Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mildred Pierce, Mildred Pierce

Well. I certainly didn't expect to spend two hours in front of HBO tonight. I hate remakes as a general rule, and modern remakes of classics particularly annoy me. King Kong, anyone? Do we really need new versions of True Grit and Mildred Pierce? There are so many eminently adaptable novels out there that have never been filmed, and even ones that have, but were filmed badly the first time around. Why do we have to keep re-digging old ground?

I probably wouldn't have bothered with HBO's all-newfangled Mildred Pierce at all if Kate Winslet wasn't involved. But I like her as an actress, and beyond that -- well. Let me slip briefly into full crass adolescent mode: I'd kiss that woman from the top of her head down to the tips of her toes and then work my way back, only slower. And that damned lucky stiff (pun intended) who gets to play Monty! Why don't I ever get work like that? I tell you now that if I did, I'd do everything in my power to blow every take, just to make it last. . .

Ehm, where were we?

Oh, yeah. Mildred Pierce. What's the point?

In its favor, the producers haven't in any way tried to re-make the Joan Crawford version, but instead took took a completely different approach to the material. Within minutes, I was thinking "Dang, I'm going to have to break down and read the book now." By choosing not to open with the murder, the entire thrust of the thing is changed. Mildred Pierce becomes more of a family drama than a noir, and unless you know what's coming you'd be justified in believing that the story was going to track in the direction of "a story of redemption and rebirth."

That, of course, is exactly not where it's really headed.

Very much not in its favor is the runtime. Mildred Pierce is a fairly slim book, and squeezing a five-hour mini-series out of the thing must be a lot like squeezing a gallon of juice out of a single orange. Not having read the book, I can't tell you where the padding has been inserted, but padded it very much is. At times, this Mildred Pierce has the arthritic pace of a daytime soap opera, and stringing together two parts in one sitting makes it all the worse. Events that took a few minutes in the original picture here seem to go on for days. I was able to get up and do the dishes without missing a thing.

Honestly, five hours of Mildred Pierce is a lot like three hours of King Kong. It looks gorgeous, and I can watch Miss Winslet suffer through her trials until the cows come home, but honestly someone needs to take a pair of pinking shears to this thing. As Jerry Lewis wrote in his very entertaining book The Total Filmmaker, "How freakin' long can you drown Shelly Winters?"

There are going to be people who try to tell you that this version is grittier and more realistic than the 1945 version. I'm going to tell you that it isn't so. With its calculatedly beautiful photography and design, and Miss Winslet doing things like letting her bathrobe drape over her bare shoulder in a way that must have been uncomfortable and that no person would stand for in private, this Mildred Pierce is no less glamorized or Hollywood-ized than the original version, It's just that glamour means a different thing than it did in 1945, and it's all right today if it comes with a little bit of tarnish and patina.

Tarnish and patina are exactly what the director of photography gives us here. It's lovely to look at, but sometimes feels a bit calculated.

The performances are tops, from Miss Winslet all the way to the crusty old coot playing the restaurant owner, and here, at least, the style is more naturalistic than in the original.

But in the end, what kept me watching the new version was not so much its quality as my interest in how very different two films based on the same novel could be. The plot points are all there, but everything else -- it's a bit like looking at non-fraternal twins. There are eerie similarities, but no one would mistake one for the other.


No. Sorry, but no.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Period, End of Story.

Dear Dad;

I'd bet folding money that you're going to see this, which is why I'm posting it here instead of putting it in an email to you.

I guess that what I've been trying to say in my recent angry posts is actually quite simple.

I'm not your confidante and you're not mine. For once in your life, respect somebody else's wishes and stay out of things where you are not needed or wanted.

There. Now I'm done with this subject.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Cat at Night, Nerve, and My War against the Inanimate

I need to write more about Dahlov Ipcar later; until then, this image from her book
The Cat at Night is the perfect compliment to my first story, , , 

I was so happy to see both Tiger Grumpyface and Tiger Whitestockings at different points this evening.

Three weeks ago they both seemed to be thriving, Whitestockings especially, who enjoyed the warm weather and the melting and actually stayed around during the day, sunning herself on the deck with her front paws folded beneath her.

But then as it turned colder again she seemed to get nervous and skittery. Frequently when I came home at night she would come out from under the deck and cry at me, and follow me up the stairs looking nervously over her shoulder.

Then she disappeared for a solid week.

Grumpyface had already not shown herself for two weeks prior. I wasn't all that worried, because the food was being eaten at night, and it was like her to keep a low profile. But as the weekends came and went with no sign of either of them I started to grow concerned. There are other cats in the neighborhood, and once I found one of them (a beautiful Persian) mooching off of my plate. So maybe it wasn't my guys cleaning up the food after all.

Finally, last Friday night, I opened the door and Whitestockings appeared. She ran up the deck to meet me, and I picked her up and gave her a great big hug. She didn't mind. That was something new. I stayed out for a while and petted her and talked to her while she ate.

Didn't see her again until tonight, which was very much a Repeat Performance. I did get her a special treat of Fancy Feast, to make sure that she would come back!

Earlier in the evening, while it was still light, I opened the door and saw Tiger Grumpyface's tail swirling around the corner at the foot of the stairs. She ran away across the driveway. I went to edge of the deck, looked down at her and said, "Tiger Grumpyface! I'm so happy to see you! Where have you been for three weeks?" She paused midway across the driveway and looked up at me with an expression that said, "Don't take one more step in this direction, buster!"

It's nice to know that they are alive and well, but I wonder what's going on.


The last couple of days, I haven't been so much depressed as anxious and easily nerved up. My ongoing war with inanimate objects has flared up again, and this has contributed to the nerves.

Some things just don't like me, especially small things. Looking back on it, I marvel at how I managed to survive in the old house with all of its bric-a-brac piled atop mountains of other bric-a-brac without destroying more of it than I actually did.

Small, fiddly things are especially vexing. Mounting the mailbox onto the mechanical man was a real battle for me, because the nuts and washers and screws were tiny and I knew that if I dropped them I would never find them again. This made me nervous and when I get nervous my hands begin to shake. When my hands begin to shake I get more frustrated and nervous and this causes my hands to shake all the more.

This morning I had a skirmish with a fork that, I swear, absolutely refused to stay on the plate.

Scrambled eggs and toast is my normal breakfast, and when it's all whipped up my usual thing is to carry it in here to the study and eat while I check the morning email, Facebook posts, etc. Usually this isn't a problem, as I carry my juice (Welch's Berry Sunsplash, yum!) in my right hand and the plate in my left with the fork curled underneath in my fingers. Today, for some reason, I just placed the fork on the plate and tried to pick it up.

It slid this way. It slid that way. I tried to make it rest against the food; instead it slid towards me. I grappled with that damn fork for half a minute until gravity finally won, and it hit the kitchen floor with a loud CLANG.

I was already feeling pretty hissy and jumpy, but the CLANG went right through me, and from there the morning went downhill.

A lamp that worked in the old house for thirty years or more suddenly decided, a couple of weeks back,  to loll and droop and throw its shade on the floor. I fought with that damn lamp for three nights, until it finally craned its neck at me and spurted sparks. FOOSH! One dead lamp.

