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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Thursday, December 31

New Year's Eve 2015

On the internet, I stumbled onto a list of ten overlooked films on Netflix, most of them little independents that didn’t cost much to make and didn’t make any waves when they were released. We decided to watch Short Term 12 and were happy we did. It was a quiet, quietly told story about a California shelter for “underprivileged” (a term hated by those it refers to), often abused children. Grace (Brie Larson) is one of the counselors there, mid-twenties but with an unusual empathy for most of her charges. She is living with a co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher jr.), and discovers she’s pregnant, but isn’t sure if she wants to keep the baby or not. Her past is revealed in her relationship with a new charge, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a young girl who’s been abused by her father. I remember not long ago seeing a similar film called The Road Within, but this one was about ten times better. Critics loved it. We loved it. You should see it and love it also.

What will we be doing to celebrate this night? Probably much as the parents in Zits do, head for bed at the "geezer midnight." To borrow from an old Sinatra standard, “At the End of a Love Affair,” I sing, “So I drink a little too much, and I think a little too much, and my voice is too loud when I’m out in a crowd, but what else can you do, at the end of another year?” Yes, we’re at the end of another year. 2015 is coming to its final, frigid close, with an uncertain, hopeful future next year. 2015, weird weather all over the country, all over the world. Weird politics (What could be weirder than Donald Trump as aspiring presidential candidate?). Weird terrorists and terrorist acts. Weird technological advances (or retreats?) with a skyful of drones, with highways about to be full of driverless autos, with an Internet getting ever deeper and darker and a Cloud getting ever more expansive, with a world climate that is changing with polar ice caps melting and oceans rising (Are we the cause of this climate change or is it part of an earthly cycle?). But time and world problems will go on and we’ll all find some way to fix them.

After this last blog for 2015, I’ll run them all off with my Clikbook printer into the last volume of my annual journals and blogs. This one will make twenty-two such volumes for my kids to one day find and exclaim, “Whu . . . whu . . . what in the world is all this?” Twenty-two volumes of about 200 pages each, about 250 words per page, all together about 1,100,000 words. That’s a lot of words. And when I die, they’ll be like 1,100,000 snowflakes floating on the wind, landing on a deserted field somewhere, melting and disappearing in the afternoon sun. I guess that would be fitting. I’ve had fun writing them and I hope a few people have had fun reading them. Happy New Year, readers, wherever you are.

Wednesday, December 30

New Norm Sex

Amazing how far we’ve come in the last decade in our attitudes about sex and sexuality, especially as reflected in our books, our television shows and films. Our 19th century Puritanism prohibited language in our books that was then considered too Anglo-Saxon, too risqué, too explicitly vulgar. Even as late as 1951, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was banned from most high schools because the word “fuck” was there for the world to see when young, innocent Phoebe saw it on a graffitied wall. There were other reasons for the book’s being banned, but the language is most often mentioned as the cause. Writers for the rest of the 20th century continued to contest linguistic barriers, and now we have virtually no literary restrictions on how sexual acts can be described. And the same freedoms have become the norm in films. Commercial television is still catching up but will soon be as explicit visually and linguistically as films and the liberated tv networks already are. Who knows if this trend is good or bad? I think it reflects a new freedom that may allow us finally to see ourselves as we really are—hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, . . . whatever. Sticks and stones, as the saying goes, but words and images can never harm us. I still cringe a bit at all the Viagra and Cialis commercials on the tube, but that’s only because I’m old and still remember how prudish we all were back when I was a young man.

Several nights ago we watched for the first time the Netflix original series, Grace and Frankie, with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as the two women of the title, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen as their husbands. And after forty years of marriage, the two men, partners in a law firm, have decided they’re in love and want to be partners in bed as well as in law. They want divorces so they can have a same-sex marriage. Funny people (especially the always funny Lily Tomlin), funny situation. But only a few years ago, such a show could never have been made. And most of us certainly wouldn’t have been amused by two men kissing each other on-screen, let alone what they might be doing in bed. But in 2010, paving the way for same-sex marriage, we had The Kids Are All Right, with Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and ark Ruffalo.
And the kids as well as most viewers were all right with that. Even earlier, in 2005, we had Brokeback Mountain, with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboy lovers. But ten years ago male homosexuality on-screen wasn’t so readily accepted. But it was a start. And now we have Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of a man transgendered to a woman in The Danish Girl and Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of a similar switch in Transparent, the Amazon series. In real life, we heard Bruce Jenner’s announcement that he wanted to become Caitlyn Jenner, and most of us applauded his decision. Most viewers have accepted these portrayals by Redmayne and Tambor, and critics are raving. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are also receiving accolades for their roles as lesbian lovers in Carol. Viewers have accepted it, critics rave. It’s the new norm in language and sexual orientation. You can accept it or deny it, but it’s here, and it’s here to stay.

Monday, December 28

Cardinals Send Packers "Packing"

It was a good weekend here in the Valley. Colder than I like, but still warmer than a lot of the places I’ve lived. But good because the NFL Cardinals beat the Green Bay Packers, beat them up pretty badly, 38-8, and sent them “packing” back to their Wisconsin roots, shut the mouths of all those green and gold Packers fans who now reside in Arizona but maintain a feverish allegiance to their past-life Packers. Also, maybe now the rest of the country will finally acknowledge that the Cardinals are the best team in the NFL. And if they can stay healthy, they may even win that elusive Super Bowl. I’ve been on the wrong end of too many Super Bowls, rooting so hard for the poor Buffalo Bills in their four-in-a-row trips to the big game in the 1990’s, losing that first heartbreaker to the Giants when “Wide-Right” Scott Norwood couldn’t make a 37-yard field goal on the last play of the game, then losing the next year to the Redskins, and then the next two to the detestable Dallas Cowboys. Oh, the heartbreaks! And then in the 2008 season, the Cardinals “coulda, woulda, shoulda” beat the Steelers in that agonizing Super Bowl defeat that was even more painful than the four losses for the Bills. More painful because they beat the Steelers every way but in the final score, instead of at least a field goal to end the first half it was an interception by James Harrison and an improbable hundred-yard runback along the sidelines with no one able to knock him down or out of bounds. Thus, at the end of the first half, it was 17–7 for the Steelers instead of a 10-10 tie. And that final blow on a play with only 35 seconds left in the game, Cardinals leading 23-20, the catch in the end zone by Santonio Holmes with one toe within half an inch of being out of bounds to score the game winner with only 29 seconds left in the game, giving the Steelers a 27-23 win. Take away those seven points for the first half interception, and the score would have been a Cardinals 23-20 win. Oh, the pain of it all. But maybe this Cardinals team can make up for the suffering by winning this, the 50th Super Bowl.

Thursday, December 24

Christmas Eve, 2015

Here we are, Christmas Eve, 2015. The country is experiencing strange weather—the East having record-setting highs, with no snow in sight, the West having snow and soup for the holidays. But who needs a white Christmas to celebrate this time of year? The country seems to be in good shape despite what the GOP hopefuls are saying. The world could use a little hope for the future, make that a lot of hope. But we’re approaching a new year. Let’s all hope 2016 ushers in a new time of peace and understanding. I hope everyone out there in Net-land has a nice Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22

Donald Trump!

It’s been nearly six months since I first wrote about Donald Trump and his declaring for the GOP race for president. Back then, I couldn’t believe anyone would accept him as a legitimate contender for our highest office. But in that six months he’s managed to snare a surprising number of Republicans who think he’d be just the man for the job. We still have eleven months to go before we elect our next president. Will we continue for nearly a year to see this buffoon on tv and in the newspapers, hear his chest-pounding, his rants and insults of anyone who dares to contradict him? He seems to speak only in exclamation points, with no real substance about what he’d actually do if he were elected (God help us!). Meanwhile, the world looks askance at us, wondering how we could even consider electing someone as bombastic as Donald Trump, a man who opens his mouth and says anything he wants, not matter how exclamatory and insulting it may be. You’d think, with all the feet in his mouth, there wouldn’t be room for anything else. He may actually hang around until next November. If Republicans actually nominate him, Hillary will walk into the White House in a landslide.

