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© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

“It’s a simple game, really. We run, hit and throw.” – thus sayeth a fictional baseball manager in Bull Durham and perhaps more than few real managers distressed by a complete lack of fundamentals witnessing the train wreck of the local version of the Mudville Nine or even the Bears…yeah, those Bears. The saying also unintentionally touches on a truth that there are perhaps two handfuls of discrete athletic skills that make up the building blocks of all the sports we played in the past or will invent in the future (writers take note). To be more inclusive that pissed off manager might include…Run. Hit. Throw. Catch. Dodge/hop. Strike. Jump. Run into. Grapple. Aim. And Climb. Covers most of them, I think. Sounds sooo very simple…

If this assertion holds true then I think I’ve just explained why most new at the time sports can be evaluated in reductionist terms – “Oh right, I see what those Yanks did taking the eleven-man version of Rugby, added a rigid distance versus attempts requirement, allowed offensive players to run into defenders who don’t have the ball and about two decades later either took a marketing survey about exciting high scoring games or simply gave up enforcing the ban on the forward pass!” We Americans call this holy game Football, despite the rest of the world making a credible case that the other eleven-man game where more kicking takes place should have the name.

FYI, to see Football’s roots in Rugby, open up the two sports’ Wikipedia pages side by side and look at the rules. Football’s residual kicking rules (PATs, field goals, punting and kickoffs) all have direct antecedents on the Rugby pitch. In the early days, you could drop the ball to the grass and attempt a drop kick field goal from anywhere on the field, another direct lift from Rugby. I went looking in the rules to see if this play that hadn’t been seen in at least eighty years had been banned by any of the leagues…the rule still stands. You don’t need to ban something made extremely difficult when you optimize your ball for the forward pass instead of the regular ground game.

You see so many elements that recur across the many sports due to a variety of reasons. When Naismith invented Basketball, players couldn’t dribble as they do now. There is some surviving film showing teams playing this way, catching the passed ball, stopping and either shooting or passing to the next player. Obviously, some fans must’ve conducted experiments and decided they liked the thought of being able to dribble, head fake and drive the lane better. Bouncing the ball on the floor was likely a compromise with the folks reminding the rest that the old rules were designed to avoid picking up the ball and running with it, important because Hoops is supposed to be a non-contact game.

The stop and must pass rule has since become a feature of the otherwise Football inspired Ultimate. Go long. Get clear. Catch the disk. Stop. Throw to the next player running ahead from his place behind. Rinse. Repeat. I’m guessing for the same reasons as why we didn’t used to dribble on the court, running with the Frisbee encourages tackling (run into & grapple) and blocking (pure run into). Pads to keep players safe probably would get in the way of a fun Frisbee game without too much contact to it (not counting going up for the interception).

As writers we have two main choices, set our sports narratives in the real world or make up a new game. I’ve done both depending on my intent. 

I have arbitrarily dropped the, at the time, fictional Los Angeles starting offense into a parallel world where Rome resisted Christianity long enough to develop modern technology, much like the classic Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses.” Pretty much my elevator pitch went like this – “football players v. gladiators.” Since it was a life or death game, the gladiators lining up over the ball got to keep their knives…not exactly Football as we know it.

I have also realized that the sports my faraway invented realities would develop would be broadly similar to real world sports, but would face play testing decisions that take things in slightly different directions. My funniest effort here is Goven-Hoka. Not very intent on spending too much time inventing a sport down to the nittiest and grittiest rules and penalties. My thought process really was just – “take Football and Soccer, have the referee get bored and blow a whistle to change between rules. Go get lunch.”

A side of eleven stalwart players kicks the ball up to the next player downfield and then the whistle, suddenly the ball handler picks up the ball and advances it under the arm…until the ref arbitrarily blows the whistle at which time the ball must hit the grass again. Believe me, I’m not stupid, I know exactly what this rule does to both games and their players. 

With the exception of the targets carrying the ball, every other player on the football field maximizes conditioning to survive Run Into, which can impede conditioning for other types of running. Conversely, few soccer players ever grow as large as America grows its football players so they’re smaller, faster and in better shape. Once puberty kicks in after the recreational youth leagues, there is very little overlap between Football and Soccer for players playing both sports…pretty much the only guys who played both were the placekicker and a couple guys who were receivers.

Yes, I’m also aware that I created a logical contradiction concerning the game’s equipment that I pretty much punted. A football has the pointy ends to aid flight for the forward pass. A soccer ball is round to aid kicking from the grass. The rugby ball splits the difference to assist in carrying and pitching it, but also to not get in the way of the drop kick goal. Goven-Hoka probably uses a rugby ball, but I didn’t think that far ahead other than I thought it would be funny.

