Something flip-floppy this way comes.
"Let's make this dude look more like a dude." -- Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO
"Take your scissors and go back to Colorado." -- Tom on pot-smoking Republicans Matt Stone and Trey Parker
"He's one sticky dungeon door away from asphyxiation." -- Tom on the absent Spike
"America will fall in love with Belty." -- Trent L. Strauss, extreme filmmaker
"That's not a drug, that's a key to opening your mind." -- MC Steinberg on the wonder of payotay
Here's some rock music to help ease back into the first post-marathon recapsulation:
[**My uncle, Don Thrasher, played on this record. I'm really proud of his work on it. Last Christmas, he gave me his copy of Propeller #193, which I proudly display on a shelf in my office cubicle next to my daily tear-off "Bushisms" calendar, a Gonzo Pez dispenser, and an acrylic paperweight congratulating me for all the hard work I did on that one thing. In a pinch, I could probably get a few hundred bucks for it on eBay. Then again, if I ever desired to part with it, I think I know someone in the market for one. Here's a pic of me and Uncle Don.]
[I also echo Tom's thumbs up to the Higgins track and have since ordered the Dear Higgins long-player. For Gordon and any others keeping track, please add the Maggadee record label to Tom's payola list.]
While the two-week marathon is ova, El Goodo's three co-hosting gigs (not to mention bringing a hot slab of Meatloaf) gave him a case of the shakes and the 800-989-9368 digits have been haunting his dreams. In fact, Tom fell back into fundraising mode by thanking Bill in Ridgewood for a $100 pledge. Despite Scratchy Record's failure to even muster a $10 pledge (for shame!), the WFMU Marathon was a rousing success, exceeding the $850,000 goal by $14,060. Tom was not stunned by the robust FOT financial support for The Best Show -- it's a tentpole show and the marathon proved it. The tent can now stand proud and mightily for the next 50 weeks.
Tom offered a great analogy for the high-end nature of the show and its listernership: You walk into a liquor store and eye a bottle covered with dust on one of the top shelves. It's not Michelob. It's a funny-looking bottle. It contains Best Show elixir. You ask the store's proprietor how much it costs. "It's very expensive, I don't think you can afford it with your flip-flops and freebie t-shirt you got at the Salem Cigarettes-SnackWell's Creme Sandwiches-Vonage Fun Rally in Southbridge last summer," he retorts. But then you counter: "Oh, well excuse me, perhaps you didn't know that I have one of these", and then you whip out your black AMEX that only the richest of the rich have. The owner doubts that it's a valid card, but you know it is, so you request a price check. He wheels that shelf ladder thing over to your desired bottle, climbs up to retrieve it, and turns around to see you robbing the register. Why did you do that? Because it's that kind of show -- hoodwinking the doubters and basking in the afterglow of another year of music, mirth, and mayhem.
Annotated highlights of the transitional show:
- Spike doesn't call to grovel and Tom respects that he's honoring the ban for not agreeing to co-host the show. Tom speculates that Spike's Trapped In The Dungeon ("It won't open, it won't open!") listening to The Moonglows, and says he's willing to let him plead his case in front of the FOT court for re-instatement into the Best Show fold. Will he ever call again?
- Tom discusses (starts at 26:10) the legendary Isaac Hayes' decision to quit his role* as school-cafeteria lothario Chef on South Park because they made fun of Scientologists. Tom's take: "Who cares, South Park bites." Tom's fun takedown of Stone and Parker comes via a Gentlemen's Quarterly interview (Tom reads!) in which they discuss their anti-Hollywood, "Libertarian" philosophy that allows them to avoid the doom-and-gloom mindset of the left-coast celebs and tell it like it is.
*If they want to keep the character, I think there's a dominatrix in Queens who could pull it off. "Kids, do you like dithipline? Well, there's a new Chef in town..."
Tom recommends that they leave their LA bubble to gain some perspective on the rest of the country who probably thinks Rob Reiner is dead rather than a viable threat to their way of life. Tom questions why they -- or anyone -- would want to be equal opportunity offenders (from Scientologists to Kim Jong-il to Paris Hilton!) and calls for them to pack up their arts and crafts supplies and return to Colorado. Tom also regrets wasting 2.5 hours of his time on Team America: World Police when he realized that it was just marionettes doing dirty stuff at the 7-minute mark. Bottom line: Tom's glad that the mutant Hayes quit (forced to resign?) and borrows OCDJ's planetary GOMP to dismiss them all.
