11 September 2019

I'm About to Have a Procedure, I'm Writing Another Novel, I'm Teaching and I Rant About Films


I'm hungry. And thirty. My colonoscopy is scheduled for just under three hours from now. I haven't had  anything to eat since 1:30 yesterday and my last sip of water was over an hour ago. I'm also tired because my sleep was interrupted by trips to the toilet and I had to get up at 5:00 to drink a batch of the liquid -- tastes like cherry cola -- that cleans out the intestines. This my second colonoscopy. The first was ten years ago. Like that one, today's will include an endoscopy. Of course a patient is out the entire time so there's never any sensation of an object going down one's mouth or up the area where the sun don't shine. Thank god for that. It's one of those deals were you go on and put yourself in the hands of professionals. In that sense there's nothing to it. I've maintained excellent physical health all my life and am hoping that in the aftermath of today's procedures it'll be another case of no news is good news.

Did I mention that I'm working on another novel? The damn thing is just writing itself. It started as a short story but kept on going. I sit down put my fingers on the keyboard and the magic happens.  Weird how that works. Walking to the gym or work I'll find myself thinking about it and creating scenes or dialogue, some of which I end up using and some of which I don't. Meanwhile I've got another book that is in the hands (more accurately it is in the emails) of agents and publishers. So far two have said "thanks but no thanks." All I need is for one to say, "yes, please." The novel I sent out late last Winter has now officially been rejected by everyone I sent it to and it is in the shop for repairs. I think I can make something of it yet but it'll have to wait until I finish my newest venture.

I've been teaching one class a morning (Monday through Friday) since the beginning of June at a school walking distance from my humble abode.  It is a very small school but students are just as wonderful. Teaching ESL has restored my faith in humanity. To see all these people from different countries getting along so well, making life long friends, helping one another, sharing adventures and being good classmates helps offset the horrors that emerge from the daily new cycle. It's been over eight years of teaching ESL and of course I still face the same kind of mistakes. Spanish-speakers who use the word "history" to describe what we call a story. Brazilians (and others to a lesser extent) who pronounce ever word ending in ed with the hard ED sound as if the endings of the words ended and danced were pronounced the same. Apparently they were in days of yore. But now of course we give the t sound ending to words like danced, laughed, hoped and the straight d ending to words like pulled, called and cried. Students from all over the world want to constantly use the word moment. (I've not idea where this comes from.) As in: "in this moment I am thinking about going to a university." I am forever writing the word moment on the board, drawing a circle around it and then a diagonal line through it. Students also say yesterday night, ask "how can I spell this word?" say that a person has 24 years instead of is 24, say all the people instead of everybody and say make a party instead of have a party. And yes I could go on and on. Same stuff over and over and I really don't mind correcting them, it's my job and I enjoy watching them improve.

Sunday after watching Federico Fellini’s La Strada, I wondered if filmmakers who saw the movie when it was released automatically threw up their arms and said, “well, shit, we can’t do anything near as good as that, we might as well give up.” It would have been an understandable reaction. It's a a damned great film. But movies have continued to be made and Fellini himself equaled or bettered La Starada a few times with such classics as Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vta, 81/2 and Amarcord. Others have persisted in making movies with considerably less success. For example there have been eight Fast and Furious movies (really, I looked it up) and there’s a ninth scheduled for release next year. This proves the old adage that if you can’t beat ‘em, join em and if you can’t join em, make some really awful shit that you can foist upon a public that doesn’t know good art from an Nintendo. Really, there have been eight of those goddamned movies and more coming. Never underestimate....

Those geniuses at Hollywood have become grand masters at developing a franchise (this is not to be confused with the actual art form of making an original film) and cranking out an endless stream of movies from it, most of which are sequels but some are prequels, still others are reboots along with the eventual spin offs. These movies even have their own “universes” such as the Marvel universe. Gawd.

People eat this crap up. They start dining on it at a young age and become addicted. It's like that chain pizza like Domino's that is heavily salted so that people crave it. Many film goers have no experience seeing movies made by the likes of Fellini or Bergman or Tarkovsky or Malle. (Like some people have no experience eating really good pizza.) They also have never seen anything made prior to Star Wars and very little from around that time period (late seventies) that isn’t also in the action/adventure genre. Of course people who flock to their local cineplexes to be bombarded by surround sound and special effects, occasionally take in other types of films such as raunchy or romantic comedies or raunchy romantic comedies.

So there you have it. I started off writing about my colonoscopy (now two and half hours away) then had a nice bit about teaching and finally another angry tirade about the current state of cinema. Pretty typical for me.

If you don't hear a report from me about the procedure just remember that no news is good news.

28 August 2019

Reflections on Dog Day Afternoon and Some of My Usual Miscellany


Midway through Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny (Al Pacino) says: "I’m a fuck up and an outcast and that’s it." Yes, yes he was. But he had the attention of New York city that night. His story was carried live on TV as he held bank employees hostage and waited for his demands -- an airplane to take him and his partner (John Cazale) to Algeria. Sonny got more than his 15 minutes of fame and it was loud and brash and splashy and the residue of that day (August 22, 1972) kept him in the news until his death, just as the film has kept his memory alive onto this day.

It is Sidney Lumet's direction of the brilliant film and Al Pacino's bravura performance that will ensure that Sonny lives forever -- or at least until the effects of global warming drown humanity for good and all. 

