After three weeks (and three more episodes) on the sit-com, I’m back on the home planet for another brief hiatus, coughing in the pall of smoke from somewhere between 800 and 1200 forest fires currently turning the dark green hills of Northern California into a lunar wasteland of ash. In one radio interview, a fire fighter described watching big redwoods – usually impervious to fire – going up “like matchsticks.”
“Wood’s wood,” he sighed, his voice hoarse from smoke and fatigue. “Heat it up enough and it’ll burn.”
It’s hot enough, all right. The hillsides and trees are dry and crunchy – and with more heat lightning on the way, this is beginning to look like a long summer indeed. The disasters are compounding on a biblical scale, as water drowns the heartland and fires burn the coast.
If a rain of frogs starts dropping from the sky, I’m heading for the nearest bomb shelter.
Another plague has been hitting us lately, taking a lot of good people before their time. George Carlin wasn’t a young man, but he died much too early. Although chronic heart trouble respects neither age nor social status, I still have a hard time grasping why such good and creative people die before their time, while so many others -- among them, some of the worst among us* -- still breathe and walk the earth. This remains one of the most unfathomable and infuriating mysteries of life. Either Carlin was dead wrong about the God he made such wonderfully funny sport of – and the Creator of the Entire Universe then struck him dead in return -- or else he was spot-on in his argument that there really is no God, and thus no justice whatsoever in this randomly chaotic series of cosmic collisions we call life.
Either way, I don’t like it.
I met him once – very briefly -- many years ago while filming a commercial showcasing the galaxy of stars slated to appear on a fledgling cable network. The many luminaries we filmed that day (and they came at us in a seemingly endless stream, as if delivered by an assembly line) were all entertainers –people like Dolly Parton, Howie Mandel, and Billy Crystal: smart, successful, talented stars of that era. George Carlin was all that and so much more, with a depth and gravitas none of the others could match. His intelligence was formidable, his humor quick, dry, and lethal. As a keen observer of the foibles and contradictions that come with the modern human condition, he had few peers.
We’re all the losers here. George Carlin left us at a crucial time, as we slowly turn to face existential threats converging from several different angles. The onrushing tsunami of change will challenge our ability to cope and adapt in ways few of us are yet willing to admit – but it’s coming just the same. It would have been nice to have somebody like George Carlin around to keep our eye on the ball, and help us laugh at ourselves in the process. But there is nobody like George Carlin – he was the only one -- and now he’s gone.
Among the many eulogies detailing the impact Carlin had on us all, my favorite came from the pen of Steven Winn, who writes on art and culture for the San Francisco Chronicle. It's worth reading, and you can find it here.
On a brighter note, I finally gained brief access to a computer with a broadband connection, and was able to watch the first seven webisodes of “Grande Con Carne,” a very funny, well-made web series by R.J. Thomas. A one-time camera assistant (and published author) who managed to make the caterpillar-into-butterfly transition to director, Thomas has run his own industry blog since 2004, and recently launched a dedicated website that makes viewing “Grande Con Carne” very simple. He’s since released an eighth episode, which – with any luck – I’ll be able to see very soon.
A labor-of-love made on the cheap, “Grande Con Carne” makes good use of skilled actors, punchy scripts, and crisp camera work to explore the tensions generated by ambition, longing, lust, and confusion here in the low-budget heart of Hollywood. This is really good stuff -- playful, smart, and lots of fun. Each webisode is only three to four minutes long, but once you start watching, you won’t want to stop until you’ve seen them all. And then – like me -- you’ll be left wanting more. Check it out here.
* I have my own “why isn’t this asshole dead yet?” list, and I’m sure you have yours.