Tom makes a lot of good points, but I still believe that the moment the country took a disastrous left turn can be traced to Janeane Garafolo's first stand-up gig at Periwinkles Comedy Club at a Rhode Island mall in 1985. The bulk of America's problems in the last two decades parallel her rise as a comic, her stints on The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, SNL, The West Wing, and, of course, her liberal toilet talk show on Air America. Needless to say, when her head exploded in Team America, it was a catharsis 20 years in the making. The tyrant finally toppled.
And remember: every time Alec Baldwin hosts SNL, the terrorists really do win. A - Always, B - Be, C - Communist. I think we're all still a lot better off then during, say, The Civil War. I mean, nobody has asked me to take up arms against a sibling or anything. Keep hope alive, Matt Stone and Trey Parker! Don't spare anyone with your poison-scissors satire. Viva the comedy revolution!
Douchiest Dude in the Room: 61-year-old cyborg Mike Jeffries ponders his new line of kidswear called "Titillatin' Toddlers" as he watches a roaring bonfire on the A&F campus.
- After weeks of teases, Tom tackles (starts at 34:10) the Salon article that political songman Ted Leo sent him. It was worth the wait. The piece profiles the icky behavior of the Chief Executive Dude of Abercrombie & Fitch.
Mike Jeffries, the 61-year-old CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, says "dude" a lot. He'll say, "What a cool idea, dude," or, when the jeans on a store's mannequin are too thin in the calves, "Let's make this dude look more like a dude," or, when I ask him why he dyes his hair blond, "Dude, I'm not an old fart who wears his jeans up at his shoulders." This fall, on my second day at Abercrombie & Fitch's 300-acre headquarters in the Ohio woods, Jeffries -- sporting torn Abercrombie jeans, a blue Abercrombie muscle polo, and Abercrombie flip-flops -- stood behind me in the cafeteria line and said, "You're looking really A&F today, dude."
At this point, Tom wants to make sure that listeners don't lose sight of the fact that Jeffries is a 61-year-old man.
Jeffries' endorsement of my look was a step up from the previous day, when I made the mistake of dressing my age (30). I arrived in a dress shirt, khakis and dress shoes, prompting A&F spokesman Tom Lennox -- at 39, he's a virtual senior citizen among Jeffries' youthful workforce -- to look concerned and offer me a pair of flip-flops. Just about everyone at A&F headquarters wears flip-flops, torn Abercrombie jeans, and either a polo shirt or a sweater from Abercrombie or Hollister, Jeffries' brand aimed at high school students.
Flip-flops? Tom doesn't think he could concentrate if his co-workers were slapping around the office in this revealing footwear.
When I first arrived on "campus," as many A&F employees refer to it, I felt as if I had stepped into a pleasantly parallel universe. The idyllic compound took two years and $131 million to complete, and it was designed so nothing of the outside world can be seen or heard. Jeffries has banished the "cynicism" of the real world in favor of a cultlike immersion in his brand identity.
Tom suggests that Chef could get a job at A&F. I like that idea. Sample PA announcement: "Heeeeelllllooooo, Aberzombies. Just so everybody knows, Mike Jeffries is going to be at the corporate Hellmouth performing a bloodletting ritual, but don't forget to flippity-flop your way to Treehouse 4C at 3:30 to celebrate Rodney in HR's birthday."
Jeffries' employees are young, painfully attractive, and exceedingly eager, and they travel around the campus on playground scooters, stopping occasionally to chill out by the bonfire that burns most days in a pit at the center of campus. The outdoorsy, summer-camp feel of the place is accentuated by a treehouse conference room, barnlike building and sheds with gridded windows, and a plethora of wooden decks and porches. But the campus also feels oddly urban -- and, at times, stark and unwelcoming.
Scooters? Bonfires? Treehouses? Tom thinks work should be fun, but that work should also be work.
A quirky perfectionist and control freak, he guards his aspirational brands and his utopian chocolate factory with a highly effective zeal. Those who have worked with him tend to use the same words to describe him: driven, demanding, smart, intense, obsessive-compulsive, eccentric, flamboyant and, depending on whom you talk to, either slightly or very odd.
Tom adds "flip-floppy" to the list of Jeffries descriptions.
Examples of his strange behavior abound. According to Business Week, at A&F headquarters Jeffries always goes through revolving doors twice, never passes employees on stairwells, parks his Porsche every day at the same angle in the parking lot (keys between the seats, doors unlocked), and has a pair of "lucky shoes" he wears when reading financial reports. His biggest obsession, though, is realizing his singular vision of idealized all-American youth. He wants desperately to look like his target customer (the casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips.
Inspired by Chris L's titular quip, Tom does find one advantage to Jeffries' penchant for flip-flops: if you are goofing around in your office watching a YouTube video, you could hear the boss coming up the hall and have a 45-second advance warning.