Today was perhaps my sixth or seventh or maybe even eighth viewing of the film, the first one was when it first hit the silver screen in 1975. Today during the famous cinematic moment when Pacino's Sonny starts chanting "Attica!" I actually and truly got choked up. It is not a sentimental moment by any stretch but it is a moment of cinematic virtuosity that confirms Dog Day's place among America's pantheon of great films. At that point in the film Pacino was in the midst of giving one of cinema's greatest portrayals. His Sonny is the ultimate loser -- or fuck up and outcast -- a man who robs a bank to fund his wife Leon's (Chris Sarandon) sex change operation. As the story unfolds Leon is in a mental hospital, driven their in part by Sonny's erratic behavior. His other wife is an obese woman who has born him two children. She loves Sonny but has also been plagued by the mercurial Sonny. We also meet Sonny's mother who loves her son unconditionally but partially expresses her love by hectoring him.

So why did I get choked up, really? Great art, which film can achieve, is moving. Two great artists -- Pacino and Lumet -- had combined (with the not insignificant help of cast and crew) to transcend movie-making and created something not just memorable as a meme, but illustrative of the masterpiece they had created. It touched me.

Sonny is astute about a lot of things in the course of the robbery and hostage situation, including bank procedures. When the limo comes to take him and partner and the hostages to the airport, Sonny wisely surrounds himself with the hostages as they leave the bank, not leaving himself to be a target for the innumerable police sharp shooters. But he can't win in the end. The Sonnys never do. His swagger, his antics, his sensitivity, his patience, his cunning are not enough to make up for the central core of what he is, "a fuck up and an outcast and that’s it." However, unlike most losers he gained infamy without opprobrium. 

I wrote about Dog Day Afternoon five years ago, including the story of how my wife met the real Sonny.

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Speaking of Dog Day Afternoon, there are no actual dogs in the film. There are no cats in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There is no lion in The Lion in Winter. There are no horses in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? There is no elephant in Gus Van Sandt's Elephant. There is no tiger in Save the Tiger. There are, however, lots of Birds in the movie of the same name.

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I had a medical appointment this morning scheduled for 9:45. Two days prior I received a courtesy call from the office reminding me of the appointment, but also telling me to arrive 30 minutes early to fill out paperwork Why was the appointment made for 9:45 if I was supposed to be there at 9:15? When not just make the appointment for 9:15 in the first place? Here's the kicker: the paperwork took me less than five minutes and checking in and making my co-payment consumed about two minutes. I didn't even need to get there ten minutes early, let alone 30. I'm old enough neither to be surprised nor frustrated by any of this.

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I'm currently going through withdrawals as I have stopped taking (after tapering off) the medication that ostensibly was a mood stabilizer that would keep mean, nasty old depression from bothering me. Suffice to say that this magic elixir did nothing of the kind and joins the pantheon of meds I've taken to brighten my mood that have had zero effect. For all I know some of them have made things worse. Anyway I've been having to put up with brain zaps which is one of the hardest phenomenon I've ever tried to explain. The best I can do is say that they're like little electric shocks to the brain. They don't really cause any problems or prevent me from doing anything, but they are an awful nuisance. Other withdrawal symptoms for this particular drug include: "agitation, anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, headache, insomnia, irritability, itchiness, mood swings, muscle spasms, nausea, panic attacks, sleep changes, suicidal thoughts, vomiting, vivid dreams and weight changes." The only ones I've had besides the brain zaps are vivid dreams and depression although I have vivid dreams and depression pretty much as a matter of course (never together) so they are not necessarily associated with going off the drug. Trust me, the brain zaps are enough.
I love science.

16 August 2019

All About Curtis -- A Wife Talks About Her Husband...In the Aftermath

“Curtis likes to have sex pretty much every other night. Sometimes we’ll do it in the afternoon too, usually on weekends. I wouldn’t say he was a sex addict or nothing. Hell, I like to do it about as much as he does. He says the reason he likes to fuck a lot is 'cause he was in the military for four years — he was fightin’ in Afghanistan, ya know — and there was a lot of that time when he wasn’t getting any.


“He’s pretty conventional about sex, no rough stuff or kinky stuff, just all pretty straight forward which is fine by me. I’ve been with guys who like to do all kinda weird shit and while that might be fun for a change every now and again, I’m just has happy to have regular intercourse. Curtis don’t even like to talk during sex nor afterwards, not that he talks a lot at all. And outside of sex he isn’t much for affection. Never holds my hand or nothin’ but he does give me a quick kiss goodbye when he heads for work.

“Curtis, he’s been working for three years now at the truck garage. He don’t mind the work and the money’s good. There are some fellas there he gets along with okay and a few he’ll have beers with after work. He especially likes to have beers on a Friday and sometimes will get home as late as eight o’clock or even nine. He’ll be drunk but not real sloppy drunk. I don’t mind. He earns it and I’m pretty darn sure he don’t cheat and never would. After all he gets all the sex he wants outta me and I’m not a bad cook and keep the house real clean. Curtis ain’t really the type to cheat no way.

“I worked for the first two years we were married as a checker at the local supermarket but when Curtis got his promotion and raise at the garage why he said I could quit working if I wanted to and I figured why not. Being a checker is okay work but I’d druther stay at home. I guess the way things are now I’ll have to go back to working at the grocery store if they still have any checker jobs after the way they started automating so much.

“You asked about hobbies. Curtis tried golf once or twice but didn’t care for it. He found it kinda boring, he said. Curtis had played football in high school — he was a linebacker and made all league — and sometimes says he misses playing. There’s a garage softball team that Curtis plays on. I go watch the games. Seems Curtis always either strikes out or hits a home run. They put him in right field, which he don’t like, but I guess he weren’t no good at fielding. We bowled a few times but that was mostly just a chance to socialize and drink beers though the truth is that Curtis has never been what you’d call a very social person. He is as polite a man as you’ll ever meet and especially to mom and my sister and anyone else in my family.

