Tommy Salami’s Plucking Patreon

Forgive me, Dear Reader. I haven’t updated this blog regularly for a long time. Instead, I wrote the Goombah Gumbo Newsletter and a few articles on Medium, but I have finally settled on a Patreon to collect my writing for those who want to support me this endeavor. There will always be free stories, articles, and posts to read there. But I’m trying something new:

My previously published stories that are not available free online will be available there for patrons of the Foxy Donuts tier and higher, and I will write a Patreon-exclusive story or article each month for those patrons. You can also read regular posts for free, or chip in a buck if you want to buy me a coffee. The story-level tiers also get you a Harshly Worded Letter or a Fart Haiku postcard!

For those inclined, there are also tiers where you get monthly correspondence such as tiny stories and poems, and one where you get a book from my library of forbidden tomes and incunabula, aka pulp paperbacks and such.

Blogging is so 2000s. In fact, I missed the 10th anniversary of this one. I think there’s a place for communication between the flitting of social media and lengthy newsletters, and Patreon has a nice look to it. Please come visit, there are free snacks. As John Fogerty said, you don’t need a penny to hang around. But if you got a nickel, why don’t you lay your money down?

Click the image below to visit Tommy Salami’s Plucking Patreon.

2020-03-10 11_52_46-Window

SEEN, READ 2020

I really liked this idea by Steven Soderbergh, so I’ll be updating this post all year. I used to use GoodReads and NetFlix to keep track, but that’s not complete, and it can disappear at corporate whim. This can too, but less likely.

All caps, bold: MOVIE
bold: concert, show, other event
All caps: TV SERIES
Italics: Book or Comic Book
Quotation marks: “Play” / “Broadway Show” LOL what are those?
Italics, quotation marks: “Short Story” or “Poem”(all this shit stole from Steven Soderbergh)

1/1
SCHITT’S CREEK (S3 1-6)
Mr. Know-it-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, by John Waters.
1/2
Criminal #11
1/3
FAT GIRL
1/5
HUSTLERS
1/6
“Ride-Along”, Ron Riekki (Akashic: Mondays are Murder).
1/7
DARE ME 2
1/8
“Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”, Jamil Jan Kochai (The New Yorker).
1/9
“The Porcupine Method”, J. Danielle Dorn (Tough Crime).
THE MANDALORIAN (6 7 8)
1/10
HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE
1/12
READY OR NOT
1/13
DARE ME 3.
THE IN-LAWS (1979)
1/15
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward.
1/16
“Found Wanting,” Douglas Stuart (The New Yorker)
“I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” Isabel Fall (Clarkesworld)
SEIS MANOS S1 1-2
1/18
THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975)
SCHITT’S CREEK S3 6-13, S4 1-2.
1/20
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 2-7.
1/21
“Visitor,” by Bryan Washington (The New Yorker)
TWIN PEAKS S1 PILOT.
1/22
“God,” by Ben Loory (BOMB Magazine)
TWIN PEAKS S1 2-3
1/23
“A Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods,” by Maria Dahvana Headley (TOR)
NO BLADE OF GRASS
1/26
SEIS MANOS (S1 3-8)
1/27
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard.
1/28
LITTLE WOMEN (2019)
1/29
GEORGE CARLIN: IT’S BAD FOR YA
1/30
“Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Northumbria,” by Brandon Taylor (Oprah Magazine)
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
2/1
FORD V FERRARI. DARE ME 4.
2/2
THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
1917

