O. C. And Stiggs

Robert Altman gets a lot of press as a serious auteur, but I have to say that my favorite of his movies (okay, excepting “Nashville”) is …wait for it… yep, “O.C. and Stiggs.”

Now, anyone on earth would be hard-pressed to say that this is a great movie, or even a good movie, but what makes me love it (aside from the insane hijinks practiced by the title characters, Mark Stiggs and “O.C” Oglevey) is the source material, Ted Mann and Ted Carroll’s brilliant stories from the National Lampoon.

So really, the movie isn’t that great at all, and Altman adds nothing to the vast Bildungsroman that is O.C. and Stiggs (okay, except for that car…), but it’s nice to see him attempt a teen comedy, and Martin Mull is good as Pat Coletti, the drunken businessman, although (perhaps thankfully) he’s not naked in the movie like he is in the original story (“The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs.”) The rest of the cast is primarily composed of unknowns, with the exception of Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island) as Barney’s drunken Mom and Dennis Hopper as the crazed ‘Nam vet Sponson (boy, real casting against type there…)

The world of O.C. and Stiggs, centering around their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, is a world of tightly balanced spatial relationships; O.C. and Stiggs, aided and abetted by their doglike friend Barney who caught some lawnmower shrapnel in his head when he was young, spend their days harassing people, most notably the Schwab family, in a number of manic, insane ways. The charm of the stories is in the absolute abandon the characters, as well as the authors, use in delineating the world. The language used is ridiculously baroque, filled with ridiculous digression and amazing insults. Read for your damn self:

“This is yellow tequila,” Stiggs told Barney during our visit to his place. “This is the ultimate liquor of Mexico, enjoyed by all Mexicans, regardless of how old they are or whether they’re male or a girl or rich or poor or crazy or useless. Imagine yourself being on the tropical Mexican coast, and you’re sitting at the end of this real quiet bar that smells like palm trees and the ocean, while the bartender, this totally exotic guy with giant wrinkles on his face and an unraveled straw hat, fills a waterglass to the top with yellow liquor. He puts it in front of you, beside this pile of crude salt and a bowl full of limes cut in halves, as a bunch of musicians begin to wander around and beat on these incredibly fat and badly built guitars. And right at this exact moment is when you notice a mysterious beaner princess with long hair at the other end of the bar who takes a fast look at you secretly and wonders all about you.

“So you put some salt on your tongue and lift up the glass.The exotic bartender looks at the princess with his real black eyes, and then he looks at you as the musicians pound on their instruments as fast and hard as possible, and the princess holds her breath as a gesture of excitement. There you are, Barney, with the tequila right next to your mouth. Suddenly, you feel the stuff swirling and gurgling down your amazingly wide-open throat, as its powerful heat goes everywhere in your body, including your brain. You look towards the princess, but…she’s completely gone. Where the fuck is she, Barney?

“Then you feel something real soft on your shoulder, but it’s mysteriously full of energy. You turn around, and there right in front of you is…this grossly chubby Mexican in a T-shirt, offering to sell you a huge gray ugly fish. He has thousands more of them stacked in a truck outside. He thought he might sell off one or two of them in the bar, while he was on his way to wherever he was supposed to go deliver the fish. ’Pescado?’ the guy asks, smelling like a horrible fish. The music stops.You fall straight backwards off your stool and ralph.

“You’re dry-heaving now, so the bartender drags you outside. You crawl through all the dirt and garbage in the street to the side of the bar, where the princess is going to the bathroom. A beggar lady with a rag on her head jams a varnished armadillo purse into your face, and then these other child beggars with faces that look like they’re forty years old show you horrible rugs. The federales come, and they take you to the headquarters of the judicial police. You sign all of your travelers checks for them, Barney – they take every fucking cent you have…Barney? Barney?”

From “The Utterly Monstrous, Mind-Roasting Summer Of…”

That’s a great monologue, especially when taken in the context that they’re actually trying to persuade Barney to use his $25,000 insurance settlement to fund just such a trip, and many of the events mentioned above happen later, except the “princess” turns out to be a guy, and… Well,there’s too much to recount. Hunt up the stories yourself. The above is reprinted in the NatLamp Treasury of Humor, which I’ve seen at a lot of used bookstores.

I’m just dumb enough to consider O.C. and Stiggs as my personal role models; a pure, single-minded dedication to causing trouble is nothing to be scoffed at, and I return to them for inspiration in times of strife. There will probably be no more O.C and Stiggs stories; the National Lampoon is a shadow of its former self, if it’s even still being published. Last time I checked, Mann was writing some Bill Murray movie. Carroll, I dunno. I also don’t even know how many stories were published, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna track down back issues of the National Lampoon for who knows how many years. So here’s a deal for you. If you send me an O.C. and Stiggs story I haven’t read, I’ll send you $5. Why not email me and tell me what you’ve got.