Dear Readers! Beginning now, we will be introducing our book to you in segments for your input and particiation! We want you to be a part of the creation of our tromemoir: rip us apart, tell us what you like, what you don’t like, what to add, what to change.
HERE WE GO:
Growing up Toxic
Everyone is throwing up. I am surrounded by projectile vomiting. There are buckets of vomit all over the place. It is a 102 degree August day in Buffalo, N.Y., and I am literally taking a bath in a McDonalds up to my knees in vomit. There is only one word to accurately express the acute trauma I am experiencing: TROMA.
I grew up in a family of six: Mom, Dad, myself, two little sisters, and the Toxic Avenger- a large green creature of super-human size and strength and the star of Troma Studios. Toxie, as we called him around the house, technically is the oldest child, as he was “born” in the mid ‘70’s when my dad brought to life, on camera, his idea of a 98 pound weakling who turns superhero upon falling into a vat of toxic waste. Dad’s next sub humanoid masterpiece was a co-production with our dear mother, a trilogy and a work in progress: Me, my sister and our baby sister.
Every couple of years throughout our childhood, dad churned out a low budget title for the independent film company he had founded in the ‘70s, Troma Inc. Each film tended to be inspired by his fixation du jour. Recently, he had been reading and preaching from the book Fast Food Nation. He had “converted” to vegetarianism, and in a pre-blog world was posting rants about the evils of the meat and poultry industry on his website. And now, here was Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, a play on the zombie film Poltergeist. In Poultrygeist the evil practices of a chicken fast food chain built on an ancient native American graveyard causes the awakening of zombie chickens.
When I told my dad that I was taking August 8th off from the trading desk to come up to Buffalo to visit the Poultrygeist set, which had been constructed in an out of business McDonalds franchise, he told me it would be hot, very hot. But, the good news was that I would be right in time for the “Protest” scene.
I gathered that the protest was critical to the film, and perhaps took up a large portion of the production’s small budget. But I didn’t know much else about this latest Troma flick. It was a “Chicken Zombie” movie, dad told me, and, it was a Musical.
At the time, I was living in New York City, close enough to my parents to see them nearly every evening after work, and every morning before work for that matter. In fact, I lived at home. Yep I was that cool, a sort of adult living at home basically in my parents’ attic. I had a high flying corporate job and all, oh sure, in fact I worked on Wall Street. That’s right, I worked in a building that had specific elevators depending on which floor you were going to, a subsidized cafeteria, a gym I’d rather be caught dead in than sweating on the treadmill next to my MD. I even wore a suit (and not the grey champion sweat suit like my dad jogs to work in and wears as his uniform all day) and communicated to clients in a minimalist language as if to say hey, I’m in on it, I know you’re too important to have the time to stick around to hear me say alot of words here, so I’ m just going to save everyone time and just use some acronyms like EBITDA and consolidate a whole bunch of numbers into a few ratios to save your precious time.
While my mom constantly peppered me with questions about the difference between what I did trading derivatives and what her stock broker did, and my dad would corner me daily and ask what I thought about investing in GE, Citi, or Alan Abel’s latest editorial in Barrons, when it came to my parents’ professional film careers, I kept my distance.
It was my parents who had drawn the boundaries separating my sisters and me from the world of Troma. Growing up, I had never really questioned why exactly it was, that I wasn’t allowed to watch my Dad’s films other than the specific dailies from scenes I had been in. Then as I got older and more familiar with his particular “artistic style” let’s call it, I understood that his films, clearly a product of ideas he must have developed as a teenage boy, were not intended for my demographic.
Troma movies had violence, they had bad words, they suggested sex. No, they definitely were not porn films, I often had to confirm, but they had busty ladies – lots of them. Let’s just say dad wasn’t producing Disney’s next Little Mermaid.
Although we never saw the final product, my sisters and I had spent several childhood summers hanging around the Troma sets. Clearly, I’m not talking glamorous Steven Spielberg film sets with a production budget that rivals the GPD of a small nation, fancy air conditioned trailers and 50 people just to do the under-eye make-up of the lead actor. On a Troma set, the cost of the entire movie was probably equal to the catering budget alone of a huge Hollywood film.
Troma Low-Budget R&D focused on new innovations in red-die-corn-syrup fake blood and low cost special effects such as:
CLOSE ON BLONDE MAN WITH GUN TO HEAD
WATERMELON WEARING BLONDE WIG
WATERMELON EXPLODES. BLOOD SPEWS FROM WATERMELON IN SPURTS THEN FLOWS FREELY FROM HIDDEN PLASTIC TUBE.
“You can stay in the basement with the crew” my dad offered one morning when he was home for a couple days. I was putting my high-heels into my bag and wearing my flip-flops with my suit, the modern day corporate uniform: sneakers + white socks 2.0 trend that had evolved recently among young women walking to the office in NYC. My dad stood in the kitchen ready for work, he was wearing his sweat suit. Today he had on a yellow polo shirt tucked in, maybe he was meeting someone for lunch. “Your sister just brought a sleeping bag, you can do the same.”
As a kid, I had run around his sets without a care, or a clue for that matter. But the older I got, the more I felt I stood out in Dad’s world. It made me writhe to think about what the ultra cool tattooed film students in ragged jeans and grungy clothing who surrounded my dad on the set thought about me, if they even noticed me.
Sure, I may not have had the stereotypical signs of an unruly teen like many on my dad’s sets. In fact, for all the judging I felt they did of me, I scoffed at the amateur ploys of these typical “rebellious” young adults. Dyeing your hair blue, piercing your nose, a boyfriend on a motorcycle.
I too had rebelled, in my own way. I did exactly what a rebellious child does: the opposite of his or her parents. I had joined Corporate America.
