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SCRIPT AND SUMMATIVE COMMENTS [0:30 COLOR]
[Opens with standard procession of sedans, gleaming, tailfinned, gliding over federally-funded blacktop. Then the obligatory shots of people having evenings out; caucasians conversing in bistros with unsullied white tablecloths and deferential brown waitpeople. The opening theme, the jazz-fusion “Horehound’s Groove”, chikka-chikkaing mid-tempo and mid-range as the familiar deadpan voice of TV’s Brock Horehound intones gravelly, secure in his poses as omniscient oracular figure, director, and producer of the series.]
Horehound: This is the city. Los Angeles, California.
[More shots here, mirroring the opening montage. A queue of men in black, blue, and gray suits at counters awaiting lunch, presumably, if Uncle Ben with a white hat and a ladle is any reliable indicator. Both before and after the opening line from Horehound, the visuals leave the viewer with an overwhelming sense of anonymity.
One can speculate as to the reasons for these willfully generic “face in the crowd” shots. Certainly, ratings were still declining, as they would during the entirety of the show’s run. However, one can speculate that other factors came into play to drive Concerned Citizen auteur Grant Cameron to project said anonymity.
As biographers of Cameron as well as other historians have noted, Cameron was shellshocked by the barrage of syndicated columnists that took him to task for what they perceived to be the show’s failings. Durwood Matthews, of the Squire-Mahler Group, lambasted Grant Cameron in a Sunday column that ran prior to this episode for even being involved with the program, saying that “his message is at once heavy- handed and irrelevant, and it does no favors to people interested in truly bridging the generation gap.”
Though that statement was vacuous and immediately dismissable, there were issues nonetheless that promised a publicity backlash, which I will discuss in this document in due time.]
Horehound: Los Angeles–city of many nicknames. City of Angels, with churches ranging from the exotic to the historical.
[A shot of a statue of an angel, done in a Renaissance style, with a body at once full and ripe and replete with bounty, with eternal life. A jumpcut to a Krishna service, complete with sheetwearers dancing rhythmically, almost in caricature. Then another to an old Mission, deserted, bereft.]
Horehound: LA came from Catholic missionary efforts and today exists in service to a different form of catholicism. Namely, to ensure that people of all faiths treat each other equitably, fairly, and charitably.
[The stock images keep coming, treading a predictable path through metal, plastic, and glass, images of rabbis hugging priests groping nuns, or some such, in a manner similar to the bearers of bad tidings and how they trudged paths, time and again, to the Cameron doorstep.
The unfriendliness of the print media ran beyond mere harshness in the columns of syndicated pundits, as well. Decades-old allegations began to surface in the Hollywood insider press as well as in the tabloid papers which tended toward libel and its sister pastimes. As the ratings troughed in a way akin only to those of Vince McMahon’s XFL many years later, scurrilous “first-person narratives” began to surface in the more sordid monthlies with the obvious intent of torpedoing Grant Cameron’s career at point of impact.
These narratives were for the most part frighteningly identical. A “figure from Cameron’s past”–an old girlfriend, gin-soaked and skid rowed, perhaps, or maybe an old school chum–weighs in with “shocking revelations” about how Cameron tied women to the bed and wore his Badge and Gun suit while performing cunnilingus on naive, nubile would- be starlets. Or about Cameron’s preference for the company of young men having something to do with the seemingly constant revisions of his marital status.]
Horehound: Different people have different ideas of what charity is, however. Some believe that charity is something that should be practiced without reservation.
[Here, a shot of women in white smocks ladeling soup from a kettle for swarthy indigent men who shine with the gauntness of doing without. Cameron, whether serving as director or in a different capacity, bore an especial fondness for images of deprivation being righted. Some connect his affinity for those images with the deprivation inherent in his own upbringing.
Though I do bear a certain sympathy for Cameron here, I cannot help but add as a caveat that Cameron’s commitment to seeing the starving fed would have been complemented nicely by a commitment to civil liberties, to freedom of expression.]
Horehound: Others believe that charity involves them taking from those who give–unwillingly. When they act on that belief, I go to work.
[A shot of two men in matching black ski masks leather jackets speaking would raise the hackles of even the most feeble-minded viewer, I’d imagine.]
Horehound: I’m a concerned citizen.
