Monday, February 28, 2011

The Human Whirlwind

I accomplished so many goals this weekend that I deserve a gold star!

I also learned that it's pointless to clean around boxes, because the minute you get those boxes out of the way, the floor is dirty again.

My house is notably less strewn with boxes than it was going into the weekend. Mind you, there are still boxes. But places that were barely navigable are navigable again. Progress is being made. Of course, sometimes this involves taking certain things out of one box and putting them into another, or just throwing them on a dresser or a bed, kicking those decisions down the road; but the overall trend is in the right direction!

I found the nuts and bolts for my drawing table and last night, until well after one AM, I reassembled the bloody thing. And re-assembled it, and re-assembled it. I kept getting parts backwards. This is not because I was hitting the bottle too heavily. But it had been y'know, more than three months since I took it apart, and the design is almost counter-intuitive, I had the base pointing in the wrong direction to start with, and that had a ripple effect through the whole process. The first time I put it together it would have worked great -- if I had wanted to draw lying on the floor! The second time it faced backwards and would have required the artist to become a contortionist.

I can have a salty tongue, and as this went on you would swear (the operative word being swear) that I had opened a fresh canister of Morton's Iodized and dumped it into my mouth. By the last round I wasn't even attempting to string the cuss words into a coherent sentence, it was just Verb, Verb, Verb, Adjective, Verb, Noun, Noun, Noun.

But I got the damn thing together -- and suddenly, my notions for the room were pulled into focus. I stood in the doorway and admired the view. It didn't matter that there were still boxes and things all anyhow. I had a drawing table and a chair in front of it, an art cabinet at its side with a light on it, suddenly the room said  "Studio." It's the sunniest room in the house. It has shelving and storage and I even found my scrapbook and laid it open across the table.

It was RIGHT.

I worked a little in the Halloween room, got that bed made, got some things placed, it's looking good, too. The back bedroom is still another matter, I've done nothing in there.

I hung a lot of things downstairs, refining the design of three rooms, and decided where to hang some of the rest.

I found several things that were missing. There are still some items that have gone AWOL, but finding what I did makes me hopeful that the rest will turn up.

I scored some vacuum cleaner bags, so I'll be able to do that when the time is right! And I redeemed almost four months worth of bottles.

(Sometimes when I do that, I think back on the year when I was conducting a long-distance relationship with a mostly great gal from Virginia. It lasted about five minutes, but while it was on she made one trip up here to New England, and one day we were driving down the road and passed a bottle redemption place. She saw the sign that said REDEMPTION, and where she came from, redemption meant only one thing! I had to explain to her that no, the people in that house weren't snake-handling or speaking in tongues.)

And I hied me over to one of those Big Box Home Improvement stores and ordered me up a clothes washer and dryer.

I'd like to know how they found out my name and address and the fact that I'd just moved into a new home. But find out they did, and almost one of the first pieces of mail that I got here was a ten percent off coupon on any purchase up to $2,000. I knew that would come in handy, and kept it in a safe place.

Nonetheless, when the time to use it came around, I forgot to bring it with me and had to run back home for it.

The good news is, home was five, instead of twenty-five, minutes away.

I spent too much time looking at all the different models. The front-end loaders looked so cool that I was tempted to go that way. But for about half the price (with the help of the coupon), I has able to get a high-capacity, low-energy, low-water, high-efficiancy washer and dryer, and get out of it for under nine hundred smackers.

My credit card definitely thinks I made the right choice.

After this weekend, I begin to look at my life and the place I am at and compare it with my life the way it was six to nine months ago, and the difference is stark.

I still have flashes of sadness, but it's not the same.

From mid-May until the chaos and stress of the move overpowered it (and sometimes even then), I was, I think almost literally, a prisoner of my grief.

As the new house began to take shape, the sense of newness unfolding fell into place beside the grief. The two emotions are growing together. The one takes the hard edge off the other, and the other reminds me that this particular hit of the restart button came at a horrible cost, and that to fail to take full advantage of it would dishonor my mother's memory in the worst way.

I was going to add a soundtrack here, to share with you what I was listening to this weekend, and to reward your attention for wading through all this drivel, but Fairpoint is rearing its ugly head, the interwebs are not cooperating, and I'm unable to upload the file. Tomorrow, for sure!

-- Freder.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Humane Noir

I'm told that Raymond Chandler once made a comment along the lines of "Everything that James M. Cain ever wrote smells like a goat's behind."

As I'm a big fan of Chandler's I took his comment as a word of warning and have steered clear of James M. Cain's works ever since, despite the uncharacteristic harshness of Chandler's words, which might be an indicator of some other feelings. I have my problems with the Noir genre, as I've written before on these pages, and if Chandler thought that it wasn't worth investing time in, that was good enough for me.

I think it's important to distinguish between Noir and Hardboiled Detective. The two genres are not interchangeable, though they bear similar qualities. Chandler, Hammett and Ross MacDonald all wrote hardboiled, while Cain and writers like Charles Willeford, David Goodis and Jim Thomspon wrote Noir. The two styles really could not be more different: in Hardboiled, shrewd men with a code of ethics often take a beating while trying to unravel the sad affairs of others. In Noir, largely stupid and unsympathetic people make one bad decision after another and find their  lives sucked down in a swirling vortex of Trouble as a result.

So Chandler, when making his comment, may have been referring to the specific differences in the two forms, and lamenting the fact that his kind of work sometimes got classified in the same category as Cain's.

Whatever the reason, after watching Mildred Pierce on TCM just now, I am persuaded that Chandler may have been wrong in regards to Cain.

In Mildred Pierce, here we have a strong, intelligent, hard-working woman who doesn't fall into any of the obvious traps, whose life doesn't tumble out of control, not until close to the end, and whose only real misjudgment is to love and indulge her daughter.

This is, easily, the cleverest and most humane Noir story that I've ever encountered, one that doesn't satisfy our expectations, but plays with them. If this is what Cain is capable of, I'm suddenly very much interested in reading him.

Meanwhile, Crawford is magnificent in the title role, richly deserving the Oscar that she won for it. I don't think that she ever looked better, before or since, and I don't think that she ever turned in a better performance than this. She has to walk a pretty fine line to sell the audience on this, by the way, because a lot of us would just slap Midred's daughter Veda into the next century, would just give her the spanking that she so richly deserves; in order for this whole thing to work, we need to feel Mildred's love for her daughter. . . and Crawford makes us feel it. How odd that the Crawford legacy would become so stilted by her own daughter's accounting, and how sad that an actor of this ability would wind up a caricature of herself in foul pictures like Straight-Jacket.

Michael Curtiz's name on a picture is always an indicator that it's worth watching; here, I think he evokes the most perfect Noir atmosphere that I've seen, while getting absolutely everything that he can out of the plot.