Like anything else in writing fiction, the sports we invent come from all kinds of sources. More recently, I moved to a new house in San Diego. In the real world I didn’t take most of my old crap with me and farmed out the heavy lifting for what I did to guys with trucks and dollies, but still it was stressful enough that suddenly I’m getting ideas…

Couch drag obstacle courses, which for people likely to shop at IKEA first (Me until this move) and also unlikely to hire movers could be a mixed-doubles event. The event allows for the refs to arbitrarily move the boxes holding the breakable glass kitchenware directly into the hallway through which the couch must drag. Lose points for broken stuff. Of course, I’m thinking more of how the event evolves with a budget, say, under the cruel tutelage of those guys that do the Battlebots arenas (who came up with that screw thingy on the far wall?). 

Spring operated Joker-style boxing gloves coming out from the walls. The ref arbitrarily shifts the cant of the floor. Smoke pots. Neutral field players whapping at the couch draggers with martial arts kicking pads from odd angles in the closets.

Of course, if we decided to make sports out of moving, redecorating and remodeling, we’ll actually have to add more events, like Gymnastics, Modern Pentathlon or Decathlon. Furniture Drag, yep. Arguing Over Placing the TV Stand and/or Who Tracked Dirt on the Floor (more of a literary contest like the Dozens, I suppose, or let it go bloody). Auto Race to Home Improvement Store For The One Thing You Forgot The Last Time. And, of course the penultimate event, Swinging Wrecking Tools to Take Down That Wall That Pisses Me Off.

Yeah, that was a weird couple of months, where the only new sporting event I could come up with clearly steals from American Ninja WarriorBattlebots and some scary-ass dystopian whatever that doesn’t even have a movie (Bull@#%t Rollerball!). Oh, and the highlight reel has to be set to that brass-heavy soundtrack from NFL Films (how you used to spend Saturday after the cartoons), just saying.

Anyway, sports are a small integral part of the worlds we create/borrow when we write. Some will set a knifing in the men’s room at SoFi Stadium and just use the sports we already have. Others will set the same knifing at the same stadium a hundred years from now where Football will have even more Bread & Circuses to it and will have evolved (betting the PAT goes first). Others will do the mix and match game trying to get something that might actually arise on the faraway realm of Braetheton. Some will convert the ordinary into an extraordinary new sport. Have fun…           

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Joe Michael Straczynski once commented on a DVD track for his highly influential show Babylon 5 – “I had two ideas for space station shows. One was all the wars and great alliances. The other was a smaller concept about how people might live on space stations. Both stalled until I realized they were both the same show.”

Writers, except when really angry or exceptionally lazy, get ideas all the time. No, I won’t show my appalling list jotted down as fragments on up to a couple sentences. Some are full ideas with plots and characters ready to jump. The rest are just pieces. I suspect my list evenly splits between the two. One of many reasons to keep the list in the first place is to make sure that we can cross-reference the new idea that seems so brilliant, except for that one part that…with all of our older ideas that might actually fix the missing piece.

As you might guess, I don’t put pen to paper without my own example to echo and enhance what Mr. Straczynski has to say about combining ideas. More on that later. Back to Babylon 5

The great alliances and wars part of the show involves a created community led by human military officers on a space station in neutral space who discover a great secret concerning some of the older spacefaring races that forces a titanic shift in the affairs of the galaxy. Over the course of millennia, two ancient races have locked into recurring cycles of a grand conflict that involve the newer races as allies choosing sides. And then the various allies discover the two sides have the same goal, assisting the newer peoples of the galaxy to advance, but have chosen two diametrically opposed methodologies. Order and Chaos.

The Vorlons do Order always asking – “who are you?” – and act like galactic Boy Scout Troop leaders organizing alliances, campouts and all kinds of opportunities to learn from teamwork. The Shadows do Chaos asking – “what do you want?” – and have made a career of encouraging the greedy and power hungry to piss off their neighbors and kick over anthills on the assumption the hive will be stronger when rebuilt. The rest of the galaxy eventually learns this and asks both to leave the galaxy. A nice five-year plot.

You’ll notice one glaring lack in the two preceding paragraphs…character. Oh, sure there are a couple great scenes to be had from this plot that can hint at certain characters like when the Shadows finally get to explain their side. Still kinda thin.

The second space station idea for Mr. Straczynski came loaded with character. It answered many questions about what these people do between their big moments. They wash socks as part of personal ritual. Or ask pointed questions like – “how far they go on the first date?” – trying to gauge a new species’ ability to fit in with the station community. And then they have to go to the doctor for advice about a “food plan.”

