Monday, November 11, 2013

An Armistice Day Meditation

Once again I've been away from the blog for far too long. I don't know how I stay so busy, but I do. Perhaps part of the problem is spending time on' Fakebook', which is graphically oriented. A bit of text overwhelms the senses and one moves on quickly. I am rather visually oriented and get a kick out of all the graphics there. At least most of the time. Which means that there is something going on that is bothering me.

Back during this past summer, I metaphorically unplugged for a couple of weeks. At the time, I was starting a new course of medication for my rather painful skin condition. A medication with which I've had a fair amount of experience was involved. It has side effects; I gain weight and I become short tempered and angry. I warned everyone that I was going into a two week hibernation and that it would be best not to poke the bear. Of course, a couple of days in someone did. A Board member of the radio station insisted I change a Board decision or he would quit. I'd had enough of such games and I quit instead. I was the Board President, the Station Manager and the Program Director. I have to admit it was a good thing to do for my own sanity, but that is a story for another time. The break from the station, internet - and Fakebook - was, quite frankly, a little bit of wonderful. I had no intercourse with stupid posts which would raise my frustration level with my fellow human beings.

You see, I actually know people who rail against government programs, and who support and post the ravings of right wing provocateurs like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. They'd probably post the pithier comments of Ayn Rand except she is beyond their reading level. I've waited on these folks as a cashier in a local supermarket. They are conservative Christians. They utilize foodstamps. They live in subsidized housing. They have low paying jobs yet can afford payments on new cars. And they hate a "socialized" United States. They also give full support to the military.

The FB caption read "Don't forget our four legged veterans".
It was an oddity of U.S. history that Richard Nixon, who escalated the Vietnam War, proposed a volunteer army. Although a form of the draft (i.e. conscription) has returned in the necessity to register for "Selective Service", we've now had a volunteer army for forty years. We now have 'army families' in which generations of the otherwise economically challenged have gained employment in our standing armies.

When I unplugged, I watched a good bit of television. I quickly discovered that I had
stopped watching the shows I liked - I merely had them on as background music, paying attention at some moments, ignoring much of the program while I surfed graphics and read articles on the internet.

After a fight with Comcast over their/my bills, I didn't have tv service for over a year. I only recently returned to the fold. So I used my "unplugged" time to catch up on missed episodes of a few favorite shows. Watching shows, even without simultaneous internet grazing, is one thing. Realizing what I was watching was another. I discovered that I approach most television as disposable entertainment. I watch, I am entertained, I do not retain. In watching commercial cable channels (as opposed to subscription channels whose shows tend to be of higher quality) I began to notice a few trends. Most of the action type shows I used to watch had undergone interesting thematic changes.

Somewhere along the line I became a fan of NCIS. It is about a team of Navy investigators who delve into crimes involving those in military service. Their stories contained a mix of crimes; drugs, theft, romantic affairs, etc. Some episodes tackled "sensitive" topics - harassment of gays in the military, rape culture, the status of women in the services, etc. But there was a change over the last couple of years. It wasn't noticeable at first, but became inescapable with immersive viewing. Most of their story lines now revolved around terrorism - terrorists in war curtailing the rights of women, terrorists bombing military installations, terrorists attempting to harm the homeland, terrorists targeting our civilians. And our brave men and women responded by utilizing methods in which the corners of civil and human rights may be cut a little in order to preserve the greater good. Even the commercials had changed. There were now pitches which directly involved, and marketed to, military families. Financial services. Insurance. For our brave men and women, whom we honor.

This change wasn't reserved for just the two NCIS shows. Many of the detective/crime solving programs featured story lines which involved foiling terrorists here at home. Other shows just weren't as obsessed with such plotlines - but they were there. And so were the commercials.

News programming has also reflected what seems to be an obsession with our military. During the Bush years only the local channels would cover things like departure ceremonies for our National Guard being sent off to Iraq, Afghanistan and etc. Now even the networks spend a fair amount of time "honoring" our military families. It seems like it is impossible to watch a news program these days without someone giving thanks to our soldiers for their service. They also air the ads aimed at military families.

I find this all a little disturbing, particularly coming at a time when as a country we have more or less withdrawn from Iraq and are in the process of getting out of Afghanistan. At a time when a large portion of what had been the lower and middle portion of the middle class have been reduced to poverty levels, it's as though the corporations are pushing a military lifestyle. It is to be honored, to be envied. Patriotism. Service. Cue the Rousing Music and the Waving of flags. We are thankful. By the way, we now have an insurance program just for you.