Criminal #12
2/3
The Way We Die Now, by Charles Willeford
2/4
“King of the Blue Rose,” by William R. Soldan (Tough Crime)
“Killer Roll,” by Naomi Hirahara (Discover Nikkei)
Goliath, by Tom Gauld
JOKER
2/5
“Things We Worried About When I Was Ten,” by David Rabe (New Yorker)
Islands Linked by Ocean, by Lisa Linn Kanae
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 3-10
2/6
THE JUNIPER TREE
I WALK ALONE (1947)
2/7
“Turistas,” by Hector Acosta (¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!)
“The Bones of Rio Rico,” by David Bowles (¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!)
2/8
Goliath, by Tom Gauld
2/9
HAIR LOVE
HARRIET
2/10
“Deportees,” by James Lee Burke (The Strand)
“Carnival,” by Laura Benedict (The Strand)
2/11
SCHITT’S CREEK S4 11-13, S5 1-2
2/12
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
DARE ME 6
2/13
“The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror,” by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta)
2/14
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
2/15
“Girls Without Their Faces On,” by Laird Barron
“Thin Cold Hands,” by Gemma Files
“Shit Happens,” by Michael Marshall Smith (The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven)
2/16
City of Margins, by William Boyle
I Kind of forgot for a few weeks so here’s a summation…
2/20
BAXTER
2/21
MEL BROOKS: UNWRAPPED
DARE ME 7
TWIN PEAKS S1 4 5
2/24
Briarpatch, by Ross Thomas
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 1 2
BRIARPATCH 1 2
THE NIGHTINGALE (did not finish)
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (did not finish)
“Sand People,” by Maria Lioutaia (One Story)
“Lethe,” by Leanna James Blackwell (True Story)
2/29
YELLA
3/2
CABARET (1972)
3/3
Agency, by William Gibson
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 3
DARE ME 8
BETTER THINGS S4 1 2 3
3/4
“With the Beatles,” by Haruki Murakami. (The New Yorker
3/6
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
And I Do Not Forgive You, by Amber Sparks
3/7
THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
3/8
The Lost Bayou Ramblers and Poguetry at Rough Trade NYC
3/9
“Allocthon,” by Livia Llewellyn (The Best of the Best of the Horror of the Year, ed. Ellen Datlow)
DARE ME 9 10
3/10
“Paper Menagerie,” by Ken Liu (Gizmodo/Magazine of Fantasy & SF)
3/12
Jack Waters, by Scott Adlerberg
3/13
You Will Not Be Forgotten,” by Mary South (The New Yorker)
JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM
3/14
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 E4
BETTER THINGS S4 4
3/15
SCHITT’S CREEK S5 8-12
Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer.
3/16
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 1-4
3/17
VIDEODROME
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 5-7
3/18
IN A LONELY PLACE
3/19
TWIN PEAKS S1 6-7
3/20
“The Promised Hostel,” by Mary South (The Baffler)
TWIN PEAKS S1 8 (finale) S2 1
3/21
Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
THE ANDERSON TAPES
3/22
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
3/23
Broken, by Don Winslow
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 5
BETTER THINGS S4 5
3/24
VAGABOND
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 8-11
3/25
Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man, by Lawrence Block
3/26
HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I
3/27
STUBER
3/28
THE TIGER KING 1
MANDY
3/29
THE RUNNING MAN
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 6
BETTER THINGS S4 6
THE TIGER KING 2 3
3/30
L’ATALANTE
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 7
THE TIGER KING 4 5 6
3/31
EATING RAOUL
THE TIGER KING 7
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 12
4/1
TWIN PEAKS S2 2 3
4/2
TWIN PEAKS S2 4
4/3
THE DECAMERON
PATHER PANCHALI
4/4
“Love Letter,” by George Saunders (The New Yorker)
“Bullet in the Brain,” by Tobias Wolff
BETTER THINGS S4 7
4/5
Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates
LOCAL HERO
4/6
GAS, FOOD, LODGING
4/7
THE LONG DAY CLOSES
QUEEN & SLIM
“The Everest Society,” by Shannon Sanders (OneStory)
4/8
SOLARIS (1972)
4/9
TEX AVERY’S SCREWBALL CLASSICS VOL.1
SCHITT’S CREEK S6 13-14
You Will Never Be Forgotten, by Mary South
4/10
The Burglar in Short Order, by Lawrence Block
Things from the Flood, by Simon Stålenhag
The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing to Say on Every Dubious Occasion, by Edward Gorey
4/11
UNCUT GEMS
Prisoner 489, by Joe R. Lansdale
4/12
THE LITTLE PRINCE (2015)
The Banks, by Roxane Gay, Ming Doyle.
4/13
TEKKONKINKREET
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 8
BETTER THINGS S4 8
4/15
TOM & JERRY SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION VOL.3
THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER
“Snakes in the Lobby,” by Amie Barrodale (Ploughshares)
4/16
FROM HELL IT CAME
NIGHTFALL
4/17
“I Happy Am,” by Jamel Brinkley (Ploughshares)
4/18
“How to Make a Monster,” by Nyssa Chow (Ploughshares)
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW
4/19
SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK
CATS
4/20
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 9
BETTER THINGS S4 9
4/21
The Grand Dark, by Richard Kadrey
BETTER CALL SAUL S5 10
4/23
PALE FLOWER
Patience, by Daniel Clowes
BETTER THINGS S4 10
4/24
“The Smart House of Mrs. O,” by Lincoln Michel (Granta)
HARVEY
4/26
9 TO 5
SALESMAN
4/28
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
4/29
RAISING ARIZONA
4/30
HAROLD AND MAUDE
PARKS AND RECREATION QUARANTINE SPECIAL
5/1
BETTER THINGS S4 11
FLESH GORDON
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
5/2
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
5/3
Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart
PHASE IV
5/4
MY LIFE AS A DOG
5/8
THE MUPPET MOVIE
The Darkling Halls of Ivy, edited by Lawrence Block
5/10
PASSION FISH
5/12
Dead Girl Blues, by Lawrence Block
BLOOD QUANTUM
5/13
THE STATION AGENT
5/15
LITTLE FUGITIVE
5/16
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics
5/17
RUBBER
5/18
The Giant’s House, by Elizabeth McCracken
5/22
DOWN IN THE DELTA
5/23
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT
THE LOVEBIRDS
5/25
French Exit, by Patrick Dewitt
5/27
DOWN BY LAW
5/28
A HIDDEN LIFE
FLEABAG S1 1-6
5/29
FLEABAG S2 1-6
5/30
Blacktop Wasteland, by S.A. Cosby
6/1
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
6/4
Worse Angels, by Laird Barron
6/5
WISE BLOOD
6/12
POLICE STORY
POLICE STORY 2
6/13
SMILEY FACE
6/14
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S1 1-4
6/16
City of Lost Fortunes, by Bryan Camp
“Of Mice and Manny,” by Todd Robinson (Beat to a Pulp)
6/18
“Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” by Haruki Murakami (New Yorker)
6/19
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S1 5-10
“White Noise,” by Emma Cline (New Yorker)
6/23
SERIAL MOM (commentary with John Waters and Kathleen Turner)
6/26
THE NEW LOONEY TUNES S1-10
That Texas Blood #1
6/27
GO FOR SISTERS
6/30
American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
7/2
Butcher’s Moon, by Richard Stark
ALL OF ME
7/3
HAMILTON: THE MUSICAL
7/4
XANADU
7/5
SUPERMAN