Remarkably little is known about Jeffries' personal life. There are few people who claim to know Jeffries well, and those who do wouldn't comment for this story. What is known is that Jeffries has a grown son, lives separately from his wife, and, according to Business Week, has a Herb Ritts photo of a toned male torso hanging over the fireplace in his bedroom.
Tom's not interested in the private particulars of the man's family and notes that up to this point in the story, one might label Jeffries a bit kooky, but not much beyond that. This is where Jeffries begins slipping into full-blown FWD territory.
Jeffries wouldn't discuss any of that with me, and he fidgeted nervously and grew visibly agitated when I asked about several of the many controversies and lawsuits he has weathered in his 14 years at the helm of A&F. Our first bump came when I mentioned the 2002 uproar over the company's thongs for middle-school girls, which had "Eye Candy" and "Wink Wink" printed on their fronts. "That was a bunch of bullshit," he said, sweating profusely. "People said we were cynical, that we were sexualizing little girls. But you know what? I still think those are cute underwear for little girls. And I think anybody who gets on a bandwagon about thongs for little girls is crazy. Just crazy! There's so much craziness about sex in this country. It's nuts! I can see getting upset about letting your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs, but why would you let your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs?"
Tom's response: Yuck. Tom also finds it interesting that a weird 61-year-old guy riding scooters into bonfires is complaining about old pervs.
Jeffries nearly fell over in exasperation when I mentioned the magalog, although I'm not sure which charge -- that he sells sex to kids or that his advertising is homoerotic -- bothered him more. "That's just so wrong!" he said. "I think that what we represent sexually is healthy. It's playful. It's not dark. It's not degrading! And it's not gay, and it's not straight, and it's not black, and it's not white. It's not about any labels. That would be cynical, and we're not cynical! It's all depicting this wonderful camaraderie, friendship, and playfulness that exist in this generation and, candidly, does not exist in the older generation."
Chris Klein doesn't placate, and Mike Jeffries doesn't do cynicism. Tom's response: cynical = marketing prevert underwear for middle-school girls. Tom also points out that Jeffries is one generation older than the older generation. As for homoeroticism, I don't think it takes a Jon Stewart clip montage to get the idea.
For example, when I ask him how important sex and sexual attraction are in what he calls the "emotional experience" he creates for his customers, he says, "It's almost everything. That's why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that." As far as Jeffries is concerned, America's unattractive, overweight or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere. "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids," he says. "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."
Tom's becoming increasingly angry at Jeffries and points out that marketing A&F's clothing exclusively to the attractive people is another cynical approach. He also questions Jeffries referring to the competition as "vanilla" since A&F is not exactly offering edgy streetwear.
Maybe it's just the price of success, but it's not a normal day in America if someone isn't suing (or boycotting, or "girlcotting") Abercrombie & Fitch, which has become a lightning rod for both the left and the right. In 2004 A&F paid $40 million to settle a class-action suit brought by minority employees who said they were either denied employment or forced to work in back rooms, where they wouldn't be seen by customers. While A&F denied any wrongdoing, Jeffries said the suit taught him a lesson: "I don't think we were in any sense guilty of racism, but I think we just didn't work hard enough as a company to create more balance and diversity. And we have, and I think that's made us a better company. We have minority recruiters. And if you go into our stores you see great-looking kids of all races."
Tom's response: Yuck. Tom takes Jeffries to task for not owning up to the fact that he doesn't want non-whites wearing his clothes.
In the latest episode, last fall a group of high school girls from Allegheny County, Penn., made the rounds of television talk shows to protest the company's "offensive" T-shirts. Of particular concern were shirts that read "Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?" "Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol' Bitties" and "Do I Make You Look Fat?" The protest (which resulted in A&F pulling "Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?" and "Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol' Bitties" but retaining "Do I Make You Look Fat?" and others) began after my visit, so I couldn't ask Jeffries about it. But I did ask him about other T-shirt dust-ups, including "It's All Relative in West Virginia" (which West Virginia's governor didn't find funny), Bad Girls Chug. Good Girls Drink Quickly (which angered anti-addiction groups), and Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make It White (which triggered protests from Asian groups). Remarkably, Jeffries says he has a "morals committee for T-shirts" whose job it is to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen. "Sometimes they're on vacation," he admits with a smile. "Listen, do we go too far sometimes? Absolutely. But we push the envelope, and we try to be funny, and we try to stay authentic and relevant to our target customer. I really don't care what anyone other than our target customer thinks."