I need to make it clear that I'm trying to keep my personal beliefs out of these observations and commentary. I am against conscription. I fail to understand why anyone should automatically owe a few years of their life to the government of a geographic area in which they were born. This includes the concept of non-military "national service". Armies are, in my view, a necessary evil. The world would be better off without standing armies. After the recent military exploits of my country, I have grave concerns about the "National Guard". The Guard, while a branch of the military services, was intended as a reserve to be called up in times of emergency. The idea is that the Guard serves only a couple of weeks per year to maintain training levels. They are not a professional army. Many Guard members joined for the financial help they received for college or vocational education. The Guard isn't really National - unless the Federal Government deems it necessary to take control, the Guard is supposed to be under the control of the various states. It was never intended to be used to fight foreign wars. That was supposed to be the job of the 'professional' army.

Today is Veterans Day. Originally, it was "Armistice Day", which celebrated the end of the War to End All Wars. In other words, a transition to Peace. Somewhere along the way it became a tribute to those who served in war. After the Second World War, it became a day to honor those who served or are serving in the militaries, period. (Memorial Day is a different day which honors those who gave their lives, or to be more precise had their lives taken from them, during our wars.)

Fakebook is awash in postings honoring the men (and sometimes, on rare occasions, honoring the women) who "serve". Everyone is dared to "repost" the particular images to PROVE that they also share in the honoring. This has been going on for awhile now as a regular matter of course. These "memes" (images with messages) appear as often as pictures of cute cats or extortions, oops I mean exhortations, to repost memes which pledge to welcome God and Jesus H. Christ into one's home. With Veteran's Day upon us, the normally sane are also partaking of this hero worship. Everyone, of every political persuasion, is posting some sort of Thanks to our Servicemen (servicemen more than women in the service).


Clipped from a Veteran's Day post on Homelessness. Right click and open in new window to enlarge.
Now look, I do honor and admire the people who go into the military. I also honor and admire the
people who don't, who go into any kind of service helping their fellow humans, and those who go to jail or who went to Canada rather than join in the Vietnam War, or any war, as well as the soldiers of the common people who fought for the 40 hour workday, who continue the fight for fairness, for feeding and housing those without, for healthcare for all and so forth. There are many kinds of war.

It's just that I can't help but feel that there is a confluence of phony honoring that goes beyond a trendy patriotism. When mixed with the marketability of a new class, the 'service families', I begin to wonder. When little suspensions of our Constitutionally protected rights are thrown in during entertainment programs as our military heroes save us from the terrorists, I become slightly concerned. When I see corporations pushing these ideas and images in news programming, I become moderately concerned. When I read news analysis which makes it clear how many of us have been reduced to poverty, I become alarmed with the juxtaposition of a proffered military employment opportunity. At the same time that these stories and advertisements become omnipresent,  news stories also appear telling of people (and Veterans!) whose homes have been swindled away by the banks over unpaid bills of little more than a hundred dollars. Food stamps assistance has been cut, and the bloodhounds are sniffing for more reductions. The current cuts will result in the corporate food stores getting Billions less in income. This will translate into higher prices and layoffs. The bloodhounds bark at the heels of Unemployment assistance, at Social Security, at healthcare. In the meantime, the corporations poison our food and water - and make certain that government inspection supposed to protect the populace is lax. There is a storm brewing as more and more of us become have nots. How long it will take until the storm hits, I don't know. But I begin to understand why I'm seeing so many images of the honored military, a new class to whom benefits flow, a professional military. No longer engaged overseas, they and the National Guard will be available to keep control at home.


Bless our Veterans, and give Thanks to those who serve.

Friday, October 18, 2013

My First

While I haven't given the matter a lot of thought, it has always seemed to me that as far as songs, movies, tv shows, and etc. go, people generally prefer the version they first encountered. This preference goes beyond nostalgia for the music and tv shows that were current during the years in which they came of age. It is as though their "first" became neurally imprinted as the version by which others are measured. For me, this is especially true of Vampires, Frankensteins, and Wolfmen.

When I was just a lad, television was still new. My formative years were spent in an unathletic and rather private family. I was neither encouraged or allowed to go outside to play. Any such activity could only occur after all school work and chores had been completed, and by that time, it was dark outside. I was not allowed out when it was dark. I spent a lot of time watching tv. Back then, to fill programming needs, it was common for tv stations to show old movies. Although I certainly wasn't aware of it at the time, those movies usually came from RKO, Universal, or Warner Brothers.

