Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jackass A Deux

JACKASS A DEUX: How "MASH" Star Loretta Swit Swings Into Her Seventies

"I'm Loretta Swit, and this is Jackass." For five years, this mere utterance has meant chaos is soon to follow. What will it be today, gorging on dairy products or firecracker enemas?

Whatever the day may bring, "MASH" alum Swit says the new job is a dream come true. "In 1983 I was worried about how I'd top 'MASH'. Just the other day, when I hit Alan Alda in the nuts with an aluminum softball bat, I was thinking about how the world comes around. I'm in the director's chair now," she smiles, showing off her gleaming white teeth caked with the remains of Oreo cookies.

It hasn't been all bats and nuts. For years, Swit suffered a crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder that involved ritual sex and painful mouth sores. "It's still a struggle," she sighs. "I have to channel my compulsions into better things, like sewing and tantric yoga."

Anyone who's seen the show is familiar with her sidekick, Ben Schumin. Maybe sidekick isn't such a good word - Ben is usually on the wrong end of Loretta's abuse. The most recent episode involved a trip to a sex shop, where Schumin had a 16 inch phallus manually inserted into his rectum by a midget. Swit also launched him down a San Francisco street in a little red wagon. He was wearing only clothespins on his nipples and an adult diaper.

Still, he shrugs it off with a smile. "I just do whatever she tells me to, whether it's pissing off a kitten and shoving him down my pants or sliding naked down the Jewel salad bar and taking a poo in the ranch dressing."

Recently, another cast member has joined the mix. Famous pastor Robert Tilton speaks in tongues as Swit slingshots golf balls at his testicles. Although he's been quoted in other publications as wanting to use the show to preach to the masses, all Tilton would say to us is "fresh pecan pie" or something along those lines. He's also well known for impassioned sermons punctuated by flatulence.

Sucking a pudding pop, Swit spends most of the time in her trailer going over stunts or worrying about locations. Thanks to its popularity, the show was recently given clearance to shoot at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. One of the stunts backfired: a Big Wheel race down a gravel path launched Swit into a dung depository and Schumin into a ham house. Schumin had to have a wooden ham surgically removed from his anus. Swit suffered minor abrasions and spent hours trapped in the muck. "Oh, I didn't mind. It's not like I caught my tongue in Jamie Farr's pubic hair or something," she smiles.

Pudding stains her ample lips. "When I turned 60, I found myself staying in cheap hotels, giving head to truck drivers for fifty dollars a pop. I was well known for my deep cameltoe and loved showing it off in my red sweatpants. That was almost ten years ago. One night, I woke up in Shenandoah County Memorial Hospital have a gallon of semen pumped from my stomach and a gerbil extracted from my ass. I would have never imagined that now I'd be back in People magazine, swimming naked in a tank full of raw sewage or beating up Harry Morgan's wife."

"Finally, I have a very rich life. And a mouth free of cankers."

From People Magazine, October 2006

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Last True Story You'll Ever Hear

Many didn't survive. Some of the survivors were mad at God; some thanked Him for His mercy.

And did for many - did the plane just keep taking off, climbing straight to the sky? The sun's rays are gold on gold above the clouds. The pure, cold air feels so good.

Then the blessed silence as the engines spool down. The fire dies and the seats stick out like burnt cacti.

"Some didn't move. It was like they were hypnotized," a survivor remembered.

When the inevitable happens - is there a part of us that knows? When the flight or flee function kicks in...who choses option C?

It was a mistake. The accident was a mistake by two men in big planes and a little man in a control tower. Many Christians believe there are no mistakes in the eyes of God. For those that accepted their fate in the cabin of this ravaged 747, were they answering to God or to themselves? Did they make the mistake?

Or did they just keep climbing?

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Under the dry soil their coffins crack and bend,
and the hands that once hung laundry or held the smokepole lie idle.