One character gets picked to be the union-mandated alcoholic and in some episodes has that used against him. People worry about getting fat. Or how they might bond over picking fights in the casino. They play pranks on each other just to see the target get angry.

This second space station idea came loaded with people that by themselves didn’t have anything important to do. Enter the first idea with wars, great alliances and many things for which we shake our hands and say – “ooooh!” Symbiosis in the best possible way, because – “Dumbass, they’re the same idea!”

And now, my similar epiphany that blends at least three separate brain farts maddeningly teased out of the ether in pieces and parts about like how fast food chains put together chicken nuggets…

Item One. In the vein of Dream Big and Steal from Literary Classics, we have how I typically interact with The 1,001 Nights, the four-volume unabridged translated by Burton version. Just because it’s a monster book about Scheherazade telling stories to avoid getting beheaded by her pissed off husband doesn’t mean I’m not going to steal the idea of a narrator with huge personal stakes telling and hearing stories. This is even with the fact that my edition has the well-known stories (Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin) buried deeper in the text than I’ve gone.

What with the heavy reliance on Djinn, other supernatural creatures and even a couple appearances of Count Iblis (Lucifer) in the original text, there’s clearly no way my grand homage/emulation/naked rip off won’t have many supernatural characters. I do have to admit that I only got as far as angel in this part of the idea for my narrator.

Your presumed commentary at this point is sure to run to – “Okay, Mr. Jacobs, an angel is your narrator, but to which angel do you refer, they’re still characters…or should be.” And as you might guess, not having an answer is what left this idea on my list. Despite, the fact that we really only seem to have two, three if you count Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon) from Highway to Heaven, angel character archetypes from which to draw. 

Michael fights and kills things. Gabriel does the music and announcing. Mister Smith acts almost like Kwai Chang Caine going on permanent walkabout trying to help people. The rest are as anonymous to the story as FedEx drivers or perhaps the ninjas that dress like stagehands in Japanese theater and kill characters, but I digress. If your angel isn’t Mike or Gabe, you still have to invent a character. The lack thereof will stall any project.

I have one other thing to casually mention…the ambition. At this point in development, I know I’m circling closer to an angel filling in for Scheherazade. I don’t know which angel or why at this point. And like everybody with an early idea to copy the Classics, I’m just going to go bigger – “Yeah, Baby! The 2,001 Nights!” Like Spinal Tap, my amp “goes up to eleven!”

Item Two. One of my recent (less than a year) otherwise fruitless jags back into screenwriting landed me on – “I know, I’ll do Twilight Zone with a twist so I can have fun with some short but weird storytelling!” My twist ends up being the proposed title of the show, a creepy house in the mist overlooking a lonely road…House in the Mist. People who don’t know they need something roll up to stay for the night and…

Depending on the nature of the breakfast burritos I had the morning I sit down to write, the possible episodes can go anywhere. I haven’t been in very many grand old houses, but I’ve learned (metaphorically at least) to always check the closet. The real question is what’s on the other side. Edible and tasty burritos might lead to the wish fulfilment of, say, Fantasy Island. Crud probably gets us to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe probably without Lucy Pevensie having very much time for tea with Mr. Tumnus.

My thought process for the house part of this pastiche leads to no episodes, but a wraparound framing device for four. A little girl visiting the house with her parents gets up late at night searching for water. At the end of the hall, she sees a light on and enters to see four men sitting around having coffee talking about the doings of their clients. Men with recognizable names…

I’ll take a moment to make some linkages between Twilight Zone and The 1,001 Nights. How similar are the two properties? Anthology. Weird. Wonderous. And do we get to make a connection between Scheherazade and the version Rod Serling played of himself as the narrator? An essay for another day.

At this point, I still need a character with…motivation. Another way, I suppose to ask the nature of my main character/narrator. I know I’m going to feature an angel, likely due to one of my run-home-to-mama story tropes having to do with angels managing the hostile takeover and/or leveraged buyout of other pantheons. 

How did the angels give the Olympians the sumo shove when people stopped believing in them? Did they make accommodation for the deities they deemed not to bad? Offers of lateral job transitions to, say, Athena? Or kill them all? I do too many of these stories mixed in with all my other wonders. Leading to…

Item Three. My previous franchise character becomes successful enough to live in a big house with her husband and three daughters. Suddenly a fourth little girl, a foster daughter, just shows up one day and tries very hard to fit in, but she’s an outsider. With the tendencies highlighted in previous paragraphs of course this young lady is a Fallen Angel struggling to come home and performing penance as a human child.

And now I have a character. Someone really sorry for tempting humans and playing to our weaknesses and vanities who must listen to and tell the stories affected by her past actions. Three elements pulled from the ether over a period of upwards of six years. Keep all ideas and don’t be afraid of the fragements… 

Are you sure, Sir?

