Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Current (well, in my place) Cinema

I spend my nights in faraway places. Over the past week I've favored DVDs that take me out of myself..

Friday night was Howard the Duck, the George Lucas, Willard Hyuck and Gloria Katz interpretation of Steve Gerber's classic Marvel Comics series. Gerber is dead now, but for my money he was the progenitor of the truly adult comic book: adult not because of sex, gore, swearing and violence but because of their intelligence, themes and cynicism.

Howard the Duck should have made for a great movie. Instead, it is merely passable -- although not the complete bomb that the criticism of the time would suggest. It actually tries to be a fair adaptation of the comic, and the acting standard is pretty high.

But oh, that duck! What were they thinking? It appears to have been a conscious decision to change Howard's appearance from that of a cartoonish duck into something halfway between a human and a real duck. Not only was it misguided, it was poorly executed. The character is so ugly to look at, with that rim of bare skin around his beady little realistic eyes. Very sadly, it ruins the whole movie. The duck should be appealing in a gravelly, grouchy, cartoonish way, and he's not.

Still, I look at this once in a while and try to appreciate the good parts. This was the first time I'd seen it in widescreen since the original release.

Sunday was Goldfinger. I dunno, revisiting Bond seems like the end-of-summer thing to do. Easily the most sexist and least dramatically sound of the whole series, Goldfinger is my least favorite of the Bonds second only to Dr. No. The whole resolution of the plot depends on Bond's ability not just to bed Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) but, in doing so, to be so revelatory a lover in, literally, just one roll in the hay to turn Pussy from a very lesbian criminal into an upstanding hetero who has seen the Error of Her Ways. It's deeply offensive. The whole third act is a waste really, but what I learned this go around is that I'd forgotten how much there was to like in the first two thirds. A lot of the value in re-viewing these things in widescreen comes from their travelogue quality: they choose these absolutely stunning locales, shoot them beautifully, let you get a good eyeful of it, and then use it as the backdrop for mayhem. Goldfinger is no exception.

Last night was Harper. Another mid-sixties panavision movie made by people who really know how to frame a shot and take you places. For 95 percent of its runtime it's a near-perfect adaptation of Ross MacDonald's novel, The Moving Target. But the ending is terrible, basically chucking out the whole last chapter of the book and replacing it with a freeze-frame that resolves exactly nothing. The villain's multi-layered motivations are mostly lost, and one important plot point involving the Pamela Tiffin character is jettisoned completely. Lauren Bacall has some fun laying on the bitchy stuff with a trowel, Robert Wagner is, well, Robert Wagner, the great Strother Martin shows up in a role that's subversively funny -- but there's a little too much of Hud in Paul Newman's portrayal of Lew Harper / Archer. Still, the main body of MacDonald's hugely complicated plot is intact, it holds your interest, and two hours go by pretty quickly.

Of course there are short features on Friday nights: currently enjoying a disk of Popeye cartoons, and the new serial is Columbia's 1941 Batman. Oy! The costumes! The "acting!" There isn't even a Batmobile -- the Caped Crusaders drive around in a convertible coupe and giggle at each other like little kids. These Columbia serials make the Republic serials look like Lawrence of Arabia by comparison!

Onward! I haven't decided what to have for dinner yet, but I know the entertainment is going to be Farscape.

-- Freder

A landscape of tears

For the last few days the weather has been bleak, gray, dismal and steamy. The air so full of moisture that the whole house is clammy to the touch. Yesterday I left the upstairs windows open just a crack, no more than an inch, so that the rain could not get in. When I arrived home at the end of the day I found that the walls and ceilings all the way out into the main hall were drenched, literally dripping with moisture. It looked as if the house was weeping.

I wiped it down with paper towels and closed all the windows and doors, which made the cats unhappy.

It's dark in there, too, and I can't seem to turn on enough lights to brighten the place. Damn these newfangled CFL lightbulbs anyway. In the commercials they claim to give off the same light as incandescent bulbs, but that is a bloody lie. When you switch on an incandescent bulb, you get instant clean white light. When you turn on a CFL bulb, you get swampland. A pale wan yellowish glimmer that takes forever to reach its full strength, and retains a yellowish cast even then.

When incandescent bulbs finally become illegal, I predict that we will have people jumping out of buildings like snowflakes.

In case you couldn't tell: On Sunday a mood descended on me that I have not been able to shake since, and weather like this is no help. Is it possible to build up an immunity to Prozac? Or can the drug just not cope with the added load of winter depression?

As they will not be used in evidence, I put the stolen items that I recovered back out into the house. I thought this would cheer me up. It didn't. It will all be gone, soon, anyway.

I started to do some writing for this blog, but words failed me. In trying to find something to say I want back through the emails I'd written in the weeks following my mother's death. This was a huge mistake.

I am not, in the vernacular, "dealing effectively with my feelings." Or anything else, really. It's tough to care when you know that a pack of strangers are going to come into your house and take your whole life apart.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Last of the Simian Blather (Aren't you happy?)

Severn Darden is an actor I find impossible to take seriously. Most likely this is because he has a strong background in comedy. Maybe it's the Leslie Nielsen factor: once Mr. Nielsen started doing comedy, he rendered all of his early, serious roles completely laughable. Have you ever tried to watch Leslie Nielsen in Forbidden Planet? It's impossible not to laugh!

And so it is with Darden, who plays a homicidal mutant governor in Battle for the Planet of the Apes and is supposed to be a menace. He's certainly a menace to the movie itself. As with Beneath the Planet of the Apes before it, the mutant humans come off like are silly throwbacks to the Buck Rogers serials, and in this movie Mr. Darden makes matters much worse. Every shot that he appears in provokes unintended chortling. A part of me suspects that he was consciously playing it as comedy, because as written the thing is already hard to take seriously.

There is some compelling Ape Interest as Roddy McDowell does his damnedest to hold the thing together. The conflict between his Caesar and Claude Akins's General Aldo is well handled. And I had forgotten that the battle of the film's title is not the misguided attack on ape city by the mutant humans, but Caesar's struggle to change the course of future history and prevent the violent world of the first two Apes movies from ever coming about -- which he apparently succeeds in doing!

That part of it is interesting enough to justify the movie. But just when we're feeling mildly friendly towards it, along comes Servern Darden in his Halloween costume trying to "boo" us.

This was followed by a short-lived TV series that I remember quite liking. Still, I've had enough monkey bidness for the time being and think I will pass on that one. . . for now, anyway.

-- Freder.

Possibilities for future lives

Soon I will be free as a bird. I will be able to move anywhere, do anything I want to do.

I have to start thinking along those lines.

Staying in the house is not sustainable unless the situation evolves in one of two or three directions.

One solution would be for me to follow in my mother's footsteps and enter the antiques trade myself, gradually dissolving the estate in a way that was not too painful while still allowing me the time to search for other employment on the side.

I thought about that for maybe five minutes. The antiques trade is not for me. Of course nothing is certain, but this game is more uncertain than most. You can work your tail off in dire conditions and still lose money.

