24 February 2024

As a Landmark Birthday Approaches, I Ponder Life and Ask Questions


On Wednesday I’ll be celebrating my 70th birthday. Goodness me, I’m old now. 

I have accepted with grace all previous birthdays. I took bows for my 60th and even wrote a countdown to that day on this blog. Hell, 60 wasn’t even retirement age, I wasn’t even a  senior citizen yet. Now I’m a goddamned old man. Worse than that I’ve crept — run? galloped? hopped? — a lot closer to the end of my time here. How much longer do I have? Given that I live in the United States I could be gunned down tomorrow, if not later tonight (thanks NRA). Cars careen onto sidewalks, trees fall on pedestrians, sudden earthquakes send buildings tumbling down on passersby, alien invaders zap civilians with killer rays (okay that last one is a bit of a long shot). The point is there are zero guarantees as to how long we’re going to stick around. I had two of my healthier friends die of pancreatic cancer, not to mention a couple of students who weren’t even 21 when they died from other forms of cancer. On the plus side I’m healthy. I workout regularly, walk a lot in between and maintain a healthy diet. I’ve had nicks and bruises and colds and the flu but nothing serious in my first seven decades. My father lived a healthy 91 years before the toll of a freak fall claimed him a year later. My mother was 81 when she died which is remarkable given that she was mentally ill, smoked and had a mostly poor diet. My grandmothers stuck around for long lives but I’ve already far outlived both grandfathers. For that matter I’ve outlived one helluva lot of famous people. Just for starters: Jack Kerouac, John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Adolph Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, James Dean, Amelia Earnhardt (presumably), Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Billie Holliday,  Napoleon and Sylvia Plath. The list, as they say, goes on.


I just googled “what percent of people live to be 70” and the first answer I saw was 43 which is a ten point increase over the beginning of this century. So I’m in the minority (if I make it to Wednesday). Nice accomplishment but let’s shoot for more. 


Seventy years. Do you realize how many times I’ve urinated? (Speaking of which, try counting the number of different places that you’ve peed, it’s impossible, there’s a lot). I guess no one really wants to contemplate how many times anyone else has taken a whizz. Jesus, how many tacos have I eaten? How many apples? How many gallons of water have I drank? Why aren’t there statistics on these kind of things that are readily available to us? Maybe in the future. What was the coldest day I’ve ever experienced? What was the hottest? How many different students have I taught? How many teachers have I had? How many sports events have I been to? Dear god that would be a very large number indeed. Basketball games alone. How about movies? How many have I seen? Which have I seen the most? I could name a score or more that I’ve watched over a dozen times like It’s A Wonderful Life, Duck Soup, Manhattan, Goodfellas, Christmas in Connecticut, Casablanca and more. How many hours have I spent staring at the TV (while it was on)? How many of those hours were wasted like when I watched Hogan’s Heroes re-runs when I was 18 years old and how many of those hours were well-spent like when I’ve watched Breaking Bad or Monty Python’s Flying Circus?  How many books have I read? (I’ve written five.) How many books have I started but never finished? How much time have I spent “on” a computer and how much of that time has been wasted and how much productive? How many miles have I walked? How many women have I — maybe I won’t go there in this post, besides I know that number. How many times have I stubbed my toe? How many airline miles have I flown? How many colds have I had? How much snot have I blown out of my nose? (Sorry about that one.) What’s the closes I came to dying? What famous person did I walk by but not notice? What famous person did I walk by before they were famous? What’s the closest I’ve been to a murder? How many children do I have? Wait, I know that one…two. I also know that I’ve only been married once and since I got it right that number can be etched in stone. How many hours of music have I listened to? How many different pairs of shoes have I owned? How much money have I spent? And how about a breakdown of how that money was spent. I can’t imagine how much I’ve spent on housing, clothes, restaurant tabs, booze when I was drinking, books, movies, sports events, high end call girls (the answer that one is zero). How many people (women, generally, I presume) have secretly loved me? How many people have hated me? (Besides school administrators.) How many of my former students remember me fondly?


Bigger question: has it been worth it? Simple answer: God yes. Despite suffering from occasional depression being alive has been great fun. I had a marvelous time throughout my twenties and loved being a new father and for that matter an old one. Teaching has not been without its horrors but for the most part it’s great fun and I’m told I’m good enough at it. I’ve seen great athletes, great games, great teams, great moments. I’ve written some insightful, entertaining pieces and at least one book that a lot of people have enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed spending the last 39 years with the love of my life. Talk about luck! My children have made me enormously proud. I got to play sports and coach. I had some unforgettable moments in both roles including scoring the winning goal in my soccer team’s California state championship victory when I was 16. I’ve also met some truly interesting, funny, thoughtful, brilliant, unique people. It’s been a great ride. This despite the fact that I’ve made some horrible blunders and terrible decisions and done some incredibly stupid things. I have a lot to regret but so much more to celebrate.