“Anyway I don’t think you could say Curtis has any real hobbies. He does like watching TV and movies, mostly action stuff. He’ll watch one of the comedies I like every so often but they rarely make him chuckle. He don’t never like watching the news, says it just makes him mad. Curtis don’t trust politicians and says they’re all a bunch of crooks and they don’t care nothing for regular people, just want to make as much money for themselves as they can or take our money and give it to lazy poor people and immigrants.

“I don’t know what all he does on the internet. He spends an hour or two most nights at the computer but never talks about what he looks at or does and I don’t pry. Ya see Curtis is a real private person, even with me, which I don’t mind. I come from a family of gabbers. Why each person in my family be it mom, or my sister or my dearly departed father or grandma or any of my aunts or uncles or cousins loves to talk and you can can hardly get a word in edgewise at family get-togethers. On Thanksgiving and at Christmas everyone is fighting to talk next. The only thing that shuts up a person in my family is eating. So it’s nice that Curtis is just the opposite. I don’t need to hear his opinion on every little thing or for him to tell me every last detail about what happens at work or hear boring stories about when he was a kid. It’s nice to sit with Curtis and just be kind of quiet. Course I take after the rest of my family and chatter away but Curtis don’t seem to mind, least he never says nothin.’

“So about his childhood and upbringing I don’t know a whole lot. His parents divorced when he was a kid, I think nine maybe eight, I’m not sure exactly. He mostly lived with his mom and his little brother and big sister. I don’t know that anything so special happened in his childhood. His dad lived in the same town and would take him fishing and when he got to be a teenager his dad would take him hunting and he kind of liked that. Like I say he played football in school and once told me he was never much of a student though he never did flunk a class neither. I asked him once did he ever get in any kind of trouble in school and he said only little stuff like once getting in a fight and a few times for playing pranks but he made a point to say that as boring as school was he never cut a class and didn’t show up late. Curtis is always on time for everything. It can drive ya nuts that he’s ready to go 15 minutes before you need to leave the house and gets all impatient if you ain’t ready to leave when he is. There’s worse habits though.

“From what I remember from what Curtis said there was a year between him graduating high school and going into the military. Curtis, he didn’t go to college and only would have if he’d gotten a football scholarship which I guess he wasn’t good enough for. The local community college coach wanted him for the team real bad but Curtis didn’t think it was worth it to play football for some dumb junior college and have to take boring classes to be eligible. He tried a few jobs but didn’t care for them. I know one was working at a filling station and I think another was custodial work. So he joined the army. He did tours in Afghanistan I guess he saw some awful stuff but he won’t go in no detail about it to me. I’m pretty sure he shot some of the enemy, at least he shot at them. He said he hated being there but when he’d get back home he wanted to go back. That was always just so weird to me. I mean how could you wanna go back to a place you hated being at? But that’s what Curtis said.

“He was finally discharged and it was right after that when I met him. We was both in the same bar. He’d only been out the army a couple of days. He was sitting at a bar stool and I hadn’t even really noticed him when I accidental bumped into him. I said “excuse me.” At first he looked real irritated then the all of sudden smiled and said ‘why I don’t guess I mind being jostled by such a pretty girl.’ So then we got to talking and I guess I was flirting with him’ cause he was a handsome fella and still is. He was a real gentleman and didn’t try nothing but we made a date for the next Friday. We’ve been together ever since. Just hit it off and all. He’s four years older’n me but that don’t amount to much. I was 21 when we met. We married almost exactly a year after we met. We don’t never fight. Oh sometimes I’ll pout about something like a lot of girls do and sometimes Curtis he’ll get a little pissed off about something. He’s hit me just a few times but never too hard and I can tell he’s felt real bad afterwards.

“I’d say overall Curtis has been a real good husband although I guess cause of what happened the other day it’s all in the past now. I’ve been talking like we’re still together but the most that’ll happen from now on is me visiting him. I just know deep in my heart that I can’t do that for very long. I love Curtis but ya know it has occurred to me that he’s not the love of my life. I’m going to have to move on and meet my one true love. Someone who will want to have children. Curtis never did want kinds and it made me sad. 



“It was awful what happened and I’m sorry for everyone and their loss and I’m just as shocked as everybody else that Curtis would do such a God awful thing. Those poor people and the families, my God. There weren’t no signs that he was like that or would even think of doing such a thing. But it works out for me in a strange way because like I said I’ll get to meet someone else who’ll be better for me and I can have a regular family. How'd it ever have worked out in the long run with him not wanting kids? I don't know what I was thinking.

“One other thing, I never knowed that Curtis even had an AK-47. He musta kept in his truck. It’d raised some questions for me if I’d ever seen it. He kept a pistol in the house and one in the glovebox of the truck for protection and he even taught me how to use ‘em but the rifle I knew nothing about and I'll swear to you on that.

“I’m sorry if I’ve gone on too much or too long or whatever but you said you wanted to know all about him and also like I said earlier I come from a family of talkers. You have any more questions I’ll do my best. I really doubt though that I can give you any help in figuring why Curtis done when he did. Maybe he’ll talk about it some day. I doubt it. But maybe.

“That stupid son of a bitch.”