A visit to a haunted masonic temple for a sybaritic delights

 

In my family, men didn’t go to spas. Not even the uncle who managed gay bars for the mob. His “spa” was falling asleep on the floral print couch at my grandma’s house after Sunday dinner, because he closed the bar at 4AM that morning. My father worked in construction, and while he smoked Capri cigarettes and loved Barbara Streisand—he was a complicated man—the closest he ever got to a manicure was when he nearly cut two fingers off with a circular saw and I had to change his bandages. I’m a third generation immigrant and the first on my mother’s side to go to college, and also the first of the men to go to a spa.

Note: not a massage parlor. A spa. Named after the town of Spa in Belgium, which was supposedly famous since Roman times for its healing waters. Now you don’t need a mineral spring to have a spa, just some some hot rocks and cucumber slices, and a bunch of people with too much money. Of which I am now one, to my enormous, ex-Catholic, blue collar guilt. After following my father’s command to make the hardest thing I do at work be pushing my chair away from my desk, I’ve become a bougie white collar dweeb. I may be built like a tank because I’ve been a gym rat since high school—after three coked-up Jersey-Shore douchebags from the wrestling team clobbered me—so I’m the guy they look for at work to help push 3500 pound IBM enterprise server racks, and in my family, I’m the amateur masseur. I have strong hands and a knack for finding the knotted tendon in the shoulders of someone tired from waitressing all day or carrying sacks of concrete. But no one is strong enough to return the favor. Sarah got tired of doing the cha-cha-cha on my back and told me to go to the spa down the street.

Church of Bangz! I saw their bus videos, bro!

We live near a spa built in a former 19th century Masonic Temple, which itself had taken over a Baptist Church. It is said to be haunted, and some think its existence is blasphemous. Why? The Pope washes people’s feet, so what if you go to a former house of God to get yours exfoliated? It’s not like the Limelight in New York, which put S&M acts in cages in a former sixth avenue church, though monks probably invented flagellation…. I haven’t seen any vengeful spirits, but most of the time I’ve been staring at the mirror from a barber’s chair high up in the loft where the secret rites must have been performed, or face down on a massage table, high on aromatherapy and hot stones stacked like Blair Witch cairns on my scoliotic spine. I asked my barber, and he said, “I haven’t seen anything, but others have.” Like what? Is a poltergeist throwing loofahs?

Because the building is a historic landmark, they had to leave the exterior untouched, so I imagine the brownstone church was once occupied by Knights Templar, before massage therapists and hair stylists took over in a bloody battle that left freemasons impaled on thinning shears and colorists disemboweled by halberds and Bohemian Earspoons. The co-owner IS a master mason, so I was on the lookout for hidden statues of Baphomet.There’s something that about strutting into a gutted church, the vaulted ceilings and stained glass intact, to have your body worshiped by a legion of trained, attractive, well-coiffed artisans that inflames the privilege something fierce. I use a back entrance that takes you right to the spa area, down half a floor in an elevator, which gives it all an Eyes Wide Shut meets Get Smart kind of vibe. “Would you believe, under this cloak, I have a schwantz the size of a kosher salami?” Once inside, it’s all dark wood and gleaming chrome, with the sound of a waterfall on river stones behind glass, more of a Rainforest Cafe designed by unimaginative, overmoneyed tech bros. The cheerful receptionist points me toward the men’s locker room, because few men come here, all of us dazed, slightly embarrassed, and afraid we’ll break some kind of spa code and be banished for life. I’ve only met another man in the locker room once or twice and they are either terrified into silence or unnecessarily garrulous: “They got granola,” they’ll announce, pointing to a pitcher of lemon water and the jar that dispenses oats and raisins like a gumball machine at the petting zoo.