I constantly fret about the inevitability and finality of death but know that it’s better to enjoy the one thing we have for sure: now. 


Now is okay. I’m doing fine. No need to rue the past nor worry about about the future. Not when there’s the present to enjoy. Not an original idea, I know, but worth remembering. Think I’ll do that.

18 February 2024

The Distractions of the Internet and Those Darn Homophones -- All in One Post


Nothing is better at distracting a writer than the fucking internet. In many cases people do their writing on computers and looky here that’s one of the places where the internet can be found.

"I’m just going to" are the four most dangerous words in the world to a writer.


I’m just going to check my email.


I’m just going to check the scores.


I’m just going to check the weather.


I’m just going to see if I’ve had any responses to the comment I posted on that forum


I’m just going to check the news.


I’m just going to see if my paycheck has been uploaded.


I’m just going to google that person whose name occurred to me for the first time in years.


The problem with “just going to check one thing” is that it often turns into several one things. And even if it doesn’t, checking one thing can eat up a lot of time. You check your email and find something you have to respond to. You check the scores and end up looking at highlights or reading about a game or checking the standings. You check the weather then check the next day’s and the day after that. You check that forum and find someone responded to your comment and you’ve got to respond to that plus you need to check all the other comments that have appeared since you last visited. You check the news naively believing that you just want to see what’s going on in that one situation but there are three or for other stories that you read about. You check your pay and find that it's not what you thought it would be and so you dig into that. You google that one person and that reminds you of someone else to google and that reminds of you still another person.


By the time your done dinner is ready or it’s time to go or you can’t put off that chore any longer. Your writing time is gone.


Some writers don’t do their work on a computer that’s connected to the internet. First problem: how many frickin’ computers do you think I have? Second problem: I’m constantly looking things up when I’m writing. The dictionary, the thesaurus, or something that will inform my writing. My last two novels are historical and I’m all about accuracy so am constantly having to look something up to make sure that event could have happened that day.


Discipline. That’s what it comes down to. I have a great deal of self-discipline (is self-discipline redundant?) when it comes to most things like eating, exercise, teaching and keeping up with chores, but the damned internet is a real siren. Ya know what else? It’s still feels new. I guess that’s a consequence of my being old. We’ve had the internet in the house for 25 years. For a lot of people that’t there whole life or most of their life. I was already in my forties when it came along. It seems indispensable now but I lived a lot of years without it.


Time flies is at once trite and quite true. My goodness smart phones have already been around for over fifteen years. I grew up in a time when if someone was caught staring at a phone they’d be considered a candidate for the booby hatch.


Who says booby hatch anymore? Or laughing academy? Or funny farm? Or nuthouse? We take mental illness far more seriously than when I was a kid. It’s odd that people would refer to it as the laughing academy given how depressing a place mental institutions are. I think that one of the signs of good mental health is being able to have a good chuckle. Of course it has to be at something funny. You find someone laughing at boiling water then….


At the end of the previous sentence I initially typed than. I had to think for a second whether I wanted then or then. You’d think I’d automatically know that one by now. It’s like weather or weather. Then there’s the whole site, cite and sight business. Sorting those can eat up a few seconds of writing time. I don’t usually hesitate with hole or whole. Maybe because their meanings are opposite. It’s and its can be vexing. They’re easy to miss. However I’m careful with their, there and they’re. The worst mistake with a homophone I ever saw was when I was subbing. An English teacher had written roll call (it’s roll call). An English teacher! In a classroom! Not a good look.


I can't think of how to end this post. Sometimes that's an issue for me. Maybe I'll just type the end. There, that did it.

11 February 2024

Make a Difference in the World AND Attend Lots of Meetings -- Be a Teacher

A Typical American classroom of today

Do you like going to meetings? Consider a career in education!
 

I work at an international language school in San Francisco. The other day a young co-worker of mine who only recently graduated from university told me that she was considering pursuing a career as a public school teacher. Knowing my background she asked if I would share my wisdom and experience with her — when time allowed which it hasn’t yet. I said I'd be glad to.


I’ve given teaching advice on this blog before, here’s a widely cited and beloved post in which I did just that and here’s a follow-up post that was also met with universal adulation. But that's not all! Yes, I gave more advice in this a third post on the topio.


But I’d like to add to those wisdom-laden posts with this: Be prepared to sit through one helluva lot of meetings.


By my last year as a public school teacher there were meetings every Wednesday. The first Wednesday of the month was reserved for staff meetings. Wednesday number two was set aside for department meetings. On the third Wednesday we were blessed with team meetings (a history, English, science and math teacher would have the same group of students). The final Wednesday was for district wide meetings, usually segregated by departments. If there were fifth Wednesdays in a month it would be filled one way or another with some sort of meeting. Hurrah!