I called A&F's V.P. of Communications, Doug von Trimble, and he gave me the last two decisions handed down by the Morals Committee: "Partake of My Fruit Basket" (DENIED) and the first entry in their new Feminist Fleece line: "Sweater Pigs" (ACCEPTED). Tom notes that the target customer for their Dusseldorf-manufactured clothes appears to be the often-overlooked Young Racist demo. I do like how A&F groups their t-shirts into categories so consumers know if they are getting a shirt with Attitude or one with an empowering Message. Plus they're casually luxurious!
What about shareholders? Last year aggrieved Abercrombie shareholders filed a suit against the company alleging that Jeffries' compensation was excessive. (The suit was settled; his $12 million "stay bonus" was reduced to $6 million, and he gave up some stock options. In 2004 he made approximately $25 million.) Other suits, still pending, accuse Jeffries of misleading stockholders about the company's profits. "You settle because it's a distraction," Jeffries told me. "I can't let anybody be distracted here. Me included. We are passionate about what we do here on a daily basis, and if any of us is tied up with this nonsense, it's counterproductive. We're a very popular company. We have a lot of money. And we're targets."
This makes some sense to Tom because A&F are Equal Opportunity Offenders that need a lot of time to scour the Hustler jokebook to come up with new racist t-shirts that go after previously-untapped groups such as Native Americans. Tom starts to read a section of the piece that details Jeffries attempts to enhance the crotch size of a male mannequin, but he's had enough of the guy and can't continue. He wouldn't be surprised if A&F clothes have a chip in them that will eventually make your head melt a la Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
So there you have it: Mike Jeffries, FWD of the Week® for 3/13/06 - 3/17/06. (I'd argue that Jeffries' offenses rise to the level of turbo douchedom.)
- Peter aka Petey coughs in Tom's ear (starts at 57:18). He's doing goobs, but he's very cold and on the prowl for a sweatshirt. Tom's not that into Petey's attempts at regular conversation. Petey thinks Abercrombie & Fipps is mean for mocking the losers and sees the oh-so-hott-and-cool popular kids at his school making fun of those who don't don AF and Hollister attire. Petey's wardrobe consists of American Apparel and Salvation Army thrift store clothes, but he is unable to name a favorite shirt, so Tom gives him an early GOMP.
- Tom didn't drum up much response to the A&F topic, but "Judy" calls (starts at 1:00) to express concern about trying to get a job at A&F as a technical designer when she moves to Ohio. She has no interest in flip-flops, bonfires, or scooters, and wonders why they shy away from hip-hop culture. Tom believes it's because they want to stay true to the master race, and he recommends that Judy take the job and file reports about the eccentric behavior on campus. Dan in SF weighs in on American Apparel, noting their creepy, borderline porn advertisements and the fact that the guy who runs the company takes all the photos himself.
In my experience, the AA banner ads also transform innocent work surfing into iffy, NSFW territory. I'm reading a Pitchfork review of the new Mudhoney album and then realize that there are three scantily-clad nymphs in knee-high tube socks on my screen trying to get me to buy mesh running shorts and Baby thermal tees. Dan advises Petey to stay away from AA, and Tom volunteers to take him to Sears for some OshKosh B'Gosh threads.
Dan switches the topic to the long-gestating Cannonball Run musical and informs Tom that he's working on a guitar version of the Chuck Mangione theme song.
Chuck Mangione - "Cannonball Run Theme"
- Speaking of theme songs, the contest got some more hot entries, starting with a heave ho two in a row (multiple entries allowed via Sec. 5 Article 3 of the Best Show handbook, aka The Petey's Father Rule) from Iso-Thermal: "Dawn of the GOMP" and "Tuesday Night Stomp". County Mounty delivered the tasty pop metal of "Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Die", which made Tom feel like Rocky and warranted a second spin. Even after a second listen, Tom can't believe what he just heard and finally knows what it feels like to have the guys from Survivor write a song about him. The song also had a bit of the feel of Tom fave "Heat of the Moment" and a dash of Gob Bluth fave "The Final Countdown". Great tune (it's a lock for the penultimate showdown in The Karate Kid prequel I'm scripting) and it goes on the top shelf with The Themeweavers and Shock The Claw bottles.
"One man had the courage to fight the status quo. 91.1, Tentpole Radio!"
County Mounty - "Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Die"
In addition to the above Intronet entries, Tom received a envelope containing an entry with information written with a quill pen. Tom gets understandably nervous when the CD player indicates a 10:33 track time. "Tom's The Bomb" manages to weird up some of the loosey-goosey vibe of the Junk theme, but lacks that track's infectious pop fun and falters a bit when trying to merge sound clips (I generally prefer more Best Show-centric lyrics vs. clip pulls) with the simple refrain. After the song, some voices could be heard, but Tom is too scared to find out what the remainder of the track contains.