"Bruce Bennett" plays MISTER Pierce; Bennet is better known to some of us as Herman Brix, an Olympic swimmer who got his Hollywood start in several of the better Republic serials, especially including Daredevils of the Red Circle, in which he, Charles Quigley and stunt ace David Sharpe all tilted against the villainy of none other than Ming the Merciless himself, Charles Middleton, here playing an escaped convict known only as 39-0-13.

If Republic had ever made a serial based on the Street and Smith pulp hero Doc Savage, Bennett/Brix would have been my choice to play Doc. He had the voice, the looks, the athletics; and in Mildred Pierce he proves that, if he's not John Barrymore, at least he has the chops to be taken seriously in a part that doesn't call for running or (much) punching.

But I digress. Again.

I'm getting a lot of gaps in my education filled lately, thanks to TCM. Mildred Pierce isn't just a great night at the movies. For me, it's proof that you can't always trust everything that comes out of the mouths of your heroes, and that any genre needs to be judged not by its limitations, but by the strengths of its practitioners.

I'mm 99% certain that I have a copy of Double Indemnity kicking around here somewhere. I'm going to have to track that down and acquaint myself first-hand with Mr. Cain.

P.S. Eve Arden is terrific in this picture, too.

-- Freder.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Working Out Warhol

Songs for Drella, a musical piece by Lou Reed and John Cale, is an internalized, introspective look at the life of Andy Warhol. It is billed as being entirely fictitious, and insofar as it tries to represent the thoughts and feelings of Warhol himself, that must be true.

But where it reflects the vagaries, the trials and the conflictedness of Reed and Cale's longtime personal and professional association with Warhol, Songs for Drella takes  on the weight of reality. Quoth Reed:

No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said "How many songs did you write?"
I'd written zero, I lied and said ten
"You won't be young forever.
"You should have written fifteen.
"It's work. The most important thing is work."

Whether or not this exchange actually took place, it still rings true, and carries with it a lashing bite for anyone involved in the creative trade. Reed and Cale paint an ethical side of Warhol that's rarely discussed by people who didn't know him.

You expect interesting things from Reed and Cale; you expect complexity in the writing of both music and lyrics, but in Songs for Drella the pair deliver something that I don't believe they are much known for: emotional complexity. The piece chronicles a difficult relationship, one where mutual respect exists but accord cannot be reached, one where misunderstanding often rears its head, and love and honor come with the price of regret.

I really miss you,
I really miss your mind
I haven't heard ideas like that in such a long, long time
I loved to watch you work and watch you paint
But when I saw you last, I turned away

Reed is thoughtful and hard-driving musically, while Cale is thoughtful and melodic. The two work together like a precision timepiece. Middle age has caused them to look backward with candor -- about Warhol, and about themselves.

They really hated you, now all that's changed
But I have some resentments that can never be unmade
You hit me where it hurt, I didn't laugh
Your diaries are not a worthy epitaph

You need not be an admirer of Mr. Warhol to find something in this work that you will recognize in yourself, perhaps painfully. While Songs for Drella makes as eloquent a case as any for the value of Warhol's contribution, it goes much farther than that.

To Middle America, Warhol was the equivalent of a Space Alien, remote and unknowable. By writing about the fragility of life and friendship, Reed and Cale bring Warhol down to Earth, and humanize him for the first time.

-- Freder.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Original Masters, or, Spanning the Dead

I've been spending money like a drunken sailor, as my friend E___ sometimes says, and it's about to get worse.

Worse, because this weekend I plan on heading over to one of those big-box Home Improvement stores, and lay a little more sticker shock onto my credit card by acquiring a clothes washer and dryer.

It's time. I have the space cleared out, and the only way to whittle down certain of the piles that have been building up is to load them into a washing machine.

Oh, I could go out to one of the local Laundromats, but I already spend too much time away from home and the cats. Why would I want to spend a couple hours cooling my heels in one of those places, when I can be at home, throw a load in, and then do something productive with the time I have?

This is the week to do it -- I have to take a day off during the week anyway, so I might as well have a washer and dryer delivered and installed. Next Saturday is a Big Event at work, and I have to be there.

All this week and much of last I've been dumping money online to feed the new computer. I'm not a huge Gamer type, but I've always had an "Arcadia" folder on my computer -- once in a while, a few times a year, it's nice to wind down with Solitaire or a puzzle game. But nothing that I already own will work on the new machine, so I knew it was time to hie myself to to see if they had anything that appealed. With prices ranging between five and seven dollars a pop, I now have a very healthy Arcadia file indeed, enough to last me for years, so that's done.

Then there's the whole all-new MP3 thing.

There are some musical grails that need to be replaced, and last night alone I replaced four of 'em.

When I was doing research for the "Goths" short story re-published at this blog a few months back, I listened to a lot of Goth music. Some of it I actually liked. A group called Dead Can Dance released an album called Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, and I had a copy, and then it disappeared. It's been AWOL for years. It's still in print, but why pay $13.00 for a hard copy when I can pay $8.00 and have my hard copy playing in nothing flat?

For my money, Dead Can Dance is the best of the Goth groups. The Sisters of Mercy are too close to pop, and Nox Arcana are more soundscape artists than composers or musicians. Where Nox Arcana's approach is:


Dead Can Dance is like this:

These are the sins of Xavier's past
Hung like jewels in the forest of veils.
Deep in the heart where the mysteries emerge
Eve bears the stigma of original sin.
Freedom's so hard when we all are bound by laws
Etched in the scheme of nature's own hand
Unseen by those who fail in their pursuit of fate.

Both have their place, but the one is art, and the other is a background album for your Halloween party.

But today's soundtrack is a cut from an even better group, the venerable Steeleye Span. The "original masters" as one of their own albums immodestly proclaimed.

Back in Line is one of their later albums. It's also one of their best. If they were ever out of line, they certainly were back in it for this one. Wow. The first three cuts are some of the best work of its kind I've ever heard: a blend of the classical and hard-driving electric instrumentation, with hard, real stories behind them. An Anglophobe's dream. The song I've chosen for you tonight is "Lady Diamond," part ballad, part legend, part post-modern rewhickering of classical themes. Pay attention to the lyrics as it plays. There is a romantic, but very dark tale underlying the vigorous music.

I owned it on cassette, and played it until it was completely worn out. Of course, by then it was out of print.

Not any more! Snagged!

When I hit the little "play" arrow in ITunes and these two albums wafted out of the computer at me, I just curled my toes and closed my eyes.

Old friends return. Things sometimes come back to you. It's what is needed, what is called for, and what is found again.

-- Freder.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So Much Hot Air

Yesterday the CD-ROM arrived from the auction house containing every photograph that they took of the the things from my mother's house (at least, the things that were in the second auction just recently). The banner pictured above used to hang on the back stairway leading up to the guest suite. This was a part of the house that was once used quite often, was closed only in winter, but which in recent years had been completely shut off. It was one of the areas of the house that acted a bit like a time capsule: on the rare occasions I ventured in there, the back staircase felt a bit like an abandoned storage room in a museum.

