Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Hands

... look like the hands of an octogenarian.

Like the hands of someone who has been around the block many more times than I wish I have actually been.

Like the hands of someone very much older than the rest of me looks, at least I think, maybe, thank goodness.

... look like my paternal grandfather's hands, and heaven knows he did more honest work with his than I ever did with mine.

... look a good deal older than I feel.

Except sometimes, when I look at my hands, and think of everything that's happened,

And everything that's changed

And everything that's gone.

Walpurgis night is about the seasons, and the seasons are about things falling away --

In my own hands, finger hugs finger trying to hang on to what the seasons take away.

Yellow nails.

Painfully dry cracks ready to spurt blood onto the checks that I write.

"I'll write you another," I said


Until I realized that I had run out of checks.

Happy Walpurgis Night

So hard to believe that this is the last night of April, that this is the night where the winter demons are laid to rest, that another year has gone by in a blur of tears, disorientation, and regeneration.

So it's appropriate that tonight I'll celebrate with a new (to me) Doctor in a brand-new Doctor Who adventure. My initial reaction to Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor is overwhelmingly positive. Though the youngest actor ever to play the role, he captures the characters combination of youth and age, wisdom and play. I like him better than what I saw of David Tennant, and I like the scripts that he's been given to work with better than anything that Tennant had.

Someday, my old Who website, "The Prydonian Order" will reappear as part of the new, and I have a feeling I'll have something new to add when that day comes.

Earlier in the week, I took the time to sit through a couple of '50's SF monster movies, not really ideal Walpurgis Night fare, but the things that came to hand. The Monster That Challenged the World at least had a good and genuinely repellant monster in the form of a giant caterpillary-earwiggy kind of thing with creepy bulbous eyes that lays eggs that hatch a bunch of other giant caterpillary-earwiggy kind of things with creepy bulbous eyes. Yuck! It's too bad the rest of the movie is so lame, strictly by the genre numbers, with Hans Conried being the only real actor on hand to hold the thing down. He fails.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space was just the opposite. Oh, the actors were still bottom of the barrel, and the script was typed by someone with a lead ear, but the concept has possibilities for claustrophobic horror that were not realized until Dan O'Bannon stole the idea brazenly for Alien.

But that monster! Ye gods! Poor Ray "Crash" Corrigan, reduced to lumbering around in a pathetic rubber suit, waving his arms like there's no tomorrow. Perhaps, for him, there wasn't. . .

Before the Doctor comes to call, I'll re-visit Beetlejuice, which I have not seen since its original theatrical release, all those years ago.

'K, I've got to run and get my dinner going so that I can get the "celebration" started. I'm sure at least three of my quats will sit on me, and that's relaxing for all of us. The regenerating me will raise a glass to the regenerated Doctor -- an old friend with a new face, who always brings monsters.

Happy Walpugis Night!

-- Freder.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Meet the Neighbors

I barely know any of them, have only lived here three and a half months, yet I already have bones to pick with all of my neighbors.

My east-side neighbor looks like a Nazi. He's definitely at type A personality. He has extensive gardens in his back yard, and is building a garage (apparently, all by himself) on a parcel of land that used to go with my house. His gardening style is particularly Aryan. He doesn't tend his garden, he attacks it, as if it were the enemy. He never gets down on his knees, but stands and really puts his back into it, stabbing with a pitchfork. He might as well be bayonetting the ground. The other morning I spotted him in a patch of wild, wooded ground that I thought still went with my house. I could be wrong. He was attacking the trees with a gigantic set of pincers, snapping off all the lower branches as far as he could reach, and also snapping at any shrubbery that was growing from the ground. I wanted to holler at him, "Stop it! You're turning a nice wild area into something tame!"

But I held my tongue. Direct confrontation is something I've always had trouble with.

The next time I saw him, he was stalking around his new garage-in-progess with a tool belt around his waist, driving screws into door and windowframes. I wanted to say to him, instead of doing that, why don't you use some of that Germanic energy to get up off your butt and put some siding on that eyesore? Even the backside of his house has bare unsided walls. Let your poor garden grow and do something to beautify the community, Kaspar!

Worse are my Western neighbors. To use the terminology of my new Mutant Brethren, they are obvious neurotypicals. Normal People with a capital "Nor!"

They're so damn friendly, and they love to make small talk. Over Easter weekend I was working in my yard, minding my own bidniss, when I was hailed -- by name -- from their porch.

I've met them twice and I can't remember their names. I'm no good at that.

It was the woman of the house. I would have been perfectly happy with a wave and a "Nice day, isn't it?"

But no. Every time I see these folks we have to stand around and talk about nothing at all. Before I knew it, her husband came out to join in. Then her mother came out.

I do not know how to interact with these people. We must have "talked" for ten minutes and none of it was worth saying. They said that if they had known I was alone, they would have invited me to Easter dinner.

No, no, no, no, no, NO! Easter dinner with people I know only from two casual meetings-in-passing? Talk about a stranger in a strange land! Just because we, by chance, live next to each other does not make us intimate. Leave me alone! 

"That's a lot of house for just one guy," quoth the husband. That's getting into the realm of too personal a comment for someone that I don't know at all.

Worse yet, are my Northern neighbors. It was this family that had the medical emergency a while back. The father came through it all right, and I'm glad for them. In fact, I really had nothing against these people -- a casual hello here and there, they minded their business and I minded mine.

Until yesterday, when I saw that they had chopped down one of the lilac trees that separated their yard from mine. I would have sworn that it was my lilac bush -- but let's assume that it was on their property line . . . I certainly don't know for certain where it falls.

Even so -- why would anyone cut down a perfectly good little lilac tree that was just starting to send out some leaves for the spring? Especially when it was one of the very few things that was shielding you from your neighbor?

I just don't get such a random act of cruelty. I regard lilac bushes as one of the better things in life. Anyone who would maliciously chop one down like that needs a punch in the snoot.

Everyone kept a low profile during the winter, but now the fur is starting to fly!

My neighbors had better start to Shape Up and Fly Right, lest they set off the notorious ire and Ill Will of the Amazing Aspergian Boy!

-- Freder.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh! Ehm. . . Gee!

Some of my friends. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

What makes a good day?

I slept in until past eleven o'clock, ate three slices of white pizza for breakfast, got through my morning chores and hied me to Wallyworld, where I refilled my prescriptions for Prozac and the stomach medicine I'm on. More important, I bought two Sun Parasol plants, nine more packages of nasturtium seeds, a big bag of potting soil, and the usual staples.

Now all four of the hangy things around the outside of my house have bee-yoo-tee-ful flowas hanging from them. I'll plant the seeds on Sunday.

I had a big lunch, then decided not to work in the Studio. It's so fiddly, with so many little things to unpack, many of which carry associations. Since the theme of the room is art, a lot of my mother's things are going in there. I just didn't feel up to it emotionally.

Instead, I "finished" in the laundry room. Unpacked three big bags, two boxes and a bin, repaired a lamp and a wooden robin, got the bags up into the attic and the ironing board down from the attic, moved a chair and the dry-sink that my paternal grandfather Adolph made, all those years ago, in from the garage. Did two loads of laundry. The room is now more or less complete, and I think it looks pretty good for a laundry room.

This means that only the Studio remains, and I'll be done. I wonder what I'll do with myself?

After all of that, I strung Christmas lights all along the length of my porch. It looks like a party out there now.

Anxiety was my companion for much of the day, but so were the quats. I opened most of the windows and the door to the laundry room and they thought this was great. It was a wet, humid, "misty moisty" day, and the covers of the unread books that I have lining the porch all started to curl.