[And the theme starts anew, a pulsating serpentine track that spins around images montaged here for the first and last time. Horehound in a leopard-skin pair of briefs. Horehound in a flannel and jeans on a shooting range. Horehound tangoing with a leggy blonde in a dark bar.
Looked at in the light of the bad publicity afflicting Cameron and his pet project, these images and the curious directorial choice they underscore bespeak a willingness on the show’s part to substitute those glaring, odious tabloid images with their own cathode variety. The choice, in a sense, is as clear as can be imagined. Cameron, by allowing this conscious focus on Horehound as a sexual being, distracts from his real or perceived personal flaws that littered newsstands the nation over.
And I can understand this tactic. This sleight-of-hand dissemination. These careworn tracks of deceit. After all, who among us has not covered our tracks? Who among us has not lied to protect our sinecures? Certainly not I. Most certainly not the inimitable Matthias Carlos.]
Horehound: It was Tuesday–the date doesn’t matter, it was a time of sadness–and it was cool in Los Angeles. I was having little luck getting reinstated on the force and less luck maintaining my sanity. It was time for me to go to work.
[And indeed, it was time for me to go to work as well. From the first day of the semester, it was time for me to go to work. Not just to teaching–I could do that with my mind and eyes closed–but to fulfilling a promise I’d made to Angie, my sweet vanilla rose.]
Horehound: An acquaintance of mine was the longtime owner of a mom and pop grocery store. As of late, there had been a rash of robberies
[The camera focuses on Horehound’s vehicle navigating a series of increasingly rundown streets as we see colored faces for the first time. Certainly a coincidence.]
Horehound: I was asked to work a temporary “freelance” security detail. Perhaps to throw a scare into the robbers, perhaps to figure out their methodology. It was what I did. I was a cop.
[Horehound parks his car on the curb in front of the store, in what would seemingly be a loading zone. But there were no signs, no loading, no people even. The street was blank like a dry-erase board in a university classroom on Monday morning, just after the custodial staff has shuffled through its last classroom in a listless emptying of wastebaskets and the like. Just before the students file in, flush with promise and anticipation, waiting to be filled with knowledge.And perhaps the only thing Matthias Carlos and I had in common was our respective desires to fill the students with knowledge. I’m not claiming he was a bad man. He was, however, in my spot, doing the same work as me, making three times as much per course not including benefits. He had an office. I had a desk in a glorified airplane hangar.
I was not without motive, is what I’m saying here.]
Chen: Mr. Horehound! Greetings!
[An almost stereotypical shifty-eyed manner about the presumably non- Maoist Chinese grocer, almost like the houseboy Peter from Bachelor Father gone bad. It is easy to assume how we are to take this character: comic, even when serious. If there is sadness in Chen, it is pantomime, the face of a sad clown. It is not the sadness of the privileged, of the non- ethnic other.
I do not mean here that privilege equals whiteness in anything other than the most abstractly representational sense. For instance, I had heard that Matthias Carlos had a certain dark strain to his gene pool, if you catch my drift. Despite my whiteness/privilege, I was relegated to adjunct duty, even as his chiseled cheeks pulsed as he orated, even as sweet smells followed him to his vehicle as he strided toward it, as he drove it with such assurance and ease, checking the comely asses of the classroom flowers in the rearview, having no clue even for a moment that his life was about to change dramatically.]
Horehound: Chen! How are you, friend?
[A sharkfin of racial paternalism cuts through the dead pool waters of this turgid, hopeless plot. One can only guess at to who this caricature of a store owner was intended to appeal. But of course, this gets even better.]
Chen: Pretty good, if you don’t count the backaches! And the robberies….
[Chen’s face, like that of so many television ethnics of that era, is a study in grotesquerie and overstatement. An engaging “comic” smile, giving way to a caricature of sadness as authentically Oriental as the fortune cookie display in a Safeway.]
Horehound: The backaches I can’t help you with, friend, but tell me about the robberies.
[Horehound’s engaging smile carries the scene here, a smile once again tinged with the aforementioned racial paternalism that so many have found so objectionable for so long.]
Chen: Well, I can’t predict when they happen, why they happen, how they happen.
