Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 3, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
Gary Olson
Oslavi Linares
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somerville
Mona Eltahawy
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Navi Pillay
Ernesto Zedillo
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Donald Dewey has written some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as contributed scores of stories to magazines and other periodicals. He has also had some 30 plays staged in Europe and the United States. Dewey was editor of the ASME-award winning magazine Attenzione and was editorial director of the East-West Network, overseeing a dozen in-flight magazines and the PBS organ Dial. Don's latest book, Franchisement: The Alan Gibb Story, is now available.

Reality tests can be crude. Like the time I was in the back seat of a car listening to a published poet upfront rhapsodizing about how life was only a figment of the imagination, what we called reality an illusion. The driver, a non-poet who had been making occasional sounds to indicate he had been doing something like listening, suddenly lifted both hands from the steering
wheel, sending the car moping toward a guardrail. Crying out to God, Baal, and whoever else presided over Long Island highways, the poet grabbed for the wheel until, after maybe a moment of observation too long, the driver took it back behind the snicker of snickers: "I thought reality was only an illusion," he said.

Crude. Nowhere near as argued as some refutations of philosophical tracts, artistic speculations and special delivery letters from hallucinogens brandishing similar notions. And not ventured to the fullest, who could say if a guardrail only 'seemed' like a guardrail and was merely a projection from another dimension? Nevertheless, as was the case that day in the back seat, my empathy has always been with the snicker.

I could claim a supermarket shopping list of reasons for that point of view. One is that I'm just obtuse, woefully bereft of the far stretches of mental vibrations. Another is that, whether secure or smug, I simply want this world to be it and have no incentive for interpreting the corner street sign for Main Street as a Twilight Zone passage to the Universe Without a Name. I don't think it's incidental that I find stories dependent on such ploys boring, and not only because they provide writers with a
built-in deus ex machina.

I have some schooled reasons, as well, for snickering. More than one person I've encountered who shares the poet's whimsy (alert: editorial opinion) has confessed to being an atheist or agnostic, so is it outlandish to conclude that for many the reality-as-an-illusion sentiment is compensation for the absence of a St. Peter at the heavenly gates and lusty virgins behind
it, a secular other? On a more emotionally fraught level, as popularized by the likes of Monty Python cartoons, there is human existence as insect life awaiting a shoe to come down on it; i.e., unable to see the forest because of the trees. And as a corollary to that apprehension there are obstacles from reality-as-illusion to that most basic of all human needs -- self-importance. Surrender that, surrender everything. Forget the distant galaxy species able to recite the United States capitals in the alphabetical order of their last letters before we manage to recite the alphabet itself. Reality-as-illusion isn't about humiliating comparisons with interplanetary creatures with enormous heads, more limbs than a giant squid, and admirable grades in SATs, it's about us and only us and whether we truly believe the us is us as only we could love an us. Self-importance has only one self. This one, thank you.

Admittedly, belief in ourselves alone is tautological in the extreme. Mirrors can't be trusted to show more than our appearances; after all, they have been made in this realm. More admittedly, not even what had been an imminent appointment with a Long Island highway guardrail changed my poet's perspective on all things real and might have been real. Years later, he was still churning out verse that made the least of earthly travails. Had he had some personal experience having nothing to do with drugs
or orgasms or symphonic crescendi that had solidified his convictions? It didn't help that like the children at Fatima and Lourdes who had seen the Virgin, his answer on this point always (and only) contained some variation on "Isn't it obvious?" The secular had indeed never seemed so religious.

What all this has to do with Mars began being forged the day I dropped into a Times Square movie house to see Capricorn One, the thriller about how far Washington might go to have the world believe the United States was the first to reach that distant planet. Serendipity put me in an aisle seat behind another aisle seat that was unoccupied -- sort of. In fact, the seat in front of me was being governed from the adjoining spot by a black fire hydrant of a man I soon came to know as Harry. If Harry's companion had gone off for popcorn edgy about losing her seat while gone, she had seriously underestimated him. No
sooner had a caricature of a Brooks Brothers ad from his tie knot to his briefcase come along with his eyes on the space than Harry gave him the kind of thumb wedge last used cocking the hammer of a .38. Junior Exec knew better than to question the traffic signal and beat it in the dark to another section. Harry shook his head in wonder before the innocence of the human race.

