton HQ, but there was the unmistakable aroma in the air of a dry-rub. Mo' the Texan had fired up the grill and had whipped up a mean rub to season the tri-tip steak that was going on the grill for his afternoon meal. It smelled like carnivore heaven.
Please find part 9 here to continue reading ...

20 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p7)

Brankton’s phone rang. He welcomed the interruption, immediately thumbing the green talk button out of habit expecting his unflappable gal Friday or the other smart one whose name he rarely said because it was the same as his ex’s. “Excuse me,” he said walking away from the Rebbe with his finger in one ear and phone to the other.

“I’m actually glad you called,” he said as he moved beneath the shade of a nearby palm on the far corner of the synagogue’s pie-shaped lot.

“Brankton! It’s Pat O’ from UTA!” Pat O’ was always yelling into phones as he was usually en route to or from his office on the Miracle Mile with the convertible top down. Apparently the uber-agent had never gotten the memo that cell phones no longer require such shouting in the 21st century or that sunblock should be amply lathered on sun-exposed pasty skin – he had recently lost several pieces of his scalp, nose and ear to the surgeon’s scalpel. At least he was now wearing a Woody Allen-styled hat during his commutes.

“Oh, sorry, man,” said Brankton. “Thought you were my admin.”

“Yeah, no worries; not sure you’re going to be so glad about my calling though. I’ve got some news.” Pat O’ said ‘some’ as if he had just substituted it for the word bad, like he had done with the words "illness" for "cancer" when he told his aged mother about her only son's skin issues.

“What’s going on, Pat?”

“Apparently you have a script with a UTA cover on it from a cat in Austin or Nashville or someplace in flyover land?” he asked.

“Austin. Yeah, it’s pretty good. Just read it,” said Brankton lying about having read the script like most in the business in L.A. have lied to their writer friends when asked if they got a chance to read their scripts. They say things like, "Yes, of course." Or, the more inspired, "Really liked the story, thought the characters were interesting." Brankton, however, had two admins and a professional service to provide coverage for any project in need of some executive notes for the writers on the shows under his purview.

“Well, it’s not from my office, B-dawg. We never sent this -- Jack Mann project is it? -- to NBC. And you know we wouldn’t have sent it to you regardless, but over to that king of all assholes, Spilka.”   Even though Pat was in his late fifties, he could still carry himself at a Hollywood Hills soiree; and with his money and Power100 ranking, he went home with many young (and old) industry talent in skirts.  Even one or two well-known starlets, feeling it all slip away, willing to stoke the ego of a not unattractive, still slim, vapid agent, had made that walk of shame from casa de Pat.

“Marcus Spilka is on his way out, Pat,” Brankton was taking stock of the situation. “Let this play out.” Jacqueline Manon Laurent strained to hear what Brankton was saying from her own convertible. Jackie was having a hard time of deciphering it, the conversation, since it was all one-sided responses of a pissed-off Angelino.

“Brankton, I’ve only got a quick second! But, you need to know that this writer was hip-pocketed -- without approval -- by some dumb-ass assistant here, and when I find out who it was, they’re fired.”

“Pat! Just a second!” Brankton looked sideways to see if this scene he found himself in was attracting attention. “I’m here in Austin, now, and by the time we’re done working up a deal with the writer, you’ll promote this assistant, whoever he is, to agent.” Brankton considered that Pat O’ could be working with Marcus Spilka, head of NBC Universal Comedy Development, class-A douche bag rumored soon to be fired, and currently in possession of the job Brankton wanted. “Don’t bet on the wrong horse here,” he said.

“NBC’s my bet, Brankton. Gotta run!” Pat O’ hung up his cell phone and tossed it across his expansive desk in his even larger office slightly disgusted with himself. He picked up his office phone and called NBC.  Pat O' was making a bet, against his better, cancer treatment induced hazy judgement.

“Jesus Christ!” Brankton said as he walked off the grass and onto the street. Even among Texas Jews it was considered poor form to throw messianic epithets into the ether so casually. Mo and Nels Yauch raised eyebrows to each other, sharing an awkward and conjoined moment of father-son disapproval.

Jackie started the Mini Cooper, “Sit your ass down, Nels.”

“What are we doing?”

Jackie waived at the Rabbi and said, “Gotta go, c’mon!” then gave Nelson the universal and impatient sign for wrap it up.

“Dad, probably see you later tonight,” Nelson said with Doppler effect as Jackie roared down the street.

A sheepish Brankton looked up at the Rabbi, watching the rear of the dark-green British import flee the scene.

“Uh, sorry about that,” he said.

“Work?”

“Yeah.” Every sinew in his dialing thumb wanted to call the office, but Brankton’s home-brewed sui generis Sabbath conditions forbad his using any modern conveniences unilaterally. However, if work were to call him, he could respond because to his way of thinking that meant it was an emergency and was therefore granted a special dispensation. And like clockwork, his phone rang.

“Yeah!?” he said again this time recognizing the number as being NBC L.A. “What did you guys do to me with this Jack Mann project?”

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry, boss,” said his admin. “Marcus Spilka’s assistant just called looking for you.”

“Spilka can go eff himself!”

“Yes, well maybe he can and maybe he can’t, but supposedly his office just asked security to come over to our building to escort us off the campus,” said Friday also on the line, whose real name was Rosalind. Brankton came up with the nickname "Friday" for her after Rosalind Russell, although he knew it was bit ham-fisted. She liked it and the name stuck. Besides, he liked to imagine himself as playing Cary Grant the leading man in the classic His Gal Friday, with loyal support staff, and himself rocking nice suits, affecting a smooth, winning way with all who came into contact with his office, handing out cool nicknames as he went along.

“What?!”

“Yeah, apparently he’s convinced facilities that he has the power to tell us to leave the premises,” said Friday. “I know they’re short-staffed on the weekend, so maybe it won’t be for a bit, but what should we do?”