Lunches were not exempt from meetings. Once a week we’d have a team meeting at lunch. Once a month we’d have a faculty senate meeting at lunch, unless there were some sort of crisis such as trouble in contract negotiations in which case there’d be extra faculty senate meetings.


Of course there was always the opportunity for (or should I say, risk of?) parent conferences (a form of meeting) that could be just before classes, right after classes, at lunch or — most dreaded of all — during one’s prep period.


There were also meetings with administrators. Perhaps a parent had lodged a complaint or it was your year to be evaluated. If the latter, that called for several meetings a year. You might be called in for other reasons too. Might? Hell, you would be. There was always something an administrator needed to see you about. 


You might also find yourself on a committee (never volunteer) which meant lord knows how many other meetings. If you were taking a turn as union rep that was easily a couple dozen extra meetings a year and if you were on a union committee there were maybe ten more.


Don’t forget emergency meetings. Schools are notorious for having emergencies so count on a least a couple.


Maybe you’re the social type and want to help plan staff parties for Christmas or the end of the school year. Groups that have meetings plan those things. 


How many meetings would you attend in a typical year? I refuse to count but having read this far you’ve got the idea.


The good news about being a public school teacher is that the actual teaching day is not all that long. Maybe 8:45 to 3:00 with a prep period and a lunch break. Having your work day end at three is a huge plus. Or so it would seem. Remember you might well have a meeting to attend. Maybe one at another school or at the district office. And if you're meeting-free there’s likely papers to grade and lessons to plan and copies to be made. You might also have to make a call to a parent (they’re never home). Speaking of parents, an angry one might come see you or an administrator might want to take issue with you or pass along a complaint. Sometimes students will come by for extra help or they too may have a bone to pick. You might even cross swords with a colleague or have your ear bent by one over one problem or another.


Some days you can get out of Dodge fairly quickly. You might be caught up with grading and planning. Cushy job. But the day is going to weigh on you. An incident with a student. A lesson that fell flat. A class that you lost control of. A complaint that was passed a long. Those things pray on your mind. You think about them while you’re dealing with issues outside of work. Dirty laundry is piling up. There’s a leak in the kitchen sink. You’ve quarreled with your significant other. Your mother is sick. There’s loud construction going on next door. You need to take the dog for a walk and he’s due to go to the vet and you're due to go to the dentist and shouldn’t your oil be changed? And what if you have kids? You’ve got to get them home, feed them, hear about their day, keep them away from the TV and help them with homework. At least your favorite show is on that night and you’ve started a mystery that you can read three pages of before sleep becomes irresistible. Meanwhile in the back of your mind is that class that couldn’t settle down and what the hell you’re going to do about James and his irate, unreasonable mother and that student who's lying to an administrator about what you said to her. Plus while today there was no meetings tomorrow you’ve got a parent coming in before class, a team meeting at lunch and a department meeting after school. What's more you’ve got to get ready for a sub the day after because you’re going to a one day professional development in another city and you’ve got to make special arrangements for childcare that day because you won’t get back home until after 5:00. Planning for a sub is a lot of work. And the day after the sub you hope they've left you a note detailing the day and that there are no big messes to clean up.


I didn’t mention professional developments, did I? Count on those too. Oh and if you’re a first-year teacher they’ve got extra meetings for you. It never stops. And say, did you sign the birthday card for the janitor? Lordy, I forgot IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) if you're a special ed teacher you'll have oodles of those and in general even MORE meetings. My oldest daughter is a special ed teacher. She spends a lot of time in meetings. Not what she signed up for but there it is.


Okay so I painted something of a bleak picture (but I didn’t exaggerate). How did I manage it for 20 years? Because despite it all teaching is fun, rewarding and gives you a rush that your college roommate who’s now an accountant can only imagine. 


Go for it!

06 February 2024

Once Again I Have Questions (Good ones too)


Why do people always have their cake and eat it too? Why doesn’t anyone have their pie and eat it too?

Why do things always run the gamut? Couldn’t they simply walk it some of the time?


We often hear about something being the last straw. How about a warning when there’s still a straw or two to go?


I often hear of people making bucket lists. I’m surprised so many people own enough buckets to make a list of them. 


We’re often told to put our hands together in recognition of an entertainer or speaker. Doesn’t that render it impossible to applaud them? Don’t we need our hands apart?


Why don’t people “make it snappy” anymore? Doesn’t seem that people “get the lead out” anymore either.


We used to be told to be places at two o’clock “sharp” Where did “sharp” go in this context?


Why are people always “in the middle of nowhere”? You never hear of people being on the outskirts of nowhere.


Doesn’t nowhere have to be somewhere? If nowhere were nowhere it wouldn’t exist.


Saturdays and Sundays get a lot of attention because they comprise the weekend. Friday is beloved because it kicks off the weekend. Monday is hated because it starts the work week. Thursday is liked because it portends the coming weekend. Wednesday is recognized as hump day. But what about Tuesday? Is it a day with no personality?