I plan on using the photographs, which are beautiful, in an array of creative projects. I'm especially looking forward to an additional CD-ROM of pictures from the upcoming Toy and Collectibles auction. There is a children's story that I wrote years ago, based on Mom's collection of toys and dolls. At the time, I was just learning how to use a computer and programs like Photoshop, and my efforts at generating electronic illustrations were crude at best. Now I have some experience, and Creative Suits CS5, and I plan on putting them both to use.

One of the very few items of real value that I kept out of the auction was the star of that story. He is sitting upstairs in the studio right now. I will need more photos of him than the auction house would be able to provide.

The first line of the story is: "The bear was lonely, and his socks didn't fit."

Also yesterday, I had the first "bad morning" that I've experienced in a while. What brought it on, I wonder? Too little sleep, a hangover from the night before, both? When I came down to the kitchen a wave of sadness hit me, followed by the familiar claw of anxiety.

But -- it wasn't as bad as some of the bad mornings I experienced at the old house, and today I was the almost perky, practically OK person that is becoming the new normal.

It's been a peaceful week here. I've been Taking Deep Breaths. With the move behind me, a layer of stress is dropping away and the World That Was is getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.

It's still a part of me. I just don't live there anymore, and where I am living is so full of possibilities that I'm still just looking around.

I love the new house, and think that the basic layout of the furnishings worked out really well. The cats appear to agree with me. It's home now. Everybody's stretching.

Being able to write this blog from home is a danged good thing, too. It's both a daily task and a challenge. Getting into the habit of writing something, anything, every night is exactly what I need. It won't always be the blog. I hope that, sooner rather than later, I'll be able to find it in me to work on other projects.

Baby steps! That's my mantra!

There was a brief rearing of the past last night. The new owner of the house called. He wants the keys that I left with my lawyer, and he has questions about the things that were left behind. I understand his concerns, but I can't really help him. That part of my life is over. He needs to deal with the lawyer, or with my sister, who after all is the one who sold him the place right out from underneath me. It's time for her to step up to the plate, and do her part, and have her closure, if she wants it. I am done.


This evening over dinner I watched the animated "film," 9. I have to use the quotations for a couple of reasons. First, no film was harmed (or even touched) in the making of this motion picture. Second, as a movie it could be a great video game. Could, because as it stands, it doesn't even have the value of a video game, the interaction or the solving of puzzles. Even for a modern CGI animated movie, the "plot" is astonishingly thin. Why did they bother to hire such great voice talent when there is so very little dialogue in the picture, and most of what dialogue there is consists of grunts, wails and moans?

Literally, the plot is nothing more than an explanation for the graphic design. And, yes, the design is wonderful, but you know what? Wonderful design is everywhere these days. There's a surfeit of it, and I say that as a designer myself.

Literally, if you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've seen everything that it has to offer and then some. I'm glad that I was eating my dinner while it was on, so that I could say it wasn't completely wasted time.

I'm on my bike. Fiddle-dee-dee, tomorrow is another day.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

La Chaine

A poster that tries to make Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier look like a Lynd Ward woodcut.

Somehow, it doesn't seem as much fun to comment, as I'm about to, on something that aired on a network rather than something I chose for myself, on DVD, as my own personal Programming Director.

When you make your own choices, it's something suspiciously like a creative action, and when you can comment on it, you're a lone voice. But when potentially millions of other people have seen the same film at the same time, and drawn their own conclusions, you're just one voice in a million with an opinion that's no better or more well-informed than anyone else's -- and you know, possibly it's worse and less informed than some! We live in an age where any idiot with a keyboard can call himself a critic, and I'm no less of an idiot than most.

TCM, until last night, had been obliging me by running pictures that I'd already seen before, or perhaps even owned a copy of, and that was good because it freed me up to do other things. But last night they aired The Defiant Ones, one of those significant gaps in my experience, and I had no choice but to glue myself to the telly!

It's a genuine classic, hard to take your eyes off of, even though it's riddled with Creeping Hollywoodisms that sometimes threaten to bring down the whole affair.

In particular, at first I had a real hard time buying Tony Curtis in his part. It's not that he didn't do everything in his power to sell it, but he's fighting history -- in this case, a history that occurred both before and after he made this movie. It's hard to look at Tony Curtis and not see Tony Curtis, if you catch my drift.

You'd think the same would be true with Poitier, but it's obvious that Poitier put on some weight for this role, and he looks physically different from the man who made To Sir With Love and In the Heat of the Night.

It goes deeper than that, though, to the script. I had a hard time believing that these two characters with their reputed backgrounds, would have the kind of conversations that they sometimes have, and use the very self-consciously scripted words that they sometimes use.

Then there's the Good Cop / Bad Cop subplot, with the parts played by actors who don't really bring anything to the roles that goes deeper than the surface, the bumpkin with his omnipresent radio playing sophisticated jazz, and worst of all the Girl.

Yes, the Girl. The Single Mother living out in the middle of nowhere who still manages to look like, well, like a Hollywood Actress in full seduction mode.

But the other things in the movie are so strong that they manage to just plow right over these contradictions in the sense of reality. It's beautifully shot, acted powerfully by both of the leading men -- -- and by Lon Chaney Jr. in a small part, dipping most effectively into his seemingly bottomless well of Inner Conflict and Despair.

I'm going to digress here and pass on a rumor about Chaney that I can't substantiate and that may already be known to you. It is said that Chaney was a repressed homosexual. If this is true, then the key word (repressed) would explain a lot of the conflictedness that Chaney brought so successfully to most of his screen roles.

I've heard a story that I can't attribute, because I can't remember the source, that Chaney and Raymond Burr worked on a picture together, and Burr was very cruel to Chaney, berating him in front of everyone for being a "faggot."

Which says particularly nasty things about Burr, who was himself a closet homosexual.

As you can see, I have faults, too: in order to make the writing interesting for me, I have to stray away from the subject and try to show off how much I know.

My father met Raymond Burr, once, on an airplane. He reports that Burr was about as flaming as they come, and made some advances.

But then, my father has his faults, too, and one of them is homophobia.

My father also met Sidney Poitier on an airplane. Mr. Poitier gave my father a copy of the novel Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley. Ever since that day, many years ago, when Poitier was at the height of his success, Parnassus on Wheels has been on my reading list. And I still haven't read it.

I figure that I still have time, and that some things should be saved.

Let's see. In the roster of celebrity meetings, among others, my father met Leo McKern, in a hotel bar in Florida, while McKern was in America for the filming of Rumpole's Return. I'll have to ask him about that one, to see if there are any juicy anecdotes. But his memory has always been a convenient one, and he's not a Spring Chicken anymore, and it wouldn't surprise me if he no longer remembered the encounter at all.

