Steinbeck and Screens

When people I meet learn;

  • That at my mom’s urging, I was reading before I started school;
  • My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library;
  • I’ve collected books since I was fifteen;
  • With Janie’s permission, a loan from a friend, a thoughtful and caring set of plans from another friend, and a year of formidable building skills from yet another friend, I built a library. I built a library…pht-t-t-t. I wrote checks, said “GO,” kept out of the way, and admired the work of my friends – that’s what I did;

They get the point that books are uber-important to me.

Occasionally, I will then get the question; “What’s your favorite book?”steinbeck and screens-cannery row

Often I will cheat on the answer; “Today, my favorite book is actually two books by John Steinbeck; CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY.” It’s not really cheating. The two books tell one story about Steinbeck’s friend, Doc Ricketts. The books have all the basic food groups; Monterey, homeless men living a mostly gleeful life in abandoned corrugated tubes, a whorehouse, a frog hunt, a seer who inspires sunsets instead of the other way around, a Chinese storekeeper who cheats at chess, beer milk shakes, octopi, and Suzy driving a stick shift.

It also has a classic Steinbeck line that, to me, goes far to explain the current toxicity of our political life.

“Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him…”

steinbeck and screens-sweet thursdayI wonder if our current addiction to screens and our hunger and demand for complete access to all things at all times for no sacrifice of effort and treasure, is simply a path to distraction…and perhaps eventual destruction. We distract ourselves constantly to keep from acknowledging our debt to our species and other species for that matter. We substitute knowing things quickly for knowing things well…and then we do the same for the people we meet.

I’m gonna do better…

…and perhaps slower.

I’m certainly gonna vote…

…and I’m gonna vote in a way that pays at least a little of that debt I owe to all species.

Now, if tomorrow I’m asked about my favorite book, my answer might be THE STORY OF DR. DOLITTLE by Hugh Lofting.

I can’t explain it.

It’s the way I roll.

An Imperial Visitor

A hawk came to our house today.

Imperial-Hawk

We’ve been in our house for 30+ years. We’ve tried to encourage most critters that drift in and we’ve deliberately brought others into our outdoor space. Our dogs and cats have thrived. Our fish teem and our frogs sing. We’ve been briefly visited by raccoons, opossums, owls, and herons. An ancient and wavering coyote was once cornered by the authorities under our hollies. The hedge of trumpet vine under which we live has become a condo for about a dozen tiny chittering birds that are a source of endless entertainment for our cat. Of course we have the usual horde of squirrels who screech their disapproval of every move the dog makes…critics! We have a plethora of rabbits and an occasional terrifying, but non-lethal serpent.

Our little space has become a lively, noisy little jungle. I believe Henri Rousseau would smile upon our efforts.

But today…

…today…

…it was a hawk.

Janie was heading to her yoga session. There was a wo-o-osh of wings. She stopped; “I think we just had a hawk in our garden!”

It was gone and so was she. I grabbed another cup of coffee (priorities, priorities) and headed for the library.

The windows in the library overlook a small brick-lined pool with a birdbath fountain. I can stand in those windows and watch the frogs and fish and fountain, all of which are less than ten feet away.

I fired up the desktop and got the music ready for a’shufflin’ (priorities, priorities).

I stepped up to the window with my cuppa and there he was (fergit the priorities).

“The stuff that dreams are made of…”

More like nightmares…feathered and beaked nightmares.

Imperial-WaterstonImperial-AnkrumSquatting in the fountain, wings drooping happily over the edges of the basin, water bubbling up beneath his regal bird butt, his cruel Sam Waterston/Morris Ankrum countenance darting challenges to the world.

He flapped and flung water, enjoying his morning ablutions.

Our garden went silent.

Teeming and singing ceased. The frogs and the fish discreetly and immediately plunged to bottom of the pool. The chittering condo birds chittered not. The squirrels kept their vulgar opinions to themselves. Dogs on the street stopped barking. Trump stopped tweeting. Sirens and cars all instantly became hybrid vehicles and made no sounds.