This morning I finally put it in the car so that I could drive by the hardware store and get some parts to fix it with. But my cloth grocery bags were also on the seat, and I didn't move them; so of course the lamp was on the edge of the seat and as I pulled out of the driveway it started to throw itself all over the place.

A normal, sane person would have stopped the car, moved the bags, set the lamp up in a more secure position. If you've been paying attention at all, you know that I am not a normal, sane person. I tried to fix the situation with my right hand while I drove with my left, fussing with the lamp while careering around some very narrow and twisty sidestreets. Yes, it was exactly like something out of the Darwin Awards books except that I somehow managed to avoid killing myself.

Although I did get quite flustered and Mister Anxiety closed his hand around the base of my spine, and that son of a bitch has really cold fingers.


On a happier note, all of the inside quats are much more responsive and outgoing with me than they were in the old house. For the past few nights, I've had Pandy Bear and Patches sleeping with me in addition to Honey -- who does not seem to mind that the way she would have in the old house. It's been warm enough some of these days that I've been able to open the door to the front porch -- and they LOVE it. They seem to actually be disappointed when I DON'T open that door. They sit on the windowledges and the furniture, and Pandy Bear finds a sunny spot and rolls over on his back to give his tummy access to Maximum Warmth.

Honey is the only one who seems to have any reservations left whatever, and even she has found Her Places that she loves.

Today when I pulled in the driveway, she was sitting in the bay window at the side of the house. I slowed to a crawl and waved at her and shouted, "HI, HONEY!! HI, HONEY, I'M HOME!" and she raised herself onto her front paws and meowed back.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thanks but No Thanks

I just sent this email to Dear Olde Dad, in response to yet another demand for money, yet another request that the full results of the second auction be disclosed to him:

Joann's office will soon issue you a check (if they haven't already) for the items you inserted into the auction (which in retrospect I shouldn't have allowed you to do. Just a bad idea all around, but I was still in a state of shock, and the whole auction process was an Act of Violence being perpetrated on me at a time when I was not ready for it -- I couldn't think straight). 

But as for the auction results, Joann and Sue and Carole and I are all in agreement that it does not fall into your Circle of Concern, and we will not disclose this information to you. Get over it.

Like you, Claudia cannot stop haranguing the estate for money, and Sue tells me that, somehow, she has a pretty accurate notion of what is in the pot. 

It seems that in the whole family, I am the only one among us who is not interested in reducing Mom's life to a dollars and cents amount.

I  should never have taken money from you -- not that, honestly, I was given much of a choice. I do love the house, but if this didn't pan out, something else would have, and it wouldn't have come at such a cost.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Non-stop shenanigans

This could be a Long and Winding Post. I have several preambles to amble down.

I had not played the programming game for a long time. DirecTV, the internet and various kinds of new software had taken over my life. This past Friday night I was ready for a break from all that, and it helped that the DVD I'd ordered of Jean-Pierre Juenet's latest film, Micmacs, had arrived from Amazon earlier in the week (damn Amazon and their one-click button! That and a couple of drinks is a costly combination!).

In the old world, Friday night was always movie night, and I always led into the feature with a cartoon, a comedy short, and a serial. So that's what I did; but it had been so long since I'd been through the unwatched DVDs that I didn't know what I had in the pipeline. I finally settled on a 1950's Felix the Cat TV cartoon, Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant, and chapter one of the 1945 Republic serial, Haunted Harbor, starring Kane Richmond and Kay Aldridge.

I hadn't seen any of these Felix TV toons since I was a little kid, had no memory of any detail other than he used his magic bag a lot to do fanciful things. Now they strike me as so minimalist and so campy as to be almost surreal. The cartoons do have plots, if you can call it that, but the events are disconnected and things Just Happen for no reason at all. Quite realistic, actually. The animation is beyond limited -- the characters all have stock movements that are repeated over and over again. But it's colorful, short and imaginative. A perfect lead-in to the feature presentation.

Of course I'd seen The Immigrant before, although not in years. Without diminishing Chaplin's genius, I prefer Keaton, and here many of the reasons are on display. Chaplin asks for sympathy -- Keaton doesn't. Chaplin is sentimental, Keaton is not. Both comedians treated the world as their playground of invention, but Chaplin was ballet to Keaton's mechanic. The women in Chaplin's films were largely uncomplicated; in Keaton, they can turn on a dime.

The Immigrant is interesting in that it contains only three scenes: The Boat, The Restaurant and The Marriage Bureau.  On the boat, Chaplin does some funny stuff, the girl and her mother are introduced, and Chaplin gets a quick opportunity to play the Hero before we get a brief flash of Charlie's political views. Blink and you'll miss it: yet it caused an uproar in its day; little did the world know that this was just Charlie's first flash of social consciousness.

The Restaurant is by far the more amusing of the two sequences, with Charlie in a real jam, fretting and fussing, working the situation from every possible angle, and finally coming out on top. His jubilance at getting away with his skin intact seems to be the force that carries him and the girl to their brief final scene at the door of the Bureau. It's a good short -- but there was so much better to come.

Haunted Harbor turns out to be one of the better-structured and more plot driven of Republic's later serials, based as it is on an actual novel. Richmond is one of their better leading men, having had a memorable turn as Spy Smasher three years earlier. Here he plays a sea captain implicated in a murder he didn't commit (Republic fans will not need to be told that the actual culprit is Roy Barcroft). On the verge of being taken to the gallows, his friends spring him from jail, steal a schooner and head off in search of the villain. The cliffhanger sequence is really smashing, as Richmond attempts to rescue Kay Aldridge from a swamped vessel during a raging typhoon; of course, before he can do so, the side of a mountain falls in on them.

That's what I like about the Republic serials. They're realistic. No, I'm being serious. Metaphorically, people are having mountains fall on them all the time. Somehow, we climb out of the rubble, dust ourselves off, and get going against those Bad Guys.

Finally, now, I can write about Micmacs. But even that comes with a preamble.

Although two more different men would be hard to find, in one way I can equate Jean-Pierre Juenet with the Canadian novelest Robertson Davies: I love their work. I was privileged enough to "discover" Davies while he was still alive and very much active as a writer. He was the ONE writer that I would buy in hardcover. A new Roberston Davies book was a gift, and a kind of milepost. He was busy right up until his death; I could have gone on reading him forever.

I feel the same way about Juenet's movies. Each one is a gift. Every time a new movie by Juenet comes out (and it doesn't happen every year, or even every other year), it comes home with me.

So I was looking  forward to this.

And I believe that, this one time, I have an observation about Juenet that no other critic has made! But I could be wrong.

I touched on it a while back in the post "A View of Some Views Worth Viewing," when I compared Amelie Poulin to Bugs Bunny. Micmacs makes it even more obvious. Mr. Juenet's chief influence in his art is none other than Chuck Jones -- and Micmacs is a Chuck Jones cartoon come to life!

Deny it if you can, Mr. Juenet! I've got your number!

Its full, original title is Micmacs à tire-larigot, which, if you can believe Wikipedia, translates to the title I used for this post. I don't want to detail the plot other than to say that Bazil, the main character, is another one of Juenet's lost child-people trying to find a shape and direction for his life, and that he ultimately finds help in one of the most unusual (and charming) extended families ever brought to the screen. Yes, this is another movie about the creation of a family, which means that it pushes all my buttons.