I repaired the one marble game that I had managed to save from Mom's collection and took it up to the playroom. Whitey followed me there. I dropped the marbles into the top and he froze. As they rolled down the ramps he watched them in a state of entrancement. He was so funny! When all the marbles had landed at the bottom he sniffed at them and pawed them, and I decided it was time for him to leave the room.

About the only serious worry I had is Patches. She has a bad cold, didn't eat anything all day, just stayed out on the porch, lying on the carriage seat, snuffling and snuffling.


When I can fit it in, I continue my reading. The Guide is fascinating. I want to know who this author is and how he knows so much about me. If I were the sort of person who used highlighters, ninety percent of the pages that I have read so far would be shimmering with a neon glow.

I read a section and am so struck with it that I say to myself, out loud, Oh my god, I have to quote this on the blog. Then I read the next section and am so struck with it that I say to myself, out loud, Oh my god, I have to quote this on the blog. Then I read the next section and am so struck with it that I say to myself, out loud, Oh my god, I have to quote this on the blog. 

You get the idea. But quoting other people is one of those habits I have to get away from.

This could be Dr. Seuss's My Book About Me. It is disturbingly revelatory about how I think, feel and act.

I will quote just one paragraph -- because it explains some of what I have written here on this blog, and elsewhere.

When such children are confused as to the intentions of others or what to do in a social situation, or have made a conspicuous error, the resulting 'negative' emotion can lead to the misperception that the other person's actions were deliberately malicious. The response is to inflict equal discomfort. . . : 'He hurt my feelings so I will hurt him.' Such children and some adults may ruminate for many years over past slights and injustices and seek resolution and revenge.

And the camera rolls in to a choking close-up of Mister Spock, who raises one eyebrow, looks meaningfully at the captain, and says:


-- Freder.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Triggered by Pancakes

Everyone in the house loved pancakes for breakfast, but Mom hated cooking them. Funny, but when the roles were reversed and I was the one doing all the cooking -- suddenly she loved pancakes for breakfast again, wanted 'em all the time.

Unfortunately, I could not cook pancakes to save my soul. The two times that I tried, I botched it so miserably and made a mess of everything and ended up in tears. It was one of those things that confirmed to me that I destroy everything I touch.

[This is why a part of me welcomes the realization that I have Asperger's, because it explains so much, while at the same time I hate it, because it confirms that I really am everything that I felt I was]

So, we ended up eating breakfast as much as two or three times a month at Friendly's, just about the only place in this town where you can get pancakes for breakfast.

Pancakes made her happy. Making her happy made me happy.

Just now, I was really set off by a commercial on TV for Friendly's. All they had to do was show the logo and I was off.

I'll never eat there again. Me, I'm more a French Toast kind of person, and I can actually cook French Toast without bringing destruction down around me.

We're rapidly coming up on a couple of rough landmarks here. May 2 will be her first birthday where she's not around to enjoy it. And just two weeks after that, she was dead. I never dreamed on May 2 that by May 16 it would all be over.

Except that it wasn't over -- it was just beginning. While I stumbled about in a drunken haze of despair, my sister began her systematic efforts to completely disassemble my life right out from underneath me. I was living in an illusion, trying to plaster over everything that was falling apart around me. Literally nailing boards over the windows that my sister broke so that she could steal from the estate, from me, from herself. Mom's death yanked the whole rug of my life right out from under me.

It's important to note that it's slowly getting better.

But every once in a while a Friendly's commercial comes along, and peels the scab clean away.


The books that I ordered arrived today: The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, by Tony Atwood, and Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Successful Stress Management, by Nick Dubin. I've already started reading the former, while dinner was in the oven.

With every page, with almost every paragraph, I'm experiencing a surge of , , , gad, certaunly not elation. Confirmation. Yes, by God, that's me! Yes, by God, that's me! Yes, by God, that explains so much!

I am coming to realize that the anxiety and depression that I always thought were the causes of my other behaviours are in fact only symptoms of the larger cause.

I feel just as if a previously undiscovered skeleton key has been slipped into my brain, and the lock has finally tumbled, and answers are pouring out through an opening that never existed before.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Second Self

"On the spectrum" sounds like a nice place to be, a place full of color and light. That it may be, but the closer I look at that place and the further back I go in time, the more I see the little cracks and disconnects that I've been falling through all of my life.

I actually tried to tell people at various times. I remember writing to someone that my entire life was "falling between stools." It's the reason why I'm incapable of writing in any specific genre, check out the fiction I've posted if you don't believe me. It all  has elements of mystery and fantasy and literary fiction, but it doesn't fit neatly into any of those categories, which makes it hard to get published.

I never knew what "on the spectrum" meant, although I saw it at work on books, especially Growing Up On the Spectrum. I never heard of "Asperger's Syndrome" until I came to work in my current job, and didn't know anything substantive about it until last week. I'm 52 years old. When I was a little kid, nobody was making that kind of diagnosis -- no wonder that the doctors and behaviour therapists and, ultimately, my parents, all threw their hands into the air and essentially gave up on me.

Today at work, I was deeply focussed on pulling a return when a student came up behind me rather too quickly and aggressively for my comfort zone and then paused behind me meaningfully. I immediately dropped into the character that I play in front of other people: the person who smiles and says hello, the person who seems to care about someone else's needs, the person who appears to know the answers, the professional person, the normal person.

The fact is that I don't give a good god damn about helping them, but I have to make believe that I do in order to hang onto my job. It does not come naturally or easily to me; it's a second self that has taken me years to develop, a costume that I wear when I am out among the living. It's a coping mechanism, a completely artificial construction, a cracked mask that I have to wear to "pass" in the Real World. It's one of the behaviours common to Asperger's Syndrome. I use it even with my oldest friends. The alternative would be to go and find a corner to hide in, and people who do that don't survive in the real world.

The one normal thing I do have is a survival instinct.

I was lucky today; I happened to know the answer to his question, and I was able to give the programmed response, and even fake a laugh when he said something that I didn't catch, but which was obviously intended as humor. I've learned over the years that if the response is generic enough and appropriate enough, you don't actually have to understand what people say to you. Laugh at the right time, and eventually they'll go away and leave you alone.

One of the things I read today in Growing Up On the Spectrum was that, for autistic or Asperger children, Time Outs don't work as a disciplinary measure. Boy, do I understand that! I used to love being sent to my room! My room was a complete world for me. As the book points out, Asperger children enjoy being alone. It means that we don't have to interact with other people. If you want to punish an Asperger child, deposit them in the middle of a group of strangers and order them to Make Nice.

Asperger's is made up of a list of behaviours (as opposed to symptoms) as long as your arm -- and, to varying degrees, I display them all.

A good friend asked me yesterday "Have you been to a doctor or are you self-diagnosing based on an online test?"

As usual, my answer to her is complicated. (Nothing about interacting with others is simple to an Aspie).

Sometimes you ask yourself, and sometimes you know.

If you get a pain in your side, you have to ask yourself, "What the hell is that?" 'Cuz it could be a lot of things.

But if you get a cold or the flu -- baby, you know it! You may want to go to a doctor to get something for it. but you don't need to go to a doctor to have it explained to you. It just is, right? You may even want to go to the doctor if you want to prove to an unreasonable boss that you're sick.

That's where I am right now. It's clear that if I have or want to prove to someone else that this is the case, I will have to find a way somehow (don't know where to begin) to get a diagnosis.

But I've been reading and reading and reading about this, and I've been examining my behaviours both now and going all the way back as far as my earliest memories will take me. . .

If it was just one or two things, perhaps I would still be asking, and if you have to ask, it probably isn't so.