Sunday, December 20

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

Since it’s December 21 tomorrow, the winter solstice, I thought it would be most appropriate to write a short essay on a winter solstice poem by Robert Frost. Many people are familiar with his “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” especially familiar with that closing quatrain, with the last lines about having promises to keep, and miles to go before “I sleep.” It’s such an innocent little poem, almost like a verbal Christmas card, with such innocently simple words tying it all up with a neat little Christmas bow. The speaker (Frost? A country doctor? A farmer?) is on his way by horse and carriage to some unnamed destination (His home? The village?). It’s late at night (“the darkest evening of the year,” thus, probably the longest night of the year, December 21st), with soft New England snow falling, no one around, almost perfectly silent. He stops along the way to contemplate the snow and the nearby woods. He looks, considers the beauty of the scene, then continues on his way. It’s all so simple that you’d think anyone could have written it, even a child. Here it is.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

See? Just a simple little picture painted in simple language in a simple poetic form. First, let’s look at this simple form: four quatrains (four-line stanzas) in iambic tetrameter (four feet of alternating unaccented/accented rhythm; a rhyme pattern that is a-a-b-a in the first stanza, followed by b-b-c-b in the second stanza, hooking the second to the first by using the rhyme in the third line of the first stanza as the predominant rhyme in the second; then doing the same for the third and fourth stanzas. This pattern is called interlocking rubaiyat (although a strict conformity to this would have five feet instead of four). Simple, right? The poet could go on and on, hooking together each stanza with the preceding in a poetic daisy-chain. Frost chose to use only four stanzas. But how to get out of the interlock? In his case, he simply repeats the last line, giving him a final stanza of d-d-d-d. Not such a simple form after all, is it?
Now, about that simple little Christmas card picture. Critics have almost universally pointed to that lovely, dark, deep woods as a Frostian death wish. He’d love to go into those woods but life’s obligations keep him from doing so, and he has years (“miles”) left to live before he can die (“sleep”). Or maybe the critics have all read too much into it, and it really is simply a little innocent Christmas card and not an ominous death wish. What do you think? Oh, yes, and happy winter solstice tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 9

The Voice & Frank Sinatra

We’ve been watching the finals on The Voice, the ABC equivalent of Fox’s American Idol. In many ways it’s better than Idol with the four judges more active participants in the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, the sets for the individual performances better and more elaborate, and the wardrobes of each performer classier. Several similarities, though, are things I’ve complained about in the past—the cheesy, unclassy waving of arms by the two sections of the audience near the front during the performances, and too much sound interference during performances. Why would the producers of these two shows have thought this arm idiocy was something they needed? As I said before, the waving arms look like sea anemones undulating back and forth. But even anemones would be able to keep better time than some of the idiotic arms. Also, both shows seem to encourage the audience to scream and holler during performances. We already have too much background noise from too much backup singing and over-loud orchestrations; we don’t need audience noise as well. I say, again, if we really want to find the best singer on these two shows, we should at some point hear the finalists all sing the same song, and sing it a cappella. That would really separate winners from losers. After last night, the field was pared down to the final four: hefty Jordan Smith, country cutie Emily Ann Roberts, the tall Arkansan Barrett Baber, and red-headed Jeffrey Austin, who made it by way of a saving vote among the middle three contestants. Of the four, Emily and Jordan don’t stand a chance, with either Barrett or Jeffrey winning it all, and I’m betting that of the two, Jeffrey Austin will come out on top. Now, if we could just get Voice and Idol to do away with those irritating arms and audience shrieks.
And speaking of Voice and voices, how could I ignore the CBS special last Sunday of Sinatra's 100th birthday? It was very good, almost as good as Frank was. But too many of the guest singers doing Sinatra standards sounded like they were in a karaoke bar. I'd rather have heard Old Blue Eyes singing some of the numbers, up on the video screen singing to us from his grave. Instead, we got only pieces of him doing "It Was a Very Good Year." Nobody, nobody, can duplicate his phrasing and timing. Michael Buble may come close, but that's it. As Duke Ellington once said, Frank was always aware of the beat. The band could play it as it was arranged and they never had to wait for Sinatra to catch up, or to catch up with him if he ever got ahead (which was never). Impeccable timing. Most of the guest singers did all right, but they sang it in their own standard ways, and my ear could always hear the difference between their versions and Frank's. Thumbs down on Adam Levine, who tried to sing "The Best Is Yet to Come" (and he was certainly right about that); Zac Brown, with a bad rendering of "The Way You Look Tonight"; Garth Brooks tramping through "The Lady Is a Tramp"; Celine Dion giving us a few phony tears with her rendition of "All the Way"; and Harry Connick Jr. begging for luck on "Luck, Be a Lady" (but crapping out instead). Tony Bennett did his 89-year-old "I've Got the World on a String," but did it in his own version. The evening's standouts? Host Seth McFarlane surprisingly doing well with "One for My Baby," Alicia Keys in high-key at the piano with "I've Got a Crush on You," and Lady Gaga closing out the evening in a tuxedo, doing her own version of "Theme from New York, New York," ending it with a shadow version of Sinatra with cocked hip and hat. It was a very good finale.

Monday, December 7

Mockingjay Part 2 & Spotlight

I and millions of others felt compelled to see the last of the Hunger Games quartet, Mockingjay Part 2. I say “compelled” because once one has invested well over six hours in the first three episodes, one simply can’t ignore or skip the last two hours.. It was only okay, and now I’m glad it’s over. I’m sure that Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and the rest of the cast are just as glad to see the end of it. We got to see Jennifer Lawrence bloom from that girl in the first “Games” to the woman she became in the last one, a woman who has become one of the most sought after actresses in the world. The film was about three stars out of five—lots of action and running around trying to get into the city, a neat tying up of all the loose ends from the first three segments. But also a kind of tiredness about the outcome. The script faithfully followed the book and even if one hadn’t read the books, we all knew where that final arrow was going. No more Hunger Games, but the conclusion sort of dolefully suggested that mankind would feel a need in the future to crave power, to require more games to satisfy our “hunger’ for death and destruction. It’s a dark side of human nature to enjoy the pain of others, sort of like what the spectators in the Roman Coliseum must have felt when they cheered the bloody deaths of the Christians, having the power of thumbs up or down for the combatants. I’m not sure whether I’d give Mockingjay Part 2 a thumb up or a thumb down. But I’m happy to be saying goodbye to Katniss and Peeta. May they live in peace. Maybe.

And now I turn to a five-starrer, Spotlight. I can’t imagine any film more unlike The Hunger Games. As with All the President’s Men, we witness the inner workings of a big-city newspaper as its reporters dig into the unsavory story of Catholic priests and their abuse of young men and women. And the especially unsavory cover-up by the church hierarchy for too many decades of that abuse. It’s 2001 in Boston, and the paper is the Boston Globe. The Spotlight unit is made up of three reporters headed by their chief, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton)—Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). At the insistence of their new editor, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber), the four of them agree to stop what they had been investigating and instead look into allegations of abuse by several priests in Boston, a city made up of 53% Roman Catholics. Their investigation would not be well-received by that majority of Bostonians nor the Church and its priests and bishops and cardinals. The film chose not to sensationalize this story by flashing back to scenes of abuse; we only hear of it in the interviews with victims. One young man, when asked if the sexual activities were consensual, just shook his head, his face anguished as he replied, “How do you say no to God?” He went on to explain that it was more than a physical rape, but a spiritual rape. The extent of the abuse and the extent of the cover-up became apparent by movie’s end. It was an appalling story but one that had to be told. The film as well as the acting of Keaton and Ruffalo will very likely be nominated for Oscars, as well they should be. This is not a movie I’ll soon forget. See it, and you won’t forget it either.

Wednesday, December 2

Beautiful Faces

Like most red-blooded American males, I’m attracted by feminine beauty. I don’t mean the Playboy bunnies or the ladies featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Those women are almost too pneumatically bountiful to be believed, and air-brushing can eliminate an assortment of physical flaws. I’m talking about facial beauty and not the whole package. In film, Marilyn Monroe was overall gorgeous, as was Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, and Sophia Loren, as is Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, and Hallie Berry. But when judging women in film and television as facially beautiful, consider Veronica Lake, whose looks were dominated by that cascading hair that hid half her face; Katherine Hepburn, whose high cheekbones looked sharp enough to cut poor Spencer Tracy to bits; June Allyson, who might best be described as cute; Grace Kelly, ice princessly gorgeous; Julia Roberts, whose mouth seems capable of swallowing whole watermelons; and Angelina Jolie, who appears too regally cold. Three female film stars from the past whose faces I loved—Gene Tierney as Laura, Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and then, of course, Liz Taylor as young National Velvet girl and later the gorgeous Cleopatra woman. And now, in television, I’m in love with five faces: Bridget Moynahan in Blue Bloods; Angie Harmon in Rizzoli and Isles; Cush Jumbo in The Good Wife; Kearran Giovanni in Major Crimes; and Jamie Alexander in Blindspot. Bridget Moynahan and Angie Harmon are classically beautiful. Cush Jumbo (What an odd name), Alicia’s new law partner, Lucca Quinn, has eyes I could swim in. Kearran Giovanni, Major Crimes’ Amy Sykes, has a face I’d love to put on canvas (that is, if I had any artistic skills). And Jamie Alexander, as the tattooed Jane Doe on Blindspot, has eyes to die for. There, my list of facial beauties past and present.