If there was one thing my dad stood for, or against, it was Corporate Conglomerate America. His anti-fast-food rants were a mere sub-sector of his resentment of corporate conglomerates. While he had financed his own films in order to stay independent, most film companies, he would say in disdain, gave up their goal of producing art and sold out to the mainstream film companies just for the money.
So nothing could have been more shocking than my taking a job on Wall Street. For five years, I held strong to my rebellion, working on a Trading Desk. Money, cursing and derivatives– If I was going to do Wall Street, I had surely found the TROMA of the Markets.
My friends complained about suits, offices, corporate culture. No tattoos, no worries that you will shock someone with your profession, nothing potentially offensive or inappropriate, this career was terrific! On my dad’s sets, I felt like just another yuppie, but at the desk, and to my work friends, I was the creative one.
My baby sister was younger, grungier, and 8 years my junior she had 8 years less of being hammered by the pressure of making the decision between following a career you loved but did not pay for the lifestyle you wanted, or the corporate world that did.
I called her later that day to ask her about the lodging situation in Buffalo. She was spending the summer on the Poultrygeist set, and despite her special status as director’s daughter, she certainly did not receive any red-carpet treatment. She had been sleeping in the basement of a church, dining from the random assortment of crackers, potato-chips M&Ms, fire-ball candies and the occasional sandwich that makes its way into the fine dining provided to the crew on the set at meal times.
“I sleep in a basement with props and fake blood.” She confirmed, “I personally sleep next to a giant egg, with a bloody fetus chick staring me in the eyes every morning when I wake up. You know, the usual Troma stuff.”
Sure enough the Poultrygeist production was no different from what we had experienced in the past. “I got to personally feather about 100 local extras from Buffalo yesterday,” My sister told me on the phone that afternoon. “I smeared Elmers glue all over their oversized bellies and sausage arms and then delicately placed chicken feathers all over their bodies.”
Critics often described Dad’s work as “shock art.” In fact according to an article I read, Dad had allegedly philosophized that “making movies that shocked audiences would keep them in their seats to see what would happen next.”
I looked to my mom, a perfectly mannered beautiful blonde southern belle. While Dad preferred to make his creative shock horror films in independent anarchy rather than succumb to Mainstream Hollywood conglomerate tyranny, Mom embraced the other end of the film spectrum as the New York State Film Commissioner. She developed economic programs and incentives to enhance the budgets of the films of the Steven Spielbergs of the world.
Hollywood proper embraced Mom. There was nothing like attending a Hollywood event as Mom’s “plus one” sure, quite sure, that this was the time I would be discovered. Gliding behind mom down the red carpet, past the white Mylar sheets with corporate logos for media photos. I’m here! Snap away Paparazzi! Well, maybe they would discover me next time.
So how did she, my beautiful, perfect, demure, modest, well-mannered, proper, church going, former President of the Junior League Mother manage the tattoos, the crazy movies, my dad’s rants, or the uncertainty – had the straight-laced business person on the other side of the desk googled you and seen your name associated with Troma Shock-O-Rama titles such as Nymphoid Barbarians in Dinosaur Hell, and of course Redneck Zombies!
“Your father has a vision.” She told me. “A lot of his work is really quite genius and ahead of its time.”
Perhaps I just didn’t get his art. Maybe I just needed to be educated. Dad was a Yale Graduate after all, and I hadn’t even hit the Ivy’s.
And then one day it just hit me. I had a moment of epiphany. Suddenly the skies opened. My Bloomberg screens cleared. The trading floor fell silent. Even the talking head on CNBC shut up his mindless repetitious jabbernothing. A voice spoke to me through the trade box! I was sure it was God, it said:
“He’s Gonna PUUKKKKEEEE!”
Turns out it wasn’t actually god, it was just the fat guy from the Mortgages desk reporting that the new analyst had made it to 47 out of 50 McNuggets – just 3 shy away from fulfilling the 5 minute eating challenge on which bets had been placed as far reaching as our London trading floor.
But it spoke to me, and I knew my calling at that moment. There would always be a part of my heart reserved for the derivatives markets. But, while I might not have the same talent in creating art from big boobs and blood, I would find my own way back to Troma.
As the eldest, most responsible and I’m quite sure most favorite child, I would illuminate to the world my dad’s genius through a well documented book, or better yet Screenplay. Yes! I’d probably be half way through explaining Dad’s Artistic Genius when the studios would start calling.
The same scum eating academy and conglomerate hollywood studios that had turned their backs on Troma would be brought to their knees with a newfound understanding of dad’s pure genius! They’d offer huge sums of money for a screen adaption, they’d throw him on their celluloid shoulders! They’d give him hours of standing ovations, they’d watch the entire toxie box set director’s cut standing up in standing ovation back to back….! This would conveniently coincide perfectly with the writers block I’d hit around Chapter 10, when I needed some new tension and plot development: take the money and big Hollywood studio offer or stay independent and go the Troma way?
The first step, of course, would be learning to understand Dad’s art myself. So here I was, in Buffalo, throwing myself head on into the protest scene of Poultrygeist. The next step… I’d have to learn how to write.
“Annnnnd… ACTION Come on! More throw-up!” Dad is yelling, “Ben! Give me some more action. Fat guy – you gotta throw yourself into the retching. Retching! I want retching! I want to see and hear retching, come on people. Ben – can you throw up on Janet’s feet, great! Now Joe, run over and projectile vomit right onto Ben’s back. Great every body! Bring in the Blood! Now! Blood! Where’s the blood? Cut! CUT! Goddamnit, where’s the goddamn blood?”
When I finish the screenplay, I’ll start my acceptance speech. And for those sitting in the front row, I advise you wear plastic, it may include fake blood or vomit.
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