A Semi-Demi-Quasi-Pseudo Autobiography

John Leguizamo
Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, Arizona
10th July, 2001

John Leguizamo’s first one man show, entitled SPIC-O-RAMA, A Dysfunctional Comedy, showed his diversity and talent. He followed that with another one man show, Mambo Mouth, which introduced a slew of new characters to terrorize, disgust, and thrill us, and it seemed as if he found his niche. But artists are never happy are they?

Movies were the next logical step – and a mistake in my opinion. His film career has included roles in Casualties of War and Carlito’s Way (both directed by Brian de Palma), Revenge, Hangin’ with the Homeboys, Regarding Henry (Mike Nichols), Whispers in the Dark, Super Mario Brothers, Pyromaniacs: A Love Story, Executive Decision, Spawn and The Fan, staring Robert DeNiro and Ellen Barkin. Not exactly thrilling.

It was his breakout role as Chi Chi Rodriguez in the drag comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, that earned him a Golden Globe Nomination for best supporting actor. Although I enjoyed To Wong Foo…. that was only because I was reminded of his character “Manny the Fanny” from the Mambo Mouth tour. Movies are not his forte. I think he’s more at home on stage. . and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s obvious from the onset that this is going to be an ethnic showcase. John Leguizamo is a melting pot of Hispanic culture and it shows. His mastery of the diversity of accents, body language and colloquial phrasing is unbelievable. He comes on stage with an anger, an intensity and a Ritalin-needy persona, introducing the audience to different cultures simply from the dances they did as teens, growing up in the 80’s in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Having had the advantage of also growing up in the 80’s in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, it probably made more sense to me, than to 90% of the audience, but they were all still captivated by his recounting of life.

His biography of exactly how dysfunctional his family was, provided vivid portraits, all told frantically, of his ancesters and immediate family, without the usual play-like characterizations that audiences have come to expect from him. Leguizamo reveals his exceptional talents as he portrays dozens of different ethnic characters he has encountered – Italians, Irish, Germans, Koreans, Jews, Latinos and West Coast “white dudes.” Sometimes it’s difficult to determine if there’s more than one person on stage. He allows us to view issues, such as abuse, neglect and peer pressures from a funny, straight to the point, view. Each event is unfolded, first as a story, then physically acted out, and concluded.

There are morals in there, or just maybe a giant think-tank of observations, in the hopes of coming to terms with his childhood problems. I think this tour is possibly a suggestion from his therapist, in order for him to vent his issues as he progresses forward into the future with his own children. A saving grace perhaps? Maybe…

Chris Fata
Trash City Magazine

Getting Plastered

There’s currently an invalid limping around the house with a leg in a cast, feeling sorry for herself. But in a major surprise, it’s not Emily – who seems to sprain, break and tweak things with the same regularity I went through glasses at her age – but Cleo, the psycho bitch from hell. “Bitch” used advisedly here, since she’s a dog, rather than a mad Japanese person with a fondness for gouging eyes out of videotapes.

When she started limping, at first we refused to take her to the vet – the last time we went there, it cost us the best part of a thousand dollars, and all we have to remember Max by, is his collar hanging up on the wall. Finally, Chris’s ex-husband took her, which is only fair since it was his dog to start with, and only ended up here after…well, let’s just say the words “canal”, “bricks” and “sack” underlay his comments to the children. Nice going – no wonder the dog was traumatised. [Yeah, I think she’s a useless waste of space too – but she’s our useless waste of space.]

Cleo came back with a cast on her leg, and since then, I can honestly say that, for the first time, the mere sight of her brings a smile to my face, rather than a scowl and shout of “Getoutofthatgarbagecan!”. [I think she probably believes her name to be Stopit] The house is mostly tile and wood floors, and they do not mix well with bandages – the net result was like watching Bambi on ice, complete with much the same look of utter consternation, or perhaps a drunken octopus, attempting to do the lambada. I mean, we are talking limbs everywhere. At one point, we toyed with the idea of putting a mattress on the wall outside our room, where the corridor bends, since it had gone from tricky chicane to death-trap status.

