By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist
I'm supposed to be working.NBA All-Star Weekend, the biggest block party of the year, is fast approaching. My pal Pookey Wigington is throwing a huge Chocolate Sundaes All-Star party Thursday night at the Avalon in Hollywood. He wants me to be there. "We got Serena Williams hosting. We're gonna have Bill Bellamy, Tommy Davidson ... it's gonna be huge, man. There will be 1,400 people, all sorts of surprise celebrities ..." It's one chance among many this week for me to hook up with some of the NBA players and agents who I'm trying to attract to my college basketball movie project, "94 Feet." (Amended from "94 Feet of Hell" due to overwhelming demand.) The NBA All-Star Game has become a commercial juggernaut. TNT's just getting a grip on this Golden Goose they've bagged. Last year, for the first time ever, the game was on cable and it scored huge ratings. Shocked everybody. And corporate sponsors have jumped into the mix big time. The American Express Magic Johnson All-Star Celebration. The McDonald's Mascot Slam Dunk Contest. The Radio Shack Shooting Stars Competition. The Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout. The Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Competition. And finally, the main event, the Gatorade Tip-Off 2004 NBA All-Star Game. Talk about milking it. Oh, yeah, I forgot, The got milk? Rookie Challenge. Anyway, I've got pitches to refine, scripts to copy, calls to return, meetings to set. But what do I do instead? I rent "The Warriors" to relive old memories. It was June 1978. New York City. Craig Baxley, "The Warriors" stunt coordinator, was worried. "Don't rush it! You rush it, you're gonna screw up the sequence, and someone's gonna get hit in the head." It was nighttime. Riverside Drive Park. I was standing there with a 36-inch Louisville Slugger in my hand. Wearing a knock-off Yankees uniform, black cap, black wig, my face painted a weird black and blue. Two days earlier, I'd been a newly promoted location scout making $50 a day. Now, I was in front of the camera, playing a Baseball Fury, raking in the Screen Actors' Guild minimum of $300 for the first eight hours. Plus time and a half for overtime, and in the movies, there's always overtime -- 12- and 14-hour days (or nights) are not uncommon. A real-deal stuntman had blown out his knee and the director, Walter Hill, had made good on his word and put me in his movie. So I'd caught another break. (Mr. Hill was to come through for me twice again once I got to Hollywood.) Early on, Walter used a line on me that I continue to use to this day: "The least we can all do is lie for each other." So there I was, about to face off with Swan, the warlord of the Warriors. He'd taken a bat off one of the other Baseball Furies, and I was the last obstacle to his escape. You're not alone if you consider "The Warriors" to be one of the all-time great tough-guy movies, but let's be real -- most of the actors were wimps. Short, skinny. Soft. Pouty lips and poofy hair. There were two exceptions: Michael Beck, who was playing Swan. He was muscled up, an obvious athlete, with a quiet, steely intelligence. Then there was James Remar, playing Ajax. Remar had big biceps and an uncontrollable sneer and was an obvious lunatic. The Warriors wore those open, sleeveless leather vests, and before each take, Beck and Remar would knock out a bunch of push-ups to pump up their arms. At first, the other Warriors had tried the same thing, but everyone laughed, and they gave it up. I was glad to be facing off against Michael Beck instead of James Remar. Remar delivered that memorable line: "I'm gonna take this bat and shove it up you're a-- and turn you into a popsicle." He would go on to play a whole string of tough guy roles. While Michael Beck would go on to play the disco-roller-skating love interest to Olivia Newton-John in one of the worst movies ever made, "Xanadu" (also produced by Larry Gordon). As The Kalamazoo Gazette put it, "There's never been a movie quite like this, and there never will be again. And that may not be a bad thing." It was the beginning of the end for Beck who entered that long, slow skid of diminishing roles that is the fate of so many actors. So close ... so close ... But there we were. Two young bucks. Mano a mano. Bats in hand. Ah, yes, one more Hollywood depiction of mankind's genetic predisposition to beat the crap out of each other. It's pitiful, isn't it? You know what gets me? This whole Marquis of Queensbury, Rules of Engagement, Geneva Convention bullcrap. Let's see ... How about the use of mustard gas that scars your throat, burns your lungs and poisons your blood, causing paralysis, convulsive vomiting, internal bleeding, severe blistering, bulging