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Actionable Content

It was finally time. The week was finished. The house was empty. I had everything I needed: vodka, soda, chips, popcorn, Netflix and energy drinks. And, of course…

“A blanket! Shit.”

I hated moving once I was comfortable, but twelve glorious hours of Jack Gunway were right around the corner and up a set of stairs.

“Forget it!”

Now was not a time for subtlety or decorum. It was full-on jammy time. I threw off the shackles of my workaday pants and pulled on a pair of well-worn sweats, hopping a bit as my foot caught in the leg. Was there anything else while I was up here…

“Oh right!”

I’d left my roller in my room, and I knew I wouldn’t want to have to move to grab it once I’d settled in. I ran downstairs like a kid on Christmas, tossing my blanket on the sofa in a big, red clump.

I flopped down on top of it and surveyed my coffee-table kingdom. Everything was in reach and 100% accessible. I’d have to move to go to the bathroom eventually, but not for much else; my mini-fridge had proven itself a wise investment.

“Speaking of which…” I said glancing at the glass bottle on my table, still fresh in its bag, “Sprite or orange juice?”

I decided on Sprite, “Obviously.”

After pulling a chilled glass, ice and a green can from the fridge, I held down the swooshing, green X on a nearby controller. As the system spun up, it let out its characteristic whine.

“Crick. Crackle. Gloop,” went the can.

“Fthv. Splop. Crick,” agreed the ice.

“Music to my ears…”

Clicking on the T.V. was the final step in the lengthy process. Last week, I had been lolling on the sofa, switching between specific episodes of “Top Gear” and “An Uncommon Seoul,” when a People search result led me to a stunning realization: all of Jack Gunway’s action titles were on The Flix. Holy crap!

So, I Listed them and did a little math. It would only take twelve hours to power through the whole thing. Half a day and I’d be able to watch his entire action career… right up to the point where he started doing half-baked dramas.

I hadn’t had the time that day, but I kept today open. In the past, I’d tried having marathons with my friends and girlfriends, but they just didn’t have the stamina or will-power for them. If it was friends, we’d devolve into partying by the end of the third movie, leaving the house for parts unknown. If it was my girlfriend, we’d be having sex by the end of the second movie. I guess people got bored of cinema easier than I did.

There’s something singularly satisfying about being alone with something you enjoy. No worries or obligations to distract you. Just you… you and your thing, whatever that is. For me, it’s campy action movies.

They were just so ridiculous and awesome. I devoured them: “Die Hard,” “Through His Stomach 2: Heartfelt,” “Terminator,” “3 Click Pony,” “The Expendables,” “Predator,” Instant Gratification,” “Kill Bill,” “Crank,” “Point Break,” “Bad Boys 2…” The list is enormous, but right at the top, occupying six of the top ten spots, sits the King of Camp: Jack Gunway.

Maybe it was because he got to me first. He was my original hero. When I was younger, and still had nightmares, I’d conjure JG from the aether of dream-stuff to defend me. He always whooped into whooping ass. I owed him this night, at least.

The entire week had been about this. I’d looked forward to it every day, especially when work got crazy. Now, it was here.

“Time to get this ball rolling!”

I selected the first movie, took a swig of my drink and paused. Something was wrong… I stared at the loose bag on the coffee table. Once, it had contained my liquor. Now… now, it just mocked me, standing out as a bit of chaos among my neatly ordered movie marathon paraphernalia.

“Garbage bag, it is!” I said, throwing it on the floor at my feet and feeling very much better about the whole situation.

Aww, now it was time to sink into the movie that started it all: Fear and Reloading in Las Vegas. It was a spoof, if that name didn’t make it obvious, but JG had taken the role so seriously that he’d both legendarily elevated the movie’s comedic elements and jump-started his own career.

I mouthed along with the opening quote, stolen wholesale from the original: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

“Ah, the echoed history of Samuel Johnson,” I recited out of habit.

There was the sound of a gunshot. The movie’s score rose to a crescendo as a convertible shattered its way through the title card and screamed down a desert road. I tried to remember how many times I’d watched this. 7? 8 times? Enough to know exactly what that gunshot had been echoing on a deeper level.

Some days, I enjoyed digging into the deeper symbolism of these movies, but not today. Today, I was hungry for their simple fun, two-dimensional characters and over-the-top special effects.

“Drink every time someone fires a gun…” I decided. Hmm… that was probably enough, actually.

I cocked an eye as I worked the roller to the crackattattat of an assault rifle on screen. Every time someone fires a gun was a dangerous rule… Drink for one-liners and deaths seemed more reasonable. At least then I might make it to the end of the marathon.

