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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 is 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, you can find an archive list at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, June 30

Television Observations

TNT’s Major Crimes last night committed a major crime, giving us faithful viewers a slapsticky comedy version of a wedding gone bad. Its tv forebear The Closer sometimes got caught with its comedic pants down but never as broad or as insulting as this episode of MC, called “Turn Down.” Buzz, the unit’s faithful computer guy, finally gets to go on a drive-along with Flynn and Provenza. They get a complaint of an argument in a hotel suite, go there, find a husband and wife in a heated battle, something about a wedding planned for their daughter and the cost of all the hotel suites and rooms for the wedding guests. Buzz finds a man floating in his tub, an apparent suicide, but figures there’s something fishy about the circumstances. Flynn and Provenza poo-poo the idea because they have tickets for an important Dodger game the next day and don’t want to get involved in a murder investigation. Dumb plot details follow, especially when the bride-to-be disappears and is then found with severe low blood-sugar. The cops buy her a really stupid assortment of snacks and line them up on a table in a headquarters office, and we see her on a tv monitor scarfing down a sandwich the size of a football (and not a deflated one). I won’t take this any further, other than to say I’m surprised that the cast actually read this script and went along with it. Whoever wrote it should have his head examined. I’m so mad at it that I want to write an angry letter to someone at TNT to let him know how offended I was by this episode. But networks seem to be too well insulated against complaints.

So You Think You Can Dance, in its twelfth season, is trying so hard to win back its audience, giving us cutesy little backstories about some of the dancers, trying way too hard to be funny when there just isn’t much funny about Paula Abdul or Jason Derulo or Nigel Lythgoe, cameras flashing to the judges’ faces as they watch auditioners instead of sticking with the dancers. This last device is one used equally ineffectively on American Idol, showing us JLo’s cleavage as she lip-synchs with the performer. Both shows seem to be screeching to a halt and will probably not survive beyond this season. I can get along without Idol, but I’ve always been a fan of SYTYCD and will miss the many really great routines we’ve seen over the years. I still can’t figure out how the two dance types will compete or how dancers will be paired.

PBS, beginning last Wednesday, is airing a five-part series called First Peoples. PBS has this to say about it: “This is a global detective story, featuring new fossil finds and the latest genetic research. It’s a story that revolves around a shocking revelation. In prehistoric times, we met and mated with other types of human—like Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo erectus. This mixing of genes helped us survive—and ultimately thrive. Scientists are beginning to realize that ours is not a pedigree species, but a patchwork. We are all hybrids.” Whoa! And just how many Bible Belters and Creationists will be watching it? How about none. I was fascinated by the first segment, "Americas," explaining how the first inhabitants of North and South America, came from Siberia by way of the Bering Land Bridge. They were at first stymied by the glaciers covering the northern regions. But when a path opened between glaciers, they flooded down into North America. A skeleton called Kennewick Man dates these people, called Clovis people, back about 13,000 years, and were probably the ancestors of all our Native American people today. But a skeleton of a young woman in Yucatan can be dated much earlier than that, nearly 14,000 years ago. Are her people related to the Clovis people in the north? How to explain how they got to Central and South America that much ahead of those to the north? Scientists think they may have taken boats along a coastal route, thus bypassing the glaciers to the east, making their way along the coast all the way to Yucatan. This series will continue to examine early man in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, all of us stemming from the same early humans, all of us hybrids, all of us racially related whether we want to be or not.

Monday, June 29

News Observations

Barack Obama did more for improving his and the Democrats’ image with his eulogy for the nine victims in Charleston and his rather amazing intro to “Amazing Grace” than almost anything he’s done in the past year. Donald Trump did more for deflating the GOP chances in next year’s election with his announcing his bid for the Republican nomination than anything he or they might have done in the past year. Good for you, Trumpster joker. I can’t wait to hear how many feet you’ll place in your mouth in the coming debates.

How in the world did it take over three weeks for authorities to apprehend the two escapees from the “maximum security” prison in Dannemora? What is the total cost of that three weeks and the thousands of law enforcement officers who tracked them? Way more than it should be. They should never have been able to make their escape in the first place.

In less than a week we’ll be celebrating the Fourth of July, and Homeland Security is warning us to be vigilant for possible terrorist attacks. I don’t understand how ISIS can so effectively recruit young Americans to carry out terrorist activities, persuading them to kill as many innocent people as they can, to destroy as much of our infrastructure as they can, convince them even to kill themselves in the process. What sort of religious belief dictates all this death and destruction? I just don’t understand any of it.

