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All the President’s Men

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

The Watergate ~ Washington, DC

“Just follow the money.”

Famous words uttered to reporter Bob Woodward by the silhouette of a man in an underground parking garage.  For 33 years, that shadow – an informant on deep background – chose to swallow his pride, if you will, and live with the pseudonym Deep Throat in exchange for his anonymity. 

The information Deep Throat shared with Woodward eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation and prison sentences for six of his disciples – the granddaddy of all political scandals we know as Watergate. 

Truth really is so much stranger than fiction.  Really – stuff this good is simply beyond the parameters of even the most skilled authors of political fiction.  You just can’t make this up. 

In all my idiosyncratic glory, I’ve been fascinated with Watergate since high school.  It was then I first read the 1974 book All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  It’s one of those books I re-read (now listen to on audio) every few years.  It never fails to leave me scratching my head and thinking Holy shit.  I bet this little episode would curl the toes of the Founding Fathers. 

On 9 April 1976 – 35 years ago last weekend – the Academy Award Winning movie All the President’s Men opened in theaters.  Like the book on which the film is based, it too would become one of my favorites. 

 

Robert Redford purchased the film rights to the book upon its publication for $450,000 and set out to make a film about Watergate with painstaking exactitude.  The film stars Redford and Dustin Hoffman and was directed by Alan J. Pakula.  To me, it’s a cinematic masterpiece, although I’m no film scholar and I’ve never claimed to be normal.  It’s one of those movies I can watch repeatedly and enjoy it every time.  I can however see how some find it a bit slow and draggy.  In fact, many people who’ve watched it with me over the years found it about as enjoyable as a 2 hour and 17 minute barium enema.  There are no shootouts, no car chases, and no T&A (with the exception of whatever images may come to mind with each mention of Deep Throat – which, by the way are completely your responsibility.)  But it is the gripping story of one of the greatest Constitutional crises in American history. 

Washington is a great backdrop for a riveting screenplay.  This one in particular makes great use of the city.  The filmmakers captured Redford and Hoffman amongst Washington’s enormous federal buildings, illustrating the contrast of these two virtually unknown reporters with limited resources against the entire United States federal government – or at least the executive branch thereof. 

Redford insisted on filming each scene where it actually occurred, when possible.  Only a handful of scenes were filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, most notably the Washington Post newsroom, and even with that, they went to great lengths to achieve authenticity, They measured the actual newsroom of the Post down to the fraction of an inch, reproduced 1972 phone books to sit on the desk, and they even had actual discarded paper from newsroom trash cans flown in to be used in the trash cans on the set, among other things. 

Scenes in Woodward’s apartment were filmed in a unit in my building, as it is where Woodward lived in 1972.  It’s surreal to watch those scenes and see from the window and balcony in the movie exactly what I see from mine.  And seeing Redford riding in a cab on Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House brings back memories – I remember when Pennsylvania Avenue was open to traffic between 15th and 17th Streets. 

My intrigue in all things Watergate should not be misinterpreted as celebratory – it isn’t.  This is no proud moment in American history.  That is, unless you look at it from the perspective of the free press playing its role in keeping the power of government in check.  It certainly changed the relationship between the press and government.  And lest we forget, it also made a household name out of the title of a pornographic film. 

Unless you’ve been in a coma since 2005, you’re aware that Deep Throat finally revealed his own identity.  W. Mark Felt was serving as the Deputy Associate Director of the FBI in 1972.  Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat in the film and did an extraordinary job portraying the informant as the mysterious, unidentified figure he remained for 33 years.  Mark Felt died in 2008.

The Watergate ~ Washington, DC

My fixation with the Watergate as a real property may or may not have something to do with its notoriety.  Admittedly, I am very “it happened here,” always intrigued by addresses of historical distinction.  But even had the events in June 1972 never happened or had never been discovered – I think the bizarrely unique architecture would still catch my attention, for that reason – it’s unique.  It’s salient.  It’s a creature of different stripes than the rank and file stately buildings of Washington.  Its sweeping, curved lines, sharp points, serpent teeth balconies, and its unmistakable and imposing presence make for intriguing real estate.  And if the stars would just align correctly, perhaps I’ll call it “home” someday.

Brevity evades me today, but I leave you with one final thought  from the movie:

Carl Bernstein called John Mitchell (former Attorney General) late one night for a comment on a story naming Mitchell as one of the men who controlled a secret cash fund from which the Watergate burglars had been paid.  Bernstein read the paragraph to him, after which Mitchell shouted, “Jesus!  Jesus!  All that crap!  You’re putting it in the paper?  It’s all been denied! You tell your publisher – tell Katie Graham she’s gonna get her tit caught in the big wringer if that’s published.” 

It might have been denied, but it was true.  Oh, those charming Nixon White House cabinet members

…And so it goes…
Peace be with you,
JCD

Farewell to a Class Act

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor

They don’t come along very often, but when they do they make a splash and they leave a mark.  They’re beautiful, sophisticated, graceful, benevolent, and completely in a class of their own.  Ladies like Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, and the one and only Elizabeth Taylor.

Although not surprised – Elizabeth Taylor perpetually fought an assortment of ailments – I was sad to learn of her death on Wednesday.  Her passing leaves a void certainly not to be filled by the likes of any contemporary Hollywood miscreant.

She was a rare holdover from a time when Hollywood was actually special – the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s – the era of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, and Lana Turner.    A time when movie stars signed exclusively with one studio.  A time when Las Vegas was what it should be – a small desert city of cocktails, gambling, and hookers, run by the mafia and certainly no alternative to Disneyland for a family vacation.  And yes, a time when one could  use the word “broad” and not necessarily be acused of using a pejorative term. 

