11 June 2021

Presenting: Vibes 'N' Stuff -- 52 Years After I Found it, Someone's Lost Jottings

In the early Spring of my sophomore year in high school I was walking on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley’s main downtown street, when I saw a small red notebook on the ground. I picked it up, saw that it was someone’s jottings and further noted there was no way of identifying the person or locating him (it clearly had belonged to a male). I have held onto the notebook for fifty-two years and am today publishing it’s contents verbatim.

In seven days the author managed to give a snippet of the Haight Ashbury and Berkeley, particularly the Telegraph Avenue area. Tis indeed a slice of history and a good representation of the types of people who wandered into and around the Bay Area -- particularly San Francisco and Berkeley -- in the Sixties.

The author called himself Dutch. As you will note he was from New York. I guess that he was in his early twenties although he could have been in his late teens or in his thirties. I still, to this day feel bad that he lost his notebook, an account of his first visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, and that I had no means to locate him. 

I’ve hung on to the notebook giving myself only vague reasons why I should. Within a few years of its discovery, it was already seeming to me to be  an interesting cultural artifact from the Sixties. As it happens I am currently working on a novel set in Berkeley in the Sixties which reminded me of the notebook.

Where is Dutch today? Did he die later that year? Last week? Ten years ago? Or is he alive and well? Did he settle in the Bay Area or go back to New York or somewhere else? Did he continue to use drugs? Did he become an addict? Or did he quit all but alcohol in the coming years?

I transcribed every word of the notebook without editing. Any mistakes in punctuation, spelling or grammar are the original author’s, not mine. ( I also did not subject the reader to a succession of parenthetical "sics.") I did make two minor changes, once he accidentally put ’68 instead of ’69 I fixed that and his misspelling of Berkeley. In any event there wouldn’t have been a lot to change because Dutch was clearly a good writer and his grammar and spelling weren’t bad. Thankfully he also boasted excellent penmanship and I didn’t have to struggle to ascertain so much as a word.

Some questions come up when reading the notebook. Most notably, why was he “kicked out” of the crash pad? He offers no explanation. Maybe it wasn’t worth noting or perhaps he was embarrassed by something he’d done. I'll leave the reader to discover and contemplate other questions that arise

For barely a week’s worth of entries there are a slew of Runyonesque sounding characters, to wit: Jailhouse Mike, Baby Sonny, JC and Weasel. 

I’d love to have discovered a month or more’s worth of Dutch’s writings but then again I’m glad he lost only the one week. (The entries start on a Monday and end the following Sunday). I hope upon the sad discovery of losing the notebook he immediately bought a new one and kept better care of it. Maybe he fashioned his entries into a book. 

So many questions and so much to ponder. Here it is:

Inside cover:

Property of Dutch

“Vibes ’n’ Stuff”

The mental meanderings of a frustrated, paranoid, smoke freak and acid head

24 Mar. ’69

Frisco - first impressions

Hit Frisco today hung around Market st for a while. Too much like Times Square don’t need it.

Wended my way up to Haight. One of my first impressions was that good breathing air is in plentiful supply. Haven’t checked out the whole scene yet but Haight st. is nice. Found a groovy park where everyone seems to while away the daylight hours.

Green, free and groovy. Shirts don’t appear to be mandatory and if the man is around he doesn’t make himself evident kids, dogs and sunshine just the way a park should be…people just grooving on life and living, with congas for background and overhead Hip American’s contributions to the space race, frisbees whirl and dive.

It is good here, I think. I’m going to like it here.

                                              More Goodies

Things are looking up sooner than I had anticipated. Met Cici this afternoon, haven’t seen her since last June in New York she’s just as gorgeous a she ever was. She turned me on to some people who could help me get a place to crash. She tells me I can expect to run into more people from New York and there are more coming.

It is rumored that a coming earthquake will send the Bay Area sliding into the sea. I, for one, feel that it’s probably a good thing. It’s about time San Francisco seceded from the Union, anyhow.

Am now ensconced in a Haight St. coffee, tea and palate delectation emporium called Brother Juniper’s Inn. Place is staffed by young people in monastic garb. Prices are reasonable and there does not appear to be a limit on how long one may mull over a cup of tea, but then I haven’t really tested their tolerance here yet, either. The atmosphere is conducive to thought and discussion, with the strains of classical music echoing gently of the wood paneled walls.

Since I have only just arrived, I haven’t met anyone to sit and discuss things with, I shall have to, for the time being confine my activities to thought and jotting my thoughts down in this here little notebook to pass the time.

Hmm, I may have a guest at my table. I was right. Mayhap something will develop. So far nothing is developing. Well, if this gentleman wishes to remain intellectually deprived, that’s his business. He blew it. He just got up and left. The evening is still young, tho who knows what could happen?

