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Letters From The Wasteland: Flu Like Symptoms


On Monday, the head cold hit me like a garbage truck with a nitrous-equipped engine and jet fuel in its tank. It started with the sort of headache that feels like you've been forced to wear a fitted cap two-sizes too small for days on end.

My ears were clogged, like I was at high-altitude and the cabin pressure was too low. I could hold my nose and blow out, but only the left one would budge and just enough to tease me. I chewed gum incessantly, but it didn't help.

The next day it had worked its way to my nose and I was a runny mess, soaking more Kleenexes than a 14-year old boy who just discovered Cinemax.

I muscled through hump day, but by the end of the week the foul virus had settled in my chest, and I knew I was down for the count. Friends asked whether I'd taken any echinacea, Zincam or my favorite: had I soaked in something called essential oils?

Not quite. When I could no longer deny the fact that I was in the midst of a full on sickness, I drove down to the Walgreens and filled a basket with eight bottles of NyQuil, four bottles of Chloraseptic and a two-pack of some off-brand air freshener spray (the living room smelled like death).

My roommate, a hypochondriac of the highest order, had evacuated as soon as I told him I my head was congested, in response to his question as to why I had the volume on the television turned up to 63.

“What? I can't hear! I am turning it down, that's not why I can't hear. I'm all blocked up. No, I don't have allergies. Why are you packing a bag?”

Mumbling something about immunodeficiency, as he administered what seemed to be a preventive medication –  a nasal swab of some sort – he quickly disappeared to spend the weekend with his ill-tempered girlfriend, ensuring I wouldn't see either one of them for days, perhaps longer if I could fake symptoms of something truly scary. At that, I felt just a tad better, if only emotionally.


No one likes to be sick, especially hard-working, Type-A personalities like yours truly, but sometimes Mother Nature has a way of giving slavish devotees of their trade the break their bodies desperately need.

Once it became clear that I would be useless for a few days, I decided to make the most of it and catch some R&R. I hadn't seen television in months, but I could find nothing even remotely watchable, so I signed up for a free trial of Netflix and was pleased to see that House of Cards: Season 2 had just been released.

For the unindoctrinated, HOC is a delicious little soap opera about a Washington power couple (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright). It's unrealistic and trashy, but much more Gore Vidal than Tom Clancy, and I got so wrapped up in the first season that I watched it in its entirety the very first week (for their original series, Netflix drops every episode of the entire season of on the same day).

This season was even saucier than the last, and I blew through all 12 episodes on the first day, drifting in and out of NyQuil naps, wondering if what I'd seen had really happened, especially the French stuff. Kevin Spacey, who plays a manipulative Svengali named Francis Underwood, had been Majority Whip in season one, but had back-stabbed his way to the cusp of being named the new Vice President by the finale. I won't spoil this season for you, but suffice it to say it did not fail to entertain.


By the time it was all said and done, I was left with more questions than answers, along with a massive crush on Claire Underwood (a short-haired Robin Wright) who is such a wicked and contemptible woman that my attraction to her might speak volumes about the many failures of my pathetic love life.

In no mood to examine that line of thought any further, I decided against checking out the original British version of the series when I came to from the NyQuil somewhere around 4 a.m. on what I think was Thursday. My guts were too unreliable to risk a cup of Turkish coffee, so I brewed some of the expensive herbal tea that my roommate's stingy girlfriend had forbade either of us from ever touching, figuring my illness entitled me to anything which might be considered good for me.

It smelled like perfume, but tasted like sweat. Nonetheless, it managed to get my juices flowing and while I couldn't manage to remain upright longer than a walk to the john, I had the energy to devour season one The Following, an equally unrealistic psychological thriller starring Kevin Bacon.

A cult of serial killers who worshiped Edgar Allen Poe? By the end of my marathon I was more than a little ashamed for having been so enthralled, so I picked up War and Peace, a book I'd been trying to finish since grad school, but my lack of basic understanding in terms of 19th century Russian society kept sending me back to Wikipedia with questions about the Russian Revolution, Napoleon and the difference between a czar and an emperor.

The head full of NyQuil probably didn't help. In fact, I was beginning to wonder whether I was still sick or just in the throes of withdrawal when I cracked open the fourth bottle of the green, licorice-ish flavored syrup, took a swig and chased it with a long spray of Chloraseptic that numbed my throat, as if it'd been frozen by liquid nitrogen. I felt soothed to the depths of my soul.