James in South Orange calls to try to get Tom to put the old theme in the running, but Tom wants a new classic and denies the request.
- Tommert calls (starts at 1:21) to discuss the issues he had with Mike the Courageous Call Screener at the end of the Week 1 Marathon show. I'm not sure if I have a full grasp on the nuances of this drama but basicallyTommert called with about 20 minutes left and Mike was reluctant to put him on the air because he suspected that Tommert might have been high due to mumbling, incoherent speech and would have sent the show to a screeching halt. As a courtesy to Tommert's FOT status, Mike asked Tom if he wanted to take the call and Tom declined because he was in the midst of his final pledge push.
All of this prompted Tommert to drop the above Latinate lament suggesting that the quest for fast money ruled the pledge show at the expense of regular callers. (Max Fischer saved Latin back in 1998, and thankfully there are FOT scholars around to ensure its correctness.)
Tommert planned to discuss how he was impressed with the geographic diversity -- pledges were coming in from coast to coast, as well as Hawaii, New Zealand, and the UK -- of the Best Show support and Tom's ability to bring so many people together on his show. Bottom line: sentiment = good; timing = bad. He ultimately declares his respect for Mike despite the unresolved disagreement about the specifics of the call screening chat (Tommert requests a call screening archive, but none exists). Tom, somewhat suprsingly, ends up siding with Tommert and Mike refuses to apologize. Tom's solution: he will fly Tommert to WFMU on Florida Air for an arm wrestling showdown with Mike. Mike starts flexing in the studio and Tommert starts chickening out.
- Tom discusses the Oscars (starts at 1:32), which he found a bit weird and unsatisfying. He liked some of the Stewart stuff -- the Scientology riff, the pre-taped campaign ads -- but thought it was a largely uneventful affair. He didn't see Best Picture winner Crash, but did like Good Night, And Good Luck. Tom thought Clooney's Best Supporting Actor speech was a little hokey and preachy -- about a thing (the value of liberal Hollywood being out of touch with the rest of the country) rather than an award for screen acting. Tom's position is that the night should be about appreciating the honor, not using it for a political platform.
- Trent from L.A. calls to take Tom to task for his Clooney comments. He thinks that Clooney is right about Hollywood and believes that the Academy sets the pace for social change and justice. Trent provides some examples: Brokeback Mountain (homosexual issues), Crash (racial stereotyping and its fallout), The Searchers (racial prejudice and sexism), On The Waterfront (early 1950s political climate, union corruption), Schindler's List, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (plight of wards of the state trying to find meaning in their lives), and West Side Story (mistaken for fluff, but is actually an incisive expose on the taboo of forbidden love -- a Chicano and a white making it happen)
Trent reveals that he would take the same position even if it wasn’t a voting member of the Academy. Turns out that Tom's talking to writer/producer/director Trent L. Strauss. For the last 15 years, Strauss has been filling multiplexes and video stores with horror films and offered a rundown of some of the highlights from his filmography (oddly absent from IMDb):
Face Peelers 1-4 & 6
Entrails 2: The Gouging
You’re Soaking in Her
The Ooze 3: Coach Fannel’s Revenge
The Kidney Thieves
It’s Raining Membranes
Art School Arsonist
Cub Scout Serial Killer
Boy Scout Serial Killer
Weblow Serial Killer
Girl Scout Serial Killer
Gut Bomb 2003
Tom is shocked that Strauss could get into the Academy with a resume filmed with “slasher” films, a term Trent rejects, along with “exploitation” or “gore”. He prefers to call his genre “extreme cinema”. Trent senses that Tom thinks ill of the films, and he’s right: Tom views them as part of the problem, finding them overly gruesome, gross, and nightmare-inducing.
Trent believes he’s working the same socially-conscious cinematic terrain as Spielberg, Kazan, and Ford. For example, the titular hero of his Dr. Sleaze is black. Trent would like to think that he broke the color barrier by creating the first black, sadistic, doctor serial killer to appear in a movie. Trent points out that Dr. Sleaze is also insane, as is Nurse Sleaze, who got her own spin-off film.
Leon, the title character in The Hacksawist, is a gay street hustler who prowls the streets in tight satin shorts and kept getting ripped off. He's haunted by visions of his awful mother and this eventually drives him to saw off people’s legs and faces. Tom finds the depiction of Leon as a gay stereotype to be a little offensive, but Trent finds it empowering, noting that the “ladyboys on the streets” really do wear tight satin shorts.
In Girl Scout Serial Killer, Kimmy is having problems with her scoutmaster, Sharon, which touches off a killing spree that makes I Spit On Your Grave look like Amelie. Tom wants nothing to do the with this film.
