The Beach Diaries 2015 — #4 in an Occasional Series

•July 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

supes

The bigwigs of the local art scene have put on a festival in the field by the beach; the LOVE Littlehampton Festival. There’s a kind of seashells-glued-to-a-vase-in-a-gift-shop-window Burning Man vibe, all dreadlocks and body-paint, and men in rainbow tutus flinging diablos into the sky.

Alan proves his celebrity status from a previous entry, parking his car by the side of the stage, and with his arrival announced over the mic like he’s Hulk Hogan being talked to the ring to defend his sweaty belt against the Iron Sheik. Along with the grand entrance, he’s slightly playing up his status as a celebrity eccentric, barefoot in jogging bottoms and shirtless beneath his dressing gown, like how John McCririck amped the priapic sexism to 11 when he realised it had become a marketable character.

While laid back on the grass, waiting for my friend to show, a calypso band lull me to a sleep beneath the oppressive midday sun, leading to another summer where my sunglasses-tan morphs me into the negative of a panda. When I jerk awake, mildly disorientated, Alan’s at the front of the stage, grasping the stuffed dog usually tied to his roof, and making it dance to the music.

Overheard conversation snippets. Mother with a small child, to her friend.

In my day, the seventies and eighties, the Pakistanis came over here and they slept with their own families. That’s why all the kids were born funny.

Unusually for these pieces, I spend the day with people I know rather than by myself. This leads to my being corralled into showing off my juggling at the circus skills tent. I don’t have many discernible talents; certainly few that can be called on at random moments. Nobody ever asks you to write a novel on the spot so they can see if you really do have as good a sense of structure and pacing as you’ve bragged. But my juggling, which was a teenage obsession, has been played up over time. Any mention of circusy things sees me quick to throw in with a “Yeah, I’m brilliant at that. Give me a broom and I’ll balance it on my chin. Wanted to join the circus when I was 15. Got a unicycle for my 16th birthday…” However, to say that I’m rusty would be an understatement. While I can’t be trusted to pass a bowl of fruit without flinging them under my legs and putting them back bruised, I haven’t really done it for a good twenty years; certainly not with clubs or more than three balls.

Fliss has heard me talking it up for a long time, and in the shadow of a mini-big-top, is gifted the chance to finally call me on it in public. When the wiry little Circus-man with the missing tooth and ratty ponytail produces a stack of balls, I sense I’m seconds from the familiar sight of a pair of big, blue eyes dismissively peering over the top of some imaginary glasses. I’m hot and unprepared, and juggling muscle-memory takes a few minutes to kick into life, beyond the perfunctory basics, so I pick up three balls and clumsily run through a half-arsed routine of the tricks I can remember.

You finally saw me juggling,” I say to Fliss.

I saw you dropping things,” she says, strolling off to try the poi, and not sticking around to watch me pick up a set of clubs.

Later, as the circus skill people take down the tent, it’s announced over the PA that they’re headed off for a “fire show” in London. On this, a pair of small boys who’ve been practising hula hoops sprint over to ask the juggler if they can go with them. Some childhood fantasies are timeless. Although judging from my own pitiful display, I doubt they’d want me for anything beyond sweeping the turds out of the elephant enclosure with my bare, uncoordinated hands.

The name of the festival gets me thinking back to a conversation I overheard earlier in the week, between a group of teenagers who took a brief stop on the bench as I was reading on the other side of the wall. I could only pick out snippets of their mewing, but it was clear that one of their number was virtually radioactive with the first exciting flushes of reciprocated love. I’m sure these days that plays out in group snapchats, or lyric-quoting tweets they think are really vague but aren’t, rather than tippexed initials on a pencil case, but the grand emotions will never change. Presumably.

Having never had that, caught as I am in the midst of this weird existential crisis, I find myself wondering what it’s like; that thing of knowing someone you like likes you back. It’s a thing which drives so much art, with the entire world chasing that feeling of reciprocation; of a magnetic pull instead of push, even on the small, simple level where you’re aware that someone of whom you think “she’s nice” thinks “he’s nice” in return. I wonder if there’s a specific feeling tied to that; a unique emotion that can later be called upon with sense-memory whiffs of a familiar aftershave or the opening bar to a song you once listened to together in the dark?

Part of me is curious to feel that before I die, just once, as a vague emotional bucket listing, seeing as it’s clearly such a central and driving part of the human experience. But I think it’s better not to know. You never hear anybody say “Took a big puff of crack, but I decided it wasn’t for me.” They’re always toothless and sunset-eyed; a decade more haggard then their forgotten school chums, after years of the obsessive, elusive hunt to recapture the sensations of that first high. Who wants to spend the rest of their life weighed down by that?

At the point a local band announce their entire oeuvre of noodling, twelve-minute dirges of feedback and psychedelica are inspired by the original series of Star Trek, it’s time to go home.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2, #3

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #3 in an Occasional Series

•July 4, 2015 • 3 Comments

mytwodads

A woman berates her husband in angry Polish, as they watch a family-sized bag of Doritos blow away down the beach.

Days like today are packed with families, like that’s the totally normal way to live, and not to slink down here on your own just to find something to blog about. I remember when it started to be a thing where I’d see guys my own age who had kids, and thinking how crazy that seemed and how I could never imagine myself like that; especially not so young. But now, a lot of dads are a full decade younger than me, and it still seems unthinkable. Maybe as part of this whole mad crisis I’ve been having lately, a vague wondering crosses my mind, about how I’d have gotten on as a family person. What kind of father would I have been? What kind of boyfriend? I think that’s rather the same as asking how good of a Chinese farmer I’d have been, or how I’d have fared in medieval times. It seems an utterly ludicrous suggestion. I just can’t picture it.