Another solution is to start one (or more) of the businesses that I've been noodling on and run them from the house. My mother and I discussed turning the field beside the Barn into a real old-fashioned German style outdoors craft and antiques market with a Christmas theme. It would be harder to do without the field across the street to use as a parking lot, but it could still be done. At the same time, I had a notion about using the back field and the field beside the house for a Halloween-themed Spook Attraction. The tour would end out in front of the house, where there would be a kiosk selling comics and other gifty items tied to the attraction (I called it "The Shadow Lands" and had a full layout in my head, along with ambitious plans for expansion over time), and there would be a food service out in front of the barn. Over time, both barns would be restored and remade into additional attractions.

Then there’s the publishing business that I wanted to start up with the ex-Thorndike Press gang, using the successful Thorndike Press model. When they all moved away from it (investment money not growing on trees, and no one wishing, understandably, to stake their future) I transformed the concept into something called "Black Street Books," which would have specialized in genre fiction with an emphasis on series titles produced on the Stratemeyer Syndicate model. I have a business plan partially written.

None of these ideas are incompatible -- and they go in a direction that I actually could actually get some enjoyment or fulfillment from.

But I’m a lousy business man, and these are large projects that would require the help of others. No one, least of all myself, has any confidence in my ability to make even the smallest of these things happen.

My attempts to launch a simple web-based business were a dismal failure.

The only thing I know for certain is that I have to find a new purpose in life, and that purpose can not be the college bookstore.

It’s time to start a job search that includes the whole country, not just my current neck of the woods.

-- Freder.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's not HIGH Ott. . .

I have a Poppy Ott that needs a good home.

What’s a Poppy Ott, you say? Here’s a piece I wrote years ago that will explain the whole thing. I¹ll meet you at the other end with my “Special Offer.”


As a legacy from my father's childhood, I inherited custodianship of a complete set of "Poppy Ott" books. Like the better-known Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, also published by Grossett & Dunlap, these were light mystery stories for children. Unlike those better known heroes, the Poppy Ott books combined their mystery with a heady mixture of other influences: "Our Gang" clubhouse trappings, Horatio Alger bootstraps capitalism, small-town atmosphere and a hefty helping of unsubtle humor.

The series' unlikely hero is introduced in Poppy Ott and the Stuttering Parrot, when narrator Jerry Todd (just an average small-town boy, son of a brickmaker, star of another mystery series bearing his name) and his gang discover a pair of tramps -- an old man and a boy -- squatting in a tumbledown trailer at the edge of Tutter, Jerry's home town. Instant mystery: who is this shabby New Kid and where did he come from?

Before Jerry can answer these questions, a traveling medicine show arrives in Tutter, bringing with it a deeper mystery of pirate gold and murdered men -- and the possibility that one of Tutter's respectable citizens may have had a more colorful past than was recently supposed. The tramp boy, at first implicated in the goings-on, takes charge, clears his own name and solves the mystery.

By the end of the book, this Poppy Ott has been cleaned up and transformed into a respectable citizen, with more ambition and bigger ideas than most of the rest of the town combined. Later books show him opening all manner of businesses -- toy novelty manufacturing companies, pancake restaurants and interior decorating firms to name but three -- while continuing to solve mysteries as the head of the boys' Juvenile Jupiter Detective Club, engaging in frequent battles with the rival Stricker gang and having the kind of Outdoors Fun that went the way of all flesh with the invention of TV. All, presumably, while still attending grade school.

The books were illustrated by Bert Salg, in an engaging, scratchy style that still brings the characters -- and the period -- to life, and written by one Leo Edwards, who appears to be the only writer of 'thirties juvenile mysteries who didn't work with quotations around his name. Many of the books featured a special "club house" section which included Edwards's home mailing address in Cambridge, Wisconsin; children were encouraged to write letters and form "Freckled Goldfish" clubs of their own. These "Chatter-Box" pages -- the equivalent of fan clubs -- were often as much fun to read as the books themselves:

"Our chapter held a big Hallowe'en Party. First we had ghost stories, dancing, singing and biting money out of apples. Then 'eats.' We had apples, grapes, nuts, fruit punch and cake. Then the real fun began -- ducking for apples and money! I went after a nickel in the tub. When I came up for air I found my shirt and tie were wet. We had regular printed tickets which we sold. The tickets (printed at school) read like this: HALLOWE'EN PARTY, for the benefit of The Freckled Goldfish Ozone Park Branch, 9115-107 Avenue, at 4:30 O'clock, Admission -- 10 cents. We cleared $3.25 and now we have in the treasury $5.50."

There is no question as to whether these Poppy Ott books withstand the test of time -- they don't, which may be the most compelling reason to go back and read or re-read them today. Unencumbered by any kind of literary worth, the books are free to show us other things: more than simple-minded nostalgia (it's hard to feel nostalgia for a world that has been as completely obliterated as the one these books -- albeit in a wildly distorted, idealized form -- represent), Poppy Ott offers us Time Travel in its purest, most honorable form: sending us back, from the comfort of our easy chairs, not to the world of our fathers, but to the world our fathers dreamed about when they were lads. That is no small accomplishment.


Got it? Now get it: I have a first edition of the first book in the series, Poppy Ott and the Stuttering Parrot, that I don’t need. Not in great condition, a reading copy. It’s free to a good home. I also have e-book versions that I created a while back of the first two titles in the series (PDF format) that I’d be happy to email (also free!) to anyone interested. These are complete and unabridged and contain all of the original illustrations by Bert Salg.

Finally! Something in this blog worth reading!

-- Freder

The plunderers are coming. . .

The blows keep coming, fast and furious. On Friday I heard from the state police: as I suspected, they aren’t going to do anything about my sister’s thefts. And on Saturday I received the proposal from the Auction House.

They want to start ASAP, which I interpret as sometime within the next two or three weeks.

They plan on clearing the whole place out over a period of three days.

Although I knew it was going to be like this, seeing it in hard type was upsetting, to say the least.

I'll be left with a few sticks of furniture and some modern stuff that no one wants, yard-sale stuff, and a big empty mausoleum with just me and the cats to face the winter.

I won¹t even have a desk in my study. In fact, I have to clear all my stuff out (and off) of it so that they can take it out.

I know that it needs to be done, but I'm so not ready. A friend asked, would I be ready next year? No. But it would make the winter easier.

I have always hated and dreaded that terrible season. How bad will it be, alone in a big cold empty house? I don’t think there’s enough Prozac in the world to cover that prospect.

I would move somewhere else, but what to do about the outside cats?

Friday, September 24, 2010

A View of some views worth viewing

It's Friday; and I am feeling lazy. Too lazy to write a new post on any of the popular topics I have before me. Instead, I will share with you a few of the mini-reviews that I have posted over at Criticker, where my handle is Freder -- same as here! These are some of my all-time favorite films. I don't include cast lists or years or runtimes or directors. That would be too much work.