Get Earl Buntz right now at his house and conference me in,” said Brankton. The Rabbi offered his courtyard as a base of operations with a wave of his hand. Brankton gave a non-verbal assent as he followed him up the driveway.

In Hancock Park -- an exclusive enclave of five to ten million-dollar homes in the heart of Los Angeles with old-growth trees and old-money families -- a private office line to Earl Buntz’s home was ringing before Brankton could finish verbalizing his request. The Spanish villa styled manse of Earl and Marjorie Buntz sitting on two shady acres was originally built in 1902, but subsequently gutted and refurbished according to Hollywood executive standards in 1999. Earl’s office overlooked the tennis court, pool, putting green and pergola with the wisteria climbing throughout. It was his sanctuary. Churchill had his Chartwell. Superman his Fortress of Solitude. And, Earl Buntz had his Hancock Park home-office to keep wives of 45-years, grand kids, directors from the NBC Universal Board, and pesky 30-something parvenu execs from Cast.com, the most recent company to buy Universal, all at bay. Even if only for a brief respite.

NBC Universal had several Presidents. Earl Buntz was the least sexy but hardest working. The company had changed hands no less than a half-dozen times since he began there some thirty years before, but he remained. He was the overseer of all things production. He worked out budgets like a big-five certified public accountant, and kept all the moving parts and players saluting his standard that he flew proudly over the NBC Universal campus: the unions, the consultants with their outsourced business processes, the C-Suite of execs dealing with heavy-handed Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues and the HR staff dealing with employee demands that could sink every publically traded company. Earl became a fan of Brankton’s after a few drinks together at several company retreats, which was fine. However, more important for the problem at hand, Earl hated Marcus Spilka. Spilka was an Ivy League graduate who would tell you within two minutes of meeting you that when he “was in Cambridge recently, meeting with Obama at a private function,” blah, blah, blah. He also had family connections to the industry and a major sense of entitlement. Brankton was counting on Earl’s hatred of Spilka.

“Earl Buntz,” said the squat-heavy man sitting behind his desk.

“Mr. Buntz, I have Brankton from NBC Current Comedy on the line for you,” said Friday. Brankton in his own short time in the business had become a one-name sort of executive, with absolutely zero power or clout. Name recognition, yes.

“Brankton! How are you?”

Brankton said, “Sorry to bother you at home, Earl. Do you have a quick second?”
“Well, I have about 30 kids and their parents down stairs for my grandson’s birthday party,” said Earl. “Can’t you hear the music playing and the kids peeing in my pool?” Earl Buntz muted the company-owned MSNBC cable channel playing on three TVs in his office.

“Listen, Marcus Spilka is asking security to escort my staff from the lot. I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m assuming he thinks he can fire me and my people, which as you know I have no solid or dotted-line relationship to his office.”

“That little prick,” said Earl, music to Brankton’s ears.

“Since I’m on business in Austin, I’m not there to deal with this in-person. Not that it’d do any good,
Earl. Do you know anything about this?”

A worried Friday cut into the conversation, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but we have security trying to unlock our door as we speak.”

Click here to continue reading part 8.

12 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p6)

“What now?” An incredulous Jackie shook her head. “How about now you don’t offer my taxi services to complete strangers,” she said. "I might be the Sabbath Goy-toy, but I'm your Goy-toy." The designated and occasional Gentile driver for Nelson showed her irritation.

“Jackie, chill. I bought your breakfast again. And, stop saying Goy, you sound ridiculous. Let’s just see where big man needs to go,” Nelson and Jackie looked at Brankton in unison. Jackie worked the convertible's clutch, turning the car off. Her flexed runner’s calf muscle pulled her sock down just enough to reveal the top of a tattoo, six tiny numbers from her grandmother's Auschwitz internment as a non-Jewish political prisoner. As freshmen at the University of Texas, Nelson and Jackie became best friends the semester he asked her about the tat.

Brankton didn't want the ride. He was about to head-off for one of two places on his list before heading over to The Driskill to check in and get his car. The other person in their group reappeared and walked down the driveway halfway.

“Okay, kids, all set,” he said. “Thanks again for the lift.” He waved them goodbye.

“Dad, come meet someone,” said Nelson. Nelson’s father obviously wasn't from the not-so-secret society of same sexed singles breakfast earlier in the day. Brankton had gotten the wrong end of the stick on that one.

Nelson switched to kneeling on the seat as he directed his dad over towards Brankton. His long frame and muscular shoulders and arms tested the Mini car seat’s integrity as he pushed forward over the headrest with folded arms. Several women and one male admirer had suggested that Nelson get a tattoo on one of his oversize they-make-me-weak-in-the-knees shoulders. Jackie also thought it the perfect canvass for some ink, like some “baller in the NBA.” Nelson would only answer this chorus of devotees that he wasn't about to put ink on the temple of God.

Brankton and Nelson’s dad met at the rear bumper like the Union and Central Pacific railroads coming together, two men running on the same gauge tracks, but most likely not quite on the same page in life. The Rabbi, a man of faith, and Brankton a man of what exactly? In search of meaning through his father’s faith, with his father’s off-the-rack suit of Judaism not quite fitting as snug as he would’ve hoped.

“Very nice to meet you,” said the Rabbi. “Rabbi Yauch.”

“You, too,” said Brankton trying not to say too much.
Up front Jackie said to Nelson under her breath, “I’m a yuck mouth, ‘cuz I don’t brush!” mimicking a PSA from the ‘80s.

“Shut it.” said Nelson.

“So, how do you know my son and Jacqueline?” asked the Rabbi with a bit of twang, surprising Brankton who expected a bit more of a New Yorker, Yiddish sort of vibe.

“I don’t, really,” said Brankton.