Despite the fact I effectively imagine things for a living, I don’t have a mental image to draw on, because I’ve never thought about it. Mainly, because it never appealed to me; because the future life I did imagine always involved pumping out a body of work — books, films, etc — that people would enjoy, with no thought to any life outside. From more realistic imaginings of where I’d be a couple of years down the road, to more wild, child-like daydreams, where I could see myself on film sets, or in old-age as a prolific raconteur with a revered back-catalogue, the one thing I never pictured was that anyone else was there with me. Not once.

But also, if I’m being truthful, I didn’t think about it because I might have wanted it. If that happens, then what? If I start looking at these dad-men and think “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind a slice of that”? There’s really no need to add to the long list of things I want but can’t have. Maybe that’s why these pieces are so riddled with over-thought nonsense about pointless minutia and crisp packets caught in the wind. Mental flash-grenades that give me time to dive through the nearest window and make my escape.

There’s a group of cosplayers along the prom dressed as Batman villains, for no discernible reason beyond the fun of it. People stop to get selfies, with the characters all craning into frame behind, in classic villain poses. The Joker is there, and Catwoman, plus a little boy in a top hat, as Burgess Meredith-era Penguin. Perhaps more notably, in the insane, thirst-stirring heat, is Poison Ivy, who requires two or three or a dozen extra glances to figure out if she’s wearing a skin-coloured bodysuit, or literally just strolling about naked under some nettles (I still couldn’t call it), and an insanely hot Harley Quinn.

Great as it is, it’s a little disarming to see such classically gothic characters out and about on a sunny beach, transposed from their usual rain-soaked, lightning-lit streets; like if Santa had been down here. A really sexy Santa, with his bubble-butt ting barely covered by a tinsel thong.

Goddamn summer. It turns every man into a dirty old vicar from a Carry On film. Or maybe just me.

Cosplay's alright, I s'pose.

Cosplay’s alright, I s’pose.

Hardly anyone actually sits on the long bench. The unspoken agreement seems to be that it’s solely for little kids to walk along, even though there are metal juts and bins every few yards that they have to climb around, or beg with outstretched arms for a parent to lift them over and deposit them back down the other side. This climb-up-climb-down-climb-up routine often seems tiresome to mums and dads who just want to get home at the end of a long day, or find somewhere to lay their heavy bags of picnic food and beach toys at the beginning of one.

The latest child to carefully scamper along the slats like a circus performer gets short shrift from a mother laden down with bags, slung and slipping awkwardly over a shoulder, and held under an arm. She tells the little girl to get down. “It’s too hot for this,” she says, obvious irritation burning hotter than the overhead sun.

From behind, the child’s father hops onto the bench behind her with an “Eyy!” He gives slow chase. “Come on, then!” he says, to giggles from the child, and exasperated head-shaking from his partner, who walks on up ahead. A small victory for him, perhaps? Does he cast himself as Fun Dad against the rigid authority of Mean Mummy? Maybe she has to do all the punishing, while he’s always sneaking their daughter sweets and letting her get away with everything.

Then Fun Dad gets to a jut, his foot slips, and he tumbles; right off the bench to the concrete of the prom. He catches himself with his hands, but his pride is fatally shattered. The child starts to cry. Without casting a backward glance at the fallen form in her peripheral vision, Mum reaches out a hand, which the girl runs towards and clasps.

To the man, the woman says nothing. She keeps on walking. Dusting himself down, he follows behind; behind the silence of her back.

Overheard conversation snippets. A small boy to his mum:

They shot all the people on the beach in that other country. Shot all the people. I hope we don’t get shot!” he says excitedly.

Don’t be silly, darling.”

The t-shirt on a nearby picnicking dad is making my brain twitch. Along with a little stickman Gandalf, it bears the following text.

KEEP CALM

AND

RUN

YOU FOOLS

Hnnng. I looked it up on Amazon, expecting a slew of 1 star ratings raging about the misquote, but there’s a single 3 star review, which reads “The only qualm I have is the packaging made the shirt carry a strange odour which took a wash or two to get rid of.” Dads, eh? Running around in their incorrectly-referencing, smelly t-shirts. Slipping off benches. Who wants to be one of them? Pssh.

[Drops flash grenade; dives through closed window]

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

In 2014: #1, #2, #3

And this year: #1, #2

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #2 in an Occasional Series

•June 30, 2015 • 2 Comments

swash

A man kisses the forehead of his dog as it rests its front paws on the arm of his wheelchair.

The sky is so insanely, flawlessly blue, with the sea beneath a clear turquoise you feel you could drink and be healed of all your demons, that it almost seems fake. It’s a child’s crayoned summer day, pinned to the fridge, where the sun is a big, yellow ball with outstretched beams and a smile on its face. If I throw a pebble at the sky, maybe it’ll crack.

My current reading material down here is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I only really know Capote through Oscar-season snippets of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance a few years back, which was notable for his depiction of Capote’s pinched, muppet-like voice. Unfortunately, I don’t recall it that well, so my internal narrator switches between other weird, nasely voices I’ve got saved up there. One paragraph, it’s Pee Wee Herman; the next, Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor. The bit where we first meet the killers is recited into my mind by Joe Swash — each somewhat undercutting the dramatic tension. I’ll Youtube Capote when I get in and settle it in my brain.

I keep seeing Alan’s car around. Everyone does.

