Friday, November 19, 2010

ST. ELMO’S FRIDAY, PT. XI: Tract Housing in Maryland?


After a wonderful morning overseeing the equal distribution of record albums, Leslie pulls up in Jules’ Jeep, only to find Kevin hanging around like a poozer. Wrapped in his beige trenchcoat, holding flowers wrapped in paper and a bottle of wine wrapped in beige paper. Kevin slaps the morning’s newspaper against the windshield right in Leslie’s face, grinning with cig smoke pouring out of his mouth. We catch his first byline:

THE MEANING OF LIFE: Observations by Kevin Dolenz

Only with the power of freeze-frame can we see some excerpts:

Pop tarts now come in twelve flavors; music videos are a twenty-four hour a day phenomenon; ordinary women can transform themselves into goddesses in aerobics temples. All signs indicate that we are in the zenith of contemporary civilization…[MIDDLE PART OBSCURED]…and take along your favorite albums, preferably THE DOORS, so you’ll have something to listen to. There’s life in my three volume set.

Uh-huh. Strange how now, reading these cryptic and incoherent scraps, we can see the parallels between Kevin’s observations and the rambling banality of Larry King’s infamous USA Today column.* The final sentence puts Kevin somewhere between King and Greil Marcus or David Fricke. Thing is, from all indications, the only a newspaper in reality that would publish a bunch of folderol would be The Hurley’s Old Timey Market Pennypincher. If that.
*Oddly enough, Larry King debuted his talk show on CNN in June 1985, the very month and year S.E.F. was released. Another moment for the Hmmm File.

Cut to Kevin mooning over Leslie, who is obviously put off by his fawning-faun expression and wimpy gratefulness. (Couldn’t Schumacher just pop in frame really quickly and slap him in the forehead with a rolled up copy of his own column?) Kevin pokes around in the fireplace, stoking the fire (hint hint): “I think I'll probably be back doing obits tomorrow.” Leslie continues to pump him up, which is probably the exact wrong thing to be doing: “You're gonna attract a lot of attention with this.” Horny and giddily happy, Kev practically fall on top of Leslie as he’s trying to read his piece: “You think? It's because of you. I couldn't write anything till you.” He starts kissing her. She says, “What?” Not a good sign. Hurricane Jules “blows” in wearing her “bad girl”* garb: black leather jacket with fringe on the arms. Yee-Uck. She seems utterly unshocked by Kevin and Leslie’s inept canoodling: “Don't you guys ever use a bed?”
*Bad girl, drunk by six
Kissing someone else's lips
Smoked too many cigarettes a day
I'm not happy when I act this way

Leslie jumps up to: (a) show Jules Kevin’s piece and (b) get away from the 5000 Fingers of Kevin D. Kevin barely lets her get two steps away when he blurts pout “Wait, wait, wait” before landing 20 more kisses on her face. This is an exquisitely painful scene for us literary-minded sensitive college guys: Kevin’s behavior is so annoying, so needy and grasping and unedited, that it still makes me cringe. Because we’ve all been there. I still think of my obsequious caveman desire to get laid at any price and the way it affected my behavior in so many pathetic ways. Come to think of it, there were a few lean years there where I “swore off women” just like Kevin and my friends began to wonder...

Poor Ron Dellasandro, who seems to be showing up at all the wrong times, shows up and sees Kevin mouth-washing Leslie. Kevin shoves it in his face: “Hi, Ron!” Unrelease the Gaykren!
Kevin: Blowing It

Cut to Jules pulling out a vial so full of coke that it looks like a White Out bottle with the label torn off. We see her coke-whore* look full on: red pulpy eyes, redness around the mouth and nose, paleness everywhere else. She plays with her hair like it’s a nuisance. Leslie stands in the doorway with a disapproving look, augmented by her church-doily collar. “Kevin has his first byline,” Leslie says, handing Jules the paper as she “blows” out again. “That’s great!” Jules shrieks, grabbing the paper absently and reading the first thing she sees: “Tract Housing in Maryland”?
*As any good S.E.F. loremeister should know, Demi Moore had a real problem with drugs. One day, she came to the set higher than a kite and Joel Schumacher kicked her off the set. In order to avoid getting fired, Moore went through rehab.
Jules: Also Blowing It

She gives Kevin’s piece a 1.1 millisecond glance – yep, been there before – before blowing back out the door to meet her banker sugar daddy Forrester. “She's out of control,” Leslie moans as she rushes to the window to check out Jules’ sugar daddy. Kevin, apparently on spring-load, shoots up from the couch to rush to help Leslie open the window. He’s rapidly losing points. Seeing Jules meet Forrester on the street below, he quips: “International banking has gotten sexier”—a sort of a rehash line that recalls FuckFace’s earlier “Welfare recipients are getting better-looking.”