Where was I?

The Defiant Ones. Yes. Beautifully shot and acted. Highly contrived, yet quite compelling. Not a favorite, by a long shot, but completely worthy of its reputation. Holds -- and rewards -- your attention. Quite possibly hobbled a bit by it's own success, in that it was later imitated by lesser pictures and television series.

That about says it.

Incidentally, a Google search for the poster revealed a French version with the title I used in the header of this post -- and I'm not sure but that The Chain wouldn't have been a better title for the American release as well!

-- Freder.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Word of the Day: Pianosaurus!

In the Ain't Technology Wundafil? Department, I've been messing around with my new computer over the past couple of weeks, and realizing how far advanced it is over the old one that I liked perfectly well until I started seeing what the new one could do.

The first time I slotted a music CD (it was Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: What Now My Love) into this thing and opened ITunes to play it, the program asked me if I wanted to add the CD to my Library.

I didn't know what that meant. I pressed "OK" and then watched in astonishment as the computer copied the whole CD onto my hard drive in about a minute! 

Suddenly I realized why musicians and CD companies hate this development!

A few days later I copied a Renaissance CD onto the new machine. And then I thought, "Hmmmmm! I wonder if I can record it right back onto a CD-R?"

I think y'all probably know the answer, but I didn't. The next day I bought a spindle of CD-Rs, and in nothing flat I had second hard copy of Ashes Are Burning. I gave it to a student at work.

Then another coin dropped into my slow-on-the-uptake mind. 

When I was searching for Melanie CDs at Amazon, I noted that several key titles were out of print and unavailable, or available only at outlandish prices.

Or in MP3 versions.

A month ago I would never have considered paying for an MP3 version of an album. Last night I bought Melanie's Stoneground Words, otherwise unavailable in any form, downloaded it -- and burned it onto an audio CD that plays just beautifully in my little portable CD player.

Suddenly, I am part of the New World Order. 

I didn't stop there.

About a decade and a half back, maybe longer, I got together with my best friends and spent New Year's Eve in Portland, going from venue to venue, checking out the different acts. One of them, up from Boston, was a nifty little band called Pianosaurus. They played classic rock 'n' roll -- all on toy instruments

The drummer had a little toy drum set that came up to about his knees. I bet he went through a new set every night! The leader played a little toy guitar not more than about two feet long. They were backed by a cute gal on Toy Piano and a guy on Toy Bass. 

And y'know what? They got a great sound out of those things! I was entranced and tickled. It was completely unique, fun as all get out, delightfully charming.

The group recorded one album, Groovy Neighborhood, in their short lifetime (and appeared in the movie New York Stories). Of course I bought it. And, you know the story by now, haven't been able to listen to it in yonks.

The band is defunct now, the record long out of print. But last night I searched the MP3 store and there it was! Five minutes later I was playing a CD of it in my living room, and boppin' down to the good-time sounds!

Sometimes, technology really is wundafil!

And now -- have I got a treat for you! I am becoming so techno-logically up-to-date that I can even provide you with a cut from the album! Click on this link to download an MP3 of the song "Bubble Gum Music"

Let me know if it doesn't work!

-- Freder. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Wonderland

Bliss! The first weekend in more than three months that I didn't have to be somewhere, moving something -- the whole weekend to myself, just me and the quats in the new house. I kicked back and breathed, blew some time on the internet, fixed up some pretty fancy meals for myself (getting better at the whole cooking thing, though it helps to have a working stove and oven and the time to plan things out).

Of course, it didn't go exactly as planned: I didn't get all the cleaning done, because the bag in the vacuum cleaner filled up, and I don't have a clue where the spare bags are! Going to have to go out on my lunch break sometime this week and try to score some replacements.

There's a lot of that going on. Hammer? Missing. The nuts and bolts to put my drawing table back together? Missing. I packed them carefully in a ziplok bag and put the bag in one of the boxes. . . just obviously not any box that I've unpacked so far, and I did four or five just today. I'm gradually running out of boxes and starting to hope that the dern things turn up soon.

Saturday morning I did go out to get a replacement hammer and a few other supplies. Ugh! Wallyworld on a Saturday morning is not a good place to be! It took forever.

But I was heartened to find that the spring flower seeds were out and on display. That's always an uplifting moment -- going into the store while it's still winter and finding that they've put the seeds out. It makes you feel as though Spring is not far away. Mom and I were always all over the seeds the minute they came out.

I treated myself to SEVEN packages of nasturtium seeds, also two packages of hollyhocks, one of sweet peas, two of pansies for the window boxes, and, on a lark, Moonflowers. It'll be interesting to see if I can make anything happen with those.

I even bought a large green leafy plant for the living room. What the hell, I had a wooden stand on wheels for something large, and some large clay pots to put it in. The wooden horse is grazing on it right now. It may not stay in that spot.

I also stopped at a different store and got myself a new pair of shoes. I had only two pairs of wearable shoes for going out, both were in pretty sad shape even before the move, but in the last three months they took a real beating (as did my car). It will be nice to have a pair of shoes without holes in 'em! Moving in winter is one thing. Moving in winter when your shoes are full of holes is another!

My cleaning efforts were not helped by having TCM on while I worked. The Westerner with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan really shining as Judge Roy Bean (whom Paul Newman played to great effect years later) was powerfully distracting. If it's not in the same league as Stagecoach, that's only because it's more sophisticated, slightly less iconic, although the romance element is just as charming.

This evening I got some significant unpacking done in the Studio, which is really just a bedroom with my disassembled drawing table in it and an arty theme. It's where I will go to work on the scrapbook, and where I will go to draw. 'Course, none of that can begin to happen until things come together, but it's slowly beginning to get there. I'd been a terrible slacker in the unpacking department in the last week or so. Not being able to find anything is a powerful incentive to get back to it.

Really, the only thing wrong with a weekend like this is that makes for a terribly dull blog post.

And it ends.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Stalking" the Wild Asparagus

I actually got a big kick out of saying to my friend BC during the mid-stages of the move, "I have a stalker!" It was kind of fun, certainly a boost to my ego. Our mutual friend W___ once had a stalker, and now I had one of my very own.

Now the story can be told, because I have fallen from favor.

It began when a Facebook friend, a former co-worker, sent me a message saying something along the lines of, "Will you 'friend' my friend J____ if I set it up? She's been reading your posts on my page and thinks you're fantabulous."

I had to wonder how anybody could find me fantabulous based on the pathetic and self-absorbed writings that I post here, and I wondered about that, but I was too flattered to say no. 