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Elections, like this last one, aren’t good for me. In keeping with the official “I just help writers” non-political stance of this blog, I’ll leave it at they’re good excuses to freak out over things that haven’t happened, yet. Mostly, because of the need to lash out at the people who voted for the other guy. I promise to be less vague about who I thought the other guy was writing the dealer’s choice of autobiography, memoir or an angry letter to the New York Times.

I take walks late at night. Usually the walk is just about – “Ooh, a full moon, Blue Moon if you’re keeping score!” – or – “Cool! I can actually see Orion and Mars tonight!” – or even just listening to the crickets going nuts in the sagebrush in the city’s intentionally open spaces. However, the election intrudes and I sometimes start the walk raging at people who have otherwise done nothing wrong. I react to the logic of who they like and how these candidates speak about all of our abilities to write without getting leaned on by dipshits that just shouldn’t that much state power in the first place. 

I do have an opinion about which candidate scares me more based on who’s likely to get first at-bats in this area, but I do have to acknowledge my side also has these concerns waiting in the wings. I mention this to keep obfuscating my political opinion for the purposes of this blog that doesn’t get to be this political. All you need to know, my response to censorship of any kind – “Fuck you and the white horse you rode in on…Sir.” – will cause problems should either veil of douchebaggery fall.

Believing the other guy to be the one promoting the more immediate threat to me as a writer, I freak out at the start of the walk raging at family members and friends. If the worst happens, they will have supported the force that put me in jail or executed me. In some cases, I get pooh-poohed because the worst might not ever happen, but pooh-poohing is the single worst way to start talking these things out. 

This all builds into looking like a raging nutter off his meds (nighttime, no one sees) on the outbound leg. Walks by themselves are good for getting over this bullshit however temporarily. On the home leg, I remember that I still love these people and that you shouldn’t buy tomorrow’s problems a day early. 

However, going out angry usually means waking up the next morning sad and depressed. Stay in bed all day sad or consume too many donuts and chocolate-laced coffee sad…take your pick. Accepting few excuses about myself, I have shifted the too many donuts part of the story to eat cereal and try to do something about it in the day’s writing quota more days than I haven’t.

In an effort to chill out when not on these walks I’ve gone in for all kinds of distraction. Baseball (Padres showed up for a great season, yay!). Football (Hey, fellas, we don’t support the Chargers anymore, so maybe show us the East Coast game that turned out to go into overtime?). A few extra go arounds on most things Star Wars and/or whatever shiny object crosses my path on the presently open streaming service. And I also write. All worthy pursuits, until you realize that like most drugs, the good parts about Liquid Distraction are over too soon.

A couple days before the election, I wallowed in the sad at my computer. I decide to check in with a good friend’s blog having forgotten for a couple days. The premise of Tale of Adequacy, a pointy-eared Alien American schoolteacher and superheroine’s daily life acts as the web comic illustration for my friend needing to vent…including an incessant trashing of Aquaman’s total uselessness to the Justice League team. There are ponies (not terribly tolerant of My Little Pony outside the context of this blog) and all kinds of Magic the Gathering (so far, I’ve missed this gaming boat) references and team-ups…with Donut Man, most recently, but there are others.

As shown in the panel above, Cap leans against a roof parapet sharing coffee and donuts with Donut Man. Cap has “generic, Silver Age Alien American superpowers” is teamed with hero having “a complete dominion over coffee and donuts.” Donut Man semi-breaks the Fourth Wall to speak for my friend to let people in on the joke and act of mass distraction that teaming up with a pastry hero is. He says he’s only useful in certain pastry related situations.

And now because I’d spent too much of the preceding couple days sad and yelling at no one in the room and that I’m also occasionally just a contrarian crank, I’m now suddenly acting like Donut Man’s life coach. It is now a matter of honor that I playfully pop off about the possible uses for these super powers in a real spandex fight and I’m going to do it in the blog’s comment box and not texting him as I normally do. A nerd fight can also act as a writing challenge to keep the gears oiled.

I made four points.

One. If the comic book physicists and lawyers rule it so, Donut Man also has access to unlimited coffee. I’m instantly flashing to The Hunt for Red October and Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) smashing the political officer’s head on the table. Then to cover his tracks, he splashes tea everywhere and works up a good bit of shocked, shocked! Thus, coffee is a slip and fall substance.

Two. Complete dominion of all things pastry means being able to come up with donut dough. Screw the mix just right and the consistency can range from thick and sticky gumming up machinery and gluing people to the floor to watery and runny. Runny donut dough is also a slip and fall substance.