[Chen blinks his eyes a few times then wipes his brow with the back of his hand. There is a silence that lingers like the smell of chili simmering in a closed in house, broken up only toward the end by the sound of a car horn dying in the distance.]
Horehound: Well, that certainly narrows things down….
[These words muttered as Chen has no visible reaction to them, in the same manner that Matthias Carlos had no visible reaction to the typewritten notes that turned up in his departmental mailbox from the second week of the semester onward, notes that bore succinct yet powerful messages. I will always love you. I think of you often, especially at night. You are being watched.]
Chen: I couldn’t even identify the robbers, Mr. Horehound. They’re Negro, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you.
[During a Japanophile phase when I was teaching in Wyoming, I once happened across an Oriental shopkeeper who had a cadence very similar to that of a commentator on Japanese newscasts. When I asked him if he was Japanese, he responded vehemently, saying that he hated the Japanese. While bagging my magazine and toiletries, he amended that statement to say that all Asians hate the Japanese.]
Horehound: Negro. Young? Old? Tall, thin, short, dumpy? You can do better.
[While his expression maintained the placidity common to all baggers, his wife’s face bore enough rage to fill both of their chest cavities. She had remained silent for our entire exchange. Certainly, if I had mentioned his wife’s quietness to the husband, he would’ve responded apologetically. Claiming that her English wasn’t very good, or that she had been shy since she arrived in our country, or perhaps just attempting to compensate for her refusal to talk by saying twice as many words.
Words that mean nothing. Words that serve as smokescreens. Words that intend to distract the hearer from the true substance of the situation. Words like those I uttered to Carlos even as those notes began to sprout in his mailbox, notes that informed him that he would have to resolder breached connections for reference letters, always hoping against hope itself that he would somehow find himself rescued from a professional and economic uncertainty even more acute than my own.
I would ask him for lecturing tips, telling him I wanted to be more dynamic when “speaking to the kids”, all the while knowing how deeply in debt he was [a private investigation of his finances indicated that he had all the classic symptoms of someone headed toward a bad credit rating, including but not limited to beleaguerment by revolving debt and the equally undesirable history of late payments that had poked its little head out even during the recent boom time of status and salary]. I knew he could be broken easily precisely because he would never see it coming, because so much was already acting on him that broke him from the inside.]
Chen: I just don’t know.
[As Chen covers his eyes in apparent shame with his fingers and palm, I myself think of a time in which I heard Matthias Carlos utter the same phrase to me. We had repaired to a local bar one Friday after all work was completed, and he used that phrase quite a bit. I don’t know if I should stay here and work when opportunities await me elsewhere, he said. It’s nice here and I have some great professional relationships, but I just don’t know, he said. I just don’t know.
His assumption was fallacious, yet understandable, and ultimately easily exploited because I could relate to it so well. He assumed that all of what he had–the title, the corner office, the pedagogical latitude and the photocopier privileges–was somehow irrevocable. As if he could count on “the system”, even when it always seemed to find a way of proving itself corrupt and heedless of the needs of those who made it work.
He thought he wasn’t expendable. But we all are expendable. We all are built to have our teeth rot from our skulls, to have our skeletons disintegrate. Built to be unremembered even a generation after death, at best a name in a water-damaged family Bible. He placed faith where there was not even an inkling of the Spirit, and for that he found himself booted, with conviction, square between the goalposts.]
Horehound: You can do better.
[An observant viewer would note the archness in the voice of the Concerned Citizen as he renders a friend into an interrogation subject, seemingly out of force of habit.]
Chen: I try, Brock. I try.
[A closeup of Chen’s face reveals exasperation. The bumper music fades in, and as the viewer meditates on an exterior shot of the building, he is left to wonder exactly how Horehound will proceed on such a flimsy description of the suspect[s]. Then the viewer realizes that Horehound has no real power, and wonders why he thought even fleetingly about the issue to begin with as the screen fades to black and then into commercial.
After the interregnum for product shills and such, one might expect this show to “pick up where it left off”. With Concerned Citizen, however, that expectation wouldn’t be realistic. Thus, it can’t be that surprising to see a black screen upon return from the ad break. Nor can it be surprising to hear Grant Cameron–as Horehound, of course–holding forth.]
Horehound: Imagine a world in which your eyesight has failed you. You can hear conversations, and be seen, but you can’t see.