But it's everything. It even explains the things that I thought were the explanations -- but which are really just more indications. I have a couple of books on order and I will continue to read and pursue this and try to find some clarification.

But I'm not asking anymore. I have a cold. Now to deal with it -- somehow.

-- Freder,

Monday, April 25, 2011

That's Gotta Hurt...

The Man Who Laughs must be one of the most casually grotesque movies ever made. Excepting only Mary Philbin, everyone in it is hideous, especially including Olga Baclanova, who could be prepping herself here for her work in Tod Browning's Freaks. The light that comes into her eye as she forces Conrad Veidt to lower his cloak is probably the most horrifying thing in the picture.

Even with Paul Leni at the helm to explain it, it's hard to believe that this is a product of Hollywood. The Man Who Laughs is as German as they come, baby, and no two ways about it. It's Caligari with a budget.

And yet I found it curiously uninvolving. I've had that problem with Leni's work before. Everything about its appearance is terrific, but Appearance is all that it's about, and we get the message early on. At an hour and fifty minutes, I found it impossible to get through in one sitting. The parade of grotesquerie combined with the inevitability of the plot was just too much.

It's possible, too, that the type of disfigurement is a problem. Why is the Hunchback of Notre Dame sympathetic, while The Laughing Man is not? Is it because Quasimodo is so challenged that he doesn't even understand why he's being whipped, while Gwynplaine, the title character here, is intelligent and seems to be asking for what he gets? We are repeatedly asked to feel his pain, and I wasn't buying.

The one thing I was not expecting was a Happy Ending. A final fade-out with everyone reunited, hugging all around weeping tears of Joy -- in Victor Hugo?

Thankfully, the DVD includes, as an extra feature, some text from the end of the original novel, where it's revealed that Leni and Universal didn't so much change the ending as lop off about four pages of Hugo's Purple Prose. Oh yes, everyone is Happily reunited -- but then the girl dies of a heart attack and Gwynplaine throws himself into the ocean and drowns. Now, that's more like it!

You left out those minor, nagging details, Leni! And, literally, in the end it kills your picture.

Conrad Veidt gets a special medal for his performance as Gwynplaine. Most likely, it should be a Purple Heart: the device that distorts his mouth has got to be an instrument of torture. And to convey so many other emotions with, essentially, the whole lower half of his face taken away as an instrument had to be a challenge. Veidt delivers, and it's hard to understand why this picture didn't make him a major star.

Just by the way, is there anyone out there who does not know that Jerry Robinson used Veidt as his model when he created The Joker? Just thought I'd throw that out there as my daily entry into the Bleedin' Obvious.

The Man Who Laughs is probably not a movie that I should be watching at this moment in my history. I ordered it up about a month ago, before the latest blow came. That I wasn't particularly bothered by it says more about the movie's failings than it does about me. It's all face, no feeling.

-- Freder.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fuck all

Spent my whole damn life pretending to be normal. Got so that I was pretty good at it, when in public. Never understanding why it didn't seem so hard for everyone else. Never understanding how everyone else could be so easy and relaxed when I was tearing myself apart inside. Pretending to be social when all I ever wanted was to find a hole and crawl into it. Never knowing the reason why I preferred the company of animals to that of people.

All a joke, all a fake, all for Show, a Command Performance, see the Amazing Retard Pretend to be a Real Boy. No matter what I told myself or how hard I tried, I was never going to be normal and I never had a chance. No wonder I could never sustain a relationship with a woman. I could never figure out what it was about me that frustrated them so much. I tried so hard, but trying had its limits.

Whenever I had to make a cold phone call to anyone, for whatever reason, I always had to have a written script in front of me, and even then I was so panicked that I could hardly bring myself to dial. Start to dial, hang up. Start to dial, hang up. Calling to ask women out was pure torture, and I guess they sensed it, they always said no.

Always doing things because that was how normal people did it, that was how it was done, I forced myself even though I was screaming inside.

I learned that I could be the life of the party if I recited from Bill Cosby's comedy albums, which of course I knew by heart, or from Monty Python (ditto). I learned that I could make a hit in a play if I faithfully imitated the actor from the original Broadway cast album.

Even when it came to writing, I learned by aping the style of other writers. I have no style of my own. It's all written to sound like what I've read elsewhere.

My whole life has been a bad joke, a game of "Let's Pretend," a game of "Follow the Leader." No wonder I never left home, until I was forced out. I really am all those things the other kids called me on the playground. And now I'm angry that I've spent my life trying to please them, without hope of success.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Gooble-Gabble, One of Us. . ."

It's not so much that it explains so much of my life. It's that there's no part of my life that it doesn't explain. My habit of quoting other people all the time (my friend H_____ once ragged on me, "Take away Monty Python, take away [something else], take away Doug." I thought it terribly cruel at the time. Now I see that he's right). The impulsive ripping of skin off of my fingers. The fact that all my girlfriends dumped me, seemingly for the same reason, and yet it always came as a surprise. The always keeping as much to myself, by myself as possible, and taking everything so personally. My problems with certain subjects in school. The fact that I can't stand up to anyone, except on paper, and then usually in an explosion of pent-up rage that has more to do with past events than what's really in front of me. The fact that I can't seem to get through my morning chores without moaning, "help, help" all the time, because the simplest things seem so difficult. My trouble focusing at work (like, I'm writing obsessively on my blog right now instead of doing something that I should be doing). All that depression and anxiety -- that turns out to be just a part of it.

On the one hand, it makes the last five years and what I've been through during that time look almost heroic. If it's true, how did I get through it? No wonder Mom sometimes found me difficult.

On the other hand, I've always suspected that I was a freak. Now I know that it's true. "One of us, one of us, gooble-gabble, one of us," Christ, even most of my post titles are quotes.

I don't feel at all relieved to finally know that it has a name. Instead, I'm in despair because now I know that it's never going to get better, that I'm always going to be like this, that it may even get worse as I get older, that I could possibly wind up in one of those god-awful "assisted living" places.

That I'm incapable of creating anything truly original.

That, most likely, I am probably going to be alone for the rest of my life.

I wonder if I should tell my boss. On the one hand, her brother has Asperger's and she might be able to point me in the right direction for getting a proper diagnosis. It might explain some of my behaviours to her. On the other hand, she is my boss and the potential for her to use this against me is quite real.

Oh, yeah, the minor paranoias. That, too.

I can't think of anyone else I could talk to about it.

I'm not sure that learning about this is a great big help to me. Right now, it seems to be making things worse.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Now What?

Today I took two online tests, one for Autism, one for Asperger's.  No, I don't regard online tests as authoritative. But when the results all say the same thing, it is an indicator that I should look into this more closely and maybe get a formal evaluation.

Test #1 gave me this result:

Based upon your responses to this autism screening measure, it appears that you may be suffering from an autism spectrum disorder, or Asperger's disorder. People who score similarly often qualify for a diagnosis of autism or Asperger's.

Test #2 yielded the above graphic, a fourteen page PDF explaining what it means, and the following summary:

Thank you for filling out this questionnaire.

Your Aspie score: 144 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 70 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie

So, today I found out that I could well have Asperger's Syndrome, and that I have to buy a new car within two weeks (or continue to drive my Malibu illegally) at a time when I don't think I can take on any more debt.

And I don't know what to do about any of it. The saying goes, "Life Sucks and then you die." 

Hey, Mort! Don't keep me waiting, damn it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Connect the Dots, Lalalala. . .

If I'm looking at you with a blank stare on my face, it's probably because I didn't understand what you just said, and I'm tired of saying "I'm sorry?" or "What?"