Before she has a chance to inhale her next breath, Kevin slips his arm through hers and bleats out: “Speaking of which, not to get ahead of myself, but I was thinking: maybe we'd get a place together.” For the second time, Leslie responds: “What?”—but she’s finally dropped her veil of denial. When Kevin tell her he loves her for the 1000th time, she decides to stick it to him: “Kevin, sex isn't love.”

Now it’s Kevin’s turn for denial: “What's that mean?”

LESLIE: That means that you were sitting there with all these feelings – incredible feelings – tied up in a box with my pictures. And I needed to break away from Alec.
(Translation: “I needed something for myself that night. You were just the vessel.”)

In Kevin’s eyes one can see the beginnings of a fallen crest. To make matters worse, the phone rings and once again the consummate sloppy-seconds cockblocker Alec, whose timing has become downright brutal for Kevin’s love life. Leslie answers and Alec, who apparently can’t admit fault face-to-face, mumbles, “I'm not proud of my behavior.”

KEVIN: Hang up.
TITMOUSE: Who's that? That's not Kevin, is it? You're not with Kevin playing my records?

Oy. Again with the records! Their conversation plays out like a bad misunderstanding on a TV sitcom or an Abbott & Costello routine.

LESLIE: Stop it, please.
KEVIN: Tell him we're moving in together.
LESLIE: We are not!
TITMOUSE: So the two of you are moving in together!
LESLIE: I wish everything could be like it was, all of us friends.
KEVIN: I don't want to be friends!
KEVIN: I didn't mean that. I mean, it was an accident.

There is an agonizing pause. Leslie looks shocked, as if Kevin revealed he is a hermaphrodite. It’s not that bad of a sentiment: We are adults and I want to take this thing we have to the next level.

Irregardless. Leslie kicks him out.


A totally pointless scene but for the fact that it has a line that was in the promo trailer:

KIRBO: I always thought we'd be friends forever.
KEVIN: Yeah, well, forever got a lot shorter suddenly, didn't it?

Dejected Kevin and a rejected Kirbo – apparently out on bail for assault, trespassing and assorted mayhem – amble up to the bar window and look in. There, at their old table, sits Alec, who seems to have not skipped a beat in inviting his NEW yuppie politico K-Street friends to be his new gaggle of synchophants. Harsh!



Alec -- or for the purposes of this scene, Alexandru -- is dressed in ugly striped tie and short-sleeved dress shirt. He sits behind his metal desk in front of a ripped and yellowing poster of Nicolae Ceauşescu. The light coming through the windows is sunless and glaring, casting a harsh glare on the drab and depressing office: bad turquoise paint job, cracked walls, no pictures or plants, just gunmetal gray filing cabinets and piles of papers. The cheap lamp on his desk blinks on and off constantly. He is chain-smoking and fielding a phone call. (Note: The whole scene is shot in one take with a handheld camera.)

ALEXANDRU: (on phone) …do not complain to me, okay? Your bus driver brother Valentin should not have performed that illegal hotel-room abortion, much less requesting sex from both patients. (pause) I don’t care if the phone is bugged! You assholes over at the Ministry of Parking can fix anything, right? Half of your cousins have connections with the Securitate! Hello? Hello!?

Constantin, one of his office mates, a big hairy man with a thick moustache and sagging jowls, leans on the doorjamb, eating a large sloppy sandwich.

CONSTANTIN: Phones are out again, eh?

Alexandru, frustrated, hangs up, tries to turn off his desk lamp but gets shocked.

ALEXANDRU: Câcat! Why don’t they get some new lamps that don’t attack us when we touch them?

CONSTANTIN: I hear they got a bunch of new ones in the sub-basement.


CONSTANTIN: 1971, I think.

ALEXANDRU: This one is from 1980.


ALEXANDRU: So that means these newer desk lamps are actually older than this one?

CONSTANTIN: It would appear so.

ALEXANDRU: (rubs face) You know what? It makes sense in that it doesn’t make sense.

CONSTANTIN: (pops last bit of sandwich in mouth) Making sense is a luxury I cannot afford, my friend.