[The screen’s blackness is beginning to give way to light, and the viewer is treated to a semi-gloss white wall. Nothing but colourfields yet, though. I presume this effect is intended to simulate the assumption of sight.
Many assumptions are “simulated” in like manners, in this series as well as elsewhere. Perhaps simulation isn’t the word I’m looking for. Perhaps “framing” fits better.]
Horehound: How would you make your way in that world? How would you know what to do? Where to go?
[The shot switches to almost a second-person vantage point, where the viewer becomes the “you” in question, as objects mill around him, cars and Chinese delivery folk on bicycles, mothers on mopeds, fathers with baby strollers. A whir of movement, of existence itself, and all of it a threat to our blind, apparently inert selves.
Horehound then goes silent and there is no music, just the bleeps and bumps of existence, which the viewer is left to frame in a way not unlike the way in which certain parties were left to frame the evidence of Matthias Carlos’ plagiarism, evidence arranged perhaps a bit too neatly to be coincidental.]
Horehound: It might be easy to imagine being frustrated at your loss of perhaps the most important of all senses.
[This monologic burst is complemented by the spectacle of the most inept blind man in America attempting to dial a rotary phone–rotary being the fashion of the time–with a Number 2 pencil as some incongruous up- tempo horn arrangement begins to sound. This whole bit is especially ironic in light of the blind man’s appearance, impeccable in a neatly pressed 2-piece black suit.]
Horehound: So enjoy your sight! And be kind to the blind… that’s a great way in which you too can be a Concerned Citizen.
[And perhaps the most absurd PSA in the history of American television concludes with an anonymous, almost shadowy, figure placing his hand on the shoulder of the sightless dandy, as if to say “Hey, brother, I’ll dial the phone for you” as he lifts the pencil from the dialing hand itself.
Perhaps it is the American way, this allowing strangers to solve all of our problems. We are a people who live in thrall to fast food microwaved in conditions as sanitary as amalgamated garbage dumps and abbatoirs. We are a people who rely on deus ex machina quick fixes for every problem we have.
Ironically enough, on the same subject, more or less. When the seeds of the destruction of Matthias Carlos began their vengeful bloom, they were harvested by dupes and rubes barely worthy of Windexing the frames that housed my degrees. Custodial lackeys, “finding” envelopes that were left on floors by concerned parties, returning them to what they perceived to be their rightful homes.
And as that went on, I bided my time. Adjuncting.]
Horehound: After a short period to get acclimated to the store, I began to become a regular fixture around the register, greeting customers and the like.
[A black screen here gives way to Horehound smiling affably, attired in his familiar white shirt and gray slacks, topped off with a black bow tie and a navy blue apron. Horehound bagging groceries, smiling affably, attired in his familiar.
I find that I’m having some trouble with this particular episode. In one sense, I feel a sense of identification–as troubling and ironic as this may read to my former colleagues–with Horehound shunted into a wage- slave role.
But that’s neither here nor there. Not germane to this exercise.]
Horehound: That will be three dollars and seventy-nine cents, ma’am.
[An earnest proffering of the hand from the cop turned clerk and itinerant security guard. The shot pans from Horehound’s hand to a shriveled caucasian hand, female, liverspotted but otherwise clean as a Motel 6 towel.]
Elderly Shopper: You’re new here, boy. Are you Mr. Chen’s son?
[Given the ethnic differences between Horehound and Chen, this question seems implausible even on its face. But Concerned Citizen reflected the mass of its creator’s output, in its blithe insistence that people who weren’t white men in suits and ties are somehow “simpler” than those who bore penises, a caucasian lineage, and a closet full of neckties. Thus you often find the concerns of blacks, women, and other groups seemingly intentionally maligned in these scripts.]
Horehound: No, no, of course not! I’m just helping out around here.
[A summary shot of Horehound’s face puts over his winsome smile, the ersatz twinkle in his eye laden with a palpable malice. The camera holds Horehound’s face only briefly, quickly panning back to the elderly customer.]
Elderly Shopper: Oh, I know! I was just joshing you, sonny!
[Her face here is contorted in mirth, in that awful way all grandmothers grin at grandsons who they can never hope to comprehend. ]
Horehound: Joshing. Of course.
