Monthly Archives: June 2020

Wrong for 99 Years!

Movie Night!

In my teens and twenties, I rarely saw any footage of silent pictures and when I did it was painful to watch. The flickering, herky-jerky movement of the film made me physically flinch and filled me with pity for my grandparents who would have had to watch these abominations. Because of those flickering images, I doubt if I ever watched more than two minutes of any silent film until I was in my fifties. How was I to know that what I was seeing was not correct?

I owe Turner Classic Movies for so much. Maybe the greatest debt is for giving me silent films at the correct speed.

I watched The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a 1921 epic (no sarcasm here – epic is accurate) directed by Rex Ingram and starring Rudolf Valentino and featuring the father of Gilligan’s Skipper Alan Hale in a major role. Yes, it’s necessary to wade through some acting styles that are not of our time (hoo boy!), but this is a powerful and well-told story of the horror and ultimate folly of war. I wonder if the final scene of Saving Private Ryan wasn’t inspired by the final scene in Four Horsemen.

Thank you again TCM.

Creepy Times

We’re living in creepy times.

There’s the in-yer-face daily creepiness covered by breathless reporters on CNN/FOX/MSNBC/OAN/EEYI-EEYI-OH and promulgated with ghoulish delight by Mr. Trump and his how-many-fingers-am-I-holding-up swarm.

  • Life-stealing creepiness like 120,000 US citizens dead from a worldwide plague while we fret over bits of cloth — flags and masks.
  • We fret about whether professional baseball should play 60 games this year or 75, while black parents and spouses worry about whether their loved ones can even make it home alive this evening. I think that qualifies as pretty creepy.
  • We are titillated by the daily televised travails masters of hard-eyed greed like Manafort, Stone, Cohen, and Flynn, while nuclear-equipped hard-eyes like Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Erdogan, and Xi chat with our president regularly and off-the-record about who knows what. How creepy of us and them.

But enough of all that mundane, casual life-sucking, je ne sais yuck.

Let’s talk real creepy.

Like…

…how Facebook and Amazon and Google seem to know what we’re thinking, almost before we do.

I wrote a blog about my battle with beetles on our roses and the next day an organic bug spray was offered to me by Amazon. The beetles were creepy enough, thank you very much.

I watched a Roger Corman/Vincent Price flick; The House of Usher. It was my disc, copied from a VCR tape of a local late-night TV showing (commercials intact) from the 80’s. Facebook flashed a sponsored ad for a Lego Castle-Building set. I adore Lego, but my skin crawled.

Last week, Janie and I were working in the yard (our lilies are spectacular this year BTW) and we commented that the bushes had exceeded our capacity to keep up and several trees had pruning needs that were above our pay grade. That evening, a gypsy landscaper dragging his tools behind him knocked on our door. What are the odds? Two hours later, our urban farming needs were met…and at a reasonable tariff. I’m convinced that Google was somehow eerily involved.

And now, just when I was thinking there’d be no vacation for the Leasors this year and how much I might be missing an ocean (I have long believed that my beloved Lexington was pretty much heaven on Earth but for the lack of an ocean and a major league baseball team) when Turner Classic Movies read my mind.

Presto!

The next thing I know I’m watching Annette and Frankie in a yellow jalopy convertible toolin’ down a Pacific-bound highway singin’ “Beach Party Tonight” in several unrelated keys, three chords, lotsa breath, and devoid of harmony. Annette’s hair helmet and Frankie’s skinny arms are impervious to the breeze of the convertible and the demands of the curvaceous road. Soon I’m thrilled by Frankie and Deadhead and the boys challenging the fearsome one-and-a-half-foot waves on their surfboards, Annette and the girls bouncing from beach blanket to beach blanket in their hair helmets and Mouseketeer-approved one-piece swim suits (which have clearly never known dampness), and the wearisome wonder of Candy Johnson gyrating in her fringed swim suit (which has clearly never known…) to the sterile rockin’ sounds of Dick Dale and his Del-Tones.

I, of course, have all his albums.

There it is! There’s the missing ocean vacation, courtesy of TCM.

It’s an all-night bikini binge of beach movies from 50 years ago.