I'd never heard of someone with a NyQuil problem, but I was beginning to feel like a man in an opium tent and wondered whether Poe would have even made it to morphine had this delicious stuff had been around in his day.

I then decided that if I couldn't read, I should at least watch something with a bit more merit and spent an hour cruising Netflix for a good indy film that I hadn't seen already, referencing Rotten Tomatoes to see if I could find a worthy flick.

Nothing on Netflix looked good, but on Rotten Tomatoes I'd come across a review for something called the Sunlight Jr. – starring my favorite actor, Matt Dillon.

It was supposed to be some dark love story about him and a girl played Naomi Watts. Every trusted source raved. I checked Netflix, but no dice. I was even willing to pedal two blocks to the Red Box, but again it didn't even show up on the search. Now willing to pony up the premium price to rent it on Amazon, I was in a Quil-head fury when I was again rejected.

What was the world coming to? Matt Dillon – Drug Store Cowboy, Rumble Fish, Factotum, The Outsiders – had made a film that everyone from PopCornGirl255 to FlickPick_22 agreed was nothing short of brilliant, yet the only way I could see it was to wait two weeks for a used DVD of the European release that I could buy on Ebay? The movie just came out less than a year ago! Was this no longer America?


“Ringo, you sound like crap,” said Bright Mike when he answered the phone.

“I'm not well.”

“Seriously bro, are you alright?”

“I've been better.”

“Do you need a ride to the doctor's or something?”


I hammed it up a little with a flemmy cough, hoping to garner an excess of sympathy.

“There is … something you can do, I mean, if you're not too busy and all.”

“Anything bro, you name it.”

“You know that stuff you do with your computer.”

“Which stuff Ringo? That's a pretty wide net. I work on a computer 60 hours a week.”

“Right ... not the Miley Cyrus videos or that Minecraft nonsense Mikey, I'm talking about that thing where you get movies and video games and digital books without paying for them.”

Let me explain that this was dicey territory I was entering. You see, as an artist (don't laugh), I'm opposed to this practice. I don't want anyone copying and pasting my brilliant writing onto their website, and I don't wish to stiff some struggling novelist on the buck their publisher gives them for each copy of the book that they manage to sell after eating Snack Ramen for five years while they wrote it. I don't even buy used copies unless the author is either a.) dead; or b.) filthy rich already (sorry Jonathan Franzen).

“Wait, are you going to ask me to show you how to illegally download a work of art for which you will not have benefited the artist?”

“It's more complicated than that. Can you come over?”

“It's 7:30 in the morning Ringo, I'm at the gym.”

“You're on a phone at the gym?”

I'm on a blue tooth, while I'm on an elliptical.”

I couldn't imagine what that would even look like. My friends correctly describe me as being technologically-impaired, well they say technologically-retarded, but LFTW is nothing, if not politically correct.


On his way home from the gym, Bright Mike stopped by my shack. Apparently, corrupting my artistic integrity was too much to pass up even for this worker bee.

“Dude, it stinks in here. Crack a window.”

“I told you – I'm not well.”

He looked around the place, which admittedly looked like a Quil-head had been on a three-day bender. I sprayed the Chloraseptic into the air, thinking it was the air freshener. He looked at me, then at the end table, then back up with shock and perhaps a tinge of disappointment in his eyes.


“Please tell me you are not drinking NyQuil from a martini glass. What is that garnish – a Halls menthol? What the hell is wrong with you Ringo?”

I made efforts to explain my condition.

“It started as a head cold, but it settled somewhere south. I think I might have walking pneumonia, only I can't walk.”

He shook his head, “I think you have an OTC drug problem, is what I think. Get some help.”

“I've considered as much, but back to the task at hand.”

I nodded toward my laptop.

“What is it you want Ringo?”

“A movie. It's called Sunlight Jr.” He looked nonplussed. “It's got Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts,” I added with a child's hopefulness.