Aha! The chick who works here has been in New York recently. I thought she looked familiar. Let’s see what happens now. 

Hmmm, let’s see now. She used to work in the Gaslight and her old man is still there, he’s a dealer and his name is George. The description gets kind of graphic so I won’t bore you with details.

Well the sleeping arrangements came through so I’ll see you in the morning.

25 March 69

Well the place where I crashed last night is full of gay people which presents a bit of a problem. I think I can handle the hassle if I can get it through Larry’s head (it’s Larry’s pad) that I’m not the least bit interested in his particular scene.

I met a pretty cool dude today. He’s a biker named Jailhouse Mike, Mother’s Mike’s 2nd cousin, a very righteous dude. Want to hear a mindblower? Jailhouse is Baby Sonny’s legal Old Man. Sonny’s in L.A. on the strip and we may trip down there and say hello. Found out something else interesting. While I was checking out the S.F. Switchboard Mail list I discovered the name of one Dominic V. Love. So evidently he’s been here and might even still be here.

26 March 69

Spent the night in the back seat of a friends car. Somehow managed to sit on my shades and smash them all to shit, oh well. Jailhouse turned me on to a Phone Credit Card No. Might as well try it out by trying to call N.Y. and tell people what’s happening.

The Credit Card works but the damn phone didn’t and lost my dime. Oh well I’ll try again some other time. Spent most of the day running around and try to cash Mike’s fuckin Tax return check only problem is it’s a check and trying to cash it is like pulling Lion’s teeth and the lion has bad breath on top of everything else. We did bump into an old friend of Mike’s named Josh and we went over to his place and got turned on to some very groovy people and dinner. We smoked some and then one of the cats had to go to Berkeley so Mike and I went along to check things out. We are now in Berkeley at the Free Church, drinking tea and waiting further developments.

Just went for a walk and couldn’t believe how groovy this place is. I just hope it looks as good in the daylight as it does in the dark. I thought Frisco was nice but this place stands head and shoulders above it, so far. I had better get in touch with Celene and see if I can talk her out here.

27 Mar 69

Approaching the end of my first day in Berkeley and while I didn’t accomplish much I still had a pretty good time. I met a few people and we rapped and got stoned. Stoned shit, I haven’t been so wrecked since I left New York.

Read the War Lover this afternoon to kill time. Not a bad book but the flick was sure different.

Pretty cool scene out here. I can get established I’ll have it made.

28 March 69

Shades of the East Village, spent the night in a crash pad covered with wall to wall people got thrown out and am now ensconced in the same hotel in my own pad, mine and Mike’s.

Checked out Telegraph Ave, called Celene she’s fine and copped some Acid, some purple stuff, good shit.

29 March 69
Well, as you can probably tell from yesterdays final entry I was pretty fucked up when I tried to wrote it. Man, was I ever?! Things were pretty much a hassle last night besides.

Mike and I came home last night with the intention of rapping a while with a biker buddy of Mike’s named Guy, from Detroit and his Buddy, Ray from St. Louis. That part was going along as planned and then there was this rap on the door. I went and checked it out and it was this cat JC from the Free Church telling me about a couple of spaced out needle freaks who needed a place to crash. I wasn’t too hot on the idea at first but then I found that one of the dudes, a cat named Weasel had O.D’d on smack and needed to be off the street but bad so I let them in. We laid Weasel out on the bed so he could crash and then spent the rest of the night in a bullshit session. I crashed for a couple of hours and woke up in time to bid adieu to Weasel and Bill, his buddy, who were setting out to reclaim their stash. Me and Guy rapped for awhile, JC and Ray were gone and Mike was asleep and after a while me and Guy went up on the roof where I was shown scenic points around the Bay Area. Then we decided we’d go up on Telly Ave. and freak on the freaks we did that for a while and I figured I should bop back down to the hotel and catch up on my notes, which I am now doing. In a while I’m going to head up to the Church and see what’s happening. Oh yeah, they had services at the Church last night and it was really great, a dynamite trip. They had a band which was great and Communion and the whole thing was fantastic, especially when you stop to remember that I was tripping through the whole thing.

Am now in the Free Church in the Switchboard Office with Mike. They put on a free feed her tonite, rice beans and potatoes, not bad.

Right now they’ve run everyone out as preparations are being made for a play. This should be interesting. 

The play was funny as hell man, the only thing was, I kept falling out in the middle of it. Finally I went home and crashed.

30 March 69

Went down to the Church early this afternoon, not much happening. Wandered down to Provo Park and dug the band that was playing. They were pretty good and ever body was stoned.

Fucked around some more between the Church and the Ave. It’s getting late and I’m going to make it home in a little while.

08 June 2021

Film Quotes Returns!