Yesterday, I came down rather hard with both feet on the back of Melissa McCarthy and her latest film, Spy. I apologize, Melissa. You do what you have to do, following writers and directors in their quest for box office success. But humor doesn’t have to be based on scatology. Some of the funniest writers don’t use it. Mark Twain and Garrison Keillor didn’t use it or need it to give us belly-laugh humor. Jerry Seinfeld didn’t use it or need it. All in the Family, Golden Girls, Everybody Loves Raymond, or Big Bang Theory didn’t use it or need it. So, why do so many films need it? Adam Sandler has built almost his entire career on it; Mark Wahlberg’s Ted is built on raunch; Chris Rock’s humor is almost always built on smut; Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill seem fated to build their careers on scatological humor. In an age as dark as this one, we need humor based on true human foibles instead of excrement.

Sunday, June 28

Spy

If I were fourteen again, I might have gotten some kind of kick out of seeing Melissa McCarthy do her comedic shtick in Spy. But I’m not, and I didn’t. In fact, now that I think of it, I had too much good taste and good sense when I was fourteen to have gotten much of anything from this movie. The reviews were surprisingly positive. I say “surprising” because my humor level must be way below (or above) most of the reviewers who thought this was a clever film by writer/director Paul Feig. I keep wondering if Melissa McCarthy would be as funny if she weighed only 120. How much of her humor is based on her weight, as in Mike and Molly and all the other things she’s been in like Bridesmaids and The Heat? How many miles can a comic get out of farting and barfing and having episodes of diarrhea? What might Melissa McCarthy do with a straight dramatic role? Maybe we’ll never get to know. Maybe she’ll never lose that hundred pounds she needs to drop.

Spy opens James Bondishly, heavy on the guns and silhouettes and kick-ass action and a really loud Bondishlike theme. In fact, it was so much like Bond that it went beyond parody. Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a CIA analyst working somewhere in CIA depths, acting on her computer screen as the eyes and safety net for the badass CIA field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), warning him about all the bad guys coming at him from all directions, flirting with him much as Penelope Garcia flirts with Morgan on Criminal Minds only not nearly as winningly as with the Garcia/Morgan bit. The plot involves a nuke for sale by a badass Bulgarian named Boyanov, but Fine, during an unfortunate sneeze, accidently kills him before he can learn where the bomb is. Now they have to find and track daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) who might lead them to the bomb. When Fine is shot by Rayna, CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allyson Janney, who should stick with what’s really funny in Mom) decides to send Cooper into the field because she’s the only one who isn’t already known by the bad guys. And there you have it: Agent Cooper magically becomes a truly foul-mouthed, kick-ass agent who saves the day. My day was saved when, after two hours, I was able to walk out of the theater. If you’re fourteen and enjoy really bawdy, f-bombing, banana-skin slipping humor, you’ll get a kick-ass out of this one.

Thursday, June 25

ES3 Plea

Hey, readers out there, especially readers who are English teachers or readers who are just interested in the English language with all its twists and turns. I'm inviting you, hoping to entice you, to buy a copy of my book on English Sentence Structure. It's available as an e-book on www.lulu.com for only $1.99. Go there and search for ES3. I'm not trying to make money off this plea for your support; I just don't want my system to be lost forever if I pass on without passing it on to someone who might then pass it on to someone else. What follows is the Preface to the book, an explanation of my purpose with this system. And what follows that is an examination of one of the truly great stylistic sentences in the English language, something from Faulkner's "The Bear." It's a really detailed examination that will lose anyone not familiar with my system, but it might demonstrate just how useful it can be, how useful it is.
Preface:
The study of English grammar disgusts some, fascinates some, and befuddles most, yet English teachers at all levels teach it again and again, each year lamenting the fact that most of their students fail to understand what happens grammatically within the English sentence. The teachers might use any of a variety of methods ranging from the traditional to the transformational approach, but their students’ lack of understanding remains the same.

Traditional grammars too often fail to explain linguistic anomalies, labeling them as exceptions to the rules. The traditional approach also lacks coherence, often being parceled out in unrelated sections over long periods of time, the students learning one set of facts about English grammar, only to forget it when they later move on to a new unit of grammar study. The structural and transformational grammars are an improvement, attempting to bring all elements of the English language together as a complete study. And they are, to some extent, succeeding. However, most of what is written on structural and transformational grammar is aimed at professional linguists. Even those few texts that have been simplified for use in elementary and secondary schools are still too difficult for the student who has only an average interest in or ability with language (alas, nearly all of them). They are so complete and complex that the student loses sight of the forest. These grammars fail the average student for the same reason that the traditional grammars failed him: the terminology and rules of the game so overpower him that he can only throw up his hands in despair. Or do I mean, throw up in despair?

I will not try to justify the teaching of grammar or sentence structure as an end in itself. Obviously, grammar study can only be valuable if it helps students to write and speak with some understanding of what they are doing. And, at the very least, our language is interesting, despite (or possibly because of) all the vagaries and contradictions in spelling, phonology, syntax, and usage. To bring students to a point where they can be somewhat comfortable and confident when dealing with sentences, the English teacher needs a system of grammatical shorthand, a system which does not attempt to cover every linguistic detail, a system which eliminates all but the most essential grammatical terms.