Alexandru stretches back in his chair, pulls out a bottle of Dakk Premium Vodka from his desk drawer and waves it in the air.

ALEXANDRU: How about some lunch on top of your lunch?

CONSTANTIN: I’m already drunk.

But he pulls up a rusty chair anyway and Alexandru pours two cracked, mismatched glasses full of vodka. Both clink glasses and drink deep, slamming the glasses on the desk. Then, for an uncomfortably long time, nothing happens. The two men just sit, staring into space. An air of defeat and resignation hangs in the air so thick that it could clog a woodchipper. Alexandru pours two more glasses and they drink again. Nothing continues to happen for about five minutes of screen time.

ALEXANDRU: What do you want?

CONSTANTIN: Oh, right. What was it….oh yeah. Your ex is here.

ALEXANDRU: What? Leslie? She’s here?



CONSTANTIN: Right now.

ALEXANDRU: No, you cretin. When did she come in?

CONSTANTIN: Oh. About six hours ago.

ALEXANDRU: Six hours!? Why didn’t you tell me?

CONSTANTIN: Well, you know, she had to stand in line. But before that she had to fill out the forms to stand in line. Then the spot check and strip search while a bunch of guards drank vodka and laughed at her body. Then she had to bribe them not to gang rape her. Then she stood in the wrong line and accidentally spent four hours in detention as an Enemy of the State. I’m wondering if I’m leaving anything out…

ALEXANDRU: Where is she now?

CONSTANTIN: Well, after they performed some “tests” on her, I think they had her tape a message of fealty to Our Great Leader.

ALEXANDRU: (rubbing eyes in frustration) Costantin…

CONSTANTIN: …so now, I think she’s on Level 2, debriefing, filling out her debriefing forms in quadruplicate. While having her body mocked by the debriefers.

ALEXANDRU: Hmph. I can’t say she doesn’t deserve it, but I’d better go check on her.

CUT TO a dingy subbasement hallway lit by flickering florescent lights. Alexandru is bribing two lummox security guards with packs of cigarettes and toilet paper. Then one of them stumbles into the interrogation room behind a rusty metal door. He comes back holding a dazed Leslie by the arm. She looks drugged and disoriented and is wearing a dull gray prison smock. The other guard hands Alexandru a clipboard.

GUARD: (burps rudely) Sign here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. Initial here. And here. And here. And here...

ALEXANDRU: (complying) This is absurd. I will inform your superiors of this incident, you can be sure of that.

LESLIE: (like a zombie) Daddy, I think they impregnated me…

ALEXANDRU: (to guards) Great. Nice job. (taking her by the arm and ushering her down the hall) Well, I always wanted us to have a kid. Not the way I expected it would play out, but whatever. Why are you here anyway?

LESLIE: I…I forgot…

CUT TO Alexandru’s office, where LESLIE is downing a shot of vodka.

LESLIE: It’s Jules. After she left for work this morning some men in dark coats from the Securitate came and took everything. I tried to call her, but her phone was tapped by so many bugs that it exploded. So I went over to her office, but someone had put a boot on my car…

ALEXANDRU: Valentin…

LESLIE: …so I went over to her office. She's been pretending to go to work. Turns out, she was fired from the Toilet Paper Dispensary three weeks ago. When I finally tracked her down and confronted her, she admitted everything. But then she went crazy. And now she's locked herself in the apartment and is performing illegal abortions. There’s already a line around the block!

ALEXANDRU: Wow, well that solves a problem right there. (pulls open desk drawer and removes an envelope filled with Romanian leu*) How much is she charging?
*Romanian leu = 0.3178 US dollars


The Climaxing Crisis Scene where all our friends come together for a group hug. Odd that it should be in the worst-decorated interior in the movie. But first, there has to be a modicum of challenge and difficulty. Titmouse, Leslie, Jules and Kirbo all show up at the same time outside of Jules’ apartment. Titmouse sees Kevin and immediately goes into chimp-throwing-his-poop mode: “What's he doing here? Did you call all your lovers? Will your high-school prom date be joining us too?”