Paul Newman in The Verdict

Last Spring I revived the film quotes feature on this blog after seven years of dormancy. Since then I've compiled lists of quotes from foreign films, movies from the 1970s, Marx Brothers movies, Preston Sturges films and  my all-time favorites. In days of yore I had a list strictly from Woody Allen movies, and one with quotes strictly from female characters. Today I present another generic list with quotes from all genre of American films from the 1930s through last year. Enjoy!

Damn right I'm done. I'm going to ask for a mistrial. I'm going to request that you disqualify yourself from sitting on this case. I'm going to take a transcript to the State and ask that they impeach your ass! — Paul Newman as Frank Galvin in The Verdict (1983) Lumet.

I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world. — River Phoenix as Mike in My Own Private Idaho (1991) Van Sant.

It's no use, Schulz, you might as well come clean. Why don't you just tell them it's me, because I'm really the illegitimate son of Hitler, and after the Germans win the war, you're going to make me the Gauleiter of Zinzinnati! — William Holden as Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953) Wilder.

I didn't want to be born. You didn't want me to be born. It's been a calamity on both sides. — Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale in Now Voyager (1942) Rapper.

Here, taste my tuna casserole and tell if I put in too much hot fudge. — Woody Allen as Larry Lipton in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) Allen.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland
We be the bitches of the badlands. — Frances McDormand as Fern in Nomadland (2020) Zhao.

Carriages waited at the curb for the entire performance. It was widely known in New York, but never acknowledged, that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it. — Joanne Woodward as the narrator in The Age of Innocence (1993) Scorsese.

I feel sorry for you. What it must feel like to want to pull the switch! Ever since you walked into this room, you've been acting like a self-appointed public avenger. You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts! You're a sadist! — Henry Fonda as Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men (1957) Lumet.

This country is run on epidemics, where you been? Price fixing, crooked TV shows, inflated expense accounts. How many honest men you know? Why you separate the saints from the sinners, you're lucky to wind up with Abraham Lincoln. Now I want out of this spread what I put into it, and I say let us dip our bread into some of that gravy while it is still hot. — Paul Newman as Hud Bannon in Hud (1963) Ritt.

Now you listen to me. If we lose this place, then you're goin' back to beggin' for every single meal. Mr. Will, They're gonna put you in a state home. And I'm gonna lose what's left of my family. I'm not gonna let that happen. I don't care what it takes. I don't care if it kills me. I don't care if it kills you. I'm not gonna give up. And if the two of you do, you can go straight to Hell! — Sally Field as Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart (1984) Benton.

Micro changes in air density, my ass. -- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien (1979) Scott.

Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman. -- Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) W. Anderson.

Ever since you moved in here you've been causin' me grief. Nobody wants to hang around you. You don't drink, you don't smoke. You don't do anything you're supposed to do! -- Shelly Duval as Millie in Three Women (1977) Altman.

It's for sure a white man's world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I'll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th' ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. Gobbledy-gook! — Ruth Attaway as Louise in Being There (1979) Ashby.

Aww, what's the matter? You afraid I'll tell Jim Morrison you were dancing to Paul Revere & The Raiders? Are they not cool enough for you? — Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Tarantino.

My life is like a maze that I continually think I've gotten out of only to find another corner right in front of me. — Emma Stone as Abigail in The Favorite (2018) Lanthimos.

Oh, and you're ten times worse than he is. At least he had some excuse for kicking me around. He was in love with another woman. But you double-crossed me for the sake of a newspaper. Well, marry the paper and be the proud father of a lot of headlines. — Jean Harlow as Gladys in Libeled Lady (1936) Conway.

Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell's the matter with you? Stupid! We're all very different people. We're not Watusi. We're not Spartans. We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. — Bill Murray as John Winger in Stripes (1981) I. Reitman.

Zero Mostel in The Producers
How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right? -- Zero Mostel as Max Bialystok in The Producers (1967) Brooks.

I've heard a lot about you, too, Doc. You left your mark around in Deadwood, Denver and places. In fact, a man could almost follow your trail goin' from graveyard to graveyard. — Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (1946) Ford.

You go back and tell that fake Svengali I wouldn't wipe my feet on him if he were starving, and I hope he is.— Carole Lombard as Lily Garland in Twentieth Century (1934) Hawks.

You're my father again now, are you? And what were you when you encouraged me to throw my life away? Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men. — Carey Mulligan as Jenny in An Education (2009) Scherfig.

Yes, I'm an author of a young adult series. It's disturbingly popular. I like your decor. Is it, shabby chic? —Charlize Theron as Mavis Gray in Young Adult (2011) J. Reitman.

Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. — Michael Caine as Daniel Dravot in The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Huston.

Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think? Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man that raises him above the other creatures of the earth, the power of his brain to reason? What other merit have we? The elephant is larger, the horse is swifter and stronger, the butterfly is far more beautiful, the mosquito is more prolific. Even the simple sponge is more durable. But does a sponge think? — Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind (1960) Kramer.

Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not Mr. Lebowski. You're Mr. Lebowski. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing. — Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski (1998) Coens.

05 June 2021

Lots Here: Silly Streaming, Act Fast! The Dangers of Telegrams, Please Reply, Nix on the Trespassing, Brit vs. Yank Lingo

Occasionally I pop over to Hulu to watch one of their offerings. First I get the main page which simply has their  name on it. Then I select myself, as opposed to a family member as we all share in the account. Then I get a message asking me to wait “while we gather what’s new.” Huh? Did I catch them by surprise? Were they totally unaware I might pop in on them? They had to hastily get dressed and then go around gathering the new shows and movies they’ve added since my last visit? And I have to cool my heels in the lobby while they do so? I could save them the trouble. I’m rarely interested in “what’s new” and if I am it’s cool if they don’t have it “gathered” for me. If it’s up next time, that’ll be fine. Also, how exactly do they go about “gathering” the new shows? Are they strewn about like wildflowers? Makes no sense to me. Speaking of streaming services, good ole Netflix sent me one of their emails this morning informing me that they had a list of what people in my area are watching. Like I give a fuck. What do they think? I’m going to note that people in my area are watching “Bosco and the Giant Lemmings in the Mystery of the Missing Clavicle Bone” and think, shit if everyone else is watching this IN MY AREA, then I’ve got to check it out. It’s like they’re always telling you “what’s trending.” I don’t want to be left out, I wanna watch what everyone else is into because I don’t have a mind of my own. Even the revered and sophisticated Criterion Channel is now informing viewers what’s “popular now.” Come on Criterion, you’re better than that. Criterion, like a lot of bookstores, has “staff picks.” I’m okay with this. If you work at a bookstore you’re presumably well-read which means your opinions on books at least carry a little bit of weight. Similarly if Criterion employs you, you’re likely a cinephile. If not, lemme know, I am a cinephile and wouldn’t mind a gig there. I just took a look at Netflix’s main page and it raises some questions. In addition to “trending now” there’s “Top Ten in the U.S. Today” and “Popular on Netflix.” Excuse me, but wouldn’t these all be the same fucking thing? 

I regularly receive emails from The New Yorker magazine informing me that I can order x number of months for fifty per cent off. But there’s a catch. I have to act fast!!! The offer expires in x days. I subsequently receive countdowns about this sale right up until it ends. Oh well, I blew it. Didn’t take advantage of this incredible offer. But then….a week or two later there’s a similar offer and when that expires, if I’m patient, there’ll be another and another. I singled out The New Yorker (a very good magazine, by the by) but other publications do the same thing. In actual fact I wish them well, we need a free and vibrant press and especially news outlets and magazines that skew towards the truth. There’s enough slanted news out there these days. But don’t think I’m taken in by these soon-to-expire once-in-a-millennium offers.

Recently I started reading a book called Lincoln on the Verge (it is justifiably called a page-turner as one has to turn the pages to read it — books can be like that). It’s principally about Lincoln’s journey as president-elect from Springfield to Washington D.C. before his inauguration. It was fraught with peril as many, many people preferred the Great Rail Splitter dead. Anyhoo, much is made early in the book about the recent influence on national affairs of the telegraph. Along with the wonderment and joy of being able to spread news and share messages in record time, there were serious concerns about the nature of some of the messages and let us say “fake” news that was being disseminated. Thus this is not the only age in which false narratives and outright lies have been spread by a new form of communication. The more things change….

I should henceforth end emails as follows: “the favor of your reply is requested.” 

Cause, cousin, I ain’t been favored with replies to most emails I’ve sent recently. The vast majority of these have been regarding my book, usually to someone representing an organization. I’d prefer someone write: “buzz off, not interested,” then nothing at all. It’s downright rude to leave a person hanging. It doesn’t take but a few second to reply, “no thanks,” and hit send. Oh I know, people are just so “busy.” No one is that goddamned busy that they can’t send a quick reply. It’s not like I’m being rude or pushy. Usually I’m merely making them aware of the book, offering a quick synopsis and asking if they’d like me to send them a copy. If they like it they can in turn recommend it to their brethren. I don’t expect everyone to come begging for the book. I imagine I’m barking up a lot of wrong trees. But if I am, tell me. Nobody likes the silent treatment.

I don’t understand “no trespassing” signs. For one thing, how do they work? Do potential trespassers see them and say, “shoot, better not trespass here, they don’t allow it.” And what about us non-trespassers? If there’s no such sign on someone’s property, do some among us figure, “no sign here, guess I’m free to trespass.” In a few rural areas I’ve seen signs that read, “absolutely no trespassing.” This seems to suggest that at other places there’s some wiggle room about trespassing but not on the “absolutely no” properties. In any event, I think I’ll continue my decades long policy of not trespassing (self-imposed since the end of my drinking days. You don’t wanna know).