To explain, Alan is famously the ‘town eccentric'; sorry to disappoint those who assumed that role was mine. He could often be seen with his beloved pet chicken, until it sadly got savaged in the high street by a loose dog last year, in a scene I’m glad I didn’t witness in person. Alan owns and lives in the house by the river that I first wrote about here in 2012; the house with the year-round Santa, stuffed dalmatian tied to the roof, and topless mannequin jauntily showcasing her plastic a-cups through the attic window. Sometimes, he takes her out for a drive, with her elegant hand waving greetings through the open passenger window like a member of the royal family.

alanhouse

A few months ago, the district council incited outrage by sending Alan threatening letters, serving notice that he needed to alter his house to fit in line with the new, £20-something-million development on the riverbank directly opposite. Give it a lick of paint, they said. Take down the dog, clothe the mannequin. Untie the black ladies bra that hangs from the bumper of your car. In fact, to quote directly:

I would ask that you provide an explanation for the unusual items on display i.e. the toy Dalmatian dog hanging out of a first floor window and the mannequin in the top floor window.”

Because the world is owed an explanation, right? Why do you dress like that? Why are you smiling? Just what are you hiding? What they saw as a warning against anti-social behaviour was quickly posted online in a Facebook group usually devoted to local gossip, with Alan holding aloft the now-torn-up letter like a mayor pointing at a pothole. All it stirred was support for one man’s right to live his life freely and harmlessly, while spreading a little bemusion and joy. Months have passed since then, and any tourist happening to glance across from the fancy new flood defences and elevated riverside walkway will still meet the gaze of a naked mannequin wearing a tea towel as a hat, or shield their eyes from the sun while pausing to figure out if that’s a real dog climbing up the side of the house.

Alan himself can be seen now more than ever — a full-time attraction, elevated from curio to small-town A-lister, with the frequent social media pap-shots giving him the air of a Littlehampton Kardashian — driving round both here and neighbouring locales as a one-man protest-cum-celebration of Being Yourself. He didn’t remove the bra from the bumper, but he did tie a full-sized, fibreglass cow onto the roof, with a stuffed dog riding on its back; tassels and other jaunty paraphernalia fluttering in their wake. Any councillors shaking their heads at his bringing shame upon the town’s precious image as he tootles past may catch sight of the large tiger that appears to be asleep in the open boot, while thinking to themselves that, in hindsight, some sleeping tigers are best not woken.

A large party of schoolchildren on an outing stand in an excited gaggle on the prom, with most of the boys chasing and attacking each other with foam swords bought from the vendors. An elderly couple walk through the mass of kids, and one of the boys playfully swats the old man on the arse with his sword. The old man laughs. Teacher didn’t see.

There are definitely less beards on display down here than there were last summer. Even mine got whipped off just before Easter. Every fad seems like it’s going to last forever, but never does. It’s like we forget. The mullet. Emo. Baggy combat pants. And now, that two-year period where every man looked like the Yorkshire Ripper.

Right,” says a man of about 40 to his mate, “I’m going for a cheeky piss.” I wonder what’ll be so cheeky about it? Will he have one leg bent up behind him like girls being kissed in old films, while coquettishly lifting a finger to his pursed lips, as a jet of wee rhythmically tinkles out the opening bars to Hello Dolly?

Imagine my surprise, when I follow him into the toilets and kick in the door while he’s mid-flow to discover that’s exactly what he’s doing.

On the way home, walking down by the river, I have to step around a couple who stop in their tracks to shoot a confused look across the street. “I thought that was a real dog” says the lady, laughing.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

And in 2014: #1, #2, #3

The Beach Diaries 2015 — #1 in an Occasional Series

•June 27, 2015 • 2 Comments

header

I come to this summer’s entries in a strange state of flux. Recently, while between projects for the first time in about 12 years, I came to realise that I barely exist. At least, not outside of the self-identifying label of writer. I’ll get to the beach stuff in a bit, but stay with me, as this is relevant. I never made a secret of the fact that my work is where I feel most at home, and that it’s a nice, safe hiding place for me, from the world I never really got along with. In My Dinner with Andre, they argue about a quote attributed to Ingmar Bergman that goes “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.” That’s me.

Back in March, I finished the Saved by the Bell book, completely burnt out, having hopped from one (or two or three) overlapping project(s) to the next for over a decade, and suddenly finding myself with no idea what to do next. With no other world to lose myself in, there was nothing to distract me from my place in this one. Consequently, I’ve felt increasingly vague and ghostlike and lost, and quite honestly, fucking crazy. I’m a non-corporeal entity that merely haunts the places I pass through. I’ve been lost inside my own head for years, only half-there, with my mind on whatever I’m working on now or next or never.

I don’t know if this is a genuine crisis, or just feels like one in the moment, like many feelings that hit you when you’re in a down period before the dark clouds pass and sweep them along with them. But right now, I’m trapped in this strange and unfamiliar land where the needle of my internal compass refuses to settle on Next, and it suddenly all feels very real and raw. I put everything into my work or thinking about my work (“a bunch of pretension and dick jokes?” you say, “a life well spent…”). There are roughly half a million words of mine available to buy on Amazon, plus a bunch of screenplays, articles, unpublished and abandoned books, and various writings sat around on hard drives or notepads. It’s all I do. Literally all I do. And I do it alone. But if I can’t define myself by those words, then what am I? I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no idea, except that I’m pretty sure that, creative ventures aside, it’s not what I ever aspired to be at this stage of my life.

