THE SHEPCAT CHRONICLES

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A Madeleine 2.5

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As long as I’m on the subject of The Untouchables

My sophomore year at KU I was a desk assistant at Oliver Hall, where I lived, and in addition to working a few three-hour desk shifts each week, I worked one or two half-shifts a week sorting the morning mail, working alongside whoever was manning the front desk.

There was one girl — let’s call her Angie — whom I found especially grating to work with, particularly in the morning when I’m more people-averse to begin with. She was flighty and chatty and prone to insipid conversation, and I usually tried to power through the mail as quickly as possible so I could be done with her and get on with my day.

One spring morning the hall’s daily mail arrived — two or three big canvas drawstring bags that we’d dive into and separate before filing it in the residents’ mail slots. I happened to first open a bag full of magazines and catalogs, near the top of which was the May issue of Gentleman’s Quarterly, as it was still commonly referred to back then.

costner gq

“Hey, Kevin’s on the cover of GQ!” I exclaimed.

I have always been an avid follower of the movies, even when I didn’t yet live in an industry town, but Angie didn’t know that. And while it was certainly not unlike me to say such things, I was immediately struck by how overly familiar I must have sounded to her, so I just ran with it.

“I know him!”

Kevin Costner had appeared in a dozen movies in five years — and had semi-famously not appeared in one — but to date the only role in which he had made a strong impression was as the high-spirited gunslinger Jake in Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado. If that had been his breakout role, then The Untouchables, coming in June of that year, would be the film that made him a star.

Angie was into hair bands and would ramble ad nauseam about Jon Bon Jovi and David Coverdale and David Lee Roth and whose ass looked best in spandex, so I was sure she wouldn’t know any of this, and I decided to have some fun with her ignorance and gullibility.

On the fly I spun a magnificent tale about a friend in L.A. whose father was an entertainment lawyer. I had visited a few summers back, and while I was there we had hung around a party his parents had thrown at their house in the Hollywood Hills. Mingling among assorted industry types, I had met Kevin — really nice, engaging, down-to-earth guy — and in the course of our conversation he mentioned that he’d found out the day before that his entire role in a movie he had wrapped was going to end up on the cutting-room floor. This was Kasdan’s The Big Chill — Costner would have appeared in flashbacks as Alex, whose funeral had brought his college friends back together — which surely Angie was familiar with, if only for the popularity of its soundtrack album.

“Worked out OK for him, though. Kasdan felt bad and cast him in Silverado. Now look at him,” I said, referring back to the magazine cover.

I marveled at my own audacity but knew that I’d soon run out of plausible details to keep the lie going. I was trying to think ahead and wondering about cutting bait and confessing, when Angie interjected.

“Hey, wait a minute,” she drawled, her suspicion evident in the way her words hung there in the air. “You’ve never been to L.A.”

Of all the details for her to get hung up on …

But then: “No, wait, that’s right — you told me one other time about a trip to California. Was it this one?”

At which point any compunction I had about lying to Angie evaporated. “Possibly. I mean, I’ve been out there to visit more than once.”

I have no idea what became of Angie after KU, but maybe once or twice over the last 32 years the subject of Kevin Costner has come up among friends, at which point she may have said, “Hey, did I ever tell you? I went to school with a guy who met him before he was famous.”

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Written by Shepcat

July 14, 2019 at 2:29 pm

A Madeleine — #2 in a Series

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My friend Colleen traveled to Chicago this week, and Thursday she posted a picture of the façade of Union Station on Facebook. Which took me back in time.

In the summer of 1987 or ’88, my best friend, Andre, and I made our second weekend trip to Chicago together (our first having occurred in the summer of ’86, after our freshman year at KU). This time we crashed on the floor of a friend’s family home in Wilmette or Winnetka — one of the W’s, very confusing, as they’re both northern suburbs, right next to each other along the same rail line — and took the commuter train into the city each day.

Our first day, after we hopped off the train, we made the short walk to Union Station, which recently had figured prominently in The Untouchables — most notably in the shootout in which director Brian De Palma shamelessly but masterfully cribs from Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin.

I am virtually certain Andre and I entered on the Canal Street side, at the entrance nearest Jackson Boulevard, and once inside we might have walked around a bit surveying the other entrances as we tried to single out the actual staircase on which the shootout took place.

We found it. Or thought we did, anyway. Certainly the layout looked correct, even if all the contemporary touches like advertising and modern signage clashed with spare, elegant period setting of the movie playing back in our heads.

U Master

So I went into director mode, and began blocking the scene.

