A Prayer for Chuckie

Charlie Sheen does the Sunday Comics
Image by susie.c via Flickr

“With the disappearance of God the Ego moves forward to become the sole divinity.” -Dorothee Sölle

Over the past weeks, I have watched with Jersey Shore fascination the spectacular melt down of actor Charlie “Chuckie” Sheen.  Sheen’s death spiral is a B movie script for Schadenfreude genre junkies and self-mutilation fans.

Chuckie Sheen is hardly the first to stagger down the timeless and well-worn path of narcissistic sabotage.  He is neither unique nor worthy of our attention. He is simply –- sad and pathetic. Yet, for some reason his self-immolation has struck a chord with America.  In his recent week-long campaign blitz which presumably arose out of his desire to tell “ his side of the story”, Sheen conducted a series of bizarre and angry interviews.  Not unlike the slasher movies starring “Chuckie”, the knife-wielding doll, we are getting treated to a horror show of hubris. Within 24 hours of his CNN interview and his joining of Twitter, his real children were taken from him but he gained over 1mm surrogate dependents –which according to Guiness is a social network world record.  It seems the world cannot wait for his next 140 incoherent characters.

Growing up in LA in the 80’s and 90’s, it was impossible not to follow the exploits of the infamous “Brat Pack” of Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Nicholas Cage, Rob Lowe, half brother Emilio Estevez, and Sean Penn. Aside from their routine violent encounters with paparazzi, sex tapes, break-ups, accidental gun shot wounds (Sheen accidentally shot his girlfriend, Kelly Preston) and misdemeanor arrests, Chuckie and his poison pals demonstrated a penchant for sybaritic sideshows that made Caligula look like Cotton Mather.

No one is quite sure why the quiet kid and star pitcher from Santa Monica High permanently went off the rails.  Perhaps his father, Martin, was chained to the rails trying to stop a nuclear waste shipment and there was simply not room enough for the both of them.  In LA, celebrity children grow up quickly and Chuckie was a model student. He quickly discovered the seamier side of LA and started attending Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’ tupperware parties. His “little black book” was eventually confiscated by the Center for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the FBI.  Charlie did not know what all the fuss was about.  He was an artist and in his own words, a “ rock star” of partying who could go days without sleep and still rally to portray a twenty-something innocent trapped in circumstances beyond his control.  As is so often the case with Hollywood, art imitates life. Yet, unlike movies where redemption and self-awareness rescue the fallen man from the abyss, the fallen angel on Sunset Boulevard is often in hell and never knows it.

Sheen’s lust for life has turned him into an angry force of nature. His jet stream lifestyle and his low-pressure passions have joined to create a perfect storm of self-interest run riot. It seems wherever Hurricane Chuckie goes, wreckage and misery is not far behind. Over the years, Chuckie’s venal appetites led him into the  company of LA’s lost souls and golden calves – – adult movie stars, call girls and high-priced prostitutes.  Apparently, he had inherited his father’s intensity but seemed to have been on a ciggie break when they doled out the moral compass.

Chuckie refers to his female companions as “the goddesses”. I am not sure the ancient Greeks would appreciate his misappropriation of a term that describes iconic female deities.  However, Chuckie may be on to something.  In today’s tinsel town age of mores looser than Mama Cass’ sundress, hanging out with adult film stars, and showing up to your pal’s dinner party with Snookie are lauded as forms of self confident expression. Everything and everyone is out of the closet.  One cannot really think of any social stigma that is left except perhaps those sad unfortunates still terrified to admit that they voted for President Obama. We have become so tolerant of the highly flawed human condition that we no longer recognize it. And we always love a comeback, especially after spending four very public weeks with Dr Drew in Celebrity Rehab.

Yet, it seems that all this “coming clean” is taking its toll on popular culture.  With the closet now clean and all of our ugliest blemishes in full view on MSNBC, A&E, MTV and TMZ, some are contemplating diving back into that dark space and locking the door.  One feels so dull if they cannot confess to some kind of psychological addiction.  Others scream “just make it all go away” and dive into the now empty closet rocking gently, humming their favorite nursery rhymes. In fact, Charlie Sheen has come out and shared that he really likes his current trajectory and you should too.  He is a “winner” with “tiger’s blood”.  He does not have time to be admired or put on a pedestal. He is quick to remind us that if we are misguided enough to look up to him as a role model, we should  shift our telescopes toward the Milky Way.  It is a more reliable celestial body, predictably in the same place each night and will not disappoint you.