It's been this way all of my life. It's not a hearing problem. When I ask people to repeat themselves, oftentimes more than once, they sometimes raise their voices. Someone once even said to me, angrily, "Why don't you clean your ears out?"

I can hear you just fine. The problem is, I can't understand you. It all sounds to me like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons: "Wa WAH wa waa, wa wa wa WAH."

When I was a little kid I couldn't understand most of the dialogue in movies and on TV; I followed the story visually, and if it was something that couldn't be followed that way, like, say, A Man for All Seasons (which traumatized me as a kid because it was nothing but people yammering for two hours and then they cut off his head), I would just tune out and disengage.

It didn't start to get better until middle school, when stations started running things like Batman and Star Trek in the afternoons, and I could watch the shows as much as I liked, picking up something new every time.

To this day, I still have trouble with some people and certain words and certain kinds of voices. I don't always "get" all the dialogue in talk-heavy movies. In a group conversation, I still oftentimes miss a lot of what's said and end up withdrawing emotionally from the conversation.

It's one of the reasons I hate the telephone. I have a hard enough time understanding people when I can see their lips move. The only person I can really talk with on the phone for any length of time is my friend BC, who speaks quite clearly and distinctly.

If I appear not to be engaging with things that are being said, it's probably because I am not even "there."

As a kid they called this "daydreaming." Now I wonder if it wasn't something else.

I have to be careful here, because I don't want to make any claims, and I don't have the knowledge or experience to make a diagnosis. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. What I'm about to type, I'm not saying that it's so.

It's just that every time I see a news story, as I did last night on The PBS News Hour, about Autism or Asperger's, I listen carefully to the symptoms and inevitably I think, "Jesus Christ, they're describing me as a kid."

When I look at pictures of those little boys, I could be looking at pictures of me.

My parents carted me to doctors who checked my hearing and told them that it was a little bit better than normal. They took me to a school behavior therapist who, as far as I know, never told them anything. Meanwhile, I lived in my own little world, read a lot, and interacted with other children only in one-on-one situations. When I got involved with groups, the other kids would inevitably make fun of me or beat me up and I'd go home crying.

The Hulk was my favorite Marvel Comics character because I could understand him: both what he was saying and what was going on in there.

Just now I Googled "undiagnosed autism in adults" (yes, I'm aware that this is about as unscientific as you can get), and once again, reading down through the articles I had the uncomfortable sensation that I was reading about myself.

Again, I'm making no claims; additionally, if this was true, then I feel it would have to be classified as a minor case -- probably trending more in the direction of Asperger's than autism.

But it would explain so much: the inappropriate reactions, the emotional outbursts, the sensitivity to heat and the sun, the frustration and anxiety, the manic / depressive spells, the feeling of constantly being overwhelmed by the daily things of life that most folks take for granted,  the occasional physical ticks and stammering, the anti-social feelings (when I was little I would actually hide behind the sofa when people came to the house; I'm too big to do that now, otherwise I would!), the single-mindedness, the discomfort I feel in group situations and the difficulties "maneuvering through complex social cues at school, at work, or elsewhere."

The things, in short, that I often write about on this blog.

Could it be? Maybe not. I'm lousy with numbers and math, no Rain Man here!

Do I even want to know the answer?

I'll have to think on that a while longer.

-- Freder.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Revenge is Sour

Yup, you guessed it... I got sucked into another TCM Programming Vortex tonight.

The Outlaw Josie Wales is a movie that came out in what I'd laughingly refer to as "My Heyday," and one that I never saw at the time. So this was like filling in a gap.

On the one hand, I had to admire the craftsmanship. This is a really well-made picture, kudos to Mr. Eastwood, who took over directing in hard circumstances. Just to compare apples to apples, The Outlaw Josie Wales is far more skillfully made, written and acted than anything I ever saw by Sergio Leone, whom everyone seems to like but whom I think is a nasty, grotty little sleazeball.

In particular among the cast, Chief Dan George is a delight to watch, Eastwood should get down on his knees and thank god for that man.

But, as you might have guessed by now, I have a problem.

This picture is all done up in Civil War costume -- but (we'll leave elements of the ending out of this) at its heart and for the main part of its runtime, this is a Revenge picture, pure and simple.

And here's the thing: in order to justify the actions of the hero, which are pretty danged horrible, the villains of the piece have to be presented as being absolutely depraved.

I don't like it.

I don't like that the actors do such a good job of being depraved and, apparently, don't have any trouble sleeping at night.

I don't like watching it, and I don't like being made to feel as if I'm morally complicit because I'm watching, as "entertainment," acts that go beyond the realm of violence, into humiliation and degradation.

I know that stuff like this actually happened. In a documentary context, I could watch and not feel like I was being manipulated, used and abused.

And -- what do you say about a director who asks his GIRLFRIEND to participate in some of the scenes that Sondra Locke endures here?

There are some redeeming scenes. Wales's confrontation with the Comanche chief that saves lives all around -- that's a great scene. And the ending, with Wales and the Southern officer more or less coming to terms rather than blasting their way to one or the other's death -- that is Exactly Right.

But in nearly every other aspect, The Outlaw Josie Wales caters to, not to say glorifies, not to say revels in the conventions of the very nasty Revenge genre. And it's frustrating to see so much talent being thrown in the direction of Plain Ugliness.

-- Freder.

Brick by Brick

Another really good and productive weekend. I got so much accomplished! Not that there isn't a lot left to do before I can say the house is Ready for Prime Time, or even that there won't be some tweaking to be done when it is, but the All-New, All-Different Duckhaus is really starting to come together.

I'm finding that it's kind of a Zen thing; you solve some problems and other problems solve themselves. As you unpack, things come to light that you know exactly what to do with, other things come to light that you don't have a clue how you're going to use, and then you have days like the one I had yesterday -- the coin drops on a number of fronts and things begin to snap into focus.

Case in point: my laundry room. I hadn't planned to work in there this weekend, it just sort of happened. On Sunday I needed to be at the estate lawyer's office by 3:30, and I wanted to leave earlier to check out the local Agway for landscaping bricks (which they didn't have). I didn't want to get involved in anything where I might lose track of time. So instead of working in the Studio, I decided to hang a curtain in the laundry room.

This was made necessary by the ugliness of the wall against which the washer and dryer are standing. Plugs, the drain pipe, a thermostat, coils of ducting, and a gaping hole in the wall that used to be a vent for something but has no purpose at all anymore.

Well, it was a fiddly, fussy job, but I got 'er done. That was two things off the floor. I moved a bag and spotted a rolled-up poster. This was for the release of the Disney Co.'s Three Musketeers, starring Mickey, Donald and Goofy, given to me by an old friend, and it's poster sized for a mall window, so huge that I never had a place to hang it in the old house. I'd never even thought of using it here, but there I was staring at a huge blank wall and the lightbulb went on.

In order to hang it, I had to move two boxes and a trunk, and that meant looking at the contents. I realized that I knew where all the contents were going (wouldn't have been able to do that even a couple of weeks ago) and that they would be easily unpackable.

Couldn't do it just then, but when I got back from my errands I started in. Three empty boxes and two empty trunks later, with the carousel horse sitting on one of the trunks and a funky lamp installed on top of the apothecary chest, and suddenly I had a real room on my hands. A dirty real room, but a room that a person could conceivably spend time in.

As a result of my efforts over the whole weekend, three rooms are significantly closer to being done. I put one of my mother's lamps out on the porch, and kept it open well into the evening hours; Honey loves it and it's going to be a great place for relaxin' and romancin' -- the latter assuming that one of these Earthquakes tips the world far enough off its axis to throw a woman into my lap!