Trent mentions that Entrails 2: The Gouging holds the record for most blood in one scene: 32,000 gallons. The caro syrup comprised 1/3 of the budget and was stored in a truck. Trent doesn’t want to ruin the Hollywood magic of special effects, but reveals that it was loaded into a big pump and shot out of a water canon. In the scene, the blood is spewing from 42 people punctured on a larger skewer. Like a lot of Trent’s work, the film was banned in Europe, aside from Belgium. Tom has no interest in seeing it.
Trent’s claims that his latest film, The Toolbelt Killer, is his Citizen Kane and a bit of a departure from the standard extreme cinema fare. Trent shot on the film on 35 mm. instead of his usual 16 mm. or Super 8, a move that he believes will garner awards. He described the film as Phantom Of The Opera meets Norma Rae, but with way more impalings and beheadings.
Plot: a young man, Brian, lives in a really poor town and he’s shunned by all of his classmates because he’s different. At the end of his senior year of high school, he gets a summer job at Lowe's. He’s stationed in the lumber department and gets taunted by burly contractors who come in to buy their masonry supplies.
Brian comes from the only rich family in the town. His philandering father is the mayor and also owns most of the local businesses. His father made his fortune by inventing Paint-Be-Gone, a corrosive agent that strips paint off metal. A lot of the townsfolk hate the family because 75% of the kids are addicted to P-B-G and the father ran out most of the other small business owners.
Brian's father wants him to work at Lowe's so he'll know what it's like to have a manual labor job before departing for college. During one shift, Brian is driving a forklift and a jerky, fat contractor is really pressing his buttons. As Brian retrieves his order, one of the tongs on the forklift gives way and a palette of cement bags crash to the floor in a plume of dust. At that moment, lightning goes through the roof and strikes the exact spot, killing Brian. Is he really dead? The body was never found.
At this point, the story really takes off. Brian’s mucho disfigured but alive. After dusting himself off, he slinks into the Lowe’s bathroom and looks in the mirror to see what 1,000 pounds of cement (and lightning) have done to his visage. He’s shocked and mortified at what he looks like and realizes that his life is over. He takes up residence in the walls of the Lowe’s, surviving on coffee and Lance Toast Cheese crackers from the vending machine.
When the store is closed, Brian starts to morph into “Belty” by fashioning himself a creepy new outfit: a mask made from duct tape and sandpaper and a suit made from fiberglass insulation. The new look also includes a toolbelt loaded with screwdrivers, hammers, hatchets, pliers, and saws that have been modified into “horrific implements of death and torture”. He also used the keymaker to grind his fingers into keys. Strauss notes the extreme sickness of this sequence, which includes spurting marrow. Belty is now ready to get revenge.
Since he has free run of the place at night, he uses Photoshop on one of the office computers to create fake Lowe’s coupons. He mails them to the families of all the people he hates, instructing them to go around to the back entrance at closing time for a free patio set. They all fall for it, and Belty slices, dices, and grinds them up. At this point, Tom thinks it’s nuts, but Trent thinks it’s a great story.
This Lowe’s store was built on an ancient Viking burial ground, and Belty finds a horn hat that was jostled up out of the grounds during construction and became lodged in the sheetrock. (Strauss’s research team confirmed that this was plausible.) The hat becomes a part of his outfit, but he is not yet possessed by the Viking spirits.
Strauss also weaves a touching love story through the grisly tale. During his high school years, Brian had a crush on Monica, but she wouldn’t talk to him because he lived in a mansion across the tracks. Her parents worked in his mansion as a maid and groundskeeper, and were horribly treated by Brian’s father. In one scene, we see that he forced them to watch him make love to filthy prostitutes, which Trent claims he shot in a way that makes it funny.
One night, Monica comes into Lowe’s just before closing to buy some light bulbs. Belty sees her and realizes that the store is mostly deserted. He summons the courage to talk to her and he’s amazed that she’s not repulsed by him. In fact, she doesn’t realize it’s him due to the disfigurement. The relationship escalates and Monica is frequently desirous of rides from Belty. Their after-hours trysts are graphically depicted in montages, but Strauss assures Tom that it’s all done in a nice way. Monica eventually informs Belty that her father got a great new job in Western Maine and the family are moving in a week.
Belty lures the family – minus Monica – to Lowe’s with another coupon and her parents and little brother get really attacked, a plot turn that does not surprise Tom at all.
The next morning, Belty and Monica (still oblivious to her family’s fate) are eating their traditional breakfast. She takes a bite of food and suspects that something is wrong. She then sees her father’s face in her omelette. It’s not a ghostly or hallucinated image – it’s the actual face that Belty hacksawed off while enacting his revenge. Her father was trying to take away the one thing that he loved, so Belty had to take action. Trent clarifies to Tom that Belty is the film’s hero, while Monica’s family are the villains because they are boring, poor, and as guilty as everyone else who picked on him for being rich.
