And the Bland Played On

And the Bland Played On

Nordie boycotters, Prancing “Patriots”, Freedom Fakes, Primacy of the Individual Phonies and Constitutional Amendment Scholars; your Russia loving, Kristen-Stewart-obsessed comb-over experiment is not a change agent—he is a world-sized diaper filled to the brim with publicly steaming crap. In six short weeks your diarrheic lightweight has already stunk up your beloved country so badly we’re going to have to tear out the carpets to get the smell out. At this writing our chronically squinty Pres is massively expanding his deportation mechanism in order to keep America safe. But who will protect us from the Leader of the Free World himself? Nobody. This has stopped being funny.

Trump’s dry-drunk press conferences, indecipherable pronouncements, impulsive and uninvolved covert operations, middle-school lexicon, frank, blinding stupidity and macabre Russophilia  are more than a problem for columnists to gab about at the National Watercooler. The guy is an unfolding national and historical tragedy.

Though there is very very slow-moving evidence that the country is beginning to see into the maw of our common abyss, we’re still approaching the matter of our new “Leader”as if he is a Bad President in the standard mold. There’s more to it than that—oh hang on, here comes Danny Kaye.

I’m looking at One State and Two State, and..I like the one that both parties like.”

Yea, Verily, Yea. He actually said that. He’s done his homework, you gotta give him that. No contemptible pointy-headed intellectualism evident in this humanoid twine doll. Glass half ravaged: This is our President.

Timid Assailants

The NY Times, the WSJ—all the venerables, really—while continuing with their austere mockery of this eye-poppingly inept thumbelina, still parsed his ‘Israel Statement’ for clues to his approach to Mideast peace. What are we all doing, pretending this way? He can’t find Israel on a map or his ass with both hands. He doesn’t know anything and doesn’t want to learn anything. He’s going to smash the place up and not even know it. There is no malice. There is no anything.

The optimistic view is that Trump is merely an intellectual gnome and can be guided. It’s becoming clear, though, that he is in fact either damaged, drug-blunted, or suffering from some sort of chronic mental deficit. Honestly. And he waves off guidance. Can we all begin calling him out? He is not a conservative, not a racist, not a white supremacist, not an anti-semite, not a containable bad guy. He’s an extraordinary empty suit on roller skates with two machine guns. Maybe earning billions by putting up skyscrapers in Dubai isn’t that hard? Who knew?

Wanton Moron Gets a Pass

I believe Trump is deranged along some DSM continuum, and that this is an unfolding emergency. Meanwhile we snicker angrily at his “cabinet” appointments, bitch about his “racism”, “misogyny” and “anti-semitism”, feel only garden-variety embarrassment about his 5th Grade Class Treasurer murmuring. The whole media mechanism is stunned into bland repose.

Trump is an historical accident so huge and tragic and ruinous we can scarcely bring ourselves to face and discuss him in those terms.

“Bill Maher Just Made a Very Serious Point about the Trump Circus”. There’s a screaming headline. Here’s one from the ever-reliable bait ‘n switch HuffPost. “McCain Unleashes!” What does McCain say in the piece? “…in many respects this administration is in disarray and they’ve got a lot of work to do.” Settle down, former tortured prisoner of the communist NVA. What happened to you, John? Whatever it was, you’ve forgotten it. Your President is on the side of your tormentors. At least until he gets a better real estate deal from the ARVN.

Will you and the other spotted ‘I-forget-what-I-signed-up-for’ jackasses SAVE YOUR COUNTRY? Congress, which famously does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, has an historic opportunity to haul a deranged Tourette’s wrecking ball out of the oval office for the common good. Our legislators will never have been so heroic as the day they cross party lines and drag this shit-for-brains out of the White House before he does lasting damage to the U.S., or worse.

Left-Haters Turn Sharply Left

Yes, the Repubs wanted “ANYTHING BUT HILLARY”. She’s a harpy!  Nobody likes her! Too left-leaning! Her party’s programs are too socialist! She likes too much government! Gotta keep the Pinko Left out of power at any cost!

Hey Tortoise McConnell, Hare Ryan, and all the rest of you a-historical asswipes: your guy is in bed with Russia, Bitch.  Have you lost your minds? Or at least your McCarthy-Lite Decoder Rings? What do you have to say about Trump’s warm feelings toward the President of Russia?! That is, have you closeted everything you used to value?

Trump isn’t a bummer, isn’t a joke, isn’t a troubling inconvenience we have to ride out. He’s a blood-borne illness that we in our Sea-to-Shining-Sea laziness and torpor have self-injected, just to see what happens. The Trump infection could hobble us for a generation, or cost us a limb. Trump is an historical accident so huge and tragic and ruinous we can scarcely bring ourselves to face and discuss him in those terms. He needs to be called out. He is a damaged man and he has the power and raw stupidity and momentum to fuck up the Republic.

Burning Down Your Own Tree House

Shame on our elected furniture — “The Right”, the “Conservatives”, or whatever they uselessly call themselves anymore. In the wake of Obama’s term (which thanks to you deafened clods looks more like Camelot with every passing hour, THANK YOU) you angrily sold your souls to get “Any Not a Democrat” into the hen house. Congrats!! Some of you people have worked your entire lives for your ideologically defensible idea of what makes the U.S. a great place. What. Happened.

All your deeply held political philosophy, your veneration of the Individual, of Liberty, of the country’s founding charter – and of Reagan’s facing down the communists  across the Berlin Wall- all that party majesty inheres in Donald Trump? You idiots have given away the farm to a shitheel who can’t spell f-a-r-m, and whose bestie is named Vladimir. That’s how desperate you were to have a “Republican” in “Power”?

Save Our Ship

Dear Bland Bastards/Would-Be Leaders—both “Left” and “Right”. Please – FOR ONCE – want something more for the United States of America than simply winning your decades-long ninny argument with the other side of the “aisle”. Repubs, if you would really rather have this dumpster fire in office than literally any Democrat, you’ve forgotten everything you’ve ever stood for, everything your country yet stands for, and you need to go home. You are doing harm. Democrats. PLEASE DO SOMETHING REAL, YOU JELLYFISH. If there was ever a time that called on you to do something with repercussions beyond your re-election, this is that time.