08 August 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Other Excellent Films that Evoke the Sixties


Among its other virtues, Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, meticulously recreates Los Angeles in 1969. Tarantino has always been obsessive about details and never more so than in Once Upon a Time. Shooting in 35mm Tarantino here uses light, colors and palettes to suffuse Once Upon a Time with a sense of place. He is also a director who perfectly utilizes contemporary music (ala Martin Scorsese) as he did in Jackie Brown. In Once Upon a Time it is not just the songs that imbue the film with a sense of period, but the use of AM radio and its chatter and commercials. Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times wrote of Once Upon a Time: “Things like character moments and quirks of personality as well as detailed specifics of popular culture, whether they be from film, TV, music or commercials, are not window dressing to pass the time until the plot kicks in; they are the essential reason “Once Upon a Time” exists.” So if you want to know what 1969 looked and felt like in California and particularly LA, you couldn’t do better than this film.

In his best films (Inglourius Basterds, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown) Tarantino doesn’t so much tell a story as invite us into one. They are escapes into a different time and place among some wonderfully eccentric and fully realized characters. When the credits rolled after Once Upon a Time I felt as if I was waking up from a perfectly vivid dream in which the reality of past events (as in Basterds) had been happily perverted. This is not surprising as there is a dream like quality to Once Upon a Time with its muted colors and surreal vignettes. Speaking of which, the scene in which the fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) chats with an earnest and precocious 8 year old co-star (Julia Butters) was for me a highlight of the film. Also Margaret Qualley as Manson girl, Pussycat looks, talks and acts like so many young women I saw and often lusted after in my youth. Casting is everything in Tarantino's better films from the extras to the leads. Margot Robbie was an excellent choice to play Sharon Tate and is a joy to watch whether she is dancing and ironing to Paul Revere and the Raiders or watching herself in a movie (the real Sharon Tate is on screen) or being squired around by Roman Polanski. DiCaprio and co star Brad Pitt are letter perfect as two buddies (Pitt plays Dalton’s stuntman) who are clearly misplaced in the emerging counter culture but through perspiration and inspiration survive and prosper all the same.

I saw Hollywood at a time when I’ve coincidentally been watching a lot films set in the Sixties, a decade of extreme beauty, violence, change and cultural revolution that fashioned the person I am today and transformed society more profoundly than any other recent ten-year period. For people too young to remember the Sixties or other old fogies who want a reminder of what it was like, you can certainly learn a lot through some excellent films and enjoy hours of entertainment in the bargain. In addition to Once Upon a Time Hollywood I present here some other movies that in different ways explore or reveal what the Sixties were like or look at key figures or events of the decade. Many were made in the Sixties or shortly thereafter while some like Once Upon a Time are from decades later. This is not meant to be a complete list, but I believe it to be a damn good start.

If…. (1968) Anderson. Over 50 years old and it hasn’t aged a day. If.... perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the time, it’s premier was surrounded by some of the signature events of the Sixties revolution. Malcom McDowell was the perfect person to play the protagonist, Mick Travis. Neither classically handsome nor muscular he had a Sixties everyman quality, sardonic, intelligent, witty and stoically defiant. If…ostensibly took on British classism and boarding schools but to audiences everywhere it was an attack on the establishment and cry for individuality and equality.

Harold and Maude (1971) Ashby. Both the young Harold and the aging Maude were a pair of lovable anti establishment avatars in this dark, somber yet uplifting film by Hal Ashby. There is nothing uniquely 1960s in the narrative but the film itself captures the rebellious nature of the time and the desire for non conformity. As a teenage boy I, like millions of others, related to Harold’s defiance of the social order in a much more profound way than I did The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock. It was also a singularly different love story.

The Strawberry Statement (1970) Hagman. This is the worst film I love. While it is a disjointed movie directed by a hack it manages to embody the fractious nature of university life and the protest movements of the Sixties. I revere it so much in part because it brings me back not only to the time in depicts but to the time I saw it, a time when I felt emboldened to be part of the change I sought in the world. Strawberry Statement romanticized the protest movement and illustrated the idealism of youth.

Hearts and Minds (1974) Davis. There are a lot of good fictional films about the Vietnam War but your one stop film for really understanding the war, it’s victims, its warriors, its exploiters it opponents and its supporters is in this documentary, my favorite documentary of all time.

Monterey Pop (1968) Pennebaker. You could just as easily go with Woodstock but I think this documentary on the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival (especially the full version available through Criterion as opposed to the short theatrical version) is better quality and explores a mood and growing trend in music rather than a moment in time. There are many great acts in the films such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin but there are important and less remembered performers such as The Association, Ravi Shankar and Canned Heat. While the concert footage is superb, the film also explores the attendees providing an excellent look at fashion and mores of the time.

Medium Cool (1969) Wexler. It tells a story set in Chicago in 1968 that is very much a Sixties tale. A particularly powerful scene depicts the central character (a young Robert Forster who later co-starred in the aforementioned Jackie Brown) being confronted by a group of angry African Americans who insist their voice and perspective be heard. But what makes Medium Cool such a powerful film is that its culminating scenes were filmed during Democratic Convention and the protests outside of it. Characters intermingle with actual Chicago police actually beating actual protesters. It is a tour de force of cinema verite meets neo realism. For this conceit alone Medium Cool is worth a look.

Magic Trip (2011) Ellwood/Gibney. A documentary that features actual footage of The Merry Pranksters traveling across the country in their bus, Further, having a jolly good time and tweaking "the man." The characters include Ken Kesey (who with Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, wrote two of the great novels of the Sixties) and the legendary Neal Cassady. There are also glimpses of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. Some credit the Pranksters’ antics and LSD use as catalyses for the counter culture movement of the Sixties. At the very least they were, in 1964, forerunners of it. The film is comprised of footage of the pranksters and adds subsequently recorded commentary from various members of the group. Great fun.

Malcolm X (1992) Lee.  Spike Lee’s film on the great black activist has no peer among movies depicting MLK or the Civil Rights movement. Denzel Washington is brilliant as Malcolm. While much of the film takes place prior to the Sixties it is highlighted by Malcolm’s later years and shows the rising of black consciousness that played such an integral part in the decade.