Monica now realizes what has happened and knows that she has two choices: Kill Belty or become his Belt Bride. This sparks off a long fight scene that spills over into multiple merchandising departments. The gruesomeness reaches a peak in the kitchen department when Belty tries to gouge Monica’s eye with a screwdriver. She gets loose and puts his arm in the garbage disposal. While he’s stuck, she summons all of her anger and, in an empowering feminist statement, puts his entire body in and purees him.
Tom assumes that this is the end of Belty, but he’s wrong. Just as Belty’s about to take his last breath, he calls upon the Viking spirits to help him. They give him the strength to chase Monica throughout the store with an old-school push lawnmower that old, dumb, poor people favor. Monica falls, and Belty corners her with a functional five-foot-long chainsaw that he lifts from a display. Trent says that the resulting carnage outdoes the graphic gore of Entrails 2: The Gouging and might get him kicked out of AMPAS again.
He was booted in 2002 for going too far in You're Soaking In Her. That films focuses on a guy who runs a New Age therapy retreat. He’s also a brutal serial killer who combines the mineral water with the liquefied bodies of his victims, luring hot chicks to soak in the solution. Even Belgium passed on YSIH.
The tagline on the poster for TBK is a take-off on Lowe's “Let Us Help You” -- “ Let Him Help You Die.” Tom asks Trent how he got permission to film at Lowe’s, and Trent reveals that it was all filmed on a soundstage in Iowa. The use of the Lowe’s logo is a bone of contention as they are being “hard-assed” about granting permission to Trent. This makes sense to Tom, who points out that the company might be leery of a film that suggests that using one of their coupons will lead to getting murdered.
Trent is working on alternative marketing strategies and hopes to land a promotional Belty Burger tie-in with Hardee’s. He’s convinced that Belty will be huge and is currently working with Purple Shirt on the specs for the bobblehead doll. Tom is disgusted by the film and Trent accuses him of hating Hollywood. Tom counters by saying he likes top-shelf horror films, but hates the current crop of movies that only portray graphic torture. Trent thinks Tom can’t look beyond the graphic gore and realize that this is Hollywood holding the mirror up to the audience and putting their internal struggles on the screen.
Tom seeks clarification and Trent asks him if he has ever been sent into a rage by an annoying boss. People want to let it and they can see a Trent L. Strauss production to see their rage on the screen just like they envisioned it. Trent thinks that Tom has never wanted to hacksaw off the limbs of people because he’s anti-Hollywood. Trent left Hollywood after 10 years and returned to Newbridge, N.J., two months ago. He grew up in a fancy neighborhood in Westbridge, but his father wanted to build his character so he bussed Trent to the poor section, where the kids made fun of him.
Trent promises that his next film will be even further out there. Hang The DJ revolves around a DJ who is getting stalked by a maniac whose father he accidentally killed in the 1980s. The DJ threw a record into the crowd as a prize and it hit his father directly in the juggler vein. Tom informs Trent that the correct term is "jugular", but Trent think Tom's off his rocker. The father bleeds to death on the dance floor and this sets off his son's lifelong mission to exterminate all of the world's DJs.
Trent wants Tom to star in the film as himself, but Tom is reluctant. Trent informs him that the film is a documentary that Tom is already starring in and he'll find out more details soon enough. Trent equates the villainous father in TBK to chattering DJs, who also try to take away the one thing that everyone loves: music. At least one DJ will be killed in the documentary.
Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ. Hang the DJ!
The Smiths - "Panic (On The Streets Of Newbridge)"
I exchanged some e-mails with Strauss's publicist, Bumble Ward, and got some casting news for a future film called Make Love to Me Before I Embalm You Alive. It's set to star Mike Jeffries, Pittsburgh Steeler/musician Troy Renfro, Chris Klein, Asia Argento, and Jillian Barberie. Strauss is aiming for a Hard NC-17 rating and hopes to have it out in early 2007. Negotiations are underway with eHarmony for some promotional tie-ins.
Also: Spike just added The Toolbelt Killer to his Sick and Twisted Film Festival.