Anxiety is still a factor in my life, especially on gray mornings like what we've been having lately. It doesn't seem to be focussed on anything in particular: I am an Equal-Opportunity Dread-er. The biggest factor really does seem to be the Sun, or lack of it. My moods and emotions are definitely impacted by whether or not Mr. Sun chooses to make an appearance, and it's getting more pronounced as I get older. The best remedy is simply to keep an eye on the windows, and when the sun does some out, to get out there and catch some rays, even if it's just for five minutes.

Are human beings nothing more than Portable Solar Panels? Some days it feels like it!

-- Freder.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Curse You, TCM!

Does Robert Osborne think that I don't have anything better to do than sit around and watch movies?
There was a good stretch over the past few weeks where I got a few things done, because TCM was running pictures that I'd seen before, or things that weren't so appealing that I was willing to take the time, or else just running the good stuff at an hour that didn't work for me. This week they could almost have been thinking, "Let's target that idiot up in Maine! He hasn't been watching for a while!"

First came So Evil My Love, with Ann Todd and Ray Milland, part of their tribute to Milland going on this month. It was a good contrast to The Uninvited; Evil being the operative word, Milland does it like a champ, making his seduction of Miss Todd credible enough that her own descent into evil takes on a level of inevitability. Todd gives a marvelous performance herself, going on a deep journey with some ups and a whole lot of downs. Her looks give her a natural advantage, as she has a kind of cold beauty, the Ice Princess ready to melt, given enough reason. Soon she's up to all manner of trouble, including murder for the sake of an undeserving love.

The ending is that rarest of things, a shock ending that really is shocking, both in its unexpectedness and its detached savagery. Had the same scene been filmed today, it would have been much more graphic, and far less effective. Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Waverly from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) gets the last word, and he ain't just whistling dixie, Missus.

Wednesday night was A Southern Yankee. I broke a rule for this one: Never come into any movie from the middle. Out of pure monkey habit, I am compelled to watch Survivor in all of its idiot incarnations, oftentimes marveling at the stupidity of the players while blithely ignoring the level of stupidity it takes to watch the thing. On Wednesday nights I don't even check the listings. Redemption Island, here I come! Just don't ever call it a "reality" show.

So I missed the first third or so of A Southern Yankee and now I want to watch the whole thing. I'd never seen one of Red Skelton's movies before, knowing him only from his decades on television (he was a favorite of my wee years) and stage. I think Red must be one of the hardest working comedians in the biz, but he is an acquired taste: with his facial ticks and his crossed eyes and his arms cocked this was and that, it's a little bit like the School of Schizophrenia. It was nice to see him not doing Clem Cadiddlehopper for a change, and this picture, while far from a classic, goes down easy and pleasing with some real laugh-out-loud moments. According to Osborne, Buster Keaton worked as a consultant on this picture -- so Red had good taste in advisors, although there's little of the trademark Keaton manipulation of reality on display.

The plot? I'm not sure that there was one. Anyhow, if you glanced at the poster above, you get the drift. Civil War spoof, just an excuse to hang gags on. Most implausibly, Red gets the girl in the end, or she gets him. I'm not sure which.

Then last night my plans for the evening were foiled when The Glass Key appeared on my menu at eight o'clock. Before last night I never knew that this had been filmed, much less twice, and the second time with such a great cast including Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd and William Bendix (the kind of actor who, once you've seen him do comedy, is hard to take seriously in dramatic roles like this one). 

I don't think that The Glass Key is one of Hammett's more compelling novels, and that shows in this screen adaptation. It's hard to really fall in love with a movie when absolutely everyone in it is a villain, including Ladd, albeit a villain who goes through a kind of violent redemption in the hands of the Bendix character. But it does have all the hardboiled elements including a hero who can take a lot of punishment (and does) and a femme fatale capable of giving looks, as Raymond Chandler writes, that men "can feel in your hip pocket."

Actually the thing I found most remarkable about Veronica Lake was how very young she seemed. Before this, I'd only ever seen her in Sullivan's Travels. and although that picture was made earlier, somehow she looked as though she'd been around the block a few more times.

Apparently Ladd is one of the few actors who didn't mind working with Lake; whether or not that's true, they certainly do perform some chemical magic together on screen, and the sparks between them are the picture's main draw. Unfortunately, John Huston or Michael Curtiz didn't direct this, and it shows. Except for a few scattershot scenes, the movie lacks both the mood of The Maltese Falcon and the lightness of touch in The Thin Man series. 

It's interesting to watch the way violence is portrayed in The Glass Key, and I strongly believe that, nine times out of ten, this is the way it should be done. We never see the actual beatings in any great detail: the director inevitably cuts to reaction shots of the bystanders, and by watching their faces we are allowed to sense the brutality of the scene. Only the consequences of the beatings are shown in detail, and this is pretty much unflinching, as real as they were allowed to get in those days.

I liked all three of these pictures, although I didn't love any of them. I'm hoping that tonight the TCM programmers will opt to go with something along the lines of "Giant Gorilla Night." I've seen all the giant gorillas I need to see, and Getting Something Done tonight sounds like a good direction to head in!

-- Freder

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Things that Make you go "GAH!"

As an alumni of C____ College, Cicely von Zeigesar came to speak and read from her books this week.

She has her fans among the student body, although, as it was pointed out to me by one of my student workers staffing the event, they all tend to look like the people on the covers of her books.

I wrote about von Z. a couple of weeks back just to say that the kind of people she writes about are exactly the kind of people that the movie Heathers so gleefully kills off! Which is kind of harsh -- sometimes I think all they really need is a good spanking.

It turns out that she never thought about becoming a writer and that Gossip Girl just dropped into her lap, was not even technically created by her. .Again, as reported to me by my student informant, the way von Z. tells it is that she was working in a cushy job at an Agency or a Syndicate where her duties were basically to do nothing all day. Until the time when an editor came out of his or her office, handed her a sheet of paper and said, "Write up an eight-page outline about these characters and send it to Little, Brown." At that time, there was "nothing on the market written for or about rich kids in the city," and this was the beginning of a loose concept to -- I'm already starting to gag -- fill that void.

von Z. had never written anything professionally before, and didn't know how to make anything up, so she sat down and wrote about the people she went to school with.

The publisher loved the presentation. The editor said, "Great, we'll hire a writer and start cranking them out." The publisher said, "No, we want the person who wrote the presentation to do it."

And another rich and famous "author" is born.

Do I need to tell you how galling this is to someone who worked for years to pursue a writing career and got nowhere?

She was literally at the right place at the right time. God waved his magic wand, said, "The world needs a series about arrogant, rich brats," and there you are!

But there is something worse I have to tell, and surprise! von Z. is actually the victim.

I am told by two separate students that the English Department, the very people who presumably invited von Z. to speak, have been publicly mocking her to their students both in the days before the event and during the event itself.

One professor was quoted as telling her entire class how awful the Gossip Girl books are and what a joke von Z. is. Which may be true -- in which case, why did you invite her? Presumably no one was holding a gun to your head.

During the event, while von Z. was talking (and talking and talking -- this was to be a co-reading, but von Z. took up the whole time), the English Department, I am told, sat behind her where they could not be seen, and snickered, and gestured, and mocked her literally behind her back.

I don't care how bad the books are, this is just bad form and not something that a college professor should stoop to. If nothing else, the woman is an Alum and as such the Professors should act as an example to the current students.

I'm sure that they are just as jealous of von Z. as I am, and that this is how it manifested itself. But for my part, I reserve the right to post honestly about her on my personal blog, but when she came to the store to sign books for me I damn sure took a respectful tone. It's what you do.