Aside from RKO's King Kong, and Warner Bros. Adventures of Robin Hood, my favorite movies were Universal's horror series. My initial encounter with their Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein provided something of an apotheosis, as it contained the holy trinity of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. A 3 minute long condensation of it was the first 8mm movie I ever purchased. And Dracula was played by THE Dracula, Bela Lugosi. (Although Lugosi played many a vampire, this was the only other time he played the role in a movie. It was also his last big movie; the rest of his career being spent in grade Z cheapies.)

I got to thinking about all of this a week or so ago after the pay-extra-for-it cable channel Turner Classic Movies broadcast a beautifully restored print of the 1958 Hammer version of the story starring Christopher Lee as the Count. Although it was titled "Dracula" in England, here in the U.S. it was retitled "The Horror of Dracula". As much fun as that version is, Lee just isn't my Dracula. The Dracula story has many film adaptions, and any number of similar stories. But my first Dracula is, for me, still the best. And that is the 1931 Universal version I memorized from televison.

The 1931 version was more or less directed by silent film director Todd Browning, who would also direct the strange and fascinating Freaks. The production was plagued by problems from its inception as a silent film in the vein of the same studio's Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, with Lon Chaney slated to star. Sound and the Depression arrived in Hollywood around the same time. Universal had already purchased rights to the Bram Stoker novel, but now needed a revised speaking script. They purchased a melodramatic stage version which had been a success in 1924 to be the basis of their new script. Depression budget constraints ruled out many of the studio's plans for the project. Lon Chaney, a good friend of Browning's, died from cancer. During the shoot, the usually meticulous Browning was often absent, leaving cinematographer Karl Freund to direct parts of the picture.

Young Bela Lugosi

Initially, neither the studio nor the director wanted Lugosi for the role of the Count. Lugosi was a Hungarian actor who had distinguished himself as an officer in the ski patrol on the Russian Front during WWI. Due to his work for an actor's union, he was forced to flee his homeland during the Hungarian Revolution. He eventually made his way to the US, and won the role of Dracula in that 1924 New York stage production. By the way, it was for that production that Dracula acquired his black cape. Along with a high collar, it enabled the Count to seem to "vanish" into the darkness onstage.

Lugosi's rhythms of speech in the role derived from the natural patterns of speech in his homeland. It is often said that this was due to his limited knowledge of English. At the time he won the stage role, he did learn part of it phonetically, but by the time the movie was made he was quite familiar with the English language.

So what is it about this particular version of Dracula? It's wonderfully atmospheric. There is almost no background music (early sound problems and budget constraints). The title cards are backed by a few bars from Swan Lake, which in this context has a sinister quality. A carriage careens along a mountain path and arrives at a village inn. Frightened women peer out of windows. When the coach's passenger insists on continuing on to the Borgo Pass, an old woman produces a cross for him to wear, "For your mother's sake".


Before long, we are introduced to the Count himself, slowly descending a castle's stone staircase with menacingly savory and quotable lines that continue for several scenes:

"I am Dracula. I bid you welcome."

(responding to wolves howling in the distance)
"Listen to them, children of the night. What music they make!"

"The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield."

"I never drink. Wine. "

Mist seems as ever present as dust and cobwebs. There is no explanation for the appearance of Dracula's wives - they just appear, floating, gliding, through a nightmare.

Lugosi's Dracula was not an ugly deformed monster, but a handsome nobleman. He approached his victims with a longing sensuality - and with repulsion for his own deeds. Maybe that's a bit of projection onto the character, but it fits and it works. He's a monster, but he's our monster - somehow, we slightly identify with him. I think that is partly due to Todd Browning, who spent many years working sideshows in circuses and carnivals. He knew a thing or two about outsiders.

After the action moves to London, things go downhill a bit and descend into Victorian melodrama. Nothing explicit is ever shown on screen, but there are still more than enough creepy moments to satisfy. There's Dwight Frye, who changes from an assured clerk insisting on going on to the Borgo Pass to a madman craving insects and rats for food.

There's Carfax Abbey. There's an incident with a mirror. And there is Dracula, stiff yet leonine. Angry, yet composed. Knowing, perhaps too knowing; "There are far worse things in life than death."
Lugosi's menace was so pronounced and memorable that years later Disney artists used his Dracula movements as a guide for drawing the demon Chernabog in the penultimate section of Fantasia.
Over the years there have been many Draculas. A personal favorite is Francis Ford Coppola's German Expressionist version, with Gary Oldman as a romantic hero of a Count. It works. I like it a lot. I like many of the screen vampires. I like vampire humor. In Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, our young hero (Polanksi) confronts a shetl's vampire innkeeper by brandishing a crucifix. The inkeep responds, "Oy, have you got the wrong vampie-ar!" Interview With a Vampire was a good read, and a good movie - but Brad Pitt would have been the better Lestat and Tom Cruise would have been better as Louis. In recent years we've had vampires that sparkle. And at the end of the month, a new tv series begins with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Dracula. That's all very well and good. Everybody has their Dracula. Mine, however, is the one and only. He was my first.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I never seem to get anything done anymore...