Everything that Mr. Juenet has ever made has three main characteristics: the stories are elaborate and many-threaded, the visual style is jubilant, and the storytelling style is cool and antiseptic even when the characters are the opposite.

Micmacs is no exception, but for the first forty-five minutes I felt that, if anything, Juenet's storytelling was even more arcane, detached and antiseptic than usual. Then the coin dropped. In the face of Michel Crémadès as Tiny Pete, one member of that extended family, I saw the animation of Chuck Jones. 

From there, my heart melted and I sat back to enjoy the mission.

Juenet frequently uses the same actors, and fans of Amelie will spot some familiar faces here. And what faces they have! Juenet photographs them with love.

Like all of Juenet's movies, I know this one will require repeated viewings, and I look forward to that. Bazil's story is one of Adventure, Romance and self-realization, and he's up against a much badder gang of Elmer Fudds than Bugs Bunny ever had to face. Micmacs is full of color, charm and life, if you can accept the fact that it truly is a 100-minute long cartoon.

I say, let the shenanigans begin!

-- Freder.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Everyone's a Critic

It's an old expression, but it's more meaningful today than ever. Back in the day, when Vincent Canby and Pauline Kael and James Agee and others were plying the trade, criticism was an art.

Today, any idiot with a keyboard and a blog (including myself) can and does put more than their two cents worth before the panting public. Sometimes, their thoughts are considered, informed, and well-written. Most often it's the opposite. Still, no one's holding a gun to our collective heads and forcing us to read blogs, right? So where's the damage? Sometimes we just like to hear as many different opinions as we can.

But it has damaged the formal culture in the sense that professional critics are less influential than ever before, in the sense that many newspapers and magazines aren't even employing critics any more, and in the sense that the standards of mainstream media criticism have, in some areas, dropped off markedly. Janet Maslin is still writing about books, thank goodness, but where are the Vincent Canbys and Pauline Kaels of today? (And don't even mention David Denby of The New Yorker -- The man is an moron.)

I read a lot less criticism than I used to. In part it's because there's so much of it out there, cancelling itself out, but it's also because most mainstream critics are nothing more than logrollers, crying out "The Best Movie of the Year!" at every opportunity. "Brilliant! Breathtaking! Stunning!" -- oh, now there's a good one. I see "stunning" all the time, and I have to believe that some people must be easily stunned. I don't recall ever being "stunned" by a book, even the ones I love, except maybe when a heavy one falls off of a tall shelf onto my head. I don't always agree with Roger Ebert, but I can usually count on his opinion to be well-informed and well-written. That's more than you can say for most.

When I hopped online and read some of the commentary about Heathers, a picture I wrote about on this blog last week, I had to wonder if some of these people had seen the same movie that I did. They could not even describe it accurately. It is not a movie about teenage suicide, as I read over and over again in one misinformed article after another. It's a movie about bullying. That many can't seem to grasp the basic concept makes me mistrust their judgement in a big way.

Years ago I read a review of The Exorcist that claimed there was a shot in the movie showing Jason Miller's head hitting every step on the way down when he's thrown from the house. I watched for the shot. It isn't in the picture. I could probably name numerous examples, if I wanted to do the research, of critics describing things that don't exist in the films that they write about, things that came out of their own heads..

One good example comes to mind: William K. Everson is one of the best, a man whose work I respect as being carefully thought out and backed up by solid experience and knowledge. But he was writing before the era of VHS and DVD and video on demand, and his otherwise wonderful book The Films of Laurel and Hardy (a must-have item for anyone who treasures that team as I do) does contain errors. He probably hadn't had a chance to review some of these pictures in years and years, with the result that I can go through his book and point out at least five instances in which he misremembers details, attributes individual scenes to the wrong movie, or describes scenes that flat-out never existed.

The thing that got me started on this today was a book review from Time magazine, one that the publisher thought good enough to use as an endorsement on the paperback edition of the book itself: "Then We Came to the End is that rare novel that feels absolutely contemporary, and that rare comedy that feels blisteringly urgent."

There's some danged stinky writing going on in that sentence, and it scores high on the BS-ometer at the same time. Is the word absolutely absolutely necessary? Did the writer feel a need to distinguish between this and, say, a novel that feels only slightly contemporary? And rare? Actually there's a boatload of "absolutely contemporary" novels out there. I can smell them a mile off. I've also seen plenty of urgent comedy in my day. But "blisteringly" urgent? That's a new one. I think I'll stay away. I don't want to have to bandage my fingers after reading a couple of pages.

Nice going, Time!

-- Well, Doug, what did you think of this post?

"An astonishing depiction of teenage suicide!"

"Two thumbs up!" (I won't say what portion of the anatomy.)

"Un-putdownable!" (No, really, I spilled a bottle of crazy glue and now I can't put the book down!)

"Breathtaking!" (No, really, I'm hyperventilating right now!)

In this atmosphere, I'm kind of surprised that no one has ever typed: "I had seven orgasms while reading this book, and I wasn't even touching myself!"


-- Freder.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Map of Heaven and Hell

I don't seem to be able to read in the great voracious chunks that used to be my norm. It's up for debate whether this was done to me by the information age, or by the stresses and distractions of the last seven years, or by the effects of alcoholism. Perhaps it's all of the above plus something else I'm not considering.

I sometimes think that, at least insofar as novels are concerned, there's a little childish jealousy to blame: "If you won't let me on the playground, I'm not gonna play with you!"-- logic that is flawed to say the least.

Whatever the reason, my reading experience lately consists of dipping into a book's pages at random, grazing on a page or a paragraph or two, perhaps flipping backwards and forwards through the text, developing a general impression. Then the book gets put down. Sometimes it never gets picked up again.

The Swedenborg I ordered, Heaven and Hell, is a fascinating volume, but probably not one that lends itself to that kind of approach. I started on the contents page and then turned immediately to the section about death.

Swedenborg claims to have visited both heaven and hell on a regular basis, and, you know, to somehow have gotten back alive. He claims to have spoken to the angels. I just want to know what kind of mushrooms he had for dinner that night!

Heaven, he says, is just like here. If that's the case, then I want no part of it!

Kidding aside, the thing that I really cannot swallow is the same thing that I can't abide about all the established religions: the insistence that you have to believe what we tell you to believe, or you don't get to go to heaven. In Swedenborg's cosmology, I will be stuck with the materialists, or worse.

I can't abide a segregationist Heaven, no matter which group is defining it. I had an amusing picture in my head of a cosmology of Multiple Heavens, each one like an old-fashioned, Private Gentleman's Club, Positively no Jews, no Muslims, no Atheists, Buddhists, Agnostics, Christians allowed. It seems that we cannot even Play Nice in the afterlife.

Also, the concept of Heaven as a cookie makes little sense to me, something to dangle in front of the parishioners, be nice and you get the eat the cookie, have impure thoughts and you'll burn forever. I can't believe a Supreme Being thinks like that. Only people think like that. People who want to control the behaviors of other people. "Stop playing with yourself, Davey, or you'll go to Hell!"

I have wondered, several times, at what point did  my mother know that she was dying?