Jackie piped in more loudly this time up to the sky, “He flipped me off, Rabbi! In front of a young family, on the Sabbath no less!”

Brankton shifted on his feet a bit embarrassed and tried to put a hand on the back of the car to act more casual but he misjudged the height slipping off the well-polished ride. The Rabbi jumped in lending a hand.

“Jacqueline, is that what I saw you doing just a moment ago? A reenactment of this alleged malfeasance?” he asked. Jackie looked about curious. Nelson tapped her and pointed aloft to a pole-mounted security camera some 30 feet in the air.

“Full HD security video feed. Dad had it put in last week and can check-in from the house or even his Smartphone,” said Nelson. “Two more in the back”

“So, are you a Jew also?” the Rabbi asked as he let go of Brankton’s arm. Brankton was surprised by the directness of the query which is why he probably answered so directly in reply.

“Well, my father was a Jew, so I guess I’m not really a Jew by birth, but I have been trying to follow in my own way by keeping Shabbat as best I can.”

“As should we all,” said the Rabbi.

“Dude, are you going to … what’s your name, by the way?” asked Nelson sensing a moniker was sorely lacking amongst the group.

“Brankton,” he said. Brankton thought the less people who knew his name, the less likely his being hurt. He had a belief that when meeting strangers if he gave his name they would instantly Google or search public records to get to bank accounts, family member addresses, and college transcripts. He was often the guy at the party that kept his back to the wall searching sight lines for ill-intentioned interlopers and exits should the need arise.

“Brankton?!” said Jackie to herself adjusting the mirror to look out the back.

“Brankton -- huh, that’s cool. So, Brankton, what, are you like walking all over Austin observing the Sabbath? We saw you a few hours ago on 6th and now over here. That’s like walking a marathon to catch up on some rest,” Nelson put finger quotes up for emphasis mocking the observant non-Jewish Jew.

Rabbi Yauch was a tall man, who looked every bit the part of a movie star styled cowboy, with several discernible features similar to his obviously racially mixed son. Brankton wanted to ask about this, but thought against it because, one, it would be rude as shit. And, two, it would only delay his absolute desire to be the hell on his way, and presently two was much more on his mind than one.
“Brankton, if I may, please forgive my son’s bluntness. However, for Reform Jews, your Jewishness, if I may use an awkward term, is as secure as mine or my wife’s or that of my son’s,” said the Rabbi. That last part raised more questions for Brankton.

Jackie was still watching from the rear-view mirror when she decided to switch her vantage point as well by kneeling like Nelson. The two of them appeared as kids looking out the back of their parent’s car at the local drive-in movie theater.

“Even without converting?” said Brankton.

“It’s certainly not required, unless you seek to return to Israel. But here in the US, your efforts would certainly fall within the practices of Reform Jews like us here at Temple Beth Selah,” said the Rabbi. Brankton was convinced the Rabbi was really working an angle here for his membership and commitment of money, but then the Rabbi asked, “Where are you visiting from, Brankton?”

Instead of asking how he knew, Brankton simply said, “Los Angeles,” and assumed that it must have been his debonair manner and swarthy good looks that shouted “visiting Angelino!” to inquiring Rabbis.

“Oh, shit!” Jackie turned and slid down her seat adjusting the mirror again.

“Los Angeles. A wonderful place to visit,” said the Rabbi with a wink.
Brankton felt sure cowboy Moises Yauch (“Mo” to his friends, Goy and Jew alike) was making a joke of some kind about L.A. not being a place to live. Maybe this was what Reform Texas Jews looked like. Brankton felt sure that the Yauchs must be the exception.

“Have you traveled here today to Austin for business?” asked the Rabbi.

“Yeah, flew in early this morning for a meeting,” said Brankton. “But, I really should be going now.”

“Well, we've already said Kiddush, my son and I, and I’m having several friends over for an after service luncheon. Why don’t we continue our conversation out in the courtyard?” said the Rabbi. Mo-the-Rabbi poked a finger up toward the synagogue like a man pointing out his choice of doughnut to his local baker.

“Dad, I told you that Jackie and I are going to Barton Springs for a swim at the pool and then we have some things to do tonight,” said Nelson.

The Rabbi gave a fatherly shushing with his hand, clearly the paterfamilias even to 6’4” scions. “Nobody was asking you, kiddo,” said the Rabbi with a bit more of his Texan drawl creeping in again. Unbeknownst to Brankton, the Rabbi played strong safety for the University of Texas, still holding the record for most tackles in a single game -- 28 tackles, 18 solo. He was used to telling large men how to behave on and off the field. Brankton pictured the Rabbi saying Kiddush as John Wayne with leather and hat and spurs, he thought he might like to hear how that would sound.

09 May 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p5)


Brankton removed his hand after a moment’s hesitation. She said what he thought she might.

“Don’t,” she shook her head not exactly believing her own body language which leaned toward him like some far off tower in an Italian suburb. “I mean,” she tried to soften it a bit, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, probably not,” he said.

He reached out of habit for her hands -- the hands with the many lines and wrinkles on her palms as if she had been swimming for an hour, even when she hadn’t. She inherited this trait from her cherished grandfather and would most likely pass this oh-so-minor flaw on to her children. She didn’t like to think about that, the passing of an imperfect gene. The rest of her was as smooth and tan as the calfskin car seats of her 1957 SL Roadster. Brankton convinced himself long ago that she loved the car more than him. She placed her hands in his as she used to, but now a reserve could be felt, reflecting the permanence and resolve behind the decision she made in Dr. Sheila Stein’s office on a shady little street in Larchmont Village just a few shorts months earlier.

“You look good, girl … no matter what friend you’re meeting at The Roosevelt,” he said.