I held my breath.

Death was bathing…

…and like the gods of Lovecraft, nothing good for any living creature would come from attracting his attention.

This stricken silence went on for about ten minutes.

It was thrilling.

It was magnificent.

It was kinda scary.

I understood a little better the silence of Republicans in the presence of Trump.

The hawk, in his own sweet time, flew to the garden gate, flapped and flung water to dry. He then cocked his head and flung a dismissive Charles Edward Pogue sneer to the silent garden.

He flew away, taking the silence with him.

I breathed again.

I looked down at the cat.

She sauntered away, wide-eyed, her tail huge, murmuring; “…goddam neighborhood’s goin’ to hell…”

Here Comes the Bride

Sometime after my twenties, it occurred to me that I didn’t have all the answers to everything. It was another ten years before I realized I actually didn’t have the answer to much at all. Still don’t.

However, I did and do retain the notion that those answers are still out there for me to find.

Except…

There are issues and questions I suspect we’ll never answer fully nor resolve to the non-MAGA world’s satisfaction.

Following the guidance of that profound philosopher W. S. Gilbert, I’ve made a little list;

  • What is the exact value of Pi?
  • Ginger or Mary Anne?
  • Pluto – planet or errant rock?
  • To be or not to be?
  • Designated hitter – yea or nay?
  • Elsa Lanchester’s make-up in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – is it more outré as the Bride or as Mary Shelley?

I am an unabashed fan of Ms. Lanchester; especially in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I have previously extolled the screaming talents of Fay Wray in KING KONG and DOCTOR X. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Lanchester’s hissing in THE BRIDE. It’s an audible lightning stroke from her amazing hair-do through her imperious eyes to her voice and snarl that lances the horny monster’s heart. I cannot fathom how Boris Karloff could even continue with the show after that blow.

But Ms. Lanchester was more than a movie monster-ess.

Before her movie career, she was a cabaret performer. I have recordings.

To hear her saucily warble about “Fiji Fanny”, or the potential adventures “At the Drive In,” or to widen your eyes to the double entendres of “My New York Slip” and “I’m Glad to See Your Back” is…shall we say in that Old English way; monsterful.

She gives cheeky invitations; “If You Peek in My Gazebo” and “When a Lady Has a Piazza.” But be aware of her advice; “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin.”

Yes, Ms. Lanchester implies she is imminently osculable, but her Cockney kiss may be followed by her knock-you-to-your-knees hiss.

A Tale of Two Cicadas

Apologies to Charles Dickens.

It was the blessed of climes until that burst of chimes…

…cicadas.

The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are humming!

We heard about it all winter, but faced with the tsunami of plagues filling our 2021 calendars (covid, anti-vaxxers, wildfires, floods, sonic assaults from Havana and Mar-a-Lago, the inexplicable inability of the Reds to hit left-handed pitching, and Hannity), strident sibilation from a bug seemed a low priority on the fret list.

And for the most part it was no big deal. Oh, there were a few stretches of scratchy serenades, wound-tight whiny choirs, and one full-blown hella-to-ya chorus I remember, but mostly the cicadian rhythms became just one more orchestra section for my backyard summer symphony.

Recently I found a solitary simulacrum on the back of our garage. It clung like an abandoned jewel, light brown-gold on the Keeneland-green wall. It reminded me of one of my favorite writers; Lafcadio Hearn. Being retired and free to change my daily agenda to meet just about any passing whim, I moseyed to our library and burrowed into the Hearn pile.

Mr. Hearn lived a meandering life in the second half of the 19th century. He lived and wrote in Greece, France, England, New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Martinique, and Japan. He translated French writers for the New Orleans newspaper, reported crime for the Cincinnati paper, wrote travel articles for national periodicals, owned a bar in New Orleans, and lived his final years translating Japanese fairy tales and lecturing English literature in the Imperial University of Tokyo, Japan.