In the system I am proposing, seven basic symbols can be used to describe the various relationships that words and word groups have to one another: S, V, O, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each symbol stands for one of the seven most frequently used units of building the majority of English sentences.

Please do not misunderstand this to be just another method of diagramming, that useful but somewhat limited game we played only a few decades ago in nearly every traditional English classroom in this country (and a game which is probably still being played in quite a few today). This system is much less limited, much quicker, much more visually clear, and a whole lot more fun.

I am not suggesting that we learn to write by following predetermined patterns. That is not how we write. Some people play the piano beautifully and cannot read a note. I greatly admire and envy those lucky ones with that inborn ear for musical expression; I greatly admire and envy those equally lucky ones who can write “by ear.” They do not need to know what is happening structurally in their writing. They feel it. The words flow across the page without a hitch or stumble. Most of us, though, lack that talent. We know when something has gone wrong in our writing, but we do not know how to fix it. We need some mechanical method for analyzing our writing to catch and repair those weak or confusing passages, a method also for analyzing professional writing to see and imitate what we find good in it.

I believe this book presents such a system. I hope that you, both teachers and students, will agree with me.

The sentence begins simply enough, “He had already inherited . . . the bear.” But then he follows it with several word groups describing the bear: a 1-o (“with one trap-ruined foot”) and an adjective s-v-o (“that in an area almost a hundred miles square had earned for himself a name”). And then he launches into several increasingly complex appositives. The first one is simple enough: “a definite designation like a living man” pointing back to the word name. Then we have an appositive (introduced, as only Faulkner would, with not only a colon but also a dash), “legend,” apparently and rather loosely standing for the bear. I say loosely because although the bear is a legend, the legend of which he speaks is the bear’s legendary exploits, a series made up mainly of 1-o’s many of which are described by 4’s. Then he shows us another dash leading to another appositive, “corridor of wreckage,” which seems to be pointing back to the word legend, described by more 1-o’s and concluding with the image of the bear, echoing the beginning of the sentence, “a corridor of destruction . . . through which sped the shaggy tremendous shape.” An interesting sentence, one typical of Faulkner, weaving back and forth, working itself deeper and deeper into the structural layers. Readers sometime complain that he is simply writing sloppy sentences that even he does not really understand. I think those readers either cannot or will not take the time to find out what he is saying, meaning. Now, look at the entire pattern:
Looks rather complicated, but notice his use of parallel structure, especially that series of 1-o’s followed by 4’s. That last appositive, “corridor,” is a little problematical in that the corridor is not an exact equal to “legend” unless we twist the meaning to accommodate Faulkner’s apparent intention, that this “corridor of destruction” is a main feature of the legend of the bear.

All right, do I have your attention? Or maybe I've lost most of you along the way and you're now yawning. But if even one of you is intrigued enough to buy my book and give it a shot, it will for me have been worth it. Please, let there be at least one of you.

Tuesday, June 23

Inside Out

We saw Inside Out yesterday, the new Pixar film out of the Disney Studios. We were the only adults in attendance without one or more children. In fact, there was a family in front of us—mother, father, grandmother, and seven kids. And everyone had popcorn, large soda, and box of candy. The total bill must have been somewhere north of $100, maybe even quite a bit north.

We even got to see a Disney short before the movie began, a strange little musical called “Lava.” In my youth, every movie was preceded by one or two or even three short attractions. We always clapped when we got a “Tom and Jerry.”
We always hooted when we got a Travelogue. In an age before televised news, we all sat patiently through the News of the Day. We also had some Three Stooges and a black & white called “Behind the Eight Ball” with Joe McDoakes. Such odd little fillers before the films. That’s where all kids first got to see not only Tom and Jerry, but also Donald Duck,
Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd,
Popeye the Sailor Man, Superman, Mr. Magoo, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Tweetie Bird, and many more characters from our youths. And then, finally we got to see the movie.

Okay, back to “Lava.” It was a cute little story about a South Pacific volcano who wants to find someone to “lava.” He sings, “I have a dream I hope will come true, that you’re here with me and I’m here with you. I wish that the earth and the sky up above will send me someone to lava.” And, as with nearly all Disney shorts, he gets his wish when a lovely female volcano bursts through the sea nearby.

I’m not sure what to say about Inside Out. We both enjoyed it a lot, especially in the characters of Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sorrow (Phyllis Smith) and the little girl Riley. What struck both of us, though, was how so much of the movie would have been way beyond the understanding of most children. Cute though it was, how many kids would pick up on the "train of thought" riding around in Riley's brain? Or the concept of core memories? Or the chasm of forgetfulness into which we dump useless information? The whole premise based on emotions and memories would have been too difficult for children. At least all the ones I know. But then, today’s children were my generation’s teenagers. I was moved by the idea that as we grow older, most of the joyful memories we have of childhood become tinged with sadness when we first realize that those happy days are gone forever. Good flick. Go see it even if you’re the only adult there.

