Friday, November 27, 2020

Ralph Edward Nase, born November 27, 1914, died Novemeber 27 2010

My father worked hard every day of his life. His final retirement came at age 89 when he moved to Michigan so I could keep an eye on both of my parents. He was a bookkeeper and office manager for small car dealerships in Philly. He was underpaid, overworked, treated shabbily often. He just kept going, often walking the mile to work and back even at the end. And he often walked to the bank to make deposits on his lunch hour. He was the success story in his very large family. He had managed to go to a two-year business college, which allowed him to escape the fate of his siblings. Almost all of them worked in factories. His first job, which he had until he was drafted, was managing a country club. That was the job he loved. But when he returned from the war, his father-in-law had taken over. So he went to work for the car dealerships, spending very long days in tiny windowless offices. He was a very good father. He never hit us, I can't even remember him yelling at us. And what free time he had he gladly gave us. He loved children so it was a thrill to be a grandfather and then a grandfather. Every August, we spent most of the month together, where he loved playing racquetball with Josh, going miniature golfing, riding bikes on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I could list a hundred good things about him here but you get the idea.The top photo is his remaining siblings in the early sixties except the one sister who ran away as a teenager. Ralph is on the far right, rear row.






A poem I wrote for Dad in the nineties (my Dad never learned to swim)

 

Antaeus in the Swimming Pool 

 

Like the figure of Poseidon

In the Woolworth's goldfish bowl,

you stand, legs planted firmly

in the three-foot end of Fisher's pool.

Really you're more an Antaeus

among the bobbing toys. Never mind,

 

I'll be no Hercules. Neither of us sees

something foolish in our circumstance.

Instead, I swim, stomach scraping

concrete, (for I'm too big here too)

between  your pillared legs.

Executing figure eights, eyes splayed,

 

treading carefully so as not to knock 

you down or even skim your surfaces.

Neither of us could bear to find you 

Helpless in such shallow water, tumbling

frantically, screaming strings of bubbles

among the tiny bodies of your peers.


 


Monday, November 23, 2020

Still Here

 

Some nice weather that gave way to snow today. Just a dusting (I hope). Reading My Dark Vanessa still. It is so dark I can only read it for short spurts. But I promised a friend I would read it so we could talk about it. And it has sensational reviews so it must be worth it.  Gave up on the Fonda and Stewart bio. Unlike his bio of Cary Grant, this one was far too hagiographic. But reading a book by Matt Coyle, the sixth in his series.


Also reading William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade.

Listening to lots of podcasts on various topics. Including one on THE CROWN, which I am trying hard not to speed through. I love the way this is approached, where each epsiode deals with a topic as much as the chronology. I don't think I ever realized how emotionally needy both Diana and Charles were.

Also watching two HBO series. Murder at Middle Beach and Industry.


Michigan is in bad shape now. It looks like a lot of the trouble emanated from college campuses that didn't completely (or at all) shut down. It is very hard to keep people under 30 out of bars. 

More than one million people passed through airports on Friday.  Only a vaccine can save us. 

What about you?


Friday, November 20, 2020

FFB: LAUGHTER IN THE DARK, Vladimir Nabokov



I had to work a bit to get into this book. Superficially it is very like Nabokov's LOLITA. An older man falls in love with a teenager. But in this book, the teenager holds the winning hand. This novel was written in 1932 when VN was in Berlin, but it feels very Russian to me. 

A married older man in the film industry falls for a usherette he meets at the cinema. He is totally besotted, and it is not long before he leaves his wife and child to take up life with a girl who rarely shows any interest in him. Beyond his money, that is.

When a recent lover of the girl enters the picture, things get even more dire for the older man. This is noir, but it is also very comic in parts. And despite loathing the older man (he does some despicable things) what happens to him is more than just rewards. A tragedy, a comedy, noir. This is also a very lively story and surprising at many turns. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Short Story Wednesday-"Shiloh," Bobbie Ann Mason

 Having trouble putting up links. It may take a while.


"Shiloh" is the title story from Bobbie Ann Mason's first collection of stories published in 1982. The collection was nominated for many awards, winning some. And "Shiloh" is a perfect example of the world Mason would continue to write about. It was originally published in THE NEW YORKER.