I can lose myself for a night to Deborah Walley, Tommy Kirk, surfboards, Annette, Harvey Lembeck, skateboards, Connie Stevens, Troy Donahue, ersatz mermaids, Frankie, Morey Amsterdam, chimpanzees, Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale, feeble motorcycle gangs, Annette, Yvette Vickers, and Sharon Tate.

How. Did. TCM. Know?

Creepy.

But it was great…

…just what I needed…

…for about fifteen minutes.

Then, insidiously, a notion crept into my head.

What if Mr. Trump had been around this frolicsome group?

  • Surfing?
  • Dancing in the sand? To Dick Dale and his Del-Tones?? With Candy???
  • Leading a motorcycle gang?
  • Getting his hair wet?

Grim…and yes, creepy.

Suddenly, the bloom was off that rose.

I drifted off to sleep, pondering what a beach flick made by Ingmar Bergman might have been like; Summer With Santa Monika, Smiles of a Summer Surf…The Virgin Summer……

The Busy Bee Club

I like children.

My first job was as a clerk in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library. For three years or so, I shelved, catalogued, read, recommended, and checked-out books by Seuss, Blyton, Kendall, Lofting, and multitudinous others.

I also listened to books…long before audio books were popular.

We would have clubs to spur reading in the kids. I remember the “Busy Bee Club.” Kids would receive credit for every book they read. The credits would translate into little paper bees bearing the child’s name, which would then be placed on a large poster of a bee hive for all the world to see. Of course, the claim of readership would have to be verified to earn their bee.

That’s where I came in. I would sit and quiz the child about each book.

“Tell me about Oobleck.”

“What is this picture of a two-headed animal?”

“Who is Muggles?”

“What would you do if you ran the zoo?”

“If you could really talk to the animals, what excuses could you make?”

I didn’t really ask that last question, but there were days…

These sessions could be wearying and repetitive, but mostly they were just the opposite. These children had discoveries to relate. To them, Walter Farley’s Island Stallion gave them an individual special power of speed that no one had known before. They could feel the wind and heat and freedom of the gallop. It was a little bit scary…but it was only a book. Horton’s defense of the Who’s was exhilarating and noble and yes, a little bit scary, but it was only…a book.

And the bees proliferated and buzzed.

I liked these kids. Their passions about their discoveries were immediate and not premeditated. Their instincts bent toward the right thing to do. I flinched at times when they shrank from those good instincts because they had been taught to distrust them. I flinched more often when their instincts cast a revealing light on my own distrusts. We both survived, and I think, were made better. The bees buzzed happily.

I say I liked these kids.

I say I like children.

But…

…I can’t honestly say I like them equally.

There were some children who came prepared for my questions. They were just as passionate about their stories, but they were not un-premeditated. They had been schooled on how to phrase their answers, by their parents…or perhaps, simply by their parents’ expectations. That was okay by me. I still liked them. But they were children being adults as best as they knew how. Bees still buzzed.

Children being adult-ish…nothing wrong with that, I suppose…but a touch…sad.

It’s certainly better than the reverse.

Adults being childish…not so exciting, not so charming, certainly not so helpful.

Complaining about wearing a mask to protect others…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught as children to treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Judging people by their appearances and then acting against or for those people based on our superficial judgement…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught to not judge a book by its cover? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Mocking people who are afflicted…or different…or simply disagree with us…childish and cruel. Weren’t we taught…? We shouldn’t even have to be told.

Isn’t it interesting that in these distracted times, the bees are disappearing?

…more than a little bit scary…

…and it’s not a book.

Snarling Charles and the Case of the Christmas Gas Bag

“Look at the fog!”

Chuck peered out his front window at his first Christmas season in his new neighborhood. After decades of Christmases living under the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, clearing the bougainvillea droppings from his hot tub, and watching reruns of Bing, Rosie, Vera, and Danny thrilling to the snows of White Christmas, coming home to a Bluegrass blurry Christmas was nettlesome.

Bouncing around his ankles, also aspiring to be nettlesome but too wee to succeed was Nigel.