I cricked the lighter on and inhaled deeply, feeling my body relax in real-time. “This here’s bat country,” Jack spat, smashing the club over the helmet of the bewildered Police Officer. Smoke poured from my lungs as I laughed, coughing slightly. I never got tired of that line.

I didn’t make a habit of smoking, but I’d used to in my earlier days. Back then, it had been a social thing. Now, it was just a way of easing my way through particularly rough weeks.

Well, I shouldn’t blame the week. It was my life, really. I’d gotten to the point where I felt like I should know something, like I should be doing something. Yet, here I was: same old job, same old me.

Not that that was a bad thing. Status quo may seem boring from the outside, but I was comfortable and happy. It was hard to argue with. I snuffed out the burning, makeshift filter and tossed it in my ashtray shot-glass as Jack pulled into the city limits, his partner popping off a few rounds into the “Welcome” sign.

Jack had almost always had a partner. They weren’t really actors I remembered off-hand, because Jack kind of stole the show, but I knew this one. He’d go on to wear suits and complain about serpents on airborne transport vessels, but this was where he got his start. I guess it birthed two legends, then.

Grinning like an idiot and shovelling handfuls of popcorn into my mouth, I sank into the flow of the film. The race through the desert storm. The gun-battle on the Vegas strip that peaked on a merry-go-round. The knife-fight between Jack and his partner after he found out he’d been double-crossed. The references to the Red Army and playing cards that existed solely to set up the scene where he dropped the stereo into the hot tub, electrocuting his partner to the haunting melody of White Rabbit . Yeah, the cult fans all knew the song should have stopped after it was dropped in the water, but we didn’t care.

I mixed another drink just as Jack was learning about the bomb the Reds were setting up at the Narcotics convention. The shocking revelation of his partner’s innocence and true intentions landed on Jack like a ton of bricks just as I closed the fridge door.

Then, there was the inevitable cliffhanger moment where his partner showed up out of nowhere, having been alive the whole time, to save the day and cue the flashbacks. The girl. The hotel. The diner where his partner actually dies in a robbery turned senseless showdown. The veiled references that tied the whole thing up with: “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys an idea, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.”

The whole movie was dripping with Cold War references, but the Milton paraphrase really did it for me. I was caught in a moment of vast introspection as I blooped over to the next movie.

It had been several years before the movie’s cult following had made directors aware of Jack. In the meantime, he had paid the bills with convention appearances, some legitimate theatre and television cameos. Then, he’d gotten his first serious movie role since FRILV. Best of all, it was an action movie without shame or pretence: “3-2-1.”

It’s a spy flick. The title doesn’t make a lot of sense until you read the box cover: “3 Suits, 2 Men, 1 Body.” The basic premise is that a totally-not-Russian spy had perfectly infiltrated the United States a’ la “The Americans.” Jack plays a counter-agent working for the US that’s ordered to kill the man and assume his identity, then feed phony information to the man’s superiors..

It had come out a while after the Cold War had ended, but people were nothing if not willing to beat its equine skull in. The dull fog of inebriation settled on the plot like a hempen rug. I lit another small one, not wanting to overdo it, because I’d be irritable tomorrow if I did. I understood the basic premise. No one knew what the agent looked or sounded like, so he could be replaced, but why did Jack have to run around propping the body up like he was playing “Weekend at Bernie’s” with the safety off?

Wacky portions aside, it’s still a pulse-pounding action thriller, and I started really getting into it. That Austrian bloke played the perfect foil to Jack. Gunway was wiry and quick, built for pistol-play, but Arnold was a body-builder. Their on-screen chemistry was amazing.

It had come out a couple years before I’d been old enough to appreciate it, but I’d seen it not long after FRILV, so I didn’t feel the gap of years that the two films represented. Even now, I’d simply blooped between them.

I’m not really sure why Arnold was fighting Jack. Something about him finding out that Jack was a double-double agent that was sent by the Reds to replace the guy he was replacing for the U.S. Of course, ridiculously convoluted plot-twists come with the territory. It makes about as much sense as “Die Hard” or James Bond, but it’s theatrically brilliant.

Jack ran up a wall, kick-flipping himself out of Arnold’s half-nelson, landing with a pistol aimed at the back of Arnold’s neck.

“I’m not just a replacement, I’m an upgrade,” he quipped, pulling the trigger. I shivered with pleasure, breaking off a piece of chip between my teeth.

You’re supposed to think the “body” from the cover is talking about the original agent’s corpse, but it refers to a sultry redhead that Jack falls for in the second act. From there, it’s a steel-whirlwind romance that leads to Jack forfeiting the ideologies of the Reds for the freedom to love as he chooses. So, he ends up working for the U.S. any ways, but what do you expect from the time-period?