I find his writing to be challenging and pleasant. He writes with such intelligence about places and times of which I am utterly ignorant, but his prose makes him a precious guide.

In his SHADOWINGS (Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1901), Hearn has a section designated “Japanese Studies.” One of the three parts of the section is entitled “Sémi.” Hearn tells us “sémi” is the Japanese word for “cicada.” Much of the article explores various Japanese attitudes towards cicadas as reflected by haiku.

Hearn notes; “Often a sémi may be found in the act of singing beside its cast-off skin.”

Waré to waga

Kara ya tomurð –

Sémi no koë

(Methinks that sémi sits and sings by his former body, — chanting the funeral service over his dead self.)

That’s one opinion. That’s one cicada.

Here’s another view.

Yo no naka yo

Kaëru no hadaka,

Sémi no kinu!

(Naked as frogs and weak we enter this life of trouble; shedding our pomps we pass: so sémi quit their skins.)

Which cicada might each of us be; the one who chants over our dead selves, our past selves, the old days, the glories past? Or the cicada that sings; “Thank you!” to and then leaves behind those past experiences and goes on to fly.

Which cicada might each of us be?

Which cicada might our country be?

I think I’m ready to quit those skins.

Like William Shatner, I think I’d still like to try flying.

That’s worth singing loud about.

Purging Fire Cures All

Movie night!

HORROR CASTLE aka THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1963) is tonight’s cinematic delight. It features the ubiquitous Christopher Lee and the constantly-backlit-in-her-negligee Rossana Podesta (even when the only source of light is the candlestick she holds in front of herself – I’m not complaining, you understand – but it defies the laws of physics).

Chris Lee is menacing and ruthless and dubbed in English for some unfathomable reason.

Ms. Podesta is best known for her work in various sword and sandal epics, especially HELEN OF TROY in which she allegedly beat out Elizabeth Taylor for the titular role.

I’m expecting this epic will end in a purging European fire as most of these giallos do. These euro-trash classics seem to feature Prometheus as their go-to deux in virtually every machina.

Sho ’nuff. It all goes up in flames and Mr. Lee bites the dust as usual. However, Ms. Podesta survives, perfectly coiffed, and ready for the next dim staircase.

I loved it.

Feel So Near

Dougie MacLean tells of an island in Scotland; small, barren, isolated to the lack-o-mercies of the winds.

<<< You’ll find me sitting at this table with my friend Finn and my friend John…we may take a glass together. The whisky makes it all so clear. I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

Janie and I live in a green bubble, mostly sheltered from crashings and howlings, yet the song resonates.

I farm a lot these days.

That’s a joke that only Janie and I know.

Sorry.

I dead-head and seasonally prune roses. I think it helps.

I whack and wreak violence on the trumpet vine. I think it helps.

I water the petunias, begonias, bougainvillea, impatiens, and coleus. I know that helps.

I kneel and crawl and claw at pyramid-scheme grasses that try to drain the resource bank accounts of Janie’s day-lilies.

I croon encouragement to the robust efforts of the cleome, sedum, shiso, and bronze fennel gifted to me by Becky Johnson. I keenly feel that responsibility.

I harvest and return the errant game balls of various sizes that have evaded the best efforts of the six-year-old that lives behind us. Sometimes I launch a sphere towards the youngster’s goal. Calipari has not yet called.

Yes, I farm, but far from diligently.

What I do diligently is take plentiful breaks. The kitten (a sworn but un-diligent killer of critters that stumble into her maw) and I sit, still and attentive.

Cardinals scold. Frogs croak, bark, and squeak. Sirens wail. Cicadas ratchet. Hummers whir-r-r. Copters whirl.

We feel so near…

<<< The old man looks out to the island. He says this place is endless here. There’s no real distance here to mention… There’s no distance to the spirits of the living – no distance to spirits of the dead.

I feel so near to the howling of the wind – feel so near to the crashing of the waves – feel so near to the flowers in the field – feel so near. >>>

I feel so near.