You’ve doubtless noticed the differences in British and American English. Car boot or trunk of car. Elevator or lift. Chips or fries. Some of it is spelling and while I have no trouble with the British spelling, sometimes the differences are silly. Why the u, for example, in humour? Why the s at the end of math? But the worst is how they spell tons. Tonnes. Come on! Two n’s and a superfluous e. That’s going too far.But among the many things I prefer about British methods, practices and modes, is their sports coverage. I watch a lot of English football (soccer to you Yanks) and the difference between English sports announcers and commentators is as a very bright day versus a very dark night. There is so much more sophistication and erudition on the other side of the pond. There is none of the “gee whiz ain’t we stupid” false modesty and hominess that aw shucks, Americans foist on us. 

While Americans will say: “they’re trying to tie this sucker up.” The English might utter, “they’re looking to get back on level terms.” More examples:

American: it was two-to-one Chicago when these two teams met here last season.

English: Arsenal scored the odd goal in three in last season’s corresponding fixture.

American: Johnson has been on fire recently.

English: Johnson has been very much the man in form.

American: The crowd is going crazy.

English: Boisterous scenes here at the Emirates.

American: They sure screwed up on that one.

English: A shocking defensive lapse.

02 June 2021

It's Time Again for that Beloved Feature, I Look at the Day's Headlines

Olivio Rodrigo's album debuted at number one

Last Summer I started printing headlines from various news sources and writing comments about them that were either pithy, snarky, wise or brilliantly on point (or a combination thereof). The response was so overwhelming (thank you, Brutus Lancelot of Midnight, Mississippi) that I have made this is a regular feature -- to enthusiastic acclaim. Here then is the latest edition of this critically-acclaimed monthly feature.

From the New York Times:

Disputing Racism’s Reach, Republicans Rattle American Schools

Yes, those unrepentant bigots on the right want to pretend that slavery wasn't so bad, that Jim Crow was an okay guy, if you got to know him and that institutional racism is a liberal fantasy. In other words they want to re-write history to make white people seem pretty okay after all. When I was a wee lad history classes glossed over such unpleasantries such as slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and the mistreatment and exploitation of immigrants -- particularly those of color. In my later high school years and then in college and through my own reading I began to get a fuller picture of the land of the free and the home of the brave. A new correct version of American history is being taught in schools and to borrow from a popular film, Republicans can't handle the truth. The right is doing a lot (see voter suppression laws) to sadden and anger intelligent people these days and this is one of their worst moves.

Biden Suspends Drilling Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Good. Reversing some of the heinous acts of the Trumpy years is one of the most important things Biden can do. The previous administration's disregard for wildlife and our natural beauty in favor of moneyed interests is one legacy that cannot be allowed to last. You go, Joe!

Biden Assigns Harris Another Difficult Role: Protecting Voting Rights

It may be difficult but it is absolutely essential and the Veep very much needs to rise to the occasion. The right is serious about subverting democracy via voter suppression laws. It is obvious to any simpleton that conservatives do not speak for the majority of Americans, they do not have a message that resonates so the only way they can win elections is by limiting who votes. It is also glaringly obvious that they are trying to limit African American votes because, of course, they're racists.

From the BBC:

Florida bans transgender athletes from female sports

Because in addition to being racists, the modern conservative is homophobic. They're all about straight, white people (no Jews, please) having all the power and all the access. Seriously, fuck those people.

Xi Jinping calls for more 'loveable' image for China in bid to make friends

This would be rib-ticklingly funny were it not for the horrible record of human right's abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government. This is a country that inhibits freedom of religion, has no tolerance for its LGBTQ community, does not tolerate dissent either in the press of via assemblage. They want to seem soft and cuddly? Try acting it.

Fears of environmental disaster as oil-laden ship sinks off Sri Lanka

Oh for the love of God....

From CNN:

Pelosi floats Democrat-led probe into January 6 after GOP derails outside commission

By all means. Let's get something done here. Republicans are afraid of the truth, especially when it will doubtless reflect negatively on some of its members. Let's get to the bottom of the attempted coup and punish the guilty. We can let this happen again.

Anheuser-Busch to give away free alcohol if US hits Biden's goal of 70% of adults with at least one Covid vaccine shot by July 4

That should be incentive for a lot of the reluctant to get their vaccination. Apparently giving free donuts and lottery tickets to induce people to get their shots has worked. Whatever it takes. Let's get over the seventy per cent target by July 4th and really get into some normal.