eyes, excruciating pain and near certain death? Nah, too nasty. Against the rules. Then will you let us use cluster bombs? These devices of doom contain hundred of bomblets which explode with volcanic percussive force, propelling thousands of sharp shards of steel that indiscriminately shred human tissue and bone, slicing through arteries, bursting vital organs causing excruciating pain and near certain death (provided they're not the ones that remain unexploded, only to go off years later in the hands of children who are attracted to their bright colors and interesting shapes). Yeah sure, why not? As long as we can use them too. It's unbelievable. Rules of war. You know where the phrase "Rule of thumb" comes from? An actual law once on the books in England that you couldn't beat your wife with a cane that was thicker than your thumb. Yet three of the great moments in movie history come from a character breaking the rules. Indiana Jones, facing off with a turbaned Arab who performs this elaborate, menacing sword demonstration. Remember? Indy smirks, pulls out a revolver and shoots him dead. Then Butch Cassidy (the diminutive Paul Newman) gets challenged by Harvey Logan, a fellow Hole-in-the-Wall gang member (the towering, tough-as-nails, Ted Cassidy). They're about to fight over who leads the gang. Butch is hesitant, shuffling up to Harvey who's looming there, bare-chested, legs spread, a huge hunting knife in his hand, egging him on. Butch says, "No, no, not yet. Not 'til we get the rules straightened out." The incredulous giant goes, "Rules?! In a knife fight!? What rules!?" At which point Butch Cassidy kicks him in the privates, and the fight is over. Then there's the incomparable opening of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Remember that human-ape picking up a mastodon bone and feeling its heft? You could actually sense his primitive brain thinking, "Man, I could do some serious damage with this baby." Moments later, he whomps a rival on the head, so beginning an arms race that continues until this day. There's no other species on the planet that does so much damage to its own members. We're doomed! Doomed! But, hey, might as well have some fun with it. My wife's the director of a primary school. It's a job that's not unlike directing movies, which, as the wonderful director Sidney Pollack puts it, "Is a lot like getting pecked to death by ducks." Anyway, her school provides a warm, nurturing environment. When a child gets hit on the playground, there's no hitting back. Instead, it's "Go find a teacher." Just recently, our 6-year-old, Andre Xavier Ryder, complained to me about getting bullied. (So his name might enable us to hustle a scholarship off some unwitting college basketball coach, so what?) I pull Andre aside. "Next time, it happens, give the kid a hard shove in the chest. Then go find a teacher." "Weally, Wob?" he asks. Andre stopped calling me Dad the day my wife took our older son off to Paris for two weeks. And he's still struggling with his R's. "Wob. Wob Wyder. Wobby Wyder. Wobby William." "Yeah," I say. "Shove him back, then go find a teacher, and don't you dare tell mommy." Every man carries around a moment when he should've shoved back. Even if it meant a certain beating. A junior high school humiliation. That time on the bus. In the locker room. The ones who don't fight back -- especially the intelligent ones -- they internalize these humiliations where they fester into gnarly balls of hate, lying in wait until they finally erupt as all sorts of twisted mind games and verbal terror on some defenseless underling in a never-satiated cycle of eighth-grade revenge. Hollywood is filled with men who should've shoved back when they were boys. Am I wrong to advocate physical defense? Here's what I taught my 11-year-old, Cole: "If push comes to shove, throw two fast left jabs to the face, followed by a hard right to the body, then tackle the kid and tie him up and hope someone comes save your butt before he bites your ear off or his friends stomp you." Rules of engagement. Cole and I practice so he'll be prepared. I hear the squeaking brakes of my wife's minivan. Where has the day gone? "The Warriors" is gonna have to wait. 'Cause here I am, sitting around at dinner with my little nuclear family -- my wife, Andrea, sons Cole and Andre, and me. My wife puts on that stern face as she addresses our 6-year-old. "Andre, Ms. B. said you pushed Jackson off the monkey bars today." I eyeball my kid -- Don't you dare rat me out! "Andre?" his mother asks. I keep staring at him, my eyes growing wider. "Andre!" The poor kid stares imploringly at me, then turns to him mother. "Wob didn't tell me to." NEXT: IT'S A CHOCOLATE SUNDAES ALL-STAR PARTY. Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.