For those of us who have studied the astronomy of self-destruction , Chuckie is simply another fallen star in a galaxy filled with dark matter.  He will probably never make the Hall of Shame – populated with the likes of heavy weights John Edwards, ex-South Carolina governor Mark Stafford, Richard Nixon, and histories liars, cheats, and deceivers. Yet, Chuckie’s stats are impressive – – multiple marriages, five kids from three different women, myriad addictions, lawsuits, an accidental shooting, arrests, hernia and a deviated septum.  If he ends up getting picked up in his underwear fighting imaginary dragons with a trashcan lid, he will officially hit for the cycle.

Chuckie is now wandering across a wasteland of spiritual emptiness.  Despite a net worth of an estimated $ 85mm, Chuckie will be denied the things that matter most – his family, respect, peace of mind and soon, perhaps his sanity.  While his “goddesses” and enablers cling to him like ticks, he will descend into the inferno of self-obsession. His insanity will be fed by an endless negative loop of ego that feeds on its own dark thoughts.  The worse one feels about their circumstances, the more they seek lower companions and other sycophants incapable of helping him divine just how far off course his life has gotten. The self-destructive person perpetually offends their own sense of right and wrong and produces the toxins of guilt, remorse and self loathing – – poisons that can only be medicated by more obsessive behavior or by a spiritual intervention.

Unfortunately, we have seen this “Chuckie” movie before. It is a predictable script starring a dubious roster of castaways who mess up their lines and their lives.  They read and believe their own press releases and succumb to the notion that they are the star of their own movie.  Their needs must be prioritized above all others.  Their dressing room must always be filled with green M&Ms, Badoit water chilled to 10C and pan flute music by Zamfir. Their movies always end the same with the anti-hero getting smashed, burned, broken, beaten, crushed or incarcerated.

Perhaps our fascination with Chuckie Sheen goes deeper for some.  Perhaps there is a little “Chuckie” in all of us.  We sometimes mistake the notion of living in the moment for living as if there is no tomorrow.  We deceive ourselves into thinking we deserve “this” or should be able to have “that”. Our conceit and ego assures us that we know what is best for us.  We grab the steering wheel, seize the rudder, dismiss our co-pilots and forge ahead into a storm in a boat that has been ripped from its moorings.

If we are lucky, we later find out that our own best thinking is flawed and that decisions made in fear, anger or in self-pity are often disastrous.  We understand that fear and faith cannot occupy the same place.  We realize that self-loathing is a self-inflicted condition that can be cured and the most polluted garret can be transformed into the most sacred of temples.

So I say we all say a little prayer for Chuckie.  He told me (and about 290m other Americans ) that he does not need our help. He and his goddesses are doing just fine.  His movie will end just like he has planned it.  He is, after all, its director and star.

In my movie, there are no goddesses and there is one God and I have been told that I can never play that role.  I have tried out for it several times but have been permanently relegated to the role of a servant.  I sometimes critique his work and suggest that I could do things better. Fortunately, no one listens.  It’s steady work and I always seem to get what I need.  Occasionally he laughs when I tell him what I want.

For a guy that understands all about wanting to direct and star in his own film, Sheen’s latest celluloid: “Chuckie X – Winner Not Whiner” is hard for me to watch.  I keep covering my eyes, wanting to the scream, “Chuckie, watch out.  Don’t run with that knife.  Just check in somewhere and talk to a few people who can help you learn how to once again be a supporting actor. ”

With a little help,  Sheen may find that his next sequel is a love story, and not the final act of a horror film.  It may star a humble guy named Charlie, not a self obsessed psychotic slasher named Chuckie.

Now that’s a movie I’d pay to see.

The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Tige Andrews with Mod Squad co-stars, Michael ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.  ~David Frost

I grew up with three caregivers – a mother, father and a black and white Admiral 21″ surrogate baby sitter.  My electronic aupair was a warm, friendly spirit whose tubes and wires glowed piping images of perfect nuclear families, communities where morality always triumphed over self-interest and colorful paragons of law and order who went by names like Mannix, Rockford, Kojak and McGarret.