A hiker died after falling 500 feet from a mountain summit in California's Sequoia National Park

A few stories below this was this headline: "A missing hiker has been found dead after an apparent fall near Telluride, Colorado." These are not uncommon types of stories. Recently three hikers fell to their deaths in Yosemite Park. Here's a thought: if you're going to hike in areas with high peaks, deep chasms and slippery waterfalls, BE CAREFUL. I mean a lot more careful than many folks are. People who are dying while hiking are not only losing their own life but they are leaving behind widows, fatherless children, bereaved parents, devastated friends and on and on. This may seem harsh, but that's a dumb goddamned way to die.

Olivia Rodrigo's 'Sour' debuts at the top of the chart

I don't anything about her or her music but by including this story I get to use the picture of a pretty girl in this post. (I hear she's a really nice person and a helluva talent.)

From the Washington Post:

To build a crowd for a pro-Trump rally, Nevada GOP consultant sought help from Proud Boys

Of course they did. And look at who you're in bed with here. The fucking Proud Boys, a bunch of brain dead bigots. What a sad state of affairs and doesn't it tell you something about your "cause" when you need help drumming up people to show up to your event, even one supporting a former president of the United States, if a disgraced one.

Republicans aren’t ‘looking forward.’ They’re stepping into a Jim Crow past.

No kidding. Since even before the days of Reagan they've longed for the good ole days of white picket fences, gays in the closet, blacks "in their place" and the levers of power controlled by old white men who bend over backwards to support big business. 

Arizona plans to execute prisoners with a lethal gas the Nazis used at Auschwitz

You cannot possibly make this stuff up. 

31 May 2021

Lots of Cool Things in One Post Like, What's a Start-up? And Asking People What They Do For a Living and Sunglasses and Walt Whitman

Yours truly wearing new shades, mentioned below.

“He’s working for a start-up.”

“What is it starting up?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said it was a start-up, but not what it's starting up.”

“I don’t know, for sure. I think it’s a non-profit.”

“So he’s got a new job at a new place that isn’t making money.”


“Cool beans.”

I’ve heard this one before. Someone you know of got a new job at a start-up. You’re not told what the person does nor what kind of enterprise is. I find this weird. Supposedly it’s enough to know that it’s a new business.

When I was working at a newspaper in the seventies I was at a gathering at which someone I barely knew and hadn’t seen in awhile asked what I was doing. I said working at a newspaper. He asked, “what outfit?”  That’s the last time I heard the word “outfit” used to describe a place of work. It was odd even then because the person who said it was about my age. The only people still saying “outfit” back then were older people.

Before my time people used to ask, “what line are you in?” This referred to your line of work. Don’t hear it anymore. In movies from the thirties people use the word “racket” which presumably means that people in “real life” used the term back then as well. Usually — at least in films — racket referenced something illegal or shady. But not always.

Of course asking people what they “do for a living” is a common question upon meeting them for the first time. It’s a natural conversation starter. But not in all societies. Some cultures consider it rude to ask a veritable stranger what kind of work they do.

When you do find out what someone does it’s only natural to use that information to start coloring some things in about the individual. A lot of people have lower opinions of those in certain professions. Some people don’t like lawyers, or cops or United States senators. Also, some jobs are more intriguing than others. Meeting an accountant and meeting an actor are two very different things. You generally don’t have a lot of follow-up questions for an accountant. (Maybe if it’s near April, you’ll say, “busy time for you, I guess.”) But you’re bound to ask an actor if they’re in movies, TV or theater. Based on what they say you could have a million more questions. Or not. Depends on what they’ve been in and your level of interest in acting.

As a teacher I always get: “what do you teach?”  When I was teaching middle school I occasionally got questions as to my sanity or was offered sympathy or lauded for my bravery. Inasmuch as I’ve got two novels out I’m going to henceforth say that I’m a writer. I’ll be asked, “what do you write?” Or in some cases, not. I’ll watch as eyes glaze over when I go into great detail about my novels. Fun.

It’s always interesting to note that some people don’t ask follow-up questions. You could say that you’re an astronaut and in reply get, “nice.” Or you could tell someone you lead expeditions in search of rare flora and fauna in New Guinea and receive in response, “interesting.” 

When I was a newspaper reporter a few people — younger ones — actually asked if I got paid for writing. I could never figure that out. No one asks a carpenter if they get paid for building houses or shelves. 