Robert B. Parker was another egregiously untalented writer who happened to be an alum of this college. I had the displeasure of typesetting some of his books when I worked in the production department of Thorndike Press. His novels were labor intensive because every one of them consisted of about a hundred and eighty-seven chapters of two pages each. I sell his books here, and I'm not a fan, and I tell people so, but that's the way I say it: "I'm not a fan." To go into detail and make fun of his work to another alum or anyone associated with the college would be inappropriate.

Rule number one: a professional person should behave like one. No matter what we think about her work, von Z. handled herself with grace (even inviting one of my students to visit her office in New York this summer) and the English professors could take a lesson from that.

-- Freder.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not that kind of Vet. . .

Kennebec Vet has gone all Yuppity on me in the last few years. They used to be a real country Veterinary, owned by a couple of crusty old gents who did the best that they could and treated the animals well, but who didn't believe in mollycoddling the pet "owners," if you get my drift. A while back they were bought out by a significantly younger crowd, who moved the office into a flashier, upmarket location, spent a lot on money on bells and whistles like computer touch screens for the visitors to play with while they're waiting, and so on. The assistants are now called "techs" and they wear hospital uniforms and specialize in telling you obvious things in soothing tones -- it stops just short of hand-holding. Caring and Sharing is now as much a part of their agenda as rendering your Quat heat-free.

I hadn't been there since Mom died, and so L____, the only holdover from Kennebec Vet's pre-Valley Girl Days, got the news for the first time. It's funny how taking my little Honey to the Vet dredged up a lot of emotion that, obviously, hasn't been put all that far behind me.

I'd noticed that Honey was drooling a little bit in the past couple of weeks, but it didn't appear to be anything serious until this weekend, when a lower canine suddenly jutted out of her mouth and started causing her some trouble. I thought that it might just drop out (they sometimes do) and she'd be fine. On Sunday night she still seemed pretty normal; but by Monday night she was clearly in pain, and not eating anything even though she wanted to.

On the one hand, as Whitey had shown us a while back, the tooth-pulling procedure is fairly straight forward, and something that cats bounce back from pretty well. On the other hand, I've learned that surgery is surgery, and any time you take a cat to the vet (or a human to the hospital) Complications can arise, and you may end up not seeing your loved one ever again. Of course you should never think along those lines, so of course I did. The Quats are just about all that held me together during the last year, and Honey is extra special to me. In some ways I am still smarting from the last Big Tragedy, losing Honey would be another blow that couldn't be shaken off easily.

She cried and cried on my lap all through the (thankfully) short drive, but once we were inside and being cooed at by the Designer Vets she behaved like a regular sweetheart, even through indignity of having her temperature taken. A lot of time was spent explaining this and that to me (they now charge a walk-in fee -- when did that happen?), but the actual checking in her mouth was cursory, as I knew it would be, I knew where we were headed well before the vets did.

What surprised me was that they could take her right away, and that I wouldn't have to leave her overnight. That was a relief.

During the drive home it was my turn to cry and cry. Like I said, this opened up a whole fresh can of Emotions.

They ended up pulling ten teeth, and they didn't even need to suture her because they came out so easily. The operation was over by ten-thirty or eleven, and I picked her up on the way home from work. She was out of the anesthesia, alert, looking cute and obviously happy at being out of pain. Of course she cried and cried all the way home, but it was a sign of how well she's adapted to the new house that when I set her down she sniffed the air and went around checking it out, just to see that she was Actually Home.

She was eating soft food in nothing flat, purring and making her little rolling mew sound just as if nothing had happened to her.

By this morning the pain killer they'd given her had clearly worn off, and she was working her mouth a little bit. I gave her the antibiotic and the pain killer that they sent along with me (she's not the easiest quat to give medicine to, but not the worst, either); then I had to hie me into work.

It all meant another $340 hit on my credit card, but some things you just can't question. When it comes to my little Honey, who still wants to snuggle with me every morning, the Stepford Vets have me over a barrel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Common Theme

At the beginning of the DVD commentary for The City of Lost Children, Jean-Pierre Jeunet comes right out and says "This opening scene is perhaps a little confusing," and Ron "Hellboy" Perlman, who plays a major role in the film, chimes in with: "You think? And the middle and the end, too!"

It is confusing, but that's one of the things I like about the picture. The City of Lost Children forces the audience to pay attention and become an active participant in the story. Everything makes perfect sense in the end, but Jeunet and his then-collaborator Marc Caro don't spell much out: the audience must make some connections on its own.

In a separate interview, Jeunet expresses dissatisfaction with the film. "It has not enough story," he says, and reveals that the design and visuals were created first, forcing them to come up with a story to match. The only place where this is really evident is in the element of the oddball fanatic group known as The Cyclops: that the real villains of the piece are using them to kidnap street children barely justifies the amount of screen time spent on them. 

Perlman plays a type common to nearly all of Jeunet's movies: all grown up on the outside, but still a child on the inside. Even when he adopts two street urchins, he refers to them as "Little Brother" and "Little Sister." The Strong Man in a street fair, Perlman's character One is drawn into the story when his "Little Brother" is kidnapped by the Cyclops, literally ripped from his arms, and sold to a vile old man who lives on an oil rig and tries to regain his rapidly waning youth by stealing the dreams of the kidnapped children. 

As a two-person rescue team, One and his newfound "Little Sister" Miette (charmingly played by the young Judith Vittet) almost make a complete person: He provides the brawn and she provides the brains. 

Visually, it's pure Steampunk, although I'm not certain that word had been coined yet in 1995. But its theme is all Peter Pan, although Jeunet seems to be giving the opposite moral:  childhood should be clung to and coveted, because once it's gone you can't get it back, even by injecting yourself into a child's dreams. One remains marvelously pure and untarnished by the movie's end, while Miette defeats the villain by making the impossible journey.

Marc Caro was the designer and co-director. That the collaboration between Jeunet and Caro effectively ended here (Caro started out as co-director on Alien: Ressurection, then dropped out) is probably the best thing that could have happened to Jeunet. City of Lost Children is a wonderful movie of its type, but if he had continued to work with Caro, Jeunet could never have grown as director, and would never have given us his masterpieces, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement. Both films have the visual style and playfulness that's already present in City of Lost Children, but both also have the added elements of Romance, and Juenet's careful layering of plot and event.


I did not expect to be so strongly affected by D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation that I had to switch it off shortly into its runtime.  But then, neither had I expected the picture to be so myopically non-objective, so fawningly supportive of the Confederacy and all that it stood for.

The opening scenes depict a glowing, rosy dream of the Southern Aristocracy, a staunch declaration that it was a Better World, balanced in perfect harmony, the belles and the Southern gents swirling about in a glow of opulence and happiness while the merry Darkies danced their joyous Coon Dances, because they were so happy, so very honored and privileged, to be the chained and whipped and raped slaves of such Delightful People. Why, they even came out into the streets and cheered when the Gay Boys rode off to war, waving their hats and rattling their sabers, to defend the Nigger Right to being Enslaved.

Well, Mr. Griffith. Of course those were Halcyon Days. Your people drifted like junkies in a dream world of Privilege and wisteria -- that they built on the backs of an enslaved people. 

I'll never watch another Griffith picture again. It's one of those terrible contradictions of life that the man who so revolutionized an industry that changed the way the world lived and the way people think about themselves turns out to be a deluded, chest-thumping bigot at heart.