Sh-h-h-h-h.

Sometimes It’s Jes’ Real Good

I enjoy Twitter and I generally find it more useful than not. Two sites I find consistently entertaining are those of Miss Punnypenny and Rex Chapman. Miss Punnypenny gives me my Scots word of the day and besides, I have a thing for redheads (ask Janie). Rex Chapman is Rex Chapman of the UK Wildcats…and he really likes and understands dogs.

Mr. Chapman recently posted a street cam video of a fellow faking an accident of a car striking him. It reminded me…

One day in my work life with Liquor Barn I received a notice from our insurance company that an action had been initiated by a customer who claimed that he had been assaulted by one of our cashiers with a shopping cart, knocked to the floor, and presumably damaged for life.

I looked at the date of the alleged occurrence. To no surprise, it was exactly 51 weeks before the filing of the complaint. There is a one-year window for such complaints. Many are filed just prior to the deadline. Funny how that is…

I pulled and reviewed the video for the alleged date, noting that this was gonna be hours of my life I was never gonna get back. I found the incident. The video clearly showed the customer being refused for attempting to purchase alcohol for the clearly under-aged companion, clearly standing off to the side of the transaction. When the cashier turned their back to remove the controversial merchandise from snatch-and-grab range, the customer clearly reached out and snatched a nearby shopping cart instead, and proceeded to kneel and then roll on the floor in distress. His young friend leapt to his assistance and they skipped out the door arguing with each other.

I smirked (a verb of which I am not proud) and filed the tape away with others on my that’s-the-last-I’ll-hear-of-this shelf.

I was wrong.

Within the hour, I received a phone call. It was from the complainant.

Caller; “This is John Diver.” (Names have been changed to protect the despicable).

Me; “Yes, Mr. Diver. What can I do for you?”

“Do you know who I am?”

“I do.”

“I’m suing you for damages.”

“I know.”

“What’re you gonna do about it?”

“…Nuthin’…”

“Don’t you wanna stay outta court?”

“I do.”

“Well, that’s where we’re goin’.”

“Okay.”

Here, there was a long, thoughtful pause. Then, he continued.

“You got video in that store?”

“Mr. Diver, I don’t have to answer your questions. Whether I have video or not will be established in the court in which you seem so anxious to be. When we are in that court, I’ll have to answer your questions and I think I can promise you a level of public embarrassment and perhaps, legal liability that Ripley wouldn’t believe. Until then…”

I never heard from Mr. Diver again.

  • Call their bluff.
  • Shine lights on their lies.
  • Shame their families.
  • Don’t imitate their mistakes.
  • If, in the past you have imitated their mistakes, resign and let someone unpolluted fix things.

Otherwise, as Miss Punnypennie might say, “Wheesht.”

Beauty is in the Eye…

I s’poz I should reassure my friends and declare myself safe from the hurricane.

Chloe my pup, AKA the Queen of Debris, and I have just returned from our afternoon ramble, this time through the eye of what’s left of Hurricane Ida.

I noticed on the weather radar that Lexington was currently nestled in a spot clear of rain. We hastened to don our journeying attire (no, no pith helmets…sigh) and bravely went forth where no man has gone before…at least in the last fifteen minutes or so.

The wind roared along at a brisk zephyr-ish clip as we left the house, passing the fish pond.

We scrambled the frog army from their lily pad perches where they’ve been partying like it was the deluge. They abandoned their “Bud-wei-serrr” keg temporarily, but we turned a blind eye in the nostalgic hope that Louie might crash the gala when it reassembled.

We negotiated (le mot juste) a path that allowed the Queen of Debris to venture near, but not in the excavations of home improvement projects in our neighborhood. Janie would not be pleased if I returned with a muddier pooch than that with which I set out.

It was a short walk, but we managed to cross various streets five times within a couple of blocks…always satisfying. Street crossing is especially important to this hound’o’mine. On a cellular level, she believes that both sides of every street are hers…at the same time. She believes she can have momentum, and be mired and admired in the present moment…all at the same time! She believes if she were Schrödinger’s Dog, she would be alive and dead, within or without the box…at the same damn time!!