Not to change the subject (which is precisely what I’m doing) but yesterday the missus and I went in search of a new pair sunglasses (for me) at a place called the Sunglass Hut. The store was small so calling it a hut is appropriate. Plus they carry sunglasses so that’s two-for-two. Upon entering we were introduced to the person who would be helping us “today.” I both find it strange and nice that we were immediately on a first name basis with Robert. (Something can be both strange and nice, I looked it up.) He laid down the ground rules for us and then let us free range around the store. He hovered, but not obtrusively. Robert was fastidious, friendly, polite and, like of sales people in your better clothing and accessories stores, gay. (How do I know? Come on!) I’m not going to get into a thing here about how gay men tend to make the best salespeople, they just do. And if someone wants to accuse me of homophobia or stereotyping…well, they say it’s a free country, so have at it. But I’m not going to waver on this one. Facts is facts. I can also say that a higher percentage of lesbians play sports than straight women and know I’m speaking the truth and in no way belittling my gay brothers and sisters. 

I found a suitable pair of aviator-style which the wife said make me look like Joe Biden. I guess I could have done worse. 

The better half then went into a clothing shop and I slipped into a bookstore and accidentally bought a book (happens to me all the time). Then we stopped to get a bite to eat. In truth there were a helluva lot of bites involved. We  ate inside an establishment. Last week we dined out, but had our meal under the sun. It’s nice to start gradually getting out more and doing what are called “normal” or “pre-pandemic” activities. It’s also nice to walk outside without a mask on. I like it when things are nice. I prefer when things are fantastic or stupendous or absolutely super, but I’ll settle for things being nice. 

Upon returning home I watched a film. Gotta be true to you.

I will now conclude this blog post by wishing one and all a terrific Walt Whitman’s birthday. That is why today’s a holiday — isn’t it? Or is it because today is Aida Valli’s birthday? Both? Either way suits me.

P.S. If during the last paragraph you said, "who's Aida Valli?" see me after class. If you also asked "who's Walt Whitman?" we're sending you back to the third grade.

P.P.S. It's also Rainer Werner Fassbinder's birthday. Like the previous two, he's "no longer with us" (i.e. dead).

27 May 2021

The Unfunny Business of Describing Funny Movies, Plus the Difficulty of Creating Great Comedies, Plus Ten Greats From Ten Different Decades

Andy left Jorma right with Jimmy Fallon doing the Donkey Roll

"We'd like to get to the point where Connor is everywhere, like oxygen or gravity or clinical depression." -- From Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping

Yesterday I watched Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) Taccone/Schaffer for the third time and immediately wanted to write about it. But then the conundrum: How the hell do you write about comedy? It is — pun intended — seriously difficult. 

For the sake of argument let’s say you consider Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972) to be absolutely hilarious. What do you say? 

"I laughed a lot."

"It was really funny."

"I laughed so hard I cried."

"There were endless sight gags, screamingly funny prat falls, jokes aplenty, unparalleled satire."


It equates to a "you had to be there" situation.

(By the way, Cries and Whispers, a film I revere, is certainly the least funny movie ever made.)

To convey how funny a movie is, you have to give examples. But there are many problems associated with this approach. First of all, how do you describe slapstick so that the humor comes across? You sound like a ten-year old. “There was this really funny part where they threw pies at each other.” 

You can repeat some of the one-liners but can you deliver them like Groucho Marx? Because if you can't (and you can’t, trust me) then they lose some of their zing — I mean, most of their zing. How do you describe the antics of Chaplin’s Little Tramp? For example the boxing scene in City Lights (1931) Chaplin. You can’t do it justice. Also a lot of humor is surprise. It’s funny because you weren’t expecting it. Which leads to another issue, if you discuss the funny bits in a movie you’re giving away a lot of humor that people should discover for themselves. To really describe a comedy you have to give a lot away. Nobody wants that.

Describing what makes you laugh is like describing an orgasm. Try that. Here, I’ll give it a go:

“Upon ejaculation I felt really good.” 

Doesn't capture the moment, does it?

How about “it was ecstasy.” 

Yeah, it probably was, but what’s that like? 

From Pop Star
You might as well try to explain to someone who has never had a strawberry what strawberries taste like. “They’re fruity!” Or: “they’re kind of like raspberries but different.” Do tell.

How do you describe the manner in which  Gold Rush, makes you laugh? “There’s a scene where Chaplin makes potatoes dance.” Yeah? And? 

See what I'm saying?

Again this was inspired by my third viewing of Pop Star. I laughed more than the previous two times I saw it, the mark of a great comedy. (I now feel obligated to tell you that the three stars and writers of the film, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaeffer, were all students of mine when I taught middle school. See this post from last Summer about hanging with Jorma in a park.) Great comedies aren't just funny the first time, they stay funny and can even get funnier. Not sure how that works -- but it does.

When I set out to write about Pop Star I was struck by how clever it is. It’s a brilliant satire on…well, a lot of things. The modern music industry, celebrity culture, consumerism and friendship. It is also at times very silly. Silly, when done right, can be hilarious. Silly, when not done right, can be an absolute bore.

You've got to be smart to get silly just right. Indeed if you pay attention you'll notice that virtually all great comedians and comedy writers are intelligent people. 