Treat your body like a temple, in ours…
I like to make it as uncomfortable as possible, by grunting responses in my brashest of Jersey accents, the one reserved for talking to a longshoreman about a trucker who walked outside the safety lines and got cut in half by a mobile gantry. “What ya gonna do?” So if they think I’m hitting on them, they’ll at least assume I’m a bear. It is a locker room in name only. There are no benches for old men to lounge upon naked with their nutsacks* dangling to the slate floor like a fleshy perpetual motion desk toy. There is folding screen for shy customers to change behind. There is granola, as mentioned. And there are grooming products for you to freshen up with. They don’t have my favorite: Consort hairspray for men. Designed for prospective male concubines, and meant to compliment Hai Karate cologne. My father used a jar of minty fluorescent gloop called Dippity Doo, which sounds like a cartoon dog sidekick. Scrappy Doo’s dumber brother. I have the locker room to myself today, so I change into the provided rubber slippers and a white terrycloth robe as thick and plush as a litter of sleeping Samoyeds, partake of the lemon water, and wait on the faux cowskin sofa until Liz, my massage therapist, knocks on the door.
Proud to say I’ve broken all of these rules in one day.

I’ve been going to Liz for half a year, usually after a few hours of Krav Maga and boxing, so she can undo the damage. She’s from the Dominican Republic and has a house there, which survived the last storm, thank goodness, but needs fixing up. It will be her retirement home. She’s also the deep tissue specialist, and has the strength of a Terminator. When I strained my rotator cuff and could barely move my arm, she tortured me for twenty minutes, muttering quiet succor—”poor baby”—while she crushed my tangled tendons beneath the marble rolling pin of her forearm. I wanted to scream, but one glance at her pitiless gaze and I bit through my tongue and bored holes through the ceiling with my eyes instead. But she fixed me up like Mister Miyagi, so she is a goddess in my eyes. A curly-haired myrmidon of Themyscira, whose iron forearms can deflect bullets like Wonder Woman, though they be bronze flesh and not enchanted vambraces. Liz leads me past rooms labeled “Serenity” (also a brand of adult diaper) and “Haven,” which she opens and tells me to sit on the table and dunk my feet in a washtub of soapy water in which she has sprinkled blue crystals. She could be a witch making bone broth out of my metatarsals. I do not care. I am under the spa spell.The first time she washed my feet I had to pretend she was the Pope, so I didn’t feel like a rich asshole making someone wash my wide-ass Hulk feet. Liz distracts me with talk of New Year’s Day and I try not to laugh because I am ticklish and this is weird as fuck. I have a thirty-year relationship with my podiatrist—I told you I have sasquatch Hobbit feet—but this never feels not wrong. I don’t care how many triple negatives that is. Thankfully it’s over in a minute and Liz leaves me to shuffle off my robe and struggle under the heavy blanket. She knows I wear boxers, but there’s a ritual to this. I think it’s so you can squeeze out any stray farts in solitude. Which would get trapped under the blanket unless she released them like smoke signals.

Shyly changing behind the screen lest others see my no-nos

Which reminds me, don’t those weighted blankets make you dutch oven yourself? How does that soothe your anxiety? As soon as you lift a corner, you’re going to get a whiff of your last three farts, marinated in your own juices. I tried one once, and it felt like being buried up to your neck in a Care Bear’s ass. Speaking of, I roll under the blankie and plant my face in a plush cushion shaped like an ass donut pillow for hemorrhoid sufferers and try not to think it’s a padded toilet seat or a glory hole. I inhale the intoxicating minty beach breeze aromatherapy pumped into the room, so much better than cave-aged blanket farts, and absorb the mellow tones of the Sirius XM Spa channel piped through the speakers. I know the name because the announcer husks it every few minutes like Kathleen Turner on Quaaludes. This is Sirius XM Spaaaaaaa. There’s only one ‘a’ in spa, Kathy. But as I wait, I find myself extending it like a koan. Spaaaaa.Spaaaaaaaaaa.