Whaddyadoo with a critter like that?

You get out of her way, but keep a tight hold on her leash.

And you walk her in the eye of a hurricane.

Two-Fisted Noir…Japanese Style

<< Trains? Waterfront docks at night? Rain-slick shiny pavements under halo-sporting street lights? >>

Well sure.

Director Koreyoshi Kurahara’s 1957 criminous flick, I AM WAITING is on the menu tonight.

<< Black and white? Sweat-spraying boxing matches? Crinkly blue international postal envelopes? Cigarettes disdainfully lit by wooden matches which are then disdainfully flung into the sea? >>

Most certainly.

Yojiro Ishihara plays Joji, a promising young welterweight who’s been banned from boxing and now runs a diner while awaiting a summons from his brother to come to Brazil and be a farmer…a summons that never comes.

Guess you can kiss that dream goodbye.

Joji is boyish and kind, with fierce loyalty and a fiercer uppercut.

<< Bars? Pool halls (with billiards, no less)? Dice games? The most inept gunsel since Elijah Cook Jr. in THE MALTESE FALCON? >>

Why not?

Saeko (Mie Kitahara) is an opera singer whose voice has been damaged by illness and now can only sing in cabarets for gangsters.

Guess you can kiss that dream goodbye.

Saeko ponders suicide, but can be dissuaded with a warm bowl of soup.

<< Trench coats? Shoulder pads? Drunken, disgraced doctor? >>

Yes, yes, and yes.

The soundtrack of the film is clever and effective. A lugubrious shot of two feet walking in the dark is accompanied by a slow tuneful whistling by the walker. A tense moment in the diner is backed by a cheap radio on the bar playing Rossini.

Some of the shots are just as imaginative. The first sea change in Joji and Saeko’s relationship is a night scene between two completely black silhouettes against the water…two unhopeful but hoping clean slates trying to find each other. The same two searchers later challenge each other on long quayside concrete slants of separating levels. Will they ever connect?

<< Sleazy gangsters? Sleepy detectives Short-order cook who was a former ocean liner chef? >>

All the basic ingredients.

This was a tasty dish.

If You Build It…

Well, I have pretty well wasted the weekend.

My beloved Reds are getting well and playing well…and they’re damn fun to watch.

Watch I did, every inning against the woeful Pirates for four games – all won by the Reds. The weekend closes with Cincinnati trailing the despicable Milwaukee Brewers by a mere five games. Can the World Series be far behind?

But it’s not just the winning.

The team boasts three young players who are legitimate contenders for Rookie-of-the-Year, two current all-stars and one former, a shortstop/catcher (whatta combination) having a career year, and a for real starting pitcher rotation. And they’re ten games over .500.

But it’s not just the winning.

There is joy in Mudville.

They smile, they dance (poorly, but…), they ride motor bikes, and they play hard.

Today they honored the memory of Joe Morgan, perhaps the greatest second-baseman of all-time. His daughters were in attendance. His plaque from the Hall-of-Fame was there. People had their picture taken with the plaque. Bob Costa was there. Stories were told. Tears were shed. For a few minutes national stupidity and incivility evaporated.

There was joy in Mudville.

Baseball does that.

“It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

A wide-eyed James Earle Jones says that in the film; FIELD OF DREAMS.

I watched the MLB Network’s 25th anniversary special on the making of FIELD OF DREAMS this evening (wasting the weekend, remember?). It featured Bob Costa interviewing Kevin Costner and Timothy Busfield on the corn-ensconced baseball field in Iowa.

“It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

I’m gonna get me one of those MAGA baseball hats, but it’s gonna stand for Make America GOOD Again.

Good to know.

Good to stand next to.

Good to live next to.

Good to each other.

Jes’ good.

We know how.