People often go the extra mile. Why just the one? Why not go extra miles?


You sometimes hear of people walking on eggshells. Why didn’t anyone sweep up those eggshells? Who leaves eggshells on the floor?


I heard of something being a blessing in disguise. The obvious question here is: why would anyone disguise a blessing?


You ever someone say, “it’s not rocket science”? Okay but have you ever heard a rocket scientist say it?


They say that it when it rains in pours. But doesn’t often just sprinkle?


Who is "they"?


I’ve been told that an event will happen, “rain or shine.” Did you really need to tell me it would happen on a sunny day?


If you don’t count your chickens before they hatch, how are you going to know how many chickens you have?


Ever try to wrap your head around something? It’s physically impossible. 


Sometimes people play the devil’s advocate. So why doesn’t anyone play God’s advocate?


What's with the word "so"? People are so tired. So cute. So hungry? So pissed. So tired that what? So cute that what? So hungry that what? So pissed that what? So tired that what? So sick of this word.


Do people ever say, "let's get this party started" before an actual party?


Why is that concessions stands at sports venues never make any actual concessions?

30 January 2024

It's a Three Topic Post: Oscar Schmoscar, Where the Glory Goes and a Book Recommendation

Past Lives Director Celine Song, Where's the Outrage?

A lot of people are upset that Greta Gerwig did not get an Oscar nomination as best director for Barbie and that Margot Robbie did not get a best actress nod for the same film.

Take a breath.


Let’s get this clear at the start: It’s a fucking awards show. This should be very low on the list of things a person gets upset about. Have you seen the state of the world? Ever hear any reference to Gaza? Are you aware that Donald Trump still walks the Earth? Last I heard global warming had not been eradicated. Roe v. Wade has been struck down by a racist, sexist Supreme Court. Famine and disease and totalitarian regimes still exist. The list of things to get riled about goes on and Oscar snubs is low on them. Sometimes we need perspective.


Another thing: why the selective outrage? People are upset at Gerwig not being nominated. How about Kelly Reichardt who directed Showing Up? She’s been a director for far longer than Gerwig and has never gotten a nomination. Or how about Celine Song who directed the highly-acclaimed Past Lives which was, like Barbie, nominated for best picture? Gerwig made millions of bucks on Barbie. Reichardt and Song not so much. Reichardt is a lesbian and Song an Asian-American. But people are just angry about the straight white multi-millionaire not having a chance to win a bobble? 


Here’s another thought: maybe voters didn’t think Gerwig’s direction was worthy of a top five spot and thus not good enough to warrant a nomination. I didn’t think it was. And I didn’t think Robbie’s performance, good as it was, merited a nomination. 


If you have a year in which no female is nominated for best director or no African-American is nominated for best actor, we are not necessarily seeing the consequence of institutionalized sexism and racism. If women and Blacks are repeatedly being ignored then you surely DO have evidence of those sins. As we have most certainly seen in the past. The academy is much better than it used to be though still not good enough at recognizing diverse voices. However that doesn't mean Barbie's failure to get more nominations is reflective of sexism in the industry. 


Still believe that Gerwig and Robbie were deserving? Welcome to the Oscars. Do you how many great films and great performances have been ignored by the Academy? Do you know how much mediocrity has been rewarded over the years? If you do, why are bothering worrying about what they did or did not nominate this year? It’s not worth it.


This is an organization that I believe is guiltier of incompetence than racism and sexism (and they have indeed been guilty of racism and sexism). Check these out for best picture winners: How Green Was My Valley, Gigi, Cavalcade, Around the World in 80 Days, Oliver!, Crash (vomit), The King’s Speech, Green Book, Slumdog Millionaire, The English Patient and whatever the hell won last year (CODA?). Contrast those with some of the pictures that DIDN'T win: Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Searchers, The Third Man, Bonnie and Clyde, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Reds, Double Indemnity, It’s A Wonderful Life, City Lights . And that’s not to mention foreign films that should have won but weren’t even nominated.


No, the Oscars are nothing to take seriously and nothing to get upset about regardless of what they do. 


If I were to get worked up about this year’s nominations I’d wonder how All of Us Strangers didn’t warrant a best picture nod and a raving mediocrity (that word comes up a lot when discussing the Oscars) like Maestro did. I’d also be livid that Finnish director Aki Kauriskmak’s Fallen Leaves didn’t get a best foreign language nomination or for that matter that Christian Petzold’s Afire was ignored in the same category. I’d also wonder at May December’s exclusion from the best film nominees. But I’ve learned not get into a lather at anything the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does. They’re a bunch of idiots.


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Speaking of idiots….I heard another athlete after a big victory give “all the glory to God,” after his team's victory. Imagine not giving “all the glory” to God. Wouldn’t he be pissed? God must have a fragile ego. He needs to be “worshipped” at “worship services" on a day set aside for him. And don’t you dare use his name in vain, Goddamn it. Quick question: what if you gave most  of the glory to God, say eighty per cent, and kept a little for yourself? Would that be so bad? By the way, what does one do with the glory? For that matter, what does God do with it?