Leroy and Norma Jean are a blue-collar couple living in western Kentucky. She works at a drugstore cosmetic counter and he drives a rig. Or he did until he got into an accident, making long drives impossible. Their problem is a common one: Norma Jean wants to improve herself and their life and Leroy is pretty much satisfied. His one dream is to make a log cabin house for them, a desire Norma Jean doesn't share. A baby, who died of SIDS, is in their past. A noisy mother-in-law hovers nearby finding fault with both of them. She talks a lot about a honeymoon trip she took to Shiloh, the Civil War battleground, and eventually talks them into going. It is there that Norma Jean tells Leroy she wants out. Leroy is not a bad man, he does have his own sort of dreams. But while Norma Jean is signing up for community ed courses, playing the piano, and taking a fitness class, Leroy just  drives around town and smokes pot.

Mason's writing is terrific. You never doubt these two people exist and their dilemma is a common one. What happens when one spouse outgrows the other. Near the end Leroy seems the problem, but doesn't have a clue about how to change it or himself.

Matt Paust

Jerry House 

TracyK 

Rick Robinson 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

At the Movies

When my son, Josh, sent me a piece about Rehoboth Beach, DE perhaps becoming Biden's presidential retreat, the first thing I thought of was that the last time we were in Rehoboth in 1987, we saw the movie DIRTY DANCING. Or was it 1990 when we saw GHOST. Our usual beach vacation was in Ocean City, NJ but occasionally we met up with my brother and his wife in Rehoboth. That made me realize (but not for the first time) how important movies have been to me. Imagine remembering places based on the movie seen in theaters there. But that's how it is for me.

The Renel was my neighborhood movie theater in Philly. I walked there every Saturday, a good mile walk, and saw whatever they were showing. We never thought to check. By my teen years, I went downtown with my friend, Karen. We took the S bus and the subway wearing heels and gloves. If we were lucky, we got to stop at a bar owned by a friend's father on the way home and he would feed us. The theaters were magical. I am sure you remember those palaces too.




I am embarrassed at how often it's the movie rather than the city or country where I saw it that I remember. This dates back to our very beginning as a couple. Phil and me. Movies were important from the start. Other couples went to the drive-in for romantic evenings, I went for the movies more often. Our first drive-in movie together was Cleopatra, two years after it came out. A pretty bad movie but spectacular to look at. 

My first experience with foreign films was at the Strand Theater in Lambertville, NJ where we saw 8 1/2 and Bergman films. I had no idea that films like that existed until Phil took me to the Strand. It's a vacant building now according to writer Dennis Trafoya who lives there.

At Rutgers, where Phil got his Ph.D and I worked for New Jersey Bell, we drove into Princeton and saw The Graduate, Goodbye Columbus, and Rosemary's Baby. Each of these films astonished me at the time. 

Over the years, even before we landed in a city or country, I'd check out the movie theaters. This led to us seeing a Mike Leigh movie in Portugal in 1997, a Japanese movie called Our Little Sister in Krakow, Poland fifteen years later, Get Out in Key West, Drive at the St. Louis Bouchercon. 

I cannot begin to list the movies we saw in Paris. But a theater there was doing an Alfred Hitchcock festival on the left bank so how could we know show up every night. In London once, I fell down a flight of wet steps and sprained my ankle, but still hobbled across the street to see Away from Her's four o'clock show. My ankle, swollen badly two hours, later was worth the price of admission. 

When we were living in Manchester in the mid-nineties, Phil was invited to a conference in France. He was gone for four days and on every one of them, I took a bus and a train into Manchester to see movies. I especially remember Hoop Dreams and Barcelona. There was a certain degree of frustration not having anyone to discuss Hoop Dreams with and I remember the audience hooting at Barcelona. Those crazy Americans someone said on the way out.

In Palm Springs, not so long ago, we saw in the newspaper that The Great Beauty was playing. Is it walkable, we asked the hotel clerk? She shrugged and handed us a map, pointing the theater out. It took us about 45 minutes to walk there and another 45 minutes to return--all in the dark and all on unpaved roads, but it was worth it.

I am sure there have been trips where we just couldn't find our way to a theater, but not very many. The European habit of showing movies VO (in the original language) made it easy to see American movies everywhere. We even found a theater in Luxembourg although I can't remember what we saw. 

I love plays too and will gladly see a play on a trip too, but there is something about a movie that's special to me. I have a history with movies that I don't have with plays. I didn't see my first play until Man of La Mancha in 1967. By then I had seen hundreds of movies.