Bright Mike rebooted my computer and started doing some funky stuff before the operating system was even loaded. He'd once explained to me that there was something called a darknet, this thing that's like 100,000 times bigger than the World Wide Web (the part of the Internet that most of us use); some sort of digital underworld where people much less technologically-retarded than myself used all kinds of things that sounded like gibberish to secretly trade everything from kiddie porn to machine guns and LSD, sometimes even paying with a fake digital “crypto-currency” called bitcoins that my Ron Paul friends had been telling me would soon replace money – if the government didn't manage to get us all outfitted with microchip implants first.

He said there were secret social networking sites that could link up terrorists, messaging boards to hire contract killers and portals to conduct kidnapping ransoms; however, there was no Google-like search engine to find such madness. You had to be in the know, as they say. Bright Mike explained that most of it was just used to pass around pirated movies and music. No wonder so many artists are starving.

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

I can't quote his response because he kept using words I didn't really understand – this torrent and that torrent – to explain that he was downloading the movie from some server in Singapore, but that it was routed through an IP address in the Ukraine, from where it would return to us in some innocuous form that no one would notice. Before any of that happened though, we had to check it out to make sure we weren't downloading some big no-no that would send up red flags and land us in the bottom bunk at Edward Snowden's Russian apartment.

“Wait!” I screamed. “I saw this in House of Cards. Some reporter from the Post went to this creepy computer guy and he took him into this same sort of thing, only he was working for the Feds, as like an informant, and the reporter ended up going to the pen for 20 years!”

Bright Mike looked at me like a frustrated parent and explained once more the part about the IP address in the Ukraine.

“My great-grandmother was originally from Kiev,” I offered.

He shook his head and took the tiny flash drive off of his key chain, plugging it into my laptop, then handing it to me only moments later.

“Enjoy your movie.”

“It's in here?” I asked, suddenly wondering why DVD's weren't smaller.

“Yes Ringo, it's in the little magical stick. Give me that back when you're done ... and get a shower bro, you're rank.”


The movie was everything PopCornGirl255 had promised and then some, with the added bonus that it had been shot right up the road in Clearwater. One of the news stories that was playing on a radio while Naomi Watts sat in a waiting room was actually talking about the new Benderson Mall they're currently building over in Lakewood Ranch!


The movie was laced with symbolism about building things, because Matt Dillon's character had been a construction worker in better times, but was now in a wheelchair and he and Watts were living in a seedy hotel, not unlike the ones on 41, while she pulled graveyard shifts at a convenience store called … you guessed it – Sunlight Jr.!

Anyway, their life was stagnant and each attempt at erecting something shiny and new would stall and sputter, even as progress abounded out of sight from their low-budget lives. It was beautiful and gritty and real, though I felt dirty even after taking Bright Mike's advice on the shower.

Why did I have to go over to the dark side with the jihadists and the pederasts just to watch what should have been an Oscar-nominated movie on the tiny little screen of an old Dell laptop, all at the expense of a couple of talented filmmakers trying to make an honest buck?

Imagine scoring two A-list actors for an ambitious if low-budget independent film, overcoming the significant odds against holding the whole fragile project together, getting it shot, getting it edited and getting it released, all so that some guy who lives a stone's throw from the town where you filmed the damn thing has to go beam a file halfway around the world and steal your work in order to appreciate it?

If it had been about superheroes, a comic book character, vampires, werwolves, or been based on a video-game about driving cars really fast, I could have seen it 10 different ways before lunch, all while drinking a 32-oz. soda emblazoned with the characters, via some fast food franchise tie-in.

To the filmmakers and my hero, Mr. Matt Dillon, I offer a humble apology and will gladly buy you a drink if you ever again find yourself shooting a movie near my humble abode. To Hollywood, get off the NyQuil, wise up and stop complaining when you lose a boatload of cash on schlock like After Earth and Grudge Match. Trust that there are enough fans of quality filmmaking – people like PopCornGirl255,  FlickPick_22 and good old Ringo Khan – to make it worth your wild to hustle more movies like Sunlight Jr. onto the silver screen.

*author's note: After my recovery, I discovered that Sunlight Jr. was now available to stream legally from Amazon for $3.99 for a 24-hour “rental,” or $9.99 to download a digital copy you can watch anytime. Check it out here and remember, piracy is for Somalians.

last week's column:

Letters From The Wasteland: Cupid Wept

Published Tuesday, February 18, 2014 12:02 am


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