However, Cleo has now adjusted relatively well, and scurries along on three legs, the fourth wavin around at whatever odd angle is appropriate – Robert has renamed her “Tripod”. However, the standing-up and sitting-down part still gives her trouble, and so, when anyone comes to the door, she now just barks from a horizontal position, without bothering to get up. This is precisely what Max used to do, because he was well into his second century of dog years – we’re now wondering if Cleo has been possessed by his spirit, perhaps brought home in the aforementioned collar. Watch out for the Stephen King TVM soon.

We even signed her cast, just like a human’s with pithy comments such as, “This is what happens when you chase parked cars.” We do remain mystified as to what precisely caused the injury, and chipped a bone inside her foot. We live in hope that perhaps the garbage can she was raiding, bit back, and she’ll now be dissuaded from going in there without us needing to buy mousetraps [As an aside, we were in the hardware store, and technology has clearly been building a better mousetrap, complete with artificial cheese. Was less impressed with the sticky pads, like fly-paper for rodents – I guess they just starve to death instead, which is nice.]

There’s about another three weeks of careful surveillance in prospect, largely to make sure she doesn’t go for one of her swims (less perhaps for her benefit than ours; given the walking thing, the sight of her swimming might just induce a hysterical fit of some kind in spectators). Three weeks of blissful peace, without having to fend her away every time anyone is at the door. Three weeks of unraided garbage. Come that glorious day, I may well be calling Tonya Harding, to see if she fancy doing some work for me…

Car Trouble

In my 35 years, I have only been through the car-buying experience once, and that was a relatively painless process, involving the brother of a guy at work. Now that I’ve got my Arizona driving licence, I begin to twitch gently in the general direction of possibly doubling that tally.

It has to be said, that obtaining the licence was not nearly as taxing as I feared, and never mind piece of cake, it was an entire gateau compared to the British one. If it took 15 minutes, I’d be surprised, and seemed to involve little more than once around the block, hitting no more than two (2) pedestrians. Maneoveres were limited to one spot of reversing, into a gap large enough to land a space shuttle. Parallel parking? You never need to do it in Arizona, so it wasn’t included. Going by this, nor do you need to turn right. The disturbing thing is that some people probably still required more than one attempt to pass. And I am now sharing the road with them

I cheerfully confess to being both ignorant about and apathetic of motor-vehicles in general. Chris and I have reversed the usual roles here: she can spot a 67 Shelby GT Cobra with her eyes closed, while I identify it as “the red one”. The only two things I am certain of about any new car I buy, are that it will have a CD player, and air-conditioning. The latter is actually more important than anything else – never mind revving the engine, let’s hear how the A/C sounds.

More consideration has been given to what personalised number plate I’m going to have. Arizona permits you to choose seven letters, though the Morality Police in the States appear to impose restrictions on what you can have [the First Amendment doesn’t seem to apply here]. RAPNJAP, for instance, was pulled as offensive to Japanese-Americans, even though the car belonged to Robin Arnett Petty and Judy Ann Petty, and even IRISH was rejected in Vermont. Better be careful; last thing I want is to be deported for possession of an offensive number plate.

With TRSHCTY already gone to Chris, I find myself contemplating alternatives in idle moments: TCEDITR is one possibility, or maybe FILMFAN? ILUVCRS? The choices are endless, but trying to come up with seven letters to be the perfect expression of my character, heritage, and interests, as well as ideally saying “Don’t fuck with me” (would they hand over UZIS4ME?), is harder than it seems.

This part of the endeavour is rather more fun than the prospect of going to a car dealer, which by all accounts is like going for a dip in a shark tank while wearing trunks made of raw liver. We did think about getting one of those “seized by police” vehicles, because it’d be really cool to drive around in something bullet-riddled. Mind you, given the percentage of gun-owners around here, all you’d have to do is cut up the wrong person and Bob’s your uncle.