Monday, November 30

The Future Dead Ahead

I’ve lived through two-thirds of the 20th century and fifteen years of the 21st, and in that time I’ve witnessed remarkable changes, most of them good, some of them bad. There have been huge social changes and mind-boggling technological advances. I’m now living in an age when people believe that guns don’t kill people, that Donald Trump is a legitimate presidential candidate, when religious zealots think that killing all infidels is God’s will. An age when young people think rap is music and rap tracks are songs, find texting more meaningful than face-to-face conversation and raw fish more delectable than filet mignon, believe that body ink is essential for physical beauty and that e-books are better than books, contend that Bridesmaids is funnier than It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, regard correct spelling and grammar as old fogey concerns, and crown Lady Gaga the standard for fashion. On the other hand, young people are smarter and better informed than the youth of the past. They’re taller, faster, fitter, and stronger than almost any of their predecessors, and they’ve learned how to use all these maddening technological gadgets that have all but taken over our lives. Not that many decades ago, we were told that color photography and color television were impossible, that we’d never see cars that could drive themselves or planes that could fly themselves, that computers would never be affordable for home use, that only Dick Tracy could see someone as they spoke on a phone. In the middle of the last century, we were afraid that nuclear war would destroy the world. And since then, we’ve been engaged in almost continuous wars in Korea, Viet Nam, and the Middle East. And today we have much to fear—climate change, drought, melting ice caps, the deep web, drug cartels, and terrorist groups. We fear suicide bombers and AK-47-wielding crazies who spray shots into theaters and restaurants and schools, taking as many lives as possible. Technological advances are both frightening and exhilarating, coming so fast we can hardly keep up, pointing to a future we can’t imagine. Social changes have seen the election of a black president and the likelihood of a female president, majority acceptance of bi-racial and same-sex marriages, and transgender surgery, of near-racial equality. We’ve come a long way in my lifetime. We still have a long way to go. I’m sorry I won’t be around to see where the next fifty years takes us.

Wednesday, November 25

Reed Coleman & Moe Prager

I’ve long been a fan of tough-guy novel series—MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Sandford’s Lucas Davenport, Block’s Matt Scudder, and Parker’s Spenser. But now I have to add another, Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager. What an unusual character. In many ways he’s the brother of Harry Bosch and Matt Scudder, all rather dark and plodding in their methods of solving crimes, hanging onto the focus of their investigations like bulldogs, all rather fond of booze (although scudder spends much of his time at AA meetings). Where Travis McGee loved Boodles gin, Moe loves Dewars Scotch, and he drinks gallons of it along the way. Also, like Scudder and Bosch, he ages in real time throughout the series, unlike Travis McGee and Spenser, who never seemed to get much older from first in the series to last, despite the nearly thirty years that passed. The world got older but not McGee and Spenser.

Moses Prager is a lapsed Jew, an ex-cop after ten years when he slipped on a waxed squad room floor and injured his knee enough to force him into retirement. He loves Brooklyn and Coney Island. He goes into the wine business with his brother Aaron but hates it. So he gets a New York private investigator’s license and takes occasional cases for old friends and cronies from the 60th Precinct. One unusual aspect of this series of nine, they simply must be read in the order in which they were written. Each episode is built on so many back stories that a reader wandering into the middle wouldn’t have a clue about what was going on. Along the way, he meets Kate Maloney, sister of a missing brother, daughter of an ex-cop and political wheeler dealer that Moe hates with a passion. He marries Kate and they have daughter Sarah but lose another child in miscarriage, devastating enough for Kate that their marriage goes south. Kate is later killed by a man seeking vengeance on Prager. He meets a beautiful cop who turns out to be the girl Moe had saved in the early 70’s when she was thrown into an abandoned water tank and left to die. When she gets pregnant by a lawyer acquaintance, she and Moe marry and become partners in a private investigation firm, but the marriage also goes south as she goes north to Canada with Izzie, the son. Moe grows older and more infirm, but he can still hold his own with bad guys and old enemies from the past. He drinks more and more Dewars and wonders if he’s becoming an alcoholic, he muses about life and death and God. He then takes a final case when an old acquaintance, Nancy Lustig, hires him to find her missing daughter. Stomach cancer nearly takes him, but Pam, a Vermont PI, nurses him back and the two are together until she is accidentally struck and killed by an automobile.

The series is self-contained, unlike that of Travis McGee and Spenser, both of whom kept going until the death of both MacDonald and Parker. I can think of only one other series that actually ended itself, Ed McBain’s Matthew Hope series, the last book named The Last Best Hope. I was so saddened by this seeming conclusion that I wrote to Evan Hunter to ask him if it was really true. He said, yes, old Matthew was going to retire from his law firm and sit on his front porch watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. That’s sort of what Moe Prager does, moves from his beloved Brooklyn to Vermont, where he can be nearer to his daughter and her husband and his grandson Reuben.

The most striking aspect of the Moses Prager series is how well we get to know the man. Coleman uses the first person point of view and never deviates from it. All the words are Prager’s, then, and we hear his clever and insightful thoughts about nearly every possible topic.

Here are a few about death and dying: “I think knowing death is coming for you is a mixed bag, a blessing and a curse. For the family of the dying, it’s a blessing, I’d say. Things can be put in order, grudges forgiven, balance restored. And when death finally comes, it comes as a relief. The mourning is shorter lived, because the loved ones have been grieving all along. For the dying, though, it can be brutal. And I’m not talking about the physical pain here. I had a waitress friend tell me once that she could barely remember the customers who’d given her her biggest tips, but she could describe with crystal clarity the people who’d stiffed her. Impending death can be like that, it can amplify your sins so that everything else is background noise.” (p. 132, Walking the Perfect Square) “Got me thinking about how disconnected we were from death. It was easy to blame drugs, movies, TV, and video games for violence and the devaluation of human life. Bullshit! The real culprit was our lack of intimacy with death. When you’re unfamiliar with death, you’re disrespectful of life. No one dies in his or her bed anymore. People die in hospitals now, or in hospices or nursing homes or alone in cars along the side of the Belt Parkway. Kids don’t go to funerals. Strangers clean our bodies, dress and groom us. Machines dig our graves. Why should any of us respect death when we make it as remote as the mountains of the moon? ¶ I have often wondered if it would be a little harder for a killer to pull the trigger or shove the blade in a second time if he had washed his dead brother’s body or dug his mother’s grave. What if he had watched his dad die an inch at a time from cancer and sat by the deathbed day after day after day? What if there was no church, no funeral home, no hospital, no way to pass the responsibilities of death off to strangers. How much harder would murder be?” (pp. 160-61, Soul Patch) “Death, I thought, had all sorts of potential for unpleasantness, especially if I was wrong about all those many things I didn’t believe in. What if the face of God was a sneering one and he was the type to say I told you so? What if he was just a universal hurt machine? Man, in either case, I was fucked.” (p. 103, Hurt Machine) “Sometimes I thought I would live as long as I was still curious. I bet a lot of cats had that same thought as they breathed their dying breaths.” (p. 145, Hurt Machine) “You never know anything or anyone as well as you think you do, least of all yourself. It is the great folly of humanity, the search for self-knowledge and significance. It’s why we’re all so fucking miserable. Oh, I thought, to be an ant or a cat or almost anything else that doesn’t lose sleep over dying. Does an ant ever ask itself where do I come from, where am I going, or what does it mean?” (p. 203, Hurt Machine) “For some reason I slept better in the late afternoon these days than at night. At my age, you’re confident you’ll wake up from a nap, but the same couldn’t be said of a night’s sleep.” (p. 183, Hurt Machine) “Why do we so value the magic show, the putting on of brave faces? Inside, I was just like those leaves on the trees along the expressway. All I wanted to do was give in when I knew death was coming. I became impatient for it. I wanted to tap my watch crystal with my finger and say, ‘Come on already. I’m here. You’re late.’ ” (p. 100, The Hollow Girl)