It wasn't that evening, in the Emergency Room. She actually joked with me there, through the pain, "I guess we have to take this seriously from now on," meaning the spells of chest pain that she'd been having on and off for several years.

By the next morning she could speak only with difficulty. We were told that if her heart didn't start to work by Sunday morning, she would go quickly from there.

She never made it that far. She was gone by 1:00 AM. I wasn't with her when she went. For that alone I am probably going to hell.

When did she know, and how did she face that knowledge? Did she see the tunnel of light? Did she get the promised reunion with Grandma and Grandpa before the tunnel closed, and snuffed her out forever?

That part of it is something I can believe in, because it doesn't carry the conditions of faith: it may not be a supernatural experience at all, but a function of the brain. I hope she at least got that, before the end.

By the time I got there, her body was already turning to stone. There was still some warmth in her hand, but from the shoulders up she was as stiff as a statue. Her mouth was open and I was afraid to touch her to try and close it. The next time I held her hand, it had gone noticeably colder, so much so that I recoiled and mentioned it to the nurse, who only nodded. It was as if death was passing down through her body, from head to toes.

I said, "Oh, momma," for just the first of many, many times. I was in such a state that I didn't even think to ask the nurse if there had been any last words. Now I'll never know. Her last words to me were, "Bring them in."


While working in the store this afternoon I poked a little bit into Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Much of what I saw there rang true for me. The not wanting to change anything, the anger that I felt at people coming into my house and taking things away.

I should try to read it more closely. But I know what will happen.

Apropos to nothing, but speaking of cosmology, this is an interesting creation:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bits 'n' Bytes

Tonight I started working on the new site in earnest. Until now, everything I'd done had been in the area of just trying to clarify my thoughts, and in researching the software that I would be using to create the thing.

It's deeply frustrating to me that unlike the "old" days, the software doesn't come with manuals anymore. At best, there's access to online documentation and tutorials, but I never knew a tutorial that was worth a damn to me, and the online documentation is so loosely organized that I find it difficult to get the information that I'm looking for.

For instance, Flash now comes as three separate products. Which product would I use to accomplish specific functions? It was hard to get answers even to those basic questions, and the answers that I did find were written in corporate geek jargon, certainly not in English; like an archeologist looking at hieroglyphs I had to puzzle out the meaning of what I was looking at.

Tonight I simply organized some graphics files and started to create new graphics for the site in Illustrator and Photoshop, and it was all the more dismaying to find that even these programs that I formerly considered myself proficient in have changed so much since the versions that I used that even simple tasks required frequent trips to the HELP menu. Very little of the functionality is organized the way that it used to be, especially in Illustrator. The learning curve just got steeper.

But that's OK. I'm going to come out of this with an expanded skill set. I think.

I'd had an idea for the new main page, and all of the reading and research I've done in the past couple of weeks has caused me to realize that I have to scale it back. Not ruling anything out for the future, but I have to start with a simpler design. Once I learn the basics I can modify and build from there.

To put the frosting on the cake, I'm also going to be learning Dreamweaver and Cascading Style Sheets, and tonight I realized that I couldn't start with the home page at all -- it was better for several reasons to begin with some simpler content pages, and then work my way back through the hierarchy to the more complicated and fiddly home page. Baby steps!

In other news. . . maybe getting another step closer to being Done with the move has had some impact on my emotions. Tonight for the first time in a while I could not stop thinking about Mom, and while I was doing the dishes I suddenly found that I couldn't see anything that I was doing because my eyes were full of tears.

Yesterday I had a regressive, anxiety-ridden morning the like of which I hadn't experienced in a long while. I started out all right, but kept on getting more and more panicky and full of dread. It got worse and worse. At one point I even started to hyperventilate. I don't know what brings these things on, but I hate 'em! Thankfully, these kind of mornings are growing fewer, and today I was fine.

So that's all the blah-blah-blah I can muster up for you today, Dear Diary. One foot in front of the other, and maybe I'll get somewhere eventually, to coin a cliche.

-- Freder.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Place Where Anything Can Happen

The world is divided into two classes of people: those who don't get or like Paul Ruebens's Pee-Wee Herman, and those who do. I have the perfect solution for all parties: if Pee-Wee isn't your cup of fur, don't watch his show, and leave the rest of us in peace. If you must watch Pee-Wee (say, you're a critic for The New York Daily News), don't come crying to us with comments like "There isn't enough plot!" or "It's like being trapped in a room with a sugared-up four-year-old for ninety minutes!"

Both comments actually miss the point by a wide margin.

Actually, there was plenty of plot, if you were paying attention, in Saturday night's HBO Broadcast of The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway, and no, it's not like being trapped with a sugared-up four-year old, it's like being one and still being grown-up about it.

Not only was there plenty of plot, but there was all the usual layering of subtext and winking pop-culture parody, wrapped in a very sophisticated technical production, performed by a talented cast of true believers who really all seem not to be acting so much as becoming the characters.

From the beginning, Pee-Wee Herman was Paul Ruebens's subversive take on that long-extinct species, the '50s afternoon kid's show. Maybe you had to be around in the day. It wasn't just Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody -- every local station worth its salt had an afternoon kid's show that involved specific ingredients: a kid-friendly character host, puppets, colorful sidekicks, an in-studio kid audience, and cartoons.

I actually appeared on the Portland, Maine iteration of that show in the late sixties when I was a practicing Cub Scout. They gave us bags of candy and soda pop, got us all sugared up, let us all say our names on TV, introduced a few cartoons (we didn't get to see them, they were spliced in later). We got a tour of the studio and saw where they filmed the evening news. We all had a grand time.

That kind of show went the way of the dinosaur more years ago than I care to think about. But off and on over the years, its memory has been kept alive -- and satirized, and reinvented, and gloriously undermined -- by Pee-Wee Herman.

It was danged good to see him and all the Playhouse gang again. Understand, Time has taken its physical toll on Pee-Wee and Jambi the Genie and Miss Yvonne just like it's taken its toll on you and me. People said the same thing when William Shatner and the rest of the original Star Trek crew made Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- and that revival was done just a little more than a decade after the original series went off the air.

It's been nearly thirty years since we last were invited into Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

So, what's really remarkable here is not that the gang shows signs of physical wear and tear, but that they can do a marathon, highly physical ninety minute show at the exact same level of energy and enthusiasm that they did all those years ago. Paul Ruebens is pushing sixty, and he can still sell this character like there is no tomorrow. That is a mark of greatness.

The show itself was a mix of the old and the new, very shrewdly and slyly written and performed. Ruebens doesn't dodge any of the questions or concerns we might have had going in, but faces them head-on and makes us believe in Pee-Wee and the Playhouse all over again by sheer force of will.

In addition to the visible cast, a crew of fifteen puppeteers brings the Playhouse and its characters to life in wonderful style. Again, a lot of thought went into this, and most every theatrical trick I can think of was employed to great effect. This was not a hap-hazard or cheaply mounted production done to cash in on the affection of old fans. Rather, a lot of effort went into it to reward us and recreate the Playhouse experience in a vibrant way.

I won't describe the individual gags or reiterate what was done on the stage other than to say that it was Pee-Wee, and it was perfect. The ending is particularly delightful, and involves interaction with the audience, puppetry, music and wish fulfillment. When Pee-Wee sang "I'm the luckiest boy in the world | Much luckier than YOU," I confess my eyes were not dry. It felt genuinely like a personal triumph for Ruebens & Co., one that resonates with the audience.