Yesterday, just after 12 noon, I made my way to the corner across the street. There is a faded gray green mail box there, the kind that the post office uses to drop off bundles for distribution by what the civil service exams used to call "clerk/carriers". Next to the mailbox is an old metal pole. In old pictures, it used to have a sign hanging from it that announced the Episcopal Church a few feet away. I leaned against the pole. I'm a leaner. In my mind's eye, I cut a dashing figure as I slouch against the pole, a world weary sophisticate primed for any danger which might arise. Breathing a sigh for no particular reason other than the fact that I could, I began searching Putney Road for signs of the bus I intended to take to the supermarket. As I breathed in I noticed it - that scent on the air. The leaves on the old sugar maples by the church have been turning orange for weeks. There it was, the scent of autumn. It's a bit early for it, but I wasn't surprised. It was simply an old friend who had arrived a little sooner than expected.

How has so much time gone by? It's been more than a month since I last posted anything here. There have been several things I'd intended to write about, pictures to share, whining in which I expected to indulge. Somehow, I've avoided it all. If I opened the blog in a web browser, the phone would ring, or a friend would stop by. Since I get few calls and almost no one visits, I should have seen these events as a sign, maybe called in a soothsayer. But no, I'd sit myself down, open the blog, click on "new", reach towards the keyboard - and catch the wafting scent of fresh coffee. Succumbing to the temptation, I'd go get coffee, notice that I'm almost out of sugar, realize that my memory isn't what it used to be and decide that I should start a shopping list. Now where did that little note pad get to? A half an hour later, frustrated that it wasn't in my coat pocket where I thought it was, I'd created quite a mess through my searching (it will have to wait until later to get cleaned up) and given up, using a piece of paper snatched from the printer to start the list. I noticed that the printer is almost out of paper, and opened the closet to get more. Something fell out on top of me, of course. When one lives in a tiny space, the only closet is so packed that Fibber McGee would turn green with envy. Well, at least gray green. After cleaning up the mess, as well as some of the mess from the note pad search, I sit down, reach for the keyboard and realize that I should take something for the headache I was developing. Then I remember that when I'd gotten coffee, I had taken out an aspirin but hadn't taken it - I'd left it sitting on the counter by the sink. Three steps later I have the pill, but find no clean glass at hand - or to be more precise, no clean glass that I wouldn't have to spend 5 minutes moving things in the cupboard to get to. I decide to wash the few waiting dishes. There are still dishes in the drain board; they need to be put away first. It would have been easier to spend the 5 minutes moving things around to get to the clean glasses. The dishes put away, I head back to my chair, sit, stretch my hands towards the keyboard and notice that I'd set the aspirin on it so I wouldn't forget it. Shaking my head in utter resignation, I go to get that glass of water. I still hadn't washed the dishes. As I take care of that chore, I notice that the sponge has gone past its prime and entered old age. I open the cupboard under the sink and have to move out the trash container to get to the box of cleaning supplies. The trash falls over. At least the dustpan is in the cupboard under the sink and within easy reach without the trash can's being there. The broom, however, is in the closet which houses the water heater. There is trash in front of it. A half an hour later, the trash cleaned up, bagged, taken to the cellar, I reach for what turns out to be the last of the trash bags. Better write that down, too. Now - where did I put that note paper? Several hours later, I reach for the keyboard again. I realize I'm too tired to write, it's dark out, I haven't eaten; I decide to go to bed. And so it has gone, every single day. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, and yes, I making much of this up - more or less. It is typical, though. I can't tell you what I've done all day. If I said I'd puttered around I'd feel better about it. As it is, I feel like I've spent weeks in obsessive compulsive attention deficit hell. Today, however, has been different. I reached forward to the keyboard, and nothing stopped me. Except now, the scent of autumn wafts in through the balcony door, it's like an old friend arriving for a visit...

A little over a week (or was it two weeks?) ago the Savings and Loan held its annual free hamburger and hotdog customer appreciation lunch in front of its building on Main Street. It's the first time I've been able to go in years. As I bank at the S&L, I went. They owe me. It amuses me to no end that many of the people scarfing down the free feed are landlords, trust funders, and the wealthy.