On January 6, the day that the movers failed to show up for their scheduled appointment, she posted "nice to meet you" on my Facebook page, although of course, "meet" is kind of an oxymoron under the circumstances. That same day she sent a longish personal message through Facebook that read, in part:

"I have read your blogs just up to Christmas, barely getting a glimpse into the most recent events of a total stranger that, dare I say, could be my tortured soul mate.

"I'll read more later, but I want you to know that your words strike a cord with me. I've gathered but fragments from infinity but they are enough for me to know that we have shared some similar life events at least at some point."

This sent up a couple of red flags. The purple prose, the misspelling of "chord," the whole "soul mate" thing. But again, I was flattered and allowed that to override the concerns. I'm as interested in possibilities as anyone.

I looked at her profile, but it was hard to get a handle on her. There was little personal information there, and she seemed to be using pictures of totally different women for her changing profile shots.

Soon the hits on my blog went through the roof as J_____ began to read backwards through the whole thing. I figured she must be a glutton for punishment. On January 7 we had this exchange:

J: I am up to mid-October!

Me: You have my deepest sympathy.

J: No! It's great. It's tormenting yes, but I love your heartfelt expressions and passion, even though its dark.

OK. I decided that misery loves company. Following my post about the Miss Bianca books by Margery Sharp, I got this from her:

J: You fancy Miss Bianca, do ya?

Me: What self-respecting, red-blooded mouse wouldn't?

J: A female one. She would be jealous.

This was the biggest red flag so far, but I didn't have time to consider it. That very same day, she sent me another personal message:

uh, jeez... um, normally I am shy, well OK, always at first but I am forcing myself (cause I am driving myself crazy by not doing it) to say that I like you and ask if you maybe, possibly, would you consider, perhaps meeting me for coffee or alcohol or something, sometime? 


Hit the send button J___, it ain't gonna kill you, just hit the send button J___, I know you think rejection is so negative but hit the send button J___, you never know if you don't try. OK, hitting the send button.

My answer to her was, "Sure, when things calm down. I want to get the move done and the house somewhat in order before moving on down the road!"

My original friend, the co-worker who referred J___ to me, didn't help matters by throwing gas on the fire. One day, J___ posted on my page: "Good Morning."

And the other woman replied: "Why do you post this on his Facebook page when you could just roll over in bed and tell him in person?"

I typed: "Uhhhm, no."

J___ typed: "I was at least going to play along with her."

Soon after this, J___ started a blog of her own, and went on Facebook begging all of her friends to follow it. I did so, because I wanted to know more about her. After a few weeks of posts, it became evident that this was no "soul mate" of mine. I quietly decided to just not follow through on the whole "meeting for coffee" thing.

On January 27 she sent another personal message with the header "Hi" asking, on the surface, if I had settled in yet. Of course what she was really asking was whether or not I was ready for that date.

At that time I was up to my eyeballs in the move, and she should have known it, as a regular reader of this blog. But, increasingly, her reality was taking precedence over the reality of her professed "soul mate."

This week, for the very first time, I had breathing room. This week, for the first time, I was able to take advantage of living in town and spend some time with my friends at a local pub.

But when I blogged about it, the shit with my stalker friend really hit the fan!

Her response to the post was, all lower case, "sucks when you get up the nerve to ask someone out and they shoot you down, doesn't it?"

This was clearly not an innocent comment, but a shot across the bow. I didn't want to get into a big public Facebook argument, so I simply replied: "Eh. It's all good."

And got this response:


I wanted to tell her where to get off, but suddenly found that I couldn't. She had un-friended me! I could feel the frost through the computer screen!

I went to her blog and typed, approximately, the following. It's not exact, I'm sure:

"You and I both know that I didn't shoot you down. This week was the very first chance I had to do something, and I chose to go out with old friends. I have that right. In response you have a hissy fit on facebook and unfriend me. Behavior like that makes me not want to follow through. Sorry."

The second to last sentence was more than a little bit disingenuous, I admit. I had already not decided to follow through, I was just leaping on this incident to put an end to this once and for all. But the first part of the message came right from the gut.

I don't know this woman from any other person on the street, yet she was acting like she had a claim on me. This was borne out by the reply I got on Facebook, under the header (again all lower case) "sorry we never met":

really Doug, I am. I tried hard to befriend you because I thought we had a lot in common, I think things happen for a reason and I thought maybe we would be better knowing each other than not. I liked you and it was hard for me to take that step- I wasn't having a "hissy fit" about you wanting to date someone else- God knows that is your right, it just sort of hurt my feelings that you blogged about how regrettable it is that you couldn't get with C______ and you never even gave me a chance. 

So basically, that kind of behavior doesn't make me want to follow through. Sorry.

It made me angry, but it also made me laugh. Did she not read the post? "Regret" is her word, not mine. I had a great time that night with friends both old and new, and I believe the post makes it clear that I have no regrets whatever associated with C______.

There's a deleted scene on the DVD of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as Borat, hires a masseuse, a guy, and then tries to get comedy out of the situation. Late in the massage, he rolls over onto his back and, under the towel, it's revealed that Borat has sustained an erection. Borat pleads with the masseuse to finish him off. "You got this to happen, now you finish!"

The poor man keeps on working methodically on Cohen's leg, and says, "I didn't do that to you. You did that to you."

I realized that, all along, it was danged silly to be flattered by the attentions of this person. Her interest in me didn't have anything to do with me. It was all in her head.

My hands are not clean in this regard. I've done that to women in my day, including one of the women I had dinner with the other night, so I guess it's just payback to have it happen to me. One-sided interest is a bad deal for everyone involved.

I hope J___ finds her soulmate, but I'm danged glad it's not me.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A Whole New World

I might as well blog about this. L_____, especially, has nefarious ways of finding things out, and she can't be trusted with a secret. So everyone is going to know about it anyway, and they'll all have a good laugh at my expense, and I'll blush and get over it and carry on.

The virtues of living in town are starting to manifest themselves. Last night I went out for dinner with two old friends from the bookstore trade and two other friends of theirs whom I'd never met before.

In the old world, this would not have been a happening thing. While my mother was alive I was her only company and she knew how to slather the guilt on if I took too much time for myself. Besides which, if I didn't get home at a reasonable hour, everyone starved. I was the only cook, cleaner and dishwasher.

But this isn't the old world. This is the World version 2.2.1 Snow Leopard Update.

I was able to stop off on the way home from work, feed the quats, give them a pet and a talking to, then drive not more than a mile to the restaurant, not even being the last one to arrive, have a really fun, nice evening out in pleasant company and still be home by seven-thirty-ish!

????!!?? Say what?

Now here's the part that L_____ and E_____ are really going to rag me about. Although they've probably guessed already. Some things don't change.

I was quite taken with one of the women I met last night, she's smart and cute and has a real sense of mischief, which is a powerful attraction for me as L_____ and E____ both know. But of course, she's seeing someone else as of just three weeks ago (three weeks! I couldn't have met this person a month ago?), someone, apparently, named "Rooo-OOO--oob!"