Not just a great movie musical (and one of the last of its breed), but the best Dickens film, even though (perhaps because) it strays from the book. One of those wonderfully immersive movies where you feel like you're inside it. Terrific cast all up and down. A real joy. Freder watches this every winter and never gets tired of it. Wanted to be the Artful Dodger as a kid, but sadly was more like young Master Twist.

David Greene somehow took an unfilmable off-Broadway musical and refashioned it into something wholly cinematic. It's SO not about religion; rather, it's about the ways in which old stories can be made new, about the creation of a family, and much more. A great personality test, too!

One of Freder's favorite movies, for its whole-hearted embrace of all people eccentric and odd, for its charm and unlikely romance, for the lovely performances from a top flight cast, and for its very daring ending, in which we witness nothing less than the triumph of imagination over reality. I'm not saying it's a great, or even a necessarily well-made movie: but I love it unreservedly.

Many viewers seem to dismiss Amalie as being "perky" and "cute," but they are missing the point: Amalie is really BUGS BUNNY! OK, a female, French Bugs Bunny! She even has her Elmer Fudd in the person of the food stand owner, and stops just short of saying "Of course you realize this means war!" There's real grit and edge in a little girl who climbs onto a neighbor's roof and disconnects his TV antenna at strategic moments. . . sure she's cute, but she's also a vewy wascawwy wabbit!

Utterly charming, beautifully designed romantic comedy about murder and death has intrepid "reporter" Rigg infiltrating a murderous organization just as a power struggle flares up within the company. Coincidence? I don't think so. Young people will find this dated, but it was dated even in its time and that's part of the fun. Oliver Reed playing a romantic lead? It works. Terrific stuff.

A return to the styles of silent comedy. Subtle and delightful, as good as a real vacation. Mr. Hulot is both a tribute to the great silent clowns, and a delightful clown in his own right, whose heroism lies not in derring-do but in quiet nobility. Watch this movie and gain some new friends.

Far and away the best of Laurel and Hardy's operetta movies, and one of their best all around. The boys annoy each other to great effect and make great Unlikely Heroes, while the romantic leads are not too obnoxious, and the boogeymen are really scary! A winner all around. Trivia: Henry Brandon (Barnaby) also played the title character in a the 15-part Republic serial Drums of Fu Manchu, and the Indian Chief Scar in The Searchers.

One of Freder's top 25 favorites, a real American fantasy that works on about as many levels as the viewer will allow. Some will dismiss this as "twee." but pooey on them. Tony Randall has a lot of fun, and receives great support from the rest of the cast (this was made in the day when we still had supporting actors). The entire film is wonderfully atmospheric and we even get some cool monster animation from Jim Danforth. Wait for me, Dr. Lao. I can do it.

Probably not as fine as the original stage production must have been -- but why quibble? A breezy walk into the land of delight where, finally, the rules of small insipid people and their small insipid views of reality do not apply. Stewart's defining screen role.

A great, ultimately good-natured mindfuck of a movie, all about life, love, identity, courage, fear and the creative process. I call this Peter O'Toole's second greatest screen role, after Lawrence.

Moody and beautiful and full of passions under-and-unstated (as well as some that are given spectacular rein). Smashingly designed and directed, with expertly calculated performances from all the cast. From the makers of The Red Shoes, an equally beautiful and emotion-stirring film.

Oh, I could go along cutting and pasting like this all day, but I suppose I really should do some work while I'm at work. . . 


Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's Mandatory. . .

Dr. Shrinker, source of my councilor's nickname.

In the days and weeks following my mother's death, I was not allowed a single day off from work. It was graduation week, followed two weeks later by Reunion week and all the preparation required for that. Meanwhile, I was falling apart in more ways than one.

I kept begging for time off, and my boss kept saying, "No, you need to be in a busy people environment," her code phrase for "No way, it's too busy here."

People were asking me questions about my mother's memorial service and I had no answers to give them. With no help in the planning from the rest of my family and no free time during the week to make the arrangements, nothing was happening. People at work were saying behind my back "Why doesn't Doug take some time off?" Well, I wasn't being allowed to, even though college policy gave me three bereavement days, and I had plenty of vacation time racked up.

We had to lay my mother's ashes to rest on Memorial Day because that was the only day I could get off.

The next day, I was a basket case. Unfit for duty in any sense of the word. I had been drinking, of course, and I simply could not pull myself together. I tried to arrange for the day off. To make a long story short, I was called into work anyway.

Where it became obvious to everyone what I'd known all along: I had no business being there that day and needed some time off.

I was called into my boss's office. The college lawyer was waiting for me there. I was actually in tears. He took one look at me and ordered me into Mandatory Counseling. I was given a list of names and numbers to call. All I wanted was some time off to make the arrangements for my mother's service. Instead, I was having a nervous breakdown aided and abetted by the college and alcohol.

I was not opposed to the concept of counseling, but the word "Mandatory" really got under my skin. The college is not my damn big brother, and anyway I viewed the college's treatment of me as part of the problem.

The next day I came to work as normal, but met a friend in the walkway. I told her my predicament and she insisted that I had the right to time off and they needed to give it to me.

I decided to take it. I emailed my boss (who was out) and told her that I was going to use the day to go to Augusta to make the final arrangements for the service.

This I did. And it was the first day of relief in a month's time. Making the arrangements final was a big step.

I did not follow through on the counseling order. I considered letting them fire me. I was not going to let them meddle in my personal life.

One day I was called back into my boss's office. This was the terrible row that was the catalyst for all that the stress and pressure and grief and despair and the effects of the drinking had wrought on me. I left early and made the call to Dr. Shrinker from home. The next day I was in hospital.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Conquest of the simian blather!

Moving right along through Arthur P. Jacobs's mad series of SF weirdness. Excepting only Beneath, all of the Apes movies have a remarkably different tone and direction. Conquest is the movie that brings the storyline full-circle, with Roddy McDowell appearing as his own son, Milo | Caesar, to launch the beginnings of the revolt against humankind that ultimately ends in Man's downfall and the ascendancy of the ape.

The cheapest of the Apes films so far, Conquest is also pretty daring in its open comparison of Ape slavery to that of African Americans before the American Civil War. There's a lot of brutality on display, mild by today's standards but still having real impact.

But as in Beneath, Conquest sometimes has trouble dealing with its own silliness. The revolution comes together awfully quickly, and Caesar seems to suddenly develop telepathic power over the other apes at about the midpoint of the movie.

Don Murray chews up the screen to an embarrassing degree, but Ricardo Montalban is a pleasure to watch, as ever, and Roddy McDowell turns in his best work in the series; he's now the sole focal point of all the action, and is given quite a lot more to do.

It's too bad, though, that the ending was tampered with in post-production. In the middle of a rallying speech that would really have ended the film on a note of dread, Caesar suddenly backtracks and calls for compassion. It's wildly out of place for the moment that the director has tried to create, and the fact that it's so obviously overdubbed makes it worse. With no footage to cover the additional material, the editor is forced to fall back on reaction shots and close-ups of Roddy McDowell's eyes (with an expression in them that emphatically does not match the sentiments supposedly coming out of his mouth).