Why haven’t there been any Beach Diaries until now, the end of June? Because I haven’t felt like going out (or able to go out). I’ve been way too busy drowning in the sort of suffocating depression that keeps the curtains closed during the day, and the nights sleepless and filled with anxiety and paranoia and recurring bad dreams; that pushes away the people you care about, and marks the passing of the long days minute by minute. Just get through it; it’ll pass. It won’t. Not this time. The usual solution would be to point myself at an empty page and type or scribble until it all faded into the background, but…

Last weekend I scrawled some lengthy piece which seemed really insightful and full of meaning as it was coming out of me, but on transcription revealed itself to be meandering half-gibberish; repetitive melancholia that’s either Classic Millard or a cry for help. I didn’t post it.

I hesitate to use the phrase ‘find myself’, but I stopped the more regular Beach Diaries because of similar fears of retreading the same ground and becoming a cliche, and just went on to write in different genres and mediums instead. I could do that now. I’ve got dozens of half-finished projects and hundreds of unstarted ones. But if I do, I’ll probably never come back out.

So, for now I’m returning to these, back to The Beach, to see what happens, with all of the above consciously at the front of my mind, and wondering if I’ll find a solution, or part of a solution; a step or a doorway; somewhere out there. I’m not going to apologise for opening on some rambling, self-serving psychoanalysis, when you were likely hoping for whizz-bang observations about shirtless lads pretending to hump an inflatable dolphin, or a cute elderly gent groaning in arthritic-pain as he cheerily bends to pick up a dog-dirt for his aged wife, because these pieces have always been about exposing my own demons and flaws through the medium of people-watching.

I don’t know what form these entries will take, or if there will be any beyond this one. Or if this will even leave the notepad and make itself public. But I do know that they, or I, can’t stay unevolving. And if I keep hiding inside my writing like a heroin addict, that’s what will happen.

So, to the beach…

bdbanner

Today I’m back watching the strongman event, which runs concurrently with Armed Forces Day. This is the third year I’ve written about it, and I’m thrilled to see the undersized underdog from 2012 make his return; still half the size of everyone else; still looking as though he’s accidentally blundered past the guardrail on the way back from the garden centre, quietly sat at the back as they ready themselves for competition. Googling his name reveals he’s been at it for years, and is yet to ever leave last place, while cutting an enigmatic figure on the scene by dead-lifting the back end of his Volvo for training.

As the competitors take their turns, small sections of the crowd spark into life, revealing strongmen as sons and uncles and husbands and friends. Underdog Guy has no cheering section. I shall be his cheering section; his traveling band of support. You’re my boy!

On the other side of the windmill (that’s right; I’m watching a strongman contest next to a windmill beside the beach; I’m a sea-hick), Armed Forces Day is in full, po-faced swing. I’ve written of my disdain for the festival of combat-fetishism before, but it’s effectively a public holiday for the sort of people who masturbated over that video doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday, where a Queen’s Guard points a rifle towards the open mouth of a tourist for not respecting his position as a uniformed, walking God. I might head over later and check out the stalls aimed at recruiting children of barely-veiled racist parents into the circus of death and PTSD. Give teenagers swanning about in little berets footballer’s wages!

Later, I do pass through. Small boys excitedly handle a table of service weaponry; maybe with confirmed kills having previously puked out of their barrels. How exciting! A thrilled nine-year-old lays on the grass with his eye to the scope of a sniper rifle, presumably picturing himself blowing the beard right off the skull of someone called Mustafa, or whatever crazy names Bad Guys have.

My boy’s doing better this time round. Three years ago, he bottomed out on every single event, often without managing a single rep. This time, he’s gotten a pair of penultimate-place finishes, ahead of a stocky, and very short strongman whose stubby limbs prove a hindrance.

One of the strongmen follows me on Twitter, but barely tweets himself, and I’m sure has no idea who I am. I resist the urge to yell “Oi! Remember that tweeted joke about Jamie Oliver’s urinal cakes? That was me!” as he hauls a 500lb tractor tire over his head.

I’m once again fascinated by the noises the big men make, in moments of exertion so extreme, human beings are reduced to animals. One hisses through his teeth like a vampire rearing back from a crucifix. Another silently and rapidly opens and closes his mouth like a goldfish. “Boh. Boh. Boh.” The Underdog gives nothing away; eyes hidden beneath Lennon shades; face in the shadow of a bucket hat; silently grinding out another inspiring last place. Later, as he comes out for his turn, an elderly lady says to her husband “It’s the little one!” and I of course give her the thrashing of her life. (I don’t)

I keep reminding myself to be here, in the moment, and not slip back into detached 3rd party notepad observations.

I see someone I think I know, before realising I don’t know him; he just really looks like Bill Oddie.

My boy sits out the next event with a bad shoulder, but resumes for the following one, where the men heave a giant, concrete Malteser onto their shoulders. He fails to get a single lift, but I pound my palms violently nonetheless. At the close of the show, he finishes 12th out of 12, like he probably knew he would. But showing up and giving every event all that he has, under the scrutiny of a live crowd, knowing he’ll be followed by men who’ll out-lift and out-pull, and that he’ll never draw the wild cheers of the leaders, as they one-up each other’s impossible feats, takes a heart the size of that massive stone. I hope he’s back next year.

bdcovers

The Beach Diaries have been running since 2011, spawning the two Kindle books you see above. Both are available on Amazon, for the price of a pint, and I highly recommend you buy them, because I like money.