Things weren't much better on the screen. The ceremonies of the blastoff to Mars had barely ended when the three-man crew was whisked out of the rocket ship and, miraculously unseen by the TV cameras of half the world, flown to a hangar in a desert landscape. The three astronauts were mystified, and this was even before O.J. Simpson became more associated with murder and robbery, James Brolin more famous for being the father of Josh and husband of a pop singer, and Sam Waterston devoted to two lifetimes of "Law and Order." The man with the explanations was Hal Holbrook, a NASA bureaucrat who reported that defective somethings in the something of the rocket capsule would have doomed the astronauts before they got beyond Cincinnati so it was decided to abort things -- sort of -- to avoid negative publicity. In compensation, the hangar had been fitted out as a Martian TV set from which they would send reports of their mission (wink, wink). A computer facsimile would do
the rest. Such a colossal ruse was in the interests of national security, they had to understand.

The astronauts might have, but Harry didn't. "Bullsheet," he growled, drawing out every letter to sound like an eastern European
wrestling with English. "Who believes that bullsheet?"

He didn't get the chance to elaborate on his critique because just then a scrawny woman in a beret and raincoat and makeup like
cement on her face plopped down on the empty aisle seat. Instead of a bin of popcorn, she had two twenty-dollar bills in her hand that she practically slapped into Harry's chest. He evidently knew her since he barely looked at her as he grabbed the bills with one hand and reached into an inside jacket pocket with the other. What he found might have been grass or might have been oregano, but the beret lady seemed sure enough of her connection that she took the packet without a hesitation, stood up, and returned the aisle seat to its unoccupied status. Harry had to stomp his foot at the absurdity of what was going on. "You tellin' me they're makin' a plane hangar Mars?" he asked nobody in particular, and especially a couple two rows down annoyed by the commentary. "I may turn my place into fuckin' Venus!"

The astronauts were skeptical, too. At first they played along with Holbrook's plan, sending love messages to their wives and children and assuring the world their mission was proceeding perfectly. But then their consciences started acting up. Harry wasn't surprised. "Oh, oh, no way this don't end up like sheet," he warned them and everybody else sitting in the orchestra. "Get the hell outta there!"

But it was too late. More crossed wires in the computer facsimile popped up, and this time they fried the astronauts to death -- sort of.

"I told the assholes, didn't I?" Harry's question was to the next occupant of the aisle seat, a bruiser who might have left his furniture van double-parked outside the movie house. He was certainly in no mood for conversation about Capricorn One. "I even had to pay the admission to get in here," he complained in his version of a whisper. "So I don't need another stickup with you."

"When did Harry ever fuck you over?"

"There's always a first time. What you got?"

"Love and kisses, baby," Harry said, reaching into his jeans pocket and coming out with a packet twice the size of what he had
given the beret lady. "I like three figures. What do you like?"

The bruiser sighed; he had been here before. "You're really pushing it, man."

"Yes or no?"

There was nothing indecisive about Holbrook's look when he was told about the newest snafu. With a complicit congressman, his logic was impeccable. "We can't have them showing up if they died all over the world. I'll take care of it."

Brolin and the others had figured as much, so they agreed to separate into three directions to increase chances of getting out of
the desert and telling the world what had been going on. And they weren't alone. A journalist (Elliot Gould) had begun sniffing around after a friend working on the Mars project had tipped him off that something was amiss. The bad news was that the friend was soon scrubbed from the planet. The worse news was that the reporter was knocked around by the police and Federal goons sent by Holbrook and then fired from his paper. "That motherfucker better find a new line of work," Harry advised gravely.

But Gould didn't, following up scant clues that led him to Brolin's wife (Brenda Vaccaro) and the suspicion she might have
received a coded message during the TV transmissions that there was something wrong. This made her develop a new detachment toward Holbrook, who told her that a state funeral would be held for Brolin and the other (not-so-dead) astronauts. The government sympathized.

The kid in the NYU windbreaker resented the competition from the screen for Harry's attention. "C'mon, man," he pleaded.
"I can't sit here all day."

Harry nodded to himself to see that Simpson was the first one tracked down by Holbrook's military killers. "Never a white
one to go first. They put a Chinaman in there and you have some suspense. But no Chinaman."

For somebody anxious to get out of his seat and start the rest of his day, the windbreaker had a lot of reservations about the packet Harry handed him. If he could have seen any better in the darkness, he might have examined each shred of grass
individually. "Doesn't look right," he temporized.

"So forget it. Adios, muchacho."

"I didn't say . . . "

"That's good. People here want to enjoy the movie."

A woman on the other side of the aisle peered over for a closer look at so much chutzpah. She had a point, of course. I also wondered how much Harry had laid out to keep cops and ushers and other uniforms away. The only thing missing was a
plaque on the aisle seat in front of me for memorializing the location for the transactions.