“Costner’s standing here …” after he clunkily drags the baby stroller up the steps one-handed, refusing to relinquish his hold on the shotgun under his trench coat, spotting the bookkeeper and several Capone henchmen as they enter the station.

U Three-shot

“He recognizes the henchman at the entrance, pushes the mother out of the way as he raises his shotgun to fire. He lets go of the stroller …”

U Costner

I went down the steps, tracing the stroller’s downward trajectory as bystanders fall amid the crossfire. Costner follows it down, having first thrown down his shotgun and drawn his sidearm, which he quickly empties.

U Mid-Stairs

I’m at the foot of the staircase now. “Enter Garcia. He crosses into frame, tosses Costner his spare pistol, and slides in right here to catch the stroller before it pitches off the bottom step …” (For the record, I did not slide, notwithstanding my enthusiasm. … Enthusiasm. … Enthusiasm.) “… and he trains his gun on the henchman holding the bookkeeper …”

U Garcia

I aim my finger gun upward and to the right before crossing back up the steps to the third point of the triangle.

Here. … Garcia shoots.”

U Accountant

And this is the point in the story when I cross my heart and hope to die. Because as I looked at the wall there under the balustrade, that’s when it caught my eye.

Blood spatter.

Not much. Nothing like what you see in the photo above. So little, in fact, that you’d miss it altogether if you weren’t on that staircase at that time for that very purpose. But spots of pinkish red, many no bigger than the head of a pin, that could plausibly — in my mind, could only — be squib blood that didn’t get completely cleaned off the wall after filming. Filming that the Internet Movie Database informs me took place in August 1986 — not long after our first Chicago trip, as it happens — meaning that spatter had persisted a year, maybe two (again, my memory) waiting for us to discover it there.

Coincidence, you say. Some kid could have knocked his cherry Slurpee off the top of the balustrade the day before, you say.

Suspension of disbelief, I say. The magic of motion pictures.

You could never convince me otherwise.

Here endeth the lesson.

Written by Shepcat

July 13, 2019 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Movies

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A Madeleine — #1 in a Series

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Friday afternoon as I waited in the chair for my oral surgeon to arrive for my follow-up, U2 played over the sound system of the dental practice.

In that moment I was transported back nearly 31 years to the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, where I celebrated my 21st birthday with my brother, Dustan, and my friends Andre and Michele. The evening’s main attraction: Bobcat Goldthwait.

Bobcat was in his prime in 1988, at the height of his popularity and the peak of his distinctive and singular comedic prowess. On this night he is characteristically manic, his screeching, howling, wailing voice playing to the back of the house. (We’re at a table somewhere in the middle, on the main floor.) Bobcat is rabid and hilarious, and you can barely catch your breath from laughter before he ricochets off in another direction. Then more laughter, more struggling to breathe, glancing at your friends to confirm that they’re experiencing the same giddy disbelief.

After a wild hourlong set, Bobcat, sweat-soaked and seemingly exhausted, bellows a thank-you to the crowd and exits the stage. The lights dim.

Long, sustained applause, catcalls and whistles from the audience. As an encore some comics will come out and do a little crowd work or have another tight, self-contained 3 to 5 minutes of material to reel off before they say a final goodnight. But you can’t imagine a comic of Bobcat’s vocal intensity and erratic physicality having anything left in the tank after the set we’ve just witnessed. Still, the crowd roars.

A minute passes, maybe more. The crowd won’t relent. Then suddenly a blue spotlight faintly illuminates the mic stand at center stage.

The crowd roars louder.

The familiar strains of a song begin to play over the sound system.

Enter Bobcat, first in silhouette, then bathed in the blue glow. He has removed the shirt that he sweated through during his set, and above the waist he is wearing only a tight black leather vest, his bare arms exposed. His stringy shoulder-length hair is now slicked back into a tight, precise ponytail. The stage lights come up a bit. He begins to sing.

See the stone set in your eyes / See the thorn twist in your side / I’ll wait for you …

The crowd goes insane.

Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait, without you …

He is no longer pudgy, sweaty, frenetic Bobcat, the guy from One Crazy Summer and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. Right there in front of our eyes, he has become Bono — brooding, magnetic, self-assured — performing a dead solid perfect “With or Without You.”

And you give / And you give / And you give yourself away …

And he’s not lip-synching, either. He is fucking nailing it, every note, his voice crying out, hitting every crescendo. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, an absolutely mesmerizing 4 minutes of performance art.

I can’t live / With or without you / With or without you …

And then the music fades out. And he’s gone. And just like that, the house lights come up, and a thousand or so people are left to disperse toward the exits, puzzling over the transcendence of what we just witnessed together.

Written by Shepcat

June 7, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Kansas City, Life

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