The Beach Diaries 2011: £1.99 on Amazon.co.uk$2.99 on Amazon.com

The Beach Diaries 2012: £2.99 on Amazon.co.uk$3.99 on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle, here’s Amazon’s FREE Kindle app for phones, tablets, mac and PC

These days, I only put them out occasionally, as I did two years ago. The Occasional Beach Diaries 2013: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

And in 2014: #1, #2, #3

James Hydrick Speaks — Part IV

•June 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Bruce Near-ly

This is the final part of my interview with James Hydrick, his first in over thirty years. If you landed here without reading the previous entries, here are the links:

Part I

Part II

Part III

— In the way you looked up to, and were inspired by Bruce Lee, were there any magicians that you admired, growing up?

My first teacher of magic was Harry Blackstone Jr., the son of the great Harry Blackstone Sr. I met him when I was a youngster at a county fair and caught him doing the French Drop and other sleight of hands. He thought that was pretty good, and as a reward gave me a box of magic tricks with cards, scarves, and so on with an instructional manual. That box became my inspiration to magic. I practiced those tricks by myself and on others thousands of times while growing up in orphanages and foster homes in the deep south.

The second role model was Harry Houdini. I saw his movies to learn the tricks and became especially adept at the handcuff escape from anywhere… even underwater. I practiced holding my breath for long periods until five minutes underwater became routine, and my timed record was six and a half minutes.

The third and fourth inspirations were both oriental martial artists. Sho Kosugi did ‘Ninja’ movies that combined illusion with martial arts, and then Master Zen converged the two disciplines into one show. That’s what I wanted to do on stage.

The fifth magician I admired was James Randi. He had strong illusion skills and treated me fairly. He bragged about me that ‘No one from such a poor upbringing has ever so cleverly taken simple things around him to perform stage magic that deceived the audience.’ Randi encouraged me to become a professional stage magician.

But where these magicians made money from it, my goal was to generate martial arts students to generate income. My first love was always martial arts.

— As far as I’m aware, the air current illusion had never been performed before you did it. What first made you think of it, and how long did it take before you perfected it to the point people couldn’t tell it was a trick?

I learned the breath illusion in LA County Jail while housed in cell block 2904 with the Alphabet Bomber Muharem Kurbegovic. We were the only ‘red bracelet’ prisoners on the tier with the security of one body guard. Kurbegovic used to talk constantly, or yell in the night, and he read scripture. One day I got bored listening to him read scripture and took a deep breath, and exhaled it. The bible pages in his hands moved. It was an accident, but I saw the potential.

I practiced for a few days until I could direct my breath to move the pages, pencils, and other small objects without being detected. After I got transferred out of 2904 back to the general population, I used the breath illusion on other prisoners and the guards. When I asked an inmate to hold the bible and concentrate hard on believing, he’d try, and suddenly the pages started fluttering in his hands. He turned white and got religion. I probably had more converts than the jail chaplain. I continued to practice this and other illusions in jail to ‘reinvent’ myself for release. I had a plan to combine the magic with martial arts to have a show to draw students and make money so I wouldn’t return to jail. It worked.

— During the taping of That’s My Line, before they brought out James Randi, you appeared to struggle with the pencil illusion, and it was said that it took you 40 minutes to flip the pages of the phone book. Was this to sell the idea you couldn’t work on cue, once Randi’s conditions were later put in place? Or had you been working on your showmanship since the earlier appearance on That’s Incredible?

I hadn’t met Randi before the That’s My Line show, and sure didn’t know what conditions he was going to throw into my breath illusion act. I took the stage before Randi’s conditions were put in place, and took about 40 minutes studying the setup from every possible angle. I walked around, thinking what Randi could possibly impose on the act. Would he hide a microphone, a close-up camera of my face, intense lighting, a mouth mask, or what? After I was satisfied, I went ahead and made the pages move. The purpose of the delay was to learn the setup, but there was a little showmanship thrown in too.

I love performing. It may be that I missed the attention as a kid unless it was my dad beating me or stepmother burning holes in my skin with cigarettes. My showmanship has two angles: I know how to make something appear real, and I can read people. If there is a flaw in the peoples’ perception, then I can create an illusion to put in it, and make it appear real. I can lasso the moon if you want me to.

— Did you go in to the That’s My Line taping thinking you’d take home James Randi’s prize of $10,000? And how much pressure did this add to your performance?

I always look forward to performing, and once on stage enjoy it. When I appeared on That’s My Line it was to draw students into martial arts rather than win the $10,000. I had plenty of money, but knew that of that the national exposure could generate thousands of students to make even more money than the $10,000 prize.

The ten grand didn’t make me nervous at all. James Randi used to comment on how well I performed under pressure, but there really wasn’t any because I enjoyed showing my magic.

— Can (and do) you still perform the pencil trick?

I rarely use the pencil trick any more. It’s like, who wants to see the old news? My technique for it was a simple martial arts breathing method while distracting the audience with hand gestures in order to blow and create an air current that moved the pencil.

— And are you still surprised at how easily people want to be fooled?

People don’t really want to be fooled. They want to be entertained, or to have an excuse to be talked into something. My illusions are icebreakers. People don’t want to be fooled. They want to know: Who am I? Why are we suffering and having wonderful experiences? Why am I here?

For more information about James Hydrick, and other, similar tales, check out my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal.

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Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal on Amazon UK

Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal on Amazon US

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers

James Hydrick Speaks — Part III

•June 2, 2015 • 1 Comment

blowme

Click here to read Part I of James Hydrick’s first public interview for thirty years.

And here for Part II.

— With your fame and martial arts skills at the time, did Hollywood ever come calling for possible roles in film or television?