[Confronted with the mundane humor of the workaday world, Horehound does what so many of us do. He forces a smile, almost grudgingly, with one eye on the customer and another on the clock.
It’s easy to forget that Horehound’s primary purpose in the Chinaman’s store isn’t simply to sell and bag groceries. Likewise, it’s almost easy for me to forget the circumstances under which I write this. The toothaches that numb my jaw. The constant diet of cheap starches, of saturated fats, of 99 cent value menu items. The realization that when something breaks, I may not be able to afford to fix it. ]
Elderly Shopper: You don’t smile much, do you?
[Her face assumes a pose of matriarchal concern. To fully understand what is going on in this scene, it is probably best to imagine watching a slideshow and hearing dialogue as someone’s face “freezes”–as a mother might say–in a certain expression.]
Horehound: I smile when there’s reason to.
[As the boxing announcers would often say about a lowblowing contender, Horehound’s face asked nor gave any quarter. A graceless flint in his eyes, settled putty in his cheeks. A tourist waiting for a Customs shakedown. A glassy-eyed stripmall manager leaving a Gentleman’s Club as 2 AM approached and a treacherous glaze of rain lined the blacktop.
His refusal to smile in this situation–a banal occasion of commerce–seems almost “proactive” here, in sharp defiance of the bromide “smile and the whole world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.” Or perhaps it isn’t sharp defiance at all when people maintain their stony facades.]
Elderly Shopper: Well, there’s always a reason to smile… almost always.
[The shopper looks down at the counter, as if feinting circumspection. In my recent retail capacities, I have noticed just how many shoppers harbor furtive yens to “shoot the shit” or to “make small talk.” As if my world can be slowed down to a waltz rhythm. As if, when my world has collapsed around me, I can be mollified with jacks, a rubber ball, and brightly hued stones of a cheap and replaceable sort.]
[One can only guess the writers’ motivations for dragging this scene out to such an unholy length. Perhaps they felt this a necessary device for imparting local color. For granting the show’s dwindling audiences the opportunity to see two hack actors working a pale, dismal mercantile tableau. Given the flatness of this scene, one can only speculate that even in this would-be gestative episode of the series, the writers have already given up. Ceded that the premise was pocked, that no amount of spackle would cover its holes.]
Elderly Shopper: I didn’t want to bring this up….
[The woman’s voice has taken a turn for the pensive, has assumed the quavering tones of the nightowl talk radio caller, tones strung-out by street noises, by creaks and pings beyond rented walls, cotton blankets. These are the voices that fear is sold to ultimately; the silent majority who vocalizes only when agitated by events beyond its control.
Would you like to make more money? Sure, we all do. Do you or someone you love aged 50 to 80 need life insurance? Sure, of course, yes. Would you like to blanket the third-world with bombs? Of course, of course. Anything as long as I feel safe, as long as these terrible cable TV graphics packages disappear from my screen.]
Horehound: Spit it out, ma’am. What is it?
[Triggered by the hesitation in the shopper’s voice, Horehound here enters the realm of the bad cop, the mode of the bully-boy griller. And here we see his darkside, as he uses his force to steamroll someone who might have been favorably disposed to him.
He watches her, wordlessly, as she turns her back, retreating too without words, making her way into a driving monsoon-like rain, leaving the door to flutter in her wake.
Horehound lights a cigarette and stares out the door of the empty store. The sky is gray, then the scene is black and final, as somber, string- fluttery tones carry us from scene to scene.]
Horehound: A few days passed, and while we were no closer to overtly solving the problem of robberies, I had gained Old Man Chen’s trust enough to be entrusted with the store as he went to Cleveland on a personal matter….
[The music has become less jittery and pizzicato, more upbeat, more like the music ot tranquility, of product showcases on The Price Is Right. Horehound and Chen have a muted conversation: Horehound decked out in a white canvas apron; Chen in a black suit with a heavy leather suitcase in hand as he pushes his way out the door, leaving, presumably, for the airport.
Some have opined that this episode is by far the most poorly- realized of this series. I see no reason to argue with that, even as I maintain that rumors of this episode having been written in two hours on the set the day of shooting are most unfounded. Even with performance at this level, it’s ludicrous to assume that the sets could’ve been assembled that quickly.]