See the guy just beyond the tent with the big moustache? That's the bank's current president, out there flipping burghers. He and his wife used to frequent my line when I was a cashier at the supermarket. Whenever I'm in the bank and he sees me, he waves even when he's in his office and in conference.

One of our local commercial radio stations was broadcasting live reports from the event. The well respected newsman saw me and announced to the world that I'd arrived at the Savings and Loan luncheon.

As I wander further along Main Street, I stop at my friend Wendy's cheese shop just to say hello. At least, I think I did. Maybe it was another day. Sometimes, when one is retired, things blend together.

A block further south I find myself in front of the local art museum. It used to be the local train station. Currently, the main exhibit is by artist Red Grooms whose work I enjoy. A couple of pieces are outside where they can be enjoyed by all.

I also stop at the radio station, mostly to peer out of the window at the scaffolding going up across the street around the Brooks House. Its been boarded up for well over two years now. The resurrection from the fire is finally about to begin.
The next day, two large signs were put up at high traffic locations just off Main Street. They aren't really signs per se, they are large chalkboards. Buckets of chalk are there, too. Your participation is requested:

It's a little hard to read, but how many times in one's life does one get to stand in a circle of awesomeness?

As many people will tell you, not very much happens in our little town. Sometimes I really like living here, even though I don't seem to get much done anymore.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Favorite Year

Sometimes, it starts with a synchronicity of events. A memory emerges, unbidden, of moments of auditory or movie pleasure, fleeting imagery that wanders through consciousness a day or two before other forces and other connections make themselves known. Robin Hood has been in my mind again. Not any Robin Hood, not one of those modern reinterpretations, which I'm sure will soon emerge in a newer "darker" version dressed in black leather and fake muscle formed spandex, fighting zombie ghouls under the spell of the evil witch king brother of the rightful ruler, ably aided by a crossbow and hatchet wielding Maid Marion. No, I mean the real Robin Hood, to be precise, "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Deep in my secret heart of hearts, behind all the clutter of the modern world resides a more innocent time, of rainy Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent in front of a flickering tv image. I've never asked any of my female friends how they felt about Robin Hood, or the handsome action hero motif. Do they sigh for the hero, think it's all much ado about not much? How about us guys, how many of us have the Robin Hood thing inside of us? I can say that I never really wanted to be Robin Hood, I just wanted to be that good a man. And I wanted to know that Robin Hoods exist, heroes who stand against the tide of tyranny, who care for the hungry, for the poor, for justice, for what is right in a world gone wrong.

In case anyone is wondering,
this poster hangs over my bed
In those days, the tv image was black and white. It came as something of a shock in the early 1960's when I turned on our set and discovered that one of my favorite movies was in color. It took a viewing or two before I got used to the change. Over the years I booked and showed the film in coffee houses, cultural arts societies, saw it in museums and in revival theatres, learned about the "real" Technicolor system used to film it, and the nitrate film stock which gave it a sheen and glow no longer attainable. When I expanded from 8mm into collecting 16mm, Robin Hood was the third sound movie I purchased. The print was acquired through a New York based film editor - it was made using a special process intended for archival purposes which recaptured the intensity of the dye transfer process. It seems two extra prints had been struck, oh, my. There was a minor soundtrack problem in  my print, with no way to correct it. It didn't matter, I was in heaven. Since it was a movie, I should say I was in 7th Heaven. I haven't looked at the print in years, and assume with some regret that its' color has probably faded to red.

I've been day dreaming of trying to set up my old 16mm system again. I don't have the room, the projector is noisy, my motorized screen is in a barn miles from here; there are lots of reasons not to pursue the thought, but that hasn't yet ended the desire. I want to see Robin Hood again, and not tv size, thank you. I'd no sooner started thinking about this when I chanced upon a clip from the movie. But then, from some recess of memory I heard just a tad of a lovely little melody, "reappearing in my mind... but that was long ago... are your memories like mine, or have they let you go?" I know the song; it was written for a movie, but was never used. Michael Feinstein found it and recorded it. So did Margaret Whiting. It has a slightly sad melancholic quality, "My Favorite Year".

"My Favorite Year" was a wonderful early 1980's movie, one of those little gems that tend to be too easily forgotten. It starred Peter O'Toole, who had just been Oscar nominated for his work in "The Stunt Man", another sadly neglected movie. He plays the part of a famous action star romantic hero who time is passing by. The idea for the story came from an appearance by Errol Flynn on the Sid Caesar show in the early days of tv. At the time, Flynn had adopted the role of a charming inebriate, and was assigned a keeper - in real life a young Mel Brooks. It's one of those movies. The young writer who becomes the keeper shares traits from a couple of Caesar's writers - Brooks, Neil Simon, and a dash of Woody Allen. Another of Caesar's writers, Selma Diamond (and a big stevil favorite) is in the movie as a wardrobe mistress. (Those who were fans of the Dick Van Dyke show - also based on Caesar's 'Show of Shows' milieu - would recognize her as the basis for Rose Marie's character.)

