May 6, 2013

Stuck in history: Mother’s Day, Niles, Bikers & Charlie Chapman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:38 pm

“Would you like to play Charlie Chaplin’s mother in my new movie?” a film student at UC Berkeley asked me recently. Of course I would. Yeah. Sure!

Did you know that Charlie Chaplin’s mother suffered from and finally died of tertiary syphilis, which she contracted while being forced into prostitution in the gold fields of South Africa by her greedy and unscrupulous husband? And that Charlie then grew up in a Dickensian-style orphanage in the slums of London? It’s true.

And did you also know that Chaplin made a whole bunch of his movies in Niles, California — back before Hollywood was Hollywood and Niles was Hollywood first? And that Niles is just 30 miles south of Berkeley? And that Niles is now one of the antique-store (and biker-bar) capitals of the world?

Just for a moment, let’s take a break from all the lies and propaganda we are all currently being bombarded with on our flat-screen TVs (propaganda that tells us Syria has WMDs just like Iraq did; that Iran, not the CIA, is the world’s baddest Bad Guy; that only Wall Street needs and deserves a bailout; and that John Kerry has the absolute right and cajones to contest honest elections in Venezuela but did diddly-squat to contest dishonest elections in Ohio Instead, let’s return to those simple days of yesteryear when everything was uncomplicated and nice and the Little Tramp was king of comedy.

That’s what happens when you visit Niles, CA.

Niles is a sweet little all-American town with a main street and steam trains and an old-fashioned tearoom that is offering Mothers Day high tea.

I remember my own mother with very mixed feelings. She’s dead now (death is the ultimate career change, BTW), so it’s obviously too late to be working out all that emotional spaghetti with her in person — so on Mothers Day these days I just have to say goodbye to all that ambiguity and just let it all go.

But apparently Charlie Chaplin couldn’t — and didn’t. He always thought that he was the one who drove his mother nutzo and never even knew that she had syphilis.

Did I drive my own mother around the bend also? Did Barbara Bush drive young GWB nuts? And what was Anton Scalia’s mother like? We should ask Sandra Day O’Connor about that one.

Happy Mothers Day.

According to Mary Catherine Bateson, her mother (Margaret Mead) completely changed the way that babies were brought into the world and how children were treated here in America. At a time when American children were regimented rigidly with regard to feeding times and that babies were tortured with weird-looking instruments immediately after their birth, Mead let the world know that, in Samoa it was okay to hug one’s child and even actually breast-feed it when it was hungry instead of just letting it cry for three hours and then feeding it only from a bottle.

My mother herself wrote in my baby book that the hospital staff where I was born didn’t hardly allow my mom to see me during the first whole ten days of my life — and then they had the chutzpah to tell her that she couldn’t breast-feed because her milk had all dried up. No wonder so many American guys have such fixations with breasts! And American women seem to be fixated on them too. Just ask your nearest local plastic surgeon.

So. Perhaps the simple days of yesteryear weren’t so simple after all. Charlie Chaplin’s mother was bonkers from syphilis. We had the great 1929 stock market crash. And World War I was basically a slaughterhouse driven by propaganda and lies — so much so that the main difference between then and now appears to be that, back in the day, no one had flat-screen TVs.

But Niles’ silent-movie museum, antique stores, biker bar and tea room are still nice places to go on Mothers Day, and to dream about a simple and peaceful time long ago — one that never really existed.

PS: I also got to play another mother in a recent Academy of Art student film as well. Here’s the link:

PPS: Chicago’s probate court system seems to have developed a rather unique way of celebrating Mothers Day. First, court attorneys who act as guardians for elders (at $250 an hour!) actively seek out home-owning old people; send in a phony doctor who declares them to be incompetent; get them tossed into a warehousing-type old people’s home; sell off the helpless elders’ homes; and then pocket the profits

How can people like this sleep at night? And how can they ever even look their own mothers in the eye after doing these grossly egregious things to other people’s mothers?

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