Category Archives: Schenectady

Autumn of 1988

After eight and a half years, I left my job at FantaCo in mid-November 1988. Leafing through some old journals, I was surprised – actually shocked – to see that I had actually planned to leave a full year earlier. I made a point making sure that people were trained to take on the the tasks I did, with the mail order especially, before I left so that owner Tom Skulan wouldn’t be left in a lurch.

It was odd. I was making more money at the end than i had ever made up to that time, plus paid health insurance, something Tom was providing only to himself and me, though others could get coverage on their own dime; I don’t recall anyone taking advantage of that offer, since they were all pretty young and weren’t making that much.

The problem is that I was making money from all the horror stuff we were selling, and more importantly producing. My old buddy Steve Bissette is currently delineating the Gore Shriek history (and selling some artwork of the period. In some way, it was almost passing the torch to Steve. I was involved in the Chronicles and the like, while Steve was present for the very first Gore Shriek in June of 1988. It was the comic books, not the horror stuff, that drew me to FantaCo, but I balanced the checkbook, and it was the horror stuff that kept FantaCo going month after month.

So I quit. I wasn’t angry, just burned out. Tom felt angry and betrayed, I suspected, and this was confirmed by a couple people. I felt badly that he felt that way but I couldn’t see any real options.

As it turned out, on Thanksgiving Day, I got a call from a guy I knew telling me that our mutual good friend Nancy Sharlet was dying of cancer. I met her when we both worked together at the Schenectady Arts Council in 1978. I started on March 1. March 7 was my birthday; not knowing me well, but wanting to acknowledge the day, she got me this little S.W.A.T. truck, which I have to this day.

The GREAT thing about being unemployed was that I could spend lots of time in the hospital with her, nearly every day for about a month, before her mother came up from Tennessee to tend to her in her last days. She died on January 1, 1989.

After the funeral, I never saw her kids Jocelyn and Jeffrey again. I assume they went to live with their father, Robert, who I did not know well.

I was watching Jon Stewart a couple weeks ago. His guest was a guy named Jeff Sharlet, who is the author of The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Could this be the Jeffrey Sharlet, the six-year-old I played SORRY with when he was six? I found this 2004 interview, and the answer is clearly yes.

“I grew up in what seemed like a mostly Catholic town in upstate New York.” Check. “My father is Jewish.” Check. “My mother, with whom I lived, had been raised in a very unusual Pentecostal home.” Jeffrey and his sister Jocelyn lived with their mother; her religion was a bit unclear. “Her mother, a very poor Tennessean”. Check. “She [his grandmother] raised my mother to be interested in everything.” Double check. “Going to other people’s churches and temples, gathering stories — in my family, that was just how you did religion.” Check, and the reason I was unclear of Nancy’s religion.”

I wrote to Jeff; he didn’t write back; that’s OK. I do wonder how his sister is, though.

MOVIE REVIEW: Synecdoche, New York

On Christmas Day, the wife and I left the daughter in the capable hands of the parents-in-law and traversed to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany to see Synecdoche, New York.

There were four basic reasons I wanted to see this film:
4) Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review.
3) I have liked some of the movies Charlie Kauffman has written, such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”; “Adaptation”, not so much. This was Kauffman’s directoral debut.
2) It has a stellar cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, and Hope Davis.
1) The movie’s first setting is in Schenectady, New York, where I lived for 20 months before moving to nearby Albany. (An interesting piece on Schenectady and the title word here.)

Early on, I’m loving this film. It’s a dark comedy that pegs Schenectady in the first song, in the architecture. I found a particular imagery of a house on fire hysterically funny. I laughed out loud more than once. It is wonderfully performed. Yet somewhere in the theatrical remaking of the life of Caden (Hoffman), it just unraveled for me, as too long, too unfocused.

Here’s a cheat: I’m going to quote from various Rotten Tomatoes reviews, both positive (63%) and negative, that reflect as well as anything how I was feeling.

Charlie Kaufman’s latest example of screenplay extrapolation begins with an obscure definitional allusion…and ends in some sort of self-referential apocalypse. – Bill Gibron

It is a portrait of disappointment and melancholy, tickled by bits of wit, that defies logic and resists description. – Duane Dudek

For about two-thirds of its length, this is an extremely funny if extraordinarily dark comedy… But we begin to measure out the time in teaspoons, and the movie becomes banal and morose. – John Beifuss

You could quite possibly be enthralled — or not. – Pete Hammond

This makes the film interesting in concept but disappointing in execution. And surreal touches added throughout that just do not add up to anything but a film more challenging than rewarding. – Mark R. Leeper

It’s all crazy enough to work for a while, but the 124 long minutes don’t pass soon enough. – Jeffrey M. Anderson

…a picture that is (a) brilliant, in scattered parts, but also (b) a reminder that virtually every writer needs an editor. – Kurt Loder

For a film that desperately wants us to empathize with its main character’s plight, Kaufman’s inability to reconcile his overambitious gimmickry with the story’s emotional demands is a fatal flaw. – Jurgen Fauth

Watching the film is also wearying, like assembling a puzzle from a box into which a sadist continually pours new pieces. – Lawrence Toppman

More than one critic compared it, unfavorably, to Fellini’s “8 1/2”.

Ultimately, the line that described it best for me is this technically positive review by Philip Martin: “An impossible, bewildering and brave failure of a movie …”

I would not say, “Don’t see it.” You may enjoy it, “get” it more than I did. Or not.


MUSICAL REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone

When I was away visiting my mother in Charlotte this month, my parents-in-law came up to Albany over the weekend to help paint Lydia’s (still unoccupied) bedroom. I came back that Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Then Wednesday, they took Lydia to their house in Oneonta, and Carol and I were able to go to the rapidly-expanding Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady to see The Drowsy Chaperone.

One of the reasons I watch the Tonys every year is to see what’s on Broadway, because I’d otherwise have little idea. Unless it’s a retread from anotheer medium (The Producers, Mamma Mia), it doesn’t get that much coverage. Here’s the
broadcast segment for TDS, a little scratchy, I’m afraid:

It was entertaining enough for us to want to see it when it came to town.

I agree with most aspects of this local review, except that I would have picked Show Off, the song in the above segment, as the highlight. In fact, unlike some of the songs that wouldn’t cut it on their own if it wasn’t part of the farcical faux musical, it would stand up on its own in any production.

Still, as the review suggests, the success of the production is largely on the shoulders of the Man in Chair, the narrator of the piece. The role was originated by Bob Martin, and he was replaced by Jonathan Crombie, who played the role in Schenectady. The Broadway role, interrupted by a now-resolved strike, is now being played by Bob Saget – yeah, the guy from Full House and 1 Vs. 100; I’m having difficulty imagining him in the role. Though not entirely comparable, I think of the Man in Chair as pivotal as the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town.

Another performer reprising her role from Broadway was Georgia Engel, probably best known as Ted Baxter’s wife on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She talks about going on the road here:

I really like the truthiness of this commercial that suggests that we’re not likely to be swayed by the testimonials of “real people”:

So, when I saw THIS one, I laughed out loud:

I don’t know why this winner of five Tonys was was not very successful in its London run; a different sensibility, I suppose. All I know is that The Drowsy Chaperone made me laugh out loud many times. The best recommendation for a musical comedy I can think of.