When  people talk about what they miss most during this pandemic, I know what it is for me. Sitting in the dark of a movie theater that smells of popcorn, milk duds, and the horrible cheese they put on nachos. And also taking in the less pleasant smells of upholstery that badly needs replacing, cheap soap wafting from the rest rooms, and the sweaty smell of anticipation. Often, I cannot even remember what movie it is I about to watch. It doesn't matter a lot. Just that there is the possibility that it is about to thrill me. I will never be one to prefer to watch movies at home. There is no magic on my old couch, smelling the remnants of dinner, hearing the dishwasher churning. The magic is in sharing the experience in a palace built for this very special experience. At least to me.




Monday, November 16, 2020

Still Here







 I certainly wish I understood how to arrange graphics on here. Anyway. Finished the Cary Grant bio, which was great, and watched Indiscreet, which I realized halfway through I had seen quite recently. Still enjoyed it. For a romance, it was a bit dour. Or perhaps Grant was. What is your favorite Cary Grant film? I am torn between Bringing up Baby and North by Northwest.

I also watched two great recent movies this week: God's Own Country and 40-Year Old Version. Both streaming. I tried a number of series but didn't settle into any of them. Hard to follow Queen's Gambit, which was so great. Just way too many series about missing girls. I watched an old Poirot, the first one Masterpiece ever did, I think, and wondered why the first season of Poirot was all short stories. 

Reading a lot of books at once. Still. I am not sure why. I don't like to read hard cover in bed at night so I always need a paperback there. Hank and Jim is great at laying out that early thirties era when you had all these stars in rooming houses waiting for their break. My Dark Vanessa is another story of older man, young girl as is the Nabokov one (Laughter in the Dark). This is an early version of Lolita but it feels like it was written by Chekov, very odd. 

Donald Trump is in a race with Covid to see who's scarier. I can barely read the NYT in the morning now. The Detroit Free Press isn't much better. Now we have to worry that the states will run out of money before the vaccine is ready and they will not be able to distribute it. Yikes. 

I bought a wedge pillow this week. It does seem to help a number of issues. I also bought an air purifier, which makes me cough. Great. 

So what's new with you?

Friday, November 13, 2020

FFB-DEEP WATER, Patricia Highsmith

Vic and Melinda Van Allen are a decade into a loveless marriage. Although Vic certainly feels something for Melinda (pride in ownership probably), Melinda is scornful of everything about Vic except his money. Vic tolerates lover after lover, determined to keep her and their family intact at almost any cost. Melinda makes no attempt to hide her affairs, even bringing the men home for dinner. 

We can't feel much sympathy for Vic though and feel even less when he begins to get rid of Melinda's lovers. 

This novel tests the idea whether you can be interested in a story with no one to root for. Even their six-year old child is spoiled and shows signs of being like her mother.  It didn't really work for me because I never understood why Vic tolerated Melinda's behavior. It never gave us enough of his background, or even Melinda's.  It is amusing at points but it's a queasy sort of amusement you feel. 

I believe this novel is going to be a movie starring Ben Affleck. He should be a perfect Vic.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Forty year old version

 Really liked this film on Netflix. And the song they used. 

https://youtu.be/PEo3vK-qVfQ

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Short Story Wednesday

Megan edited this collection for Busted Flush Press in 2007, long before she knew most of the writers found inside. It's a terrific collection and I am going to do a bad thing by picking one of the few male-authored stories as my favorite. 

"Uncle" by Daniel Woodrell is such a knockout I had to choose it. Not for the faint-hearted, it is the story of a young girl and her mother who are being terrorized by an uncle who grabs girls, brings them to the their shared home, and knocks them out or off, leaving his niece to clean up for him. One day, she's had enough and hits him over the head, the head injuries leaving him in an infantile state. Her mother gives her the task of minding him. She does her fair share of humiliating him by dressing him like a baby. but she does take care of him. Until something changes...

The thing about "Uncle" for me is not only the original, daring story, but the gorgeous writing. The first sentence, "A cradle won't hold my baby" is just genius to me. And all the rest of the words, sentences, paragraphs fall in line. Woodrell never loses the voice of an uneducated Ozark girl. You believe in her and the place she comes from.

This story appeared later in Woodrell's collection THE OUTLAW ALBUM. With the exception of WINTER'S BONE, I don't think Woodrell has gotten the attention he deserves. And now it's been a long time since his last novel so he may never get it. A shame.
 

Matt Paust

Steve Lewis 

Jerry House 

Richard Robinson 

TracyK 

Todd Mason

First Wednesday Book Review Club: LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND, Rumaan Alam

 Short Stories to follow later...