A few thoughts about love: “First kisses are a revelation, so uncomplicated and so unlike firsts in bed. Somehow, the awkwardness of first kisses adds to their beauty: Which way should I tilt my head? Will she mind if I cup her chin in my hand or should I hold her in my arms or should I touch her at all? Will she close her eyes? Should I look to see? Will she part her lips? If she does, should I follow her lead? And when, in the end, in spite of your considerable calculation, you bump noses, it’s funny and the tension burns off like fog.” (p. 135, Walking the Perfect Square) “It’s amazing, isn’t it, how two people can spend hours moving in, out, over, around and through parts of each other’s body but refuse to share a toothbrush in a pinch?” (p. 147, Walking the Perfect Square) “I knew that love faded. Anyone married for more than a few years knows that lesson. Sometimes it evaporates completely and so abruptly you question whether it was ever there to begin with, but love and romance are different animals.” (p. 120, The Hurt Machine) “Pam and I had grown into love as opposed to falling into it. Falling is so much more exciting than growing. Falling is all about the manic blur of obsession, the ache of separation, the joy in the exclusion of everything else but love as so much noise. Even am my age, the thought of falling could still make me dizzy. But gravity dictates that falling is always followed by a crash. Gravity is funny that way. Sometimes, like with my first wife, Katy, the crash could be twenty years in coming, inexorable and inevitable.” (p. 157, The Hollow Girl) “I’d been on an island by myself for too long and since that exile was self-imposed, I had only to look in the mirror to ascribe blame. I don’t suppose I ever forgave myself for Katy’s murder. It took seven years for Sarah to absolve me and the rest of the universe either didn’t know or didn’t care. If there was any persuasive argument for the existence of God, it wasn’t in the biology of things, but in emotion, in feelings. I couldn’t quite see how guilt and forgiveness had evolved from the primordial stew. I didn’t know, maybe the ‘adult’ relationship I’d been sharing with Pam over the last two years was just part of my self-inflicted exile. I let her in, but not inside. Suddenly, I wanted off the island and I didn’t care why.” (p. 207, Hurt Machine)

On Time: “It had never before occurred to me that the older one gets, the less one’s life is accompanied by music. I remembered my parents’ house and how music was confined to an hour of show tunes on Sunday mornings. Even for me, news radio had begun replacing music as the soundtrack of my life.” (p. 67, Walking the Perfect Square) “It’s a funny thing about getting older. You lose a sense of how much of your past is real and how much of it is self-fabrication and filler your mind spins out in order to let you sleep nights. I’m not certain if the ratio of real to imagined was knowable, that I’d want to know it. How many of us would, I wonder?” (p. 72, Empty Ever After) “However, the past, it seemed, was not set in granite, but rather as fluid as the future. I was as incapable of shaping one as the other. The past, my past, sang a siren’s song to me that was beyond my ability to resist and I was forced to reach deeper and deeper into my pockets to pay the price each time I succumbed. By any measure, it had been a weird fucking day and I was off balance, way off.” (p. 77, Empty Ever After) “The sun wasn’t particularly bright nor the sky severely blue. The clouds that drifted overhead weren’t shaped like angels’ wings nor were they ominous and gray. The wind blew, but only enough to disappoint. It was a plain summer’s day that no one would ever sing about or write a poem about or paint a picture of. In this way, it was like most days of most lives, a nearly blank page in a forgotten diary. I think if we could remember our individual days, life wouldn’t seem so fleeting. But we aren’t built to work that way, are we? We are built to forget.” (p. 157, Empty Ever After) “I saw Carmella Melendez with my eyes instead of my heart. Her hair, once so impossibly black, was now salted with threads of gray. She was still fit and as perfectly curved as she had been in her mid-twenties, but some of the fierceness in her eyes had vanished and the sun-darkened skin of her face showed age beyond her years. There are all kinds of aging. Time ages us more gracefully than heartache. The lines in her face, around her eyes and mouth, were etched in tears, many tears.” (p. 6, The Hurt Machine) “I stopped, about-faced, and used my hand to block the light from the sun that hung fierce and low in the western sky. It had already begun telling its late September lies. My hand could shield me from its light, I thought, but not from its lies. Soon, early darkness would follow. Too bad life wasn’t like that, darkness following the lies. It was my experience that a lot of life was built on lies, mostly the ones we tell ourselves. I had reached a kind of Zen about the ones I told myself. Most of my life had been a wrestling match with them. Not anymore. Om. . . . Sometimes it became just so much noise that translated into Give money, stop death. It was the biggest lie we shared. That if we only gave a few dollars more, we could all spread lamb’s blood above our thresholds and the angel of death would walk on by.” (pp. 34 & 35, The Hollow Girl) “Her looks—a striking mixture of African and European features—both defined and defied the label African-American. She was pretty enough in the photos I’d seen of her, but she was more attractive in person. This in spite of the obvious toll the last few months had taken on her. In her thirties and taller than I expected, she was athletically slender and wore her tightly curled hair short to her head. Her medium brown skin was taut over mile-high cheekbones. She had a gently sloping nose and angular jawline. Her lips were full without being showy, but the stars of the show were her hazel green eyes. Yet, in spite of her natural beauty, she was practically aging before my eyes.” (p. 37, The Hurt Machine)

On being a Jew: “Jews know guilt. We can smell it on your breath. We can read it in the lines of your face because we’ve looked at it in mirrors for thousands of years. Guilt is like a witch’s spell. Once cast it cannot be reasoned away.” (p. 149, Walking the Perfect Square) “Something smelled delicious but completely out of place in the Swan Song’s allegedly kosher kitchen: frying bacon. God’s quintessential torment. With bacon you were fucked either way. Even if you were an observant Jew and disdained pork products, there was no prohibition against breathing. And one sniff, one breath that contained that sweetly smoky aroma, could torture the most devout rabbi. If, on the other hand, you were, like myself, a bad Jew, or someone unconstrained by five-thousand-year-old dietary laws, you were still screwed. Bacon was cholesterol’s perfect delivery system. Bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches had killed more cops than all the cheap handguns ever made.” (p. 46, Redemption Street)

On Brooklyn: “The Brooklyn I love likes itself a half-step behind and a few years out of date. It likes its yearning. The yearning where making it means somewhere across the river, not across Bushwick Avenue. My Brooklyn doesn’t consider its decay ironic or a statement about something bigger. My Brooklyn is what it is, and says that’s enough because it has to be. That’s all there is. Brooklyn is necessarily a place that used to be, not a place that’s happening.” (p. 69, The Hollow Girl)

On a wide variety of topics, all elegantly said: “Touch of Evil was a ‘50s black-and-white flick about a corrupt cop and a Mexican drug prosecutor set in a small Texas border town. Orson Welles directed it and played the drunken, candy bar-eating cop. You had to love Orson Welles. Either there was no budget for makeup or he simply willed himself to be more obese and sloppy than an unshaven whale. I take that back, there was a budget for makeup, but they spent it all trying to make Charleton Heston look Mexican.” (pp. 210-11, Walking the Perfect Square) “Cars drifted slowly into the fenced parking lot outside the Sanitation and Highway Department garage. Stories high piles of asphalt crumbles, road salt and sand peeked over the ledge of the garage’s flat roof like distant mountaintops. The air smelled of hot tar, though I could see from where I sat that none of the paving trucks had fired up their rolling furnaces. It was similar to how airports stink of spent kerosene even late at night, when runways go unused for hours at a time. I suppose it’s a scientific impossibility, but sometimes it just seems that, like a rug or silk tie, the atmosphere can be permanently stained. (p. 216, Walking the Perfect Square) “I tried golf a little bit, but I figured if I wanted to suffer so much, I’d just stick pins in my eyes.” (p. 189, Soul Patch) “There he was, his thick, short body laid out like a cadaver. Maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. He didn’t realize it was me, and his eyes lit up when I came into the room. The light went out soon enough. It wasn’t pronounced, but the right side of his face drooped like a wax mask that had gotten a little too close to a hot lamp.” (p. 105, Redemption Street) “Sheriff Vandervoort was a gruff, cinder block of a man who, in the space of a very few minutes, had twice boasted that his ancestors had lived in these parts since New York was New Amsterdam. He wore his insecurities like a rainbow.” (p. 17, Empty Ever After) “. . . the tragedy pimps. There were just some people addicted to the scent and spectacle of tragedy. Drawn like swarming flies to a fresh corpse, it was easy to spot their faces in the crowd. They were the lean and hungry onlookers, the ones waiting to feed off the bad news. They were the ones with the vacant lives whose condolences were more for their own empty selves than the families of the lost. They were the eager wreath-layers.” (p. 182, Innocent Monster) “He had a head of neatly kept black hair, dark brown eyes, and a strong chin. He had a confused nose that couldn’t decide which way to go, but it added a nice bit of character to him.” (p. 150, Hurt Machine) (About the importance of cell phones in our lives today) “I recalled that once being free was freer than it was now. There were times when you were unreachable, unaccounted for, unconnected to a cyber life. A time when your actual, living breathing life was more important, when the details of what you were saying and doing and thinking and feeling at any particular moment was all that there was of you. No more.” (p. 145, The Hollow Girl) “It had been my experience that truth wasn’t the great emancipator, not the great tonic and elixir everyone touted it to be. I’d often found the opposite was the reality, that truth could be toxic, that it sometimes made everything worse. I’d also found that the effects of truth, good or bad, had as much to do with when you told it as the truth itself.” (pp. 222-224, The Hollow Girl) “The problem with bills coming due is that the wrong party often paid the price. I guess that’s why I had never been able to buy into God. I didn’t believe much in karma anymore either. Whatever goes around comes around. Nope. The longer I lived, the colder and more random the universe seemed to get.” (p. 279, The Hollow Girl)