JFK (1991) Stone. There’s a lot to unpack in Oliver Stone’s epic look at the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the myriad complexities surrounding it. There are some wrong turns and some misdirections but there’s a lot of truth packed into this compelling film. It has inspired many to go down the rabbit hole of reading about the assassination and the endless conspiracy theories it has spawned. If nothing else it helps put a lie to the ludicrous official notion that there was a lone assassin (Lee Harvey Oswald). The Kennedy assassination was a pivotal moment in American history and its meanings reflect on the darker side of American politics.

Others recommendations:  The Landlord (1970) Ashby; Zabriske Point (1970 Antonioni; Platoon (1986) Stone; Hair (1979) Forman; A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Lester; Black Panthers Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) Nelson; Woodstock (1970) Wadleigh; Getting Straight (1970) Rush; Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Coens and That Thing You Do! (1996) Hanks.

One to pass on: Easy Rider (1969). Many lists of Sixties movies would include this highly popular film. Mine will not. I recently watched it again and was struck by what a god awful movie it is. What you can learn from the film is that Dennis Hopper was a terrible director and that he and Peter Fonda should not have improvised their lines. Jack Nicholson took the trouble to memorize his and not incidentally was the only decent part of this mess. The movie has no point, goes nowhere and says nothing. 

25 July 2019

Wherein the Author Takes on Words and Expressions, the Cliches and the Misused



Hey guys, How have you guys been? As I write this there are some guys painting a neighboring house. There were just some other guys who walked by but I don’t know anything about them. There were some guys at working talking about the Mueller hearings today. I saw a little bit of some guys questioning him. I think Mueller is a decent guy. He’s the kind of guy who takes his work seriously. I think some of the guys on the Republican side didn’t care about the facts of his investigation. I don’t like those guys. I like guys in government who care about the other guy. As you guys might have noticed I’ve been trying to make a point about a particular word that a lot of guys use all the time. Some are teachers who always say things like, “okay you guys get out your worksheets.” I never call my students guys. In fact I try not to use the word guys at all. I’ve seen tweets (On twitter — duh!) In which the “author” starts off by saying, “guys…” sometimes with the word “hey” in front of it. Enough with the guys. Am I right? Let me know what you guys think.

Another grossly overused word — maybe I’ve mentioned this one before — is “grab.” People grab something to eat or specifically grab lunch or dinner or breakfast or a snack. People grab a coffee. Sometimes you’ll hear something like “we’re about to have our meeting, will you grab Bob for me?” Of course people also grab things like papers, books, magazines, you name it. At the gym once I heard someone say that they were going to grab a shower. Really? Better than that was hearing someone say that they were going to go outside and grab some sunshine. Enough with the grabbing. I grew up being told grabbing was rude. Stuck with me, I guess.

You know what else irritates me? Pre-planned and forewarned. Unless there is post-planning and being warned after the fact I don’t know what’s wrong with saying something was planned or someone was warned. Come to think of it, I’ve also read and heard “planned in advance” which is far better than if you, say, plan a party after having it.

Speaking of planning, one of my least ever phrases is when you propose a plan and someone replies, “sounds like a plan.” When asking a question does anyone ever respond, “sounds like a question.” When you make an announcement does anyone ever say “sounds like an announcement.” Imagine if after General Eisenhower had laid out the details of the D-Day invasion some idiot colonel had said, “sounds like a plan.” He’d have been courtmartialed.

I just read a famous novel in which a character “thought to himself.” I’ve read many books, fiction and non fiction alike, and numerous articles of different kinds in which someone relates having “thought to myself” or tells of someone having “though to himself” I suppose to “herself “ too. I’m about 100% sure that one can only think to oneself (excepting, of course, those with mental telepathy). How about if instead of writing: I thought to myself that it was a strange thing to say, people write: I thought it was a strange thing to say.

This isn’t a complaint but a question: you’ve heard people say, “he gets on my last nerve” haven’t you? So have I. I wonder if getting on someone’s last nerve is worse than getting on their first one or on one of the middle ones. Also, how do people know which order there nerves come in? Speaking of nerves, you’ve probably heard people say, “you’ve got a lot of nerve saying something like that.” Isn’t having a lot of nerve a good thing? I believe it to be the opposite of being hesitant, nervous, scared. Yet people complain about others having it. Weird.

What’s up with the word up? It is frequently added to words to create a phrasal verb -- this is all well and good. But often the addition of an up is redundant. The word throw needs the up to create a term for vomit, throw up. The word look needs the up to create a term for finding something in a library or on-line, look up. To describe a competition that could go either way one has to add up to toss to create toss up. However….The up in meet up is unnecessary. You can simply meet someone you don’t need to meet up with someone. There is no need to link up two things when you can just link them. To clean up one’s room is no different than to clean other than the superfluous use of up. Other examples include: heat up, wait up, eat up, coach up, fill up, hurry up and yes I could go on (and often do). But one more thing: something fairly new is lawyer up. It always sounds like something a yokel would say. “I hear Bud is going to lawyer up.” Sounds better to me just to say that “Bud is going to get a lawyer.” Anyway, whose name is Bud anymore?

Speaking of books….You ever see this on a book jacket quote from a critic or fellow author, “a real page-turner.” Frankly I’ve never read a book that did not require me to turn the pages (never used Kindle, never listened to an audio book). I dare anyone to try reading a paperback or hardcover book without turning pages. So telling me I’ll have to turn the page is no selling point. Another quote frequently used is: I couldn’t put it down. Here again I’ve never read a book that I couldn’t put down. When I’m exhausted and have to get up the next morning I can put a book down with no problem. Likewise when reading on a bus or subway I easily put books down when I get to my stop. Also, if I’m hungry and am told dinner is being served I again gladly put down a book. In all cases I may not want to put the book down, but I sure as hell can. Then there’s tour de force. Can we stop with that one already? It’s been done to death.