-- Freder.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Yesterday I went out to the old house again for what I can honestly say was the next-to-last time. I wanted the rest of the ornamental rocks and I wanted the giant children's blocks in the little barn. No, I don't have the keys anymore (and anyway they have changed the padlocks). But I lived in that place for more than thirty-five years, I know its idiosyncrasies, if I want to get in, I can.

It took some of the sting out of the drive to take a different route. I needed to swing by my lawyer's house to pick up a sign that my mother had painted many years ago. I hadn't been able to fit it into my car on the last day.

This was a nice drive that ends along the south edge of C____ Lake. Pulling into her driveway I passed a sign reading WHAT PART OF NO TRESPASSING DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND? and the near-lifesize plywood cow that I had given J___ earlier. I found my sign standing outside of her garage. She wasn't at home. When I looked into her garden I got a rude surprise: there on the end of a metal pipe was my mother's large copper rooster, the rooster that had been her shop's trademark and was a feature in our front yard for many years.

This just didn't seem right. She must have bought it at the auction, because I certainly didn't give it to her. It's one thing to part with some of Mom's treasures and know that I'll never see them again; it's quite another thing to have a special one re-appear in a completely new context. Well, it was J___'s right to buy anything she wanted at the auction, of course, and I knew that she had bought several pieces. But this felt like a little bit of a slap in the face. I stood and looked at it longer than I needed to or should have. Then, metaphorically at any rate, I shrugged and got into my car. It's not something that can be helped.

I had another shock when I reached the old house. The nice copper mailbox that I was thinking, at the suggestion of my friend L____, of swapping out with the black one that my mechanical man is holding, had been completely destroyed.

This must have taken some doing. Even the very strong, swinging iron "arm" that the mailbox had been mounted on was mangled. This thing has withstood years of being battered and hit multiple times every winter by the town snowplow, so I don't believe it was that. Either it had been worked over by someone with a lot of determination, spite and elbow grease, or someone had crashed a vehicle into it.

I would have been crushed to see this if I were still living out there. Even so, it made me sad. But once again, it was something about which there was nothing I could do.

The yard seems quite strange without any quats in it.

I loaded up the rocks. This was not an easy job. When I took two of them the last time I was out there, I hadn't imagined how much I would like seeing them at the end of my walkway here at the new house. Technically, they belong to the new owners. Not any more.

I also took my garden hose. I'd been planning on leaving it for them, but . . . I changed my mind. As my friend BC has been known to say, "I bought it, I paid for it, it's mine."

Then I got into the barn. There were two old advertising umbrellas that I had forgotten about, but needed for the yard. There were some small things, a set of Donald Duck bowling pins, a children's book, that I decided not to leave behind. I filled a couple of the giant blocks with these, and loaded them into the car. I could only fit three of the blocks inside, they were so huge. So, two remain behind. I'll get them when I pick up the jailhouse.

Back home once again. I off-loaded everything, set the rocks out along the front sidewalk, made a run to the supermarket. It was such a nice day that my neighbors had pulled out their lawn furniture, and instead of working some more in the house I decided to do the same.

I made good on my promise to the wooden deer and fixed his antlers. Then I carried him around to the front of the house. The Panda Bear, The Turkeys, The Indian, The Concrete Dog and his Doghouse, the Gas-Cannister Pig, a large ornamental pot, the second concrete bird bath, the Boinger, trellises, the Chickens, a wooden Blue Jay, the Crocodile, all came out of the garage and took up places in their new home. The Indian needed his headdress remounted and the male turkey needed to have his head glued on, so I did that. I brought out the metal table and chairs and carried them up onto the deck. I had opened most of the downstairs windows, so the quats sat there watching me whenever I came around with something new.

By the time I got done with all of this I was so pooped that I wasn't good for much more than flopping onto the porch couch. I put my feet up on The Thurber Carnival. Patches, Honey and Pooky all came to join me.

Today hasn't been nearly so productive. I've been on edge, fussing with little things.

But there's still time.

-- Freder.

ADDENDUM: Accent on the DUM. I left out the best part of the story! As I was collapsed on the porch trying to gather up enough energy to, say, stand up, a couple of kids came walking down the street. They were probably between the ages of ten and twelve. As they passed my front yard, one of them jumped up onto the rocks and skipped from one to the other all the way to the end. I thought, "Yesss!!!" That's exactly what they're for! That's exactly what I used to do when I was their age! I'm glad I went to the trouble of carting them over to a place where they will see their proper use.

Also, I finished in the Halloween Room this afternoon. It looks great if I do say so myself. And I do. Now there's just  just the Studio and the Laundry Room remaining with piles of boxes. Oh, and the upstairs hall. Still, things are coming along.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ghosks is the Bunk

As this crazy work week drags to a close, I made the conscious decision that I wasn't going to stress out about anything today -- that's why I'm actually taking a lunch break to write about The Uninvited, which aired last night on TCM.

This was right up my alley for the month of April: an efficient little unpretentious chiller that has a couple of nice jolts, but also some gentle humor, and which is more character-driven than most. You have to like a movie where Alan Napier (Alfred from the Batman TV show) gets the girl at the end. OK, Ray Milland got the other girl, but Napier got the better deal.

It's easy to see why Milland isn't as well remembered today as some others of his period. He's clearly a major talent with a wide range of tools, including an easygoing sense of comfort in his own skin, but there's nothing iconic about him as there was about some of the other major male stars -- unless it's simply that he's an iconic average American guy.

His relationship with his sister in this movie is a little bit weird, but necessary structurally if you're going to have a female lead who's a spectator, not a participant in the haunting, and not a romantic interest for Milland (whose character is something of a cradle-robber in this picture).

I could be wrong, but I think The Uninvited is unique in that it's got a Good Ghost and a Bad Ghost trying to work their will, and there's some question about which is which. But I wish that real-life ghosts, who to my way of thinking are creatures of the mind and memory, could be dealt with as easily as Movie Ghosts: just solve a few problems for them, work out a riddle or two, then ridicule the Bad Ghost (Poo-Poo! Begone! We Don't Like You!") and suddenly everything is Hunky-Dory.

Modern viewers might cringe a bit to realize that the main human villain here (played as close to flamboyance as this picture goes by the squirm-inducing Cornelia Otis Skinner) is clearly a lesbian, and that this was how homosexuality was commonly treated at the time: as a lurking evil waiting to sink its claws into unsuspecting "normal" people.


As much fun as watching the picture was Robert Osborne's brief conversation at both ends with Chita Rivera, who was picking the movies last night. This was a little bit like watching the old Mike Douglas / Merv Griffin style of chat show that went the way of the Dodo many years ago. She wasn't promoting a movie or a book, just sitting down and sharing some memories surrounding her choices. She made some good choices, too, just wish they had changed the order in which they aired. I own a copy of Frankenstein, have seen it many times, and was planning on being in bed by the time it ended! Maybe I'll have to invest in one of those DVR thingummies. But I druther not. One more gadget.

-- Freder.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Have a Dream

This morning I remembered my dreams, for the first time in months. Better they should have stayed unremembered.

My mother kept on dying, over and over again, and I sobbed dream tears, tears like I haven't had in several months.

There was a jagged hole in the floor. I was afraid that the cats would fall through it, one by one. I covered it over with a heavy rug, but that didn't put down the fear and anxiety.

My mother and I were watching a movie in a theater. It was a fun, colorful picture, but then it turned ugly. This is how you can tell it was a dream: Anderson Cooper came out of a dark, twisted doorway and smiled, proclaiming that he was going to rape the heroine, who had already fallen down on a fire escape. Vague menacing figures spilled out from behind him and rushed the camera.