All those years they trudged from the well. The icebox sat forlornly in the summer field and maybe they longed to crawl in.

It's a dry season, we smile, drinking out of our water bottles and washing our hands beneath the tap.

They lugged it up from the creek and drank the brackish lukewarm sludge. In the summer kitchens, the cooks sweated over the eggs and the trifles. Flies swarmed thick around the pies on the window sill.

"What I wouldn't give for a breath of fresh air," sighed Louisa. The parlor was stuffy on the warmest days. Ruth climbed a tree and read Mark Twain until the distant rumble of thunder sent her running home.

Ruth buried Louisa and we buried Ruth. The drought buries us. Louisa gets no fresh air and Ruth's under a tree, not in it. They are the dust we stand on in a dry season.

Monday, August 13, 2007

1,000 Miles Above Ground

I built an airplane made of stone...

The people on the bridge
saw the low cloud
and felt their roofs rip off.
"Larry, Larry, we're going down!"
On the approach to National
scrapes still cling to the side of the bridge.
It took days to lift the crooked bird from the water.
It took hours for them to repaint the tail white,
so no one would see the brand name.
Cigar-shaped engines
He jumped in to save the stewardess. He didn't jump in to save the peanut packets or the overwing emergency doors. The man handed off the slick rope and slipped under.
"Good afternoon, Air Florida ticketing."
"Hello, I'd like to buy a one-way ticket."
"What's your destination?"
"The 14th Street Bridge."
When I was very young, watching this,
the moving boxes filled the warm house.
My grandmother had the white car and we had the silver one,
and snow buffetted the battlefield.
What did I know then, while staring at the dark water,
of the other cold darknesses that make us all drown?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Route 11, Summer

Knowing that all bretheren in the church of the road
live for the white lines and the swooping powerlines,
and those casual looks over the shoulder at times past,
and the dashed meals at greasy shacks next to the highway.

Sometimes in winter I wish it weren't.

Past closed eyes are the abandoned motorcourts turned junkyards
where the hopes and dreams sit under dust or carbourators.
On the battlefield where the cars whistle by on the interstate or
from the covered bridge that spans the flood low in the valley beneath it.

Behind the houses are tangled clotheslines.

There's the store with black speckled linoleum, that smells
like 1948, like tomatoes and watermelon and they smile as the screen door bangs.
Across the road the wildflowers frame the mountains and down the road
the sounds of the woodyard break the summer air to shatters.

The sky's blue above the TV antennas.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Nuclear Summer

The end of a nuclear summer spread out in front of the smudged windows. Red sunlight spilled across the room, across the magazines, the half-filled cups and the dust that swam in the still air.

She was sweating on the sheets. Three hours had passed since he changed them and now the new set were damp to the touch. It was stifling in the enclosed room. Occasionally he'd wipe his brow and sip from a cracked coffee cup full of water.

It was noon when she opened her eyes.

"Where are we?" Olivia asked in a cracked, parched voice. She lifted her head and scanned around the enclosed space.

"We're somewhere safe."

Olivia rubbed her temples and fixed her brown eyes on Elliot. He was unshaven. "I didn't want to go underground," she said sadly.

Elliot ran a hand across his stubbly chin and sighed. She couldn't stop looking at his eyes. Normally they were sharp, like blue icepicks. They weren't kind eyes. They were intense, angry, frightening. So many times she'd seen them narrow on a suspect. And sometimes they'd flash anger at her. It was a sullen hate, terrible in its intensity.

Now they were dull, like the heat had cast cataracts over them. He was tired. "I did something I'm not proud of last night," Elliot mumbled. Olivia craned her neck to observe his body language. The tired recliner sagged under his slumped weight.

"Last night, I - "

She waited for him to finish, but suddenly a bolt shot through her aching head like lightning. The pillow was cool and soft and the urge to sleep overwhelmed Olivia. Before Elliot could grasp her hand, she drifted off.