The music varies from windchime-and-whale fart auditory sleeping pills to spacey lounge and white people appropriating indigenous choruses, and the occasional bored Gregorian monk chanting passages from Revelations with accompaniment on the pan flute. I wish you could bring your own mixtapes. I could dig Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing, or the Vangelis soundtrack to Blade Runner. What I listen to relax is drone metal by Sunn O))), three guys in Satanic robes with Marshall stacks that emit the brown note of super subsonic bass that shakes loose RNA from your chromosomes. Sarah says it sounds like garbage trucks downshifting on the highway, but to me it’s like an ASMR channel on YouTube. I don’t even know what that means or how you pronounce it. I say it assmurr. So I’d want to be assmurred out by subwoofers thumping their doom songs like “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom” and “Cursed Realms of the Winterdemons” while Liz donned a black cloak and rubbed me down with 15W50 motor oil and hot stones made from basaltic rock stolen from the tombs of evil warlords whose names were so loathed that the peasantry gouged them from the lintels of their crypts. Then she couldn’t hear me whimper when she grinds her elbow into my lats.

My right lat is abnormally large because I broke my leg by jumping off the ticket booth at the baseball diamond built on a landfill behind my grandma’s house when I was six. What can I say? I thought I was The Hulk. One leg smashed, and grew longer than the other one. I didn’t wear corrective shoe inserts for about ten years when I didn’t have health insurance that covered them. So I used to tie together Dr. Scholl’s heel cushions with duct tape until I felt like I was standing straight, which I wasn’t, and they’d compress and I had serious back pain for years until I got a job with good insurance and could afford the orthotic inserts. I still stand on one leg at shows like some sort of Frankenstein monster sandhill crane hybrid, but years of my body compensating for the leg have left my back a scoliosis disaster, and Liz helps me with the pain by breaking up that tense muscle fiber without mercy.

Did I mention the CBD oil? These sessions are best if you take CBD oil, medical or recreational marijuana, Hawaiian kava root, or preferably all three. I took a massive dose of the first of these, which isn’t supposed to get you intoxicated, but I’m a cannabinoid lightweight and after five minutes of Liz working her shiatsu sorcery, I’m drooling through the terrycloth butt donut face hole and murmuring glossolalic imprecations that would surely summon Baphomet if there truly were ghosts of masonic Templars stalking the flower encrusted halls of this unholy hedonistic sepulchre. I was so mellowed out on the walk down here that I skipped along, pumping nickels into the expired parking meters like an overfed, poodle-haired giggling gnome. And that’s when I really have to fart.

No statues of Baphomet were found in the masonic temple.

You knew this would be a 2000 word fart joke, didn’t you? The problem with holding in a fart during a deep tissue massage is that you tense up, and the massage therapist thinks that means you are either in pain or that they’ve found “the spot,” and start grinding their elbow into your ass cheek like a frantic competitor over-kneading a particularly pasty, over-proofed white dough on the Great British Bake Off. I am the loaf, struggling not to release the gases the yeast has spewn into the glutenous matterhorns of my glutes, while Liz, earnest, professional, unflappable Liz, is rocking me back and forth on the table to loosen my tense muscles. And as I’m squeezing for dear life, I remember the first time Sarah bought me a massage with a Groupon at a little Vietnamese-owned place where we knew the receptionist, and the massage therapist—a taut, black-clad strapping young lad with elbows like daggers—went to work on me in a room so tiny that he climbed up the walls with his feet while his elbow was in my ass cheek, because that’s how much of a tight-ass I am. I gave him a good tip, because that was some parkour level massagery, and also in the hope he wouldn’t talk. “That guy’s ass? It was like hammering granite. I left footprints on the wall. I kept waiting for him to fart and blast me out the air vent.”I didn’t fart that time. But he wasn’t Liz.I can hold my ass kegels for a long time. But Liz is stronger. Assisted by my CBD haze and the new age nasal chorale on the stereo, she defeated me. I cringed as I released what would surely be the interminable, sad death song of a beached narwhal, but I squeaked out what could only be defined as a dry little popcorn fart. A mere blip on the flatulence radar. For someone of my orchestral tuba Le Petomaine concertos, it was barely a fart at all.

Liz laughed. “Good, you relax.” Then she went back at my spine like the bear in The Revenant and breathed in the whispery breeze of sage and butterfly armpits wafting from the aromatherapy machine, knowing the dwarf star death fart was trapped safely beneath the terrycloth, waiting for me when the the massage was over.

Happy new year!

-TP

PS:

*The things I do for my craft….Benjamin Dreyer is the copy chief for Random House, and the author of Dreyer’s English.

 

SopranosCon!