Nigel, Chuck’s fierce and tiny Yorkie was on a biological schedule. “Itstimeitstimeitstime – DadDadDad – letsgoletsgoletsgo – Igottahikemyleg-g-g-g.”

Chuck continued to survey the smudge of a yuletide evening that was far from being “…just like the one I used to know.”

“I haven’t seen fog like this since my first trip to London.”

Early in Chuck’s successful screenwriting career he wrote two most excellent Sherlock Holmes screenplays that also provided an extended stay in London as the “screenwriter-in-residence” on the set of the filming. He had spent much of the residency turning his well-nurtured Anglophilia into full-blown Angl-Oh-h-h-sweet-mystery-of-life.

He savoured (note the spelling) Scotch eggs, marmite, warm beer, and old champagne. He favoured (sic…and sick) cricket over baseball and snooker over pool, though he still couldn’t play any of them.

He adopted a sort of uniform for his post-prandial wanderings through the misty streets of night-time London. He had an ulster-ish coat. He eschewed the arms of the coat and draped it over his shoulders like a cape. He had acquired a billed cloth cap with a hounds-tooth pattern. It wasn’t exactly a deerstalker but in the fog…

He also had a cane.

Not a mere cane for walking assistance, but a cane of hidden menace.

A twist of the handle and voila – a twelve-inch blade!

But wait…there’s more, and I’m not talking Ginsu knives.

With a commanding arch of one eyebrow, a radical lift of lip, and a sideways glance worthy of Sam Elliott, Snarling Charles was born and the city on the Thames trembled.

Tonight, now that he thought of it, all those ingredients were still in his possession…and the fog…and the dog…

“Alright Nigel, you silly bugger, let’s venture forth.”

“Charlie! Wait. I have something for Nigel if you’re going out.”

Chuck’s Lovely Wife Julieanne (she was contemplating a legal change of name to “Lovely Wife” but had not yet committed) ran up waving a plastic straw. It was one of those light sticks that, when violently bent and twisted, emitted a sickly green chemical glow. She wrapped it around Nigel’s neck (twice – tiny bugger that he was). Nigel bounced; “nownownownownow!”

Cap, cape, cane, canine, and sneer all in place, Snarling Charles and his noble beast were on the street and on the prowl. Thomas Burke would have approved.

Alas, there were no ill-lit shops inhabited by Quong Lee, no lamplights, no hansoms, no foghorns or chimes, no newsstands, no blind match-sellers; just prim, new residences hunkering down in the murk. Even the murk was marred by blobs of harsh light bobbing on the lawns.

There were blob reindeer, and blob Santas, and blob angels, and blob snowmen. They were inflatable plastic yard decorations, garishly lit from the inside, and staked to the earth to limit their contagion. At least that’s how Snarling Charles thought of them.

“Nailing‘em to one place is good for a start, but I can think of a more permanent cure for this infestation. I’ll nail them gas bags fer good!”

He approached a six foot high snowman doing a handstand. The sheer fantasy physics of a glowing snowman cavorting on his hands was maddening.

“How would his hat stay on?”

Charles gave his cane a twist and voila!

“I should name this little sword ‘Voila!’” He thought.

He hovered in front of the offending balloon. Nigel bounced about in triumph; “LooklooklookDad! It’s a quality poop, just like they promise on TV! Pickitup-pickitup-pickitup! We’ll add it to the collection!” Nigel had long been convinced that somewhere there was a gallery of The Poops of Nigel, the Silly Bugger.

Just then, the front door of the house to whom the prancing abomination belonged, opened and a man’s voice bellowed; “Ay! What’re you doin’ out there?”

Snarling Charles bristled at the tone, but maintained a civil front.

“I’m simply admiring your yard…art.”

“Well, you just admire it from the sidewalk and get offa my lawn!”

There was a final duet of a door slam and a vocalized “Pervert!”

Charles was left in a silent fog, the darkness broken by a radiant upside down snowman and a bouncing Chernobyl green glow stick.

No…it wasn’t London.

No…it wasn’t the snowman’s fault.

But someone must be made to pay.

He sheathed his sword and left the poop.

And by the light of his good dog Nigel, he wended his way home.