A family of four has rented an Air BNB for a week on the beach. They've barely settled in when a knock comes on the door and an older Black man introduces himself as their landlord. The Brooklyn family of four does not know whether to believe him, being skeptical a Black family could own such a sumptuous home. And why would he turn up? The Black man and his wife are fleeing some sort of blackout that occurred in the Manhattan as they left the theater. They lived on a high floor in the City so were fearful the elevator wouldn't work. This Long Island beach house is their second home.

And so begins the story of six people trying to negotiate life together and trying to figure out what happened and if it was contained to the New York area. They are not able to reach anyone by phone and radios and tv are out. Car trips to neighboring towns prove unfruitful. Several astounding things happen, which signal this is more than just a blackout.

Now this is not the sort of book for people that need every question answered. That's not what it's about. It's about the stress of living through a  possible apocalypse.  Also you may wonder why they didn't do certain things. It's from their point of view so the author does not have to provide us with all the answers. If they can't solve the problems, they don't get solved. 

I think it is the best book I have read in 2020. It is frightening, yes. But we have been prepared for that. 

For more book reviews, see Barrie Summy.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Still Here

 https://youtu.be/XIsc0_J_vg0

 

Boy, I miss opening credits like this from CHARADE. They were an art form in the past, but I guess also very expensive.  I also watched INDISCREET this week. The Cary Grant bio has me revisiting his films. There are only a few I haven't seen (GUNGA DIN for one). But I have to admit, I find less to love about Cary after reading this bio. Not that he did anything heinous but had some annoying traits.

Also reading THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orleans. It is about the eighties fire that almost destroyed the building as well as many hundred of thousands books. Because it happened the same day as Chernobyl it drifted to the back of the newspapers. Read DEEP WATER by Patricia Highsmith. 

Mostly watched election coverage this week. The fantastic weather allowed me to spend time with some friends. Looks to be only two more days of it. Covid is completely out of hand. How can we be so stupid. Still seeing people without masks. 

What about you?

Sunday, November 08, 2020

A November Fairy Tale


 

A November Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, the coronation of a new king took place in the kingdom. Everyone woke as if for the first time in many years. The people rubbed their eyes, seeing clearly the consequences of the old king's bad behavior. The sky was less clear, the water more foul, the people were sick, the bile of hatred was still in their mouths. Their eyes filled with tears.

But they put on their masks and waved to their neighbors black and white, sick and well, rich and poor, old and young--all of whom they loved.  And the streets were filled with their dancing and singing and each knew a better day had dawned.

The new king and his helpmate rejoiced in what they saw from the castle window and vowed to do only good in the world.

And the people of the kingdom lived happily ever after.

Friday, November 06, 2020

FFB

Forgotten Books: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (Ed Gorman from the archives)

Let's begin with a tale of woe. Mine.

Years ago I was asked to contribute a forty thousand word novella to a YA series about shape-shifters. You know, beings humans and otherwise who can transform themselves into other kinds of creatures. I immediately thought of Jack Williamson's The Wolves of Darkness, a grand old pulp novella set in the snowy American West and featuring enough creepy violence and tangled romance to make it memorable. It even has its moments of sweeping poetry.

Reading Williamson's piece showed me how to write my own. A few days after the young editor received it he called to rave. And I do mean rave. The best of the entire series. Eerie and poetic. Yadda yadda yadda. For the next forty-eight hours I was intolerable to be around. 

It was during this time our five cats learned to give me the finger. My swollen head was pricked soon enough. The young editor's older boss hated it. He gave my editor a list of reasons he hated it. I was to rewrite it. I wouldn't do it. I said.  I'd just write another one, which I did. Old editor seemed to like this one all right but he still wasn't keen on how my "characterizations" occasionally stopped the action. Backstory--verboten.

Shortly after this werewolves began to be popular. I spoke to a small reading group one night and told them about Wolves of Darkness and then about Williamson's novel Darker Than You Think. Everything I love about pulp fantasy is in this book. The werewolf angle quickly becomes just part of a massive struggle for the soul of humanity. As British reviewer
 

Tom Matic points out:

"According to its backstory, homo sapiens emerged as the dominant species after a long and bitter struggle with another species, homo lycanthropus, whose ability to manipulate probability gave it the power to change its shape and practise magic. These concepts, fascinating as they are, might make for dry reading were they not mediated via a gripping thriller riddled with startling plot twists, that blends scientific romance with images of stark bloodcurdling horror, such as the kitten throttled with a ribbon and impaled with a pin to induce Mondrick's asthma attack and heart failure, and the pathetic yet fearsome figure of his blind widow, her eyes clawed out by were-leopards. With its scenes of demonic mayhem in an academic setting and the sexual and moral sparring between the two main characters, it almost feels like a prototype of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer in a film noir setting."

