I am flabbergasted to receive the news that Dolphin Lover took the prize for Best Short Documentary at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival! Producer Joey Daoud said “The jurors were fascinated with your story.” They must have been, but the dramatic way that Daoud and director Kareem Tabsch chose to present it adds immeasurably to its appeal. I think it will be difficult for Hollywood to ignore this film, and with it, my story and the situation of dolphins in general. What exactly the fallout from this will be remains to be seen, but I have high hopes. This is much, much bigger than picking up an honorable mention at Slamdance (although that was a well-earned and well-deserved honor!). It would be nice to have some representation, even a publisher. Would that be too much to ask?
It is June, and book sales aren’t just slow, they’ve stopped entirely. Last June, I managed to sell 21 copies of Wet Goddess; this month so far, zilch. It’s discouraging and I’m wondering why. According to my own official count, WG has sold just over 1,200 copies worldwide. (I don’t have exact figures because I didn’t track the number of books I gave out to family and friends or sent out as promotional and review copies, but it was around 30.)
Sales traditionally slow in the summer, I don’t know why. You’d think people would want something romantic to read on vacation. Sales were slow last summer, too; after June I sold 13 copies in July and only 5 in August. Sales picked up slowly after that, rising to a frenetic 43 copies in February and 25 in March, shortly after Dolphin Lover premiered. Explanation: I was doing a lot of radio interviews.
So what does it take to sell my book? Is the market for a human-dolphin love story saturated? I really don’t know. I will of course hang on to the inventory I have on hand, 15 copies. But unless demand increases, I don’t see myself doing another printing.
Dolphin Lover, Kareem Tabsch and Joey Daoud’s short documentary film about my love affair with Dolly the dolphin, will be showing at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 15. I have high hopes (perhaps unjustifiably so) that somebody in Hollywood will pick up on the story, option the film rights to it and drop a cool lump of money in my lap.
I would use the dough to replace this rotting trailer and its dilapidated work shed. And drill a new well while I was at it, the water here is barely better than sewage. I really, really need to do all that, but as a self-published writer living primarily on my Social Security check, I clearly lack the means. Hell, I’m finding it hard to replace my truck, which has 235,000 miles on it.
So I have these fantasies about being “discovered” by Hollywood, which could actually lead, in an ass-backward fashion, to a book deal. Stranger things have happened. Not that I care for the fame, I am actually a rather withdrawn, reserved kind of guy who hates drawing attention to himself, and obviously I wouldn’t be doing all this if it wasn’t for the message about the dolphins.
If somebody takes out an option on a work like a book or a screenplay, it usually means they have the intention of making it into a movie. So if somebody wanted to option Wet Goddess, what kind of movie would they make from it? Well, I happen to have some rather strong ideas about that, ideas that would make or break any film deal.
First, no real, live dolphins should be used in the making of the film. Why? Because I’m against the idea of keeping dolphins in captivity in the first place, secondly against exploiting them for entertainment, thirdly bothered by the stress they would be subjected to doing multiple takes for a movie, and finally I would be jealous of any lead actor playing the character Zachary Zimmerman who got to spend more time with a dolphin playing Ruby than I did.
There is the very real danger that a live dolphin would become emotionally bonded to a human actor under those intimate circumstances, much as Dolly did to me, and that could prove to be a psychological hazard when the filming ended and the two had to part. The dolphin might become depressed and suicidal, like Dolly did, and I don’t want the responsibility for another dolphin death on my hands.
For all these reasons, I would be opposed to filming the movie with real, live dolphins. The alternative is to do the dolphins with a combination of life-size animatronic models and computer generated imagery (CGI). Ah, but real water effects are notoriously difficult to pull off in CGI. I just have the feeling a live-action version of Wet Goddess done with CGI dolphins would be insanely complex to pull off, although that doesn’t mean somebody isn’t stupid enough to try.