Three. This complete dominion also presupposes an unlimited supply of raw materials. My high school chemistry teacher demonstrated raw flour’s flammability throwing it in the air and setting the cloud alight with a match. BOOM! Burning villains’ eyebrows off or worse is nothing to sneeze at. Other ways to be useful might include having access to rum because some donuts use rum-soaked dough…150-proof rum? Or an unlimited store of cooking oil. Oh, right more ways to torch and deep fry bad guys, so pretty much the same category of spandex weapon. Moving on.

Four. The post is still about my friend throwing his own hard elbows entertaining himself in his own way, so I have to acknowledge his thinking with – “never underestimate his ability to give his enemies diabetes.”

Once I’d posted these four points, I suddenly had all kinds of better to my day. I started my walk that evening in a much better frame of mind. I didn’t worry about the upcoming election. And I was happier, all because as I walked, I silently gamed out all kinds of fights in which these superpowers could affect the outcome and save the day. I woke up better, too.

Okay, that basically covers my personal psychology at the moment. This is still a blog that tries to help you all get through your writing day. Can this kind of nerd fight help you? Probably, don’t know…not sure.

For those of you that still need to ask how it only took me a few minutes to bust out my four suggestions for how Donut Man actually helps in a real fight I can retort with…at this point I’m an underpaid professional at these kinds of things. Also Known As repetition, repetition, repetition and, you guessed it, repetition. Start slow and small and don’t pop any ligaments. 

Really though, I have to admit that I’d already created a similar character, Captain Cupcake. Due to an almost Bride of Frankenstein origin that doesn’t need further explaining here, she wakes up with the ability to extrude any chemical substance she can imagine married to a voluminous cybernetic database of applied chemistry solutions which can include cooking. So, I’d already gamed out this lady’s ability to lay olive oil or, worse, 10-W-40 motor oil on the steps as the hero team escapes the villain base amid the union-mandated explosions. As a matter of policy, admit when the wheel already exists.  

Not all nerd fights are created equal. The flavor referenced here is the fun kind where we roll up our sleeves and discuss things like how Superhero X teams up with Superheroine Y. Or discuss what the logical consequences of Spandex Story Element A that might’ve been overlooked by the original creators. Or, even to discuss how tired we might be of certain interpretations of certain 80-year-old characters where their core wound/inciting incident gets referenced at every turn when that origin is all over Wikipedia.

You’ll notice the word discuss highlighted three times in the previous paragraph? Talk it out, don’t yell it out. Otherwise, prepare to get kicked out of the store as the friend referenced and promoted in this post has done many times – “you have no idea how many times I’ve actually had to break up real life versions of The Silver Surfer Kirby v. Moebius fight from Crimson Tide.

Above all, I see this kind of nerd fight as a problem-solving exercise that can help with more than the chess game of how powers work. Could someone writing a nut busting family squabble benefit from gaming out that fight and the subsequent make up (or bellyflop from the Ten Meter Platform, if the story is a tragedy)? Maybe. Maybe not…don’t let me tell you your writing process. 

The game out session/nerd fight that we do when we’re alone is visually indistinguishable from going completely insane. But then again, everyone with a cell phone who uses Bluetooth earbuds looks insane until you get close enough to see the technology in their ears. Semi-facetiously, I suggest that either the writer understands about not getting caught and/or this bit of wisdom from The Madness of King George – “I have recovered my ability to seem.” – or they have the discussion with somebody real in the room.I thank my friend for teeing up a playful snark fest where I get to pop off about a character he created and didn’t think was anything more than a one-note joke. Which then allows me to distract myself from my lingering sadness at a story for which my meager attempts to change had already been recorded…and reveal a tiny bit of my writing process.

Anyway, reciprocity requires dropping in the link at least twice so that you may enjoy for yourselves. Remember, steal your fun and writing techniques (to the extent they aren’t direct synonyms) wherever you may…   

“You broke my heart, Fredo!”

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Pay attention, this bit of memoir acts as the literary equivalent of a perfectly turned 6-4-3 double play. Insight into possible techniques, yes. And maybe some discreet opining about…

I’ll leave it to you to see if the waxing craptological part comes through without the subtitles.

Forty-one years ago, I moved with my family from one house in the sacred confines of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica to another house also in Santa Monica. This move related to a remarriage among the adults in my family where the most memorable reason given made no sense to my nine-year-old self – “we need more wall space for XXXX’s art.”

Still makes no sense. Note to my now deceased mother, assuming reincarnation is a thing, when selling such a move to the soul inhabiting your next son try – “so you’ll have a bigger room.” Always play to enlightened self interest. 