She didn’t answer him or his searching, not even with her eyes. She just looked at him. He was amazed how much difficulty he was having trying not to say “honey” to her. It crossed his mind that such pet names were really just pleasant conversation fillers or simply habit, like “um” and “you know” for couples who said nothing to each other, really.

The taste of his beer (the one still sitting on the desk behind him with condensation drops running down the side of the green bottle leaving ring after ring on his job offer from NBC) made him self-conscious about his breath. Although Brankton’s mind was a bit muddled from mixing his beer with two Vicodin, it only partially explained his inability to engage his brain in any meaningful way. There was also the scent of “eau de ex” now filling the carriage house, an amalgam of her private label perfume, shampoo and oils; the sound of her walking in those heals; the way she looked in those heals; and the memory of the last time those heals were safely tucked under his bed. The depressing night he caught her cheating was also thrown into the memory mix for good measure. Brankton was trafficking these emotions and feelings and memories like some illicit drug runner through the overburdened transformer that was his frontal lobe now arriving on time at the juncture of recrimination and longing and sexual tension when it finally blew spectacularly. A million cognitively dissonant thoughts and then … nothing.

“Turn around, let me see,” he finally said out of instinct.

“One last twirl, huh?”

“No, just one last look,” he said as she began to spin with an easy expertise. She was always willing to dance, to work the practice bar with grand plié, arabesque and demi-plié under the watchful eye of her Italian ballet teacher, the Cecchetti task master with her arthritic, withered hands clenching a stick from the old country to whack unsuspecting, inconsistent and imperfect students. She also tap, tap, tapped the floor incessantly with it, inculcating the girls with a metronome of rhythm for their trips across the floor. If a woman could be a misogynist, her teacher with the broken English was it. He reached for his ex’s hip and felt her body spin under his touch as her hand stayed perfectly balanced in his. When she stopped turning, she pressed into and through him kissing Brankton with a warm and wet aggressiveness that he had forgotten existed. He matched her efforts like any good partner in a pas de deux. Her countenance of indifference replaced with bedroom eyes, she reached up to the mattress still wrapped in its Ikea protective plastic that partially covered the window, adroitly avoiding the half-dozen empty beers, and handed the ashtray with half-attempted cigars to Brankton.

“That’s a nasty habit,” she said. She looked back at him through hair falling over her face and grabbed a fistful of plastic, yanking down the mattress. One bottle flew squarely into the fireplace and shattered into a dozen large and small pieces. The rest just bounced off wood floors like so many bowling pins finding their way into the kitchen, hallway, with one even bouncing back onto the mattress. “I approve.”

As Brankton walked south on Lavaca heading toward Barton Springs, he tried to remember that afternoon and those sixteen minutes of tussle and lusty rekindled affection. He remembered her and that dress and what was under that dress, the tan lines, matching lingerie, the things they said to each other and the things they didn't. He was, in fact, haunted by these things, stunted into a half-lived life of victim status whilst she moved on to a better life.

Two things Brankton the peripatetic Jew from Los Angeles didn't expect to see in the Capital of Texas: a Jewish Temple, and the woman he had only hours earlier flipped the bird in a hasty exit. Jackie and Nelson were dropping someone off -- Brankton assumed he was part of the gay coffee clutch -- at the Temple Beth Selah. It was a smallish, unremarkable building next to an Austin firehouse. Nelson carried some sort of dish behind their friend who was juggling several. Jackie recognized Brankton walking up to her British green convertible Mini Cooper.

“Oh, hey!” she said. “You left before I could give you this,” Jackie flipped him off enthusiastically and turned her back to play with her iPod to change songs.

“That’s mature,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“I said …”

Jackie looked at Brankton and turned the volume up to “10.”

Mirror in the bathroom, please talk free. The door is locked just you and me. Can I take you to a restaurant that’s got glass tables? You can watch yourself while you are eating.

Brankton was mouthing something, pretending to use sign language. Jackie just smiled at him. She relented turning it down to a still-loud “6.”

“I said very funny. You could be a comedian,” he said.

“How do you know I’m not?” she asked. Nelson came around the building running down the driveway to where Jackie and Brankton continued to size each other up. Nelson with his baby dreads hopped into the Mini.

"You two kids still going at it?" Nelson said. He turned down the radio. "Where you going, dude? We'll drop you." Jackie looked with full disapproval at Nelson who was rocking shades and a t-shirt that said Not on my watch! featuring a tiny dog lifting his leg on to a Rolex. "What now?!"


29 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p4)


“Soooo, I was on my way over to The Roosevelt,” she said over her shoulder as she was inspecting the mantel’s rather spartan display of nostalgia, none of which featured her.

She tugged at the dress’s hem, pulling it down. This was not to draw attention to her figure; it was her nature to tug and to fix. The Roosevelt is a hotel in Hollywood with a true “old” Hollywood provenance sitting amidst new Hollywood gentrification. Just a decade ago the area was the armpit of Los Angeles with its Pussycat Theatre, tattoo parlors, gangs and stores hawking knickknacks at 99 cents a pop up and down Hollywood Blvd. And now, well, now restaurateurs and The W Hotel and high profile clubs and New York-inspired luxury lofts with lofty price tags were the talk of the town. And, there, still proving to be a player in a town of washed-up, wannabe and new players, was The Roosevelt with its old soul charm and neo soul soundtrack.

Rumored to be haunted by two deceased silver screen icons from the 40’s, whose ghostie penumbra make for inconvenient, though now kitschy, appearances on several floors, the hotel was finding new legs from a decent anchor restaurant (which isn’t saying much in Los Angeles where restaurants are known to flip every six to nine months – very much like a bad play opening on Broadway), and a de rigueur pool on the roof and bar with some house dj spinning records most weekends with an electronica eclecticism steeped in a heavy bass, surrounded by short skirts. Today's Roosevelt is a far cry from its former self where the first Academy Awards dinner was hosted in 1929.