Maybe I should just get a new bicycle instead. Though that’d be a whole different set of problems – such as what to call it. We just got Robert a new bike, and he has named it “Stacey”. As yet, we haven’t dared ask why…

Cereal Killers

There was a time when breakfast cereal was a simple affair, and the endorsements were just as plain. You had Rice Krispies, with their trio of noise-making munchkins; the cuddly Tony the Tiger and his Frosties; and Corn Flakes, which has a pop-art rooster, surreal enough to make you wonder precisely what it was that made Mr. Kellogg rise and shine. But a recent stroll through the supermarket here revealed that cereals have become a good deal more…well, hardcore. Needless to say, TC sallied forth with an armful of the best, and bravely risked hypoglaecemia to bring you the following test results.

The Big Unit Breakfast
Sugar content: 37%
Best ingredient: Pyridoxine Hydrochloride

Randy Johnson is the star of our local baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and is known as the Big Unit, a somewhat obvious name given he measures up at 6’10”. He’s known for an intense demeanour, and has been voted the best pitcher in the league, three years in a row. Despite this, and a glower on the box stern enough to turn milk sour, his cereal is a meek-looking creature, being small and blandly O-shaped – shouldn’t it be K’s? [Explanation for British readers: baseball strike-outs, at which Johnson is the undisputed master, are known as K’s]

Their fine taste and excellent crunchy texture – even after soaking – thus came as a pleasant surprise. Admittedly, I’m not sure how much of it was due to the fact that we’d run out of regular milk and had to use diluted condensed milk instead. Attempts to replicate the experiment later with normal semi-skimmed failed, as the kids had already consumed the rest of the test subject. Which I guess is something of an endorsement in itself.

The cereal also provides a good workout, as from about half-way down, you have to expend serious effort, chasing the damn things round the bowl. I believe the baseball term for this is “a nasty slider on the corner of the plate”. [Explanation for British readers: a slider is a type of baseball pitch which…er, don’t worry about it – there will be no more obscure baseball jokes in this review] The box offers an opportunity to purchase an exclusive Big Unit T-shirt and hat; not very exciting, but some of the proceeds are going to help the homeless – and looking at the shirt, you’d probably have to be homeless to want to wear it. Still, Randy never claimed to be a fashion icon. Packaging D, Visual Appeal D-, Flavour B+

Sugar content: 42%
Best ingredient: Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil

In all likelihood, this will be coming soon to a remainder aisle near you, given the recent conversion of the WCW into a patsy for one member or another of Vince McMahon’s clan. But the mere presence of a breakfast cereal is perhaps symptomatic of the cancer which eventually ate the federation up. Never mind merchandising tie-ins, they failed to focus on basics, including the fact that stars such as Hulk Hogan were well past their sell-by date. Veteran wrestlers are fine when they’re good – the Hulkster was palpably not.

So what about the cereal? Much the same, I’m afraid. The early signs are good, the words “cocoa frosted flakes” promising an intense sugar rush, and it turns the milk an intensely chocolate shade in short order. But the taste… Whatever it is, chocolate doesn’t appear to be involved: reading the ingredients, I see “cocoa (treated with alkali)”, and it would appear as if rather more of the latter than the former made it into the finished product.

Indeed, as I write this, I notice on the bottom of the packet the words, “100% Recycled Paperboard”, and can’t help wondering if that figure includes the actual cereal as well as the packaging. You can also get it in Goldberg flavour (similar, except without the chocolate), but I imagine our packet of that will be stored away in a safe place. Five years down the line, we’ll hopefully be able to auction it on Ebay (“mint – in original box”) to some collector, and make our money back. Packaging C, Visual Appeal B-, Flavour E+

The Powerpuff Girls
Sugar content: 30%
Best ingredient: Carbon dioxide

If it came to a steel cage death-match, there’s no doubt that Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup would take down those noisy pixies, Snap, Crackle and Pop. The merchandising monster behind the Cartoon Network’s biggest stars rumbles steadily on, with this double-barrelled sound machine, which takes Rice Krispies to the next dimension. These don’t only pop in the bowl. By incorporating Pop Rocks (a.k.a. Space Dust) – in colours which somehow manage to be both garish and pastel simultaneously – they also pop during actual consumption. This provokes some interesting scientific questions: how do they distinguish between milk in the bowl and saliva in your mouth?