- MC Steinberg returns (starts at 2:40) for the first time since his battle rap with MC Teddy T. He's been kinda on the run for the last couple of months. He went into the battle a little cocky -- he had defeated MC John Junk the prior week and thought he would take out Leo, but ended up eating humble pie. He did not expect Ted to bring it that hard and got his bell rung. About a week after that, he realized that he was not ready for fame and had to pull out of The Game for a while. Although his license was revoked, he got in his car and drove for days before breaking down in the desert. He was thinking, writing rhymes, and met a guru whose name was an uttural grunt. [Guttural Grunt] was the smartest man Steinberg had ever met and he spent two weeks bringing Steinberg back down to Earth gave him some stuff to smoke that turned out to be payotay. Steinberg is adamantly against drug use, but doesn't define payotay as a drug because it unlocked his mind.
NJ called for Steinberg to return and now he's back and better than ever with new tools in his creative toolbox. He's also actively looking for more payotay. Tom suggests taking what he got from the payotay in the desert as a life lesson and not going back to it. Steinberg's not buying it.
Steinberg realized the power that certain people have and assembled an unlikely trio of spiritual signposts: Maya Angelou (beautiful wordsmeith, knows the soul), Spike ("He's just amazing"), and Ravi Shankar (transfored The Beatles into The Beatles). Steinberg can't understand how Tom is not blown away by Spike's awesomeness every week and think's Tom is crazy for not being equally effected by Spike. Tom thinks Steinberg is the one wearing the crazy hat.
He wrote a song about each person, but performs the Spike song because it's the most appropriate for The Best Show:
He's Spike, and he's #1
He's a kiss-stealin, skirt-chasin' son of a gun
He's Spike, and he's the king
He's a leather-wearin', whip-crackin' party machine
His voice is spooky, he sounds like Droopy
He says he looks like Theo, but his mind is loopy
No one can fake this, so don't mistake this
He's just searching for his love: Debbie Dominatrix
He's got a dungeon of pain, whips and chains to (?) sex games
Is it time to explain, cause I don't frequent the sex scene
I still love this fellow, it makes me mellow
When Tom kicks off the show with a "Why, heeeeellllloooo"
He's Spike, and he's #1
He's a kiss-stealin, skirt-chasin' son of a gun
He's Spike, and he's the king
He's a leather-wearin', whip-crackin' party machine
He (?) over town being chased by chicks
In search for Doo-Wop records and horror flicks
From an elderly couple to a kid on a bike
All the people around chant "Spike! Spike! Spike!"
He spots the villain, you know that crook won't win
Breakin' into strangers cars earns you discipline
He gives the Gimp, smack, you hear his whip crack
Smacks the crooks on the bottom, hit the road, Jack
He's Spike, and he's #1
He's a kiss-stealin, skirt-chasin' son of a gun
But Ecstasy's deeper
Through the zipper on his mask, through the phone speaker
Spike shows a sign of his soul, we choose to hide from a soul
Is that his goal? To expose society? As a whole?
He's Spike, and he's the king
He's a leather-wearin', whip-crackin' party machine
MC Steinberg - "Spike's the King" (Live on TBSOWFMU 3/14/06)
Tom picks up a new influence in the middle-section bridge, which was written by [Guttural Grunt], and found it lyrically heavy. (MCS is not sure what it all means.) I also thought that this was one of Steinberg's catchier choruses (pretty frightening to have Spike-based rhymes bouncing around your head), continuing the effective use of melody seen in his brilliant "Me and Mia" sing-song sample in his third entry in the Leo Battle Rap. Tom thinks MCS has taken it to the next level and proven that he's not a one-trick pony serving only dollar-store raps -- he's digging into deeper, uncharted waters. Tom suggests that critics may need to re-evaluate his career and will eventually segment Steinberg's work into the eras before and after his desert retreat.
Steinberg says he won't call every week and force himself on people; he'll wait until he has something to prove. Tom salutes him and Steinberg says Tom rules.
- A seemingly-intoxicated caller (starts at 2:51) rejoices in the completion of MCS's "monotodonal hijinks" and congratulates Tom on a terrific marathon. He particularly liked Tom's "The Pouting Prince" autographed picture, which he found adorable. He recalled that the first time he got an autographed photo from Tom it led to convulsions and spastic attacks that left him flat on his back for a week. He's overwhelmed by Tom's generous additon of buttons and stickers in his 2006 Fun Kit and places Tom on the top of the heap. In like a lamb, out creepy.
On the next ... The Best Show on WFMU: After securing a new stash of payotay in Upper Newbridge, Steinberg returns with a rap about Bryce (He's Bryce, and he's the king / He's a pot-smokin', Dead-lovin' one-armed party machine), Tom pulls Guzzard records from the WFMU library for the last time and digs into his AmRep retrospective, an excited Philly Boy Roy talks about his callback for Trent L. Strauss’s Pukeadelphia 2: Bloodbath in Fishtown, and the Goob Guys rejoice after steamrolling the lowlifes and dirtbags to advance to The Final Four.