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.

Chasing Pan’s Shadow

Chasing Pan’s Shadow

 

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. ~ Kurt Vonnegut

 

Every five years, we are summoned by our past:  We receive phone calls and formal invitations to high school and college reunions.  Like mythological sirens these gatherings call to us, beckoning us to return to a gilded past that no longer exists.  Yet nostalgia is a potent opiate.  It deceives, ameliorates and intoxicates.  It is Peter Pan chasing his shadow but never quite being able to catch it.  It is initials carved deep into the ancient bark of a century-old magnolia.  It is a 60 watt light bulb and a Long Island Ice Tea.  It is an airbrushed view of life accentuated by the strong scent of jasmine and raw emotion – it is youth. 
 
Reunions spin through our lives like tornados – pulling us toward a vortex filled with the promise of lost horizons.  Some boycott these nostalgia festivals because they dreaded every minute of their painful adolescence.  Others agonize over whether attending the gathering of ghosts is worth the energy spent to get there and stay awake through dinner.  There are those whose high school or college days were life’s high-water mark; they long to regain their lost alpha status.  It’s all so emotionally charged. 

 

Thankfully, mathematicians and psychologists have recently teamed at Cal Tech to develop a complex algorithm that can objectively assist any person uncertain about attending a reunion.  The psycho-social formula requires adding one’s age, waist size and years of marriage, then dividing the sum by the number of times you’ve googled an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend or corresponded innocently with an ex on Classmates.com.  If your score is over 20, have fun.  However, if your score is 19 or less, you may be unprepared for this journey through the looking glass.  Consider the following scenarios and proceed with your eyes wide open…

You still carry a torch for that certain person and hope you can cross paths and innocently bask in the warmth of your old flame.  You joined Reunion.com ostensibly to see what others are “up to.”  Is this an innocent titillation with the past or a walk down a dark dangerous alley?  Answer:  Dark dangerous alley. It starts with an email exchange and ends up with an invitation to “have coffee” at some place called the Honeymoon Motel in Newark, NJ.  The reality is you will not find your old squeeze but instead someone who has inflated to 3000 psi and appears to have eaten your ex.  You must disguise your initial shock when hugging him/her, as you are now clutching a back that has wider landmass than Asia Minor.  Run away.

You want to once again see if you can drink keg beer, wear wrinkled shorts and flip flops, play Frisbee, climb over fences and stay up past 4 a.m. doing whatever it is one does after midnight.  Do you have what it takes?  Answer: You do not.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  Fat, drunk and stupid still remains no way to go through life.  You have infinitely more to lose now than when you were 20 years old, including what little dignity you have left.  Instead, just get hair plugs and buy some golf clubs.

You want to experience just for 48 hours that feeling of invincible abandon that was a trademark of your college experience.  You were young, cocky, bounced more checks than a security guard at a Prague nightclub and ate cafeteria food that even your carp-like Springer Spaniel would not ingest.  Will you find your mojo?  Answer:  No.  You had your “mo” snipped during an elective medical procedure in 1997.  All you have left is your “jo” (your wife’s code name for your belly).  Take the money you will otherwise need to pay for marital counseling and go to a New York Mets dream camp for 50 somethings.  You may take a hard line drive off the teeth or pull a quad muscle but hey, it’s better than having a divorce attorney hitting fungoes at you for six months straight.

You yearn to be autonomous again – independent in your thoughts and actions, candid in your points of view and idealistic in your pursuit of truth.  You listen to David Byrne of the Talking Heads lament your affluent conundrum: “And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile, and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?”  You reflect on this song over and over again.  You come to believe your reunion is a portal to perhaps a more innocent time.  Answer:  This sounds like a mid-life crisis to me.  The reunion is merely cover for you to begin indulging your self-pity, hubris and diminished self-importance.  Autonomy is not all it’s cracked up to be.  It means going home alone 99.9% of the time, eating Lean Cuisine dinners and sorting your own socks.  

 

You want to reassemble your old posse – you know, the group you called “the knuckleheads.”  You were madcap, outrageous pranksters – pulling stunts, throwing parties, occasionally missing a class or a urinal.  You now lead lives of quiet desperation and own the DVD Old School, which you can quote verbatim.  Each of you thinks you are the Luke Wilson character, but you are really Will Ferrell.  Can you gather one last time to recreate that old black magic?  Answer:  No dice, Wyatt Earp.  Your posse is now too heavy to ride horses or even sit on a wooden bar stool without breaking it.  Most of your caballeros want to strap on their guns and join your lost cause, but in the end, they can’t get a hall pass from la seňora.  The others are unwilling to sleep in a dorm room bed made for dwarves.

You miss “working with kids” and are interested in getting back involved with your school and alumni.  You crave deep intellectual conversation and feel you missed your calling as a teacher – perhaps you could guest lecture on macro economics, corporate finance or how to conduct an analyst call for over two hours without really saying anything of substance.  You want to connect with students and establish a strong bridge to this so-called Generation Z.  You see yourself as a critical facilitator in their journey.  After all, you’re an alumnus and share a common bond with these students.  Answer: Face it; you could not get into your alma mater today unless you could run a 4.4 40-yard dash.  Most of these kids believe the only thing you have in common with them is that you both breathe – although you do it more heavily.  Your university alumni office is delighted to meet with you to discuss a major financial contribution.  They’re intrigued by your ideas around guest lecturing and will be “certain to get back to you”…just about as quickly as you get back to those people who call at dinner time asking for donations to help save the endangered Connecticut Spotted Skink.

Tom Stoppard once said that “age is a high price to pay for maturity.”  Yet for all its traps and trepidations, a reunion’s lure is deep and compelling.  It allows us the chance to recapture old feelings, to make amends or exorcise old demons.  For most of us, it’s a pleasant Sunday afternoon ride down a reassuring and familiar street.  Here’s my only advice as you cruise down Memory Lane: keep your hands and feet inside the car, don’t drink and drive and never, ever pick up hitchhikers.  Do not forget nostalgia is driving the car and, as a wise man once remarked, “she is a seductive liar.”