Art, Your House Is On Fire!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wisdom Of My Father

I consider my Dad to be the most intelligent man I have ever met. He is unshakable under pressure, quiet in demeanor, genuine with every word he speaks and carries himself with such a command of presence you can not help but feel awe inspired just to be near him. When he shakes your hand he looks you in the eye but really you feel as if he is looking at your soul. His strength is matched only by his compassion for others and his integrity is commutual to few, most being historical figures of inspiration. I do not fear death near as much as I fear disappointing him but even if, he forgives as easy as he acknowledges the wrong.

He has, over the years, left me some bits of wisdom that were either passed on to him, derived from his own experiences in life or from hard lessons I have learned through out the course of my childhood. So now I will share a few with you so you can see how fortunate I am to have the father I do.

“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

The main point of this saying is basically don’t fall into the trap of arguing with someone who is argumentative. There are people who just don’t feel comfortable unless there is drama, tension or just negativity surrounding them. It’s better to just walk away because to engage them at all means they win.

Case in point: I was in the fifth grade and there was a girl, Danielle Forgotherlastname, and she was just relentless in her jeers and jokes at my expense. Looking back on it now I am sure this was a fifth grade girl’s way of expressing a crush but that was missed by me. On a particular day I put Dad’s choice words of wisdom on hold and fired back at Danielle. I can’t really remember what it was that I said but it elicited tears. When questioned by my teacher why I would say such a mean thing, I apologized and told her, “I didn’t mean to wrestle with a pig.” Well, the lesson was missed by Mrs. Samson and the Principal. At least my folks knew what I meant.

“Once a rock leaves your hand, you have no control over it”

This one seems pretty straight forward to most but it was a hard one for me to learn. I don’t know why but whenever I mean to hit something by means of throwing the percentage is never as good as if I mean to “scare” someone by means of throwing a rock. I guess that has always been my luck. I have no skills when it comes to warning shots. It is either a bulls-eye or a ridiculous miss.

Case in point: It doesn’t make sense now but many years ago I was engaged in a rock war with a few friends. It was over some distance so the danger of getting your bell rung by a rock was low. However, if the opposing team was hiding behind a Mercedes Benz a collateral hit was eminent. So after a few minutes of skirmish I threw the shot heard around the neighborhood. I knew the second it left my hand where it was headed so while it was still on trajectory I turned and ran back to the house. I didn’t see it hit but within a few minutes the phone rang at home confirming that it was a direct one. Soon my Dad sat me down and told me that they had to pay for a new rear window and this would cost me a week confined to the yard. A small price to pay for what I thought at the time cost 15 million dollars. He left me with those immortal words of wisdom and we hugged it out.

A few years later the statement was revised from “rock” to “anything” after I was suspended for throwing an apple in the cafeteria, knocking down the clock on the wall. I had to. It was a triple dog dare.

“Spend your life, don’t save it”

I think this is a lesson my father learned later in life. After the death of his two parents that was within a year apart, he he adopted a new out look on life. He has always put his career on the forefront. Not really because he wanted to but because he felt he had to. He told me this and it was the first time I saw him as fallible. I guess when death happens that close it is hard not to reflect on your own mortality. This saying is my least favorite. It rings true but every time he says it I am resentful. He still is more of a man, less of a God to me.

Case in point: I have only seen Dad drunk a few times. As of late he has taken a huge interest in collecting wines and a couple Christmas’s ago I saw him after a wine party. He was wearing a Santa hat that was slumped forward. With his eyes squinted and a slight grin he softly said, “they gave me a hat”. It was priceless.

“History is not a fact, it is an interpretation”

I have to admit that this was a hard one for me to understand. His point was that things come to pass in life and the end result maybe a fact but why it happened is different through others opinions. It is a statement that taught me tolerance, patience, the ability to be opened minded and when to keep my mouth shut.

Case in point: I used to argue politics for fun. Then I realized no matter who went against my opinion there was little, if anything, they could say that would sway my opinion. I went through life believing I was smarter than anyone who didn’t see the way I did and (gasp) I began to become an asshole. That is until I argued with my Dad. He disarmed my stubborn opinion by patience, understanding and a brief explanation of why, in his mind, we are where we are today. I left with a feeling of enlightenment but still held true to my opinion. He wasn’t out to change my mind but to explain his interpretation. And he did it without a need to have a winner and a loser.

These are only four of the many wise sayings my father has. I believe they have had an impact on my life because he uses them less and less. I know he is waiting for the day I have children of my own so he can, one more time, impart his endless wisdom but he knows that if he doesn’t get to, I will. I count my blessings to have him as a Dad. He is my confidant, my teacher, and my best friend. And I love him so.

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