My mother grew visibly anxious and distressed. I said, "Do you want to leave?" and she nodded.

Instead of getting her into her wheelchair as in real life, I walked beside her towards the theater lobby at the painfully slow pace that was, in later years, the best that she could manage. Mayhem unfolded on the screen behind us. There was screaming, and it could not be blocked out.

I woke with a heavy head, and my whole body feeling as if it was weighted. I felt as if I was walking through a foot of mud.

I used to love remembering my dreams in the morning. They took me to fascinating places and sometimes inspired me. If this is what my dreams have become, I'm glad not to remember them anymore.

I went through my morning chores, not feeling anxious or depressed so much as just heavy and tired. It was Trash Day, and as I carried my two garbage bags down to the street I saw an older woman approaching along the sidewalk from below the house. It was obvious our paths would cross. This distressed me in a minor way. I hate being seen by strangers on my own land, and I dread chance encounters, because you never know how they will work out.

This woman was coming along at a clip. She was quite cheery. She greeted me, and said, "It's going to be a beautiful day!"

There was a cold wind and I wasn't convinced. She said, "There'd be something wrong with us if we complained on a day like this!"

I said, "You're right. Thank you." I set the bags down snd she passed behind me, and we both went about the rest of our day.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Biz

They've remade Arthur?


The original wasn't worth watching!

What was the original good for? A song. A chance to hear Sir John Gielgud swear like a sailor.

Honestly, Hollywood needs to get a clue.

This is nowhere near enough to hang a whole post on. Normally I would just chuck it into an email to my old friend BC. But Hollywood has become, if not a sore subject, at least a dead end between the two of us.

It doesn't matter if I write to him about a picture that I liked. It doesn't matter if I write to him about something that I didn't like. Hell fire, it doesn't even matter if we completely agree: the other night I wrote to tell him that I'd just metaphorically "walked out" on Spider-Man 3 because it was such a dreadful movie; in response, I got the same tirade that I always get from him these days when the subject of Hollywood comes up. Really, it amazes me that he has the patience to retype it so often.

The thing is, crap like remaking Arthur and True Grit and Mildred Pierce, crap like Hop and Sucker Punch and The Three Musketeers -- It doesn't just make it hard to argue a contrary position, it makes me not want to do so.

The movies get made, and people actually pay money to go see them. As long as that keeps on happening, it doesn't matter if people come away from the experience feeling cheated. What counts is the voting with money.

I don't believe that it's as fundamentally simple as BC appears to think. I believe that, in particular, young people are struggling with the culture that they've been given to live with. My last girlfriend, lo those many years ago, had a teenaged son and daughter. One afternoon the son had friends over and we all sat down to watch a movie.

It was Little Nicky, with Adam Sandler.

I'd never seen a Sandler picture before, so I was open to checking it out. The kids, all of them, told me "This movie is so funny! It's so funny! You've got to see this!"

Well, as the movie unfolded, it came as no surprise to me to discover that it wasn't funny at all -- rather, it was one of the dumber pieces of junk that I'd seen up to that point.

What surprised me was the reaction from the kids. They just sat there with blank looks on their faces.

I said to them, "I thought you liked this movie. I thought you said this was funny!"

All of of them nodded and affirmed, like True Believers, "Oh, it is, it is!"

I did not say it out loud, but I thought it: But, you aren't laughing. You're not giggling, chortling, snorting. You're not even cracking a grin or a faint Mona Lisa smile. You look as bored as I feel.

Shortly after that, I left the room. Better to spend time with C____ than to misguidedly attempt to "bond" over something as puerile as Little Nicky.

But now I think that they believed the movie was funny even though they weren't laughing. I think they believed it was funny because that's what they'd been told, and none of them had anything better to compare it with. I believe that those poor kids had never been exposed to real comedy, and so they took what they were given at face value.

I can only hope that some of them have been exposed to TCM by now. But I doubt it.

We're Americans: and so we are all very well trained to eat whatever shit we are served. So inevitably, the culture is doomed to suffer and endlessly spiral into -- not mediocrity, because we are already long past that point -- how can I put this politely?

Jacques Cousteau, "The Sea King," once said that he did not eat shellfish of any kind, "and you wouldn't either, if you knew what they ate."

So much of our culture is now made up of shellfish eating other shellfish eating other shellfish that it's sometimes hard to see a way back.

The difference between BC and myself is, I haven't given up on it. Still willing to view selectively, and rely on my instincts to steer me away from most of the junk.

Maybe it's because I've met so many people on Facebook and in life who are not willing to eat whatever shit they are fed, who do care about story and who love good movies and good books and can tell the good from the bad.

Maybe it's also because some projects still manage to get made that are worthy of being made. It doesn't happen so often as it used to, but it does happen. I wrote about Jean-Pierre Jeunet a couple of weeks back and think that he's a great example: all the more because he uses all the techniques, the modern and the primitive, including all of the CGI tools that are misused and abused by people with less talent: he shows us that the tools can be used for Good in the hands of an artist.

As long as there are people like that working in the industry, and thriving, I won't give up on the Dream Factory entirely. . . no matter if Peter Cook's Devil from the original Bedazzled often seems to be in charge.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rattle Them Bones

I like Halloween so much that I celebrate it twice a year -- sort of. The German holiday Walpugisnacht falls on the last night of April, and although it's celebrated differently, it contains similar themes. I'm aware that this isn't the authentic interpretation of the holiday, but for me it bookends both Halloween and the seasons. If Halloween represents the rise and unleashing of Evil (winter), then for me Walpurgis Night can serve as the time when when that evil is put down and fettered up again, at least for a time, until the cold winds start to blow down  our spines again. It's another sign of Spring that I look forward to every year.

So it's only appropriate that on my last two days off I've spent at least some of the time working in my Halloween Room. It's coming along nicely, getting quite Spooky -- and yet, to me at any rate, it's a cheerful, jolly, warm room. . . not gruesome at all.

Today I strung a wire through the width of the room, so that my large toy figure of the Japanese monster Rodan could appear to fly over the bed. It was useful for other hanging decorations as well, and really adds a lot. I kept a lot of vintage paper Halloween goods, and many of these went up on the walls, also on the Halloween Tree that sits atop one of the two dressers. I got a lot of the jumble cleared away, and the beginnings of a Halloween village on top of the other dresser. Got the bed largely cleared off of the stuff that I had strewn across it. Funny, but in this process I tend to use the beds as temporary work tables.

No pictures yet. There's still a way to go.

The process is actually a lot of fun, because I'm not just unpacking things and putting them in drawers or closets, but decorating and designing as I go. It gives me a real sense of accomplishment to see the difference after a few hours of work.

There are still multiple boxes and bags to unpack in there, but little by little it is coming together.

Next is the Studio, and I rather dread that. It's the biggest job of the three bedrooms upstairs, which is why I did the Playroom first, and now the more ambitious Halloween Room.

I haven't yet done any season-appropriate programming. I think I'm going to remedy that tonight!

Back to work tomorrow, into a week that's more fully-packed than normal. But seeing things steadily come together on these days off fills me with a sense of accomplishment that I haven't experienced very often in my life, especially in the last few years, when it seemed that everything was coming unglued at once, especially me.

It was grey and rainy all day, but this bothered me not at all. It took the snow away before my eyes. I stayed inside and worked. About the only thing that depressed me today was opening my credit card bill! It cost me nearly $2,000 to heat two houses during the month of February, and I bought the washer and dryer, and these things landed on my card like a two-ton weight! It's not over yet, either! I have to get the car inspected in the next couple of weeks.

Now, that's scary! You may hear me howling again yet.

-- Freder.
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