It's not a classic, but it does have some impact and is creditable when you consider that it was made for about a buck ninety-eight. And it's the last of the Apes movies to have any cojones at all. I may not even bother to yammer at you next week about the final film in the series. We'll see.

-- Freder.

Milestones that wouldn't seem like milestones to anyone else

With the proposal from the auction house pending (and I'm guessing they will want to start taking things out of the house ASAP), I've been slacking off the past couple of weekends when it comes to working on the place and its contents. Only three extra bags of garbage went out this week, and five boxes filled with styrofoam.

But I finally gave myself permission to make two big changes.

There was a rocking chair in the kitchen that was just one piece of furniture too many. No one could sit in it anyhow, since my mother used it as storage. Before her death we took out about three layers of reference books and moved them upstairs, but there were still about seven layers of other things in that chair. Recently I finally got it down to the point where there was just about one armful of stuff remaining.

And so, late Saturday night, with some Dutch Courage inside me, I moved that armful of stuff into the cat chair that my mother used to sit in, picked up the rocking chair, carried it out of the kitchen and out of the house and stowed it in the (locked) big barn.

Then I cleaned the floor. It was a real transformation. A whole world of space opened up. I no longer have to side-step around that chair to get from one end of the kitchen to the other. It's amazing. It's also amazing that the cats still manage to lodge themselves in front of me with all that extra space they could be using!

I dealt with the armful of stuff the next day. A big part of it was just two blankets that need washing before they can go into the cycle of things I use to protect the living room sofa from Pooky, my incontinent cat.

Now, look at that picture above this post.

See the blue child's chair?

That's the main entry to the house, and that blue chair has been troubling me for years. It has to be moved every time I go down the basement. When the door is open, you actually have to step over the chair to get into the hall. When the real estate agent was walking through the house, we both stumbled over it. I told him I didn't know why I hadn't moved it. I said, "Guess I'm still in the mode of not wanting to change anything."

That little blue chair (and the blocks and the pencil tin and the rabbit and the Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio dolls that were sitting in it, that always fell on the floor every time I walked through) has been relocated to the kitchen space that was vacated by the rocking chair. They're small, they don't trouble me at all in that spot. And both places are so much easier to navigate.

This is all a big deal to me, a major milestone. It may not seem like much to you, and I wouldn't expect it to. But my world is made a little better by it.

I'm sorry, Mom.

-- Freder.

Weekend Piracy!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve gone through two whole spindles of DVD-Rs and have started on a third. That represents over a hundred VHS tapes that I can now get rid of, literally yards of shelf space cleared -- and I get to watch it all again (for several years I did not own a working VCR, so the stuff was just sitting there, taking up space).

What’s been going through the pipeline? Mostly serials, including THE RETURN OF CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (with Bela Lugosi gloriously miscast in the title role, and prominently featuring the giant wall from KING KONG), MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND (with Roy Barcroft and Linda Sterling), HAUNTED HARBOR (with Kane Richmond and Kay Aldridge -- BTW, you may not recognize these names, but in the world of serials these are the big stars!) and even KING OF THE TEXAS RANGERS (Neil Hamilton, who played Commissioner Gordon on the TV series BATMAN, plays the Big Bad Villain in this one).

But I’ve also duped a lot of animation (some early MIGHTY MOUSE), a handful of Charlie Chaplin shorts, and some features including GALAXY EXPRESS 999, a double bill of early John Wayne programmers, and Bergman’s THE MAGICIAN -- my favorite of the whole Bergman catalog, still not available on DVD. Go figure.

Where things are available on DVD, I’ve also been trading up, and giving too much money to Amazon. A couple of W.C. Fields pictures are in that category, along with Paul Newman in HARPER (a mostly bang-on adaptation of Ross MacDonald’s hardboiled mystery THE MOVING TARGET), some Universal horror flicks and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (you see, I am getting ready fo Halloween!).

The sad part of all this is, I am trying to find homes for all this stuff, and guess what? No one wants VHS anymore. My father has been taking some, but his tastes and mine don’t always run in the same direction. My old friend H______ has said that he will take at least some of it, but when I tried to set up a lunch with him communications fell silent. I have bags of these things that need to go away now. Eventually, I’ll dump them on Goodwill, if some takers don’t come along soon.

How ‘bout it? Anyone out there in blogland want some free VHS?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trapped in a world the blogger never made

Saturday afternoon I was summoned to another lunch at my father’s house.

It was easier than the first time, but there were still the disconnects that my father and his wife don’t even seem aware of.

They had made the offer of their upstairs rooms as storage space for some of my things. I wrestled with that, decided that I wasn’t ready to start moving out -- then on Friday night I kind of told myself “You have to start sometime,” and with the fortitude of a couple of drinks inside me I carried six boxes of my comics collection out of the house and loaded them in the car. Then I packed up all of the original art for my two web comics and put all that in, too.

But when I arrived on Saturday the driveway was being blacktopped. It was impossible to park anywhere near the house. I would have had to carry all that stuff the distance of about two blocks. So I left it in the car, never mentioned it, and carried it all (except for the art) back into my house when I got home.

It’s probably just as well. With a self-storage unit I can access whatever I choose to store any time I need to; this would not be the case with anything I stowed in my father’s house.

I arrived when I was told to, at 11:00 o’clock, and my father wasn’t even home. His wife greeted me as if I had surprised her. It was an awkward ten minutes before he returned to the house. His wife speaks in monologues just like him. I suppose she was nervous.

We looked at the prints I’d had done of some of the 2,000-plus pictures that I’ve taken around the house. I need to make more. They turned out so well, much better than I expected from a dippy little $50 digital camera.

As he looked over the pictures, my father could not stop obsessing over the painting that my mother sold some time after they divorced. “That’s the wall where ‘Twins in Green’ used to hang,” he said, whether he was looking at a picture of the wall or not. He said it four times. It hadn’t been his painting for a long time when she sold it.

Lunch was Salmon, which I dislike, and potatoes and something called Korean Squash.

My understanding was that the reason they wanted me there at 11:00 (early for me on a Saturday; they live a little under an hour’s drive away from me) was so that my father could take me out car shopping in the afternoon. This, too, never developed. I was just as well pleased at that. I want to choose my own car in my own way on my own time.

Every year they buy season tickets at the B_________ Music Theater. They take a Sunday every month, drive down there with their friend Henry (I have heard so much about friend Henry that I don’t want to hear any more about friend Henry. I think dad has kind of a guy-crush on him), have lunch, take in a show, and stop for ice cream on the way home.

Next year, they want to co-opt my Sundays and for me to come along. This was presented to me in the form of a non-negotiable demand.

I do not like having my Sundays co-opted like that, especially, as I told them, since I don’t even know what my life will be like next year. I do not even know where I’ll be living next year. In any case, I don’t want to go to the theater, any theater, at least not with them. It just depresses me.

My father insisted that I take a POPPY OTT book that I already own, and a flyer about a space heater that he wants me to buy, and some legislation notes about town taxes that I most likely will never read. It’s typical of dad that, at a time when I have been working hard to clear my life of excess and valueless paper, he gives me more.