You get over things, and you fly.

Welcome back, Pee-Wee. Don't stay away so long this time, hear?

-- Freder.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Final Bill

What a long, mixed day this has been!

Thanks to above normal temps all week, the snow had clearly melted enough for me to make the run out to the old house in order to collect the outside things that I didn't want to leave behind. These included the concrete, ornamental garden bench that sat beside the main door, the special bricks that we used to line the edge of the garden, the concrete bird bath, a concrete pillar that one of my mother's folk-art wooden birds sat on in the summer months, a small stone pedestal, a rusty old tractor seat, and all of the elaborately carved blocks and bricks that my family recovered from The House that Was all those decades ago, in Minnesota.

Yup, all the heavy stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if it weighed half a ton, all told. Whatever it weighed, my car never complained through the whole process, though it was riding several inches lower than normal by the time I finished.

There is still the old Jail House that I will have to hire someone to move for me, but other than that, I am done out there.

It was a strange visit. As I drove out the old level of anxiety started to return. I wasn't sure what I would find.

The yard was even more melted and cleared than my yard at home, so I didn't need the shovel that I'd brought along, just in case. I had terribly mixed feelings as I set out to load up the car. On the one hand, I knew the grounds so well that they felt a part of me, and on the other I was an interloper where I no longer belonged. I looked in through the living room window, and then wished that I hadn't. The new owners had changed all the padlocks on the two barns, and added an all-new padlock to the front door.

The heavy lifting warmed me up quickly, and I began stripping off layers. The bench comes apart into three pieces, the largest being the seat, and I was out of breath by the time I'd done wrestling it into the car. The car sank visibly with everything that I added.

As I worked I began looking wistfully at the Mechanical Man. This is a large metal figure welded together out of pipes and car parts and the like. He was built as a mailbox holder, but we never used him that way. He just stood out at the edge of the road. The mailbox was meant to rest on a long metel bar that juts out of his lower abdomen like a gigantic robot erection.

I always liked him, but I figured that I would have to leave him behind. None of the auctioneers apparently wanted him. It seemed that he would stay at the house.

But as I was loading up and looking sideways at him, the coin suddenly dropped. He was built as a mailbox holder! What did I need at the new house? A mailbox holder! My mailbox was currently a dirty, rusty old wastepaper basket with a lid that I inherited from the previous owner. It sat on the top front step. I'd been meaning to upgrade, but how?

Suddenly, I knew that the mechanical man had to come with me. I measured him unscientifically with a fallen branch, and it seemed that he would fit in the car -- although not with the load that was already in it.

I'd been meaning to set out the white-painted rocks in their places along the edge of the driveway, as a final gesture. Instead, I loaded two of them up into my car and took them with me.

I drove home, unloaded the car, set up the bench in its new location near the fire pit in the back yard, decorated a bit with all the bricks, whipped up a quick lunch, and then headed back out to the old house.

This time there was no anxiety. I was really excited about my idea for the mechanical man.

It didn't take long for the excitement to go south. His feet were bigger than I realized. That jutting erection (this old guy is on some pretty serious Viagra, lemme tell ya) was at just the wrong angle for getting him in the car. He was danged heavy, too. I had to "walk" him across the front lawn. The new owners will find some pretty unusual footprints the next time they stop by.

Somehow, with a lot of struggle, I got him into the back seat of the car, only to find that he was much taller than I'd measured and would not fit.

I hadn't come all this way and gone through all this hard work to take no for an answer.

At last I had the brilliant notion that by lowering the back window, I could pull his head through the other side and let it hang out. Alas, I'd forgotten that Chevrolet, in their infinite wisdom, had made the back seat windows so that they only lowered halfway. Because, you know, only children ever ride in the back seat, right?

I looked at it from all the angles and I thought that I could still pull his head through that space.  I'd have to put a coat or something down to protect the glass, but it was worth a shot.

You can see it coming, right?

I was having a little bit of difficulty, not much really, in making the maneuver, when suddenly the window erupted into a million pieces right in my face.

I took it in stride. The old me might have had a fit or broken down. The new me just shrugged, pulled the mechanical man's head and shoulders through the cleared space, got into the car and drove.

I mean, what else was there to do?

When I got home, I unloaded him with some difficulty, and stood him in a corner of my driveway. I grabbed one of the flattened boxes I had on hand and some clear duck tape and "boarded up" the broken window. I drove over to Home Depot, bought myself a mailbox and a couple of screwdrivers, then swung over to the supermarket before heading home.

I was very angry to discover, on opening up my new mailbox, that the manufacturer had not included the nuts and bolts to mount it with. This meant another trip to the hardware store, and I barely made it before they closed at 5:00 PM.

It was a fiddly job, but by about 5:30 my mechanical man no longer looked like an exhibitionist. I got him onto the handcart and wheeled him, mailbox and all around to the front of the house. That's where he is now -- and I took the picture above just to prove it!

I still had a quat tray to change out, quats to feed inside and out, a shower to take, dinner to make (chicken wings and green beans, all done from scratch, and it turned out yummy!). Then bills to get ready for tomorrow's mail, including my final bill on the old house from Central Maine Power (it was a pleasure to be able to walk out my front door and put them in my new mailbox, being held so diligently by my mechanical man), and this blog post to write.

I wanted also to write about the debut of Pee-Wee Herman's recent Broadway show on HBO Saturday night -- but it's after ten, I hurt all over, and am very tired. Moanday is right around the corner. But I made some strides today.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Lessons Never Get Learned

Heathers, the 1989 black comedy about murder and high school, has aged well. The cinema has grown markedly more savage since then, but also, curiously, more provincial and shallow.

Compare Heathers with its modern counterparts, notably the Gossip Girl series (created by Cicely von Ziegesar, an alum of the college where I make my living -- don't blame me!) which portrays unashamedly and with straight faces the shallow lives of the very kind of insufferable kids that Heathers is intent on blowing away. With titles like Because I'm Worth It and Only In Your Dreams, the Gossip Girl series glorifies the sense of superiority and privilege that Heathers quite rightly savages.  Some of those kids should watch Heathers. Nobody deserves to be murdered, but a slap across the face might do them some good.

Heathers is not perfect -- there are individual lines and scenes that hit the floor with a desperate klunk. But taken as a whole it is kind of inspired, and especially today its deeply radical streak is as welcome as fresh Spring air. This is a picture that could not be made today, although the world needs it more than ever. It succeeds in part because it makes you laugh at some appalling things, and then throws cold water on you, asking "Why are you laughing? This isn't funny."

Indeed, for a comedy the subject matter is deeply serious. High school bullying is nothing to laugh about, as the filmmakers are very well aware. Heathers is deeply exploitative in the sense that it takes its audiences back to school and reminds them of how badly this behavior hurts its victims. It preys on your own memories of the despicable people you knew back then, and who made themselves known to you in evil ways. You're not sorry to see Heather #1 and the jocks die. At the same time, the murders are both funny and terrifying. Heathers walks a razor-thin line with great skill.