Nutritionally, this is probably the most dubious of the three, with any dietary benefit being outweighed by the additional candy elements. One also wonders whether your stomach would explode if you ate too much, though the ratio is low enough that you’d probably keel over from a Krispie overdose first. Tastewise, they’re not significantly different from regular RK’s, since the Pop Rocks seem to have no taste of their own.

Nice box though, brightly coloured, and with the shiny patch at bottom left an attention-grabbing beacon. It is also the only one of the three to offer any non-commercial activity, with a comic-strip on the back and a couple of puzzles, as well as a code for the EETandERN website (www.EETandERN.com); in this case, “2JM2-NQMK-K9R2-798”. Packaging B+, Visual Appeal B, Flavour C-

Wired For Sound

This particular episode began when we came home from seeing Tomb Raider, only to discover that the dogs has restaged their own version, entitled Larder Raider. Though going by the layer of white powder to be found in most rooms of the house, it could have been a remake of Scarface, albeit with flour. That was it – we’d had enough of these damn beasts. Henceforth, they could sleep outside. Er, no, they couldn’t, for Scottsdale local ordinances prohibit barking dogs. We knew that, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Cody and Cleo knew it too, as at 1am, they started up a cacophony of barking. We could either risk a visit from Officer Plod, and get no sleep anyway, or let them back in.

We caved, but the next morning saw me on Ebay, looking for a shock collar. I reasoned that to get them to sleep outside, they first needed to be trained to stop barking. And, let’s face it, while guard dogs are well and good, this trio’s inability to distinguish between a gang of heavily-armed bandits and the pool lady made them more a liability than anything. $39.99 and a few days later, the instrument by which this would be achieved turned up:

“Its light electrical stimulation delivers the instant message that barking is off limits in the kennel, backyard, crate, or wherever else it is bothersome. The KB-50 has seven adjustable levels of stimulation, allowing you to be able to tailor the level of correction stimulation to meet your dog’s temperament. This Anti-Bark Training collar is safe to use around other dogs(even in kennel situations), because the stimulus can only be activated by the dog wearing the collar. The collars receiver’s vibration probe is adjusted for sensitivity, and there is a three-second “relaxation break” between corrections.

I like the words “correction stimulation”. It looked pretty much like a normal collar, except with a small cube on the front, from which terminals extended on the inside. The collar was to be placed on the offending animal’s neck, the level of “correction” set from 1 to 7 (I was hoping it would go up to eleven, but was disappointed) and nature – or at least, the bit of nature discovered by Ben Franklin – left to take its course. I noted with some amusement that the instructions specifically warned against putting the collar on anything but a dog. Dammit. With a little tinkering, I was sure it would work just fine on a small child.

Scientific tests (or, at least, Robert sneaking out the back to ring the doorbell) revealed that Cody was the first one to bark when visitors arrived. Congratulations, Cody: you’ve just won a nice new collar. Typically, having connected her up, nobody came to our door that day; we did toy with the idea of sending Robert out again, just to check it was working, but that seemed somewhat unsporting. There was initially some problem in getting the collar tight enough; we were erring on the loose side, since we didn’t really want asphyxia to be part of the “correction”. Just to be safe, we jacked it up to level 3…

Then someone finally rang the doorbell and Cody launched into her usual “welcome”. Or at least tried to: the resultant sound can probably be approximated as follows:
Then silence. I was impressed. The speed with which it had the desired effect was certainly amazing, but we hurried to check on Cody, just to make sure she wasn’t lying on her back, legs in the air, convulsing gently. She was still moving, but in a way which suggested “Did anyone get the number of that truck?”, eyes full of hurt and confusion. Before you could think, “Bet she won’t be barking for a while”, Chris had leapt forward and removed the collar from Cody’s neck. “She’s learned her lesson,” she said firmly. Nothing could change her mind, not even my argument that if Cody had learned her lesson, then she surely had nothing to worry about?

You know how this story ends. In less than a week, the lesson had worn off, and Cody was back to full volume, thanks to my beloved Chris the softie and her fierce aversion to electrical “correction”. They say, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” – but I guess sometimes, we’re probably happier settling for a bacon sandwich.

[This editorial is dedicated to Max, Chris’s longtime (albeit somewhat grouchy) companion, who went to doggie heaven on July 5th]