His wife gave me six bags of frozen pureed broccoli, and told me how to add cream or milk to make it into a soup. I was a little concerned about fitting it into my freezer, but I did get it all in there somehow.

She gave me a cooking appliance that she’d bought two of from one of those infomercials. She showed me how to cook fish in it, and described how to make an omelet. She is well-meaning and I’m not ungrateful for the gesture, but I will probably stick with my skillet.

It ended when my father declared that he had to leave the house again to buy a wheel for his wife’s wheelbarrow.

We walked out to where the cars were parked. He never stopped talking the whole way.

I know that they are just trying to help, and I don’t wish to be disrespectful of their feelings. But how much do they actually respect mine? At this moment in history, I need to be in control of the process of remaking my life. Every time I am with them I can feel that control being ripped out of my hands.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nothing like a Yukon Ho

My Friday night movie was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Lost in Alaska -- as I work my way slowly back through time, saving their horror comedies for October.

This was a great improvement over A & C go to Mars! Although it was obviously made on a shoestring, this actually works in the boys’ favor: there is nothing to keep them from their appointed rounds and nothing to distract the viewer from the characters.

The first half-hour is especially fun, with the boys as volunteer firemen trying to rescue a guy from the Yukon who’s bent on doing himself in. Bud’s motives are not entirely pure, as he has his eye on the piles of gold that the prospector is weighted down with. In fact, Bud is kind of a sleaze all through this movie. . . very much in character with that godawful mustache he’s adopted at this point in his career.

Lou just concentrates on being very funny, and for the most part he succeeds. Like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, he builds his simple-minded character with ticks and gestures that seem random, but are actually quite precise. He owes much to comedians who came before him, but he’s got his own thing going and by this point he knows the routine very well. I have to wonder what Bud and Lou were like in real life.

Once the action moves north, a very basic melodramatic plot is tacked on, so perfunctory that at the final fade-out the villains and the “good” guys are shaking hands all around. There are lots of good gags, but the comedy becomes more situational and less character-bound. Although I love Lou looking at seals for the first time and mistaking them for dogs.

Oh, nearly forgot: Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll from the original King Kong) plays the heavy.

The truth is, I did fall asleep on this one, but it had nothing to do with my feelings for the picture. It had been a long, emotional week, and I found that an hour spent with Bud and Lou was a little too relaxing.

-- Freder

Be careful what you write. . .

This is a piece of fiction I wrote more than a decade ago. It has no title.


“Clear it out,” she said to herself. “All of it. Everything.”

It was a new year and soon it would be a new life in a new place: there would be no call for the past. The past only choked life out of the living.

It was the future that mattered.

And so to prepare for her move into the future she set about jettisoning anything that extended too far back into her mind. She threw out all her check stubs and financial records that were more than a year old -- “Trouble if I’m audited,” she thought. “But I’ll risk it.”

She threw out books that her ex-boyfriend had given her: The Enchanted April, Mulliner Nights, Persephone’s Torch, Black Money, The Eyewitness Guide to London. She tore her Flower Power poster off the wall and threw it away. She threw away a cactus plant that her mother had given her: she’d never liked it, anyway.

She had six months worth of Architectural Digest magazines piled on a stand at the end of the sofa. Not that she had ever dreamed of living that way: but looking at the magazines had once rested her eyes and relaxed her mind, providing her with perfect rooms and hallways that no one else could inhabit. Now she believed that that kind of escape was as foolish as worrying about the past. She tied the magazines neatly with twine and dumped them into the recycling bin. There would be no place for escape in her future life.

Among the chotchkas piled on top of the television set was a porcelain gnome no more than two inches high. It had been willed to her by her grandfather, and she never had understood that. She hated gnomes, and her grandfather had died a drunk. She threw it away.

She opened her closet door and was astonished by the memories she would have to be rid of: dresses she had worn so seldom that she could still recall the occasion, suits with interesting stains pointing back to moments of embarrassment or passion, or both. She folded them away neatly into boxes for the Salvation Army, thinking “Sippy’s party. The Museum of Time, where I met Frederick. The interview for the job at Global. Twenty-seventh birthday.

Oh my god. Trip to Mexico with Mom & Dad. Ugh, was my taste in clothes that bad? The night Carl proposed. Wuf, slinky! What a color! I’ll miss this, but... out it must go!”

Of the two rows of shoes extending from wall to wall there was only one pair (made from canvas and molded rubber) that was still comfortable to both her feet and her memory. The rest were boxed or bagged and carried down to the battered pick-up in the yard (“Have to get rid of that, too,” she thought).

In her dresser drawer she found black underwear that she didn’t want to think about, and a wad of love letters from Paul. They were good love letters, not too sickeningly smarmy, full of marginal illustrations and wishes. She looked at them briefly, and knew that looking was a mistake. She crumpled them up as best she could, carried them to the bathroom sink and burned them. 

The worst was still to come. There was a store room off the kitchen, and of course the attic. She could have left the contents of these for the future occupants of the house, whoever they might be, but that would have been doing the thing halfway: the boxes with their objects and subjects would have haunted her if they remained behind, intact, waiting for her possible failure, her potential return. It all had to go.

The first thing she found was a carton of her brother’s old comic books. Her brother was dead. Of what use were these? She found a broken lamp and a clothes bag full of dresses belonging to her mother. Forties stuff: eye-burning reds and sweeping collars. Stylish in its time,  but now? Who would ever wear them again? Not her -- and they no longer fit anyone she knew. Get rid of them.

In the attic there were trolls and coloring books starring Ricochet Rabbit and King Linus the Lion-Hearted. There was a hot potato game called Time Bomb and a Shari Lewis Draw & Play set. There were her Barbies and Kens and the corvette and the wardrobe full of tiny clothes. She thought oh my god oh my god I can’t go back that far, it’s useless, it’s worse than lugging around a corpse. It’s over. And one by one she carried the boxes of things down to the pick-up. Take it to the dump this afternoon, she thought. Don’t wait until morning. Her only wish was that she owned a trash compactor big enough to crush it all.

At last the only thing left was a smallish trunk containing charcoal drawings signed by her father. He had been a pharmacy clerk all of his life and as far as she knew had never owned any ambition for anything else. Yet here were pictures bearing his name: bowls of fruit and nature scenes and a nude woman, not her mother. None were any good: certainly she wouldn’t have wanted any of them hanging on her walls. Her father had made the right choice.

There were too many to burn. She took the trunk outside and buried it, with all of its contents, in the back yard. There they would slowly rot, until nothing remained, as it was with all things of the past.
By the time she had finished she was covered in dust and dried sweat, and had cobwebs sticking in her hair. She took off her clothes, bagged them and threw them away, then stepped into the shower to wash everything off.

“Perhaps I should cut my hair,” she thought. It had never been short or tidy. To change that would be a fine first step into the future.