CONGRESS: PLEASE PLEASE STAND UP. TOGETHER. There won’t be another opportunity like this one to actually find common cause in the salvation of something you love. Storm this barricade and gift us the sea change that resets the whole game. You’ll save us from a real-time accident of epic proportions while earning the awed respect of an electorate that has grown accustomed to regarding Congress as an impediment. Make history. This isn’t about politics. It really never is.

Armadillo Days

Armadillo Days

The Patty Duke theme says it best: “Meet Cathy, whose lived most everywhere, from Zanzibar to Berkeley Square. But Patty’s only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights—what a crazy pair!” How beautiful and true. Human beings, in all their full spectrum variety, are herd animals (at least that‘s my takeaway from the Patty Duke theme).

Yes, we’ve walked on the moon and invented words like “autoclave” and “ideation”, but these startling “top-of-food-chain” magic tricks do not change the essential truth of our species; we all need to do and wear and say the same stuff lest we become vulnerable and exposed. This somewhat poignant state of being is almost surely the result of our anthropological hard-wiring.

The human race has attained a truly bossy and sometimes benevolent dominion over all the realms of the Earth—the “…houseplants and barnyard fowl and pets, the creeping things and beasts that hop and shout,” as the book of Genesis so movingly phrases it. Our species has reached the top of the Chuck Darwin step ladder due in part to our individualized instinct for vanishing into the warm center of our roaming herd as it plies the tundra. When the wolves come loping relaxedly out of the woods, descend on us with bored wolf expressions and begin picking us off from the edges of the herd, does it profit one to be an outlier? Yes, if you consider being torn asunder without anesthesia a plus.

HIPness = Life Itself

In modern sociological terms what we’re talking about is a Herding Instinct Proclivity (HIP). It’s everything in the game of survival. Your public school has long infected your child with the toxic message that there is some majestic humanist value to being as individual as a snowflake, but all that really gets you is devoured. It’s time we told the kids the truth, and modeled it for their edification. We all need to be as anonymous and indistinguishable from each other as possible as we all make our way down the aptly named evolutionary Plain. Are light brown polyester pantsuits all the the rage? Well, we may be the paragon of animals, but this month the paragons are in light brown polyester. And so on. Let’s look at a couple of familiar instances of HIP; 1. Our species-wide adoption of the flimsy, ridged down jacket, and 2. The habit among young men of spitting something out of the mouth in a gesture of salivary insouciance.

Lightweight Ridged Salvation

You can’t fearfully raise your eyes from the sidewalk these days without seeing an immediate dozen or so people walking unself-consciously around in the same ridged jacket. These jackets are everywhere. The stunning ubiquity of this ridged outerwear would be amusing if it wasn’t so central to protecting our viscera from toothy predation. The ridged jacket is lightweight and supple, and comes in sleeveless and sleevy varieties. Its horizontal ridges are closely spaced, such that the wearer somewhat resembles a bi-pedal armadillo. And it is mostly available in black and navy blue.

Those who incompletely adopt the current HIP, acquiring the ridged jacket in red, say, are quickly plucked from the periphery of the herd and noisily devoured. One day you will see, among the placid sea of pedestrians in their ridged black and navy blue jackets, a few clueless outliers in red or purple ridges. How did these doomed snowflakes not get the memo, you wonder. It doesn’t matter. Within several days they will have been removed from the general population. That is the nature of Nature. Is nature cruel? No, nature is but a mindless, autonomically self-improving machine, a Blind Watchmaker, as soft-spoken Creationism Complainant Richard Dawkins calls it. That the Blind Watchmaker hates red or purple-ridged jackets is inexplicable, and can be chalked up as another of the infrequently entertaining Mysteries of Evolution.

Sputum Cuties

At the other end of the HIP spectrum—the less benevolent end—is the haunting phenomenon of the Sputum Cutie. All the males are doing it this year, and it is maddening. You’ve seen this guy walking our streets and sidewalks in his pricey blue jeans and shades. His hands are in his pockets and he is staring straight ahead with a studied nonchalance as he strides, Starsky-like, down the street. Without warning a strangely coherent wad of goomba loops balletically from his unmoving yap and falls to earth in a tiny ballistic arc. This deadpan fashion-spitting is all the rage. Still, one is compelled to ask; what and why are you spitting, spit men? May I approach you and ask that very question without you pushing me down to the ground with a hand on my startled face? “You there! What the hell did you just spit out?! Why are you people spitting all the time? By g*d, I’ve got to know!”

You see, our herd’s evolutionary perch atop all the Earth’s dominions and stuff—it has come with a price tag. Our opposable thumbs and Darwin-approved tool making have driven us into a cul-de-sac. Combine our reckless ingenuity with our desire to all do the same thing and you’ve got a looming extinction event. These are the days a person can go to his or her death while typing behind the wheel of a moving car, for instance. Typically the driver’s last message to the world is something like “I’m typing and I’m driving”. This is the future. Even you missed it, Nostradamus, and who can blame you?

Mourning is Broken

There is, anymore, a helpful sameness to our grief, too. In the wake of these fiery text-based crashes, the heartbroken are known to express their unspeakable grief through social media. A little cartoon of a bawling face with cartoon water splashing out of the eyes is today’s most typical gesture of consolation. Sometimes we are shocked by a loved one’s “heartbreaking tweet” and are obliged to reach out with a little yellow face contorted with sorrow and flying water. “Oh my God…the love of my life just died…” Concerned and stricken friends of the bereaved will have the unpleasant task of selecting the perfect little yellow cartoon face to represent their sympathy and support.

If we had half a mind left as a culture, the very phrase ‘heartbreaking tweet’ would give us pause. Alas we do not have half a mind as a culture, and neither has this Gilded Age of witless advances managed to stamp out world hunger or eradicate poverty. Just sayin’. On the other hand, our laudable tendency to mass sameness makes it easier to suffer this foolishness.

So do practice your fashion-spitting. It’s got to look very natural, not like Jack Elam or some other grizzled cowboy actor theatrically squirting mouth juice into a spittoon. It’s gotta look cool. If you are wearing a lightweight black or navy blue ridged jacket while casually spitting into the Queen Anne Palms along State Street, all the better. Remember, these jackets come in sleeved and sleeve-free versions. Either one will cloak you when the wolves come out. Celebrate your uniqueness in absolute quietude or you’re screwed. Tell the kids, too. Again, the Patty Duke theme offers helpful guidance:

“Where Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballet Russes and crepe suzette, our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control — what a wild duet! But they’re cousins! Identical cousins!”

