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.