The old me would have just gone home and forgotten all about it.

No, that's wrong. The old me would have gone home and stewed about it. And when I get stewing on something, no damn good ever comes of it.

But this isn't the old Doug. This is Doug version 2.2.1 Snow Leopard update.

I thought, Three weeks isn't a relationship. Three weeks is a long date! Then I thought, L_____ has got to have "friended" her on Facebook.

And because my computer is also not the old computer, I was on Facebook in seconds and sure enough there was C______. I put in a friend request right away. When I checked back in at  11:30 she'd responded in the positive. (I thought, It couldn't have been such a hot date with Rooo-OOO-ooob if she's on Facebook by eleven thirty! Yes, C______, I really did think that. I can be a jerk.)

I didn't have a phone number (and anyway it was 11:30 at night) so I shot out a personal message and asked her out.

By morning I had my answer. It was no. Like I said, some things don't change.

But, you know, it's out of my system now, and I've added a couple of new friends to my collection (can't ever have enough of those) and there will be other C______s down the road (one hopes) and sooner or later, one of them is going to say yes.

Or not. I'm good either way.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Life is a Cabaret, old chum. . .

Dame Judi Dench has an autobiography just out; I can't say whether she actually wrote it or not. I've enjoyed her work a lot over the years, but I was surprised to learn that she played Sally Bowles in the original 1968 London production of Cabaret.

It's one of those things that doesn't seem right, somehow. Of course I hopped over to Google to see if I could find any photos of her in the role, and was surprised again to find that someone actually had film of it, and had posted it on YouTube!

This is a surprising age we live in.

Not surprising (to me, anyway), was to learn that I was correct to think this was a strange casting choice. My apologies to Dame Dench, but she was all wrong for the part. She didn't look the part, and she didn't manage to capture the spirit of Sally Bowles. Her delivery of "Don't Tell Momma" was nowhere near as good as that of Jill Haworth, who originated the part on Broadway.

Haworth was crisp, light, insouciant. The young Judi Dench seems plodding and frowzy by comparison.

The clip includes the introduction of Sally Bowles by The Emcee, a character played so remarkably on Broadway by Joel Grey that he has become forever identified with the role. The young man playing the Emcee in the London production looks the part, all right, and has the voice, but again, his interpretation is woefully wrong-headed.

I've performed the part myself, and seen it performed by actors other than Mr. Grey, and it amazes me how many actors simply don't get it.

The Emcee is not meant to be fey and limp-wristed and comical.

The Emcee is meant to be EVIL. Evil, evil, evil! He doesn't just introduce the acts. To some extent he controls the events and dominates all the characters in the play. The somewhat good-naturedness of his perversion (as exemplified in the song "Two Ladies") is meant to be deceptive. The Emcee represents all the corruption of the Nazi regime, all its murderous enmity, all its bigotry. When Sally is condemned at the end of the play to return to the Cabaret, it must be given to understand that Berlin is about to erupt and her life under the spectre of The Emcee is about to become dark and dire.

That message cannot be delivered if the actor playing the Emcee would rather charm the audience than frighten them. In my opinion, even Alan Cumming's portrayal in the Broadway revival was misguided. By sexualizing the Emcee, his menace becomes too specific and down-market. He needs to be above the earthy concerns that he markets as his wares.

All of this got me to thinking about Jill Haworth as well, and I Googled her just to see what she had been up to over the years. It turns out that she died just recently, on January 3, at the age of 65, of "natural causes."

This is from her obituary:

"They underestimated her," Cabaret's director, Hal Prince, told the New York Times. "Sally Bowles was not supposed to be a professional singer. She wasn’t supposed to be so slick that you forgot she was an English girl somewhat off the rails in the Weimar era. When Jill came in and auditioned, she nailed it right away, walked that line. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what she delivered."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All Those Years Ago

John Lennon was assassinated on my twenty-second birthday. The first words that I heard that morning came from my mother, hollering up the stairs, "John Lennon's been killed."

Happy Birthday.

I had already lost two grandparents by then. My fraternal Grandma Agnes had suffered a stroke years earlier, and died a vegetable in a nursing home with a feeding tube forcing mush down her throat. My fraternal grandfather Adolf had been killed several years later coming out of a Stamp Collector's show. He was hit by a young moron driving down the road with a girl on his lap.

Both of these deaths came to me with a sense of detachment. First there was the physical detachment, in that my family had moved to Maine when I was six years old and since that time I saw my grandparents only when they came to visit, once or twice a year. I was not a part of their deaths, I lived half a continent away from them, and my parents did not even see fit for me to join them at the funerals.

Beyond that, I was just so young. I hadn't begun to ask the big questions; hell fire, I did not even know the words to express the concepts in those big questions. I'm still not sure that I know them. Religion? Up to a point, my family went to church every Sunday. Then, suddenly, we stopped. I know that religion was never anything more than an abstract to me, and my sense is that my parents were starting to feel the same way about it.

When I was very, very young, and we were living in Minnesota, my mother taught Sunday School at (I think) the Lutheran Church. I remember only one particular lesson. She told of how they nailed Jesus to the cross, and I asked, out loud, "Didn't it hurt?"

I was so little that the concept of somebody doing something like that to anyone was unbelievable to me.

Now, all I have to do is turn on the television and hear about what's happening in Mexico and other places, things so horrible that crucifixion seems mildly invasive by comparison.

This is going off on a tangent. Here's where I wanted to go in the first place:

John Lennon was another thing. I believe that Lennon's murder was the first time I started to know at some level that this is real, this is all there is, and it's not permanent, it can be taken away from us at any time, if you leave your house at the wrong time (or even if you don't) you can be snuffed out just like that.

When George Harrison released his memorial song, "All Those Years Ago," I confess that I didn't understand it.  The thoughts and emotions that it expresses are a good deal more complicated than what you encounter in the average pop song, and the deceptively upbeat, bouncy tone of the melody is in one sense misleading. The song is by no means a dirge -- and I suppose that was my problem with it.

I didn't begin to understand the song until I reached the age that George was when he wrote it. The joy of the music and the pain of the words started to come together for me. Harrison's relationship with Lennon was not always the rosiest; that's the way friendships and partnerships are.

Harrison was a much more religious man than I am. As I've written in other posts, I believe it when I can see it, and sometimes not even then. But there's something awfully compelling in the very harsh, angry thought behind the lyrics:

They've forgotten all about God
He's the only reason we exist,
Yet you were the one that they thought was so weird
All those years ago

Now I'm more than a decade older than Lennon was when he was assassinated, and George has been gone an awfully long time, too. Both of them lived significantly shorter lives than anyone in my family.

Shortly after Harrison's death, I believe that I wrote a series of emails to friends, in effect asking: What's going on here? Where has it all gone? Why does it have to be like this?

