All posts by junesboy

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.

The Road Best Not Taken

We all grow up to soundtracks. Mine included the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Sedaka, and Wilson Pickett. Don’t judge. It also included Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley. It also included local voices like radio DJ’s Billy Love, Tom Kindall, and Little Bee. I suppose these and other voices were influential to varying degrees to a goofy teenager in Lexington who was (to quote every first year major league baseball player in history) just glad to be here.

But the soundtrack also included baseball announcers. First it was polished Claude Sullivan describing the Cincinnati Reds games as they it just might be more important than just a game (which of course they were). Then whiling away endless hours of rain delays with Waite Hoyt’s remembrances of his playing days. Al Michaels’ urgency and, occasionally Vin Scully’s erudite ramblings followed.

This had to be the greatest job in the world; major league baseball announcer. It was right up there with being a cowboy or an astronaut or a three-chord guitar-strummin’ British rocker. THAT’S what I wanna be!

Of course I’d never ridden a horse, or thrown a lasso, or shot a six-gun…and frankly, I still question the wisdom of throwing your now empty gun back at pursuers.

I was pretty sure I’d never achieve the required quantity of push-ups to earn my space suit, and I feared projectile hurling might defy my efforts at the anti-gravity waltz.

But play-by-play for America’s game? Oh yeah – that was for me.

But baseball is a fickle game. It only follows the script after the real game is played. You can’t impose a romantic and glorious story line on it with any confidence until the actual statistics are tabulated. To attempt to do so can lead to a humiliation that this sensitive soul simply cannot bear.

Listening earlier today to Barry Larkin and John Sadek gleefully extol the glory of Eugenio Suarez raising his batting average to a giddy .170 was embarrassing. I am a fan of all three of those fellows but…

Listening to Mr. Larkin start a comment; “Notice how the pitcher, with nobody on-base…” and at that precise moment watch the batter sting the pitch into right field for a single, forcing Larkin to amend his comment on the fly in mid-sentence…ouch.

It’s got to be frustrating at an alarming frequency.

I recall a moment early in Jeff Brantley’s announcing career. A young Edwin Encarnatión came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Reds trailing. Mr. Brantley launched into a rant about the ineptitude of Mr. Encarnatión. It was brutal. On the next pitch, Encarnatión smacked a game-winning home run. The crowd was ecstatic. The announcing booth was eerily serene. Encarnatión has gone on to a sterling power-hitting career. Brantley is my favorite current voice of the Reds. But at the time…uber-ouch.

But the moment that I first suspected that the mine-field that baseball announcing might not be for me occurred in the sixties during a Saturday Game-of-the-Week broadcast with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The Mets won the game on a walk-off hit by Choo-Choo Coleman. Tony Kubek interviewed Coleman in the dressing room after the game.

Kubek: “I’m here with the star of today’s game; Choo-Choo Coleman. Choo-Choo…that’s an interesting nickname. Do happen know how you got it?”

Coleman: “No.”

Kubek: “Back to you, Curt.”

My admiration for Tony Kubek soared.

I went back to work on those push-ups.

Le Golem

Movie night!

Decades of prowling every bookstore I come across has infected and inspired my cinematic inquisitiveness. From childhood meanderings through the bookmobile and the public library, to stubborn and tiresome adult plumbings of the depths and shadows of every pile of books I encounter, a ritual of curiosity has become part of my mental muscle memory. As access to more cinema from various countries and times has burgeoned, my treasure-hunting impulses are triggered.

Alas, most of the treasures I discover are merely curiosities. But then, I admit I treasure the curiosities.

Tonight’s curiosity is a made-for-French-TV film from 1967; Le Golem, directed by Jean Kerchbron. Kerchbron, who primarily directed for European TV, also adapted this script from the novel by Gustav Meyerinck.

A scholar unearths a clay figure, brings it to life, uses it for personal services, loses control of the beast, and mayhem ensues. Sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, n’est-ce pas? At least, that’s how Mayerinck tells it. In Kerchbron’s flick we only see the monster a couple of times. It’s scary, it’s grim, but is it real? I’m thinkin’ not…but I’m not bettin’ the ranch.

This film was made about ten years before David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD and about forty years after Carl Theodor Dreyer’s PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, but it reminds me of both. The performance of André Reybaz, our leading man could have been lifted directly from Dreyer’s film. The unresolved wonder of LE GOLEM could have segued into ERASERHEAD without missing a goggle.

What lured me to this film was the inclusion of Magali Noël in the cast. Ms. Noël played Gradisca in Fellini’s AMARCORD and Nick’s sister in the political thriller “Z”, two of my favorite films. She is over-the-top and lovely in this effort.

Though curiosities are not treasures, they may have moments that are gems. The moment that arrested me in LE GOLEM was a quiet thought;

“I think about the warm wind. When it comes, the ice crackles everywhere in the land. It gets muddy. But already flowering gardens germinate. When seasons change, something moves in the roots; both in good roots and in poisonous ones.”

This spring of new hope and optimism about the covid infection.

This spring of trepidation about democracy-threatening lies.

It’s a warm wind.

Something’s moving in the land; both in good roots and poisonous ones.