While we're on the subject, it always amazes me when people are surprised by things like Columbine and other school shootings. I want to say to the parents, Actions have consequences, and your kids are helping to create the stresses that cause these things to happen. You and your kids are, perhaps, not as guilty as the actual shooters, but are conspirators nonetheless, carrying part of the responsibility and the blame.

But kids don't change. I see random acts of cruelty all the time at my workplace, usually on the Digest of Civil Discourse, which is rarely civil or discursive. On the other hand, the atmosphere here is better than it used to be. Instead of just devising a plan of action to take in the event of a shooting (which they have done) the college has been pro-active and banned all fraternities and sororities from the campus. It's made the place much safer and kinder overall.

Still, we produce alums like Cicely von Ziegesar, a real-life Heather whose books, at least on the cultural level, are swinging the pendulum right back into the most dangerous territory of all: youthful arrogance.

-- Freder.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Which Twin has the Toni?

It's hard to be certain if Adaptation is really the anarchistic deconstruction that it wants you to believe it is, or simply just another example of that which it purports to be making fun of.

Either way, it's ultimately a good-natured mindgame of a movie that mines a lot of the same turf as Richard Rush's jubilant  The Stunt Man, albeit through a different lens and with different results.

Charlie Kaufman's Chinese puzzle box of a screenplay attempts to dramatize two things: a real book, written by a real person about another real person (The Orchid Thief, by New Yorker regular Susan Orlean), and his own struggle to write the screenplay based on that book, which flouts every rule of Hollywood screenwriting that he must, somehow, force the book to adapt to.

There's enough truth in it to make you obsess about where the truth ends and the fiction begins, and there's enough fiction in it make you obsess about how the real people involved (I mean, other than Kaufman himself) felt about what was being done to them.

It's a movie that sent me directly to the internet. What was Susan Orlean's reaction to all of this? It turns out that she was in the loop the whole time, as she would have to have been, but that she had misgivings about the whole thing until she saw it finished for the third time.

That makes sense to me.

It also makes sense to me, although I have not read the book, that she would endorse this as a perversely successful and faithful adaptation of her book, even though it essentially chucks the book out the window -- or, as Orlean more accurately puts it, makes the book a character in the movie adaptation.

Here's the thing: Hollywood is locked into a format, now more so than ever in its its history. As my friend BC points out (again and again and again), the muckety-mucks at the big studios have people who go over the scripts to make certain that Standard Plot Point A happens in Scene One, and so on, and on.

Kaufman was presented with the task of delivering a script that fit the mold, based on a book that was entirely unfilmable in the sense that nothing could be done to make it fit that mold.

So he put himself into the script, created a fictional twin brother for himself, took the one thread that he could use (passion) and projected a fictional relationship between the author and her subject, a real character, whose colorful passion for what he did was the main reason the book got optioned in the first place.

Are you still with me?

Chris Cooper plays John Laroche, the Orchid Thief of the book's title. He does it brilliantly. I've seen Cooper in a number of roles, and this guy really is the cat's meow -- other than a vague sense of familiarity, I never, never recognize him until I see his name in the closing credits. The guy is a chameleon -- and what he's doing here (in tandem with Meryl Streep, playing Susan Orlean herself) involves playing a hyped-up, meta-fictionalized, self-consciously Hollywood-zed caricature  of a real person -- that still evokes the real person so well as to completely blur the line between reality and Hollywood.

Kaufman's screenplay actually turns these real-life people into psychopathic, drug-addicted killers in order to give the movie its big, shocking, action climax. And here's what I'm saying: does this parody and criticize Hollywood's demand that things play out by the numbers (as Kaufman wants us to believe), or is it just a really clever way of giving Hollywood what it wants?

I'm not going to make that call. Like a good magic act, there is a lot of misdirection going on here, especially in the very slow opening scenes -- which turn out to be slow for a reason (and I believe that if Kaufman really got away with anything, he gets away with it in the very first scene of the picture).

Meanwhile, Streep actually made me not hate her for once, and it was good to see Cage demonstrating that there was a reason that he used to amount to something -- we've had precious little evidence of that in recent years.

I hated Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are so much that I couldn't sit through more than about fifteen minutes of the damn thing. But Adaptation is another matter. Its stature varies with the mileage, and depends a lot on what you, the viewer, bring to it. That is a very big point in its favor.

But the question remains: "Is you is, o' is you ain't?"

I can see justification for both answers, but I have to give a tip of the hat to any movie that's clever enough to ask the question -- and then not answer it. Oh, yeah, and a movie that manages to make a star out of its own writer? I don't know much about Charlie Kaufman, but in principle I am in favor of that!

-- Freder

A Whisper of Spring is Near. . .

I wanted to post the theme to the BBC TV show Mulberry as a soundtrack to this post, but I couldn't find a source. Anyway, if you are familiar with the show, you are familiar with the song, and if you are not familiar with the show, I urge you to track it down. It's readily available on DVD, and it is sublime, transcendent, any other word meaning "really good" that you care to apply.

This afternoon when I got home from work -- gad, it was such a nice, springlike day that I decided to open the front door onto the porch, and to open most of the windows on the porch, and let some air in.

The quats were right there. They ventured out into this new space, and at first their whole body language said: "Whoa! This is scary! -- But, you know, kind of cool!"

Then the scary part faded away. Within minutes Patches had found a Favorite Spot. Whitey liked getting up on his back legs and looking through the door. Pandy settled on the ledge and watched the cars go by. Contentment and surprise at Something New was the order of the day.

It made me so happy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spooks Run Wild, and the Five Thousand Blows. . .

Yep, that's Gomez Addams himself, the great John Astin as a Wild West spirit called The Judge.

I have deeply mixed feelings about Peter Jackson, as a director and as a man. Sometimes he seems to be two different people.

I'd never heard of him before the announcement that Lord of the Rings was not only being made, but was well under way. And yet some of the actors interviewed claimed that one of the main reasons they took the job was "to work with Peter Jackson." So I knew I had to look into this.

And I was really appalled by what I found. Meet the Feebles, Bad Taste, Braindead. . . the more I learned the more nervous I was about Rings. This man was not a director. This man was a Pornographer of Gore. How in hell did he get the job?

Of course the Rings movies came out, and were, largely, magnificent. But from there, with Hollywood in the palm of his hands, he started making one bone-headed decision after another. King Kong is clearly a movie that did not need to be remade (again!), and Jackson's version is an appalling waste of money.

Overlong by at least an hour, weighted down by ponderous pretentiousness and some really dim-witted plot points added into the mix, bludgeoning its audience senseless with gross shocks (even restoring a scene that was cut from the original film for good reason) and one braindead action setpiece after another, Jackson's Kong is the movie equivalent of a frontal lobotomy performed without anesthesia. Other than the obvious stylistic similarities, it's hard to believe that Kong was directed by the same man who made the Lord of the Rings movies. Again, what happened here?

My guess is that New Line assigned a very strong team of producers to the Rings project, who kept Jackson's excesses under tight control, whereas on Kong, Universal were so dazzled by Jackson's reputation that they cut him loose. And just look at what happened!

All of this is a long preamble leading to my viewing the other night of The Frighteners, the first of Jackson's earlier movies that I've been able to see (and quite possibly the last!). Was he as tightly controlled on this one? I'm not sure, but the movie is just about almost pretty good, and to put it in a nutshell, I'd say that it showcases Jackson's best and worst qualities in about equal measure.