Monday, June 22

The VertigOpen

A few secondary comments about the course and the tournament. I was happy that Jordan Spieth won it. I was sad that Dustin Johnson sort of spit up on his shoes in front of millions of golf fans. Every golfer, pro or lousy amateur, knows what it feels like to spit up on one’s shoes. It’s all about the pressure, even if it’s only the pressure on that first drive in front of six or seven people in your Sunday Nassau. The pressure this past weekend at the U. S. Open would have been tremendous for those in the hunt to win it all. Rory McElroy did his “roary” thing on the front nine but couldn’t quite finish it on the back nine. Billy Horschel demonstrated his anger and frustration at the greens when he nearly planted his putter into the sixth green, then later in an interview said he’d lost respect for the USGA for having them play on these awful greens. Ian Poulter called the greens disgraceful, the worst he’d ever seen. Chris Kirk, who took a sextuple 10 on the first hole on Sunday, said on Twitter, “The USGA should be ashamed of what they did to it [the U. S. Open] this week.” This tournament at Chambers Bay might well have been called The VertigOpen, reflecting the nausea that Jason Day felt during his final two rounds, reflecting the nausea that a lot of the participants must have been feeling but were too intimidated by the USGA to express. The course looked awful on television, with its steel-gray fairways and greens and countless bunkers, with its nearly vertical cliffs overhanging some of its greens, with its severely canted and mounded fairways, with its silvery, mounded greens that required some shots to behave like steel balls in a pin-ball machine. Two examples: Jason Day hit his drive on #4 left of center and then watched it bounce 90 degrees to the right and go forty yards into the fescue rough. He managed to get his second shot onto the green but was left with about a fifty foot putt. He played it way left, trying to negotiate a ridge between him and the cup. He left it about forty feet short. Not in any of the tournaments I’ve watched, and I’ve watched a bunch, have I ever seen a putt of fifty feet come up forty feet short. But now I have, here at Chambers Bay. Another example of the luck involved instead of the skill. J. B. Holmes had a shot of ninety yards into the #1 green on Sunday. It landed fifteen feet short of the pin but dead on line, then inched its way down the slope to the left, then raced down the hill and came to rest about sixty yards from the pin. What?! He then hit a sixty-yard shot onto the green that didn’t quite make it over the shelf, then turned around and came back to his feet, sixty yards away. What?!

I guess that’s enough examples of why I think the U. S. Open should never again be scheduled for this Chambers Bay location.

Sunday, June 21

2015 U. S. Open Golf Championship

Sunday, Father’s Day, and here I am again, waiting to watch the world’s best golfers tee it up at Chambers Bay in Washington. Or should I say “Chambers Pot?” I’m always fascinated by the U. S. Open, for the golf, of course, but also to see what the USGA has come up with to get even with the uppity players who keep getting better and better at bringing a course to its knees. Almost every year the Open sites have had some dumb outcomes. I remember the 2004 Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York, when the greens on Sunday were like glass. Poor “Runnerup Phil” had a five-footer on 17 and the putt raced by where he would miss another for a double bogey that caused him to lose to Retief Goosen by two shots. I remember that first putt that he barely touched to get it started, watching as it went well down the slope from where he would also miss. That’s too high a premium on putting, when you have to guard so much on a 5-foot putt. I know, I know, all the players have to play the same holes on the same courses, but luck seems to play too large a role in U. S. Opens. I can’t remember which year or which course, but there was a hole with a steep rise from front to back. The cup was cut to the very rear of the green, and player after player would putt up the hill and then watch the ball circle around and come back to the front of the green. Dumb. The greens this year are also dumb. One can hardly call them greens: The players and viewers can’t distinguish where the fairways end and the greens begin, and the texture of the grass (fescue and poa annua) is awful to look at. Henrik Stenson joked that it was like putting on broccoli. Rory McIlroy added that it was more like cauliflower. And the number of mounds and swales on each green, causing players often to play putts and chips way right or left or long to get the ball to maybe come back somewhere near the hole.
Dumb. And what should be good shots into greens too often land and bounce thirty or forty yards long or don’t quite make it up a slope and then slowly turn back and rapidly run thirty or forty yards back toward the player who just hit it. On Saturday we heard the ranting that Gary Player let loose in an interview, calling Chambers Bay the worst course he’d ever seen, suggesting that the architect Trent Jones had to have one leg much shorter than the other to accommodate the drastic elevation changes. He wished he could hook up all the golf announcers to a lie detector to see what they really thought of Chambers Bay instead of what they had to say on camera. They keep praising the view. Yes, the sight of Puget Sound and snowcapped Mt. Rainier in the far distance is beautiful, but the same can’t be said of the overhead views of the course. It looks exactly like what it once was, a sand and gravel pit, like an industrial complex there for its utility rather than its beauty. When I think of beautiful courses and their views, I envision Pebblebeach, beautiful course, beautiful surroundings. I envision Augusta National, breathtakingly beautiful course, beautiful surroundings. Then there’s Chambers Bay. Ugly. I just hope that the winner this year is someone who actually wins it and not someone who wins because another player runs into Chambers Bay bad luck. I hope it will be Jordan Spieth, who seems to be an All-American Boy in ability, looks, and demeanor.