I always tear up near the end, though. Jack and Arnold had been fighting, even after Jack made the switch, because, not only did Arnold not trust him, theirs was a battle of honour. It wasn’t about who believed in what; it was about finishing their fight. When Jack’s looking down at the crumpled body of the man that had pushed him so far, a note of emptiness in his eyes, I can’t help but feel for them. For him.

It sounds a bit silly, I know. I wonder where I’d be if I’d had someone to push me like that. Standing tall? Or crumpled on the floor?

God, I need to pee. It’s the perfect time for a break, so I’ll pop some more popcorn.

“Beep. Beep. Beep.”

Whiiirrrrrr…..

The bathroom seems dizzier than I remember. Better steady myself while I aim. I feel like I’m drifting to the right a bit. I wonder if that leg is slightly shorter? Weaker? More susceptible to hoe-downs?

What’s the next one again? Right, “3-2-1” was kind of a flop when it dropped. No accounting for taste, but whatever. The next one came out several years after it, if I recall, which couldn’t have been comfortable for Jack, but was great for me.

I had been watching his first two films for years, but this one came out when I was finally old enough to watch it in theatres. Well, with a parent or a ticket for another movie, that is. I must have been thirteen or so… hmm…oh, never mind!

I love the sound of eating popcorn. It’s got a “Crish. Thresh. GLmp.” sound to it… more butter?

Naw, salt. It needs seasoning salt and maybe a little soy sauce, if only so I can hear it “Gloomp. Sheshhh.” on the cooling kernels… No, enough tinkering, there’s a show to watch!

Just gotta wrap myself in my red blanket… There! I can finally blap the movies back on. Let’s see, FRILV came out when Jack was twenty-three. I know it seems a bit late, but Mr. Campbell was around the same age when Evil Dead surfaced, so who’s to say what you should do when.

…that would make Jack twenty-eight in this one? It’s easy to see, Even though they shrouded his face for the cold open, I can still tell he’s aged. Like a fine fucking wine! He’d had minor successes in the past and even become a cult-movie hero, despite some initial box-office losses, but “Solid Calibre” made him the star he is today.

I’ve never been sure why. It’s a solid enough action flick. Jack has amnesia. Agency finds Jack. Jack runs away from agency. Agency pursues Jack. Jack recovers memory and counter-attacks. Love interest. Bam! Credits. I’m not sure why it exploded the way it did. Timing? Politics? Culture? Advertising?

Whatever the reason, this scene…

“These are hollow points…”

Aaand, he guns him down without puncturing the side of the aircraft. I guess if they hadn’t been hollowpoints they’d have gone right through the guy? Oh right, I haven’t been drinking enough for kills! I guess a shot should catch me up.

Right, I was saying, this scene always gets to me. It’s the look, I think, on the guy’s face when he realizes that he’s about the die. I always wonder what it would be like, you know, to have that moment.

There’s nothing past this.

No one will remember anything before this.

For me, there’s only now.

I’ve experienced something like it, but I’m not sure it’s reflective of what that dude just felt. Maybe it’s fun-house reflective. A misshapen mirror, distorting the impact’s depth and perspective.

“That’s just plane wrong.”

Oh my god! I can never not laugh at that part. I mean, it’s not often you get a straight-faced, serious-dialogue pun.

These are really starting to fly by. It kind of feels like I’m missing parts of them, but that’s okay. I know them all by heart. This is just about honouring them, after all.

I need to calm down on the vodka, though. Things are getting… swimmy? Time for another smoke, perhaps. But first, I should start the next movie.

This always makes my hands stink. When did this one come out? It was Jake’s thirtieth, so like, a year or two later?

Wow, thirty. That feels like a gateway age. He definitely looks like a legit adult, but it’s film. They can make him look however old they want him to. That doesn’t change things, though.

I’m fairly certain “Gunway or the Highway” is his only solo role. It’s sort of a meta-commentary on action films that’s plopped out in a soft, palatable, action-film package. Like all meta-commentaries, it’s kind of stuck up its own butt, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially if it’s entertaining.

I mean, actor-him is looking for hero-him in a parallel dimension, but I swear it’s good! Later on, they phase back into “this” world and there are some pretty funny scenes where he grapples with its physical reality. Think “Last Action Hero” but with more nudity and a straighter face. I feel like its po-faced seriousness lends a layer of satire to it that self-awareness simply can’t.