However, I would suggest an alternate solution, based in part on the fact that at least two segments of the movie — where the stoned Zack is “astral tripping” with Ruby in her underwater world — would have to be animated to adequately express what is being described in the novel. The first sequence involves the sensation of swimming in open water at high speed. The second and longer sequence, described in chapter 19, “Outside the Fence,” involves a gathering of several hundred bottlenose dolphins engaged in intense sexual play. Obviously it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get the necessary live-action film of such a congregation of dolphins. I do not know if bottlenose dolphins even form such large mating groups as the one I describe, I was simply reporting on what I experienced without trying to subject it to what psychic Ingo Swann calls “analytical overlay.”
Since those sections of the movie would have to be computer animated, why not just animate the whole damn thing? Make Wet Goddess: The Movie the 21st Century equivalent of Ralph Bakshi’s Fritz the Cat, an R- or even X-rated animated feature film where everything — the tacky amusement park, New College, all of Zack’s stoned fantasies — is animated. (Although let me make it clear I don’t want to get shafted the way poor artist R. Crumb, creator of the original Fritz comic, says he got screwed by Bakshi.)
This might free up the story in several ways. It would save having to find a real animal abusement park to stand in for the tacky Florida Funland of the novel. There would be no problems with resentful, uncooperative dolphins who, for some inscrutable reason, don’t want to do 35 takes of the same scene. It would allow for some great interpretations of the story, which as published is almost self-satirizing in a way.
So that would be my advice to any prospective film producer who wants to option Wet Goddess: we basically do this as a large scale CGI cartoon, on the level of something Disney or Dreamworks Animation would do, or we don’t do it at all. I don’t think I’m being too demanding and fussy there, do you?
Died: Pixel, beloved canine companion of author Malcolm J. Brenner, from natural causes due to old age, in the early hours of May 18, 2015. Born in early August, 2001, Pixel was thus some 13 years and 9 months old when she passed away, making her about 100 years old in human terms.
Brenner obtained Pixel from a stranger who was giving away puppies from the back of an old white Ford pickup truck in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Grants, N.M. No money changed hands. “Pixel was the only dog in the litter whose tail hadn’t been docked, which made her more attractive to me,” Brenner said. “That, and she also happened to be female.”
The stranger claimed Pixel’s father was a Rottweiler and her mother a German shepherd, “but he lied,” Brenner said. “Pixel’s dense, luxurious fur marked her almost certainly as a shepherd-collie mix.”
Pixel displayed an early interest in canine psychology. “When I brought her a companion dog, it had been the runt of the litter and was frightened and aggressive,” Brenner said. “It snapped at Pixel and wanted to bite her, but she ran up and down the room, going right by it so fast the smaller dog couldn’t connect. In 15 minutes, Pixel had that little dog playing with her, and I named her Pugsley. They were firm friends for life.”
Ah hell, I can’t maintain this obituary format any longer. What can I say about a dog who was also my lover? Who is now buried in a hole in the back yard? Pixel, I loved you and I wish things could have been better for you. I wish Pugsley had lived longer to remain your companion into your old age, I think you would have enjoyed it more. I gave you the best life I could within my means, Pixel, I sure hope you enjoyed it.
What I liked about Pixel was that she had an independent mind. Perhaps this is just another way of saying I didn’t train her well enough, but I actually liked the fact that she didn’t always do my bidding, even though it was frustrating at times.
I hated the times I had to leave her to travel, especially the three weeks I spent out in San Francisco over Christmas 2013. I know it was hard on her. I thank my friend Cay Small for all the dog sitting services she has provided over the years.
Last night we went for a walk in the early evening, like we did every night. She was slow and doddering, but that was normal for a dog her age. After I went to bed she began to pace around nervously. I woke up around 2 a.m. to find her agitated and restless, and I stayed up with her as she wandered here and there. I began to suspect she was looking for a place to die. She lay down in a corner of the trailer, and I went back to bed around 4 a.m. When I woke up at 6:30 she was gone and had been for some time.