Many a generation Joneser grew up as the seventh child of the Brady Bunch, the fourth kid in My Three Sons and the sixth kid, second row percussion in the Partridge family. While later generations would be Saved By The Bell or snared by Family Ties, I learned about the give and take of life in a large depression era family from The Waltons.   I registered everything that I saw on television and tried to bring these core values into our home.  At night, I would stare into the dark at bedtime and envy how the Waltons all said “good-night” to one another.  The simple act of wishing one another a safe slumber seemed to consummate that deep bond that any family should feel toward one another.  I recall screwing up my courage to introduce a new fraternal bond among my brothers.  I sat silent as the final bedside lights dimmed straining my eyes into the darkness of my older brother’s bedroom, watching for any sign of movement.

“ Night, Tom!” I whispered.  No response.  In a slightly louder voice, “ Good-night, Tom”  Still no reply.  “ Good…” A high top sneaker flew through the door and hit me in the face.  “ Shut-up, you goon.  What do think you’re on, the Waltons?“

I was Chip Douglas, the disturbed vidiot cableman in The Cable Guy, emulating much of what I saw in movies and on television.  I had great empathy for single parents after watching Bill Bixby in “ The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”  It seemed in the 70’s people who were divorced wore a sort of scarlet letter on their foreheads.  We would listen undetected as parents gossiped on the phone about the nature of marital break ups and “divorcees”.  Kids often got labeled as “bad” because they had the misfortune of growing up in a broken home.  I wondered if these same gossipy paragons of virtue had watched Brian Keith struggle as a single dad in “Family Affair” or Dihann Carroll in “Julia”, whether they might realize that most single parents sacrificed more for the sake of raising their children.

We were introduced to Archie Bunker who revealed the comical shortcomings of provincial bigotry.  “M*A*S*H” reminded us of the futility of war. The teenagers of “Room 222” at Walt Whitman High School were bright, driven kids navigating the treacherous shoals of life’s personal, social and political shores.  Each week, a small boat would brush against a difficult issue such as tolerance, drugs and gulp, sex.  These students were guided by a progressive American History teacher, Pete Dixon, who steered them through difficults straits toward adulthood and commanded his crew with velvet understanding.

And then there was my favorite show,  “The Mod Squad”.  This hippie detective drama offered up the three ultra-cool undercover officers:  Julie Barnes played by gorgeous Peggy Lipton, Pete Cochran played by Michael Cole and the fly guy of all-time – Linc Hayes played by Clarence Williams III. I idolized Linc and his teflon indifference to the injustice of society.  Linc had it all going on.  His signature line was a celebration of urban simplicity, “ solid, man.”

I waited endlessly for the day that I could say “ Solid man.“  I finally laid this multicultural affirmation on my father after he told me to sweep out the garage.  Expecting a fight, he was confused by my response. He hesitated and squinted at me as if I had uttered some disrespectful epithet.  We stared at one another.  I could see his wheels turning wanting to reprimand his son for calling him “man” but clearly he was in the deep end of the generational pool.  He shook his head and walked away.  I swaggered to the garage having known that on this day, I stuck it to The Man.

Television shows of the late 60s and 70s offered you families and lives that you wanted to emulate.  Characters were kind, comical, sympathetic and predictable. These were the kind of people with whom you’d vacation, invite to your BBQ and ask to watch your children while you took a vacation to the Poconos.  TV tied America up in a neat little bow and gently walked you through the difficult social and cultural issues that tore at the fabric of its family values in the newspapers, on college campuses and across a great green ocean in Vietnam.

In 1973, the top shows according to Nielsen were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son ,M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-0, Maude, Kojak (tie), The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (tie), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (tie), Cannon (tie), The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bob Newhart Show (tie), The Wonderful World of Disney (tie) ,Gunsmoke and Happy Days.

In the 70’s, kids played outside because there was no cable TV.  Programming was spread across 11 channels offering a narrow adolescent primetime on cartoon Saturday mornings and early evening sitcoms. Mornings were filled with game shows, soap operas and Jack Lalanne exercise classes. 70’s afternoon television was filled with talk shows, news and boredom. Friday and Sunday nights were primetime slots as 80% of all families were assembled to share an evening meal together and then watch their favorite show. TV was an acceptable companion.  While futurists like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov portended the intellectual downfall of mankind from the boob tube, we watched a Sunday evening double header of Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Wonderful World of Disney.  We did not feel stupid.  We felt entertained and informed.