His ex was a trust fund beautiful baby with an expat Italian Baron father and black American mother who looked like Lena Horne. It should go without saying that her family’s team of lawyers saw to it that her small fortune was safely bifurcated away from her husband’s hands and assets vis-à-vis one massive pre-nup. There might have been premarital cohabitation between him and his ex, but nuptial commingling of funds, never. The Baron owned The Roosevelt. He also owned several other hotels across the country through a network of corporations, LLCs and joint-ventures that never ceased to impress and confuse Brankton.

“So, why are you here?” he finally asked.

“Well, you’re like the one person I’ve trusted for the last 10 years to tell me how my outfits look," she brought her hands together and her chin down like a bad girl, twisted one foot in and looked up with big eyes. "Your place ... what does one call this? It's sort of like Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina meets O.J. Simpson's Brentwood guest house, isn't it? Anyway, you were on the way and I needed your expert opinion.”

She moved from the flameless ornamental fireplace, which reminded her of a plastic rose on a restaurant table, towards Brankton and the large writing desk he had facing out the carriage house’s living room window. She was nervous, which knotted him up because he believed her nervousness to be for somebody new -- not to mention that he was pissed for the hubris she displayed in coming here ... dressed like that. He feared this visit might rip his heart out, or at the very least Julienne, dice and cube it with a dull blade.

Brankton noticed her stirring a bit as she does when she’s wrapping up, preparing to make her exit. It was nicely orchestrated after years of practice. There was the quickstep drumming of her fingers, usually accompanied by stacking of papers or finally setting an object in its place, and then the wrapping it up neatly with a phrase that was as practiced as any radio disc jockey cueing up the commercials heading into his break at the top of hour.

He walked over to her where she had put one-half of her ass on his desk, clutching a sandstone bookend which was still in search of becoming the terminus for a dozen or so books stacked on the far corner of his desk. Brankton picked up its mate and caught a glimpse of her out the corner of his eye. She didn’t look up as their legs touched and he pressed his palm on her lower back almost out of habit. Almost.

26 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p3)


Brankton moved across the street seeking the shade of the oaks lining the other side. He liked the houses over there better besides.

“No, I haven’t read it yet. Can you make sure that Pat O’ knows I’m definitely going to see his guy at the comedy club?”

“It’s not a club!” she interrupted him, which he hated. “It’s some music venue, and from what I gather he’s opening for the band.”

“Put Friday on the phone,” he said.

Brankton’s other assistant was a former stripper, general contractor, and current law student. She was 62-years old and could get anything done, not unlike Radar on M*A*S*H, but with varicose veins and an AARP membership. "Friday," as most assistants in large agencies and some studios, was already on the line listening. She unmuted her line.

“Yes?”

“Can you please make sure my car is waiting for me at – what’s this place called that I’m staying at?" Brankton could hear Friday’s long nails punching the keyboard in its face with enthusiasm.

“You’re at the Driskill, and yes, your car is confirmed to be waiting for you after sunset,” she said leaning back in her chair, shaking her head looking down the hallway that led to Brankton's office where his other assistant was holed-up. Saturday office hours working for the network that had become a perennial loser. If you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming in on Sunday it was sometimes said during these desperate times.

“Thanks, guys. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Brankton was wrapping up when his other assistant interrupted again.

“Please read the script! I put it in your man-purse...”

He hung-up in his usual style that revealed to the triumvirate of Team Brankton that she had been heard. 7 blocks from Brankton’s current GPS location, and within walking distance, was the Austin, Texas, home of his ex. Had it not been Shabbat, he would have punched up on his iPhone her address and turned his convertible in her general direction where he would have watched from the street to see who had inherited his problems and was now taking deep dives into the path of her verbal scythe and psyche.

Divorce finalized for a month or so, Brankton’s ex dropped by unannounced, where she witnessed first-hand the post-apocalyptic proof of her 30 year-old mid-life crisis and his moving in to a new place scattered throughout in the form of boxes, forwarding addresses yet to be affixed to envelopes, crates filled with knickknacks breaking under their own weight, an unplugged fridge and a freshly painted green front door wide open drying in the Culver City sun.

There was also a new mattress standing in the corner of the living room playing hostess to several Rolling Rock empties competing to see who could get closest to the edge without falling, and an ashtray with several half-attempts at his new habit of cigar smoking. The divorce and separation were complete before his new gig was finalized, and it made him feel a little better that she would have been proud of him for landing such a plum on her watch. When she frog marched up the back stairs to the carriage house early that evening -- carried both by a modicum of guilt and a dark secret -- he recognized her familiar gait, with YSL pumps pounding the way bravely.

“Hello?” she said.

Her curled brunette hair and buxom figure found their way over Brankton’s stoop like an octogenarian unsure of the distance of the next step. She wore a leopard print dress with pumps that rhymed with “eff” and “me.” Brankton first knew her as a twenty-year-old, when she was sinewy in the arms and thin faced as all women of her age are who have studied ballet for a dozen years, with a shapely figure that she was able to hide beneath most of her outfits as she was a modest, though sexual person. As a dancer, she was ashamed, for a while at least, of her large breasts, the talented dancer’s curse.

After one miscarriage and two decade’s worth of living in her twenties, only the blind could not see a woman to behold and to be held, with strong arms and legs, a curvaceousness that men admired and women envied, and green eyes that could size-up a person and adjudicate in a glance. Their relationship, though, was never about sex. Brankton felt it was about his disappointing her and him resenting like hell the nagging and judging that followed whenever he would make promises that were often not kept because of, well, for various reasons. They had both searched in earnest, treading water for the entirety of their relationship, taking that “deep dive” in counseling sessions into their psyche, looking for that important lever that could rescue them and haul their heavy burdens out of their troubled waters and onto a passing trash barge heading to New Jersey.