(If you are looking for regular updates, you’ll want to subscribe to my newsletter, Goombah Gumbo)

I went to the first SopranosCon! Fittingly held in The Meadowlands, where so many mob victims fertilize the polluted muck, it exceeded all expectations. I met Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior), Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy), Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky, and also Bobby Baccala’s father), Kathrinne Narducci (Charmaine Bucco, and Mrs Bufalino in The Irishman), and so many smaller players. Over 50 actors were there, including Drea De Matteo (Adriana) who I only saw on stage, and Tony Sirico, who was too ill to make it on Sunday. Paulie Walnuts, get well soon! Here are some photos from the event. As you can see, they made it look like an Italian festival, with the banners. And of course, they had fresh zeppole for sale.

SopranosCon banner
just like it’s the Feast of San Gennaro….

I also met critics Matthew Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, who co-wrote The Sopranos Sessions, the invaluable episode by episode dissection of the show. We talked for a while about the show, crime stories, and how great it was to see everyone together again.

Me and Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz
Three Writing Goons

Everyone there was happy! Who would have thought that a show about a killer seeing a psychiatrist would have such a positive vibe? Dominic Chianese sang Italian songs on stage, Tony Darrow did stand-up comedy, Bada Bing dancer Diana Lynn was in a family-friendly costume… The organizers did a great job. It looked professional (and was). Great local food in the food court, with a replica of the Holsten’s booth and a Tony impersonator if you wanted an onion ring. The entry looked like a Turnpike tollbooth:

SopranosCon TollBooth

They made a maze to look like the Pine Barrens, full of quotes and photos of Christopher and Paulie as they searched for the Russian, in the most famous episode. There was even a van, with an empty Nathan’s hotdogs bag, and some packets of relish and ketchup, scattered in the fake snow! It was brilliant.

SopranosCon Maze
“he’s a fuckin’ interior decorator” … “really? his place looked like shit!”
SopranosCon Van
“mix the ketchup with the relish, it’s better!”
me and Burt Young
“I put one kid through college, I put the other through a wall”
me and Vincent Pastore
Big Pussy and Bigger Pussy
me and Dominic Chianese
Uncle Junior
The SopranosCon gang on stage
Sofia Milos speaks, Johnny Sack and others….

They are organizing a “MobMovieCon” in Atlantic City next year, if you are interested. I might go, depending on the guests. It’s refreshing, now that ComiCons have gotten overly huge, that smaller, focused cons like this can flourish. I was just talking with a friend who lamented that Chiller Theater, a New Jersey institution, seems empty now that the cosplayers and stars go to New York ComiCon instead.

This was a great time. I hope they throw another one soon!

Hap and Leonard, and Joe schooling me

I’ll be reviewing the new Sundance series based on Joe Lansdale’s books, Hap & Leonard, for Criminal Element. The first episode gets the tone and the characters just right. Hop on over to Criminal Element for my full review. I’ve been a fan of the disastrous duo since Savage Season, all the way to Vanilla Ride. I have some catching up to do, there’s a new one called Honky Tonk Samurai that just hit the stores.

Here’s Joe putting me in a fingerlock at Bouchercon in Albany, 2013.

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One Who Walked Alone

I was planning on writing about my father’s influence on me and my movie tastes for Father’s Day, and after watching The Whole Wide World- with its portrayal of Robert E. Howard as a man born in the wrong time, who went out of his way to shock and offend, who also ended his life prematurely with a gun- I had a lot to think about. My father shot himself in late September 1997. I learned about it on the 26th; it took a few days for someone to find him. So the tombstone just has an approximation.

My father’s real self was insulated within a constructed persona. He enjoyed offending people, being the life of the party, the company of women, and screwdrivers. After all, it’s hardly a drink; it’s practically breakfast. I spent a lot of time with him, but didn’t get to know him as well as I’d like. Though I don’t think anyone knew the real him; he was very protective of that, with his tough-guy demeanor of ’50s vintage American male raised on racing flathead V8 Fords; he could have walked out of American Graffiti or Last Exit to Brooklyn. I like Dice Clay because he reminds me of a parody of my old man.

I remember sitting next to my Dad during Star Wars, and looking over at him when Luke saw Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s barbecued skeletons. I was shocked, but seeing his lack of reaction made me realize it must be okay. The power of neglect. It’s one of my earliest movie memories; that and having to see a re-release of The AristoCats when everyone else went to see Animal House. My Uncle Paul wore out a VHS copy of the latter for us on his $800 top-loader VCR, so we made up for missing it on the big screen.

I used to go see Sly Stallone movies with my Dad a lot. First Blood was my first ’80s action movie. I still love the genre, though Sly is probably my least favorite star. My father liked him because his friend, my “Uncle” Tony Maffatone (who I elegized here) was his executive bodyguard, stunt double, knife trainer and fight choreographer for many years. He was a larger than life character. We had to go see Rocky IV, because he had some screen time. Cobra. Hell, we even suffered through Cliffhanger; but in Dad’s only movie review, he snored loudly through that one.