Considering that we’d already built add-on rooms to the house we had my thinking about we should just add a few extra square feet so Evil Stepfather 1.0 could hang his focaccia art comes into focus. No nine-year-old with a built-up status (such as it was) at the one school wants to start over at the new school. 

Full disclosure, I could’ve and later did use my dad’s address to finish out at the first school. Sometimes, we don’t fully know what we’re in for and blow our own toes off. And like many nine and ten-year-olds, I didn’t know how to say these things and families teach democracy as a goal to obtain as an adult without actually practicing it.

Anyway, new school with new but surprisingly similar schoolyard politics to navigate. I’ll skip over the Football Contract story that cost me a quarter, a freak out and a trip to the principal’s office where we were told that such things were for adults. And I’ll also skip over the Kicking Miss Completely Unobtainable in the Shins story.

Oh right, there was the, later in the year, Big Fistfight story, which has no further relevance because I’d changed classrooms. And it ended the way big fistfight stories should end…we met honorably on the vacant lot across the street. We threw a couple exchanges and then like this from Braveheart – “What, you didn’t even put the army into the field to at least get a better deal?” – we reached across and made an honorable accommodation of gentlemen. Besides no one from this story figured into the story that really matters for this writing lesson, so my bad on the tangent. 

Leading us directly to the He’s a Fuckin’ Squirming Narc (aka Rat) story.

On the playground, four kids started talking big about scoring pot. Looking back, let’s please understand the full context: late 1970s, sheltered and affluent white kids on the playground at the school for the sheltered and affluent. Read this to mean, “Dude, it’s equally likely that the substance involved was oregano.” I thank Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men) for the knowledge that Mary Jane and oregano can, to the inexperienced, stupid or both, be visually similar.

However, smoking oregano on school premises is still against school rules.

The other kids all wanted to try breaking the rules in this way retreating behind the far handball court at the southeast corner of the playground. I wasn’t too into it, don’t remember why (get me drunk and ask me my later Starman story). Part of my wanting to fit into the new social milieu means that I’m the guy acting as lead blocker for the Great Pot Smoke Operation.

The guys smoke up. Two younger girls had brought a handball and wanted to play on the court. No, I don’t mean Adult Handball Played on Repurposed Racquetball Courts at Speeds a Jai Alai Player Might Grudgingly Appreciate. Think green walls with painted on lines roughly the height of a tennis net along with two pitching boxes and the big red rubber ball. Playground Handball. I dutifully tell the girls to go play anywhere else, “they don’t want any part of this.”

That night I told Mom. She cringed and commented on the kids being too young. A couple days later the kids involved in this operation start going at me. “Greg, you’re a fucking narc! We got called into the principal’s office over the pot!” The reply – “I didn’t narc you guys out!”

This went on for a couple months until I changed classrooms. No real threats of violence transpired (again, the sheltered and affluent who might really have been smoking oregano), but they certainly didn’t want to talk to me. I made sure to ask Mom early on in this minor ostracism – “Mom, when I told you about the pot did you tell the school about it? I’m getting some heat on the playground.” She promised me she hadn’t.

How did they get caught? The two girls come to mind. I mean some bigger kid blocking them from playing so they wouldn’t see is noticeable. And as unindicted co-conspirators go, I’m not violent nor intimidating enough to make it stick like Clemenza bringing a baseball bat to the party. So, the girls didn’t owe me no favors.

And looking back in my memory, we must also consider that everyone in the story was too young and stupid to even think about controlling all circumstances. The big green wall behind which they lit up only blocked certain sightlines. Now, even I don’t remember if there were people to the right of said handball court that could’ve seen.

Anyway, they got caught. They gave me a few months of stink-eyes and calling me a narc. I was never called into the principal’s office as a potential witness. Until you are called in, you don’t know if you’re going down on the ship named MV I’m No Fuckin’ Rat or whether you choose to sing the whole story, in my ugly baritone best left in the shower. Self-image says I’m going out like Cagney…unless I decide I hate you.

One of these confrontations, I even threw the girls under the bus. I told the guy that there were the two girls nearby. That I’d told them to go somewhere else and that maybe they told. In more violent versions of this story, this is a problem to reflect on for the rest of my life. He seemed to believe me and, maybe, this is when the ostracism abated slightly. Fuzzy memory.

What is the writing lesson at the heart of telling this story forty-one years later?

People have sets of experiences from which they draw for the story. Is it perhaps possible that if I had a good Mob story in mind that turned on a scene like – “Fredo, you broke my heart!” – that I have the childish version of mostly unfairly being labeled the rat as a starting point? Do I have enough to imagine the scene from the other side as the betrayed party? I like to think so, besides I’ve already told the major screw job story of my life long ago in a film magazine. A story for another day.