He was told by their marriage counselor, Dr. Sheila Stein, that renowned MFT who liked to say “deep dive” at least once a week to them, that he would have had a lot more sex had he kept a lot more promises whenever he complained about the lack of it.

“Huh? Oh, hey …” he feigned surprise at her arrival.

Half the neighborhood could hear her steps and their echo bouncing off of the walls of the too closely positioned homes with their stucco and brick walls, with her as the fleeing bad guy in a Western riding like hell through some winding canyon in the middle of nowhere with a tracking shot above as she outdistances the feckless posse.

“Where you going?” he asked in a tone intimating that one of these things just didn’t belong there.

Please find Part 4 here to continue reading


24 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin (p2)




Too late. Brankton had already packed-up noise-reducing headphones, a next gen iPhone, a tin of Macanudos for smoking after the show, a Montblanc fountain pen, the Wall St. Journal and a GQ with Eva Mendes on the cover (whom he went to undergrad with) into his leather satchel in record -- and it must be said, Dear Reader -- stealthy time. His back was already to Jackie as he headed out toward the doorway that led to the main dining room. Behind him lay two ten-dollar bills occupying their own little competing pile, face-up with two dead, white male Sec. Treasury Hamiltons (illegitimate bastard child that he was) enjoying the view.

“Pussy,” she said as quietly yet forcefully as she could muster, seeing now for the first time the family that had front row seats to her “blue” performance. She also saw clearly Brankton swing a hand behind his head with a middle-finger salute to show his appreciation for their conversation that never really started.

Out on 6th St. Brankton stripped off his sweater, tied it around his waist, and hoped his sense of direction was true. The right arm of his aviator sunglasses in his mouth showed a decade’s worth of teeth marks, while the left was as new as the day his ex-wife had bought them for him.

He hated confrontations and heated conversations, which is most likely why he was still single. His older brother, the one who was a borderline sociopath (somehow, Brankton drove his older brother to this border often in their childhood), had once beaten him to within an inch of his life when he was ten year’s old because Brankton had discovered and eaten his brother’s entire Almond Roca stash. His brother simply followed the gold foil wrapper trail back to its source and found a contented if not bloated Brankton sitting on the couch watching a rerun of Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford, that porcine-looking actor with a waddle that wobbled every time he barked his lines. That was the last time Brankton ever talked to his brother-the-rabbi of his own accord, who now has a congregation in upstate New York, and by all accounts weighs over 300 pounds and closely resembles Broderick Crawford with his broad brimmed hats and sizeable waddle of his own that sways whenever he speaks his mellifluous Hebrew sermons.

The theme song for an NBC hit show began to play from the bottom of his leather messenger bag. Brankton continued walking and dug around inside his bag until his fingers felt the familiar plastic of an Apple-made Steve Jobs-designed product. Each time he swung his arm around inside his bag, he was reminded of the thousands of times his mother and wife had whisked hands around their own purses, with that rustling sound of hard and soft objects rolling over each other like so many socks and thongs and jeans in a dryer.

“Yeah,” Brankton said to his assistant. “Are you at work?”

“Yes,” she said. “Remember you were supposed to call me when you landed?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked.”

“Are you still going to see that guy tonight?” she asked. “The one that Pat O’ from UTA asked you to see?” Brankton pulled out the coverage of the script his assistant prepped for him earlier in the week. “Is it really this good?” he wondered.

“It’s the best thing UTA has sent us this year. Best script I’ve ever read. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.” His assistant was an MBA grad from Wharton who was probably one year from landing an incredibly high-paying job herself if Brankton didn’t get fired before she could transition out and up. "So, did you actually read the script, and not just the coverage?" she asked.

Brankton, as an exec at NBC overseeing “current comedy" didn't actually read spec scripts for development. However, as certain gigs go, this position at NBC was tenuous at best because of several seasons reflecting NBC’s ratings nadir, and Brankton was ready to develop some hits if he could. The low ratings weren't Brankton’s fault; he transitioned into this job after a merger of several companies that landed him atop the pile of mid-level execs as VP Current Comedy. Salary above $300k, and a staff of two talented and incredibly loyal assistants, it was hard not to like his “new” role. 18 months later, and Brankton knew his head was on the chopping block if things didn't change. When times are tough, it's better to ask forgiveness rather than permission which is why he and Team Brankton were now looking to land new writers and producers for development deals for the Peacock Network which was outside of his normal purview. It was a desperate move that reflected Brankton's and NBC's contretemps.




20 April 2010

Brankton Walks Austin




Brankton started out the day as usual with a nasty little headache. Not enough oxygen to the brain. The majority of his family, dominated by males, suffered from the same malady, that is to say, snoring, but with Grizzly bear ferocity, capital ‘S’ snoring.

Years ago on a ski holiday to some swanky resort in Utah hanging out with all of the swells with their whiz-bang skiing accoutrement and private chalets adjoining the main run, the unfortunate souls in the townhouse next to his family actually complained to the leasing company that their trip was ruined because of the ungodly racket that he and a half-dozen of his brothers harmonized for four nights of sonorous hell. Not even the most desperate succubus would sit on the chest of any of his brothers, attempting to snatch a soul during the night. Upon hearing the horrific sound emanating from their large, undulating thorax, the noise most assuredly would drive even the stoutest of succubi away. Having been married to and driven one off, Brankton felt he should know.

He walked the Austin neighborhood by himself, with its old twisted oaks and the occasional stray cat and ubiquitous Obama/Biden yard signs. Austin might be in Texas, but it's the liberal hub of the south with plenty of state employees working at and owing their allegiance to the "sunset red" hued granite Capitol building right off of Congress Ave. Brankton was finally getting used to making his daily constitutional alone, although this trip to the big hat capitol caused him to feel a bit more out of sorts than usual. His momentary boredom had its typical result -- Brankton was feeling hungry.