It's too long, it has too many characters, it goes off on odd tangents at times when it should be narrowing the focus. At times it is borderline tasteless, with vulgar dirty jokes and sudden instances of gore that's just intense enough to be inappropriate for this kind of movie (it is, after all a romantic horror comedy).

In addition to the lapses in taste there are also lapses in consistency and judgement. And behind it all there's the same quaint, goofy Hollywood cosmology of Heaven and Hell that I'm finding more and more tiresome.

But --

Jackson gets really good performances out of his cast, especially Michael J. Fox, the very charming Trini Alvarado (whatever happened to her?) and the always-wonderful John Astin as one of Fox's Pet Ghosts.  Indeed, the results he gets from his actors seems to be a constant across all of his pictures.

There's also real charm on display here, not just in the romance element, but in Fox's friendship with his three Ghost Pals and the whole set-up in the racket they have going together.

There's a core mystery that's actually quite compelling throughout -- until the final act, when Jackson frankly sets aside suspense in favor of an abundant overflowing of modern horror tropes.

And Jackson's instincts about framing shots and combining live footage with special effects are, as always, right bang on.

I watched this picture from beginning to end without once stirring from my chair -- that hasn't happened in a while. The positives and the negatives almost exactly balance each other out, giving you a movie that's, you know, somewhere in the middle: good enough that you don't regret spending the time on it, not that you'd particularly care to sit through it again anytime soon.

And it did answer the question that so baffled me years ago and again at the beginning to this post, why would actors want to work with Jackson? Because he will bring out the best performance from you, and make you look good, even if you're wearing piles of fright make-up.


On a completely unrelated note, today the blog went over 5,000 hits. That may not seem like much to you, but it's flat-out astonishing to me. Many thanks to all of you who spend time here. . . except you, dad!

-- Freder.

Somewhat more calm, no less angry, in need of moving on. . .

While casting around for some images of Bad Dads on the internet, I found this quite funny British blog post:

So that made me smile a little bit. There hasn't been much of that going on at my place over the past couple of days.

I wanted to write about Adaptation and The Frighteners, both of which crossed my eyeballs earlier in the week. I wanted to write about the progress I'm making on the new website (not much) and in setting up the new house (somewhat better).

Instead, I've been stewing in hatred, restless, unable to focus, gnawing on the bone of my father's latest betrayal, angry at myself for ever thinking that, just perhaps, he might have grown a vestigial sense of personal responsibility in recent years.

That he hasn't, and I fell into my own trap, that's my fault.

It didn't help matters that he sent he sent me three emails, one of them labeled "humble apology," and there wasn't anything humble or apologetic about any of them. Instead, it was the same old self-justifying crap that he always does, the same crap he pulled on mom all those years ago when he justified his affairs by telling mom all about them, as if that made it all right, because he was being honest, you see, he wasn't keeping a secret.

When I was seven years old I came home from school one day and found mom sobbing. Now I know why.

Last night I got drunk and flamed him from the bottom of my heart. I said, Do you know what you did? Do you know how bad this is?

 I said that this blog is just for me, it's my therapy, the only therapy I have, and what you did was the same exact thing as if you hid out in my therapist's office and eavesdropped on the sessions.

I said And then, and then, you had the unmitigated gall to write and tell me that my feelings, my own personal thoughts and feelings, where you were not even invited, were not valid.

I believe I then launched into a string of obscenities.

But it's true -- it's just as if he leapt out of hiding in the middle of the session and "corrected" me in front of the therapist.

.I should get over it. I need to get over it, this is just one more violation in a series. But right now I can't stop kicking myself, can't stop wishing that I could kick him. This is as big a betrayal as he's ever committed against me, but I gave him the opportunity to do it, knowing that nothing ever changes, knowing that you can't put a bottle in a drunkard's hands and expect him not to take a swig.

I have to pretend to work now. Maybe that will help me climb out of this bitter soup that I'm sitting in. My goal for tonight: take a few more deep breaths, and write that post about The Frighteners. . .

-- Freder.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

P.S., Dad. . .

I especially hope that M_ reads my last post and I especially hope that she reads this one. I want her to know that, as per your usual past behaviors, you are constantly trying to make me complicit in keeping secrets from her.

I want her to know that you wrote begging, pleading emails to both me and my lawyer asking for early repayment of the loan that she she made to me (and, incidentally, that I never asked for).

I want her to know that you can't get over shitting all over Mom every chance you get, including in your last email to me. Where in hell do you get off, constantly criticizing her? She had her faults, but many of those faults were CREATED by YOUR behavior.

You fucked anything that would hold still long enough for you to do it, including men.

I want M_ to know that every time we have lunch, it's you who wants to go to McDonald's and that you always wolf down TWO big hamburgers and a large order of fries (I can't eat two of those things and I don't know how you can).

I want her to know how you have used me as your personal confessional over the years, to keep secrets from people I loved.

Y'know what? I really didn't want to know how you discovered Masturbation.

But you told me anyhow.

Y'know what? I really didn't want to know that Mom knew you were cheating on her when she told you, while you were having sex, "Getting your love somewhere else, huh?"

You son of a bitch, Stay out of my blog and stay out of my personal life.

I want M_ to know how you made me complicit when you were cheating on Mom, when I came to visit you in New York, you not only didn't have the decency to put your affair on hold for the brief duration of my stay, you flaunted it in my face and then asked me not to tell, you made me a co-conspirator.


And now you do the same damn thing with M_.  And it IS the same damn thing, even though, to my knowledge, you aren't fucking another woman, still you are trying to keep secrets everywhere along the way.

I am SICK of this shit. I hope you read this and I hope your wife reads this. I hope she divorces you. You dick.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh, have I got a juicy one for you tonight. . .

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post tonight to present a rant against my Pig of a father.

As soon as they found out that I was keeping a blog, my father and his wife wanted to read it. For reasons that should be obvious to anyone out there who might have been paying attention, I wanted them not to read it. Knowing that they had access to these pages would seriously undermine my ability to express myself freely.

My father kept pressing me for the URL, and I kept ignoring him, hoping that he would get the message. He did not. "Still can't figure out how to find your blog," he would say, and I finally replied in no uncertain terms that I didn't want him to read my blog, that it was quite personal, very much a diary, "and you wouldn't read my diary, would you?"

In addition, I tried to satisfy their morbid curiosity by emailing them some of the more harmless posts, the ones that a) might interest them and b) were within what HR people call "their circle of concern."

Over the weekend I posted a link to the blog on my temporary page at; this had to happen sooner or later, as the blog must play a part in my Grand Scheme for the new website. I cringed when I sent them the link, and hoped that for once -- just once, once, ONE TIME in his life that my father would respect my wishes.

Who was I kidding?

Around noon EST today, the hits on the blog started to go through the roof. I knew exactly what was happening, and sure enough, when I got home there was the email sitting in my inbox. 

