Winter Light on the Summer Solstice

It’s Movie Night in Central Kentucky. It’s summer with 132% humidity; just the night for a cold beer or Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light.

I have radically mixed feelings about the films of Ingmar Bergman. Some of the longest and most tedious decades of my life have been spent watching Persona and Fanny and Alexander and The Virgin Spring…and yes, The Seventh Seal. Some of the most interesting times have been spent watching Through a Glass Darkly, Smiles of a Summer Night, Summer With Monika…and yes again, The Seventh Seal (scratchin’ my head).

And then there’s Winter Light.

I love this film. I first saw it in the summer of 1969. It sank its claws in me and has never let go. I’ve watched the film about a half-dozen times since then.

It is small, intimate, exquisite, painful story-telling about the largest of issues. It would never make it in today’s United States of Donald Trump, AK-14’s (or 47’s, or whatever), anti-maskers, or ark parks.

It whispers – it doesn’t shout. It agonizes – it doesn’t sneer. It lingers and ponders – it’s not a sound bite or a tweet. It thinks for itself – it doesn’t meme (is that even a verb?). It’s not reality TV – it’s reality. No need to fake it for the judges or a hidden camera or the voters at home – just tell the story in the unforgiving glare of truth.

I’m reminded of Carl Theodore Dreyer’s captivating film; Joan of Arc, which tells its story as a ballet of faces. You cannot look away.

Winter Light takes it further. Bergman uses his faces in excruciatingly long shots – but his characters also speak – directly and with no hesitation. Neither faces nor their voices blink. There is no escape from their story; not for you as the viewer, and certainly not for Gunnar Bjornstrand, the faith-challenged priest of the story or Max Von Sydow the faith-bereft farmer he attempts to counsel.

Faith is hard. It’s available to everyone, but not granted to everyone. It has value. It will save/redeem/inspire…but not everyone.

Mr. Bjornstrand’s performance is wondrous to me. I totally believe Bjornstrand’s discomfort with his cold/flu. I believe his discomfort comforting his parishioners. I believe his weariness and desperation. I believe his slipping belief. I believe his desire to believe. I watch the film waiting for his epiphany like a boy raised in a Southern Baptist Sunday School should. I wait for Godot as a child of the sixties should.

This is great storytelling and nothing gets blown up and there are no super-powers…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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 (QoD) 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 QoD 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 goddam 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.

This I Don’t Believe

I recall a public radio series; “This I Believe.”

I liked the series. It was a variety of individuals relating the motivating impulses in their lives and why they were important to the individual. The audio essays were usually moving, and usually nudged this listener towards a better business plan for the next day.

Unfortunately, in these days, I find myself bombarded with messages I don’t believe. I suppose these messages have been there my whole life, but I’m finding myself less amenable to their content.

For example;

  • I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin, the Tooth Fairy, the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, or snipe.
  • I don’t believe Caspar Guttman ever obtained the real Maltese Falcon and I don’t believe any cowboy was ever injured by a bullet-depleted pistol hurled backwards from a galloping horse.
  • I don’t believe the Fountain of Youth ever existed, nor do I believe Miracle Spring Water is effective for anything other than streaming a current of cash to some preacher’s pocket.
  • I don’t believe in “The Give Back Benefit.”

There are a large number of other dubious concepts in my purview, but those are not so clearly clear to this purview-er that I would want to raise the issue and lower the curtain on acquaintances I would otherwise admire.

Because this I do believe.

I believe it is a challenge and an opportunity to arise every day……but we’re never sure which.

It’s both.

I believe we know so little about the struggles and joys of the people we encounter each day, it’s unfair to assume we know more.

We don’t.

Look for the opportunities.

Face the challenges.

Help with the struggles.

Embrace the joys.

Give with no expectation of a “Give Back Benefit.”

The giving is the benefit.

This I believe.

Jes’ Spitballin’

So…

…major league baseball has announced that beginning June 21 they will be enforcing the rule against pitchers applying foreign substances to the baseball.

Beginning?

This rule has been around for decades.

I drove to Louisville last week for the first time in about six months. I drove a modest 10mph above the posted speed limit and ducked as dozens of other drivers blew by.

The IRS has been so denuded of personnel and resources that they rarely pursue complicated tax returns. “Pursue” is a euphemism for “audit”, and “complicated” is a euphemism for “lucrative.” “Collecting taxes” is a euphemism for “go ahead and drive over that bridge – it’s fine.”