I confess to still carrying on my affair with my television although I am overwhelmed by my cable selections and offended by our lowest common denominator preoccupation with all things forbidden.  Each night, out of habit, I turn on the tube. My spouse turns off the TV when I leave the room.  This annoys me. I turn it back on.  She turns it off.  She hates television.  Being the son of an advertising man and having a sardonic preoccupation with the decline of society, I watch dark things and cable sitcoms.  When no one is watching I turn on “Lock Up – Behind Bars in America”.  I am beyond schadenfruede.  I am now actively seeking to consort with all of life’s undesirables – its blemishes, warts and shame

The Center for Media Literacy has tried to reach out to me.  The CML recently published a five point manifesto attempting to help Americans realize that television is not a magic lens to the world.  Reality TV – it seems – is not so real.  News is more entertainment than objective reporting. To those couch potato adults and their chubby pre- diabetic progeny who now have over 400 hundred channels from which to choose 24/7 television, the CML laid out a simple set of truths:

1) You are smarter than your TV

2) TV world is not the real world

3) TV teaches us that some people are supposedly more important than others

4) TV does the same things over and over

5) People use the TV to make money

I know this is a shocker but over 100M Americans do not understand these basic concepts or know that Belgium is in Europe.

The Waltons have been replaced by the Gosselins. TV detectives are no longer all male, fat, bald or based in Hawaii. Mary Tyler Moore and Newhart have moved on or out of therapy.  The Western is dead and Disney is an entire channel. Sonny died in a ski crash and Cher is still dating 20 year olds. We long for Happy Days but now realize the Six Million Dollar Man is a golden parachuted CEO of a failed bank.  Along the way, we are now warned of enlarged prostates, restless legs, sleeping problems and situational anger.  All of this could result in vomiting, severe bone pain, abdominal bleeding, chest palpitations, or suicidal thoughts – – and if all fails, go out and buy a snuggie.

Goodnight and sweet dreams. “Buenos Noches, Tia Tequilla.” “Buonanotte, Snookie.” “Bonne nuit, Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Where the hell is John Boy?

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

It’s midnight on a Tuesday.  The laundry is a massive multi-colored heap lying unattended on the mudroom floor.  The computer flashes, “you have 312 new emails”.  The dishes ferment slowly in the sink of what looks like a neglected soup kitchen.  The dog gnaws on a Ferragamo shoe while the cat temporarily passes out in a fetid litter box reeking of ammonia.

 

Upstairs there is thumping indicating the resident adolescents have yet to fall asleep.  The absence of authority permeates the house like the smell of a recent fish dinner. The television beeps like digital clock and a monotone voice announces, “The following takes place between 2am and 3am.”

 

My wife looks at me and asks rhetorically, ” You think the kids are asleep?” With my best codependent face, I reassure her. “Oh – – yeah. I’ll check them in a minute.”

We  hit the “play episode” button – pathetic addicts in a deep cocoon of denial.  We are in the middle of a debilitating video blackout watching the television show “24”. I cannot sleep until I find out whether the president will call back the bombers or he will permanently excommunicate his annoying, conniving Lady Macbeth ex-wife.  My wife is praying a new character – an urbane, handsome middle-eastern Oxford graduate will not be killed.  ” Oh, I hope Raiza lives,” she squeals anxiously clutching a pillow.  I am not jealous.   He has that “ I am a dead man “ look written all over him. I give him two episodes tops. I have become conditioned to not get attached to anyone on this show.

We are together but alone – each trapped in our own inescapable web of emotional knots tied to this soap opera serial drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a seemingly indestructible instrument of US counter terrorism in a world that demands morally ambiguous actions to defeat the forces of evil that threaten our American way of life. 

Wherever Jack Bauer goes people die – usually bad guys.  However, if you get too close to Jack Bauer – not unlike a career as a stunt man, living among New Guinea cannibals or raising a 200lb chimpanzee as your own child, your life expectancy is reduced by about fifteen years.  And for goodness sake, don’t hire Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer as your baby sitter or au pair.  This kid is a tornado of bad karma.