There is some technique at play here. Learned in a dimly remembered acting class, the one specifically billed as Anti-Method – “Read the words. Choose an overall goal for the scene. Divide the scene into sections. For each section choose an emotional state that in most cases creates the most conflict for the successful attainment of those goals. Feel the emotional state on your body. Breathe up that emotional state until it plays big. Wipe the goofy looking exterior artifice of breathing up off your face and ACTION!” I love it when classes turn on one simple piece of instruction and the rest of the class time is supposed to be about the repetition needed to get good.

I italicized the relevant part about breathing up. This is how I would suggest taking a minor playground trauma of not terribly violent kids blaming the other kid for turning rat into a deeply emotional thread that ends in the second movie with a brother shot in the back of the head while fishing on Lake Tahoe. This is one use of the imagination where deep down we do still have to make it up as we go along, while also building on our own story that is usually far more prosaic.

To truly use this moment in a mob story, as someone whose section of the gene pool doesn’t include anyone verifiably Italian or more to the point connected, I would (we hope) still have to read a few books about the Mafia. Ask some Feds and other Organized Crime cops their opinions and perhaps read their books as well. But there was that time when I really needed friends, even shitheads probably smoking oregano on the far handball court and life temporarily made other plans. I do understand the emotions underneath.

To conclude, a writer pulls from wherever they need to make the story work. And assuming enough of you actually read this post, I will leave it intentionally vague if I’m also saying something else about how some people feel about the practice of storytelling. We shall see…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

As I wrote this, HBO Max chose to yank down Gone With the Wind from the service. The obvious reasons including – ‘romanticizes the pre-Civil War South’ – ‘apologizes for slavery’ – were cited. Well, yeah, that’s a bit like my sister-in-law saying this about the average James Bond movie – “I really like James Bond movies, the action and so forth, but sometimes they’re really sexist.” My reply – “You think?”

And like the Carla Hall writing in the LA Times maybe we shouldn’t freak out so much about the old cinematic relics of the past in our rush to do better in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of police. The takedown of the movie is, we’re told, temporary until HBO Max can reframe the streaming link in a greater context that tells the, admittedly, previously under-told truth that slavery, the wholesale campaign to steal wages from people who didn’t ask to be turned into Americans, required the invention, expansion and/or promotion of the violent and soul destroying racism that still bedevils us today. Erasing Gone With the Wind also erases Hattie McDaniel’s legacy.

So, it sounds like HBO Max will, at the very least, include text in the link page much like how Disney+ posts all of its parent studio’s old movies, except for Song of the South (that I have never seen in toto, just the relevant clips), which apparently has too much of the bad for the ‘outdated cultural references’ tag to cover up. In the probable case of Gone With the Wind, said warning text will probably add several paragraphs of apologizes for slaveryrefuses to acknowledge the harm causedwhitewashes cruelty that led the South to commit mass treason against the rest of America and others. Why? It’s Gone With the Wind, Stupid.

Despite my reservations that are more generally rooted in an almost atavistic protect the artist and all their expressions stance, I’m actually okay with the takedown if it truly is temporary and stops at the extended warning label and/or appropriate context. I see this as the Nobody is Completely Happy Meet in the Middle response. Or you can look at it as a government warning label on a pack of cigarettes, some people take the warning to heart and do something else…the rest won’t.

The extended text won’t stop people from clicking through. If I need to see the antics of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I’ll find a way whether borrowing a copy from my library when they reopen…or buying the disk. Or in the case of HBO Max deciding that certain Bugs Bunny cartoons are just too much for me, a grown ass man who might have a good reason to see the gloriously horrible cartoons of the Bad Old Days, to make an intelligent informed decision about how I blow out my brain cells…well, there’s always a Google search.

In her piece, Ms. Hall made the excellent closing point – “If you watch Gone With the Wind and don’t get that it’s a piece of the past to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that the contextual analysis won’t solve.” I agree, only acquiescing to the warning label because Meet in the Middle, not because of any strong opinion for or against the film.

Did I hate the movie? No. Seeing Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh tear up the screen in this massively doomed relationship was and is occasionally electric to watch. But, there’s the slavery and later Reconstruction mockery of freed blacks to contend with as you watch. Or is it that the movie is at core a story about a scheming, manipulative and most importantly entitled woman willing to do anything to get what she wants? So, don’t love the movie either.

Yeah, let’s take that to heart that Scarlett O’Hara is basically the patroness saint of all Karens. This fictional woman just isn’t nice. After the war, in order to rebuild her business interests as cheaply as possible Scarlett employs convict labor over the objections of her former lover and brother-in-law Ashley Wilkes. He begged her to hire free blacks (he used the D-word in the scene) because the convicts are treated so cruelly (paging Section One of the Thirteenth Amendment – “…except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…”) that even he lost his lunch. 