Maybe I should pray about it. This reminds me of when the Daily Show showed an ad from Glenn Beck’s TV show in which the conservative nutcase was shilling — I believe it was gold coins (solid investment) —  in an ad. He ended by suggesting to viewers that they “pray about it.” Yes, God is all about guiding people as they ponder their financial investments. What could be more important for the almighty? 


A former student of mine recently lost his son to cancer. The child died on Christmas Day which was one day before his sixth birthday. God was too busy getting “all the glory” and helping people figure out the best way to make bank to save the little boy. Priorities. 


(By the way, I've used the masculine pronoun for God because only a male would have such a fragile ego.)


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I’d like to plug a book that I didn’t write: Prequel An American Fight Against Fascism by Rachel Maddow. It’s the story of the sundry Nazi and other far right groups that proliferated in the U.S. in the 1930s and right up to Pearl Harbor. I knew a fair amount about this from the research I did for my second novel, Threat of Night but after reading Maddow’s book I know one helluva lot more. There were Nazi sympathizers scattered all over the country including within the halls of Congress. And anti-semitism was rampant (not that its eradicated today) and people weren't shy about expressing it. Perilous times and credit goes to a lot of heroes — well documented by Maddow — who exposed them. Not that it always did any good. Many who should have been locked up for sedition were given a pass. Sequel is an absolute delight because the author paints such vivid pictures of the characters and the times. She also employs a ready wit. I like her much better as a writer than I do as a TV commentator where I find her speaking style unappealing. Sequel is one of the best non fiction books I’ve read in many moons. The fact that there are parallels to today is a sad commentary on this country. 

21 January 2024

My Revised 2023 Top Ten Films

The Zone of Interest, just added to my top ten

I made a mistake last month. Before I go further I'd like to acknowledge that this was not the first instance of me erring and I very much doubt it will be the last. Simply put I was premature in releasing my yearly top ten. Somehow I ignored the fact that there were two more much-anticipated releases that I still wanted to see. Well folks I've seen them over the course of the last two weeks and, as both pictures warranted a spot on my top ten, have revised the list accordingly. As it happens they take the numbers four and five spots. In my earlier iteration of this list I mentioned what a great year it's been in films. Having now seen All of Us Strangers and The Zone of Interest I can attest it is even greater than great, whatever the deuce that is. I vow to be more patient next year. 

1. Fallen Leaves (Kaurismäki)

2. Godland (Pálmason)

3. Oppenheimer (Nolan) 

4. All of Us Strangers (Haigh)

5. The Zone of Interest (Glazer) 

6. May December (Haynes)


7. Afire (Petzold)


8. Poor Things (Lanthimos)


9. Fair Play (Domont)


10. The Holdovers (Payne)


Honorable MentionShowing Up (Reichardt)Asteroid City (Anderson)Bottoms (Seligman),  Past Lives (Song)Barbie (Gerwig), Anatomy of a Fall (Triet)


Best Actor: Colman Domingo (Rustin) Runners Up — Alden Ehrenreich (Fair Play), Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer) and Paul Giamatti (Holdovers).

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan (Maestro) Runners up - Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon), Alma Pöysti (Fallen Leaves) and Natalie Portman (May December).

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr. (Oppenheimer). Runners Up — Mark Ruffalo (Poor Things) and Ingvar Sigurdsson (Godland)

Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers) Runners Up — Juliane Moore (May December) and Jodie Foster (Nyad

18 January 2024

War, Trousseau Models, Celebrity Trials, Gabardine Suits and More in this Look Back to 80 Years Ago Today


Have you been wondering what was going on 80 years ago today? Neither have I. But let’s have a look anyway. I’ve taken a peak at a newspaper (the San Francisco Examiner) from January 18, 1943 (thank you newspapers.com). I’m here providing a few headlines from that day as well as ads and the like. I’m also providing my own commentary to help provide context. Enjoy.

New RAF Raid Rips Berlin, City Afire!

This was the top  front page headline. The RAF is Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, which by then was regularly pummeling Germany’s capital (I’m assuming that you recall that 1943 was in the middle of a spot of bother later called World War II). Another headline below — Hitler Planes Bomb London in Retaliation — shows that it was a two-way street in those awful days. Other war-related headlines of the day include stories about Germans losing ground in North Africa and the USSR. Also five Japanese ships were battered off New Britain, an island off Papua New Guinea. Another front page story was about Chile’s plans to break diplomatic ties with the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan) aka the bad guys. That would leave Argentina as the only South American country maintaining cordial ties with the evil empires. Indeed many Nazi war criminals fled there in the immediate aftermath of the German surrender in May, 1945.