Full Day

I’ve had a full day.

My never-ending scrimmage with the trumpet-vine hedge that shelters and intimidates our back yard continues; with blade and badinage. I’m holding my own, but I sense the trumpet is initiating a new aerial assault. Five feet over my head, it now reaches for a trio of overhead wires running to the house. Unfortunately, ladders and I have a more dubious relationship since my recent bicycle face-plant, but I’ll have to respond somehow. Mere wit will not deter this charming and well-connected vine.

I completed a second covid-19 test this afternoon. It was another grueling five minutes and a sneeze to prepare for a regular medical procedure next week. By the way, if you haven’t been tested, quit being a child and do so. It’s free, it’s quick, and it’s the next right thing to do.

And yes, I wore a mask. If you’re not wearing one, quit being a child and do so. You don’t need a governor to tell you it’s the next right thing to do. Sheesh! Does he have to tell you to brush your teeth or to look both ways before you cross?

Speaking of my bicycle disaster, the stitches are out and my face mostly healed (I’ll show you my Heidelberg Scar!), and now my new eyeglasses have arrived. I’m very excited. I can again read all the signs and chyrons, and pick out the stars and planets……and once more see exactly how lucky I am in marriage. The things you miss…

Our day-lilies are beginning to shout; “Rum Red!”, “Wild One!”, “Raspberry Pixie!”, “Stella d’Oro!”

The decadent hibiscus murmurs.

The begonias persistently party on, disregarding all social distancing.

The knockouts are giddy.

The hummers continue to criticize every recipe I concoct for them.

The frogs croak, the squirrels scold, the tupelos continue to silently amass power (to what eventual end…I shudder to think), the rabbits tease the hawks and are sometimes summarily punished for their sauciness…

Yes…

…a full day…

…full of nothing in the face of the aches of the world.

…full of nothing in the aches of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Arbery.

…full of nothing in the shadow of Trump and McConnell and Putin.

But it’s my day. A day I’ve striven for…a full day.

But not really full. There’s something missing.

You.

All of you.

Every one of you. Every color, tint, and shade. Every gender. Every flavor. Every size. Every accent.

Until everyone has a path to their full day, and feels physically safe in pursuing that day…my full day can never quite be.

Obviously the work is not done.

My full day…is not…

Full.

What’s the next right thing I must do?

Hootenanny Wind

Hey!

You millennials!

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

That was the advice proffered by my generation in the sixties. That would be the 1960’s, though after a morning of pulling weeds, it feels like a hundred years before.

My friend, Jim Sherburne, wrote an interesting novel concerning that generational advice; RIVERS RUN TOGETHER. In it, he describes a 30-something writer in Chicago in the summer of 1968, during the Democratic presidential nominating convention. The protagonist’s heart was pining to be part of the protests happening behind police lines in the parks in Chicago, while his carbon-dated time on the planet consigned his bag-o-bones to the streets nearby. I recommend the book…especially now.

I’m over 30.

Dammit.

So…don’t trust me…but read this…it might help bridge the gap when next we meet.

In the early to mid-sixties, I was politically born.

On an August day (no school that day), Martin Luther King revealed his dream to the largest crowd I had ever seen, in Washington. It was on TV and I could not look away.

Earlier that year, a new music show had appeared on TV. It was called “Hootenanny” and it featured folk music.

That same year, radio station WBKY (now WUKY) had a late Saturday night show hosted by Ben Story featuring even more obscure folk music.

I was twelve.

What’s folk music?

Who’s Martin Luther King?

Why’s he black?

Does that mean something?

Is somebody doing something to him they shouldn’t?

What does Pete Seeger mean when he asks “Which side are you on?”

Sides? There are sides?

I was twelve.

Patrick Sky reached for a laugh in his now-forgotten classic “Talking Socialized Anti-Undertaker Blues”; “Formaldehyde and alcohol, we’ll pickle you, and that ain’t all; black or white, to us you’re all the same.” Where’s the laugh? It plumb evades me. What’s black or white got to do with it?

I was twelve. I had to look up “formaldehyde.”