My very pragmatic friend BC replied to them saying, "George Harrison isn't dead because [I honestly forget this part]. George Harrison is dead because he smoked six packs of cigarettes a day."

And he was right. Actions have consequences. The same thing is true with my mother, who shouted up the stairs to me on my birthday that John Lennon had been killed by a madman.

Her death should not have come as such a shock to me. I was paying attention, but I was running away from what I saw. I was pickling my fear and dread in a sea of alcohol. I couldn't face it. I didn't want to know.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

All the Pretty Young Things

There was an "incident" at my place of work that I am, as an employee, officially not allowed to describe or comment on in any way, even though the details are now public knowledge. But it does give me the opportunity to write obliquely about sex, one that I can't possibly pass up.

I have to wonder why some prominent, otherwise intelligent men -- people like Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby -- are so stupid about sex. Willing to risk everything on a sordid game, when there are a thousand ways to avoid public humiliation (and the humiliation of others, let's not forget) and still, shall we say, have one's needs met.

I am grateful that I have reached a stage of comparative wisdom in my life to the extent that I can say, "Just because I am attracted to someone, doesn't mean that I have to act on it." Especially acting on it the way some of these men do.

I'm also grateful to have learned the difference between attraction and compatibility. I don't believe that you can have one or the other separately. It's got to be both, or nothing. I see literally hundreds of lovely young things every day of my life (and did my boss consider at all the fact that I am a single man when she positioned my workstation at the bottom of a flight of stairs? When she asks me to look up and greet people, does she not realize that young women wear very short skirts indeed and that, by default, the view from my desk does not include their eyes?), and at night, sometimes, I have woken from dreams, in which my subconscious mind has cast certain of them in ways meant to torture me.

But to act on it,  either overtly or furtively, is to me beyond the pale.

It's not the intellectual knowledge that these women are young enough to be my daughters that ultimately puts me off. Age really is relative. Some of these women are far more mature than I am.

What does put me off is that any cultural reference I can possibly make usually elicits a blank stare. There was one young girl, really stunning, exotic -- think of Veronica from the Archie comics, only Indian -- who had never heard of Gilligan's Island. Not that Gilligan is a cultural reference of particular importance -- but how do you explain it and why would I even want to try?

That, and -- sometimes, all right, quite often -- when these women open their mouths they reveal how very young they are. Some of them reveal that they are as dumb as a post. It's hard to be attracted to anyone, no matter how stunning, when they are asking you a question like: "Some of these books have stickers on them that say USED, and others have stickers that say USED SAVES. Is there a difference?"

Well, yes. The difference is that no one with half a brain would ask such a question.

Except as a joke, I don't get flirted with -- there's nothing that they want from me. And I don't do any flirting myself -- that way lies madness.

I can't teach a college course in say, physics or Latin. I can't run the country -- hell, I can barely run my own life! I would say that my I.Q. is probably exceeded by my shoe size. But even though I often lie awake at night with, as Bruce Springsteen wrote in a song, "a freight train running through the middle of my bed," at least I'm not dumb enough to prey on women half my age and younger.

-- Freder.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Opening Out

A View from the Brave New World

I started this post before dinner. After dinner, I stayed in my chair and watched Rachel, Rachel on TCM -- a movie that I have long wanted to see, and one that did not disappoint. Newman proves himself a skillful director, the script is lovely, Woodward delivers as usual.

There are individual lines that I would love to use as titles for posts, they resonate so powerfully:

How can I be out of danger if I'm not dead?


I can't keep you alive. That's not up to me. It never was.

It would give the wrong impression to say that I "identified" with Rachel, the details of her life are just too dissimilar from mine, and her dream of life is more tangible and physical than mine: she wants a child. But there are powerful parallels that can be drawn, and I don't find this unusual. I think most everyone experiences the stage of life that Rachel finds herself in, sooner or later. Some later than most.


I'm so glad that I didn't let my father and his wife talk me into buying the first house that we looked at. True, it would have been more affordable; but I would not have been happy there, and if I had been forced to trade out my old life for a life in a tiny little crackerbox like that, I would not have been happy. And that would have been a dangerous thing for a lot of people, me included. The thought of my sister getting everything that she wanted (i.e., money), while I was forced into drastically depleted living conditions would have angered me and darkened me to an extent that I don't even want to think about.

True, it had three bedrooms -- but those bedrooms were slightly larger than some of the closets in the old house. The dining room probably would not have been able to contain the dining room table. The living room was just a strip across the front. Both the dining and living rooms were covered with a deep shag carpet of an oppressive green that I would have had to rip up.

It was a constrictive atmosphere. The whole time we were there I was physically aware of its smallness. And that was without any furniture.

My father's point was that it wasn't permanent. It would be a launching stage from which I could go anywhere. But that was not what I needed. I'm not a fan of impermanence. I needed to land somewhere not with a bounce, but with comforting sense of settlement. I am starting from ground zero. I needed a place that was conducive to growing a new life from within.

I keep hearing people say that the new house is so big. For me, it's just the right size. Much smaller than the old house, but not so small that it doesn't possess the kind of openness that I need. I will have a study, and a studio. I have a library, and a Halloween Room, and a toy and game room. I will have a room for every time of the day, and every mood of my life. It is organized with a specific intent: to allow me the space to discover the person that I am going to become.

As I type this, my little Honey is sitting on my lap, her head rested on my left arm, purring contentedly. We have crossed through some rough terrain! But it's going to be all right.


And now a little shout out to FlickChick: funny what you were saying about Casablanca today! Right after Rachel, Rachel -- surprise surprise! There it is.

-- Freder.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Notes from Another World

I wish I could say that my two trips out to the old house were definitely the last, but they were the last for now. When the snow melts, I will have to make a one-off trip to pick up a few things outside (all of them heavy!), and when my father returns from the west with his truck, I'm hoping to commandeer him for a day to pick up the jailhouse. I'll have to explain about that in another post!

In any case, the wave of relief flowing over me right now is pretty powerful.

There were difficulties in both loads; I'd gambled and lost on the size of the wooden deer and the rooster-shaped sign; I had to break them both in order to get them in the car. I felt bad enough about this that I started talking to them.

The deer was the first item I loaded. It was also the hardest. One of his antlers came off easily, as it was peg-mounted, but the other had to be wrenched off violently. When I came back to the car with the next item, the deer was looking up at me with one astonished and frightened-looking red eye, I said, "I'm sorry, but you're going to a much better place than the one you've been in. And you'll have a nice yard to stand out in just like what you're used to. I promise I'll fix your antlers, I promise. . ."

Just what was this blather all about? I'm talking to Inanimate Objects now. What's next?

I was back home with the first load before eleven AM, and back on the road to the old house before eleven-thirty. When I came up to the driveway I jumped: there was an SUV parked there.