And finally, some insight from someone other than Moe Prager: (Detective Fuqua on why the world hates America) “ Our obsession with ourselves; the inflation of our small lives into objects of public fascination. It is not our bombs or our constant flag waving in their faces that they so much detest, I think, as our petty obsessions. The world wants our country to care about important things, but instead we care about Dancing with the Stars. We know the bra size of Lady Gaga and we have TV shows that sexualize little girls as beauty queens, but how many of us can name even a single country in West Africa, or know who is the president of Russia? Our lack of perspective is what makes us hated.” (p. 151, The Hollow Girl)

I have only one complaint about the Prager series. The eighth book, Onion Street, is jarringly out of sync with the others. After attending Bobby Friedman’s funeral, a friend of Moe’s from the time they were both attending classes at Brooklyn College, Moe’s daughter asks him to tell her how he became a cop. Onion Street is about that time in 1967 when Moe doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but he knows it isn’t in the wine business with his brother Aaron nor obtaining an empty degree from Brooklyn College. He gets involved with other students actively protesting the war in Viet Nam, a radical group called the Committee. My problem with this novel is that it sounds much more like something Coleman probably would have written early in his writing career, something that he may have tried and failed to get published. The style isn’t anything like that in the other eight novels. The writing is much more like that of the pulp novels being put out in the Fifties and Sixties—short, tough, noir-ish, hastily written, like all the Mike Hammers of Mickey Spillane, the Mike Shaynes of Brett Halliday, or the early novels of Parker and MacDonald and others who were cranking them out as fast as they could to scratch out a living. I realize that his use of the first person point of view gives him an out, that the words we hear in Onion Street are Moe Prager’s when he was only recently out of high school, young and foolish and without the depth of the later Prager’s thoughts. But Moe is telling his daughter and his readers when he was in his late sixties, looking back on those early events in his life. Wouldn’t we hear the old Moe instead of the young?

Here’s just one example to show what I mean. Near the end, Moe is waiting in the darkness of a warehouse for the two baddies, Tony Pizza and Jimmie Ding Dong, to show up with his friend Lids, who has been beaten nearly to death by Jimmie. He hears the two men dragging someone into the warehouse.

“The kid’s fuckin’ us around,” Jimmy said, staring into the blackness of the unit. Something crashed to the floor with a sickening thud.

The sound was of Lid’s body being dropped. Would it have crashed with a sickening thud? The older Moe, the older Coleman, wouldn’t have used such a silly description of the sound of a slight man’s being dropped to the floor from only two or three feet. The Prologue to Onion Street establishes why we’re hearing this 1967 tale about the young Moe Prager, and the Epilogue brings us back to 2012 and the sixty-six-year old Moe. Onion Street might easily have been eliminated from the series without hindering it a bit.

With other writers I admire and other series I enjoyed—my all-time favorite John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, Robert Parker’s Spenser, John Sandford’s Preys, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Michael Connely’s Harry Bosch, and Ed McBain’s 87 Precinct—I often re-read them as fast as I can to see again what I liked about their series, to see things I’d missed about the stories, the characters, and the writing styles. I’m positive I’ll do the same now for Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager.

Anyone searching for the nine novels in the series, here's a list of them. You'll probably discover they're a little hard to find, but they all seem to be available at Amazon, but not at any of the used bookstores or commercial stores like Barnes & Noble or Border's. But find them. You won't be sorry. 1. Walking the Perfect Square 2. Redemption Street 3. The James Deans 4. Soul Patch 5. Empty Ever After 6. Innocent Monster 7. Hurt Machine 8. Onion Street 9. The Hollow Girl

Monday, November 23

LPGA & Acting

This last weekend, I watched the LPGA’s CME Group Tour Championship, and it was an exciting conclusion to a year that saw Lydia Ko come out with player of the year and the million dollar bonus. Right down to the wire, four or five could have won, but it was Cristie Kerr, with an eagle on seventeen, who pulled it out. When it comes to professional golf, I’ve done an about-face. Now that Tiger is more or less out of the picture, I think I enjoy watching the ladies more than the men, although Jordan Spieth has become my new Tiger, luring me to any tournament in which he’s entered. The ladies play a game that doesn’t come close to what was played only twenty years ago. They swing beautifully and powerfully. Lexi Thompson is the first to come to mind.
And so many of them are so very attractive. Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, and Minjee Lee are the first to come to mind.
I only hope they use enough sun screen to prevent the damage I see in old-timer women and men. Julie Inkster and Tom Kite come to mind. Michelle Wie, who was once going to be the Tigress of the ladies’ tour, is still exciting to watch and still attractive, but she’s also looking more and more like a praying mantis, all long arms and legs and that odd ninety-degree putting stance. Lydia Ko is the darling of the tour with her unassuming style and killer instinct, having won ten times before her nineteenth birthday. Then there’s Inbee Park, who seems to have lost at least forty pounds in the last two or three months. And no tv commentator has even mentioned that transformation. Good for you, Inbee, and here’s hoping you can drop another twenty or so. Now I can’t wait for the 2016 season.

A quick observation about acting and the current job market for actors. Way back in the Golden Age of film in the Thirties, when only about 150 movies per year were made, there weren’t that many opportunities available for young people to break into film. Then television happened with three major networks available for acting jobs. Then more networks like HBO, Fox, TNT, and USA, each producing their own movies and series. And finally, more networks also making their own movies and series, like Hallmark, A&E, Fx, History, SYFY. In addition to the 250 or so theatre films made each year and the countless tv networks with original movies and series, we also have Amazon and Netflix entering the acting race with their own streaming shows. Anyone wanting to make acting a career has never had it so good. But with so many movies and tv series that are worth watching, how can anyone find the time to view it all?

Wednesday, November 18

Miss You Already

Miss You Already might just as easily have been called BFF because that’s what it was. No spoiler alerts here because it went predictably from life to death, through thick and thin, from first to last, from good to bad, with plenty of tears along the way and a few good chuckles although not many and no laugh out-louds. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the viewers liked it better than the critics—82% to 66 %. I guess I’d side with the critics. It was good enough to see but not to remember. Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette are lifelong friends in London, English Milly and American Jess, with Milly impregnated by her businessman hippie Kit (Dominic Cooper), who marries her and loses his hippiedom, and Jess marrying her oil rigger boyfriend Jago (Paddy Considine) but unable to get pregnant. The whole thing is so symmetrical. Pre-middle age Milly is told she has breast cancer and will need to go through chemo. And Jess and Milly’s mother (Jacqueline Bissett) and the viewers go through it with her, in all its ugliness. She loses her hair and finds that the chemo hasn’t worked. She then has a double mastectomy, losing both breasts as well as her sexuality (at least she thinks so when her husband Kit can no longer perform). Meanwhile, Jess and Jago, after many fertility tests and procedures, are successful and Jess gets bigger and bigger as Milly gets uglier and uglier. Amazing how Toni Collete, who is an odd looker to begin with, could look so attractive and sexy at first and so unattractive at last. The plot comes full circle with the birth of Jess’s baby and Milly’s demise. See, no spoiler alert necessary because we all saw it coming from the very beginning of the movie. As I said, it’s worth seeing but not worth remembering.

Monday, November 16

ISIS

No room for levity today. The world hasn’t seen such senseless horror since Hitler’s attempts to kill all Jews in the Forties. We now have the senseless horror of terrorist attempts to kill all infidels. After the cowardly terrorist attacks against civilians in Paris, France declared that it’s now war, sending air strikes against ISIS in Syria. I say we should also now admit it’s war and send, not ground troops, but all the weight of our air power to annihilate these barbarians, doing this in concert with all other civilized nations, just as we did with our allies in WWII. It might be expensive but we’re the most prosperous nation in the world and we can afford it. What we can’t afford is the possibility of some similar attack in the U.S. First, we should make it clear to the rest of the world and to the civilians in ISIS-held territories that all innocents should get as far away from ISIS troops and ISIS locations as possible. Then we should simply destroy the Islamic State before it can destroy us and other nations with its attempts to kill all who don’t believe as they do. We have to do this before it’s too late.