Live it. For the good of the species.

Who is Sean Kenney, and Why Isn’t This Man Smiling?

Captains Pike & Kirk

When Spock reports a distress call from Starbase 11, the easily distracted USS Enterprise takes another whimsical warp-speed detour from her 5-Year Mission and hustles over to the troubled Federation outpost, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beaming down in their columns of sparkly stuff to see what the trouble is. The Starbase 11 commander is quizzical. “We didn’t call you guys.” Kirk reaffirms huffily that Spock reported a distress call from Captain Christopher Pike himself. “Impossible,” the base commander says. Pike had been horrifically injured months before in an accident and is now a staring, slack-jawed, radiation-burned mute. As in all good sci-fi, the horror-specifics of Pike’s accident are alluded to in Future Space Injury argot. It seems a ‘baffle plate ruptured’ during his inspection of a Class J vessel, catching Pike and his young charges unawares and coating them with toxic space propulsion junk. The Starfleet folk seem unified in their alarm, and there is an awkward pause. Finally McCoy gives voice to their dread.

“The Delta Rays?” To which the base commander merely nods. When the group enters his room, Pike slowly turns his torso-encasing 25th century wheelchair to face them (and us), and we see the full effect of Delta rays on self-sacrificing Starfleet brass determined to save as many cadets as possible in the face of faulty baffle plates.

“If you remember that scene, I’m facing the window,” Sean Kenney says, “and I have to turn around. And you could turn around fast in that wheelchair thing, because it had a joystick, you know. But at 24 frames a second you have to move 1/10th slower, or it looks too fast on the film. We got it in two takes.”

The camera lavishes great attention on the expressions of pity and horror on Kirk and McCoy as they gaze upon their ruined colleague, the director opting to have the close-ups linger a beat too long. Even Spock’s Vulcanized poker face betrays a little something at the sight of his desiccated former Captain, Kirk’s predecessor. The music swells minutely to a muted, minor chord with piccolos as the camera smoothly closes on the disfigured Pike, staring with lifeless but pleading eyes, his mouth open. Speaking of Spock now, Kenney says of the scene, “I had to look at this guy like I hadn’t seen him in 6 or 7 years. If you watch my eyes in that, Spock is scary to me. Why is he here?”

These are The Voyages of Sean Kenney

331 years (and a couple weeks) earlier, and about 4 miles away, Sean Kenney readies himself for that night’s performance at the Gallery Theater, near Santa Monica Blvd. It’s 1966. A packed house of jostling, coughing theatergoers is settling in for an evening of stirring theater, a play called The Deputy. Kenney is the sound effects guy and has a couple of walk-on roles in the play. For the moment that’s as close as he can get to center stage in the thronged, hothouse atmosphere of L.A. in the early sixties, with Hollywood in the ascendant and aspiring actors from all over the place pouring into southern California like bees into a hive. Kenney can’t know that tonight he will succumb to a “ruptured baffle plate” of his own. The energies that will shortly bathe him, though, are not scarring radioactive poison, but the benevolent rays of a dawning new gig, a new life, really; Kismet rays. Starfleet will reach him this night on a hailing frequency.

Just out of the Air Force, Sean Kenney had been scrambling, but he knew what he wanted. During his last assignment, on an air base outside London, he’d begun to hesitantly dabble in stagecraft, working with a coach who lived near the base, learning how to read from a script during an audition, how to speak written lines. One evening the 21 year-old airman had gone into town and experienced a heart-turning epiphany watching Olivier and Caine tear it up in a London stage production of Ira Levin’s house-of-mirrors story, Sleuth. When some days later his Commanding Officer asked if he wanted to “re-up”, as his obligatory four year enlistment was coming to an end, Kenney respectfully declined.

“No sir. I have to get home.”

“Trouble with family?”

“No sir. I have things I want to do.”

“What do you want to do with your life, airman?”

“ I want to be an actor, sir,” Kenney said.

“An actor? You’re kidding!” the CO said, to which Kenney’s response was a sudden, rhapsodic pouring out of his feelings about Olivier, Caine, the play he’d seen. “It just moved me no end, sir!” Kenney remembers holding his hand to his chest as he spoke. Picture a fresh-faced kid in khakis who has just glimpsed his place in the firmament. After a few minutes the CO waved his hands in surrender. “OKAY, airman, I can see by the way you’re talking and the way you’re feeling you are not going to re-up. I’ll drop it.”

Back in the States Kenney was determined to become an actor but had to earn a living. He and and a girlfriend worked at the San Antonio ranch of FedMart millionaire Morris Jaffe, and through that connection was promised a job at the FedMart corporate office in Covina. Kenney jumped at the chance, which didn’t pan out, though he’d finally made it to California. He worked days as a draftsman designer (the trade he’d learned in the service) and nights doing whatever he could to get into the acting game, finally joining the only theater group in the Los Angeles phone book with an opening, and taking what they had to offer; sound effects and a couple of non-speaking walk-ons in a production of The Deputy at the Gallery Theater.

“I go in, it’s my big shot,” Kenney says now. The house was packed, the lead actor was “out in the desert doing a Gunsmoke episode,” and suddenly the understudy calls in sick. The producers are going to cancel the show, tell the ticketholders to line up for refunds. They’re pulling their hair. Kenney raises his hand. “Hey, uh…I know all the lines.” Heads swivel and they look at the kid, blinking. “Yeah, I know every word, man.” They hurriedly start throwing scene and line references at him in the wings. He knows every word, comma and period. By heart. “I was the sound guy,” he says, laughing. “I knew everyone’s lines!” Flabbergasted and seeing a way out, they rushed him into costume and crossed their fingers. Kenney took the stage and killed it, saving the evening, quelling the producers’ acid reflux, and opening a door.