Like this one scene where he’s pursuing some bad guys across the rooftop. You think it’s easy for someone who knows the limitations of death to barrel into gunfire like that? And the look on hero-him’s face when the dude he’s chasing doesn’t jump across the roof-top gap is priceless.

…until he pushes him off and the guy breaks his neck falling into a trash bin. In his world, that guy would have been fine, but here? No, he’s dead. Heartbreaking-neck-breaking, really. You can see it etched all over actor-him’s face. Dude understands what his counter-part’s going through.

The only problem is that the mono-accented dialogue between them is mesmerizing and I’m kind of losing track of what’s going on. It’s all just one big maelstrom of gun-play and the same voice talking to itself over and over in a strangely absorbing spiral.

I’ll be thirty in a little while. Not like, this year or even the next, but too soon. Not that thirty is old. I felt the same way about twenty. And thirteen. And ten. It’s just.. a marker. I’m rooted in a moment and, for a second, I feel like I can see my life unfold into nothingness in both directions. There’s only this point and the one I can’t see in the distance and the other I can’t see behind me.

Because, I’m a different me. Will be. Will have been. Or wait, I don’t want to lose myself in contemplation.

After GOTH, there was a long break. Jack’s collected works netted him a starring role on a television series, and he would spend the next five or six years working on it.

The last movie wouldn’t end for another twenty minutes and I was already thinking about “Clandestine.” I had been pretty excited for it, because, a month before its release, I found out it was going to come out on my birthday. It was going to be a gift straight out of Valhalla.

Or rather, it should have been. Instead, the movie was an emotional roller-coaster ride.

You see, what my month-shy self didn’t know was that my girlfriend would dump me the day before my birthday so that she “didn’t have to worry about getting me a girlfriend-level gift” when we were “just going to end up breaking up any ways.”

Worse still was that “Clandestine” was going to be Gunway’s tour de force exhibition of his dramatic muscle. It was another spy movie that focused heavily on the concepts of identity and gun-play. By this time, though, I was well into my post-secondary studies, adrift in a sea of potential and contemplation.

It didn’t help that the movie’s make-up crew put extra work into making Jack look older than he was. The overall effect was that I would remember “Clandestine” less as a work of camp and more as a forward-facing turning-point in my life. Later on, I would conclude that that was just because of where I was in my life and the circumstances under which I viewed it.

Thinking about it now, it has an incredibly dramatic scene where Jack pretends to be a lamp. So, dramatic or not, I don’t think it’s lost any of its camp. Still, I’m not sure I’m ready to move on to it.

GOTH is going to wind down in a few minutes and then, BOOM! half a decade of his life disappears before my eyes. Or, I guess, half a decade of my life flits out of sight, out of mind. I remember what I did at University, but the time between then and now is… hazy.

My memories are half-formed fragments of scenes and information, many of them taking place on this same damn couch. Even these movies are starting to run together. I’m skipping the credits of GOTH, but in my head I’m running through the plot of “Clandestine.” That’s kind of fucked. The moment isn’t even over yet and I’m already thinking five or six years into its future.

It’s usually a good idea to look ahead, but it has its drawbacks. For instance, thinking about the length of the next movie is making me want to use the washroom again. Which means, I’ll have to get up. But that means more popcorn, so maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.

As late as it is, it’ll be six a.m. by the time I start “Second Stage.” I don’t have anything to do tomorrow morning, but I should be up by two p.m. to meet my friend Gloria for lunch. That’ll leave me with six hours of sleep; I can hack that.

“Second Stage” is going to be awesome, even the ninth time! It’s about a branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service that’s developing a two-stage, space-faring vehicle based on the original German V2 rocket design.  It’ll be an appropriate cap to this evening, actually, because it’s all about sticking your head into the vast reaches of space when your rump is still firmly planted on the ground.

And Jack’ll be, what, 40ish? Hahah! Wow, he’s 40 right now. Right now. Earlier this evening, he was twenty-three. I’ll have skipped through half his life in twelve hours.

And I’ll be, what, 25ish? Huh! I’ll be staring at my hands and wondering where the time went. Only remembering now where this burn or that scar came from. Only really now noticing that it’s just a forgotten memory. Without the rough edge from the pain and the marking, I wouldn’t even remember it.

Something could slice open my flesh and, if it didn’t leave a scar, I probably wouldn’t remember it now.

The thought that I might be feeling that four hours from now is… perturbing.

“Ah well, orange juice this time, I think.”

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1 Comment

  1. […] to make up for the stories I’ve missed, but that’s okay. (And here they are! Actionable Content, Solitude and another revamped classic: About A Ham Sandwich) They’re ready and waiting […]

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