We’d best keep a’hold of whatever Golem we unearth.

N’est-ce pas?

Frettin’ ‘Bout Normalcy

Giddy.

There’s no denyin’.

That’s how I felt…

…giddy.

Janie and I, being fully vaccinated, felt secure enough to accept impromptu invitations to gather with old friends (fully vaccinated) and some long-missed acquaintances (fully vaccinated) three different evenings this week. There were wines and margaritas and tales…all potent, but non-infectious. We gathered around outdoor flames, and we gathered with rain on the roof. It was all fine.

The last year has been so tough for so many. And yes, Janie and I have seen death and the threat of death in our family. But we have hunkered down for a year with each other, and not “discovered” each other, but reveled in each other, and that’s been rich.

But this last week of jet-setting within a few blocks of our house spurred giddiness.

Giddiness is not my forte, fretting is.

This week we celebrated and discussed birthdays, surprise weddings, artistic achievements, job interviews, pet antics, current books being read, and Casa Amigos Reposado. What was missing from all of these world-renewing conversations was any mention of Trump. It was as if he never happened.

But he did…and still does.

Covid happened…and still does.

There is infection in our country and in our world. We seem to be holding it at bay, but it lurks and festers.

We must inoculate ourselves with vaccines and alertness and facts…

…and our friends.

Let’s Give a Big Hand to Orlac

Movie night!

We think of Hammer Films and we think of Dracula and Frankenstein and strawberry-red blood dripping on otherwise pristine sets in sunglass-required lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere in particular. But even as these money-making machines were being crafted, Shepperton Studios was cranking a bunch of other films just as interesting…if not as lucrative.

This is one of them. THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960), directed by Edmond T. Gréville, is another retelling of the transplanted hands saga and not the best of that gruesome genre. That dubious award would go to Peter Lorre’s MAD LOVE (1935) in my book.

But THE HANDS OF ORLAC is a pretty entertaining flick. It is encumbered by a somnambulant performance by Mel Ferrer, but it features a nice turn by Christopher Lee as a blackmailing stage magician. Lee’s character shrieks a ridiculous wild laugh (always wisely off-camera) that sounds like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and the happily surreal cackle preceding the Ventures’ “Wipe Out,” (which, I understand was inspired by one of the Maddox Brothers). Whew, that last sentence should give everyone fun things to google.

Even better than Mr. Lee’s performance are the ladies in the flick. I thought I had never heard of Lucile Saint-Simon before, but I see that she’s also in a blade-filled Italian giallo from 1963; THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (more tamely released in the US as HORROR CASTLE), directed by sanguinary maestro Antonio Margheriti and also featuring a murderous Christopher Lee. I remember being moderately engaged by the flick a few years ago, but I’m gonna have to watch it again now. Ms. Saint-Simon is sympathetic and rocks her negligee, though the backlighting in this effort is insufficient to satisfy my more demanding geezer cineastes. Dany Carrel, however, more than makes up for that technical deficiency. Her night club act with Chris Lee is eye-popping…literally. The white-haired guys in the audience are dropping their monocles and checking their pacemakers.

And in addition to those actors, a small appearance by the ubiquitous Donald Pleasence provides a coup de gross for the evening.

The ending ties things up in a way-too-convenient way. You might call it a deux-et-manicure copout.

But I liked it.

National Public Despair

I drove to Louisville today…and back…all in one day.

That sounds silly to those that don’t know me.

Those that do know me, know I’ve become a hermit who strives to not strive to be more than a Frisbee toss from the UK campus. A much-admired friend told me 20 years ago; “My wife and I realized that 90% of what we wanted in the world was within a one-mile radius of UK. We see no reason to live outside that.” He then chuckled to show me he was kidding. His eyes and a quick sip from his drink suggested he was ardently not.

The opera, the Guignol Theatre, the dry cleaners, the grocery store, Josie’s, the pharmacy, three wine shops, the bank, an art museum, football/baseball/softball/soccer/basketball, a library branch, Starbuck’s, pizza, pad thai, burritos, hot chicken, cheddar-burgers, reubens, omelets, hot browns……and vaccinations…are all my neighbors. The only things missing are an ocean and a major league baseball team.

But today I drove to Louisville and I anticipated a lovely day. It was sunny and cool. Traffic was light. I eagerly tuned the radio to NPR.

When I was driving all over Kentucky the last three years I worked, NPR was a joy; bright and positive, not yet sucked into the 24/7/365 reality show of the Trump debacle. Now, with Trump festering in relative silence in Mar-a-Lago (Florida’s iteration of Elba), I anticipated an afternoon drive listening to new books, new plays, new songwriters…who knows?

Instead, I got an earful of assisted suicide (legal and not so), stats on how many Kentuckians are currently hospitalized and clinging to survival on respirators, protest machinations in Myanmar, ecoside (what words we invent to soften, distract from, and just plain avoid saying climate change), royal racism, and the increase in the deportation of Haitians.

At least there was no mention of Trump or Dr. Seuss, though a few couplets from IF I RAN THE CIRCUS might have perked up things as I zipped past Waddy/Peytona.

I’m thinkin’ the nation may yet be in recovery.