Taylor’s seemingly excessive connubial experience may be the first thing that comes to mind for many, but there was so much more to this multidimensional woman than eight marriages.   Her tireless philanthropic efforts benefit millions around the world, some of whom might be unfamiliar with her name or do not recognize that beautiful face.

In 1982, I was a Boy Scout (um…I know, I know – can you imagine me camping?  I suppose stranger things have happened.)  In May of that year, my Scout troop was ushering the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade.  At one point, I stopped to watch some of the parade as it traveled up north Meridian Street.  Each convertible Camaro pace car carried a different celebrity – some of whom I recognized, and some I didn’t.  The card in the front window of one car read “Elizabeth Taylor – General Hospital.”  I glanced at the woman in the back of the car waving to the crowd and thought to myself You mean the broad who played Helena Cassadine on General Hospital is Elizabeth Taylor?  I recognized her from the show and I knew the name, but had never drawn a connection.  I certainly didn’t understand what a star she was.    

She had a beautiful face and she was a talented actress.  But perhaps more importantly – something for which there is no Oscar, bravo to her tireless crusade to raise funds for AIDS research.  She was the first celebrity to lend her name to that cause, at a time when it wasn’t chic to do so.  In fact, some speculated she would tarnish her legendary image by aligning herself with the cause. 

Many public personalities lend their names to different causes, but few to a cause as controversial as this was in the 1980s.  One of the things I admired most about her is that she wasn’t too concerned about what people thought.  Doing what’s right and doing what’s popular are not always the same thing. 

Her name certainly raised the profile of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR.)  Through AMFAR and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, this amazing woman leaves a legacy that far outshines her Hollywood star, as bright as that was. 

Dame Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky – one class act, for sure.   

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation    
AMFAR    

…And so it goes…
Peace be with you,
JCD

The Lucky Ones

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

JCD with Kristi Willsey Sutton -- my best friend since we were 7 years old

So tonight is the night I set the clocks forward an hour for Daylight Saving Time. 

Changing my clocks has me thinking about the concept of time, dates and such – something I never do.

As we move well into 2011, I’m preparing to cross some milestones in my life, as well as a few from history.  I’ve never really understood why dates hold such relevance in my memory. 

Well, one of those dates was yesterday – Saturday 12 March 2011.  Twenty-five years ago yesterday is just one of those days stamped in my warped memory.  Nah, it wasn’t the day I got deflowered, nor did I get my driver’s license. 

As I recall, it was a pretty average day for me as a sophomore at Center Grove High School.  At least, as normal as circumstances would allow at that point.  My condition, which I was still being told was TMJ would not be properly diagnosed for another five weeks.  So, in early March, keeping pain at arms length for more than an hour, if at all, was rare. 

Like so many of my significant memories, the friend I was with that day was Kristi Willsey Sutton.  Kris is my oldest friend in the world – we’ve known one another since December 1976 – and she has been a pillar with me through so many of my days of pain and uncertainty.  And it should come as no surprise that she was also usually there through any days of mischief … or perhaps days of “discovery” sounds less menacing.  I might as well put a better PR spin on it.  It’s been 25 years, after all. 

After school, I left with Kristi and four of her friends – all good broads who had always run around together.  The destination was Market Square Arena and the purpose was a concert.  Which concert, you wonder.  Well, keep in mind it was the 1980s and we were dyed-in-the-wool kids of the ‘80s.  I’m guessing a few, if not all of the broads in the harem I was traveling with were sporting mall hair, held in place by 1.5 gallons each of Final Net.  So, we were off to see the 80s quintessential band Loverboy and opening for them were The Hooters. 

After stopping at McDonald’s to get something to eat, several of the young ladies in the car were compelled to light cigarettes, which I found repulsive.  So I just tended to my cheeseburger and fries and listened to the amusing conversation of these five 16- and 17-year-old ladies as we headed for downtown Indianapolis. 

The girl on one side of me tapped my knee and said “sit back for just a second, Jimmy.”  I did so and continued to listen as she passed her cigarette to the girl on the other side of me.  “Do you want some of this, Jimmy?” asked the girl as she passed it back.  “Um, no.  Cigarettes repulse me.”  They giggled.  “Just wait a few minutes, honey,” uttered one of them. 

Perhaps five or ten minutes later, we were stopped at a light and I was looking out the window and I began to laugh hysterically for apparently no reason.  The girls began laughing and one exclaimed “I knew it would get to him.” 

What would? I thought to myself.

Yes, I was stoned.  This was a new experience for me, and by the time we got to the concert, I had no headache.  I think that bears repeating.  I had no headache. 

It was a great night and a great concert and I continued without my usual headache for perhaps 6-8 hours.  That was the only eight hour period I didn’t have a headache in months. 

Anyone who says he or she does not believe in medical marijuana has never had cancer or another disease which causes great pain. 

This never became something I did often, but on a few occasions when the pain was bad, it did help when nothing else could. 

If while you read this you nodded and perhaps grinned ever so faintly, you probably understand that growing up involves discovery.  If you found yourself gasping and shaking your head in disbelief, you might be considered a little naive. 

But if you shook your head in disapproval and uttered something like “I can’t believe you did that!” …well, chances are, you did too.  Or at least did something in youth that you might now consider unsavory. 

So, just put down those stones of judgment, step off the self-righteous, sanctimonious soapbox and then back away slowly.  It then might behoove you to take the energy you might use judging others and put it toward working a day in a soup kitchen or hospital or otherwise direct said energy to doing something that makes you feel good about what you do or who you are rather than what someone else is or who they are. 

And when you’ve done that, you might also want to smoke some weed. 

Just an observation…

…And so it goes…
Peace be with you,
JCD