They all scamper out into the fire escape – no one has yet thought to simply leave Jules to her personal pity party until she realizes that self-drama will not get her anywhere. We see the drama in the blue curtains blowing in the cold breeze* and Jules, sitting on her floor in a t-shirt rocking back and forth like a mental patient. (I don’t think this was a cliché yet.) She sits next to a disconcerting giant clown head. Not sure what this is supposed to mean metaphorically. Maybe nothing. The whole tableau looks like a David Lynch scene.
*After getting his heart broken by hotel waitress Lynn Sniderman, screenwriter Carl Kurlander tried to commit suicide by freezing himself to death in his dorm room. Unfortunately, his college was located in North Carolina.

Kevin tries the bars on Jules window and makes a snarky quip with political overtones: “The country's falling apart, but these bars are perfect.” He calls for an “experienced thief” and Kirbo says he’ll go get Billy, who as it just happens is now working at an Amoco station, which in all of 70 miles of Metro D.C. just happens to be right around the corner!!! Titmouse is shocked that he now knows a member of the working class: “Billy's working at a gas station?”

Then, out of absolutely nowhere, for lack of anything else to do, Titmouse grabs Kevin and dangles him Suge Knight-style off the fire escape. (This may be the antecedent to the final scene of There Will Be Blood. ) Kevin, like a pussy, takes it. His notes fall out of his pocket and flutter to the alley below: as Titmouse screams: “You won't be needing your notes on the ‘meaning of life” anymore!!” Well yeah, he wrote the article already so…

Kevin, remarkably calm despite being upside down (think John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda) gamely appeals to Alec’s political ambitions: “This won't solve anything. Think of your career.” Alec responds with a characteristically megalomaniacal sentiment: “After all I've done for you!” Again: the heart of their toxic relationship.
*STUDY GROUP QUESTION: Did Alec get Kevin the job at the newspaper?

An old junker tow truck pulls up into the alley and lo and behold, it’s our FuckFace to the rescue! He emerges from the truck in service station coveralls, Bruce Springsteen* working class hero bandanna, and his strange orange socks suck overt his pants cuffs: “Looks pretty out of hand up there!” He seems to have evened out as a person: the “old” FuckFace would have driven the truck into a wall and then played 40-minute sax solo with no pause for breath.
*Rob Lowe was a maniacal fan of Springsteen, and even patterned his saxophone-playing character after the Boss’ sax man Clarence Clemons.

Titmouse finally relents and pulls Kevin up—then, Kevin decides to get tough, glaring at him like, NOW it’s on! Nothing happens. T-Mouse then turns on Leslie—again:

TITMOUSE: Noble how you ran up to save your lover.
LESLIE: He's not my lover.
TITMOUSE: Bullshit!
LESLIE: Look, I've never lied to you since the day I met you, you cocky shithead!

This is supposed to be a great tell-off line. Hmph. I guess since Leslie has been such a boring character that this sort of works.

Kevin and Kirbo are trying to drag an acetylene torch and tank up the fire ladder. Are we sure there isn’t an easier way to get Jules out of her slump? But an acetylene torch is more visually dramatic because it shoots off sparks (sparks are essential to most MTV videos, of which this is a 2-hour one) and shows how cool our young charges are for even knowing how to operate it without frying off their facial features. Why not call the cops? Why not a locksmith? Does everything have to be so high drama. Yes! Titmouse, ever the territorial pisser, demands the blowtorch, but Kevin grabs it from him: “I know how to handle a blowtorch.” Either he’s standing up for himself at last, or he’s afraid this vengeful Republican will fry off his face.


Inside, FuckFace clamors up the stairs and beings loudly pounding on Jules’ door – everything this guy does is obnoxious. A door down the hallway opens and out pops the Gaykren, with flipped up collar and silver-and-black power tie. FF scrambles past him and grabs a fire extinguisher and holds it like an M-16. He shoots a steely look at Ron: “I'm going in.” This is supposed to be the “funny” moment, right?

Just as FF charges the door, Jules gets up from her incessant rocking and unbolts it. He comes flying in, sprawling on the floor like a consummate ass-hat. Kevin sums it up with an eye roll: “Hi, Billy.”

Billy wraps Jules in a blanket (she seems like a homeless woman – Myra’s revenge!) and runs around closing all the windows. Working at Amoco as a grease monkey has turned him a bit into a philosopher: “What's the big deal here? You lost a job? I've lost twenty of them since graduation! Plus a wife and kid. In a new development, a handful of hair in the shower this morning. You know, this smells to me like a little bit of self-created drama. I should know. I've been starring in a few of my own.”

Billy losing his hair? Impossible.

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: Where we wrap up this whole sorry affair in our glorious finale to St. Elmo’s Friday. Yeh.

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