Phil Ochs’ sad musician-turned-wino in “Chords of Fame” complains in an alley; “Reporters ask you questions. They write down what you say.” Why would they do that? Aren’t reporters supposed to be covering real news in 1963? The Cold War? Polio? Cuban missiles?

I was twelve and still eating sugar cubes and mastering the scary yoga of “duck and cover.”

Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger were asking “What did you learn in school today?”

Well… I really was taught things like;

“I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.”

I was twelve. It had not yet occurred to me that might not be OK until Tom and Pete suggested I cipher on that a little more.

I listened as Judy Henske and Judy Collins and Joan Tolliver sang about the problems in the coal fields using the words of Billy Edd Wheeler. Mountains being stripped, towns abandoned, rivers poisoned? In Lexington, we didn’t have rivers or mountains.

But Mr. Wheeler’s words have stayed with me for over five decades.

All their words have. I learned much from these foreign-to-me teachers.

Mostly what I learned from these singers and preachers and yes, my Sunday school teachers was to always do the next right thing. Picking sides, recognizing colors and genders, knocking down mountains, fighting diseases, corrupt authorities……….just do the next right thing.

Mortgages, and insurance bills, and utility bills, and 401K’s have distracted me.

Stormy Daniels, and the Ukraine, and Confederate flags, and face masks are thrown at me now to continue to distract me.

I learned better in 1963 and what I learned still holds true.

Stay focused on Rev. King’s dream.

It’s the next right thing to do.

Trust me on this……no…wait……don’t trust me…go vote……do this yourself.

Bobble Head Day

The last two or three years I worked were a strange mix.

I traveled a lot. I hated the travel, but was quite intrigued with the places to which I traveled…when I rarely got to actually see them.

The buttes of Scottsdale were novel to see…through the sliding panel of my hotel room. The stunted, green-deprived palette ditto…through the rental car windshield.

The fierce mountains looming over Anchorage didn’t intimidate me as much as navigating the dust and gravel-strewn intersections of sections of town where no cab nor cruise ship bravely went.

Streaking between the hurricane-scraped concrete slabs of Biloxi and the white, featureless sands of the Gulf to get to the Mecca of the local casino was a mite disheartening.

Boston, a week after their two biggest snowstorms in 20 years was…white.

Edmonton in February was……not……Biloxi.

And getting home was no picnic either.

Days lost to never-ending red-eye flights from Seward’s Folly, landing on less-than-the-prudent number of wheels in the midst of flashing red lights in Chicago, returning to Atlanta because the runway in Lexington was considered a touch too short for the pilot’s liking that evening, luggage too often scheduling an itinerary of its own…

…no, no picnic.

The assignments in Kentucky were mostly delightful.

I enjoyed the city council meetings I attended in Danville and Bowling Green and Hurstbourne and, of course Louisville and Lexington. I found them to be mostly validating in their local expressions of democracy.

There were the odd exceptions.

One night, I found myself in an obviously expensive house in Louisville surrounded by dark suits and dead animals. Big game trophies jutted their deceased faces and horns from every wall. I did a quick check to be sure Marlin Perkins was not in attendance. He was not.

One of our major political candidates running for re-election at the time was.

He looked pitiful and small. His handshake was pitiful and small.

I felt pitiful and small.

A year or so later, I was invited to an afternoon meeting with another of our major political candidates running for re-election at that time.

There were about 50 dark suits there, no dead animals, two suits were female, none were other than white as far as I could determine. And, except for me, everyone’s head bobbled…for real.

The candidate’s head cocked and bobbled as he pretended to be discovering for the first time the same points he had been making for two years. The dark suits’ heads bobbled in agreement.

It wasn’t that he was sounding crazy, but the bobbling heads were pretty funny.

And the big eyes on the younger members of the throng…you know what I mean…those big rookie baseball player eyes that say; “Ah’m jes’ glad to be here an’ I hope I can help the team win some games.”

It was when the candidate had responded to a question with an implication that after a “welfare mother” had birthed two or three young’uns that maybe she shouldn’t be birthin’ anymore…I surveyed the room to see all those dark suits still a’bobbin’ those heads.

Folks…

…we can surely do better than this.