Yank Bombers Batter Jap Burma Convoy

This is one of three articles on page two that refers to “Japs” there are more on other pages. Today that term would be considered racist. One can argue it was merely used as shorthand but it came loaded with bigoted connotations perhaps best symbolized by the caricatures of the day with the bucktoothed, bespectacled Japanese soldier. This was at a time that Japanese-Americans, many born in the U.S. virtually all without criminal records, were being held in interment camps. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley recently averred that the U.S. has never been a racist country. She’s an idiot.


Noted Trousseau Model a Bride

Readers were informed that Miss Virginia Parker “who for years has been considered Chicago’s best model of trousseau gowns” is heading west on her honeymoon. The lucky groom was one Malcolm Ross Byron. If you share my confusion about trousseaus, here’s what the good folks at Merriam-Webster have to say: "the clothes, household linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage." I googled Virginia Parker trousseau model and — this is weird — found a different woman by that name who on at least one occasion modeled a trousseau in 1961. Any Virginia Parkers out there who don’t model trousseaus?


Housewife Given Tips on Bread Slicing Art

The headline suggest that an individual woman was being given tips but the article is about official government advice on how to slice your homemade bread. Due to wartime rationing, people were encouraged to bake their own bread (and as the article points out, bake their own beans, not get them out of a can). Indeed sliced bread was no longer available. There were many such deprivations in the U.S. during the war. Relative to what many Europeans were dealing with these were minor inconveniences. By the way, housewives were told not to “bear down on your knife — use a gentle sawing motion.”


Seeks Entry of Mexican Women

There’s an attention-getting headline. What, pray tell could this be about? Well, folks it seems that Inter-American Forum of San Francisco was promoting legislation that would permit Mexican, Central and South American women to enter the U.S. temporarily for work as nursemaids and domestics. There was a “critical shortage” of women to fill these positions while “large numbers of women from Latin countries are available.” Imagine a time when Americans were welcoming our southern neighbors.


Ad for Avenue Royal Gaberdine Suits (“quality and price unchanged”) for $41.75 exclusively at Pawson & Co. located at Kearny and Sutter. The suits were advertised as “100% pure virgin wool” with “beautiful shades” of blue, brown and tan.


There were three letters-to-the-editor. One writer quoted a letter from his son who was in the military. He was bitching about people back home who had the gall to strike or even just complain for better pay or reasonable hours while soldiers are making huge sacrifices up to and including the supreme one. A second letter whined about the government — “those horse and buggy politicians in Washington” — encouraging people to drive less and use public transportation to save rubber. The writer claimed that there was plenty of rubber just sitting around all over the country and that on top of that Russia had plenty that they could send us (???). I could make neither heads nor tails of the other letter after several readings. It began: "we have no way of computing the material value of this country and its physical efforts." It gets more confusing from there but the Examiner printed it just the same. 


Errol Flynn Trial Jurors Face Grilling

The famous actor was facing two charges of statutory rape in a Los Angeles courtroom. The jurors were accused of gaining their seats on the jury through deception. It was alleged that one was “out to get” Flynn while the other wanted to see him acquitted the evidence be damned. The jurors would face serious questioning. It has been alleged that Flynn engaged in sex with underage females for decades. This was the only occasion in which he was brought to trial. Flynn was found innocent though his reputation was tarnished. The swashbuckling star also had a reputation of hard drinking, drug use and womanizing. The ultimate cad. Sadly this trial went on to be more of an attack on the two teenaged accusers than Flynn. Not unusual in those pre #metoo times.


Howard Hughes Will Premier ‘The Outlaw’ at Geary Theater

The Outlaw starred Jane Russell and her breasts. Now hold on, I’m being serious here. Hughes designed a bra specifically to emphasize Ms. Russell’s cleavage. Not surprisingly this was evident to all and the source of  controversy. The Outlaw was actually finished two years earlier but Hughes had a deuce of a time getting approved from the reprobates at the Hollywood Production Code office. Hughes reluctantly removed about thirty seconds worth of the film that were particularly revealing. Still the studio didn’t want to release the film. According to Wikipedia: “Facing the loss of millions of dollars, Hughes sought to create a public outcry for his film to be banned. Hughes had his managers call ministers, women's clubs and housewives, informing them about the purportedly lewd film soon to be released. This caused the public protests and calls to ban the film for which Hughes had hoped in order to establish a demand for the film's release.” But the film was finally released at the Geary in San Francisco as noted in the headline. There is much more to the story of The Outlaw and it’s checkered history including more cuts, bans, releases, huge crowds, ownership changes. Maybe worth a blog post of its own.


Tomato Juice Refreshing For Lunch

This piece was written by Prudence Penny — pseudonym alert. It suggested that in addition to a “hearty sandwich” and vegetables a good boxed lunch should include tomato juice. “It quenches thirst and is a pick up.” But there’s more: it “helps keep bones and teeth strong, puts a shine in your hair, a gleam in your eye, bounce and cheerfulness in your disposition.” But what did it do for your sex drive, Prudence?