Saturday, November 14

The Way

Netflix again, this time for The Way, a movie with Emilio Estevez writing, producing, directing, and playing the son who died while hiking on the 550 mile Camino de Santiago from France through Spain. Martin Sheen starred as the father who came to bring his estranged son home for burial and then, after the coroner persuaded him that cremation was the better option, decided he would make the walk in honor of his son, sprinkling ashes along the way. Good movie, even if a bit too much like the other walks we’ve seen lately in Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, Robert Redford’s A Walk in the Woods, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s The Walk (although this one on a much narrower path than the others). Amazing how much Estevez looks like his father—with those eyes that seem to look right through you, the downturned mouth. I loved Martin Sheen in West Wing, especially in that unforgettable episode in which he chewed out God for prematurely taking his secretary, lighting a cigarette in a Catholic church and then crushing it out underfoot to show his contempt for an unfeeling God. I’d happily vote for him for president if he were in the running this year. I’d also vote for Tea Leoni if Madam Secretary chose to run. Currently, we seem to have too many yahoos, led by the biggest yahoo of all, Donald Trump, for whom I wouldn’t in a million years cast my vote. Back to The Way. Sheen makes his very predictable way from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, through Basque country, on to Pamplona and other Spanish towns along the way to the sea. He meets three other pilgrims whom he begrudgingly lets join him—the overweight Dutchman Joost (Yorick Van Wageningen), the cigarette smoking Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), and the Irish travel author Jack (James Nesbitt). They all make it to the sea where father empties the last of son’s ashes. Good movie, but much more forgettable than Witherspoon’s Wild and much more memorable than that Redford fiasco A Walk in the Woods. Great scenery along the west coast of Spain. Almost made me want to walk the Way. Almost.

Monday, November 9

Mr. Morgan's Last Love

I was surprised at all the negative reviews of a movie we watched last night on Netflix. The critics almost unanimously (with Roger Ebert leading the way) hated the 2013 Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, with Michael Caine as a retired Princeton philosophy professor living out his last years in Paris after his wife had died from cancer—three years, two months, and eleven days ago, as he tells his new young friend Pauline (Clémence Poésy). But who’s counting? Most of the critics said that it was too slow-moving, too minimalist (whatever that means), too fraught with romantic clichés. And why, they asked, make Sir Michael use such a phony American accent? I call this last comment a major nit-pick. After all, he’s played an American any number of times, doing it well enough to win an Oscar in The Cider House Rules. It was simply a love story, unusual, yes, but a love story most older viewers like me could understand and appreciate. He meets Pauline on a bus. She is a young (much less than half his age) dance instructor who is drawn to him as a replacement for her recently deceased father. She seems to be a young replacement for his deceased wife Joan (Jane Alexander). Love doesn’t have to be a physical coupling but can be as truly demonstrated with a kiss on the cheek or an embrace. The story doesn’t have to play out with high speed car chases or exploding buildings, but can slowly, quietly, show us the bonding of two people regardless of their age and youth. I can identify with Matthew Morgan, a man at the end of life who finds comfort in the friendship of a younger woman. The aging Mr. Morgan tries twice, unsuccessfully, to kill himself. “I took too many sleeping pills,” he explains to Pauline, “Or too few. Depends on how you want to look at it.” His son Miles (Justin Kirk) and daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson) fly to Paris to see him as he recuperates in the hospital. They both think that Pauline is a young fortune hunter, after their father for this money. Miles tells his sister when she asks him who Pauline is, “She’s a bimbo who may be our new step-mother.” To Matthew and me, she’s the exact opposite of a bimbo. I’ve often fallen in love with cinema females, and Clémence Poésy is my latest. She is a delightful woman with kewpie doll lips
who has won my heart, as I’m sure she has won the hearts of many aging viewers of this film. Mr. Morgan explains to her what kind of person he thinks she is: “You’re beautiful. Obviously you’re smart, and I can always tell when you’re sad, because you hide behind your defiance when you are. When you’re happy, all of you is happy. Even your hair. You don’t have a mean bone in your body, and I thought they didn’t make them like that anymore. You’re funny. When you listen, you look interested. You’re kind. And you wear your heart on your sleeve, which can be terribly intimidating. . . . And you remind me of Joan.” So, it was slow-moving, even minimalist (whatever that means). But it was also beautiful. I think it was epitomized by a quiet Monet moment when the two of them are out on a still pond, boating slowly, with the many-colored autumn trees reflected in the still water. It was beautiful, just as the love between these two people was, just as the film was.

Saturday, November 7

Windows 10

Yesterday, I checked a message I’d gotten from my computer, Lenovo, telling me I could, should, download the latest version of Windows. Yes, Windows 10. So I clicked on the message, which took me to the Internet, where I clicked on the free download. Free, it said. Is anything on the Internet free? It downloaded and downloaded and I sat here clicking on all the little boxes about accepting terms and clicking “next” and “finish” and every other box they threw at me. See, I just referred to them as “they.” Who the hell are “they?” Are there really people out there, up there, who give a good damn about me and my computer concerns? Is someone keeping track of all my stuff on The Cloud? And what exactly is “The Cloud?” I don’t know and I don’t know anyone else who knows? I envision someone who looks a lot like Frank Morgan, the Great Oz, smiling down at me from his place on The Cloud, with that odd combination in his smile of friendliness and evil. The world has gotten too technically complex for a man as simple as I. After it (They) finally finished loading Windows 10, I was asked how satisfied I was with the new look. I checked the box for 4 out of 5. Always good to tell these people that you like what they do but still leave room for improvement. Don’t want to bow too low or scrape too loudly. I sat and admired my new Windows look. Ah, but then I got a box telling me I had twenty outdated drivers. I don’t know what a driver is or what it does, but outdated sounds bad and I trust the Great Oz. Or is it that I’m afraid of what he might do to me if I don’t trust him? I checked the box to say I wanted to upgrade my twenty drivers. I was taken to the Internet upgrade site where I found that I could upgrade for only $29.95. Fearful that bad things would happen to me and my Lenovo if I didn’t have new drivers, I agreed. The download would begin as soon as I called an 800 number to get my verification code. I called and was connected to a young man named Russell who spoke very rapidly in an Indian accent just heavy enough that I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. An Indian, named Russell? How odd, I thought. Russell wanted my permission to take over my computer so he could expedite the process. I agreed and then watched him speed my cursor here, there, and everywhere, clicking, clicking, clicking. Finally, he was done, but then he wanted to explain about all the potential viruses and Internet dangers that lurked just outside my computer doors, and all the firewalls he could put up for me . . . for a very minimal annual fee. I said no, I didn’t think I needed any more walls against fire or flood or vicious hackers out to get my identity. We parted amicably, and I then began the process of finishing the driver downloads, a process that seemed to take forever. After nearly ten hours, I got a box that said it was all done and that I could now enjoy my new Windows 10 look. It looks good. And I remember not too many years ago when I bought an AT&T word processor, little more than a typewriter that allowed me to type documents without having to use white-out to repair typing errors. Then I progressed to a tiny Mac with only 40mgs of storage, with funny floppy discs for another 40mgs additional storage. Then a Zip drive that had discs with 100 mgs of space. Now, tiny little thumb drives that seem able to hold the entire Library of Congress in their tiny little thumbs. And every few years a new computer when the old one had crashed too many times, each new monitor a little bigger, each computer a little faster, each with more and more space to store documents and photos and music and movies, each with more and more need to connect to the Internet, each more and more complicated for simple folk like me. Now I’m wondering when I’ll have to do this all again when Windows 11 comes out.