Williamson couching his shape-shifters in terms of science fiction lends the story a realistic edge fantasies rarely achieve. The brooding psychology of the characters also have, as Matic points out, a noirish feel. And as always Williams manages to make the natural environment a strong element in the story. He's as good with city folk as rural. And he's especially good with his version of the femme fatale, though here she turns out to be as complicated and tortured as the protagonist.

This is one whomping great tale. If you're tired of today's werewolves, try this classic and you'll be hooked not only by this book but by Jack Williamson' work in general..  

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Short Story Wednesday

Short Story Wednesday

 



I happened upon an article in "Ploughshares" discussing the ghost stories of Muriel Spark and I happened to have this collection (above) which had a number of the mentioned stories in it. I found them oddly appealing although more as pieces of writing than satisfying ghost stories. 

"The Leafsweeper" has the odd premise of being about a man whose obsession was putting an end to the celebration of Christmas. When enough people were bored and tired with his ranting about it, he was put in an asylum where he rakes leaves In the house where he formerly ranted, another ghostly figure takes his place at Christmas time although he does not rant and rave about Christmas.  The story ends with the two figures becoming one. One has to wonder what the man does when there are no leaves to rake. 

"The House of the Famous Poet" was even stranger. A woman living in the house of a famous poet is on a train ride when a soldier sells her "an abstract funeral" to cover the costs of his fare. The story ends with a bombing where people in the house of the famous poet die thus requiring a real funeral.

And finally "The Executor." A woman's uncle dies and leaves her his house and estate. She turns over his literary work to a foundation, holding back a novel about a witch with a chapter left for completion. As she works to complete it, little notes turn up each day, chastising her for not finishing the work and making disturbing accusations. The Foundation notifies her that they were in receipt of the final chapter and wanted the rest of it. 

None of these were satisfying to me as ghost stories but as I said, I enjoyed them anyway. Sometimes the conceit is more interesting than a satisfying conclusion. I always like Spark's writing and these were stories from a quirky mind. The best kind, I think.

 More short stories

Jerry House

TracyK 

George K 

Matt Paust

Cullen Gallagher

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Monday, November 02, 2020

Still Here



I cannot imagine how the USA can survive another four years of Trump. Or the world for that matter. And yet the race has tightened in Michigan. Crossed fingers. I will certainly not be watching the returns on Tuesday night. Four years ago took way too much out of me. If Trump wins, one of the many things that will happen is that he will do nothing about Covid. And he will continue to service the 1% and forget the rest of the country.

Finished QUEEN'S GAMBIT (Netflix) and I think it was about the best series I have seen in recent months. Although I liked BORGEN a lot too, this was so beautifully presented and well-acted. Certainly they are my two favorites since summer. Watching THE BAY on Britbox set in the very strange town of Morecombe, which for some reason Phil and I traveled to the year we lived in England. It was fun that year to simply take a train to somewhere that seemed interesting. Morecambe was a mistake. Although it is set along water it seems to derive no beauty from that.  The beach and water are very dirty looking for one thing. THE BAY is a crime series and good enough to pass the time. Looking forward to the new Hugh Laurie series on PBS tonight. The one with Dawn French preceding it is quite odd.

Finishing up REBECCA, DEEP WATER, and CARY GRANT. All good.

My porch visits have ended as we settle into lower temps. A big loss. I have only one friend who comes inside the house and we are both careful not to expose ourselves elsewhere. Thank God for Kate. 

Thank God, also for my brother who sat in with me on my twice yearly call (usually it's a visit) with Merrill Lynch. I have never paid enough attention to investments, but Jeff is a whizz at it. Because I have done nothing for almost a year, I have more money than I did a year ago. Although that will end in two weeks with the purchase of a new furnace.

My hair is completely gray now. I have to say since I stopped coloring it, it is thicker and my scalp feels better. I am sure I look older though. But 20 years of dying my hair was enough for me.  

I have become a better cook during this period. I find myself doing interesting things with chicken and fish most nights. Too bad Phil isn't here to see it. I cooked for the first 25 years of our marriage and it was very dull indeed. He took over for the next 25 and was an excellent, imaginative cook.  He never made the same dinner twice.And now it is back to me and because I have so much time on my hands, I am putting more into it.

Halloween was pretty quiet although there were some kids out and some people left tables with treats on them out. There are not a lot of small children on my block. 

So what's new with you?