Kim’s misadventures make teenagers that have ended up in their hometown police blotters look like cherubim.  In just 24 hours, innocent Kim rescues a young girl from her abusive father, discovers the girl’s dead mother, gets in multiple car accidents – one that results in her boyfriend losing his leg, pulls a gun on four different people- killing one at her Dad’s urging, endures a siege as a hostage, escapes from police custody, witnesses a nuclear explosion, and is trapped inside a bomb shelter with a reclusive survivalist.  Tough day at school, hon? Throughout this entire period, Kim keeps interrupting her father on his cell phone as he is trying to save Los Angeles and/or the President of the US, David Palmer, whining “Dad, just come get me.” Kids just don’t change – they still see themselves as more important than the future of the free world.

Jack does not eat.  He does not go to the bathroom. Jack does not sleep.  He is the ultimate warrior.  He makes the tough decisions and employs brutal methods that waffling bureaucrats cannot make in the face of danger. While interrogating a smug bad guy who displays indignant bravado given the government’s weak knee decision to grant him immunity, Bauer simply shoots the creep and asks his colleagues for a hacksaw so he can cut off the snitch’s head off and use the prize to insinuate his way in with some domestic terrorists.  As we watched “the head in a bowling bag” scene, we heard a noise behind us and to our dismay, realized our ten-year-old son had been spying on the episode from the doorway.  As my wife ushered him out of the room to bed, I could hear her talking to him as they went up stairs.  “ Honey, you know that cutting people’s heads off is not very nice, right?

Each hour is a heart pounding shot of epinephrine with soap opera lack of resolution that leaves a viewer aching and feverish for more.  My wife calls the library at 1am to extend our rental.  “Hi, we rented DVDs for “24” for Season 2. Can we recheck them for another two days? I assume you are not there right now but I wanted to call anyway.” ‘I assume you are not there?’, I say mocking her.   Most librarians are not fiddling with their Dewey decimals at 1am; And yes, sweetheart, please get “24 -Season Three” tomorrow.  If I am lucky, I may get sick from no sleep.  We can stay home and put a blanket over the windows like trailer park crack addicts and do “24 in 24.”  We can parcel the kids out to neighbors and send out for pizza.  We can be Sid and Nancy.

The problem with our “24” addiction is not only the need for constant injections of Jack and his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU); it is the fact that we are only on Season 3.  As we race to catch the “24” train, it keeps moving.  “24” is now on season 7 and in our sprint to present day, we are subordinating health, hygiene and domestic responsibilities watching consecutive episodes which leave us completely over stimulated and vulnerable to odd dreams.

After a disturbingly symbolic dream where I cut my boss’ head off and present it to our private equity owners in exchange for some restricted shares of stock, I awake in a cold sweat realizing my obsession with “24” is threatening my sanity.  When my son would not confess to using his brother’s computer, I found myself wondering how quickly he would crack if I water-boarded him.  I routinely now refer to my children as ” hostiles” and ” friendlies” and suggest to my wife that when we have teens over we establish a soft perimeter around the basement.  When my daughter claimed she was in town but was in fact, at a friend’s party, I briefly considered using Google Earth to triangulate her location, “neutralize” the entire group and then drop them off at the local police station courtesy of “A Friend of 24.”

I realized that we are now in the grip of a mania and that for the bad dreams to end, Jack Bauer must die.  The problem is the guy won’t expire. He has been injected with more drugs than a Jersey milk cow, stabbed, shot, clubbed, injured in a plane crash, suffered numerous brain damaging head blows – and like Jason from Halloween, keeps getting up.

There is a side of me that understands that art sometimes imitates life.  Does the US employ spooks and shadow agencies like CTU who fight clandestine battles right under our noses on US soil? Do I approve of Jack Bauer’s tactics? Will democracy prevail over authoritarianism? Will Kim Bauer get through a day without breaking the law or maiming her latest boyfriend? Will Jack Bauer ever shave, eat or have a bowel movement? Perhaps some fiber might loosen him up literally and figuratively.

It’s late and we have just secured the first episodes of Season Three.  As I read my column to my wife, we chuckle at our obsessive behavior and get the kids off to bed. 

We have a civilized evening – cleaning up the house, walking to retrieve the DVDs and watching just three episodes – trying to convince ourselves that we can get

the “24” monkey off our backs any time we like.  As we turn out the lights, she is still.  I can tell she is thinking.  This is our last private moment before sleep where we discuss kids, the future and any other important unattended issue.

“You know, if you tell everyone in town that they can rent those DVDs from the library for free, we will never make it to Season 7.  The secret will be out.”

That’s my girl.