But it was just the neighbors, making their first visit, trying the keys, taking pictures to send to the new owners. I tried once again to prepare them for what they would find inside. We talked a while. I told them that this was my last load.

The sign in question is of painted plywood, about four and a half feet tall, and a yard wide, in the shape of a giant rooster. On one side it says "SHOP OPEN." It stands by means of a cross-board at the base. I took that apart, and still couldn't get the damn thing into the car. The base was too wide. I said, "I'm sorry," and split the base in two. Then it went in, with some difficulty. I will fix it later. On top of that I was barely able to squeeze in a small wooden rack of shelves, and a bird house on a pole. The only things left were a large flower pot, and two boxes of the wretched comic book I self-published thirty years ago or so.

Even including a stop at the supermarket, I was back home by just after one.

Driving away for the "last" time was not difficult. The first trip was harder. All I could think about the second time was that I wanted to be gone by the time the neighbors came out of  the house.

Other than unloading the car, it was not a productive afternoon. I puttered around, played on the computer, changed the cat tray, did a cursory job of mopping the kitchen floor, and reflected that for all intents and purposes, the ordeal is over.

Next weekend, I will actually have the time to clean this place! Even that ought not to take the whole weekend. I will have time on my hands, and will have to find something to do with myself in this New World Order.

Oh -- the deer? He's standing in the garage next to one of my mother's painted flats. He looks much happier now.

The most accurate Movie Line in History: "I Don't Give a Damn."

I've been grateful that TCM, for the last few nights, has been running things that I've already seen or actually own on DVD. It's freed up my time for other pursuits. I'm almost equally as glad that, even as I type this, they are running Gone With The Wind -- a movie that I don't own on DVD, never will, and frankly have never been able to sit through even once.

It's not that I don't appreciate the very evident craftsmanship that went into this movie. It is astonishingly well-made. It's not that I don't like the cast. I mean, what's not to like about the cast?

The problem is simply this: Margaret Mitchell.

Gone With The Wind is one of the worst novels ever written in the English language -- at least, among the ones that take themselves seriously.

Scarlett O'Hara is touted as a Survivor when she's really just a Bitch, Rhett Butler is a scoundrel, and for some reason we are expected to respect him for that. Ashley Wilkes is such a wimpy-boy that he makes me look like Ahnohld SchVARZenegger.

There isn't one single likable character in the novel, and in the movie the actors dutifully portray the characters in all their deep unlikable-ness. The book was one of the most detestable reading experiences of my life, and the movie only accentuates Margaret Mitchell's stupidity and ignorance of the form.

The one thing that the story has going for it is the deep hardship of the Civil War, and its message that somehow, someway, people manage to muddle through the most difficult and horrendous of circumstances. Had it not been for the last ten months of my life, I would not even have been willing to acknowledge that much.

The issue I have is that I just don't care if any of these woefully misbegotten characters survive or not. Every single one of them is, in their own way, contemptible and detestable. How can a writer possibly, successfully convey a message of the virtues or survival when all of the creatures she writes about woud be better stamped from existence?

Scarlett and Rhett belong in one of the Darwin Awards books. They should have done the gene pool a favor by NOT surviving the war!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Here at the End of Time

The old house as I prefer to remember it.

I hadn't seen Tiger Grumpyface since the last really bad storm (more than a week), and I hadn't seen Tiger Whitestockings in two days. At first I wasn't too worried; the food was still getting eaten. But today I saw not one but two strange quats eating off the Tigers' plate, and for the first time I started to suspect foul play.

Instead, when I went out with their dinner just now, both Tigers appeared and seemed eager to see me. Whitestockings had lost some weight. But all is well. Phew.


It was all over at the old house by a quarter to two. I felt overwhelmingly sad as I pointed the car away, oppressively sad. But when I arrived home and came into the new house, I saw that my life was here, and was immediately cheered. It's been a damn lot of work, and it's not over, and the future -- as the fortune-tellers say -- is in doubt. But home is here.

That's a mighty powerful three words.

I was up at seven-thirty to do my chores and feed us all, started out with plenty of time but somewhere along the way I spent too much time online and ended up running a bit late. The mysterious plower had been back, and this time he had shoveled out the path to the front door as well. JA, my lawyer, was no more than a couple of minutes behind me pulling into the driveway.

I was glad that she came, because it was a help in many ways. But helping me wasn't her main motive in coming -- she was hoping to score some Free Stuff.

I was okay with that. She didn't take anything without asking first, and the auctioneer was leaving a fair amount of stuff behind. I still can't understand his thinking. Some of what he took was absolute rubbish, fit only for Goodwill; meanwhile, he left some perfectly good and salable things behind. I didn't want them; or, if I did, I didn't have room for them. As an example, Mom had a set of six giant children's blocks that were made out of wood. She used them for both packing and display purposes at shows and in her shop. I'd love to keep them, but there's no room, what would I do with them? I think they'd bring something at an auction, but Steve the auctioneer was disdainful. He tried to take two small, worthless, cardboard display pieces that I expressly wanted to leave for the new owners, but he won't take the blocks.

He is a loud, brash person. He is completely bald (not even having eyebrows). He persisted in leaving the main door wide open to the cold, even when no one was carrying anything out. 

The morning was a long emotional replay of the last two times that the auctioneers had come to tear the place apart. They made a terrible mess, again. In my old bedroom I pulled down a last couple of posters. I looked out of the window for the last time. I hid in there until the tears stopped.

JA sat down with me and told me about the auction. It did not go as well as anticipated; at any rate, JA thinks that we may end up with about half of what they had estimated. As she flipped through the catalog and showed me the lots, and the prices they had gone for, I felt sick and sad. It is galling and depressing to see my mother's life reduced to numbers, and such low numbers at that. Some few things went for more than expected, but the vast majority hovered at or below the estimate. I hated even seeing that catalog. I wanted her to put it away.

The day seemed to drag on so slowly. It was cloudy out, so the light was tricky. By noon, I was sure that it was coming up on four o'clock. I was astonished to see that it was just past one when the auctioneers left.

I gave JA a key to the house and one to the small barn. Then, with both of our cars loaded to the roof, we drove down to the neighbor's house. One of the new owners is his son-in-law. We spent about a half hour there, an awful lot of formalities to go through just to drop off the keys. And that was it.

I think it will take me two more trips, not because I have so much left to take, but because it's nearly all bulky. There is a wooden deer for the lawn that I am keeping, and a giant rooster sign that my mother and I made when she was trying to have a shop there at the house. There's a stepladder that's going to have to go down the middle of the car.

I'm going to try to get it all tomorrow.

And then, suddenly, my life is going to open up again, at last. As I unloaded the car this evening, I realized that next weekend will be Entirely Free. Tomorrow, this chapter in my life will be over.

-- Freder.
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