Fate: The Final Frontier

Unbeknownst to Kenney, a talent agent had sidled into the audience. She’d been scouring the town at Gene Roddenberry’s desperate behest, looking for a young actor with a very particular quality. They’d almost given up, and the fate of a struggling new series hung in the balance. 40 years later Star Trek’s Supervising Producer Bob Justman would tell Sean Kenney, “if we hadn’t found you there wasn’t going to be a next season. When Gene found you he was so elated.” Roddenberry had been looking high and low for a young guy with the face of actor Jeffrey Hunter, whose Captain Pike character in the rejected Star Trek pilot episode The Cage would be Kenney’s role, but as a hideously burned and staring shadow of his former self.

Now as Kenney was scraping off his makeup backstage and exulting in the evening, the agent approached him in his dressing room. Would Kenney care to interview with Paramount? She dropped Roddenberry’s name and Kenney had never heard of him, but that didn’t matter. Roddenberry had a show he was trying to put together and she would like to introduce them.

“Yeah! Sure!”

Kenney went to the casting office at Paramount on the appointed day and was shown into Gene Roddenberry’s cozily lit and comfortably furnished office. “It’s like a living room,” Kenney says. There is a little metal starship of some kind on Roddenberry’s desk. “Then it’s, ‘Hi I’m Sean Kenney, hi, I’m Gene Roddenberry’. We shake hands and he starts walking around me, holding my picture. He says, ‘you have a striking resemblance to an actor we are making use of. Do you have any aversion to having your hair dyed?” Kenney says no. Roddenberry has more questions, and Kenney laughs lightly as he tells the story.

“Then he asks me, ‘Are you allergic to latex?’ and I said, ‘uh, no.’ And Roddenberry said, “Well, we might want to dye your hair white and use a little latex on your face. Just wanna make sure you don’t have any allergies.” ‘….Okay’. ‘Also,’ Roddenberry then adds, ‘you might not be able to eat normally during the job, because we’re going to have to tape your mouth down. You might have to eat through a straw during the workday – just liquids.’ And I say “….okay’. When you’re young like that you do not say no! You don’t want any barriers to your career, you know?”

Roddenberry had taken a shine to the young actor. They discovered in conversation they had both served in the same service group, the 8th Air Force, Roddenberry a B-17 pilot. “After we discovered that, we had a real rapport,” Kenney says. After filming Kenney as Pike, Roddenberry would have him back for two more episodes – A Taste of Armageddon and Arena, as the character Lt. DePaul. Within days of the Roddenberry appointment Kenney was on set, being made up as the disfigured Captain Pike.

When NBC rejected Star Trek’s original pilot episode, called The Cage, they ordered Roddenberry to come up with another pilot for the series. In the lost pilot, Jeffrey Hunter had played Captain Christopher Pike, captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise and Kirk’s predecessor as the Big Guy on the bridge. Roddenberry was deeply wounded by NBC’s rejection of the episode. That first pilot would not be seen in its original form until 1988.

“Roddenberry was so hurt by that,” Kenney says. “I mean, really sad.” Roddenberry said to the newly minted young actor, almost as if talking to himself; “That one didn’t go, but this one will.” His idea was to resurrect the lost Captain Pike episode by writing a new episode around it as a framing device. Roddenberry was driven to prove the mettle of the original episode, and in the end The Menagerie did indeed vindicate him – winning a Hugo award and a number of other prestigious writing and production accolades. Today that two-part episode, The Menagerie, is legendary, and Sean Kenney was at the white hot center of television history being made. At the time, he was just wonderstruck to be working in television.

A Menagerie of Personalities

The Menagerie was shot over six days on Stages 4 and 5 at the Desilu Studios. Kenney’s makeup took five and a half hours to apply the first day, and by the last day the makeup artist for the show, Freddie Phillips, who had also lorded over the unnerving makeup effects for The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, had got it down to 3 hours or so. Kenney learned a lot in that time. For one thing, movie magic is sometimes a little more prosaic than the public realizes. When they couldn’t figure out how to render the ghastly dark radiation burn that dominates the right side of Pike’s ruined face, assistant makeup artist Ray Sebastian had a brainstorm, cut out a dogleg-shaped strip of denim from his Levi’s and glued it to Kenney’s face with spirit gum, and that’s what you are looking at onscreen.

For his part, Kenney, in his first big acting breakthrough, had to sit stock still for hours, and then once shooting began had to sit encased to the shoulders in a futuristic prop wheelchair and do all the necessary emoting with his eyes. His role also gave him a privileged fly-on-the-wall position from which to observe the goings on around him, the young acting arriviste staring straight ahead through his latex radiation burns, while his eyes and ears worked overtime to soak up the dynamism of a bunch of disparate personalities working together for 15 hours a day and trying to hold it together. Kenney started to pick up on things. What were the stars of the show like?

I’m a Doctor, Jim. Not Your Stand-In!

“Shatner would bark out his orders and I was just this young guy sitting in a chair, nobody’s going to talk to me, because my character can’t talk, so you become an eavesdropper. You don’t know you are, but you become that. And I knew he was not well liked by anybody. Nobody really liked him at all. It was all ‘me, myself and I’, you know?” He laughs.

“And they’d catch Shatner stealing their light! Check this, man: you’re on the set, you’re up on the bridge, this is when I was dePaul, right? And you turn around and you see Shatner moving to where the light was the best for him, and he would almost body check Jimmy a little bit. So he’d get the best light! And you know, D (DeForest Kelley) would catch it! He’d be saying his lines, you know, “Jim, Jim, we’ve got to get these people to safety…” you know, and then he’d see Shatner moving and he’d say to Jimmy “What the **** is this?”

“And Leonard was very into Spock, and he was a Method actor, and he never broke out of character, even on the set. My mother and his mother got to be good friends, we come from the same town in Massachusetts, and I said once ‘Hey, Leonard; your mom and my mom are shopping together,’ and he looks at me and says, “Oh really. Fascinating.” And he walks away from me (laughs)..”

Some of the cast were a little more approachable, and Kenney treasures the ready friendships that grew on the set.

“Jimmy (James Doohan – Scotty) was fabulous. You know, he showed me his bullet holes. He had 5 of them. He was shot almost to death at Normandy, and I said, since I was in the service, “Hey man, you were there, you got a Purple Heart”, and he was ‘Fuck that stuff,’ just like that. ‘I just was happy to get out of there.’ What a great guy he was. Always laughing. Great.”