Hollywood came knocking a few times after my early shows. After the Korem show, Warner Brothers came and I signed a one-year contract and got a $4,200 advance for them to do my story on television special. They had the option, and were to pay me more monthly… but nothing happened. Slim Pickins was to play my farther in that one, but it aborted.

Then, in about 1985, I was in Atlanta. An offer rolled in from New York, I think from Motown. They did a few hours of audio recordings, but I wouldn’t allow video. It was to be a TV special that never happened. There was also another try by Michael Ovitz who was the agent for Steven Seagal. Michael used to say he could turn anyone into a movie star. It had had been my dream ever since as a youngster watching Bruce Lee with my dad when he was on the chain gang in jail. I was introduced to Michael by Ed Parker, and they were setting up a movie about my life, because Ed Parker was fascinated by it, but it never got past the planning stage. Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured me in a segment.

Two years ago, the New York documentary company who did the James Randi film An Honest Liar filmed 3 1/2 days of me at Coalinga for a James Hydrick documentary. That film is in the making, and they’re just waiting for more funding. My biographer, Steven Bo Keeley, is the consultant to that movie, and our book should be out within a year.

— How many students did you have training under you at the dojo at your peak?

I had 3,500 students training under me in martial arts in ’80 – 81 at Salt Lake City. It was the largest martial arts studio in the free world. About 10 percent were female, and the rest guys. It was mostly adults and a few youngsters. The majority were from Utah with about 10 percent from out of state and 5 percent from other countries like Brazil, Canada, and Israel. I tried to take people who were already advanced in martial arts, so it was a high quality group. There were three classes a day, morning, afternoon and evening, plus individual instruction.

— What happened with those students immediately following the Korem film? Did you speak to any of your classes about it, and if so, how did they feel?

Korem didn’t damage my martial arts program. People don’t care about illusions when it come to martial arts. However, Korem did damage my rep as a stage illusionist. He scripted and edited that show to promote himself and put me in the worst light as a magician. I used magic to get more martial arts students. I didn’t teach magic at the school, but consolidated martial arts with illusion to generate more martial arts students.

— Years after the Korem show, you reappeared on an episode of Sally Jessy Raphael. How did this come about?

Korem called me after his show and asked me to appear on Sally Raphael. They gave me a $3,500 appearance fee. I didn’t know particulars of what would happen. When I got to the show I was seated in the audience and thought it was a little strange. When the cameras started a guy next to me jumped up and said, “James Hydrick is sitting next to me.” The cameras swung to me, and then someone recognized Danny Korem in the audience. The cameras swung to him, and then back and forth. The discussion was minimal, and Korem used the Raphael show as a confirmation of his little victory in his earlier show.

— And were there any other less well-known JH TV appearances?

Dimension Five with Ed Jakes did a 30 minute piece on me in 1980 on KSL channel 5, the big news station. That was my debut. There was That’s Incredible, the Danny Korem show, and That’s My Line.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not did a segment saying, “How can a terribly abused kid with a third grade education use a nine inch pencil in a clever display of illusion to become the world’s greatest psychic?” Paul Harvey talked about me but there was no interview.

— Is there any truth to you being sought out as a figurehead for various cults? Or do you think Danny Korem was trying to portray you as more dangerous, like a possible Charles Manson that had to be stopped, to make his ‘exposé’ seem more important?

No one ever sought me out as a cult leader. I never introduced anyone to a cult and wasn’t asked to be in one. I don’t know how that rumor came about, but can guess. When I was living with my biographer Steve Bo Keeley in Salt Lake and just getting my dojo going, there were articles in the Mormon newspapers about how my illusions might come from the supernatural. Bo Keeley’s brother, a minister, saw these and contacted Danny Korem in Dallas asking him about it, since Korem was a Christian and a magician. That’s how the Korem show came about. That’s probably how the talk of me being a part of a cult got started. Again, I wasn’t part of a cult, and the people who came to my dojo were there for martial arts or to enhance their performances in professional baseball, boxing or other sports.

Danny Korem painted me as a villain, when he knew I wasn’t a villain. I was a young man with an abused childhood and a third grade education, and he was a slick illusionist. He took away the only thing I had, the chance to crawl out of the literal hole I came from. I’ll tell you something that will sound strange, but is true. I was tied to a tree with the pigs and dogs and forced to eat their food. I was molested by my step-mother, chained to my Dad’s steering wheel at nights when he bounced at bars, and raped repeatedly before I turned ten. That was the hole I was trying to crawl out of, and Korem took it away from me.

Korem didn’t like that I said things come from the mind as well as from illusions. Possibly he was jealous. James Randi encouraged me, and said ‘You are good. Keep going, kid‘, but Korem tried to discourage me. Randi wrote Korem after the show, and it’s a matter of record, that Korem committed a serious crime of morality on that show. But I retained my reputation as a martial artist and became successful.

In the upcoming Part IV, Hydrick talks about those famous TV appearances, how he developed the page-turning trick, and facing off against James Randi and his $10,000 challenge.

For more information about James Hydrick, or other, similar tales, check out my book, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal.

ukffcover

Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal on Amazon UK

Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal on Amazon US

Amazon’s free Kindle app for phones, tablets, and computers

The Ten Most Sociopathic Acts of Zack Morris

•May 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This is material adapted from my book, So Excited, So Scared: The Saved by the Bell Retrospective, in which there’s about 160,000 more words about Zack and co. More info at the bottom of the post.