So, "My Favorite Year" had been in my mind over the last couple of days. Last night I happened to turn on the tv, and there it was. If I'd known, I'd have recorded it. As it was, I just dropped in for the last hour, and I was thankful for the pleasure. It's one of the best things O'Toole has done; his Alan Swann inhabits a persona he knows was created for him to play, and he's smart enough to know that it's not that people just let him get way with things because of it, they want and expect him to do so. In once scene, he describes some of his life to his young keeper,

"The women who are interested in me know exactly who I am and what they want, and nine times out of ten, they get it."

"That's some curse."

"You'd be surprised. You see, no matter what I do, I can never fulfill their expectations."

There is a lovely scene in which O'Toole takes his young keeper off to dinner at the Stork Club; "are you sure you want the Stork Club, Mr. Swann?" "It's been a year and a half, surely they've repaired the wall of the bandstand by now". While there Swann is approached by an elderly gentleman whose wife is a fan. Would he be kind enough to say hello to her as he leaves after his dinner? He would not. Instead, he goes directly to the table, bows with the grace of aging gentleman, extends his hand, and asks for a dance. They glide gracefully around the floor; her eyes, brimming with happiness, memory, and swelling with tears never move from his. The scene is pure enchantment. The woman was Gloria Stuart, a former star who would only emerge from retirement again 15 years later to play "old Rose" in the 1997 "Titanic". You don't need to know this kind of stuff to watch the movie, but if you do you'll find a number of familiar faces and stories (Lainie Kazan! Adolph Green, Joseph Bologna, et. al), and lots of references and connections to the entertainment businesses of days gone by. The trailer really isn't very good, but it does give you an idea of how much fun this movie can be. If you ever see it listed, trust me, set aside the time to watch it, and a little extra to remember your favorite year.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it."

My movement away from the psychic chatter of unfettered electronic abandon progresses. As I suspected, the most difficult thing to winnow down is my wholly integrated computer internet experience. Go to a news site, get advertising geared to something I searched for a month ago. Go to a new web page whose content promises to pique my curiosity, and find myself greeted by one of my avatars imploring me to "discuss". I don't want to "discuss", thank you. Although the second syllable does resemble my immediate response. Actually, both syllables work as long as they are separate.

One of the things I like about the internet is the ability to instantly look things up. I used to keep my own library to be able to do that, and if my volumes didn't contain the information needed, I would make a trip to the closest large Public Library. Unfortunately, that usually involved planning. And notes. One of the problems I have with the internet is that things change, sites disappear, information itself is malleable. Review a muckraking Wikipedia entry after a month and you'll see what I mean. It is harder to change the printed word, at least when it is printed on papers bound together with a spine.

I did not expect to be back here at the blog quite this quickly. I gave in to checking an online almanac, damn that Mercury ruling planet curiosity. I've returned to mark the birthday of one of my literary heroes, one of the guys who put words on paper. Two of my favorite wordsmiths, both storytellers of the highest order, have birthdays this week. Radio legend Jean Shepherd's birthday is this coming Friday. I have to work very hard to not attempt to imitate him. One of the problems I encountered when I used to write with any frequency was that I often assumed the voice or style of whomever was my most recent obsession. I probably shouldn't have read all that Dickens, I don't get paid by the word. For awhile there, I had a problem worse than florid Victorian sentences. I tried to write like Raymond Chandler. For all three of these guys, the joy isn't necessarily in the story itself, but in the way the story is told.

Raymond Chandler, whose birthday is today, drank. A lot. When he finally gave in to writing in a desperate attempt to make money at the age of 44, he was rewarded by publication in the once famous pulp magazine, "Black Mask". His first story was entitled, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot". Chandler was a guy who made similes smile, his metaphors were verbal film noir. One of his earlier short stories, "Red Wind", opens with this;

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."

Mention Chandler and someone will mention the opening of "Red Wind". Nobody seems to remember the next few lines describing a cheap new dive, and the young barkeep worried about a guy who was "doing his next week's drinking too soon", who probably watered down the guy's next because he looked, "as guilty as if he'd kicked his grandmother."