Monday, June 15

Prescription Packaging, Brian Williams, & Rachel Dolezal

Last night on the national news, there was a segment about a new way to package prescription medications, each pharmacy with a machine that would put all daily meds for any given prescriber into little cello-wrapped bags. The point was that too many people, especially seniors, make errors when putting their medication into pill boxes. Whoa! And the inventors of this machine suggest that there wouldn’t be errors putting pills into bags at the pharmacy? The logistics of such a device stun me. Too many prescriptions, too many prescribers old and young, too many changes in prescriptions. There would have to be just as many errors made as the ones made by old-timers fumbling pills into their weekly pill boxes. Good idea but with probable bad results.

NBC probably won’t be bringing Brian Williams back from his four-month suspension for lying on air. I wonder where he might go from here. I see another network hiring him to report the news on something much less than a national level. Or maybe he’ll just retire to write his memoirs . . . or his obituary But who would trust him to tell the truth about his life? I and a lot of others really liked Brian without realizing the level of his egotism.

Talk about a tempest in a teapot. Or maybe a cyclone in an inkwell. We have in the national news the story of Rachel Dolezal—president of the Spokane, Washington, NAACP—who had proclaimed her ethnicity as African-American and has now been shamed into resigning her post. In the truly bad old days of slavery in this country, anyone who had even a drop of black blood in his ancestry was considered to be Black, Negroid, African-American. Didn’t matter how white the skin, it was still black. And now Ms. Dolezal is being hounded by the media and the public and even her parents for wanting to cross races, for her transracial stance. Who should really give a good damn? We’re living in an age when America really is becoming a melting pot, when all races are combining into one relatively dark/light-skinned people. And isn’t that a good thing?
I look at Halle Berry,
Vanessa Williams, and
Beyonce Knowles (to name only a few) and I see beautiful women, not beautiful Black or White women, just beautiful women. So why should so many people care that Rachel Dolezal was pretending to be black? So what?

Friday, June 12

Tiger Woods

After Tiger’s exhibition last week at the Memorial, I finally have to go against all I’ve said in his defense for the last several years. He looks like a man floundering so bad he’ll never get back to a competitive level. Next week’s US Open should be the final test. It’s amazing how some golfers can maintain their skill levels into their mid to late forties—Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples, Steve Stricker. Yet some lose it and never get it back—David Duval, Mike Weir, Lee Janzen, Stuart Appleby, Curtis Strange, Johnny Miller. One day they’re at the top of their games and the next day they’re off the golfing maps. Chip Beck shot a 59 in 1991 when he was 35 and then missed 46 consecutive cuts from 1997 to 1998. David Duval was ranked #1 in 1998, shot a 59 at the Bob Hope Classic in 1999, and won the Open in 2001, and then, through a variety of medical issues (some of which had to be mental), couldn’t do diddly on a golf course. Johnny Miller at the end of his career felt like he was holding a snake instead of a putter. And the list goes on and on. The parallels between Tiger and Ian Baker-Finch are noteworthy. Baker-Finch, when he was 31, won the Open in 1991 and then went into nearly a total funk. “He started to lose confidence in his game and tinkered with his swing often. . . . The problems were often psychological. He would hit shots flawlessly on the practice range, and then go to the first tee and hit a weak shot into the wrong fairway.” (Wikipedia) Eerily similar, right? Except that Tiger hits his first drives waaay left or waaay right. The golf analysts examine his swing in super slow motion, talking about his radical head drop, wondering why he isn’t aware of it and why he doesn’t correct it. He keeps talking about his clubhead speed and how he’s got it right back to where it used to be, how he and his new swing coach Chris Como are working on his new swing. The driver isn’t the only errant club in his bag. What about those bladed and chunked chips and pitches? I’d hate to see Tiger’s career end in 2015, but I know if he doesn’t feel like he can contend, win again, he may decide to hang it up.
No more fist pumps, no more triumphal shrieks,
no more magical moments. The analysts all seem to agree that the problem is more mental than physical. All of us who have ever played this maddening game know that once we no longer believe we can make a shot or a putt, it’s all over. Just take the clubs, bag and all, and put ‘em in a dark place in the garage. And then take up bowling. I’ll bet Tiger would be a great bowler.

