Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner

The first time I really felt like an ACTOR, was on the set of a TV Christmas special called: Freddy the Freeloader's Christmas Dinner. I played a waiter in a snooty restaurant that gives Freddy the "bum's rush" out the door.

We shot this at the Distillery District, in 1981 before it became the DISTILLERY DISTRICT. A great many films have been shot there, at the abandoned Gooderham's plant, and I've worked on a few, but this was my first.

Cobblestone streets, abandoned buildings were only a part of the scene; the art department had done a terrific job, making all of this look like the Depression era Bowery District of New York: the signage on the buildings, desperate looking men huddled around open fires in oil drums, so that when I first arrived and walked through the gates, it felt as though
I'd stepped through a time portal into old Hollywood, onto the back lot at Paramount.

It was the beginning of Fall, 1981, and the scene was dressed for Christmas and it was pure movie magic. During breaks in the shooting, we sat around the fire and listened in awe to Red Skelton's memories of the real depression. Listening quietly and only occasional chiming in was his friend and co-star, the erudite Vincent Price.

Once Red began telling tales, that was it. The spotlight was his, effortlessly. He was around sixty-eight at the time, and full of energy, but his handler always tried to get him to stop so that he could rest. Even when out shopping at the Eaton Centre he was beset by so many fans and well wishers and he would graciously stop and talk with everyone. Red's assistant had to keep nudging him along or he'd never be able to get anything done.

One of the things he told us around that glorious fall fire was that one of his other famous characters, Klem Kadiddlehopper, was actually a legacy from his father, who'd been a circus clown. Red's dad had died just before Red was born and Klem was his inheritance.

It was a lovely Christmas Dinner.

And in the words the Red used to close every show:

Goodnite and may God Bless.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Because we don't know when we will die

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless."
Paul Bowles, from The Sheltering Sky

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Bethlehem Christmas tale.

In October of 1970 we'd planned on spending the winter on Ibiza with the rest of the hippies. But we ended up in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz instead.

Mahn tract, gott lacht. (Loosely translated: wanna hear G-d laugh? Make plans.)

We spent that winter on Kibbutz Ga'ash, a small kibbutz about a half hour north of Tel Aviv sited on cliffs overlooking the Med. In addition to the agriculture, there was a lighting factory, still is, well known throughout Europe for its innovative designs and quality products.

I started in the fields pulling ground nuts (peanuts) out of the ground. Not easy. Then to the avocado groves, and to the lemon groves.

Standing in the middle of a grove of lemons really lets you know what your nose is for. Incredible. Nothing like lemon-scented Pledge. Nothing at all.

After a few weeks we wangled jobs in the dining room. This was the best job. Even though the zmanim (volunteers) had it relatively easy on our kibbutz (we only had to work from about 7 am to lunch, other zmanim on other kibbutzim until four), the kitchen was the best.

Our day started cleaning up after the buffet breakfast: stack the tables, chairs, hose down the tile floors, mop 'em, and squeegee the water to the troughs along the walls. Wash rinse repeat. Let dry. Set up tables and chairs for lunch. Break.

The breaks were the best, fresh baked goods out of the kitchen, hot coffee or ice cold drinks. Then, we were free, left alone until first lunch; this meant an hour and a half off. Then back to serve first lunch (there were two sittings).

And that was it, day done.

The afternoons were spent beaching, a five minute walk down the cliff, or day tripping. I'd bought a motorcycle, a little 90cc Yamaha from a departing volunteer and we'd ride off to see the country: Caesaria, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ein Gedi. Walked the Via Delarosa with pilgrims, saw Crusader graffiti, but didn't leave any of our own, climbed the snake path to Masada.

On Christmas Eve, the Kibbutz arranged for all the volunteers to go to Bethlehem, which on that night, was only accessible by special passes available only to tourists.

When we arrived at dusk, the town was packed. Every hippy in the middle east was there, many carrying four foot candles, and mumbling "far out man". Really. "Far out man."

Many were also stoned out of their minds on hash or arak, an anise flavoured drink.

The other kids there were the eighteen year olds in jeeps with machine guns. The kids in the army just keeping a watchful eye.

The midnight mass service at the Church of the Nativity was packed so the service was projected onto the outside wall of the police station. A little strip mall named, are you ready, "Manger Square" stayed open as did the post office so that you could have your postcards franked "Bethlehem, Christmas Eve". Yup, did that too.

There was a stage set up and choirs from around the world were lined up to sing. Ministers and services and speeches and sermons.

We left around two in the morning and were driven back in an open canvas topped lorry, freezing cold, but a great view.

About an hour outside the city, I looked into the pre dawn sky and saw the Star of Bethlehem poised over the town.

Big, bright, magical. A Hallmark moment. Really. No booze or hash involved.

I'm told it was Venus hanging low in the sky.

That's what I was told anyway.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Clip Clop is a Real Word

While clearing the snow from the sidewalk in front of my house the other day, I heard a nostalgic sound. Two officers of the Mounted Unit were slowly clip clopping down my street. Fine, the officers weren't clip clopping, their mounts were. The cops were saying hello and waving to a couple of kids walking by. Not an unusual sight downtown on the main streets, but this was a first for me down our side street.

Being a downtown city kid in the fifties this was a sound I heard almost every day: our bread, eggs and milk were all delivered by men in company uniforms driving horse drawn wagons. Ice and coal, too. The horses knew their customers, dutifully stopping at the appropriate houses on their routes.

We would run out to give them the occasional sugar cube, carrot or apple.

This was very brave of us, little fingers gingerly heading towards Dobbin's giant teeth.

And for our courage, we would be rewarded with horse shit. Watching animals poo was always a great amusement.

I don't think that's changed today. I don't mean for me I mean for kids.

Then we'd grab shovels larger than we were, scoop it all up and spread the manure on our lawns. I can still smell it.

One summer in the early seventies, an experiment by City Hall allowed carriage rides in the city core and we used to hear that clip clopping going by our house as we drifted off to sleep and they returned to their stalls on the Exhibition Grounds. Too many traffic issues put an end to that experiment.

I love that sound and it was wonderful to hear it again.

Then I went back to shoveling snow instead of horse shit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It's about the oil.

I like my latkes thin, crispy and rustic looking.