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With Lisa running up a huge bill of $386 on her dad’s credit card; which may not seem like much, but I can assure you, in 1989 was enough to fund an entire space program; the kids need to make some fast buck. Zack’s plan? Pimp her out. For a dollar a pop, Bayside’s horny nerds purchase tickets entitling them to a kiss from Lisa, who’s neither been made aware of the flesh-sale, nor given her permission.

Consequently, Lisa; a girl who’ll increasingly go onto demonstrate signs of PTSD from years of Screech’s protracted stalking; spends the lesson shrieking with fright and fending off the molestations of Zack’s customers. Of course, Screech buys a fistful, and at a later clothes auction, purchases some Lisa-worn lingerie, proudly announcing that he’ll sleep with it every night.

And FYI, Lisa’s father is called Dr. Turtle, which sounds like a desperate pitch by a cartoon exec who’s one more failed pilot from having security carry him into the street.

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Zack and Kelly; history’s greatest ever love story, right? Not so much. In reality, Zack and Kelly (or, if you’re a shipper, Zapowski) are a valuable case study into abusive, controlling relationships. This is the Zack who so felt entitled to ownership of Kelly, that he once entered a dance contest to stop she and Slater pairing up, purely because he didn’t want Kelly and Slater’s names touching on a trophy. Their names.

Though this is far from his worst Kelly-based behaviour, regard the moment that he finally tries to nail her down as his property by popping the big one; “Wanna go steady?” By the time Kelly’s finally made up her mind, Zack’s caught sight of the hot new school nurse, and cruelly blows off Kelly’s yes with a none-more-cold “that’s great; so what was the question?” before literally strutting away.

Later, realising that won’t stop other guys from touching ‘his’ Kelly, he tries to sell her on the wonders of an open relationship, leaving him free to hit on Nurse Jennifer, and Kelly some gross, Screech-picked nerds. What a Romeo!

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Before Zack and Kelly hooked up, Slater was the big man. He had the muscles and the driving license, and every scene featuring Zack and Slater saw them sword-fighting their dicks over the Kapowski-shaped trophy. When Slater’s army-man father gives his son the option of moving to Hawaii, Zack sees this as his chance to get rid of his rival, and move in for the kill on Kelly. But how to convince Slater to ditch Bayside? Tell him how great Hawaii is and what a wonderful time he’ll have there?

Nah. Zack tells the girls that Slater’s dying of a rare disease; Mumbioquadralationosis, a fatal brain disorder. The only clinic that can treat it is in Hawaii, says Zack, but Slater loves his friends so much, he’d rather be with them, even though it’ll kill him. The only way to save his life is to let him know that he’s not wanted, and that everybody hates him, so that he’ll leave. “If you care about Slater at all, treat him like dirt.” Jesus, dude.

A full-fledged piece of cruel theatre, the entire gang bully Slater with cutting insults like pea-brain and brillo-head, making it clear that nobody wants him around, causing smelly dumb jock dunce Slater to storm off, yelling that he hates this stupid school. A triumphant Zack basks in the glow of a successful hate campaign, as a forlorn Slater, his self esteem systematically broken by everyone he cares about, announces that he’s moving to Hawaii. In the end, he doesn’t. But with a bff like that, he really should have.

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It’s no surprise when a class on subliminal messaging perks up the interest of Rapex Predator, Zack Morris, who’s like those PUA creeps with no sense of boundaries who buy a teach-yourself-hypnotism book thinking it’s the magic key to making girls drop their knickers.

In Bayside’s own MKUltra, via a series of tapes more disturbing than those of David Parker Ray, Zack sets about mind-molesting the chicks of Bayside, entirely for grubby sexual purposes. First testing that it works by subliminally brainwashing hot girls into making out with some grotesque, hover-hand nerds, whom the girls slobber all over and call “master,” he then plants hidden messages into Kelly’s Bo Revere album. Roping perennial perv-case Screech into the deal, he triumphantly proclaims “Kelly and Lisa are gonna be ours forever!

And indeed, it works, until Zack’s scam gets twigged, and as revenge, the entire school pretends to be in lust with him, as he’s chased through Bayside’s halls by his fellow students, a sixty-something teacher, and Mr. Belding, all faking The Thirst for laffs, because the sort of brainwashing of female victims that’d make Charles Manson proud is nothing if not chucklicious.

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When movie hunk Johnny Dakota randomly rocks up to Bayside, Zack’s desperate to buddy up to him, figuring Hollywood celebs are always surrounded by beautiful women with low self-esteem. Zack did some terrible, terrible things to push himself onto girls over the years; like abusing his responsibility as a helpline operator in Teen Line — where the desperate and alone could bravely confide in the untrained, unqualified schoolkids about such topics as CHILD ABUSE and SUICIDE PREVENTION — to ask out the first girl who called in for advice. Although, he later found out she was in a wheelchair, and behaved like a Ricky Gervais character confronted with the social minefield of a black person (“We don’t know how to interact with them do we guys? Guys?”).

In comparison, his actions in No Hope with Dope may seem like a minor crime. Not true. Look at the state of the rap he uses to lure Dakota into shooting his anti-drugs commercial at Bayside; a rap so white, it moves beyond the visible colour spectrum.

We’re Bayside students, and we’re no fools,

We don’t use drugs, ‘cos they’re not cool,

So if you get the offer,

Make sure you refuse,

When it comes to drugs,

Just. Don’t. Use.

It’s the worst thing to happen on a staircase since the fuck scene in A History of Violence, and all because Zack wants a little of Johnny Dakota’s casting couch overflow.