"The kid said: "I don't like drunks in the first place and in the second place I don't like them getting drunk in here, and in the third place I don't like them in the first place."
"Warner Brothers could use that," I said.
"They did." "

One of the instant gratification problems of the internet is that one can easily find collections of Chandler's well turned phrases. While they are a joy to those of us who know them, as rewarding as a 50 year old malt beverage, it cheats the novice out of stumbling into their own discoveries, of having the scene set with the clean muddy simplicity of,

"It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way--but not as far as Velma had gone",

or a note that

"dead men are heavier than broken hearts".

It's been a long time, and I don't quite remember anymore, but if the opening of "Red Wind" didn't get me hooked, I dare say it was this bit from "The Big Sleep";

“I don't mind your showing me your legs. They're very swell legs and it's a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights.”

If you read Chandler, you'll find more than a few things like these:

"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."

"From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away."

"Tall, aren't you?" she said. "I didn't mean to be." "Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her."

"I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard."

"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."

I could go on, but I don't want to spoil a reader's fun.
Try a little Chandler on for size, you'll find a line that draws you in...

"I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday."

"The streets were dark with something more than night."

Happy Birthday Mr. Chandler, thanks for Philip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye, The Little Sister, Trouble Is My Business, dames with names like Velma, and those hot dry Santa Anas...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tap Your Troubles Away

Thank God(s)(dess)(es) that the heat and humidity finally broke. It was getting to me. Without air conditioning, the sweltering had me melting, melting you wretched brat... things weren't being helped by mega doses of prednisone which I've been taking since last Wednesday. The doctor (specialist) who prescribed them even called a half an hour ago to see how I was coping. Oh, everything's all right - I only quit as President of the non-profit which holds the license for the radio station, and resigned as station manager and program director. You know, the stuff that has been my identity for the last year and a half. Actually, I think I'm grateful. It was necessary, and I might not have done it otherwise.

It's complicated.

The precipitating event occurred when a Board member insisted I should do something his way immediately, instead of by the method the Board had agreed upon by vote two days earlier, or he would quit on the spot. He's in charge of our underwriting campaign and is the only person bringing in badly needed money. Me? I can't get the Board to pay a computer guy $40.00 for a cable that solved an emergency two months ago that made it possible for us to continue running the station. They keep saying they will order a cheaper version online and give the computer repair guy his once new, now used, cable back. (It's a non profit, it's complicated.) This wasn't a paid job, we're all volunteers. The choice was obvious. I quit. And the response from the Board has been peevishness that I did so without an appropriate exit strategy. (As Anna Russell used to sway, "I'm not making this up, you know".)

The weather had everybody on edge. Every look at the online news services, every look at Facebook, there were people in full out nasty. For breaks, you might find a relaxing but inordinate focus upon news bulletins detailing the progress of a woman in England waiting to begin labor. There is a little noted news story which describes how a woman in Texas took her life and the lives of her two children when she couldn't handle the process to get approved for foodstamps. As the above events were merely the seasoning in the shake and bake, I decided I was going to attempt to unplug a bit.

To start, I spent a good bit of time "unsubscribing" from mail lists, political advocacy bulletins, a few legitimate subscriptions, oh you know, the effluvia of the electronic messaging universe of one who has been around awhile. I am still getting email from which I "unsubscribed" last Wednesday. (I'm writing on the following Monday afternoon.) We're only talking about the relatively small 130 or so messages of the day that make it through the spam filters that stop the other 2,000 or so messages I get each day. I don't have the "you've got mail" ding thing going or I'd be as punch drunk as the girl they hire when they can't get Gloria Grahame for a film noir.

It was a year ago last February that economics ended my cable, phone, and internet connections for awhile. It was actually very easy to give up the tv, and I quickly discovered that I often had it on as background and/or diversion while on the computer. There were shows I liked, and I tried to keep up with them online, but I'm not really crazy about tv on my computer screen and I quickly ceased the effort. Call me old fashioned, or at least order one up, please. At any rate, it was the cutting off of internet access that I found difficult. This part of the life and times was played out against a backdrop of getting the radio station back on the air. Not having internet access at home was a problem. I got it back through a different company last August. Which means the special one year commitment introductory offer I had to accept to get close to the blatantly misrepresented price is about to expire.

 Oh, well.

A couple of months ago I got cable back. I couldn't wait to watch network news again, catch up on a few shows, vege out. Did I ever tell you about the time I was in a thrift shop with Jon Campo when he triumphantly discovered a group of BIC pens? They were the old ones, the ones that were first introduced. The price was right, and they were, as he quickly pointed out, better made than the product of the time. Thing is, when they were new those pens were the cheap plastic mass produced intimation of the real thing knock offs at which we turned up our collective noses in amused superiority. And, oh, the difference between tv a year ago and how it has changed? Did I every tell you about Jon Campo and the BIC pens?