When she stepped out of the shower she saw that the bathroom mirror was empty. Steam from the shower had fogged the glass, but when she wiped it clear with a towel and stood naked in front of it she saw only the empty shower dripping with moisture, and the dull star-patterned shower curtain pulled back against the wall, and the towel in her hand floating ghostlike in empty space. She had completely gone.

This pleased her. She went out into her new life and became nobody.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Is your journey really necessary?"

Yesterday was a dousing of cold water. I won't tell you about my reaction, because it's beginning to sound like a broken record, even to me. But I will ask the question:: if I'm hit this hard at this stage of the game, how in hell am I going to hold it together when they actually begin to pull the house apart?

The day started early with me once again trying to make the house presentable. This was made extra-difficult by Spooky, my incontinent cat, who was having a bad day, pooping absolutely everywhere as fast as I could clean it up. I had to change the towels on the living room sofa.

I was expecting one guy, a representative of the auction house. Instead, when they finally found me (about 15 minutes late), two guys got out of the car. And told me that Mr. J______, in person, would be coming along, too. I told them that once we got into the house it was going to be single file all the way. They didn't believe me at first. Then they stepped inside, and fell silent real fast.

The thought of these three big men somehow navigating that space gave me the willies, but it didn't seem to faze the cats at all. Patchy sat quietly on the top of the davenport and watched them without much interest.

This is the third time I've had to give a tour of the house to strangers. Picking at my mother's ashes. It took about an hour. By the time they left I really, really wanted to add some vodka to my orange juice. But I don't do that anymore.

Then a rush to get into work, then another rush to get downtown by 11:30 for my appointment with Dr. Shrinker (I should blog about how the Mandatory Counseling thing came to happen), only to find that I had the wrong day and the wrong time. She was very nice about it, her schedule was clear, so she saw me anyway.

I was able to report the reduction in my drinking. She wants me to completely go cold turkey, but I'm not quite ready to go that far. We talked about the day that the auctioneers will come to clean the house out. It was the first time I've broken down in front of her.

She said that I should look at it differently. My mother's things will be cared for, and will go to people who will enjoy them,

I took pictures in the closed guest room before bedtime. Lots of Steiff and paper Halloween in there. Some of it will be staying with me.

-- Freder.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Free at last, free at last...

In keeping with the "confessional" element of this blog, there is just one show that I watch on broadcast TV. You're looking at the logo. Yes, I confess, I confess, I'm addicted to this stupid show. I watch every episode religiously. When it's on the air, I relinquish my role as Programming Director of station WDUK for two nights every week. I have even been known to watch the re-runs (as if the outcome would be any different!)

I like the variety. I like the range. I like it when an act that you think is going to die rises to the occasion. I even like it when the acts that are, shall we say, over-confident in their abilities crash and burn.

This season was good fun, and for the most part I agree with the results -- but there were some acts sent packing that I would have liked to see more of. There was a Goth magician towards the end who was kind of interesting. And comedian Doogie Horner was flat-out robbed. A very funny guy. I liked the trick rider a lot, but I wouldn't go to see a show with him headlining because I'm afraid he's going to kill himself onstage someday. I was convinced that the neon performance art group Fighting Gravity would win this year, but I'm just as happy at how it actually turned out.

The show appeals to the part of me that still fondly remembers my experiences in high school and community theater.A part of me wants to be up there making a damn fool of myself. And -- you never know! I do a pretty mean imitation of all the AGT judges!

But it's over now, and I'm OK with that, too. Next week I get to roll out my New Season. Although I haven't decided yet exactly what it will look like...

-- Freder

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Missing Links from a Missing Link

I was excited this morning to stop by my brand-new PO Box and find something inside: the prints that I ordered of my digital photos!

Then I realized that much of the backstory is missing from this blog. For example, you might ask why I needed a PO Box when I have a perfectly good mailbox at my home.

Other than a brief post when I started the blog, I haven't mentioned my sister much at all.

I didn't want to obsess or vent or rant or rage, though I've been doing a fair amount of that away from here.

So: some missing links from the backstory.

The week after our mother died, my sister began entering my home illegally while I was away at work. She  stole a lot of my mother's things right out of the house, took them to an antiques shop on the coast and sold them at way below market value.

Why didn't I notice right away? If you've looked at some of the photos I've posted here (including the slideshow in the sidebar and at the bottom of the page, "Views from the Funhouse"), you can see why. My mother was a hoarder, and it's easy to take one or two things out of any given location, re-arrange a bit, and no one is the wiser. Also, I was stumbling around the house in a drunken state of despair.

But eventually, I did notice. I immediately had the locks changed and the burglar alarm system brought back on-line.

As soon as she could no longer access the main house, my sister broke into the barns and outbuildings and stole a large amount of things from there. To make it look like an outside job she broke a window. I can safely say that she is the one responsible; I have both a written confession and a voice message on my answering machine in which she doesn't deny anything.

That was when I called in the state police. I still haven't gotten any results from them. But I will press charges if I am allowed.

Then, someone stole my credit card statement right out of the mailbox and made a run on my card to the tune of $5,000.

I say someone, but this is exactly my sister's M.O.: she once stole one of my mother's Social Security checks out of the mailbox, forged the signature and cashed it.

So -- not only did I lose my mother and my best friend, but I have been fending off attacks from my sister ever since.

Hence, the PO Box.

P.S. -- the prints turned out really great! Not bad for a cheap $50 digital camera!

-- Freder

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Escape from the planet of the Simian Blather

Not merely the best of the sequels, but as good in its own way as the original, this is the Apes movie that turns the series on its head. In the same way that The Incredibles is a better movie about The Fantastic Four than any of the official Fantastic Four movies (there have been three so far), Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a better representation of Howard the Duck than the movie based on that character -- it may even have influenced Steve Gerber in the direction that Howard took.

The conceit is identical: but instead of a cartoon duck who's trapped in a world he never made, we have anthropomorphic chimps coming back from the future. And instead of satirical comic book villains such as Le Beaver or Dr. Bong, Roddy McDowell's Cornelius and Kim Hunter's Zira face the very real threat of extermination by the U.S. Government.

Both Howard the Duck and Escape share a deeply cynical, not to say bitter, not to say bleak worldview and interpretation of '70s-era culture and society. In fact, with Hollywood's current lack of guts, it's safe to say that Escape could not be made today: among other things, the ending is so horrifying and so decidedly un-happy that no studio would allow it to go out. As the final scenes of Escape play out, you can imagine them calling for the script doctors.

This would be Kim Hunter's last go-around in ape drag, but Roddy McDowell kept coming back as different characters for two more sequels and the TV show. There are lots of familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Eric Braedon as the film's main heavy. Braedon had done a few seasons on Rat Patrol, but I believe this was his only major film appearance before he took up residence on The Young and The Restless, where he can be seen to this day.

It wasn't quite all downhill for the Apes cycle from here, as I'm sure I'll yammer at you about next week.

-- Freder.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Sunday before the Monday after

Last night's episode of The Wild, Wild West was one of the more bland offerings from Season Two. In essence it was West versus Captain Nemo -- minus the submarine or the mysterious island, or anything else for that matter that would have made it interesting. The guest actors are always good, but this one wasn't given much to work with.