“D Kelley, he was so great. You know I came on later as DePaul and he didn’t know I’d played Pike. You know, it’s three weeks later and I’ve got my hair back, I’m 24, 25. And I’m sitting there on the bridge and Jimmy says “D, this is Sean Kenney” and D is like “yeah, how are you? DeForest Kelley.” And Jimmy says “…you know, he played Pike,” and Kelley turns to me and says, “You played Pike? Holy shit, man! They made you up like a Christmas turkey!” (laughs hard) “D was a real guy and Jimmy was a real guy.”

Kenney went on to do television during the arguable last Golden Age (Get Smart, Police Story) and a series of Independent films whose directors today typify the outlier auteur. Today he is a successful celebrity and portrait photographer in the Los Angeles area and continues to make the rounds of the Star Trek conventions, where his role as the disfigured Captain Pike seems to make him more of an attraction and curiosity with every passing year. He has written a book about his Star Trek experience and his other adventures in the acting trade, and it can be found at captainpikefoundalive.com

Sean Kenney marvels at the endless fascination with the Star Trek phenomenon. “There’s a guy named Marc Cushman who has written this thing, a compendium, really. These Are the Voyages, it’s called. Every scribbled liner note, every little factoid. These three books are 1500 pages each. The last word, man. He spent twelve years writing these things!”

Does Sean Kenney he ever sit back and realize that his role in Star Trek puts him squarely in the great and timeless pantheon of iconic television characters? “My wife was showing me this U.S. Post Office catalog that a friend sent us, and I saw myself as a postage stamp. ‘Honey!’ She said. ‘You’re a stamp!’ He sighs and pauses. “And it is starting to hit me now, it’s…..wow.”

For the published print version that includes photos of Sean, visit…

Who Is Sean Kenney? SB Sentinel Vol 4 Issue 8

A Reluctant Astronaut

A Reluctant Astronaut

Howard Dean…Howard Dean. Oh, I know! Didn’t he play Andy Griffith’s kid in that Mayberry show way back when? You know, the one with the small-town sheriff, his bug-eyed deputy, and that harrowing barber who never moved his left arm? The show had a whistled theme song, and as you listened every week you’d watch scenes depicting small town life, the sheriff and his kid walking by some pine trees with fishing poles, then the kid skipping a rock across a country pond in a badly edited instance of “This Spoiled Hollywood Brat Can’t Even Skip his own Rock Across a Pond.”

No, wait. I’m thinking of Ron Howard, who went from Andy Griffith to Happy Days to Explosive Onset Pattern Baldness and thence to great success as a Hollywood Director. (Once you have the bald pate and shame-covering cause célèbre baseball cap, you’re just a hop and a skip away from those movie-set headphones and the director’s chair). Howard Dean was the 2004 presidential candidate whose disastrous, un-presidential troop-rallying yell at a political gathering utterly derailed his Presidential chances. What on Earth was he thinking, yelling like that on t.v.?! LOL. And I repeat: LOL! Dean’s poor showing in the Iowa caucuses that election season had inspired him to a post-Iowa attempt at inspiration-speak, and he let fly with a brief “forward march” monologue that concluded with a ragged little victory yell. It was the sort of pitiable yell someone’s dad might bark out in an attempt to appear simpatico with the young concertgoers surrounding he and his soon-to-be ostracized son in the DeadMau5 pit. Well. You know how voters can be. Or how they used to be, rather.

Your Footnote, Sir

By the next day, our blue-chip media, ever in pursuit of Cereal-Selling, were all over Dean with that drily-delivered smarm they hustle out on these occasions. Of course our highly conditioned B.F. Skinner electorate obediently walked its blank figure eight, right on command—followed the media’s signal as certain goldfish will follow a moving flame held near their entrapping little bowl. Within several days, Dean’s televised battle cry had been successfully blown up as a Disastrous Media Gaffe, and the “rinse and repeat” news cycle kept the phony controversy alive until Dean had been thoroughly drubbed out of the race.

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this shit’ll get you fired around here

We like our Presidential candidates to be…Presidential? Anything less and there’s gonna be a dogpile. And that is why the little-known name “Howard Dean” today comes with a footnote. Yeah, he…ran for President, I guess? Oh wait! But how’s about that funny yell, man? Oh gawd. The Dean Scream? LOL!!!

Fortunately, it takes quite a bit more to discomfit We the Weebles these days. We are a rough-and-tumble electorate now. A candidate happily hollering on t.v.? It’ll take more than that to give us pause. A helluva lot more. At this historical juncture it is unclear what exactly will give us pause. Back in January, then-candidate Trump said this: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And he said it in Iowa. We didn’t even tap the brakes.

Yeah, this most recent campaign season has been one for the ages, our current President Elect having comported himself like an elephant plowing at top speed through a carefully arranged display of Swarovski crystal. So we showed him the door. The door to the oval office. Take THAT Howard Dean. When in mid-January we look at any real-time orbital video of Earth, Real Estate Investor Donald Trump will be the most powerful human being on that large blue ball in the middle of the frame. Embrace the fact.

Chastened

At this writing, our newly anointed President-elect of the United States has emerged from the traditional pre-inauguration field trip to the White House, where he was shown around the nutty-looking mansion and (presumably) given the briefest glimpse of the bored and captive alien they keep in some sort of pen down near the Situation Room. Whatever Trump saw and heard during his private time with Obama, he seems to have been made thoughtful by the experience. And who wouldn’t be? Video of the President-Elect sitting uncomfortably in an armchair next to President Obama had the surreal gravitas of prisoner footage smuggled out of an undisclosed location.


If a candidate for the Second Cashier position at your local Home Depot had been overheard braying that adolescent shite, the jackass would have been quietly passed over for the kid with the retainer.


As a graying, relaxed-looking Obama said his stuff about his and Trump’s reportedly productive and “wide-ranging” private conversation, the unbroken squall of 60 press cameras in burst mode almost drowned out what the two guys were saying. And Trump wasn’t saying much. The seated mogul’s “I really gotta go to the bathroom” body language said a lot, though. The Donald’s manner was that of a chastened scaredy-cat; his long arms hung forward, his dimpled hands variously clasped and drooping, his squinting, sleepless-looking eyes casting about the room beseechingly with a mild vibe of “oh, shit”. Trump and his staff had reportedly been wowed by the scope of the administrative nightmare that is simply Running the White House, not to mention Obama’s Cliff Notes summary of Free World-Leading. There was a lot for Trump to take in. You could see it in his face.