Thus spoke Zarathustra. 

14 July 2019

On Not Writing Here, On Not Protesting and On a Few Other Topics As Well

Anti-War Protest in the Sixties, Before the Internet
I'm writing out of a sense of obligation. I've had this blog for over 11 years and for most of that time I've posted once even twice or three times a week. Last year my number of postings fell of significantly and through the first half of this year I've barely posted at all. I don't flatter myself that there are people all over the world who are waiting anxiously to hear from me but in having a blog I feel duty bound to post now and again. Actually, as I write these words I'm not sure why I've been feeling so damn guilty about the recent paucity of postings. But I do. I did start a post a few days ago, it was one of those in which I rant and rave, perhaps later in this writing I'll get back to that abandoned post. Suffice to say when I stopped at one point to take a look at what I'd written I was not pleased.

It may be surprising that while I've hardly updated ye olde blog these past few months I've been waiting more than ever. However it has almost exclusively been directed to completing a novel. I "finished" it about a month or so ago but have since been adding, subtracting, pruning and fussing over the damn thing. Before I start peddling it I want the book to be the best I can possibly make it.

I love writing. I like stringing words together into a cohesive sentence and sentences into a cohesive paragraph and paragraphs into a cohesive story or essay or review or critique or commentary or anything else that another person might read and enjoy or be edified by.

The blog post I started and never finished recently, was an angry screed about how my friends on the left express their outrage at the political nonsense in the US these days and how they don't express it. They do express it with angry tweets, clever GIFs and memes, outraged letters, petitions signed comments posted. They do not express it by hitting the streets and demonstrating. It boggles the mind that the US is separating families at the border, keeping children in cages and denying asylum seekers basic human rights and we haven't had massive demonstrations in Washington DC and every other major city in the country. In the Sixties there was no Twitter nor for that matter any internet so people protested by getting off their asses and marching. It began with the Civil Rights Movement and continued with protests against the draft and the war in Vietnam. There have been any number of outrages perpetrated by the current administration in DC and only a few have spurred demonstrations. They should be going on damn near everyday. Realistically maybe every week or two. The internet has made everyone lazy. So that's what I wrote about but it came off like I was a hectoring old fool and not a sober reasoned individual so I dropped it. Come to think of it this paragraph reads a little like the frothing of an aging radical. Aww the hell with it. Point made.

Other topics....

I saw this quote on Instagram: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." To me it summed up the difference between being depressed and happy. (I spend a lot of times yo-yoing between both worlds.) Nothing impresses you when you're depressed. Nothing seems beautiful, unique or interesting. When you're feeling good, of course, it's the opposite, you are aware of and delighted by the wonders of the world

I heard someone the other day going on about how indifferent they were to soccer how they didn't really like it, found it boring and found some of the tactics confusing. The person went on to say how he would watch it whenever the US men's team was playing an important match. This little story perfectly illustrates why I so vociferously root against the US in men's soccer (that's football, to the rest of the world). While other countries love the sport and follow it year round you have millions of Americans whose only interest in the game is to see the damned United States beating some other country. Disgusting. Let soccer glory go to the people who appreciate the sport.

The Internet Movie Database is an invaluable source of information on virtually any and every film and TV show ever made. It is a must have site for film fans regardless of what type of movie you like. However it tries desperately to cater to young people whose idea of movie-going is taking in the latest blockbuster at the nearest multiplex. For example every day on their front page they list five people from the world of cinema who were born on that day. Today was typical in that they had someone named Phoebe Waller-Bridge and someone else named Scott Porter but omitted one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time (and my favorite) Ingmar Bergman. For some reason I look at the daily birthdays every day and every day like today there are one of two or even three people who I've never heard and will later -- perhaps on twitter -- see that is the birthday of some iconic film star or director who IMDb did not deem worthy of mentioning. For "Top News" IMDb typically has five or six items and invariably there's news about garbage like Spider-Man, X-Men, or the latest proposed sequels, remakes, a reboots, prequels in addition to news about what's been killing it at the box office. It's like they hardly consider film an art form at all.

I have some ideas for future blog posts -- many have been kicking around in the cavernous regions around my brain  for a long time -- that may at last be coming to this blog. First, of course, I've gotten to get that novel done and dusted then prepared for submission, query letter, synopsis and all. No estimate on when that will be but it could be in weeks (whether that's two weeks or sixty two weeks remains to be seen). Thanks for reading (assuming you did).


29 June 2019

The Author Here Discusses JD Salinger, a New Sherlock Show, Dinner Attire and More


A few nights ago I had a dream in which I was in Moe's Bookstore in Berkeley (one of the great bookstores in the world) browsing when I came across JD Salinger sitting in a sofa on the bottom floor. The bottom floor is where Moe's has new fiction, mysteries, children's books, sale books, new non fiction and music and film books. Actually there's probably other types of books on the bottom floor but I can't be expected to remember everything. Anyway I sat down next to JD Salinger who was by himself seemingly just gathering wool. He was quite happy to talk to me about his novel, Catcher in the Rye, which you may have heard of if you're over ten years old. I don't recall any details of the conversation except that Salinger said he didn't like the end of the book and always wished he could go back and change it. This surprised the hell out of me, even though in the dream I couldn't remember how Catcher in the Rye ended. Before he could go into any detail or I could ask him any questions, someone interrupted us. That's all I remember about the dream.