The windbreaker gave up his resistance more readily than Waterston, who sought escape by climbing a cliffside that might have come from Dover only to find more military killers waiting for him at the top. For Holbrook that left only one plausible direction for finding Brolin, so he unleashed his men there. And none too soon because Gould had found the hangar for Mars II and was starting to figure out that one and one added up to three.

Harry's next customer needed only a baton with his sweeping white hair, white silk shirt, and mourning coat. An affected British accent had apparently ceased amusing Harry a few deals back. "I'm busy, Count. No bullsheet."

"Three joints. Ten dollars. Right here."

"I look like the Five-and-Dime to you?"

It was a trial for the Count to repeat himself, but he somehow managed it. The effort was wasted in any case because Harry had stopped jumping back and forth to the screen with Gould's inspiration. On a bet that the missing astronauts had to be lost somewhere out in the desert, he found a crop-dusting pilot to scout with him. Harry gasped to see that the pilot was Telly Savalas. "Holy shit, baby! It's

"All right. Two joints."

But Harry was higher than he would have been smoking everything in his pockets. "That's Kojak, baby! Say goodnight to the mother fuckers."

The Count didn't go that far, but he didn't object, either, indulging Harry's diversion in the apparent hope it would be of help to his negotiating. Eyes frozen on the screen, Harry might have been a two-year-old exposed to his first cartoon. When Savalas and Gould spotted Brolin inside an abandoned gas station and threatened by two helicopters of military killers, they taxied down a roadway until the astronaut jumped into the plane with them. The helicopters pursued, prompting a lengthy ballet with the crop duster, machine guns up against pesticide. Finally, Kojak suckered the helicopters toward a mountainside, emptied what pesticide was left in the tank, and pulled up just as the helicopters lost direction in the clouds and slammed their way to death.

Harry was beside himself. If the lights had been up, he could have stood to cull applause from the house for a climax he had seen coming from the first appearance of Savalas. What followed elsewhere was anticlimactic. Gould and Brolin made it to the funeral just as Holbrook was looking reverential about burying the astronauts. Vaccaro had to give back her widow's weeds. The Count went off with a single joint, Harry making it clear that even that much was sheer charity for the crumpled bill he received in return. Last seen, Harry was smoothing out the bill to even it with the others he had collected during the movie and in preparation for the next show.

No denying it: I had a feeling of deep disappointment in walking out of the theater to the illusion of honking cars and an ambulance siren.


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Also by Donald Dewey:
Baseball, Myth, and the Gods of Summer Pt. I
Double Bill
Heroes and Victims
The Relationships Conundrum
The Finger
Smoke Blowers
Noticing Death
Passive Resistance
Not Playing It Safe
The Expectation Medium
Crisis in Critics
Words Not to Live By
Knowing the Killer
Racism to the Rescue
Punk Times
Not Playing It Safe
Meeting the Author
The Overwriting Syndrome
Writers As Ideas
Let Them Entertain Us
It's a Kindergarten Life
Being and Disconnectedness
History of Humour in the Cinema
Cartoon Power


Before becoming the world's most respected life, death, and everything in between coach, Alan Gibb shared that common frustration over the failure of astrology, numerology, and similar religions to direct all aspects of human behavior. They might have all been sacred systems for establishing a personal identity, but there was a rusty screw at their core. Even when the revolutionary tenets of Franchisement occurred to him, he knew they might remain stillborn without the attacks, arrests, and tragedies customarily accompanying an original vision. Happily for Gibb and the tens of thousands of his fellow believers, he was assaulted in physical, mental, and dietary ways and hauled in as a fraud, thug, and stalker even as he pressed forward on his crusade to share Franchisement with the hordes crying for it as a national pastime superior to baseball. More happily, the tragedies struck others, not him, enabling him to enjoy the millions Franchisement brought through the Internet, the telephone, and pay-on-demand cable. As he noted repeatedly, the delivery vehicle was unimportant as long as a customer thought he wanted what he was getting. "If you listen to people, the world is divided between the Yankees and the Red Sox," he liked to chuckle fondly. "Tell that to those with a crush on the Minnesota Twins. A vision that isn't comprehensive sees only its own nose."


"Granted there are many similar books too numerous to count, but this book is sui generis." --- Benjamin Acocella, S.J., President of the Council for Mental Observances.

"This book changed my life when it most needed changing." --- Sidney Willinger, Leisure Sciences Department, University of Indiana.

"Sometimes love is a 13-letter word." --- Jennifer Pryor, Harvard School of Theoretical Business.

"Gibb demonstrates how life is more than steak knives and storm windows." --- Joel Sternheim, Informercials Institute.

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