Sitting alone in the multi-level mid-century house turned into a restaurant on 6th St., Brankton ordered the “big ole pancakes” for brunch. He was beginning to regret the blue wool sweater that he put on in much cooler Los Angeles just a few short hours earlier. The typical Austin weather of 95% humidity and low 90’s temp did not agree with his sartorial norm; especially in a restaurant with two dozen obviously gay men surrounding him, dressed much more weather appropriate with assorted chambray shirts and long board shorts and snug-fitting t-shirts, now frowning upon his choice of garb, he felt, save for one very attractive co-ed “friend of the gays” who, with her masculine, deep voice, oozed a sexual confidence that mocked Brankton’s recent string of asexual years. Brankton spied her looking his way several times in a few short minutes, which of course meant she saw him seeing her.

Ten long minutes later, his heavily tatted and overly tanned waitress informed him that she forgot brunch was over and that he would have to forgo the pancakes he had been thinking about and craving for a month now. Brankton had visions of a rotund Orson Welles with white chef hat in the back somewhere saying that he'd "flip no flapjack before it's time." He also had a vision of smacking the sass off that fat man's face. His pancake cravings started right after his wife left him and took their dog along with her “big ole” pancake recipe, the one hanging on the fridge, and not much else -- though he wished she had taken the cuckold knife out of his back at least for sense of symmetry.

The twenty-something Janeane Garofalo-type with the gay men had a mouth on her that, for lack of a better emotion or description, disappointed Brankton. Her descriptions of “her gay” -- as she proudly called her homosexual best friend -- and his proclivities for certain gay sex put Brankton’s gag reflex on overdrive at the sight of the gravy-covered chicken-fried-chicken that he reluctantly ordered due to the no pancake past brunch rule. He wasn’t the only one to cringe either. There was a family of four “to his 9” – this was his grandfather’s phrase when he wanted to say “to the left” in a cool sort of grandpa way -- who looked as out of place as an Amish family with big tall black hats and long ZZ-Top beards shopping in a Fred Segal store.

She continued unabated regaling the men in her gay coffee clutch. Some occasionally tried to compete with her, but she had the floor and wasn't about to let the spotlight slip from her grasp for a moment. None really could compete; her stories had just the right combination of raunch, real life patois, and an unexpected ending. And of course, she knew her audience, and they laughed, which inspired even filthier anecdotes. She had an expert comedienne’s deft touch, though the venue and time-slot were no doubt inappropriate.

“What?!” the twenty-something "Janeane Garofalo" finally asked Brankton as she caught him glancing her direction one-dozen times too many. Her friends were caught up in conversations about Barton Springs and some festival that was about to take place. None of her friends would hear his response so he was confident, at least more confident than he would have otherwise been.

“You’re crude. Crude, but funny.” Brankton turned in his seat to deliver what he thought would be his final line more forcefully. “In fact, I’d say your crudeness is bordering on rudeness. You’re a crudeness/rudeness straddler.”

“Is that so?” She turned in her seat to catch his opinion head-on. “Well who exactly cares what you think?”

“NBC does.” Brankton regretted saying it the instant the two-word reply left his half-filled chicken-fried-chicken mouth.

“NBC? What, is that supposed to impress me?” The coffee clutch was breaking up and her friends were throwing 20’s into a pile to pay for their meal. They were waiting for her to pony up as well. “Jackie, $20.00 please,” said a friend from somewhere in the scrum.

Jackie turned her head only slightly from Brankton for a moment, “Nels, can you cover me please?” “Oh, shit, girl,” was the response from Nelson who had obviously “covered” one too many times for Jackie. Her “Oh, please!” retort belied a belief that she had indeed earned her keep with her mid-morning improv routine.

“So, Mr. NBC, you were saying.”



15 January 2010

"A Single Man" Reviewed


Tom Ford's adaptation of the Isherwood novel of the same name is a thoughtful, somber piece, where he has adroitly assembled his players into a mise en scène that presages gay liberation amongst academia during the 1960's and 1970's (think of our favorite lesbian feminist, Camille Paglia). The curtain raises on fair Los Angeles. Our 1950's/1960's stage is set with beatnik students, gin-pickled former best-friends-with-benefits pining for players on the wrong side of the plate, homophobic neighbor, broken-hearted and erudite professors waxing eloquent about fear, and one ghost of a love, the paragon of love as all truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime loves should be.

I think it can be said that Colin Firth never phones it in. Even in his performances in cotton candy roles as Amanda Bynes's father in What a Girl Wants, or as the charmster and all-around-good-guy Mark Darcy in Bridgett Jones's Diary, Colin Firth brings, if not his A-game, at least his B+ game. As professor George Falconer, he nails this role. Superb. If Firth were waiting on the beach to open his grades (a la the last scene in Paper Chase), and folded the unopened envelope into a paper airplane and threw it into the surf, there thrashing about the tangled kelp beds of the the Pacific shoreline would be the grade of A+ for this role. Firth occupies almost every shot, and the camera just

loves the guy (and so does director Tom Ford), in his sharp bespoke suits, well-coiffed hair, tan skin, and tall lean visage. Ford the fashion icon even has John Hamm from Mad Men -- that purveyor of all-things 50's cool -- phone-in a voice-over role, basically uninviting George to the funeral of his great love. The interesting choice of Hamm is that in Mad Men, his character tells the bi-sexual (or is it married-gay?) Sal that he's not just an ad man, but also a fine director. Tom Ford can direct as well, and he doesn't need Hamm or us to tell him so.