We’re told that there are enough gun laws already in existence, but they’re not enforced. Meanwhile, minimum wage grocery store cashiers are being popped for asking customers who chose to honor the shop with their trade are miffed for being asked to wear a mask. I remember times when I pissed customers off for not letting them wear Halloween masks while shopping in our liquor store. Go figure.

But this is about baseball.

The foreign substance that sparked the now-to-be-enforced rule was spit. Pitchers were spitting (whatever might currently reside in their mouths) onto the ball about to be launched. In theory, it made the ball slippery and unpredictable in its trajectory. Predictably, a bunch of hitters were beaned. Baseball deemed this a dangerous situation and banned the substances…in theory.

Now the rule is being shanghai-ed to alleviate a completely different complaint.

Spin rate.

Never heard of it?

Wanna take a guess?

No, it’s not a measurable when considering for whom you should vote. And no, it’s not referring to the setting on your washer/dryer. Spin rate is how fast a pitched ball rotates on its journey to the strike zone. A faster spin rate creates sharper curves and shorter time periods in which batters can question their career choices. Spin rates have increased lately and batting averages, and game attendance have plummeted.

Spider-tack (spelling here is a wild guess).

Spider-tack has replaced spit, resin, and Prince Albert in a can as the magic elixir du jour. A spot of spider-tack on the hat, glove, belt, or private parts, that can be transferred dexterously to the dexters of the pitching hand seems to magically transform waiver-wire hurlers into Cy Youngs, and permanently consign hitters to a dungeon well below the Mendoza line.

<<<<  sigh  >>>>

I dunno.

In a world where;

  • Presidents don’t pay taxes.
  • People refuse to protect themselves from disease.
  • Ubiquitous firearms have replaced loud voices and fists.
  • Obscene student loan debts have reduced the best and brightest to indentured servitude.
  • Voting is being made harder.
  • Lying is being made easier.

Maybe…just maybe…there are more important rules to fret about.

Pitchers, quit cheating…or don’t. It’s just a game. You know the right thing to do.

Batters, pull up your big boy pants and get better…or don’t. It’s just a game. You know the right thing to do.

The rest of us, pay attention! This is not a game, nor is it a reality show, nor is it a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon. If your democracy dies, it won’t come back to life. It’s dead.

It’s dead.

You know the right thing to do.

Quit cheating, get better, pay attention…don’t wait for someone to ask to examine your hat.

Do the next right thing.

A Great Blessing

There was so much right on so many levels tonight at the Opera House in Lexington.

Literally…

  • Every level of seating in the Opera House seemed to be populated fully as far as I could see.
  • The orchestra level was raised to stage level, effectively social-distancing the audience from the musicians and singers.

And figuratively…

  • The tickets were cyber-tix. I bought my tickets on-line, they were delivered on-line, and they were executed on-line. I had to show the bar code on my phone and the ticket-taker scanned my bar code and let me proceed. I fretted in anticipation when I learned of this arrangement. I envisioned a major patron jam of geezers fiddling fruitlessly with our phones while the orchestra initiated their warning warm-ups. I envisioned the major geezer obstacle being me, patron saint of the clumsy thumbs. Thankfully, Janie (Our Lady of Fer-Gods-Sake-Get-a-Hold-of-Yerself) schooled me this afternoon and I was prepared. Wonder of wonders, so was everyone else! Folks were admitted and seated with their self-respect intact, and the show started on time.
  • Dr. Everett McCorvey walked out on stage with Dr. Sandy Archer (president of OperaLex). Applause, relief, and release filled the venue. Everyone breathed…maybe for the first time in over a year. Dr. McCorvey’s organic ebullience on the stage was roared back at him at the same level by a Lexington audience in their historic performing venue; a venue that had “…been through some good times, been through some bad times, but my dear, I’m still here.” –Stephen Sondheim.

The show itself was lovely.

  • I confess I wept during the opening number; “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” But frankly, I would have wept if they had sang the phone book (remember those?). Hearing these powerful young voices singing live on stage…… It was a religious moment.
  • Seeing and hearing the growth of Houston Tyrrell and Jessica Bayne…a joy.
  • “Why We Build the Wall”, from HADESTOWN was, as it always has been for me, a breath-suspending experience. Nathaniel E. Thompson should be congratulated for attempting this signature moment and thanked for nailing it. Then, of course, the rest of us must go home a think about it…a lot.
  • Michael Preacely…”The Impossible Dream.” Encouraging, instructive, powerful, and melodic. This was great blessing.

Michael had the line that summed up the whole evening for me;

“The world will be better for this.”

I know I was.