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Half the stuff Zack pulls is straight out of the Jimmy Savile playbook. As the King of Bayside, he can do whatever he wants — albeit as a teenage boy Mary Sue whose victims are only too happy to be sleazed on, leered at, and groped — but how will he act while sat atop the actual throne of authority? If your answer is “like Joffrey with a permanent throb-on,” then you win.

During Student Teacher Week, the worst motherfucker in Bayside’s history gets made acting principal, with all the powers and responsibilities of Mr. Belding. With free reign to do whatever he wants, Zack announces that his top priority is to “enlarge the peep-holes in the girl’s locker room.” So far, So Savile.

In Principal Morris’ office, now decorated with basketball hoops and posters of Salt-n-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Guns N’ Roses, this former hub of educational authority has been transformed into the headquarters of a hedonistic warlord dictator, ready and willing to bleed dry the resources of his island nation. And bleed it he does, calling in two hot, blonde students over the speakers, and tutting knowingly that their records say nothing about boyfriends. Sure, they’re giggling now, too afraid to speak out, but once he’s in the ground, the victims will finally find the courage to talk. In their thousands. How’s about that, then?

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Put in charge of the never-before-mentioned school store, Zack turns around business by selling girly calendars, featuring voyeur snaps of his female ‘friends’ in their swimsuits, taken via Screech with a long-lens at swim practise. Like something from Reddit’s infamous Creepshots forum, they’d fit right alongside your shoe-tying downblouse, or sneakily-snapped Starbucks sideboob. It makes me uncomfortable to imagine how Zack Morris would have abused the era of smartphone technology, as the show is littered with ‘cheeky’ references to shower peepholes or periscopes, and he’s not above bugging the bedrooms of his female buddies.

The success of the calendar attracts the attention of Adam Trask, a grown man who wanders into the school looking for the 15-year-old schoolgirls he saw in a set of hidden-camera swimwear photos, and it’s all just fine. Trask, who has the look of a snuff photographer, is editor of Teen Fashion Magazine, which sounds like a periodical that counts Ian Watkins among its subscribers, and is moments away from having its offices raided by the FBI. Incredibly, Zack still manages to be the sleaziest bad guy of the episode…

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After setting up a photoshoot in the school, during which a power-suited Jessie shakes down her hair like a secretary gone bad, and Adam Trask hoots “Yeah! School’s out!”, Trask announces he’s whisking Kelly off to Paris for a month to live with him on a yacht, unchaperoned, while he takes pictures of her.

Zack is appalled, and vows to stop it. Not because she’s clearly being nonced up, but because she’ll forget all about him when she’s gone. His plan involves the kind of abusive, manipulative behaviour there are full-blown advertising campaigns warning against nowadays, first by alienating her from all of her friends, who she’ll be letting down if she abandons them for Paris. Poor Slater will have no partner for his science project, while poor Screech has cancelled his birthday, and the poor swim team will definitely lose their upcoming meet without her. How can Kelly be so self-absorbed?

Then it’s time to paint himself as the only one she can trust; the only one who cares; by telling her he’ll invite all her friends to a farewell bash. But then he tells them that Kelly doesn’t want them there, and shows up alone, informing Kelly that her friends didn’t want to say goodbye to somebody so selfish. She’s heartbroken with the guilt of what an awful person she is, but when Zack owns up to all the lies, the years of controlling psychological abuse have eternal victim Kelly misinterpret his actions as a grand, romantic gesture, because he wouldn’t have done it unless he’d cared, right?

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Selling Lisa’s body to his classmates was freshman hijinx compared to the outright sex-trafficking of Video Yearbook. Using the footage he shot of Bayside’s female students while making the titular yearbook, Zack has Screech edit together a dating tape. Lonely fellas; like what you see of these unsuspecting, underage teenage girls? Then here’s their phone number, so why not give them a call?!

Zack rakes in the cash selling the tapes all around the city, but being Bayside, the girls are all thrilled to be getting hundreds of phone calls from strange, almost-definitely-masturbating men at all hours of the day, setting up dates that’ll end with the discovery of their broken bodies inside a dumpster behind a Wendy’s. What could be more flattering?

Eventually, they do manage to be conjure up some slight umbrage at Zack for literally pimping them out to LA’s pervert community. This causes him to address them from a TV via an ‘apology’ video, during which falsely pretends to be leaving Bayside forever, while secretly in the room watching their reactions, disguised as a lady, in the assumption they’ll fall to their knees and weep. You know, like all meaningful apologies.

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As graduation looms, Zack finally realises what everyone’s known all along. When he leaves Bayside, his legacy will be that of the biggest monster to have ever walked its halls. As the senior year decide to write a new school song as a parting gift, Zack sees this as his chance to make amends and be remembered for something decent. But what better way to cement his name than with sole songwriting credit?

School Song sees Zack Morris at his most duplicitous; tempting Jesus in the desert with a sugary Ecto-Cooler; as he sabotages his friends’ efforts, turning them against each other, while we’re made unwillingly complicit by his constant fourth-wall asides, with one in particular that’s pure Devil in its acceptance, finally, of who he is.

Now I know this seems pretty low, but if I wanna be remembered as a great guy; can’t take any chances.

He tinkers with the piano, poisons the others’ minds until they’re not even speaking, and when facing a vote-off against Screech’s song, invites nerd-girl, Louise, to dinner — an act played as comically vile, with watchers dry-heaving, because she’s wearing glasses; gross — and bribes her with a kiss (while holding in the vomit) to get the nerd voters on his side.

No-one wants to be remembered as the school’s biggest goof off,” he says, downplaying the far worse truth of a sociopathic, career sex-pest.

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So Excited, So Scared on Amazon UK

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