The next day I decided it was time again to read Catcher in the Rye which, if I made a top ten -- or any other number, for that matter -- list of my favorite all time novels would be right toward the top. Maybe I could have saved time by saying it's one of my five favorite novels. Next time. However I couldn't find my tattered old copy -- I've read the book about seven or eight times -- perhaps because it got too old and tattered when I last read it. So I went ahead and bought a copy at a local independent bookstore (I like to brag about patronizing local independent bookstores like Moe's although in this case I shopped at Pegasus on Shattuck here in Berkeley). Since then I've started to read it and it's better this time than any of the however many other occasions I've read it. Great books like great films are like that. My favorite line in the book is: "Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddamn toilet set." God that's great writing.

This is the first line of a new topic. This is the second line, it will be followed by the new topic itself. I think there should be yet another iteration of the Sherlock Holmes story, this one in which Holmes and Watson are in grammar school. Little Holmes' catchphrase would be: "it's elementary school, dear Watson." Thoughts? You like it or love it? Be brutal. This topic is no longer new and is in fact ending.

Much to the resounding joy of people everywhere, I've hardly been writing on this blog at all recently. I've explained before that my writing time is occupied these days by work on a novel. I'm within days of finishing the proofreading of it and will the commence trying to foist it off on some publisher. I welcome your wishes of good luck.

The missus and I celebrated our wedding anniversary last night by dining out (I know, how original). I realize that gentlemen no longer dress up for dinner (when I was a child men wore ties) and that more casual attire than that of previous generations is accepted. But. But there was a young couple sitting at the table next to us, the woman was wearing jeans which given that they were clean and new is perfectly fine in this day and age, but her date was -- I'm not making this up -- wearing sweat pants. No, seriously. Fucking sweat pants to a restaurant. What's the next step? Are men going to show up in their underwear? It seems no line has been drawn. I wish I knew who to ask to draw one. Any line-drawers out there? We could really use you on this one.

Why do conservatives try to make people believe that Democrats are fiscally irresponsible when it is the right that has given enormous tax breaks to the wealthy that will bankrupt our nation? And how do these bastards have the nerve to say we can't afford this that or the other while we're giving enormous tax breaks to the wealthy? Just who do conservatives care about besides the wealthy, corporations and gun owners? They are one heartless group of people and the fact that evangelicals support them tells you everything you need to know about the religious right or as I call them, the biggest fucking hypocrites on the planet.

Speaking of planets, my favorite is Earth. Ya know why? Well for one thing, unlike all the others we know of, its habitable. Also it's the only one I've been to -- so far. I'm still hoping to check out Neptune sometime or maybe Saturn and no, I'm not about to make a joke about Uranus.

I'll keep in touch.

09 June 2019

I Had a Typical Saturday

Ms. Charlize Theron with whom I had a tryst.
I thought it might be interesting for you dear reader, if I shared a typical Saturday in my life. If that is in fact the case, read on.

I started my day by going to an early morning seance. (I kind of like getting them out of the way early.) We contacted the spirit of Harpo Marx who, as you are no doubt aware, is a chatty fella. Harpo shared his perspectives on such matters as calendar reform, animal rights, the next NLF season and the poetry of Jim Morrison. We all had a grand time and Minne Sterncastle brought some of her homemade scones for our snack break which, along with the usual fare of bear claws, donut holes and raw cabbage, made for a most enjoyable interval. Next we communicated with the spirit of Lance Peters, a recently deceased ex-Marine and decorative magnet salesman. Lance wanted to let us all know that he was doing well and very much enjoying the after life. After he signed off we all wondered who the devil he was.

From there I joined a few other family members with whom I performed an autopsy on our Uncle Earl. Imagine our surprise when, half way through the proceedings, we realized Earl was not actually dead. Were our faces red! Turned out that he'd just been asleep. In retrospect the fact that he'd been breathing should have been a clue. Earl was quite understanding about the whole thing, especially when we gave him a bottle of plum wine. Of course first we had to stitch him up as best we could, sadly none of us are particularly good at replacing organs once they've been removed. But we managed. Bygones were bygones especially as Uncle Earl made short work of the wine. We said our goodbyes and off I went on the next errand of the day.

My next chore was to help my friend Frederich Gustav Abdul-Aziz pick out a floral pattern for his new abattoir. Joining us were some recently escaped federal prisonerss who happened to be in the neighborhood. Minnie Sterncastle popped by with more of her homemade scones so we all indulged. The escapees were especially hungry so Frederich made some bouillabaisse for the lads. But only after the work was done.

I made my excuses and headed for the Ritz where I had a rendezvous with Academy Award winning actress Charlize Theron. The details of our three hours together in her suite shall not here be revealed in deference to our privacy, but suffice to say a good time was had by all, that is the both of us. And how.

Finding myself a bit peckish after the vigorous activity in which Ms. Theron and I had just engaged in, I headed home for a late and large lunch. My personal chef, Knuckles, was kind enough to prepare a five course meal consisting entirely of locally grown produce and fish caught in my pond. I'm quite proud of my pond and am next thinking of constructing a river to connect to it. I'm leaning toward one with rapids. Dessert was a highlight as Knuckles served two scoops of vanilla ice cream swimming in melted caramel sauce with a dash of donut sprinkles. As I told Knuckles at the time, "yummy for tummy." High praise, indeed, replied my erstwhile chef.