Wednesday, June 10

The Girl on the Train, Part 2, & News Items

The last book that made me angry, David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, angered me because of the unhappy (or do I mean unfortunate?) ending Wroblewski chose to give it, not because it was poorly written. Poor Edgar Sawtelle deserved a better fate. Or maybe the book deserved two endings from which the reader could choose. Edgar and his author led me to another book which didn’t so much anger me as it disgusted me. I’m talking about Paula Hawkins’ over-hyped best-seller The Girl on the Train. Yes, I said disgusted. When I got to the middle of the book, I couldn’t wait to finish it. Unlike Tess Gerritsen, who said in the jacket blurb she “simply could not put it down,” I found that I could put it down, right down the toilet. I can’t remember a novel that had more unsavory characters than this one. The three main females were all liars and adulterers, with one of them—the train girl Rachel—a drunk. Then there are the three men—Scott, Tom, and Kamal. Tom is king of the liars, Scott is an abusive whiner, and Kamal, the therapist, goes against his therapy principles by sleeping with two of his patients, Rachel and Anna. No one here to root for, no one wearing a white hat, no one I ever wanted to see again. The back and forth style, shifting the first-person narrative among the three women and the back and forth time sequence, was confusing and irritating. The three women were so much alike it was hard to keep them straight. Rachel’s drunken blackouts were just a sleight-of-hand device to keep from the reader what really happened. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl used a shifting time and point of view, but used it well to heighten the suspense. Paula Hawkins seemed to be trying to do the same thing but not doing it nearly as skillfully as Flynn. I’m quite sure a movie will be in the offing, but I won’t be there to see it. For me, the book was more than enough.

A few comments on a variety of news items.

How can tv reporters keep saying that authorities think the two escapees from Dannemora may have had help from within the prison? Well, certainly they had help. And the tv shots of the prison showed the viewers just how decrepit and old Dannemora is. It was built in 1844 and looked every bit of its one hundred and seventy-one years. You'd think that a maximum security prison would be more secure.


There's a new cholesterol medicine being touted, a shot in the leg once or twice a month that's more effective than the statin pills most of us now take. And it will cost only about $10,000 a year. Whoa! I do the math and it comes out to between just over $800 to just over $400 per shot. How in the world can drug companies justify such exorbitant charges?

Clint Eastwood recently put his large foot in his mouth at Spike TV's Guys Awards when he jokingly referred to those athletes who'd made the transition to film, saying, "Jim Brown and Caitlyn Somebody." It ranks right up there with his 2012 Republican National Convention pretend conversation with President Obama, in which he portrayed the president as having a foul mouth.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was named best play on last week's Tony Awards. It was based on a wonderful novel by Mark Haddon that we read a few years ago, about an autistic fifteen-year-old savant who sets out to find the killer of a neighbor's dog. I was led to this book by another novel about autism, Belinda Baur's Rubbernecker. I highly recommend both books. I wish I were somewhere near enough to see this play that was based on Haddon's book.

Tuesday, June 9

I'll See You in My Dreams

We were so pleasantly surprised by I’ll See You in My Dreams. We went to the theatre to see Far from the Madding Crowd, but the paper had the wrong show time listed. The only other movie then was I’ll See You, and we’re so glad we got to see it, her. The “her” is Blythe Danner, whom I’ve loved ever since I watched her countless times in her role as Zelda Fitzgerald in the tv movie The Last of the Belles. I used that film in my English classes, thus the countless viewings. That was forty-one years ago when she and I were much younger, just after Blythe gave birth to a little girl named Gwyneth Paltrow, before Blythe grew old enough to play the aging but still lovely Carol. It begins with the death of her dog and bed partner Hazel, as sad a scene as the scene in the Jesse Stone film, Night Passage, when Tom Selleck had to have his dog Boomer put to sleep. I wept for Boomer; I wept for Hazel. Carol has been a widow for the twenty years since her husband was killed in a plane crash. She retired from teaching with the insurance money and hasn’t done much of anything since. No men in her life, her days spent taking care of her house and garden, afternoons playing bridge with three retired friends living in the Royal Oaks Retirement complex—Sally (Rhea Perlman), Rona (Mary Kay Place), and Georgina (June Squibb)—and drinking lots of wine. She has a “To Do” board next to her refrigerator. We see how few items there are—dry cleaning, walk. And after a few days even those two are no longer on the board, showing us exactly how little she has to do. She begins an acquaintance with her pool guy Lloyd (Martin Starr), who tries to help her spot a tree rat that has invaded her house. He is a young man who seems to be searching (unsuccessfully) for meaning in his life but not searching very hard. The two of them bond at a karaoke bar when he sings the only song he ever sings (and sings very badly) and she sings (very well) “Cry Me a River.” Way back in her past she sang in a rock band, she tells him. He wonders why she ever quit singing and she tells him that life simply took her in another direction. She goes on, only half joking, that we all go through life searching for meaning and we all find it. What is it? he asks. Death, she tells him. How’s that for a thematic statement? She also meets Bill (Sam Elliott), who takes her out for an afternoon on his yacht. They date several times and they both feel an attraction that could be lasting. Simple plot, lovely story, wonderful acting, especially in the expressive facial shots of Blythe Danner as she portrays this aging woman trying to find some reason to go on living. This is a four-out-of-five star flick and I recommend it to all who want to see someone in their dreams.

