It’s a sad thing when a pop culture icon dies but it’s especially sad to us mid-thirty year olds who quoted their lines in everyday life for laughs and even just a common bond. Such is the case of the Canadian-born actor Rick Ducommun who we lost in early June of this year. If you are not familiar with the name you might be familiar with his character Art Weinberg in the dark comedy/cult classic, The ‘Burbs. I have to be honest, this hit me right in the feels even though we really haven’t seen much of him since the late nineties. I will explain.
I first saw The ‘Burbs back in 1990, while home sick from school. On the way home from the doctor (who always gave me a damn shot no matter what I was in for) we stopped at the video rental store to pick up a couple of movies for the mandatory bedrest. The two picks for that day were Bedknobs and Broomsticks and of course, The Burbs. BedKnobs because of the obvious ghost armies but I am not sure why I chose The ‘Burbs? Usually my sick movies are the old standbys like Return Of The Jedi or Iron Eagle.
I was adventurous and boy that was a mistake because I hated that movie. The dark themes and bizarre characters where just too much to take for a fever-laden kid. The Exorcist cameo didn’t help, either. No, it wasn’t until a few years later that I gave it another try when it was the CBS Friday Night Feature. Perhaps it was my age or maybe just the mood, but I loved it. Even my Dad, with the one-liners and musical score, became a fan of Joe Dante’s film. Since then on, it was the most quoted movie between the two of us and just about all of those lines came from Rick’s character, Art Weingartner.
The line “Listen to your wife? Who listens to their wife?!?” has gotten my Dad in more trouble with Mom than the time we stained the deck during a ten-mile an hour crosswind only to later notice we also stained her herb garden. We have many common bonds but the movie The ‘Burbs really is a language all our own. Even today I can say, “”Hey Ray, what are ya’ll eating in there?’ and he knows that means “what’s for dinner?”.
So now, fast forward to 2001. I was in a LRS unit, deployed to a little stinkhole of a town in somewhere-Bosnia. I really lucked out in this unit because we were pretty much left to our own accord without much oversight. Our missions were both clandestine and conventional which meant sometimes we were in civilian clothes roaming the urban areas gathering intelligence and sometimes we were doing target acquisition and reconnoissance for Special Operators who did spook operations. It was dangerous, exciting and beat the Hell out of a Korea deployment or large base operations. Still to this day, I take a break to think from the dull daily drudge of my current career and it is hard to believe that was my life at one time.
Sometimes, however, the downtime could get so boring it would drive a person to insanity. With a fire base smaller than my backyard, keeping ones self entertained was almost as challenging as the operations. We couldn’t carry many personal items but we did have a couple of laptops to watch DVDs so when it was snowing sideways or the smell of goat was too much to take we would hunker down and watch one of the ten movies we had to escape.
Our medic was one of my best friends on the planet and we shared a love for my contributing DVD, The ‘Burbs. I swear we watched it at least sixty times that deployment and trust me, that love was infectious. Before we knew it our whole team was dropping quotes like “If I find one more, I’m going to catch him and staple his ass shut!” to “It’s not us, Art! It’s them!”. The locals would look at us and nervously smile when our ‘Burbs talk would start to become more of a theatrical rendition. It helped make everything a bit more tolerable.
We even took our ‘Burbs obsession a step further by actually incorporating it into a real code for an operation and believe it or not, I have proof. Many times we would use closer range radios when ops would require each team member to be in contact with each other and not have to use Army radio tact. That meant other people could possibly be listening since the personal radios didn’t have the code protection the bigger ones did so our intentions, locations and who we are had to protected. Enter The ‘Burbs quotes which were broken out in every possible communicative need you would need for a mission. And it worked so well, it was almost like pig latin. Once you got used to it, it flowed.
Here’s an example:
“The crows are too big for the bird feeder“: Suspicious people or movement
“Pop ’em“: Engage
“I’d rather chew broken glass“: Do not engage
We broke down specific scenes for scenarios that would or could be experienced outside the wire. Not that we talked in 100% ‘Burbs talk but if an enemy or someone who is a bit nosey were to listen in they would definitely be wondering what the hell we were talking about. And it worked unbelievably well.
My Grandmother kept all my old military items. From uniforms to awards to paperwork, she has bins and bins of it. Slowly, now that I am settled, I have been transferring them down to the house and when I am feeling a bit nostalgic, I peak inside to remember some great times and some down right terrifying times. That’s when I came upon a few field pads I “forgot” to destroy when we left country. Usually, you had to burn anything that had sensitive material before you reticulated back to the States but I managed to forget these notes because somehow I knew I would be sitting in my living room showing people that The ‘Burbs actually did play a part of something besides cult film history.
Going back through the history of what this film has meant to me might be silly to most and that is understandable. Maybe that is why Rick’s passing has been a tear-jerker to me?
What am I talking about, of course it is! He was one heck of an actor and we are so lucky he shared his talent with us. I always love the actors who never had any serious roles but somehow managed to be more memorable than the Sean Penn’s and Al Pacino’s of our time. Actually Sean Penn is a bag of dicks but still. I love the ones like Rick Ducommun who made us laugh, and ad-libbed his way into our hearts with lines that you could mumble in an elevator and if someone responded, they were your friend for life.
Goodnight, Rick. Good show.
Ohhh Man… somehow, I hadn’t heard this…
I’m sitting here listening to the XE ’09 Halloween Jukebox, and burning some Yankee Candle “spiced pumpkin” tarts, because even though it’s still a ways off- THE SEASON is coming- and I’m already getting’ antsy..!
I was Stoked to see your post, and though ‘Wow! How lucky can I get?!’. (not sarcastic, I assure you!) But then I saw the subject, and well.. wow.. Gonna MISS that guy too.. I’ve been a big fan of his since his stand-up on Star Search. I’ve even got him on my phone (I rip sound bytes for alarms & such, and I’ve got “Just put that anywhere pal- yeah, good save!” as a notification..)
Every time he showed up in a flick, I’d be so jazzed for him… I remember in ‘Last Boy Scout’ thinking; Damn! He’s lost a BUCH of weight… good for him! (and then being jealous, of course.. 😉 )
We’re down one of the Good Guys, for sure… RIP Art…
On a more ‘personable note’… I really enjoyed that you included some of YOUR stories in this one- Really enjoyed reading about where you’ve been, Sir… I hope you’ll share more of that in the future.
And as for Sean Penn…
Romeo Foxtrot Oscar. Big Time. 😉
(PS – I was wearing my ‘Burbs’ T from Fright Rags just Friday- I’ll wear it tomorrow, too..)
My wife is home?!
This is amazing. (Although I might’ve gone with “Shut up and paint your goddamn house” for “do not engage.”)