“Boy that was really exciting. I bet you’re a big Lee Marvin fan aren’t ya. Yeah me too. I love that guy. My heart’s beatin’ so fast I’m about to have a heart attack.”

Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson were two other actors we’d always watch. Death Hunt, where Bronson plays a trapper being chased by Mountie Marvin, was one of our favorites. I’ve got it on the DVR right now. Clint Eastwood was always good- Dirty Harry, the westerns, even Unforgiven. He liked Gene Hackman, too. Tough guys. Tommy Lee Jones. We watched a lot of trash and martial arts films too. David Carradine of course; Bruce Lee, and ’80s anomalies like Megaforce and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.

But my father’s favorite actors were ones he was told he resembled. He was a narcissistic womanizer, and I was always surprised at his uncanny ability to hook up with younger women. For a while, he was Burt Reynolds. He had the cowboy hat and everything. This was during the Smokey and the Bandit period. My father looked as wrong without a mustache as Burt did in White Lightning and Deliverance. We never watched that Burt movie together, with the indignity of Ned Beatty’s white ass.

As he aged, Dad morphed into Sean Connery in The Presidio and Rising Sun. He even affected the ponytail, though it never got to The Rock-era lengths. Then as even Connery became an old man in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he had no one to mimic. If he’d only lived to see Entrapment, where an 80-something Connery gets with Catherine Zeta-Jones, he’d probably still be cruising around in his Corvette.


In his later years, the Vette got garaged and changed out for a black Saab convertible that he liked; he was trying to catch his image up with his age. He never made it to the age of the baby boomer. What actresses did he like? Barbra Streisand. Seriously. And Sandra Locke. Women who weren’t helpless, but always needed a man. That early ’60s image of womanhood, where they could live on their own, and be sexually liberated, but not too liberated. Let’s not get crazy here. Be a lady. At least in public.

Since his death I’ve always believed in the individual right to suicide. I find the laws against it hilarious. Suicide is acceptable in our stories, we just don’t call it that. Do Butch & Sundance take the cowards way out? Thelma & Louise? Kowalski in Vanishing Point? Maybe. I wish my father hadn’t done it, even though we had drifted apart by then. I think if he’d lived, he might not have liked who he was anymore, but I would have liked to talk with him more as age perhaps broke down the armored shell he’d built for himself. But like Howard, when I knew him, he walked that road alone.

…there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armor, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment.
–Gerald Kersh

A Tribute to Tony Maffatone

“Uncle” Tony Maffatone

I recently watched Son of Rambow, a cute kid’s film set in ’80s Britain, about two young kids who make their own sequel to First Blood with a video camera. The film is riddled with the best scenes from that ur-action film, which I saw in the theater at the tender age of 11, with my father. Why? Because my “Uncle” Tony Maffatone was involved in it. Tony was my father’s best friend- if men from that era had BFFs. Men born in the ’40s were more like predatory animals than humans, and would sometimes tolerate each other on their own territory; my Dad and Tony were both hard-asses, and had a deep mutual respect. Both had served as police officers; my father moved to construction, and Uncle Tony became an executive bodyguard, eventually for Sylvester Stallone, which led to small roles, such as a mugger in Nighthawks and one of the two KGB officers spying on Rocky in IV; he’s the one who slips on the ice, which was scripted. He didn’t want to do it, but he did it for Stallone. If you watch the “making of” documentaries for Rambo: First Blood Part II, you can see Tony showing Sly how to fight with a knife. My scary knife collection got its start when Uncle Tony showed me his numbered Jimmy Lile Rambo knives, and a Moran ST-24– one of the Holy Grails for knife collectors.

Skip to 2:42, where Tony chases him from the car; his partner drives

When he was in Thailand and the Middle East working as a weapons consultant for Rambo III, he brought me back a pair of Thai dha swords, a Khyber knife, a kindjal and some Nepalese kukris; thus began a lifelong obsession with dangerous pointy things. My father had made a habit of giving me pocket knives, and a razor-sharp Western M-49 Bowie that hung on my wall, terrifying my grandmother, who had nightmares that it would fall down and behead me. When I got older, I would of course graduate to firearms- especially after getting to handle Tony’s MAC-10, one of the signature weapons of the ’80s. He also showed me the scars where he’d been shot on the job, tempering the respect I had for guns, which were never shown as toys.