Sunday, June 7

Yard Critters & The One I Love

Another overcast day, another day with temperatures uncharacteristically low for Arizona. And the birds are loving it. The doves talk to us at dawn and dusk, so many woo-hoo-uh-hoo’s we can hardly stand it. They seem to strut their horny selves all day long, engaging in embarrassingly amorous couplings right in front of us and the world, and then at dusk they fly into our arbor vitae to perch for the night, their stiff wings sounding like snapped sheets as they settle down. The females build stick nests for their offspring, a bird too dumb to add a little fluff for the babies. The springtime mockingbird males sing their little hearts out hoping to woo a female. If you’ve never heard a mockingbird you’ve missed the whistling, warbling variety of their song. They sing only for a month and a half during mating season and then go silent for the rest of the year. We’ve had far fewer quail families in our yard this year. I guess, as with rabbits, nature decides to slow down the quantity for fear of upsetting the balance. Lord knows, if they didn’t slow down we’d eventually be up to our hips in quail and rabbits. Of course we just have to have a nutty woodpecker who drums on our roof turbines early in the morning, sort of like the cockadoodledoo rooster who wakes the world before the world is quite ready for awakening. Enough of birds. I’ve written before about the odd yellow swallowtail butterfly who’s taken up our yard.
He (or she) has been here for at least two months flying continuously in and around our fruit trees, swooping up and over our arbor vitae. Doesn’t he (or she) ever get tired? Even our monarchs don’t stay as long as this one has.

How about a really short review of a Netflix movie we saw last week? Our local Arizona critic, Bill Goodykoontz, gave us a list of ten movies of this year he thought didn’t get enough attention from the public. The One I Love, starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, is a most unusual romady about a couple who visit a therapist (Ted Danson) because their marriage has gone a bit stale. The therapist suggests a weekend in the country at a lovely house with swimming pool and guest house. “Why not?” they think. The guest house is the key to the strangeness. Ethan (Duplass) is the first to find out just how strange. He goes in to find Sophie (Moss) already there, and they soon find themselves in bed. Lovey dovey for the first time in a long time. The next day, Sophie explores the guest house and finds Ethan already there. More bonding. But when they speak about it, neither has any memory of the earlier encounter. It seems that there are two people in the guest house who look and sound exactly like Ethan and Sophie. Thus the title. Which one really is the one I love? I looked forward to seeing how Elisabeth Moss would do. I remember her from her brief stint as the president’s daughter Zoe in The West Wing. Then she starred in Mad Men, a series I never got around to watching. And I saw her in the most unusual role in Top of the Lake. She’s a very talented actress, with emotional switches through subtle facial changes. You might be pleased with this movie. And Netflix would be pleased to send it to you.

Thursday, June 4

The Girl on the Train

I’ve just started the book everyone seems to be reading and talking about, Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train. Already I’m reminded of Gilliam Flynn’s Gone Girl in the confusing point of view with too many flashbacks and the duplicitous female character. I’m an old-school guy in my reading. I like narratives that move from point A in time to point B. I like my characters to be clearly who they say they are as they narratively move from A to B. In The Girl on the Train, we begin with Rachel in a first-person narration, and a strange girl she is, verging on alcoholic, verging on stalker of her ex-husband Tom. And then we shift to a year earlier with a first-person narration by Megan, a woman so equally strange that I didn’t even notice she wasn’t Rachel until I got to the end of the chapter. Next chapter, headed with the designation “Rachel,” I had to go all the way back to the beginning to reread and rectify my reading error. Okay, I know this will all begin to make better sense as I read on, just as the Gillian Flynn plot made more and more sense the further I went. But I still can’t help but feel slightly annoyed that I’m being led by the nose by the author. I’m not a stupid reader, having well over sixty years of avid reading under my belt, and I’m not a lazy reader, content to be titillated by Fifty Shades of Gray and its ilk. I also don’t need to be tested by convoluted plot lines and complex narrative devices. Faulkner was an amazing writer, but one who wasn’t every reader’s cup of tea. But Mark Twain didn’t need to test me with his straightforward narration in Huck Finn, nor F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, nor Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. So, Paula Hawkins, make me a believer in your narrative art, just as Gillian Flynn did, just as Kate Atkinson did in Life After Life. I’ll have more to say about the train girl after I’ve finished her tale.