Flaunting tradition, he’d flown to the transition meeting in his private jet, the better to flip the media the bird. The press traditionally accompanies the President-Elect on this jaunt to the transition thingy, chumming it up in-flight, laughing good-naturedly and providing lots of gladdened “behind the scenes” clips of our Fourth Estate appearing human and relaxed with a future President who, once he assumes office, will become their steak tartare, and the brightly shining object of their ratings-fueled henpecking. Well, Trump had been henpecked puh-lenty already, and took the millionaire opportunity to avail himself of his own private jet, thanks. He left the honestly bewildered media folk on the figurative tarmac, choking on expensive jet exhaust, blinking confusedly and fingering their lil’ press pass lanyards.

Sticks and Stones and Puppy Dog Tails

As for what got us to this pass – a lot was said this election cycle that I’m sure the candidates wish they could take back, if only to replace those earlier barbs with the crueler, more bitterly savage screaming they regret having holstered. Trump’s difficulty with extemporaneous speaking, though, meant that his wildly unmeasured broadsides often sounded like escaped brain flatus. From his early adoption and rabid championing of the birther bullsh*t to his flatly stated opinion that “…President Obama has been the most ignorant president in our history”, The Donald’s unmediated, majestically bar-lowering jibberjabber may finally have gone to ground. His stunned expression on transition day suggested as much.

As a nation, we wanted “change”. Why we don’t just dig it out of the sofa like all the other starved losers is anybody’s guess. And as usual, our inability to articulate beyond the Pavlovian election-year sloganeering came to no good. When the “change” mantra gets going we are known to lustily toss the baby, the bathwater, the tub, and the deed to the house right out the freaking window. Blue districts go all red, people seem to change stripes overnight, and our cheap, lazy desire to feign engagement undoes the brutally hard work of those few in D.C. who actually toil.

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Jesus, a camel, and a needle’s eye. This picture says a lot,brah.

Yeah, we received the election results with all the freewheeling drama you expect from a well-off First World citizenry. A woman on the Staten Island Ferry hollered shrilly at the news camera and shook her hair. “Hillary deserves to go to jail! I want to see Hillary in Jail!” Somewhere between her work for the Children’s Defense Fund and her having beaten Vince Foster to death with a shovel, Hillary lost this voter. At the other end of the spectrum, a scattered crowd of Hillary supporters, garishly lit by the news camera lamps, were seen tearily shuffling out of Hil’s election night Glass Ceiling HQ like the outcast damned. Which about fits.

Trump’s hot mic “locker room talk” about assaulting women those years ago may have been only that; talk. But if a candidate for the Second Cashier position at your local Home Depot had been overheard braying that adolescent shite, the jackass would have been quietly passed over for the kid with the retainer. And Hillary’s stirring final remarks to all the “little girls”, exhorting them basically to not feel bound to the current “Grabbing Crotches is Power” ennui—it brought home the fact that we want and need leaders who seem like us, but a little bigger.

November Surprise

Trump now just seems surprised. At everything. The nation’s urban outpouring of protest scorn seems to jar him, and the spike in cracker incidents in the wake of his election drew from a visibly shaken Trump the Rodney King-like “Stop it. Just stop it.” Why is he surprised? Because Trump is not a racist, misogynist bigot, is not a deeply tactical Machiavellian despot, rubbing his power-paws and chomping at the bit to assume the throne and eat his enemies.

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pre-presidential id

He is neither Hitler nor Mussolini. All this cracker activity genuinely surprises him because he is just your ostentatiously wealthy, boorish neighbor who speaks instead of thinks: ”I’m scared of Syrians! Where is Syria? I love to grab women! Oooh, I’m so mad I’m gonna punch ISIS! That Obama is crummy at being President, really crummy! Hillary, you are going to jail, baby!!” Anyone listening even cursorily to the Donald’s 4th grade-caliber pronouncements will know straightaway that he is just a 70 year-old crank in a vacuum with shitty handlers. Oh, and hair like an irradiated rooster. That’s all. He’s not a “nationalist”, “isolationist”, or even a “conservative”. He doesn’t know what those things mean. He’s just a blustering loudmouthed everyman who hated being told he couldn’t do this one thing, and now he’s trapped.

In the fab 60s Don Knotts vehicle The Reluctant Astronaut, an everyman ride-operator from a theme park gets launched in an actual space capsule. After a whole reel of Knott’s particular brand of glandular panic, he manages to commandeer the space capsule safely back to Earth by reverting to his theme park persona, and so losing himself in the astronaut fantasy he becomes a Momentary Astronaut. May the same thing happen to our Donald, who seems awestruck that the thing is really happening. Whether or not he ever wanted the job, we need him to succeed. “We do want to win this. We do want to win it,” he notably murmured with downcast eyes as he and Melania cast their show-votes on election night. He looked pretty darned glum, and later as frankly stunned as the rest of us. So we may have some common ground after all. Let us pray.

Peter’s Little Sister and the Transformation of The Nutcracker

Peter’s Little Sister and the Transformation of The Nutcracker

Near the end of 1890, and fresh off the box office success of his ballet The Sleeping Beauty, Pyotr Tchaikovsky (we’ll call him Peter) was saddled with a commission that would nearly kill him. The Director of the Russian Imperial Theatres asked that Tchaikovsky re-team with his Sleeping Beauty partner; choreographer, Principal Ballet Master, arguable Father of Russian Classical dance, and maddening fussbudget Marius Petipa. The commission was issued under the tacit imprimatur of the Tsar. They got to work.

As had been the case with The Sleeping Beauty project, Tchaikovsky left the selection of source material to Petipa and was both surprised and pleased when the choreographer told him the “festive” new ballet would be based the on the E.T.A. Hoffman story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman, the Stephen King of his day, had written a typically macabre story dealing with the strange fate of a nice guy named Hans Peter, the nephew of the Mr. Drosselmeyer whose appearance opens the ballet.

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Peter T in a rare moment of repose

Through a series of bizarre reversals, an evil spell traps Hans Peter in a huge-headed, grimacing nutcracker. (It’s worth noting that the staring, blockheaded Nutcracker that has come to be cozily associated with knit socks, roasting chestnuts and garland began initially as a hideous figure of dread and mystery in the original Hoffman story. Go figure).