Something just occurred to me that I’m going to insert here. Humor is subjective. I suppose there are some people who don’t find Groucho Marx funny (I hope never to meet such an individual). I may shock some of you by stating that I’ve never found Laurel and Hardy particularly funny and to me W.C Fields is tedious. Most comedy films made in the last forty years leave me cold. (Does Adam Sandler appeal to anyone over fourteen?) So you can recommend a comedy film to someone and they may not dig it at all. Different strokes. Comedy that appeals to a broad audience is rare. That's what made Chaplin a genius.

(Here I diverge to the topic of how difficult comedy is to do, never mind write about.)

Comedy is hard to do in films. In a sit com you’re trying fill about twenty-two minutes with laughs, in a movie you’re looking for ninety minutes worth of chuckles. Plus with a sitcom you’ve already established characters, setting and common scenarios. Making a succession of comedy films that are all funny is nigh on impossible. Look at some of the masters. Chaplin did it for a long time with one and two reelers that lasted from a quarter to a half an hour. When he did features he was taking several years to make them. He had a nearly perfect record but wasn't cranking out one a year. The Marx Brothers made six great comedies right out of the gate but after that the laughs were fewer and farther between. Woody Allen has probably made as many or more great comedies as anyone over fifty years but he’s mixed in some serious films as well. 

Chaplin and potatoes in Gold Rush
The Monty Python troupe had an impressive run on their television series and with a few movies, but they burned out. Comedy is hard work. When writing humor pieces I usually find that the first few funny bits pop right out, then I have to give the next few a good think. Later it's like pulling teeth. I've scrapped a lot because it wasn't worth the investment of time. (It's not like anyone is paying me.)

Comedies rely almost totally on good writing. A bad script for any film is impossible to overcome. In comedy especially. Of course you’ve got to have a good director. It doesn’t even need to be a director whose done a lot of comedy. Alfred Hitchcock directed one screwball comedy and it was one of the best of all time, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). 

Howard Hawks directed some of our greatest comedies (His Girl Friday (1940), Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938)) but also directed westerns, gangster films, war pictures and anything else you can name. 

Billy Wilder directed a passel of good comedies but he was working with scripts that he co-wrote. 

Many directors exclusively do comedies and only a few of them are really good at it. Mel Brooks comes to mind. Sam Wood was pretty consistent as was Leo McCarey. Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis had a lot of success too. But many of the worst comedies are cranked out by hacks who can’t seem to get it right. Many of these make money but they don’t add to the culture as they're rife with predicable bits, toilet humor and the over done man-getting-hit-in-the-groin. They're quickly forgotten.

Mike Mysers produced what I consider a masterpiece of comedy with the first Austin Powers film. His second Powers movie was not quite as good and the third was a dog. That's a reflection on how difficult it is.

Preston Sturges wrote and directed seven of our great comedies (highlighted by The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels both in 1941) in a five-year span from 1940-1944 and that, folks, was that. Nothing after.

Comedies also rely on the right actors and they don’t have to be people who deal exclusively or mostly in comedy. "Serious actors" have appeared in very funny films and been part of what made them good. Jack Lemmon, Robert DeNiro, Henry Fonda, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn all graced hilarious films. If you can act, you can act funny.

Of course there are actors who have regularly graced comedies. Cary Grant, William Powell, Carole Lombard, Gene Wilder, John Belushi, Seth Rogen, Bill Murray and Catherine O’Hara, to name but a few.

Catherine O'Hara reminds me of the Christopher Guest troupe which had a great run of comedies such as Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003). But there's been nothing new for years.

Groucho Marx in Duck Soup
(It appears that in some respects I’ve disproven my point. I’ve been able to write about funny films. Of course this hasn’t been terribly funny and I’ve mentioned films, directors and actors without giving any examples of how they tickle the ribs.)

Comedy is hit or miss for everyone involved. The writer, director and certainly the audience. There's little worse than watching a movie for laughs and getting nary a chuckle out of it. It takes a brave person to even try it.  Thankfully there are  talented souls who love getting a laugh and are willing to work at it. When it works they've made us laugh and laughter is one of the greatest gifts you can provide.The next most difficult thing to making a good comedy is writing about it. But I tried.

My Ten Favorite Comedies From Each of the Ten Preceding Decades

Twenties: The Gold Rush (1925) Chaplin

Thirties: Duck Soup (1933) McCarey

Forties: His Girl Friday (1940) Hawks

Fifties: Some Like it Hot (1959) Wilder

Sixties: The Producers (1967) Brooks

Seventies: Manhattan (1979) Allen

Eighties: Arthur (1981) Gordon

Nineties: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) Roach

Oughts: Mean Girls (2004) Waters

Tens: Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) Taccone/Schaffer