After a ten minute power nap I met my friend Barnard JX Pettibone at the local gladiatorial arena where we watched a series of brutes ravage one another. I made a small fortune wagering on the outcomes. I will here reveal my secret: I always placed my money on the armed gladiator. I've recently come to understand that some people find gladiatorial battles to be cruel especially inasmuch as one of the participants is always put to death. For the life of my I don't know what people are on about. Seems a quaint enough activity to me. But no matter. Barnard and I had a ripping good time.  We repaired to a favorite watering hole to consume copious amounts of Thunderbird Wine. There we met some old friends from our days at the The Academy of Irrelevant and Useless Studies. Needless to say we all began reminiscing. A few old wounds were opened up and a some of our group settled old grudges by garroting others. All in good fun.

By now it was evening so I took a rickshaw home to prepare for the coming revelries. My valet Nixon had laid out my tuxedo earlier that day so after a sauna, shower, shave and colonoscopy I was ready to paint the town any number of colors. My first stop was a favorite restaurants, The Salmonella Greasy Spoon by name, where I was joined by on and off girlfriend, Murgatroyd. We had a sumptuous meal of stir fried blue whale and bottle after bottle of Ripple. Before leaving we slipped into a broom closet to sate our lust. The brooms helped.

The rest of the evening is a blur. I do recall a waltz, snorting heroin, working on a jigsaw puzzle, skinny dipping in a dried up creek bed and a balloon ride. It was sometime after 4:30AM when I returned to my humble abode with four strippers, three dance girls, two scullery maids and Murgatroyd in tow. We slept comfortably in my ultra super deluxe king bed although sleeping wasn't the only activity taking place in the boudoir. (Hint, hint.)

As I write this it is shortly after noon and all my overnight guests have departed save one of the scullery maids who I find quite fetching. She is currently sitting beside me reading Proust.

Anyway that was my yesterday, which as you can see, extended into my today. I know it was all rather dull stuff but it gives you a snapshot of my mostly ordinary life. Perhaps I'll next share a weekend in which something unusual happens.

03 June 2019

A Poet's Birthday, Time Travel, Killing Hitler, The Gym Again, Working Again, Commencement, Also Etc.

Allen Ginsberg born on this day in 1926.
It is the 93rd anniversary of the birth of my favorite poet, the gentleman pictured above, Allen Ginsberg. He has been one of the great influences of my life not only for his poetry but for the admirable life he lived.

People often say that if they had a time machine they'd go back and kill baby Hitler. How awful! Killing a baby?! Me, I'd go back and kill teenaged Hitler. He must have been a particularly obnoxious teen and offing him would probably seem a relative pleasure compared to killing an infant.

Speaking of time machines...(dot, dot, dot) besides killing Hitler people often speculate about other deeds they might do when time traveling, many of which would change the present. Hogwash. You cannot change the past because it has already happened and we have a record of it. If you could go and change something in the past it would be changed now too. I thus can only conclude that if time travel ever becomes possible voyagers would only be able to view events and not interact. Perhaps we will -- I'm talking hundreds of years in the future, most likely -- be able to witness past events. Imagine solving all those ancient mysteries, murders and conspiracies. The truth revealed at last. How cool would that be? (I'm going to go with pretty cool.)

Check out these lyrics from the Mamas and the Papas song, Monday Monday:

Every other day, every other day
Every other day of the week is fine, yeah
But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes
A-you can find me cryin´ all of the time

Is that the most EMO shit you've ever seen? I mean, dude, crying because it's Monday? Get over it. I can see being a little bummed at the return of another school or work week, but if you're crying one out of every seven days, you need help. Plus, this sucker is a singer. It's not like he's a working stiff for whom Monday means the start of another arduous work week. You're a singer, you can sleep in on Monday. Hell, you're pretty successful, you can take the damn day off. Crying about it? Gimme a break.

I've complained ad nauseam about people who can't  tear themselves away from their cell phones even while working out at the gym so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm on that topic again. Recently I saw a woman working out who wasn't looking at her phone between sets (as many do) but stopping to look at it and text between reps! (I believe that was worthy of an exclamation point.) My god, can you imagine the mindset? The level of addiction? I saw someone yesterday on the elliptical machine stop and get off and look at a video for a couple of minutes before resuming his workout. Madness.

Another gym behavior I've noticed is a male thing. I often seen men get on gym mats (communal spaces, mind you) and spread out horizontally taking up space that two other people could occupy instead of being considerate human beings and taking up a vertical space. Last week, for the first time I saw a woman spread out horizontally. It was the first time I'd seen a female do so. No gender is perfect, I suppose. Some people are so self possessed they think of no one else, like those jackasses who blast music out of their cars so loudly you can hear it in the confines of your own home.

I started working again today after 93 days of retirement. I hasten to add that I am now teaching but one class a day -- in the mornings -- and whereas I used to have a commute totaling one hour and twenty minutes one way, I now have a 15 minute walk to my place of work. I don't know how long I'll keep the job, two months minimum and after that we'll see. As it is it's paying for a trip to New York in October for me and the missus.

I saw that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was commencement speaker at Harvard recently. Good get. When I graduated from Chico State (aka the Harvard of the west) we had a German sausage maker speak. I'm totally kidding, I've never gone to any of my college graduations, truth to tell it never crossed my mind to. I have attended my daughters' and as they are both starting graduate school in the Fall it looks like I have a couple more enjoy.

I see in the news that there was another mass shooting and once again the NRA has forgotten to apologize or put forward a restitution plan. My but they've got a lot of blood on their hands as do Republican members of Congress. The latter group is, by the way, saving their resources to have spine implants. It won't be a moment too soon. A bigger group of cowards is hard to imagine.

Well I've damn near finished with another novel and wish me luck because within a month's time I'll be trying to interest someone in it. I'll say this for me, I don't give up.