Jimmy Lile’s knife from First Blood

Uncle Tony had a small role in some of the most memorable action movies of the ’80s. First Blood is still the best of the Rambo series if you ask me. I love the latest one, but it follows the same formula as the other sequels, while the first story was about how shabbily Vietnam veterans were treated both by the government and the people upon their return. It doesn’t have any hippies spitting on him; it shows the callous disregard of a small town police chief, played by Brian Dennehy, for the burned-out vagrant John Rambo, who only wants to pass through town as he looks up one of his war buddies. That buddy has died of cancer, from Agent Orange, and his family is living in a dilapidated shack.

Don’t push it…

The original gets a bad rap because things would turn 180 with the first sequel, which created the “one arm tied behind our back” and “POWs are still in camps 20 years later, for no reason” memes that fueled the ’80s. It was one of James Cameron’s first films, and has that rollercoaster of relentless action that he would perfect later with Aliens and Terminator 2. Rambo III would try the same formula in Afghanistan, to tepid results; the fight culminates with another duel against a Russian attack chopper, this time with Rambo in a tank, ramming it head-on in a rather unlikely scenario that probably sounded better on paper. The film starts with a great muay thai style stick fight between Rambo and a guy who looks like Al Jorgenson from Ministry, before settling in to a familiar story, where he has to rescue Colonel Trautman with the help of the mujaheddin and a cute Afghan kid, sort of a freedom fighter Short Round. The movie has been sneered at as “Rambo helps the Taliban,” but these guys would be more like Northern Alliance.

It gets a lot of flack as being utterly ridiculous, but it’s not really over the top- hell, it’s not even Over the Top! It’s just mediocre, except for a frighteningly expensive final battle involving tanks, helicopters, mujaheddin on horseback, and truck-mounted heavy machine-guns. There are a lot of explosions, but there’s no real urgency; the director would go on to stuff like The Neverending Story III and would never be allowed near an action movie again. It was the most expensive movie made at the time, but it doesn’t feel like it.


Moran’s ST-24 fighter

The fourth movie brings Rambo back to his bloody guerrilla roots and gives us a believable scene with Rambo manning a .50-cal and mowing down troops- at least he has a shield in the new one. Uncle Tony would be proud. Rambo forges his own knife similar to the Kachin rebel’s head-hunting dha chopper, and goes to town with it. Rambo III, the last movie Tony worked with Stallone on, is probably the last good Sly flick until Cop Land reminded people that he can act when forced. He’s never gone back to the crying emotional rage at the end of First Blood again, but that scene’s always worked for me. This third entry is also the last movie before Stallone started eating steroids by the handful- he looks trim and cut here, before ballooning in size for stuff like The Specialist, where his veiny swollen pecs in shower scene are so horrifying that are distracted from a naked Sharon Stone.

Roid boy

My father said that Tony had stopped working for Sly after this, because Stallone wanted to be part of his own security detail. The action movies had gone to his head; he thought he really was Rambo. Uncle Tony would go on to work for less showy clients, where Hollywood egos and extravagance wouldn’t interfere with the job. He concentrated on his hobby of diving, where he even developed his own equipment. A few years later he tragically died in a diving accident, around the wreck of the USS San Diego, in 2000. One of his close diving friends wrote a fitting epitaph for him here.
His ashes were cast into the sea, and I only learned years later while trying to get back in touch. The last time I saw him was at my own father’s funeral, and he was still in great shape into his late 50’s- regularly running marathons. The next time I dip my toes in the waters of the Jersey shore I’ll think of him. Unfortunately Google also brought up a hit on VeriSEAL, because his obituary article in the NY Daily News had a Hollywood producer named Marty Richards, one of Tony’s clients, claim that he was a “decorated Navy SEAL,” and “Rambo was based on him.” Uncle Tony never made any such claims to me. He was a police officer in Passaic, who trained in security measures and martial arts, and a hero to his friends, family and those clients he protected; there is no need to claim he was a SEAL to boost him up. And “Rambo” was based on the book First Blood by David Morrell; maybe basing the sequel on a “Back to ‘Nam” story was Tony’s idea, but I never heard about it. It’s sad that the boasting of a Hollywood asshole has to tarnish the memory of a good man who can’t defend himself.

update:

I had the honor of meeting David Morrell several times at Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. Rambo’s Daddy is a gracious and talented writer, and he was kind enough to give me a business card where he sits with Stallone, and my “Uncle” Tony Maffatone stands in the background, on the set of Rambo III:

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Rest in Peace, Uncle Tony. I’ll remember reading The Old Man and the Sea when our families vacationed together on Long Beach Island, and we sat on the porch watching the stormy waves hammer the shoreline; I’ll remember lifting weights on the bench in your back yard with you, and sharing dinner with your family. And whenever I see Stallone hold that survival knife to Brian Dennehy’s throat, warning him “Don’t push it- I’ll give you a war you won’t believe,” I’ll remember that you were on set giving the iconic action star cues on how to handle himself with a weapon.

R.I.P.