It was dull enough that I nodded off in the chair just as it was ending; that hasn't happened in a long time! I was probably out for about an hour, which I'm sure contributed to the lousy night that followed, which definitely contributed to this lousy morning.

But then, as I've always said, it's a crying shame that the world is controlled by Morning People instead of Night People.

Mornings are never good for me, and some are worse than others. I have no idea how Prozac works, but I would swear that it takes an hour or more to kick in. Until then, I am cantankerous on good days and morose and depressed and full of anxiety on the bad ones. Now that the days have begun to get notably shorter, it's getting even worse.

At least I didn't burst into tears this morning. Instead, I wanted more than anything to take a drink. But I'm holding the line on that, have actually cut back even further at night, don't want to end up in the hospital again.

While my mother was alive, before the Prozac, I was so cantankerous and depressed in the morning that I would snap and growl at anyone who looked at me sideways or opened their mouth to speak. My mother used to take this personally. She shouldn't have, but she did. She would start to cry, and say "Why are you so mean to me?"

-- Freder

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Flight of fantasy

Farouk Ulay, designer and editor of Locus Novus, an online litmag that specializes in marrying prose to moving image, did a spectacular job with my short story, "Melies' Notebook". Check it out and see if you don't agree that the Flash work is brilliant.

-- Freder.

Vanity, thy name is Google

A recent vanity search at Google yielded two surprising -- and, indeed, laughable results!

Somebody used a quote from my website in a book about comics publishing. The author even identifies me as the "creator of Quirk" -- as if that was something that meant anything, as if anyone had ever heard of the thing!

And get a load of this: a used book dealer in New Hampshire has listed the two paper issues of Quirk through ABEBooks. He's selling them as a "set" (*chortle* *snort*) for $12.50!

Hell fire! I have four boxes of the things that I am about to throw away. I'll send 'em to you for free, if you'll pay the postage!

Seriously. In the unlikely event that there's anyone out there who wants to check out the worst two comic books ever published, drop me an email or leave a comment. I just want to get rid of the damn things!

-- Freder

When you can't write about the subject, write about the context...

The thing about Ninotchka is that it is self-describing. Quoth Garbo, it is "silly -- but wonderful." There's not much more to add.

I saw it first at the great Skowhegan Cinema -- now called The Strand -- a real old 'twenties style Movie Palace, with a huge screen, the original seats and tiled walls, a balcony and, so its owners claimed, a ghost. It was the fall of 1989, and the Cinema was running a series celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of MGM's remarkable 1939 output. Included on the schedule were Dark Journey with Bette Davis, The Women with Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

We went to many of those shows and it is a great memory. We'd drive up there every Wednesday night and it didn't matter what was on offer. It was the first time I had ever seen some of these movies, and the first ever time I'd seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen, uncut and without commercials.

Ninotchka immediately became one of my favorite movies. I fell in love with Garbo, and was greatly impressed by Melvyn Douglas. Who else could have delivered dialogue like "Oh, Ninotchka, Ninotchka!" not only without laughing but making it sound like it meant something.

I watched it again the other night, for only the second time, on DVD. And although it held up and then some (and the print was notably better than the one that had been available to the Skowhegan Cinema all those years ago), something was missing. It wasn't just the depth of field that a huge screen brings to a projected image.

The scale was off. These people were my size, not the much larger-than-life figures that I remembered, that they deserved to be. Everything else about the movie was just as I remembered it, and just as fine. But the story was no longer a big one, and Garbo and Douglas were no longer glittering immortals. Just people with their little big love story, in a time and place that no longer exist.

I wonder if the Skowhegan Cinema still has a ghost.

-- Freder.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Here is where it begins to end

This morning was busy. I had an hour and a half to run around the house trying to clean up the worst of the messes that I hadn't been able to get at for the last two weeks. Y'see, the real estate agent was coming over to do the appraisal on the house and property, and I didn't want it looking like a sty.

I am never any good in the mornings and all this week I have been pretty emotional as I tried to get through the morning chores. Anxiety, panic and depression; obviously, it takes a while for the prozac to kick in.

Mr. C arrived promptly on time and we walked down the road to the property line. This time of year the trees are so overgrown that there's nothing much worth seeing. I took him into the back yard and through the trees so that he could see the back field, the pond and the little cottage B.B. built there at its edge.

I marveled at how much the orchard has overgrown. If I were to follow an old pipe dream and put a Halloween Walk in that area, there would be a lot of work that needed to be done.

Then, into the house. Single file. Into my mother's room, down the basement, into the L. Back up into the kitchen. On into the dining/living room, the Dog Room, the Horse Room.

On upstairs. We went first into the back guest bedroom and the attic, then came back out, and he walked into the three bedrooms. It really bothered me when he stood in my bedroom and looked around. Everything exposed. I hadn't made the bed.

With the house behind us, he briefly walked through the barns, and I had to show him how the big barn is so decrepit and so badly falling down. My mother paid a ton of money to have it jacked and repainted just about fifteen years ago; they did a lousy job, and now it is in worse shape than it was when she had it fixed up.

It was all distressing enough that after he left I sat down on the bench outside and sobbed for ten minutes. It was nothing to do with the agent; he's a nice man who knew my mother and was at her memorial gathering and is married to the paralegal who works with my lawyer (so, I don't just have a lawyer. I have a team).

It's just that, as I've said before, it's starting to get real, and Reality bites. God is a bastard and Time is his whore.

After a while, Junior came and jumped up next to me. We sat out there a while longer. Then I had to pick myself up. I went in, got the duping started on Republic's HAUNTED HARBOR, changed into my shlubbing around the house clothes, had a bowl of cereal and then sat down here.

It's been a lovely day outside. I've written a lot, had a walk, and also some excitement when a freak downpour unleashed itself.

I'm starting to wonder what it would entail if I were to buy the house from the estate.

More simian blather

One of he reasons I started this blog was simply to get myself back into the habit of writing -- it didn't matter what. If I can get the habit and the skill back, then perhaps I will be able to tackle larger projects. Would there be any point? I don't know, but you've got to find hope somewhere.

In the meantime, I can limber up with snippets and snappets. In that category -- a week after The Planet that Went Ape (as MAD magazine parodied it back in the day) I followed it up with the sequel, Beneath the Planet that Went Ape.

Although it leans quite heavily on its predecessor, this is nowhere near as good. The first two thirds are fairly creditable as a B-movie, but as soon as the mutant humans are introduced the whole affair takes on the tone of a very ordinary installment of Dr. Who or Buck Rogers or some other third-rate SF serial. Poor Victor Buono, a great comic actor who relies on flamboyance as his stock in trade, is here reduced to standing stock-still with his eyes open as wide as possible.

Nonetheless, for its violence and bleakness of vision, the ending still does pack some punch. The creative team must have thought they were insuring themselves against any more sequels. Little did they know.