I spent two hours this morning digging her grave in my back yard, close to where I buried Pugsley a few years ago. Pixel, please know that you were loved and cherished, and you will always remain in my memory my first dog.
(Photo: A killer whale at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, circa 1972. ©Malcolm J. Brenner)
Have you ever known a couple that fought about everything? I used to know a couple like that. Every day was a string of arguments, from dawn ’til dusk, voices raised in shouting. They could never agree about the simplest thing, and being around them when they were together was like having sandpaper rubbed on your body.
The cure for this problem seemed obvious. We, their friends, would say “Why do you two stick together? You should go your separate ways.” Their response was always, “But we LOVE each other!” Followed by more shouting.
What kind of love not only causes pain and anguish, but refuses to acknowledge the damage that pain and anguish is doing? I’ll tell you what kind of love: sick, psychotic love. My two friends loved each other the way SeaWorld loves its killer whales.
SeaWorld says it “loves” its killer whales and treats them well. One could have heard such protestations from a slaveholder in the Antebellum South: “I love my slaves and I treat them well! Mine are the best-treated slaves around!” The problem then, of course, was not the way the slaveholder treated his slaves, for better or for worse, the problem was the institution of slavery itself. And of course, a slaveholder must be blind to the moral pestilence that slavery creates. Men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington anguished over the issue; they could not maintain their lifestyle without slavery, yet they knew it was an injustice. Great as they were, they kicked the can down the road, leaving it to Abraham Lincoln’s generation to fight America’s bloodiest war to end that evil institution, such as it has.
Of course, SeaWorld is not an individual. SeaWorld is a corporation with a bottom line which is money, and any statements to the contrary must be taken with a pound of salt. But what does it say about the individuals, like senior corporate affairs officer Jill Kermes? “We love these animals, and do everything in our power to assure they’re happy and healthy,” Kermes recently said in a press release.
Everything, of course, except set them free.
The example of my friends, the argumentative couple, isn’t exactly what SeaWorld is all about. After all, the whales aren’t arguing; they just want to go home. The deep and profound pathology of SeaWorld’s “love” for whales is actually closer to that of Ariel Castro, the psychopath who kidnapped three women in Cleveland, Ohio, kept them for 10 years and had a child by one of them, Amanda Berry. When he was finally captured, after the women escaped, here’s what Castro said for himself, according to Wikipedia:
Before his sentencing, Castro addressed the court in a rambling address for twenty minutes, in which he said he was “a good person” and “not a monster”, but that he was addicted to sex and pornography, and had “practiced the art of masturbation” from a young age. He claimed that he had never beaten or tortured the women, and insisted that “most” of the sex he had with them “was consensual.” He shifted between an apologetic tone and blaming the FBI for failing to catch him, as well as his victims themselves, insisting to the court that when he had sex with them he discovered they were not virgins. He would alternatively shift back into apologetic comments, saying: “I hope they can find in their hearts to forgive me because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home.”
“We had a lot of harmony going on in that home” is the delusion of a psychopath who either cannot feel for his victims or has managed to suppress his feelings. In Castro’s eyes he is not a monster and the sex was “consensual” because the women were not virgins and did not physically resist. Make no mistake, the people who run SeaWorld and their poor deluded minions, the trainers, feel exactly the same way. They even force the female whales to produce babies for them, exactly as Castro did.
What does watching a whale jump around at SeaWorld teach you about killer whales in the wild? Zip. What does it do for whales in the wild? It actually has a negative impact, because it increases the demand for whales in captivity, which means more wild whales are going to be rounded up and caught in horrible drive hunts. The Southern Resident orca population of Washington State, which was most heavily fished in the 1960’s and ’70’s for captive whales, has yet to recover from those captures, several of which resulted in the deaths of the whales.