Wednesday, June 3

SYTYCD & Many Moons

New season, new judges, new format. So You Think You Can Dance may be on its last dancing legs in Season 12. It seems like they’re stretching when they don’t need to. Let’s see, Cat Deely is still there in all her long-legged beauty, and Nigel Lythgoe is still judging and producing but seems to be a bit red-eyed this season. But where’s Mary Murphy and her hot-tamale-train screams? She was canned for some reason but I can’t find out why or by whom. And she’s being replaced by Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo. Okay to Paula, but why Jason? Are they using him to stretch out to younger, blacker viewers? I’ll wait a few shows before I judge too harshly. Now, what about the new format? The initial explanations aren’t very clear. Those who audition must commit to one broad form of dance or the other—stage or street. Those selected make it to Vegas where Travis Wall will coach the stage group and Twitch the street group. Those two groups will be narrowed to ten each. Ten what? Five males and five females or simply the top ten regardless of sexual orientation (and even that designation is no longer as clear as it once was)? After they decide the top twenty, how will they be paired? Only in their own dance genre or crossing over? I don’t know. That little detail was never clarified. We’ve been faithful SYTYCD fans from the beginning, but we may not make it past Season 12. SYTYCD may not either.

Last night we were treated to something that happens only once in a blue moon—the sight of a Blue moon. Well, actually, it was the precursor of the real blue moon wihich is the second full moon in a calendar month, the first taking place on last night on June 2 and the second on June 30. When it happens in June, it's also called a strawberry moon, since June is the month of ripened strawberries. But in Europe, where there are no strawberries, it’s called a Rose moon or a Hot moon. When a new moon occurs twice in one month, the second is called a Black moon. One could get moony (or loony)over so many designations for moons. There are waning and waxing moons. There are Harvest moons, sometimes called Full Harvest moons or Full Hunter’s moons. And finally, Blood moons, when we witness a total eclipse of the moon and it appears to be red or brown. There, that should be enough information about moons. You should find Mel Tormé’s version of “Blue Moon” and give it a listen as you amble outside on June 30 to see one in the flesh.
You might consider, as you amble, taking a beer with you.

Monday, June 1

Tomorrowland

How could Clooney have signed on for his role in Disney’s Tomorrowland? What was he thinking? When he sees himself in this stinker, what does he see, how does he react? I can’t believe he’d do anything but hold his nose. Where is the guy I loved in Up in the Air and Gravity? Instead, I see a grizzled old man who looks like he’d rather be in Yesterdayland than in this land of tomorrow. I checked the response to this movie on Rotten Tomatoes and was amazed—no, dumbfounded—to see that 49% of critics and 59% of viewers were positive. What are they seeing that I and the rest of my audience members didn’t see? Here's what one reviewer, Ken Hanke, had to say: "Tomorrowland—vaguely based on the Disney theme park attraction—is a mess. Structurally, it’s a nightmare. Dramatically, it only occasionally comes to life. Technically, it’s sometimes impressive and sometimes a thing of 1930s-level matte paintings and CGI that’s so cartoonish it’s hard to remember it isn’t an animated film. Thematically, it’s such a bizarre farrago of mismatched “philosophies” and ideas that it’s hard to tell what it’s supposed to be. I’d like to call it a “noble failure,” but I’m not at all sure that it’s noble. I am sure, on the other hand, that so far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly a failure." I spoke with a number of my senior neighbors who saw it. A few walked out, a few thought about walking out, most suffered through to the end. I was one of the “thought about” walkers. I stayed to the end even though I dozed off in a few places. There were quite a few youngsters from five to ten there, not making a sound—not a chuckle of amusement, not a gasp of excitement. Just dead silence. I remember children’s responses to The Wizard of Oz, my own in particular when I first saw it in 1939. It was a wonderful story with wonderful characters set in an imaginary wonderful place called Oz. When Casey (Brittany Robertson) first touches the token that zips her away from reality to this land of the future, she ends up in a yellow wheatfield with a view of the futuristic spires of Tomorrowland in the distance, almost laughably similar to Dorothy’s first view of the Emerald City. And now these children are seeing a confusing story with plenty of confusing flashbacks and location switches with far too many shootings and killings and blowups and ridiculous ninja fightings. Hugh Lawrie as David Nix made an able villain in a wicked-witch-of-the-north way. He was exactly the curmudgeon we got used to in House. Apparently the film’s message was that we’d better do something about the state of the world now or we’ll never realize the wonders of Tomorrowland. Casey asks the riddle: There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is: which wolf wins? The answer: The one you feed. There, children in the audience, what do you make of that? A confusing message for all ages. I’m an adult, an old adult, and I’m not sure what was intended. Sorry, Walt. Sorry, Brad Bird and your sorry directing and writing. Tomorrowland just doesn’t cut it. And shame on you, George Clooney, for lowering yourself to this stinkbomb’s level.

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