I present it here, in full, unedited in any way:

Well, have just spent hours and hours on this material. Wish I had taken notes but then it would be tomorrow. My thien is on a rare solo trip to Flagstaff to use some bonus money she ended up with to buy, a rare event, cosmetics. So I have the time to poke around in your material. Impressions (at least the few that I can remember in my foggy old age): Loved the graphics; Vastly impressed with the terrific, creative, high energy, originality of the whole thing - clearly talent you got from your Mom not me; wonderful depth of perception in your analysis; effective use of software to organize, cross reference, provide moving pictures, etc. Wish we could have been close enough so that you could have shared your hard fight with the drinking and your apparent success - all alluded to only briefly here and there - but only intensified our (both My thien and I) pride in you! Had no idea that you so (apparently) resented My's help in vetting your nomination of that house that now is yours. In all those hours I think there was only one thing I really must disagree with. My thien would kill me for saying this, but I really feel I must. She will never know. You make the statement at some point that you owe it all to your Mom. (Referring to the new house.) Now I will credit her with giving birth to you; to giving you your wonderful talent; but major credit or sole credit for your new house, sorry old Son, that just won't wash with me. She spent literally millions of dollars (collectively from her folks and from me) so the fact that a little was left in the estate for you, which I had urged her to make 100% to you,  to use to afford it is hardly to her credit. Furthermore, YOU EARNED IT, EVERY PENNY OF IT, taking care of her. Further, had you to wait until proceeds from auctions and sale of Albion (that I bought) came in, you never would have ended up with 87 Western. Possibly you would have ended up with something better, that I grant you. One cannot play the "what if" game to any benefit. But without My thien fronting the money, it never would have happened. You have the credit to have picked the place. My thien has the credit to vetted it and fronted the money to have it happen. You have the credit to have made it happen. My opinion - which I know you value little - is that your Mom takes NO credit for this one. If this only enhances your negative feelings for us, so be it. Dad

I have pretty much been ballistic ever since, all evening long. I shot back this reply:

See, I asked you not to read the blog, and this is WHY I asked you not to read the blog.

Later, while dinner was in the oven, II expanded upon it thus:

I don't know where you get the notion that I resented My's participation. I never felt nor wrote anything of the sort, and I just went back and checked.

This is why you can NOT read the blog!!!!!

You pull this stuff out of your ass, and it's your own damn fault. You were asked not to read the blog, and I gave you my reasons. And yet the first chance you got, you went shooting right on over there,

Stop. Reading. Now. I will continue to provide the posts to you that I think could be of interest to you, or that are within your circle of concern.

If you continue to read, be warned that I am not going to feel responsible for your reactions and feelings. You were warned.

I feel just like you went into my bedroom and took my diary out of the drawer and read it without permission.

My father has made it his business to betray everyone in the family at one time or another, sometimes multiple times, and this is just another instance. I know very damn well that he will compound this by putting it all in one of his "Friends and Family" letters, and, you know, fine, whatever. 

Actually, I hope the son of a bitch does read this one. 

Actions have consequences, Dad. . . and it's shit like this that has caused us so much trouble over the years.

-- Freder.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Update on the new site: the placeholder page has been customized with my own graphic, and some functionality has been added, including a link to the old website and a contact form. Surf on over to!

When the Apocalypse Comes. . .

I spent the weekend largely immersed in my own little world, coming up for air just long enough to run some errands, take a walk around the block, and follow the sad events in Japan.

I think of how hard the last few months have been for me, and I know that it's nothing, less than nothing, compared to what's facing those poor people in the years ahead. This morning comes the news that thousands of bodies are washing up on the beaches of Japan's coastal towns, literally a tide of death. Also the news of another explosion in one of their nuclear power plants -- this Big Event is still unfolding, with Who Knows What waiting in the wings.

I lost my mother and my home -- but I landed in a new home in better circumstances, and am steadily getting it together.

In Japan, whole populations were wiped off the face of the earth. Whole towns erased from the map.

And I am fascinated to look at the faces of the survivors. I see very few tears. There is grief, but it seems to be underwritten by strength. Some even manage to smile. It took me months to reach that stage, and mine was a common, garden-variety grief.

No doubt some are still in shock, still in survival mode; no doubt that the tears will come, once they have the time to look around. The devastation is so widespread, and in some areas so complete, that it must be numbing to the sensibilities.

On the Global scale, I have to wonder what's going on here? Haiti, China, Thailand, New Orleans. . . the planet knocked off it's axis, shortening the days. Landslides, tidal waves, hurricanes, eruptions. I'm not even close to being one of those loony "End of Days" theorists, the 2012 crowd and the "Left Behind" bible thumpers who actually want to bring on the apocalypse so that they can get to Heaven in their lifetime, but to me the planet does seem to be tearing itself apart, and doing it at an alarming rate.

If, as Jorge Luis Borges once imagined, the planets were sentient beings, communicating with each other as they circled about in the sea of stars, then I could well understand why the Earth would wish to be rid of the human parasite that has been infesting it for, in the grand scheme of time, the last few days. I'd scratch, too. I could even understand why it might begin to succumb to the illness.

And if I believed in God, it would be easy to imagine the old guy thinking that it was time to do another Sodom & Gomorrah number, on a much grander scale.

But none of that gets me any closer to understanding what's really going on here. That something is going on, I have no doubt.

While making my errands run on Saturday, I passed one of those non-traditional churches that has a display sign out front, and thinks that it needs to regale the public at large with "Wise Sayings." Usually these sayings are more along the lines of the trivial, the trite, and the idiotic. This one, that day, read: "Don't think about the strength of the storm. Think about the strength of your God."

On one level this reminded me of the purpose of religion, and the value of faith, and why even J.R.R. Tolkien depicted loss of faith as a mortal sin. But if you believe in God then, by definition, you have to believe that God created the storm as well, and that he had a reason. The most common reason offered is that God does these things to test us.

What a pernicious, evil-minded son of a bitch! What a foul, sad, pathetic creature that God must be!

That God killed a lot of people last week just to learn that the Japanese are made of Strong Stuff.

When I knew that I would have to move on, I looked at the job of work ahead of me and allowed myself to  despair, not knowing if I could ever get through it all by myself. Now I look at the pictures coming out of Japan, all the rubble, all the wreckage, and am in awe of the ability these folk are demonstrating to keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

It's not just an example to follow. It's the meaning of life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Announcing !

It's official! I will have an all-new website, bigger and better than before, and this time it will have its own domain name: !!

That's easy to remember! Just think of Duck Soup and Maine!

I'm already brimming with ideas and I haven't even started. The site will contain a complete archive of all my online comics, it will be the new home for the my literary e-zine EPOCH (formerly MILLENNIUM, and every issue of that will be archived there as well), and a heckova lot more, all with a spanking new look and interactivity.

This blog will be incorporated into the new family of sites, and will be accessed through, but it will still contain all the world-class wingeing and whining, suffering and misery that you have all come to expect!

It won't happen all at once, of course. Baby steps is still my motto! There will be a steep learning curve as I take on the power of Dreamweaver and Flash, but I've been there before, and this self-taught graphic artist is about to grow his abilities once again.

Right now there is a placeholder up announcing my arrival. The official launch will happen. . . when it happens. The important thing is, I now have something to shoot for.

I'm excited! I have a new house in real life, and now I have a new house on the web, and it will do me a world of good to bring them both to life. I hope that y'all will come and see me in my new diggs! I'll let you know when it starts to come together.
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