From the Classified Ads. Under Household Help Wanted. “Woman, White, Part Time…….” 

“Girl, Refined, White to assist care of 1 1/2 yr. Child….”

“Housework, part time, white preferred.”

In 1943 it was okay to specify that you wanted to hire a white person. Though I saw no such ads on this day, I’ve also seen ads from those days specifying that the employer wanted to hire a “colored” maid or cook. Also women seeking domestic positions would often specify that they were white or "colored." Also there were one helluva lot more people — middle class, mind you — who had live-in maids.


A large ad for Camel Cigarettes featuring “Red” Hulse who’s identified as a “veteran navy fighter pilot and test pilot of the Navy’s new Curtiss Dive Bomber.” According to Red, “there’s just one cigarette for me — Camel — they suit my throat and taste to a T.” Camel advertised itself as “First in the Service.” I should think that it was also pretty high up there in causing lung cancer.

11 January 2024

Groovy Commuting, Words No Longer Used, The Godfather and College Football All in One Far Out Post

Pacino and Brando in The Godfather

I’m commuting into San Francisco again. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have an early morning class so have to leave the house at seven AM to catch the commuter bus. It’s a mellow ride that beats regular commute hours by half an hour (or so). I get into the City and have a twenty-minute (or so) walk to school. I’m done before noon and home around one (in the afternoon — of course). Tuesdays and Thursdays I have an afternoon class so don’t leave the house until 11:30 AM (or so). After work comes the tricky part of my commute week as I leave just as the evening commute is heating up: 4:30 (or so). This is only day three so I can’t say too much about the overall commute. There’ll be bad days and a horrific experience or two but for the most part it’ll be fairly groovy.

I like that, “fairly groovy.” The word groovy is of a time more so than most slang. It’s very Sixties. It was pretty much gone by the mid if not the early seventies. “Right on” is very Sixties too but has had a longer shelf life and still pops up now and again. “Far out” was also totally a Sixties saying that was already being mocked by the seventies. Ya know what else was around in the sixties? Referring to your boy/girl friend (usually one you lived with) as your “old man” or “old lady.” Never hear it anymore. I wasn’t crazy about it but think it preferable to today’s “partner” which sounds so antiseptic. Also in the Sixties there were “hassles” or someone was “hassling” you. So it was a verb and a noun. Often it was the police — or pigs — who were doing the hassling. People had roommate “hassles” back then. This could “put you through changes.” No one gets “put through changes” anymore. More’s the pity. It seems like “bummer” has stuck around. People still get “bummed out” but I don’t believe they have “bum trips” anymore. Also people don’t watch either the “boob tube” or “idiot box” anymore. I blame the advent of the computer age.


Here’s a question: how much Sixties slang did I use “back in the day”? Not much. I was, especially growing up in Berkeley, very much attuned to the times. I protested against the war in Vietnam, I listened to rock, I smoked “grass” aka “weed” or “bush” and grew my hair long but I generally eschewed slang. I suppose I’ve always been fairly erudite. 


Speaking of words….People never have quarrels anymore. The British have rows but Americans just have arguments. No one gets cross anymore either. They do get angry or pissed. Some folks get mad though the British generally use mad for crazy. Speaking of piss, in England they take the piss but we don’t do that here in the states. Also in England you can tell someone to piss off but in the states you are pissed off. I don’t remember the last time I heard someone described as bashful, everyone is shy. Is it my imagination or are we cutting down on our vocabulary?


Without segue I’ll mention that last weekend I watched The Godfather (1972) Coppola and The Godfather Part II (1974) Coppola. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve watched these two films but I’d say it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a lot. With each viewing I become increasingly impressed with Al Pacino’s turn as Michael Corleone. The transformation in the first movie of from the boyish soldier back from the war bringing his girlfriend home to a wedding to the cold-blooded Mafia Don is one of the great performances in cinema. In the sequel he remains true to the character with only barely controlled rage to indicate that warm blood courses through his veins. The Godfather films are as close to perfectly made as you can get. Tick off the boxes, directing, editing, costumes, set design, acting, the score. I recently saw a discussion in which most participants said they preferred the sequel. Not me. (Although it is really splitting hairs to say you prefer one to the other.) I like the first more because of the aforementioned Michael transition and also for the presence of Vito (Marlon Brando) and Sonny (James Caan). That said the scenes ins Part II with Robert DeNiro as the young Vito in Little Italy are some of the best ever committed to celluloid. 


College football died after Michigan defeated Washington for the national championship on Monday (Go Blue!). Next season will be a travesty of what the sport once was. My own beloved University of California Golden Bears along with their arch rivals, Stanfurd will be in the Atlantic Coast Conference. From Cal’s Memorial Stadium you can look over the west rim of the stadium and see the Pacific Coast. Nonetheless…..Meanwhile the Pacific Coast Conference will be no more. Traditional rivalries have been going by the way side for years now and more will be ended. In lieu of many geographically logical conferences there will be huge mega conferences. All this at the behest of TV networks and in the name of the almighty dollar. Lastly there will now be a 12 team post season tournament to determine the national champions as greed gives way to common sense. Like professional sports, college football will now offer the opportunity to second place finishers to claim titles. To quote a song: doesn’t always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.