I wonder what it will take for SeaWorld to realize the error of its ways. Human death? No. Trainers, let’s face it, are expendable. Not even the horrific death of Dawn Brancheau, torn to pieces in 2010 by Tilikum, SeaWorld’s prize breeding bull, was enough; SeaWorld tried to blame Brancheau herself, claiming that her ponytail (which was fine in SeaWorld’s trainer regulations) had floated into the whale’s mouth, and that he “playfully” pulled her into the water before breaking her back, scalping and dismembering her.
We’re not just talking about some personal peculiarities here; we’re talking about an institution which is built on lies, and now finds out it must lie about lying to the public, as SeaWorld is doing in its latest series of promotions. Five class-action lawsuits have been filed by various people who feel SeaWorld deceived them about its treatment of the whales.
With millions of dollars at stake, of course SeaWorld is going to defend itself. It has lowered itself to the point of personal slander to do so, as in the case of John Hargrove, former chief killer whale trainer and author of the tell-all book Beneath The Surface. What will it take, I wonder, to open their corporate eyes to the tragedy and the horror they are committing?
I wish I could throw some SeaWorld officers, like the CEO, into the pool with Tilikum. Then let’s see how long their commitment to keeping killer whales in captivity would last.
Book Review Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover
Author Malcolm J. Brenner takes his readers on a journey through the labyrinth of liberal arts major Zachary Zimmerman’s adventures of college campus life and his first professional photography job. Influenced by drugs, primal sexual needs, rock ‘n’ roll and various precarious relationships, Zack maneuvers through these life experiences while photographing the seemingly near-human and intelligent bottlenose dolphins at Florida Funland. One exceptional dolphin named Ruby entices him to explore the uncharted regions of her wet world.
When Zack’s relationship with Ruby beckons him to abandon his humanness in the attempt to bond with her telepathically, physically and psychologically, he finds himself caught between the worlds of fantasy and reality. This puts him on a collision course, risking the near-fracture of his human psyche.
Zack’s journey culminates with the abrupt end of his relationship with Ruby, his quest to find her again, and his return to reality and society. He struggles to overcome his emotional torture and endure the stigma of sharing his story. Ultimately, Zack come to terms with the mind- altering experience and how it profoundly affected his life.
Carolyn Marts, Carolyn Marts Photography, Florida
John Hargrove is a man who got religion, then lost it. The spirit moved him when he was six and his parents took him to SeaWorld. Then and there, little John decided he wanted to become an orca trainer when he grew up. And, amazingly, he did. After 14 years, his body broken, his spirit wounded, Hargrove got out of the business of enslaving the creatures he loved. Beneath the Surface is his memoir of that experience and the conflict he suffered, the inner turmoil that comes when the corporate gods don’t answer your reasonable prayers.
One thing we learn from this book is that SeaWorld’s managers are cheap bastards. As a “senior orca trainer,” a physically and mentally demanding job working with huge, dangerous animals, Hargrove earned the rotten salary of $15.34 an hour. He did it, he says, because he loved the whales, and his love for them shows in this book. Hargrove was so familiar with the whales, he was able to tell their emotions just from reading their muscle tension. As an trainer, he bought whole-heartedly into the SeaWorld mythology that captivity is somehow better for whales than being wild in the ocean.
Hargrove’s book is eye-opening, a revelation about the conditions orcas in captivity are forced to endure. Some of the whales break their teeth biting the bars of their cages in sheer frustration; others, bored to tears, literally peel paint off the walls of their tanks, bloodying their snouts in the process. Chlorine and ozone added to purify the chemical soup they swim in burn not only the orcas’ eyes but the trainers’ too. Whales from different regions battle for dominance among themselves.
For Hargrove, a man with a conscience, the break with SeaWorld management seems to have begun when he was asked to artificially inseminate female whales. SeaWorld was using its females to breed more orcas, both for its own use and to supply other parks, and they were inseminating the females too often and too young, Hargrove says, then taking the babies away from their mothers when they were weaned. In the wild, killer whales form family groups that extend over several generations, and a male’s attachment to his mother is so strong that he may wither and die shortly after she does. Hargrove protested, but his protests went nowhere. The whales’ welfare was not the bottom line.
