How Can I Miss You, When You Won\’t Go Away?
New York to LA to Palm Springs. Palm Springs to LA, car to Santa Barbara. Back again. LA to New York. Back to Palm Springs via Chicago. Palm Springs to San Franciso to New York. New York to Santiago, Chile … One week in the life.
There\’s a heartbreaking bit of business in \”The Wrestler\” (one of many small, sad and all-too-real touches). Mickey Rourke, playing broken down, way-past-his-prime wrestler, Randy \”the Ram\” Robinson, finishes up a bout, changes out of his tights and packs them away — then toddles out of the locker room dragging a wheeled carry-on suitcase behind him. That tiny, minor note hit me hard, watching it on pay-per-view somewhere between New York and some where else, a spongy hotel bed with the climate control churning out a jet engine roar, a shaky, trilling sound as the mini-bar\’s compressor kicked in. That damn suitcase — looking particularly tragic trailing behind Rourke\’s freakish, giant, action-figure bulk reminded me of well …me.
Spent the next few days of travel, most for one night stand speaking gigs, feeling particularly sorry for myself. Shecky Green\’s World Tour. Lemme tell you, by the time the movie got around to introducing Randy\’s agonizingly dysfunctional relationship with his estranged daughter, I was ready to throw a belt over the shower head. So it\’s very good timing that the next episode of NO RESERVATIONS — and the last new one of Season 5 (part #1) is shot in Viet Nam. (season 5 part #2 episodes will continue this summer).
It\’s no mystery to anyone who knows me, or has ever heard me speak publicly, or ever read my books that I\’m utterly besotted with Viet Nam. And as I may also have mentioned, I plan to spend a year there sooner or later. This show coming up is a sentimental return to Saigon — where I first touched ground in-country back in 2000, a settling up of business with a much loved, departed friend, a reunion with Philippe Lajaunie, my former boss at Les Halles and my sidekick on those first heady days of making television for \”A Cook\’s Tour.\” It\’s also a trip to the historic village of Hoi An and surrounding countryside for purposes of acquainting myself with the area — the housing market in particular. Can I live there? Will my family be happy? (My little girl-by then age three — or three and a half — most importantly.) Will she like the new neighborhood? That\’s what the show\’s about. Another episode in my continuing love affair with Viet Nam.
In a \”shot rich\” environment like Viet Nam, where (it seems) every place you point a camera appears (to the non-professional shooter, anyway) to be a perfectly framed work of art, our magnificently talented crew tends to do its best work. Whether it\’s some subliminal siren song whispering \”cable Ace …cable Ace …Emmy for photography …\” or just a grim determination to get plenty of good stuff on tape, I can\’t say. The mind of the professional shooter is a strange, dark — and sometimes, disturbing place. The less deeply we penetrate it, I have come to believe, the better for all of us. Suffice to say that for whatever motive, long time NR veterans Todd Leibler and Jerry Risius — and producers Tom and Jared were up and out early every day, standing knee deep in rice paddies shooting water buffaloes, following food stall proprietors on their early morning market rounds, humping their equipment across deserted beaches, onto boats, sitting backwards on precariously balanced motorbikes while tearing through traffic, walking backwards through crowded fish markets, and generally working their asses off.
Some episodes I tend to take more personally than others — resulting in an elevated level of involvement in the post-production process. How welcome this heightened interest and resulting barrage of helpful suggestions, torrent of notes, witheringly sarcastic e-mails and late-night epiphany-inspired creative ideas are, I can only guess. But for better or worse, Viet Nam was one of these episodes in which I took a close interest.
Back in New York, producer Tom Vitale and editor Eric Lasby managed to put together an amazing hour of television containing all those elements which make this show truly special: great pre-production, great sidekicks on the ground, some of the best goddamn camera-work anywhere, truly inspired editing, sharp and under-appreciated creative post-production work. It\’s nice to have a \”vision,\” a point of view and an affecting story to tell. But it don\’t mean shit without a team who can actually make it all happen.
Just as Viet Nam is a country who — when I first encountered her — exceeded my wildest and most unreasonably romantic fantasies and expectations, the crack team of ZPZ producers, shooters, editors and post-production people usually manages to exceed my movie-saturated hopes for the show. I hope — I think — I\’m pretty sure that after viewing this episode, you\’ll get a taste of what it\’s like to tear happily across a paddy-dike road on a scooter in the late afternoon light of central Viet Nam. That you\’ll get a glimmer of some of those aspects of the country, the culture, the people and the food that I love so deeply and understand why I want so badly to live there.
On a completely off-subject note, I read something really disturbing while leafing through a magazine in my most recent airport. Rachael Ray, it appears, when booking acts for her South by Southwest indie rock-meets-sloppy Joes fest, invited the New York Dolls to perform. THE NEW YORK DOLLS!! It is an article of faith with me that the Dolls were one of the greatest, most important, criminally neglected, wildly influential bands in the history of well …the freakin\’ UNIVERSE!! Most of the original members (in keeping with truest rock and roll tradition) are dead. But David Johansen and Syl Sylvain are still out there, hustling a living in a cold, cruel world. And if anybody deserves steady work, a new generation of fans, buckets of money (something they never had) and elevation to icon status-it\’s these guys.
This development …following hot on the heels of Rachael saying nice things about me on Nightline has caused me no small amount of confusion, panic, and misery. I don\’t know whether to go out and shoot a puppy-or send Rachael a fruit basket. It just does me no good at all to think of Rachael as a Dolls fan. It\’s really only a matter of time now until my daughter looks up from her grilled cheese and says \”Yummo!!\”
Only repeated viewings of Sandra Lee on YouTube slathering canned frosting on her \”Kwaanza Cake\” with an insane glint in her eye (a piece of video every American should see as a cautionary exercise-like a particularly gruesome highway safety film) can make me feel like I\’m playing for the right team.