For this geezer, baseball immersion helps a bit;

  1. It’s a team game, but individuals are held responsible for individual actions.
  2. You may win today or you may lose today, but you still have to play tomorrow.
  3. Failure means you have to let someone else swing, pitch, run, or catch…but you still have to play tomorrow.
  4. It’s a game. Find the bliss in each play. Remember, you GET to play tomorrow.

PS. If I may recommend a couple of books that will NOT change your life, but might help you happily waste a weekend or two.

W. P. Kinsella wrote SHOELESS JOE, the book on which FIELD OF DREAMS is based. He also wrote THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY, which I like even more.

Troy Soos has written a series of baseball mysteries set in the years after World War I. I’m enjoying them.

Now, who might these Rampaging Reds be playing tomorrow?

Army Times

I’m building an army.

It was not my intention, but I confess I am intrigued by the non-military exercise.

Janie and I have a small, decorative pond. It’s about 20 years old now and a well-established eco-system. It’s lagoon-like; deep and darkish, surrounded by holly and bougainvillea and petunias and begonias. It has a sedate fountain that doubles as a bird bath that has hosted robins, cardinals, squirrels, hawks, finches, various black birds, and one befuddled heron. The lagoon has been home for 20-40 fish who perform their languid song and dance routine to the endless fascination of Sprite the Cat.

…and frogs…

We always have an adult frog or two serenading us with their croaks and groans and barks. We usually have several tadpoles that grow into small, giddy little froglets during each summer who squeak and scramble at our approach. Rainstorms come and go and so do the frogs. Residents drift away, transients from elsewhere appear. The population numbers vary. Redistricting is a challenge.

But this year…

A few weeks ago, I came home to find the pond slimed as thoroughly as a Ghostbuster. Thick, translucent slime covered the surface of the water and the moisture pooled on many of the lily pads. The lily pads were peppered with thousands of black dots. Over the next few days, the black dots became black dashes. The dashes began to wriggle and dart, and upon close examination, tiny tails could be seen emerging. The slime dwindled, the dashes disappeared.

This week, I was sitting by the pond, enjoying a serene respite from this season’s rains. I noticed the drops sporadically breaking the water’s surface. We’ve had so much rain this summer it took a moment for me to register the drops were not drops at all. The breaks in the surface were coming from below. Those dark dashes have now become miniscule (1/4 inch), chubby tadpoles. There are hundreds of them.

Thus, the current frog population of our dark lagoon is two croaking adults, six squeaking juveniles, and over a hundred pinging hatchlings.

An army.

I’m not sure what to do next.

  1. Should I notify Sam Elliott he may be needed?
  2. Should I contact the local restaurants to give them a chance to adjust their fall menus?

Janie wants to name them all.

The Phantom of Soho

No it’s not Ibsen, or Shakespeare, or Tarentino…or even Gaston Leroux.

It’s Edgar Wallace.

No it’s not The Phantom of the Opera, it’s The Phantom of Soho.

No it’s not set on the Parisian opera stage and its fantastic (and damp) underworld. It’s set in the smoky, underworld night club; Sansibar (doesn’t even get an exotic “Z”), where the dancers are scantily-clad when clad at all…and can be had by all for reasonable remuneration.

The music is not grand opera, it’s wheezy, sleazy jazz.

Footlights? Fergit it. It’s neon or nuthin’ in this flick.

Edgar Wallace, for a significant part of the 20th century, had more books in print than any other author in the English language. His books were popular staples in every outpost library of the British Colonial Empire. He wrote crime novels, jungle novels, and a little epic; KING KONG.

But on this movie night, we’re prowling in our trench coat through the swirling fog of Soho. We’re shrugging away the blandishments of the entrepreneur-esses on the street corners and in the shadowy doorways. We’re carefully avoiding the blackmailing ship’s captain who resembles Popeye’s good buddy, Bluto. We’re dodging knives and politely passing on the proffered poison capsules. We have a rendezvous with a surprise twist that we saw coming in the first fifteen minutes of the film.

It can’t get much better than this.