I've been preparing for this, and have a digital cable video recording box full of cheesy movies and a few other audio visual hallucinatory indulgences There's a few DVDs I gave myself for Christmas which I've been holding for an appropriate occasion. The DVD player does that home surround sound thing. Oh, how I wish I could plug the cable box into it. Ah well, I shall just have to suffer through 'Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter' without surround sound. At least the image will be half way decent, as about two years ago I was given an old Sony high def widescreen tube style tv. Watching the digital recordings and the DVD's can be most entertaining. I mean heck, putting entertainment aside in a kind of holding bank is one of the things I've been up to since my first preteen purchases of movies on 8mm, then as I grew older I grew into 16mm, Beta, VHS, Laser Discs, DVD's. I'm retired and I have movies.

It's been two days now since I stopped looking at Facebook. I glance at the online news in a fashion which would mark me as a graduate of an Evelyn Wood course if they still had them. I have been watching, sometimes actually watching, tv while working on other things on the computer. Played a few extra games of solitaire. I've browsed some of those websites I bookmarked two years ago. I still feel too heavily plugged in.

Yesterday I found myself lying on a small raft in a large spring fed pond. It was early afternoon several days into a camping trip in the desert mountains south of San Diego sometime in the early 1980's. It was a Tuesday afternoon, the water more than cold enough to cause any male some embarrassment as it refreshed against the heat, the sky was cloudless blue. Something happened to my right shoulder. Tension began to drain away, melting away, first the right shoulder and then the left. I relaxed. I begin to wonder if the move from the cities to Vermont was an attempt to recapture that moment.

A couple of days ago, just as I started the unplugging, I heard from the Taxation folks. After I lost just about everything, again, the last time, the rebuilding started with a minimum wage cashier job. After the car died my inimitable sense of timing was rewarded when anyone at my almost full time part time hours hiring agreement was reduced to 28 to 30 hours a week. Two years ago, I found it necessary to cash in a burial policy I'd had since the mid 1960's. A small loan was taken against it in 1975. I only got about $1,700.00 as my payout. The insurance company filed paperwork showing a value of $7,000.00. The government decided they wanted well over $700.00 of it. I appealed, sending a copy of the check I'd thoughtfully made (thanks for the anal retentive training dear family!). The government has relented and decided it will accept $680.00.

I've been wondering if the tv shouldn't get turned off for awhile too. I can't much listen to the radio at the moment, there are too many pre-recorded underwriting spots and station IDs read by the guy who... I take my daily bath in water infused with bleach, part of treating my skin condition. It's not a full tub tub, but it is womblicious.

I turn on the cable to set up a recording for a movie I want to be sure to see. On the extra e$tra premium old movie channel, the one you have to pay for all the sports channels to get, they're showing the movies they used to show us for the price of watching a few commercials. The one at the moment has the Tommy Dorsey band performing. The unbilled boy singer takes the mic, it's Frank Sinatra. It's one of those black and white World War Two ship board romances with Red Skelton as a mystery writer whose hep cat male secretary is played by Bert Lahr. Virginia O'Brien delivers a very dry jive boogie woogie version of the song just used as a ballad. There's a tap dance filmed so that it can easily be removed from showings in the American South, as it is performed by two "Negro" male performers. They are billed as "Stump" and "Stumpy". Eleanor Powell's specialty tap is performed poolside, with Dorsey and the band, drummer Buddy Rich, trick steps on a chair, a table, and a diving board. The dialogue could use some polish to be considered third rate. It is completely, absurdly entertaining. Eleanor saves the day against Nazi saboteur smugglers by tapping the 11 o'clock in morse code. I haven't even poured the chilled white wine yet, but my right shoulder is beginning to get this almost tingly, sorta melty feeling.

As I finish jotting this down, another movie has been playing. Charlie Barnet just gave way to Ann Miller who, standing by a nightclub version of a navy destroyer's main guns, suddenly breaks out into song, tap and dance..."and when we've lit the torch of liberty, in each blacked out land across the sea, when a man can proudly say 'I'm free', we'll be dancing "The Vict'ry Polka,"... they'll come marching down Fifth Avenue, the United Nations in review, when this lovely dream has all come true, we'll be dancing "The Vict'ry Polka."
We're going to win this one folks.
There's been another twinge in the right shoulder.
Tomorrow is Tuesday.
I'm going to go pour the wine.