Horehound: I had hoped that Chen’s departure would have afforded me the opportunity to tackle sundry inventory tasks. But almost as soon as he left, trouble made its way in the front door.
[Trouble, as always, female and lethal. Trouble with hips that press the hemlines of the knee-length skirt that houses them. Trouble with breasts, lips, everything full and bouncy.
Trouble with a black eye. The camera focuses in on the shiner, and the ebullience of the bumper music gives way to a tragic, somber tone.]
Femme Fatale: Funny, you don’t look much like Chen.
[A standard reaction. We don’t look as we’re “supposed” to. We’re always too fat, too thin, too old, too white. Our flags aren’t big enough, aren’t stuck to public surfaces. But sometimes I do go on.]
Horehound: I get that a lot, actually.
[I do go on, I say, like I’m some kind of old biddy in a 1940s light comedy. Imagine me tittering as I say that, anxious to make a good impression. Imagine me holding forth as if I were in an interview for a job selling shoes in Sears. Imagine me answering questions about why I want to work there, or answering to charges that I might not have what it takes to squeeze shoes onto the bunioned feet of old women that reek of luncheon meat and decades of decay piled like bodies on the floor of some third- world grass hut, each with a Humanitarian Ration Pack marked “a gift from the United States of America.”]
Femme Fatale: Has that always been the case?
[Laos. Cambodia. Libya. Grenada. Panama. Colombia. Vietnam. The war machine sprung to life, running in sleddog tandem with the disinformation machine that reduces all charges to distant flatulence in a group house.]
Horehound: Of late, it has been.
[And people wonder why I don’t show compunction. Why I refuse to show regret for the steps I’ve taken. Regret is the province of fools, ultimately. To feel regret is to be the agent of your own disempowerment.]
Femme Fatale: I’ve been watching you in here. Through the window.
[I have learned this lesson from experience. I have partaken in soap opera confessionalism, and may do so again.]
Horehound: Have you liked what you’ve seen?
[The flutter in the debadged officer’s eyes suggests but one question: what did the President know and when did he know it?]
Femme Fatale: That’s not as important as what other people have seen.
[A subject I’ve dealt with far too much in this document. Who really cares what people have “seen”? The specter of irrelevance comes for all of us, with an outmoded triplicate form and a leaky ballpoint pen, offering no compromise, offering nothing beyond bifurcated quasi-choice.]
Horehound: I don’t think I heard you correctly.
[I will, for once, break down the issue here. I made a moral decision. I would make it again. I would decompose into ash and resin as well. The very act of deciding to help lay the groundwork for someone’s destruction is as horrifying as it is quotidian, and to address the reality of what brought me as close as I ever will again be brought to the velour-lined Valhalla of a full-time academic job is to address the essential irrelevance of human life.
How many charred Afghans add up to a sense of safety? How many interned in corporatized prisons for weed busts? How many erosions on our civil liberties?
I know that for who I am, I am marked. I know that we all are marked, that things could’ve been done differently. That I could’ve done things differently. That the ID cards are coming, that we are all brothers of the damned, sisters of the scarred, blood kin of the dispossessed.
That I should watch what I say.]
Femme Fatale: I think you are a very handsome man. Rugged.
[She leans over the counter and rests her fingers on Horehound’s cheek. But this is but a Judas kiss, a matter of conjecture and convenience. Through the corner of his eye, Horehound recognizes the scam.
Play action. The skirt a decoy, the real action happening throughout the store, where three men fill army packs with sundry victuals. All food groups represented–the cheese group, the steak group, the wine group. Foods with high retail value, maximum density foods, foods that make this sort of exercise, with its risk/reward balance, something worth devising and undertaking.
Horehound notices, sure, but it’s too late. For there is a fourth man and a crowbar and a swing as swift as it is decisive. And as the screen fades to black, the former cop slumps to the ground and the till is relieved of its burdens. Its cash, its coinage, its personal checks.
And as the credits roll, I realize I’ve again said too little and too much, and can only hope to rectify one of those conditions. Again, I have failed. I have omitted swaths of detail and have spotlighted only those that I felt inclined to spotlight.]
ANTHONY GANCARSKI writes frequently for Counterpunch and other publications. His 2001 collection of fiction and poems, UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS, is still in print. He welcomes comments at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.