Scarlett also plays every kind of cruel teasing head game on Rhett that culminates with him getting loaded and – “tonight Scarlett, I refuse to be turned out!” – prior to a Kick, Drag and…scene that results in their daughter. And he makes things worse the next morning when he sobers up realizing that, whatever the man was legally allowed to do to his wife, it still behooves him to apologize as he recovers his veneer of gentleman. This says that this particular Karen is also completely unable to articulate her real needs to her husband. I guess this counts as a character flaw to make Scarlett interesting.

Other than enjoying seeing Vivian Leigh eat up the screen, I suppose the women in my life who love the movie like Scarlett precisely because she’s a Karen, safely confined to the screen. Men have J.R. Ewing to fill the same niche of the interesting bad guy who we tune in every week to see what schemes he’ll cook up to chisel more money out of the Texas oil system, while acknowledging that J.R. had to contend with his brother Bobby who stood up as the counterbalance to J.R.’s schemes.

Who is Scarlett’s Bobby Ewing? Sounds like it was or should’ve been Rhett (I’ll have to see the movie again to make sure…unsubtle hint). Did he stop her worst impulses or simply enable her until he finally had enough and just walked out the front door?

Getting back to the here and now, there are people out there that based on the previous two paragraphs are just going to like or love this movie. My reason for acquiescing to the warning label is as much to accommodate them. We all like books, movies and music that others don’t and it seems like such a waste of time to police what they can and can’t experience. So, warning label with paragraphs of extra content on the landing page? Yes. Hiding it forever in the vault because adults can’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their leisure time? No.

Given that it is Gone With the Wind, a film of the same stature of, say, Doctor Zhivago that Quentin Tarantino could’ve substituted the reference in True Romance, this movie will pick up the extra scrutiny that could be even more tragic. It is possible that the anti-Wind crowd will succumb to the temptation to “annotate” the movie while it plays. Think about that, animated pop-ups with links to sites with the truth while the characters say their lines and commit their actions?

In other contexts, I’m all in favor of certain nonfiction videos being livened up the way that CBS adroitly promotes Tooning Out the News having a go at certain speeches that I frankly can’t and don’t watch without either a comedic or outright news analysis filter softening the blow. However, I really don’t think for a fictional movie that I want to deal with pop-ups that, say, in the scene with Ashley expressing his repugnance at Scarlett’s usage of prison labor leads to a page highlighting that scary clause in the Thirteenth Amendment that opponents say is part of the problem because of racist application.

Another thing likely to happen is that HBO Max may feel the need to pay to produce some talking heads videos to discuss these concepts to play out automatically after the movie wraps up and rolls credits. I’m not entirely opposed here; I suppose we do have to have the conversation as often as possible until enough decades pass (if ever) that the Civil War and the ongoing racism that went with it are truly in the past. I would simply point out that Gone With the Wind is already a three-plus-hour epic that not everyone likes enough to also put up with the presumed teachable moment at the end of the movie. 

If I don’t always sit through the credits unless trained to do so by the liberal usage of Marvel-style mid and post-credits scenes, then I’m also not sticking around for any well-intentioned discussion pieces after the camera fades to black on Scarlett surveying her ruined plantation trying to find hope for tomorrow. HBO Max can do what it likes here, but I have a Hans and Franz prediction – “hear me now believe me later!” – of these videos going largely unwatched.

Anyway, we’ll see what will happen in a few days. Director John Ridley, in his piece, also asked for a respectful cooling off period. After that, reframing the context on the landing page seems like it’s a job that should only take a couple hours putting the intern with the fastest and most accurate typing skills at the nearest workstation to enter the new data. Leading to the probable truth that figuring out what to say and running it by more than one concerned advocacy group, because we never take just one opinion in the arts, will take longer than it would to type. 

Nasty question here, once the movie cools off, at what point does a failure to get the appropriate text just so lead to the suspicion that no one on the removal side ever intended for the movie to come back? Six months? A year? Two years? I do try to take people at their word when temporary escapes their lips. We shall see…

Update: We saw. HBO Max only needed approximately three weeks to create and post the new content to go at the beginning of the movie. We are gratified that the many players in this story appear to have kept their implied word. Such acts of good faith should perhaps be reciprocated by the rest of us in other areas of this discussion and it might hurt. So does yanking off a used Band-Aid…

Anyway, it’s still a long ass movie about the patroness saint of all Karens; it’ll be a minute before I can muster the give a damn and three plus hours to actually watch it again.