A Single Man presents a pivotal day in the life of Falconer who is barely coping with the death of his partner from a year earlier. Mathew Goode plays the dotting partner, Jim, subsumed to the arrangement of their union which must not be spoken, though is guessed by neighbors. Every morning is a struggle for George to just get out of bed and fake it through to the end of the day. There are bottles of scotch in desks, and calls from his friend Charlotte to help him get there. As Falconer moves about the city, we witness men and women eyeing him longingly; he is a catch to be sure, and even wives of angry homophobic men find him desirous, inviting him to drinks. Though, I'm not sure I like Falconer, Ford presents his life of elan and fine things as the sine qua non for the professorate. Who doesn't like that? He seems standoffish.

He's a loner for the most part, not very gregarious, and certainly not swimming in friendships, making his loss of Jim all that more poignant, propelling him further into loneliness. If Falconer were a single straight man, perhaps there wouldn't be much of a movie here. It's the difficulty that this British college professor has finding someone to love, who is his intellectual equal --as his partner, Jim, an architect, was -- and who knows the score of what can be said and done in public. Falconer's loss is epic, not just because the eligible population of gay men in the 50's is probably less than a tenth of a percent, but also because Falconer doesn't seem to suffer fools gladly -- gay or not. The title suggests not just Falconer's being a single man after the death of his partner, Jim, but also that this person was the single man that George found to make a life with.

There's a conversation that takes place out in the desert between Falconer and Jim; he is asked about his friend Charlotte, who is also from England. The redoubtable Julianne Moore has played this role before, and Charley is indeed a messed-up, boozy, disposable ex-wife with kids she no longer sees. He confesses that yes, he's slept with women, and that he and Charley dated for a bit, but now she is his best friend. It's interesting that today there is a disdain if a gay person references their "straightness" prior to their gay lifestyle or after. That somehow, taking a run at the straight life either early or later in one's life (witness Andy Dick, Anne Heche, or Alan Cummings) is met with a "make-up your mind already" retort and a sneer. Ford offers this exchange between these men with no judgment; they are having a frank conversation about an interloper of the opposite sex, and Falconer confirms his love and allegiance to his partner. The flip side of that conversation takes place over a decade later in Charlotte's living room, and Falconer confirms for his dear friend that his love for Jim was not an ersatz bohemian convenient lifestyle choice, but a soul-searing bond for life that was wrenched from his now empty life.


What makes a director great is having an opinion about the material being adapted. Here Ford reveals that opinion with bold choices, surrounding himself with top talent to execute his vision of cool hues of Falconer's now dull existence juxtaposed with moments of warm clarity and connectedness to his fellow man (and life). A connectedness that Falconer confesses he experiences less and less. Ford sparingly colors Firth's appearance (very much like Gary Ross coloring Joan Allen in Pleasantville) when he has one of these moments. He walks into the bank to clear out his safety-deposit box, setting "everything in its right place" (nod to RadioHead), and has a moment with his neighbor's child -- she appears seemingly out of nowhere with her robin's-egg bluest-of-blue shoes, dress, and eyes. Falconer's face and color warms, as he stares into not just a child's azure peepers, but into his own spirituality ... the eyes of a potential life. Earlier in the film, George explains to a student at the student store that blue is associated with spirituality, whilst red is associated with lust and anger. Here, Ford gives Firth's character a moment of pause, to connect once again to something outside of himself and, indeed, his pain. Too late. The moment's over, and the color has faded from his cheeks. The very next scene, Falconer pulls into the parking lot to purchase some gin for Charlotte, and he parks, this time staring directly into the eyes of death. Before him is a large ad for Hitchcock's Psycho, with Janet Leigh's eyes peering into Falconer's Mercedes. It's a nice touch.

Throughout A Single Man Ford allows the professor moments of remembrance, a form of animism or synesthesia perhaps, where his touch animates these objects or brings forth vivid images or memories. At the ringing of a phone, the scent of a Jack Russel terrier, a rose's texture, and we are transported with George to a moment in his life with Jim for further backstory or exposition into what makes George, George. We see where George and Jim met at "Starboard Side" (which I believe is the local watering hole Chez Jay on Ocean Ave.), with Jim still in the service, perhaps a jab against current "don't ask, don't tell" policy. We see Jim and George sitting, legs akimbo, on the couch with their terrier snoozing between them, arguing over whose turn it is to change the record. Poignant vignettes like that fill Single Man.

Any hunk of a professor must have a stalker or two, male and female, and the student stalking George is "Kenny" as played by Nicholas Hoult. You'll recall Hoult as the boy in About a Boy, produced and directed by the Weitz brothers. Chris Weitz produced this film as well, and enlisted Hoult for this role. Hoult is almost unrecognizable as the college-age, hard-bodied student enthralled by his professor. It now seems de rigueur that all former British child stars attempt to shed their boyish personas by taking roles that require romps or rides in the nude, e.g., Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliff atop Equus in the buff, and now Hoult in Single Man showing his buffed-out self. In the surf for a midnight skinny-dip, Kenny shouts to George "we're invisible!" as the professor worries about being seen in such a state. And, that, I think, is what the subtext of this film represents, a paean to no longer being invisible, but accepted and visible, and ultimately, ironically, invisible once again because no one notices two adult men in a loving, committed relationship. But, this will never happen; one's sexuality is so politicized (How many variants of "sex" are there now? Five or six? I can't recall) today, that the so-called "gay-mafia," liberal "thought police," religious extremists, and others with agendas will not hear the conversation the rest of us are trying to have above the din of disagreement and personal destruction. Admittedly, my "straightness" has colored my perspective, but I think I know when my faith, or straight lifestyle precludes a fair review of a film, book, or play. But, I guess that judgment is up to you, Dear Reader.

The ending of this film surprised me, and I found it satisfying. I think Ford found a hold on this material emanating from personal experience; it'll be interesting to see what Ford does with mainstream fare the next time he decides to direct.

For an excellent add'l read on this topic, please visit my friend Deb over at Dumbwit Tellher. Tell her we sent you!