Tchaikovsky was a huge fan of Hoffman’s writing and his interest was piqued at the idea of adapting such oddness to a ballet – until he read Petipa’s treatment, at which point the composer’s shoulders slumped. Much of the strangeness and charm had been drained from Hoffman’s fever dream by popular French author Alexandre Dumas’ mellower translation. Dumas was by then widely read, his Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo page-turners having established him as a hot pop-literary property. It only made sense to marry Dumas’ beach reading sensibilities (so to speak) to Hoffman’s bizarre but thrilling imagination. It was from Dumas’ softened version of the story that Petipa had created his narrative.

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Peter’s adored and doomed little sis, Aleksandra

Dumas’ version reduced the Mouse King’s heads from seven to a more publicly palatable one, for instance. Added to that disappointment was the tightly-wound choreographer’s exacting list of dance intervals to which Peter’s’s score would need to cleave like a glove. The composer saw little room for musical invention and began to wrestle with the material, attempting to shoehorn in any creativity the choreographer’s strictures would allow. Tchaikovsky complained so loudly about the Nutcracker assignment at one point, the Imperial Theater’s director helplessly apologized to him for having commissioned the thing.

Progress on The Nutcracker absolutely crawled, complicated by the composer’s ever-present lifelong neuroses, and then compounded by Peter’s sudden breaking off of a 15 year letter-writing relationship with a woman with whom he had never even stood in the same room. Tchaikovsky’s long-planned trip to the U.S. to conduct at the Grand Opening of Carnegie Hall (yes, THAT Carnegie Hall) – fell right in the middle of the Nutcracker writing, and threatened to further bog the project down. He boarded a train for the coast, and passage to America. A dark catalyst was about to re-energize his writing efforts, and finally color The Nutcracker with all the hues of the ascendant human spirit.

In April of 1891, while traveling through Paris on the way to his American gig, Tchaikovsky received the news that his beloved little sister, Aleksandra, had died. He slid immediately into a deep depression, from whose depths he asked for a deadline extension on the Nutcracker project, which was granted. He returned from the States and continued his now-depressed attempts at fulfilling the Nutcracker commission, but if it had seemed hopeless before, now it was becoming truly impossible to proceed, absolutely haunted as he was by the terrible death of his Aleksandra.

But then something turned.

As he dwelt obsessively on Aleksandra and their youthful Christmases together, Tchaikovsky began to identify the Nutcracker’s Clara with his departed sister. His paralyzing grief began to find coherence in the Nutcracker project, and he turned to the assignment with a new, almost crazed enthusiasm—spinning from the pain of a bereaved brother a lush orchestral score with all the melodic longing, melancholy and bittersweetness he was otherwise unable to express. Tchaikovsky poured all his sadness, all his shining anger, all his aching sense of life’s interrupted glory into the music, into the melodies. He filled Pepita’s exactingly timed dances with such melodies as would ring down through the ages. Tchaikovsky completed The Nutcracker in a fever of productivity. Two years later the star-crossed composer was gone.

 

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The Miracle of the Water

The Miracle of the Water

These questions haunt our age: Why do men with bushy Friedrich Nietzsche moustaches torment us by eating eat ice cream cones? By what strange devolution of studio engineering did the cracking snare sound of 1967’s Penny Lane sink to the mid-seventies signature snare sound – a hand puppet hitting a shoe box? Oh, and how do I stop drinking?

Drinking…drinking. Ah yes! Now I remember. It is, simply put, marvelous. Why on Earth would you want to stop?! It’s practically free, perfectly legal, and an always available, authentically ecstatic experience that puts you immediately in mind of a truth-seeing little magus in a velveteen cape. He is sunk comfortably back into the plush velour of your frontal lobe, lazily scissoring his crossed legs, and by your second drink he is laughingly, and with tiny magus-like ge­­­stures, parting every curtain you’ve ever hoped to see through. It’s all right there, right in front of you; a glorious dopamine countryside whose untended gardens beckon like a mother.

Ice Cream and Nietzsche

no ice cream cone für Fred

And what a feeling it is. What a feeling! You drop the little charge of amber fluid down the inner velvet of the neck and it strikes the tummy like a gushing Peter Max explosion of warmth that is lovelier by half than any other sensation you shall ever thenceforth know. Within a handful of seconds you are seeing, unmistakably, the Next New World. John Cheever, my personal deity and a famous fallen lush (for a time) both decried and helplessly praised “… the euphoria of alcohol when I seem to walk among the stars.” I do believe that about sums it up.

Glass half empty: the predilection for alcohol is classified as a disease. Because what but an abnormal and skewed constitution can possibly explain the desire to feel really freaking fantastic all the time? “I would love to feel really freaking fantastic all the time!” “Yes, well, that is the nature of your disease.”

Really? At this writing (and according to a talking head who briefly held the floor on my car radio this afternoon, if you know what I mean), recent discoveries based on some over-excited twiddling of the human genome seem to indicate that alcoholism is about 50% genetic and about 50% willful. Yeah. Uh, thanks, science. You laboriously teased apart the double helix and that’s the best you could come up with? Hope your beakers and stuff didn’t cost too much.

I’m no scientist (to say the very very least) and a yen for hooch may well be partly genetic, but this “disease” classification of boozing seems to me a little overweening, having sprung, at least in its initial rollout, from our collective altruistic impulse to let the alkies off the hook. “We gotta let these boozers off the hook! How do we release them from this prison of shame? Can we just say they caught a disease or something? A drinking disease! Yeah, that’s it! How else to humanely explain this embarrassing desire of theirs to feel freaking fantastic ALL THE TIME?” No, dear ones. Wanting to feel really really good all the time is not a sign of illness. Quite the opposite.