The standout performance this go-around is from James Gregory as the militant gorilla Ursus. Gregory is a favorite character actor who did an awful lot of TV around this same time period, notably in Westerns like The Big Valley. Who would have thought that he'd make a great ape? He's got a drawling way of delivering a line, and his rabble-rousing speech to the apes early in the film is great fun to watch, probably the best scene in the whole picture.

Next week: Apes meet Howard the Duck.

The Migration Habits of the blogger

The business of removing the things that belong to me out of the main part of the house is mostly done, that is, insofar as I am willing to go.

I'm not going to pull the computer out of the office, or clear the desk of my books and papers, I¹m not going to take the television and DVD players out of the kitchen, after all I do still live here and I have to be able to function as normal.

But most everything else, the books that were mine, a few puppets that I played with as a kid, a Steiff clown that was mine, things that I bought or was given -- most of that is now in my rooms.

It's getting crowded.

[Note to self: don't forget Pierre the Bear, or the Steiff Snowman puppet. They're yours, too.]

To make room for all of this meant clearing out my walk-in closet that has not been walk-inable for some time. Thanks to the VHS project that has opened up lots of shelf space in my bedroom, I was able to move all the DVDs in the closet out to other places.

But there were things that just had to go. Three enormous boxes of the comic book that I self-published way back in the early '80s had to be taken out. They are sitting in the barn right now, awaiting a judgment on their fate. I do not know if Goodwill would take them. If not, the only other option is for the recycling man to carry them away forever. There's the fruit of another dream going down the drain.

Like my mother, I had piles and boxes of magazines and newspapers, and it was time to give myself the same treatment I¹d given her in the kitchen. All my old MacAddict magazines, all my old issues of The Buyer¹s Guide for Comic Fandom (later morphed into The Comics Buyers Guide when it was bought out by Krause), catalogs and many other things of equal status, all had to go.

This time it was eight big, heavy garbage bags full.

When it was done I could walk into my closet again, and I had room for my things from the house.

I have also started choosing some artifacts from the estate that I cannot bear to part with. For the most part, these are not so much valuable as they are important memories to me. A set of oversized Babar books, and a doll of Babar as Father Christmas that I gave her as a present. A small, modern Mickey mouse figurine in Halloween gear. Her very new Sock Monkey Jack-in-the-Box. A couple of fanciful figures that she bought from Dollmasters. A Mickey Mouse soft car that I gave her for her birthday years ago -- she laughed and laughed. A Popeye lamp. A Halloween lantern and some other cheap Halloween things that we shopped for together in the last years of her life -- Halloween was always a fun time for us, more on that later.

These things and my own are slowly mixing together in my closet. They will go with me wherever I go from here.

But it's all come with a price. I was doing well emotionally until the last meeting with my lawyer. Reality is coming to Wonderland, and the two things are mutually exclusive.

Lately, I find myself crying all the time.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So little time, so much to blog. . .

Too many changes, too fast.

And suddenly, summer is over. The shadows are mighty long by 6:30. By 7:30 it is full dark. And still dark well after six in the morning. Who likes getting up in the dark?

There was an actual chill in the air this morning and yesterday morning, where before there was only oppressive heat and humidity.

Even the cats feel the cold. Both Honey and Pandy Bear slept with me the other night, huddled as close to me as they could get.

When did all this happen? May 16 still seems like yesterday to me. If the Time Machine had any respect for us at all, it would run down once in a while.

The lights are off in my mother's room for the first time. She was the sort of person who hated being alone, and kept all the lights and the television running 24/7. Since her death I kept one light burning continuously in there, the one beside her bed, not so much out of sentiment, but  because I wanted it on at night (so the cats could find their way to the bathroom, and so that things would look normal at night from the outside). But the switch was broken, turning the light out would mean having to unscrew the bulb, too much trouble to go to on a daily basis. So it stayed on.

At night I would turn an additional light on at the other end of the room. Then I got the power bill, and decided that one light was enough at night, in that room.

I reached in to the lamp beside her bed and unscrewed the bulb, burning my fingers even through the handkerchief.

So her room is still lighted at night, for the cats, but by day it is dark.

Soon enough, even the one light will go out at night. See below.

More later.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!"

My box set of the APES movies arrived last week. How I loved the original Planet of the Apes when it first came out. My father and I went to see it together. Typically, he got us there half an hour late. But these were the days of continuous shows: the minute the credits stopped rolling, the picture started right up from the beginning. We watched the first half hour that we had missed, and then he wanted to go. I made him stay and sit through the whole rest of the movie again. It was very late when we got out. I didn't mind.

It has stood the test of time quite well thank you. All the elements really work together: script, score, design and performances. I don't normally care for Charlton Heston, but his over-the-top style of growling and emoting works well in this context, while Roddy McDowell, Kin Hunter and Maurice Evans create wonderful characters, doing the real meat and potatoes acting under their piles of make-up.

Meanwhile, Franklin Shaffner really knows how to frame a shot!

The ending no longer shocks, of course, but there's something to be said for the sense of inevitability we get as Taylor rides off to meet his destiny. It's as if our viewpoint has shifted from Taylor to that of Dr. Zaius. He (and we) know what Taylor is going to find, and we know he won't like it.

It's funny how the ending was cut for television airings. Why is it OK to say "Aw, damn you" on TV, and not "God damn you all to hell" ?

Which brings me to the reason I bought this set, rather than duping my VHS tapes. I haven't seen this in the original widescreen since I first saw it as ten-year-old kid sitting in that movie theater. It's much better in widescreen!

The VHS I gave to my father. Will he remember how I made him sit through it twice? I doubt it.

-- Freder

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. . .

It will begin soon. The auctioneer and the real estate appraiser have both been contacted. The valuations will begin next week. They may even begin to take things out of the house.

I am not ready.

I nearly lost it right there in the lawyer's office while we were calling the auction house.

All too soon, my sister will get her wish, and everything that was Mom's (and my!) life will be pulled apart and carted away. I may only be able to save a few pieces. I guess that's the reason why I've gone crazy with the digital camera. Day and night, I've taken over 2,000 photos in and around that place.

I've been told to start pulling the things that are actually mine out of the main part of the house and either put them in my rooms or get one of those self-storage units and begin moving it out.

And I need to winterize my mother's bathroom, so that I can close down that whole wing of the house.

This involves moving one of the cat boxes from her bathroom to mine, upstairs and on the other side of the house. I have no idea how that's going to work! Honey believes that she owns the upstairs and chases most everyone else away, especially Patchy. How will they react when I close the door and that whole space becomes unavailable to them?

I worry about Patchy in particular. She still likes to sleep on Mom's bed, and I believe she uses that litterbox exclusively. Honey has her so terrified that she never even ventures into my wing of the house.

It's going to be a horrifying change for all of us. I fully expect to be in the house through this winter. I have the right to live there for five years. But I can't stay in a big mausoleum like that over the long term. By next springtime, if we all make it, I expect I'll be doing my best Fagin imitation to the cats: "Come on boys, we're changin' lodgings!"

But what of the three outside cats? They are probably not adoptable, even by me. What am I going to do? Where are we going to go?
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