The break grew when two trainers, Alex Martinez at SeaWorld affiliate Loro Parque, and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando, were killed by whales within a few months of each other. Predictably, SeaWorld promoted the myth that the deaths were somehow the trainers’ faults. No wild orca has ever attacked a human, and Hargrove is quick to rebut his former employer by pointing out how the confined conditions of captivity essentially drive the whales into frustration and aggression against each other and their trainers.
I would recommend this honest, open and affecting book to anybody with an interest in marine mammals’ welfare. Since it was published, SeaWorld has tried to launch a mammoth personal attack on Hargrove by releasing tapes of him using the N-word when he was drunk one night with a duplicitous friend. Hargrove makes his opinions on racism clear early in the book, when he denounces the KKK, which operated near his hometown as he was growing up. Fortunately the attack seems to have failed, and the book is high on the New York Times book list. With good reason; Beneath the Surface is John Hargrove’s confessional.
So the illustrious Howard Stern had me on his show yesterday, and in retrospect it wasn’t a fun thing. My friends are telling me I did well under enormous pressure, but I don’t feel that way. I felt frankly embarrassed by Stern’s questions like “Would you rather have sex with a horse or a cow? A giraffe, or a kangaroo?”
As my FaceBook friend Grandwazoo Blair suggested, my best comeback would have been “How about your new wife, Howard?” (Rimshot!) But I have never been quick-witted enough to come up with remarks like that.
No, I have not gone back and listened to the interview on YouTube, so this post is made from memory.
The tug-o’-war in these interviews always seems to be between the interviewer’s wanting me to talk about my zoophilia and my desire to talk about dolphins and the situation they are in. In Stern’s case this was worse than most. My correspondents seemed to think I did well getting my points in, but Stern pretty much glossed over them in his desire to classify me as some kind of pathological personality.
I would think that given the double rarity of a man who made love with a dolphin and is willing to talk about it on air, Stern would have explored the whole experience a little more carefully, but he didn’t seem really interested.
Said my sister, Sally Hammerman: Just listened to the show! You were great – even with the prodding to get you inflamed! I objected to the over-talk when you were saying something – which I wanted to hear and also which I feel was something relevant to the question that was posed to you. And then that crazy woman on the phone! She didn’t get ANY of it – and probably kicks her dog, too. LOVE YA’
Said my friend Dieno: Just fantastic. You were a sensation. You did not let him put you down. You ruled the show!
Well, I have picked up a few new FB friends since doing the show, so perhaps it didn’t go as badly as I thought it did. What do you think?
For those of you reading this with Sirius XM radio, I will be a guest on the Howard Stern Show on Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 a.m. EDST. It seems like my appearance in Dolphin Lover is gaining me some notoriety that simply publishing Wet Goddess did not. The producer I spoke with assured me that Howard would most likely watch the movie, and the film’s producers provided him with the means to do so.
Interestingly enough, Howard had another guy on several years ago who claimed to have had sex with a dolphin. I’d include the file here, but I might be violating copyright by doing so and the last thing I want to do is piss off a guy who’s going to be interviewing me about my sex life. I think the subject was totally bogus; for one thing, he wanted to be anonymous, but one of the listeners called in and identified him! There were also, shall we say, certain anatomical discrepancies with my own experience in his description of the act. Altogether it was a rather unconvincing, if sincere, performance. Let’s hope I can do better!
I haven’t written anything for a while, so here’s a red-shouldered hawk establishing its territory with a call from a neighbor’s tree. I recorded this on my iPhone while walking the dog one morning; you may have to turn the volume up to hear the hawk clearly. There’s about 13 seconds of silence after the hawk. It is wonderful to hear this first thing in the morning! (The photo above is a pair of these hawks that have taken up residence in a tree down the street. I was lucky enough to capture this one really good shot out of more than 80 I took of them that day.)