He settled back into the recliner. It hurt to see her in pain. Force-feeding his partner headache powders wasn't on his list of great things to do. Being stuck in a stifling, dim ex-hospital room wasn't so great either. This guilt would never go away.

In his mind's eye, it all played out again. The smell of gunfire, mingled with the scent of exhaust fumes from the interstate above. The coppery smell of blood that covered his hands. Cragen clutching his chest, falling over in the dust. Munch, brooding under the bridge, mopping the blood from Olivia's hair.

"You didn't leave me any choice," Elliot said out loud. Outside an ice cream cart droned by. The curtains were dusty and heavy.

She wanted it. You know she wanted it.


She lay there lifeless, her mouth hanging open slightly. There were so many nights they'd climb to the roof of the precinct and talk (and sometimes argue) under the starry sky. Seeing the heavens like that made him believe God was close. Now Elliot wasn't so sure. He'd sinned in the worst way. It was like stealing.

It took all his courage to lay a hand on her forehead, lest she wake up and wonder what happened. He could feel her pulse beating through her temple. It was still bruised and sore from the hit she got. Seeing her look so innocent and fragile brought tears to his eyes. All she wanted was life.

"I'm getting too old to hold out for the whole love business. If I ever have a kid all that has to be included," she said on the precinct roof. "Now I don't know if it'll ever happen."

Elliot chuckled, staring out at the sky. "I think you're being a little hard on yourself. When time comes to have a kid, you'll have a kid," he said.

" Everytime my mother looked at me, she saw a failure in her life. Any kid of mine can't and won't be raised that way," she said, involuntarily reaching out for Venus.

"You wouldn't. I know you too well."

Olivia studied Elliot's face. "Me having a baby would have to be a miracle right now, and those things just don't happen anymore," she said, smiling sadly. He almost said something but stopped.

The weight of the room, the night before and what the future would bring brought him down. Maybe it wouldn't work. Or maybe he could just finally say "I love you" and explain that, yes, miracles do take place. They were both miracles, thought dead too many times for anything else to be true.

Olivia stirred. Her groan startled Elliot. Dusk had fallen outside but the room was still awfully stuffy.

"Is there anything to eat in here, Elliot?"

He screwed his eyes shut tight.


When he opened them, the colors of the room seemed to sharpen. Elliot knew what he had to do now. Everything fell into focus. They'd both be better off.

"I'll go check if there's anything," he said, getting up. He allowed himself one long look. "You know, I...sometimes I think of that night we talked on the roof, when the stars were out..."
Elliot's voice cracked.

"I'll go check," he said again, and left the room like a ghost, fading into the red sky.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Door Into Summer

There's malice and there's magic in every season.

Somewhere underneath the Mississippi River, there's a Honda Civic. Next to it is a steamboat anchor.

The Honda's windows are open. Muddy light filters through the windshield and into the sightless eyes of its driver.

She was just twenty five and loose from college only four years. The degree got her the interview but the smarts got the job. The Honda was the first new car she'd every owned. Through college it was the hand-me-down Oldsmobile that took her from party to class.

She was thinking about dinner. She was thinking about him again, and whether she should tell her parents about him yet. But this night, she's a little tired and it's good to feel the sun and listen to Marvin Gaye on the radio. Her roommate is gone on vacation and the apartment will be quiet and cool when she gets home.

Suddenly, a tearing. The world is wrenched down. Air screams through the open windows. A sensation of wonderment fills her. She sees the car falling, herself in it. Interstate 35 disappears and turns into one open lane of water. There's no life flashing before her eyes, instead it's something more quiet and strange. I must be a bird, she thinks, not remembering the Christmases in Flagstaff or the time her grandparents had the egg hunt on the front lawn.

She remembers the summers, when the blackbirds flew over the garden. She must be a blackbird now.

The Honda hits the water and the jolt sends her head crashing into the door pillar. But it's still summer. The water's warm as her blood streams out the open window.