06 January 2024

Novel Number Three is Ready, Anyone Interested? I'm Hoping for a Yes!

The National Guard in Berkeley 1969

I finished novel number three on New Year’s Eve day. It was the third (and I swear) final time I’ve finished the book, which is called “The Blood of Love: A Love Story of Berkeley in the Sixties.” The first time I finished the book it was 195,997 words. I realized that no one was going to look at a book from a first-time author (my two self-published novels don’t count) that was that long. So I went about trimming it. I soon realized that trimming wasn’t enough. I was using a hedge clipper when an axe was required. I took out characters and chapters and sections that I dearly loved and had worked hard on. It hurt but was necessary. When done my second iteration was a still healthy 128,444 words. Agents and publishers don’t really want to look at anything over 100,000 words but I reasoned that there was nothing more to cut and I wasn’t going to compromise on my artistic vision (big talk). I started sending out query letters which of course included the word count. The silence was deafening — aside from a few “thanks but no thanks.”
 

I got wise. More cutting. Boy did that hurt. Version number three was a tidy 97, 545, slightly less than half the original length. Blood of Love is lean, mean and hopefully will start getting a second glance from prospective agents. 


The truth was the book was too damn long the first time. I mean it was fine if I were preparing it as a mini-series but for a debut novel — or any other kind, for that matter — it was too much. Too many digressions and ancillary stories and superfluous characters and scenes that didn’t move the central story along.


I’m proud of what I’ve got now after three years of work (three years and one month to be precise). Wednesday I started contacting prospective agents again.


I hate trying to sell things, even if it is of my own creation. I hate the kind of work involved in trying to find just the right publisher or agent. I’m an artist not a salesman. But sometimes in life you have to grit your teeth and do the unpleasant but absolutely necessary. Otherwise how would toilets get cleaned?


In case your interested (and if you’ve read this far I reckon you are). Here’s the template for my query letter which is re-fashioned each time its sent out.


Dear, I am currently seeking representation for my novel, “The Blood of Love, a Love Story of Berkeley in the Sixties.” Given your interest in    I thought it might be a good fit for you.


The Blood of Love is the story of David Trentwood, from ages thirteen to twenty-one, and his great love, Cordelia McKenzie It is set against the backdrop of massive social change and political unrest in Berkeley during the 1960s. It is both literary and historical fiction.


It is a kaleidoscopic look at the Sixties, the demonstrations, the counter culture, sex, drugs and rock and roll. The Blood of Love invokes the spirit and passion of the time as characters explore new found freedoms and take to the streets to protest the Vietnam War. David is at once a witness and a participant. The story is told in his voice which is fresh, irreverent yet sophisticated. David’s story is told as it happened, unfolding for the reader as it did for him. As David says in the book’s preface: “This will be my story but it will also be about those times. Most of the eight years described took place within the crucible of Berkeley, California, then an epicenter of the student movement, a place where the cultural sea changes were always evident.”  


David and Cordelia meet as thirteen-year-olds and fall deeply in love. Tragically, they are separated the following summer. We jump ahead to the Summer of Love, though still apart the couple correspond regularly. David is no longer an innocent having lost his virginity and developed a fondness for getting high. The couple are finally re-united when Cordelia joins David as a student at the University of California in 1969 where he is already a veteran of the protest movement.


David and Cordelia seem the perfect couple but tensions arise as Cordelia fights a war with inner demons resulting from the deaths of her parents when she was young. Also the couple clash over tactics as David extolls non-violence while Cordelia embraces the more extreme Weather Underground. We also meet their great friend and mentor, Steven, who is flamboyant, brilliant, and tragic. 


Having waited for decades to read such a book, I finally decided to write it myself. I realized that I was uniquely qualified having grown up in the Berkeley in the Sixties and having read copiously about the times. I relied on both personal memories and research to make Blood of Love as true to its time as possible.


I believe this story will appeal to a wide variety of readers, particularly those across different generations with an interest in the Sixties. Its love story is timeless and the political issues raised will resonate with readers of today.


I am a semi-retired teacher who has self-published two novels, Lesson Plan, A Novel and Threat of Night (Yon Uhka).


The Blood of Love is complete at 97, 546 words. The manuscript is available, in part or in full, upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sincerely,

Richard Hourula


Not bad, eh? Wouldn’t you want to read the book?


All I can do now is research agents and fashion my letters to them based on their specific desires and publishing history. I will be persistent. I will find an agent. They will help me find a publisher. My novel will be published. It’s the only attitude I can have.