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I dabbled in fire water once upon a time; never quite got the hang of it, though. I started late, for one thing. While my more sensible acne-bedeviled compatriots were skulking around the high school parking lot on game night, gulping from bottle-shaped paper bags, laughing like morons and finally attacking each other in zipper-festooned bellbottoms (this may date me), I was going to Young Life meetings and Bible studies and listening to earnest Believers with diaphanous teen-beards strum guitars and sing about the beautiful baby Jesus. I treasure that time and would not trade it for anything. Those days formed the best parts of me – but it cost me dear. I lost my place on the Practiced Drinking continuum. I never quite caught up. In those days I wore a delicate little gold cross around my pencil neck and walked around in tiny 70s short-shorts I would today severely punish my daughter for even glancing at on the sales rack at Marshall’s. In my Christian finery and Caucasian ‘fro and three-striped knee socks, I was scarier and more off-putting to little children and the general population than the most ravaged vodka fiend. Which is all to say, at a time I should have been practicing my drinking with the fellas, I was diverted by other pursuits.

My high school peer group were not ‘partiers’. While our desperately healthy counterparts were doing the inebriated hokey pokey in the back seats of innumerable cars, we were spending long evenings in the balmy lamplit Baskin Robbins parking lot, doing Monty Python skits and flirting with the girls, all of us wearing those gender-neutral rugby shirts everyone wore then. My later boozy training was imperfect and uneven. I would drink a Bud Light and curl up and fall asleep on the couch. This drinking just makes me tired! It did not occur to me to have another fortifying drink when the effect of the first began to flag. This was in my 20s, and it went on like that for a while.

all ye who enter

all who tipple are not wounded

Once I’d moved into a group house with my longtime friends, you can just imagine how it went. My roommate, an equally inept tippler, would mix a pitcher of Martinis comprised mostly of saline slime dumped from an olive jar. I swore off Martinis for years. When I did finally discover the delights and horrors of hard liquor I was in a band and doing shots and all the rest. How many evenings did I hustle outside to the back yard of our band house to forcefully bark out a variegated mist of pilfered fraternity wine under watchful stars? Many evenings.

Well. What happens is, you grow older. It becomes more and more difficult to lift bags of potting soil without hollering like an animal. At work you exit your sporty little car with difficulty in the covered parking garage, and the inadvertent echoing groan escapes you like a cry for help, unnerving the 20-something gal three spaces away who briefly looks at you the way Anne Bancroft looked at the Elephant Man. Worst of all, the effects of the two day Scotch Squall become sufficiently horrific and unavoidable to give you real pause. I was finally spending a lot of time feeling crummy and not readily bouncing back. I once calculated that if I lived to be 80, I would have spent nearly 5 years of my life feeling out of sorts due to post-drinkum.

It was neither guilt nor shame nor a sense that I was wronging myself or my loved ones (though I was) that gave me the bright idea of stopping: it was the Humble Hangover that unhitched my wagon. I grew to dread them, really; to loathe them. When I stopped drinking, and I did it in a day (to my own surprise and following 25 amateurish years of boozing), it helped that the returns were immediate. I began to converse delightedly at gatherings again, unafraid of slurred inarticulation, I apprehended the afternoons and evenings through 5 rinsed and buoyant senses. I would awaken on glorious new mornings without the feeling that a hot pig was trying to burrow out through my forehead.

I never dreamed it would be that easy to just…stop. But I didn’t count on how positively reinforcing the clear days and nights would be. It’s like the cloud that lifts when, as a kid, you have your last spasm of stomach flu over the toilet, your mom with her cool hand on your back. Then suddenly the nausea lifts, and the feeling of normalcy and gratitude is like the most stridently beautiful sunrise you have ever known. Everything looks gorgeous. Remember getting over the flu?

Friend and neighbor, you have taken care of yourself and your loved ones, haven’t climbed behind the wheel of a car while tipsy, haven’t gone off the deep end. You’ve been responsible with your sipping (mostly), but you’re concerned. Are you a drunk? Are you sick, or worse? I dunno.

But I do know you are not a laggard for wanting to feel really freaking fantastic all the time. Everybody wants that. The desire to feel good is not a disease marker. Thanks to the thermodynamics of feeling good, though, your not unreasonable pleasure-seeking comes with a price tag; gagging flashes of nausea and the dislocating sense you have been scrambled in a transporter accident out near Starbase 11. Society calls this a bad hangover, and it did me in. If you’ve had one too many of those, you can call it whatever you want. You can even call it quits. If that’s the way you want to go, let’s get started. The nausea minutes continue to pile up, and the gilded wonder of a clear-headed morning awaits. Your call.

stop pulling that goddamned dog

stop pulling that goddamned dog

man’s best friend
is an expensive afghan hound
afghan may mean drone strikes somewhere
here in the u.s.
afghan means a sleek-looking hound
at the end of a grasped leash.
aw look at the doggie
look at all the doggies
aw man’s best friend
you can’t have a dog
you’ll never take the dog out for a walk
aw yes I will, I promise
and even if you do
it’s an idiot’s game
man’s best friend spends every minute
straining against the leash
does anyone notice that?
man’s best friend wants to run
sniff pee-pee at every bush
make a little pee-pee himself
and take off running again
“whoa, that’s a tall order
i want a best friend, sure
a loyal yes-companion from the ranks
of the docile lower animals
but this is man’s dominion
we made it to the top
climbed here with our thumbs
where the hell are your thumbs, little doggie
thought so
you’ll be at the end of my taut leash.”
he doesn’t know he’s an afghan
and the pricey Shih Tzu’s id is indistinguishable
from that of the three-legged living rag
that nervous guy sold your neighbor
the Shih Tzu looks at the three-legged rag and thinks
that’s me
not bad
not bad at all
i like
the dumbass Shih Tzu doesn’t know from dominion
it has been bred to walk from room to room
“interesting breed. what are they for?”
to walk from room to room
none of these best friends know what they are
they just want to screw each other
and eat and make pee-pee
like us
is that such a big deal
you get to do that every day
or nearly every day
can your best friend
maybe take a crack at it, asshole
loosen that leash.
I said loosen it, jackass
i will knock you down
aw look at him strain
aw his little face
he doesn’t know he’s a prisoner
you dog wants to run
aw man’s best friend
he wants only to run!
but after maybe 30 self-congratulating minutes
you’ll be fatigued from hurling the slimed ball
in its plastic “Lower-Animals-R-Us®” claw
let’s get back to the condo
and leave our companion alone
back to the kingdom of pain, I mean man
back to a blanket in a basket
and a synthetic Purina snack of glued brown powder
shaped like a cartoon bone.