Tuesday, November 3

Steve Jobs

I just sat down to write a review of a movie we saw today, write it on my personal computer, this thing with a gigundous screen and access to the Internet that allows me to find the answer to any question I can ask it. For example, I had a piece of a song lyric buzzing around in my head and it was driving me crazy. I could hear the music but all I could come up with was the phrase at the end: “Being miserable is gonna be fun.” I went to Google (but it could have been any search engine), plugged it in, and found that Irving Berlin had written “My Defenses Are Down” in 1942. Amazing that I could find the song with only a scrap of lyric. Another example: On Netflix we’ve been whipping through old episodes of “Frasier” and my wife asked me about the dog Eddy. So I went online and searched for Eddy + Frasier and wham, I found more information about him than I wanted. He was a Jack Russell terrier, his name was Moose, and he died at 15½ during the eighth season, replaced by his son Enzo. Another son, Moosie, was adopted by Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle on the show). Eddy’s salary was around $10,000 an episode. Amazing (not just the salary but also the information). What, you say, does this have to do with a movie review I’m in the process of writing? The movie was Steve Jobs and it was all about Jobs and his role in developing this thing that now so dominates our lives. The movie opened with a black-and-white scene in which Arthur C. Clarke, the English futurist and sci-fi novelist, is explaining to a computer geek what the future will likely hold, that instead of this huge room encompassing one of the first computers, we may all one day be able to carry this thing around in our pockets. Fade to Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in 1984 about to present his boxy Apple Macintosh to the world, but he couldn’t get it to say hello to the audience. They have only about an hour to get it right and we have confrontation after confrontation between Jobs and his marketing director Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, looking very unlike Kate Winslet); John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple’s CEO who debated with Jobs about a Pepsi commercial they’d made; Steven Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who simply wants Jobs to acknowledge the guys who developed the Apple II computer, the one that made all the money for the company; Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg), who did the dirty work in developing the hardware for the computer; and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the woman whose daughter, Lisa, Jobs refuses to acknowledge as his. Lots of confrontations, lots of heated dialogue, very little action. This film may have been better as a stage play. Act Two was another presentation for Jobs’ NeXT computer in 1988, the black imperfect perfect cube that never caught on. More confrontations. And finally, in Act Three, we have Jobs preparing his presentation of the iMac in 1998, with a final confrontation between him and his nineteen-year-old daughter (whom he apparently has now acknowledged as his daughter). He tells her as she is about to get in her car that he’ll be able to give her access to 500 . . . a thousand songs in her pocket instead of the few she has in that boxy cassette player she has strapped around her neck. A wonderful summary of exactly what Steve Jobs did for the computer world, he tells Wozniak, “The musicians play the music. I play the orchestra.” Despite his conducting, I feel more like the movie did a “jobs” on me. Michael Fassbender will undoubtedly be nominated for best actor, but I undoubtedly doubt that either Alan Sorkin for his writing or Danny Boyle for his direction will get the same recognition. Arthur C. Clarke had it right—there’s no way we can accurately envision what lies ahead in this techno world we live in, the one Steve Jobs and his co-workers gave us in the last century.

Friday, October 30

Happy Halloween

It's hard to believe how popular Halloween has become in this country. Of all the days of the year, I always most disliked October 31. I think it had something to do with my fear of a house-egging by some of my students. No eggings ever occurred, but I still dislike this day then and now. So here I am in my old age, curmudgeonly descrying a day that kids all love . . . for the wrong reasons. "Candy,candy,candy!" they cry. I thought it would be appropriate for me to put my Halloweenish tale here. Some people (probably arachnophobes) think it's scary. I think it's hilarious. What do you think?

THE HOWLING

"Oh, oh, oh! Ohhh!” my wife moaned, the oh’s rising in pitch and volume. She came bursting out of the bathroom to stand in front of me in our bedroom, her hands making little fluttering motions in front of her face, terror in her eyes. She’d been about to brush her teeth before coming to bed, and she still had the brush clutched in her right hand.
“What? What?” I asked, thinking maybe she’d stepped on the scale and been horrified by the numbers.
“There’s a HUGE spider in there! Oooo!” she said with a shudder that started at her hunched shoulders and ended in a flutter of cheeks. “I just hate spiders!”
My wife’s no coward. She’s lived long enough to know that practically nothing we fear as children ever really comes to pass or is nearly as life-threatening as we’d imagined in that child’s world when we had to look up at everyone and everything. But spiders were horrors of a different color. Logic and reason didn’t stand a chance.
Here we go again, I thought. The old “Get the Tissue and Squish the Big Bad Spider” routine. Probably a daddy-longlegs and Miss Muffet’s spazzing out. Big deal.
I went in the bathroom and followed her quavery directions from where she stood just outside the door. “He’s right up in the corner by the medicine chest,” she said. I looked up in the corner by the medicine chest. There he was all right. Just sitting up there in the corner by the medicine chest. Just staring back at me, all six or eight or however many eyes spiders have just staring back at me. No daddy-longlegs, not this fella.
Okay, I thought. Guess I’ll go get a paper towel or two. Go out to the kitchen and get some paper towels. Tissue won’t do. No Siree, this was going to take something a little tougher. So I went to the kitchen, my legs feeling strangely like rubber, my wife right on my heels. I pulled one, two, . . . three paper towels off the roll and then went slowly back to the bathroom, my wife hanging back a bit. Odd how fast my heart was thumping. I peeked around the door casing and looked up in the corner. No spider. Where’d he go? I couldn’t have just imagined him, could I? No, not if both of us saw him. Besides, he was too big to imagine.
You have to understand, he wasn’t easy to overlook. When my wife said a huge spider, she wasn’t kidding. This sucker was big. I mean BIG, reaaaly BIG. When I first saw him up in the corner by the cabinet, me staring at him, him staring back at me, I felt that lump in my throat, the one writers are always writing about but which I’d never experienced firsthand and never really believed. The writers were quite accurate. It did feel like a lump as my throat constricted.
He was brown. His body was a figure-eight about as long as half my little finger. He must have had some kind of markings along the body, but I was too numb to notice. His legs were long, but not the little threadlike stilts of a daddy-longlegs. Oh no, these were the legs of a spider iron-pumper or NFL linebacker--heavy, thick legs like thorns. And my mind sort of glazed over as we stared at each other.
“Well, I don’t see him now,” I said somewhat uneasily. “We’ll just have to keep our eyes open.”
I coaxed my wife toward the bathroom pushing her gently in the back.
“I don’t really need to brush my teeth,” she whined.
“Oh come on now. Brush your teeth. He’s gone.”
I returned to the bedroom and she went slowly in the bathroom, her eyes, I’m quite sure, wide open.
About ten seconds later, “Oooooooh!” she moaned in a rising quaver. “He’s here!”
I went around her as she was backing out of the bathroom pointing at the medicine chest. “He’s . . . he’s in . . . in between the . . . the . . . the . . .” (She couldn’t seem to get enough air) “the wall and the cabinet,” she finished in a rush.
I leaned forward from the waist and looked along the wall and into the crack between the wall and the medicine chest. Brown legs hooked around the edge of the cabinet near the middle hinge. Big brown legs. Hmmm, I thought. Tissues were always out of the question. And paper towels no longer seem up to the task. Maybe a gunnysack . . . or a whip and a chair.
“Don’t we have some insecticide under the kitchen sink?” my wife asked from outside the door.
“Yes, I think so. That sounds good. Uh huh.” I went quickly to the kitchen, my wife a tight shadow behind me. I rummaged around among the furniture polish and half-empty bottles of ammonia cleaner until I found the can. It felt uncomfortably light, but I shook it and it sounded like there was enough for the task. We returned to the bathroom armed for battle. My wife didn’t come in with me.
Uh huh, good, I thought. Legs still there. I directed the nozzle at them and pressed the button. No spray, just a thin line of insecticide that splashed weakly along the wall and cabinet near the legs.
Legs vanish. Almost immediately the spider is above the cabinet and pressed in the corner where walls join ceiling. Some part of my mind uneasily registers the fact that he appeared above the cabinet in Olympic time--the Usain Bolt of spiderdom. I direct the thread of insecticide at him and immediately he’s over the mirror above the counter. I shoot again. He drops to the counter.
Ah hah! I gloat to myself. He’s groggy! Oops! Wrong! Both thoughts almost simultaneous. With no perceptible pause (and certainly no grogginess), he zips to the counter edge, plummets to the floor near my feet, and before my foot can even begin to react with a stamp he zooms to the heat vent in the corner and disappears therein. I bend and direct the stream of insecticide generously into the vent and hear the scrabbling of his legs on the metal duct as he speeds away. Then nothing.
I crouched there, breathing like a sprinter, the skin tight across my cheeks, my mind casting back over what I’d just seen. I was stunned, amazed at the speed he’d demonstrated, appalled by what gave every appearance of animal cunning, a malevolence that seemed almost human. He knew exactly where he was going from the moment he dropped to the counter and then to the floor, and he got there in a flash.
I flipped the lever on the vent, and the metal louvers snapped satisfyingly shut.
“Did you get him?” my wife asked from somewhere outside the door.
“Well . . . not exactly.”
“What does that mean, ‘not exactly?’ You either got him or you didn’t. Which is it? Which?” I could hear a rising panic in that last "which," a kind of unreasoning anger at my spider incompetence.
“Uh,” I began, trying to be casual. “Uh . . . he went down the vent in the floor.”
Silence from the hall. A five second pause. “You didn’t get him,” she said flatly. Another pause. “Well, did he act like he was dying, or sick, or, or slow . . . when he went down the vent?”
“Noooo, I’d say he was going pretty fast when I last saw him, heard him.”
Silence again. I could imagine her out there thinking about what I’d just told her. And I, along with her, explored the possibilities. I followed in my mind the vent pipe as it went down from the bathroom floor and then bent to run along the basement ceiling toward the furnace, two other pipes right-angling off, one to the kitchen, one to the dining room, the furnace itself having a number of other main arteries running to other rooms. Our early fall weather hadn’t yet required the furnace, so heat wouldn’t impede him.
“Don’t you think you should--”
“Oh boy, yes!” I said, cutting her off. I left the bathroom and made a hurried trip through the house shutting all the vents, my wife right on my heels.
But the burning question: Had I shut them all before he’d exited somewhere? He was fast, oh my, was he ever fast.
Nahh, I thought without much conviction. He has to be either dead, dying, or one very sick spider. Doesn’t he? Yeah, certainly, I said to myself, not at all certain.
The next day I went to the library to try to discover what sort of beast we had lurking in our heating system. I mean, one of the most important elements of warfare is to know the enemy. And this was, as far as I was concerned, war.
I learned: that most spiders are web spinners, or at least use their silk mainly to capture prey; that all spiders are venomous, but in the temperate zones not to a degree dangerous to man with the exception of the small brown violin spider and the black widow, and even these two cause death in less than 5% of the people bitten (Why did I find 5% not a very reassuring statistic?); that spiders are not insects at all but of the order Arachnida, another member of which is the scorpion (Why was I not reassured by the fact that I sprayed insecticide on a non-insect?); that there is a small group of spiders, the genus Lycosa (Greek for “wolf”), called hunters, which rely on speed to capture prey, the best known member of which is the tarantula (Why was I not reassured by the fact that a possible cousin of my foe was a tarantula?); that the picture of one such hunter, looking remarkably like our tenant, was called a Brazilian wolf spider.
At that point my mind froze with all the implications: Brazilian? Not a creature of temperate zones then, and therefore potentially hazardous to my and my wife’s health. How did he get here? On a banana boat? And nowhere in the literature did it ever say that hunters and wolf spiders live anywhere but outside in nature. So why did this one choose to live in a house, especially my house? And what if he’s not dead? And in only a short while the weather could change and the temperature drop, and we’ll have to turn on our furnace and open the vents . . . or freeze to death . . . or move.
And what if the insecticide not only didn’t kill him or make him sick, but only made him angry? And what if, as I was staring at him, he was staring at me and etching my features in his lupine mind? And what if a Brazilian wolf spider has the memory of an elephant?
And what if he’s not a he, but a she, and she’s going to have babies? Hundreds of babies. And she raises them all with a vengeance?
I have to learn more, find a bigger book, one that’s all about wolf spiders. Because every night now, all night long, I hear her howling in my dreams, howling in my heart, howling in my heat vents . . . and it’s nearing the end of October.

Wednesday, October 28

West Side Story at ABT

Anyone who’s been a sports fan for the last thirty or forty years knows how most of the games have developed, evolved. This is especially true of basketball and football, not so much of baseball. Newer, better equipment accounts for some of that change, but most of it is simply that athletes are now better, bigger, faster than ever before. The same might be true of musical theater. Not that those on stage are bigger or faster, but they certainly seem to be better—better singers, better dancers. We just saw the Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of West Side Story which admirably demonstrated the truth of what I just said. West Side Story first appeared on Broadway in 1957, fifty-eight years ago, with Carol Lawrence as Maria, Larry Kert as Tony, and Chita Rivera as Anita. From what I remember of both the Broadway version as well as the movie that came out in 1961, ABT’s version was better on almost all counts. The voices of the three principals were better than the voices of the originals, especially when you consider that Natalie Wood, who played Maria in the film, was voice-dubbed by Marni Nixon for all her songs. Eat your heart out, Chita Rivers; Melissa Rapelje was better as Anita—in voice, in dance, in looks. Larry Kert may have been a good Tony in 1957, but Jesse Michels was better vocally with a pure, powerful tenor that soared on “Maria.” And Brittany Santos as Maria came out about even with Carol Lawrence in voice and looks. I keep banging a bass drum for this local dinner theatre here in the Valley, about how it’s gotten better and better with each season, with each production, with each performance. Well, here I go again. Every theatrical aspect of their West Side Story was superlative. The lighting and set design was original and effective, with a surprising trio of drugstore stools in one set. Where in the world did they find these dinosaurs? Thank you, Jim Hunter, for your theatrical imagination. Thank you, James May, musical director of that wondrous 8-piece pit band that somehow managed to get through the complex Leonard Bernstein score without a hitch. And thank you, Kurtis Overby, for giving us a delightfully difficult balletic choreography for this show. I can’t believe that any dance company anywhere in the country could have done it better. I also believe that Leonard Bernstein, God rest his soul, and Stephen Sondheim would both agree that this production did them proud. There, enough drum banging. Now I can’t wait to see ABT’s Carousel in January. Sorry, Jan Clayton (on stage) and Shirley Jones (in film), sorry, John Rait (on stage) and Gordon MacRae (in film), they’ll probably find a better Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow for the ABT production.

Tuesday, October 27

Dog & Cat Diaries

I wasn't able to find out who authored this comic look at dogs and cats. So, whoever you are, thank you. My three boys would not be pleased with it, but then they don't have very good senses of humor.

Excerpts from a Dog’s Diary . . .

8:00 am – Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am – A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am – A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am – Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm – Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm – Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm – Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm – Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm – Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm – Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm – Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary?

Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.

They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a good little hunter I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of “allergies.” I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow—but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released—and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now . . .

Thursday, October 22

The Red Fox Restaurant

A few years ago (but probably quite a few more than a few, tempus fugit, you know) my wife and I took an Amtrak trip with Kaye, Rosalie’s sister, going from Tucson to L.A. and then up the coast along Hwy 1. Wonderful scenery. We de-trained in San Francisco for a trip to Yosemite by rental car. And we spent the night in a motel in Mariposa, a small town just before one heads into Yosemite. On the advice of the motel clerk, we dined at a place called The Red Fox Restaurant. I have since gone to their website to see what others had to say about it and found that most of the reviews were bad. I guess the ownership must have changed since we were there because I’d have to give it six stars out of five for quality of meal and service. Here’s what I had to say about it a few years ago (but probably quite a few more than a few):

“The road to Mariposa was paved with really bad intentions, that is, steep drop-offs and u-curves. The ladies refused to look down, held their breaths all the way to the bottom. We got to the Comfort Inn at 2:00, checked in, and explored the city. Well, not quite a city. Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish, consists of a valley with five parallel streets, the central being Main. When we got home I looked up Mariposa in the atlas and found that it had just under 15,000 people. I can’t for the life of me figure out where that many people lived because I couldn’t see them. After a cocktail at 5:00 we went to the café the motel ladies had recommended, The Red Fox. It was an unpretentious place, seating for maybe thirty or forty people, paper napkins on the tables, standard décor. Shortly after we ordered, the waitress brought a tray of hard rolls, sourdough twists with a crust of poppy seeds and salt, homemade, absolutely delicious. Then our salads. Huge, visually appealing, elaborately laid out according to colors and textures. The outer layer was what looked like cabbage leaves, slight purple touching the dark green, inside mostly romaine lettuce holding carefully structured piles of shaved carrots, bean sprouts, sliced black olives, mushrooms, quartered tomato, flowered radishes, sculpted cucumber slices, and even two thin slices of strawberry, purple onion circles atop the whole. And the dressings were all homemade. The ladies both had honey dijon, I had blue cheese, with huge chunks of blue cheese. The waitress even asked me when I was halfway through if I’d like more dressing. Naturally I nodded with full mouth. I had the strip steak, Rosalie the linguini with grilled Portobello mushrooms, Kaye the coconut-fried shrimp. And the entrees were presented to us, not served. Our dishes were visually splendid. The outer edges of the plates were speckled with parsley flakes, the mixed vegetables were sliced carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, pea pods, and broccoli, flavored most obviously with garlic. They each had the red potatoes and I had the whipped garlic potatoes, all again heavily favoring garlic. We all ate our dinners in near silence, too busy eating to chat. And we all three agreed the meal was the best we’d ever had . . . anywhere . . . any time. Wow. Our waitress asked us if we’d like dessert and we all said yes. I had hot fudge sundae, Rosalie the fried bananas with ice cream and brandy sauce, Kaye the cheesecake with strawberries and sauce. We all agreed they were the best desserts we’d ever had . . . anywhere . . . any time. Even more amazing was the price. Twenty dollars apiece covered the meal, dessert, and tip. Oh man, it’s too bad The Red Fox is so far away.”

It’s also too bad that the place has fallen on hard times . . . and bad meals and service. I guess most diners simply want simple meals for simple prices. But, oh, how I enjoyed that meal I had quite a few years ago.

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