Friday, December 27, 2013

Santa Claus the Weird

Richard Lopez recently wrote a blog post about a movie he and his son watched called Santa Claus. His reaction is here. He includes a link to the trailer. I remembered the movie! That is, I remember seeing the ad for the movie on television when I was a child. I never saw the movie itself till I watched it with Erin on Christmas Day. It can be found in the Youtube repository, where our entire culture currently resides.

As happens so often with diversions meant for children, Santa Claus is a good piece of craziness. It was made in Mexico in 1959, then turned into an American product. I cannot say what was lost and found during the translation process. The movie’s a bit jumbly but nonetheless full of spectacle of a surreal sort.

Eastman Colorscope gets credit for the visual attack of the film. Who knows what that entails? Is Eastman Colorscope better than Technicolor? Well, the color is both faded and heightened, some of which may owe to old film or I don’t know what.

A voiceover narrator explains bits thru out the film. It comes across like a documentary. The first scene shows Santa’s workshop floating out in space above the North Pole. You may wonder why the displacement of Santa’s workshop from its usual terrestrial situation but later on we are informed that Santa can only stay on Earth on Christmas Eve. That suggests some penance that the jolly elf must serve. That’s a curious, undeveloped touch.

Inside the workshop we meet the jolly fellow. His jolliness verges on insanity, at least in his most heightened moments. He laughs hysterically for no discernible reason. Santa, as we receive him in the panoply of legends, is never really mischievous, but still he seems to have an air of Coyote. You know, sneaking around from house to house, eating cookies and milk at each one, busy at his endeavour. He’s up to something.

In the movie, Santa looks at his Christmas shrine, which is a manger scene, with Mary the honoured one. That confluence of sacred and profane makes me uneasy. He quickly leaves his shrine and toddles to his organ, which he starts to play with gesticulating zest. Surprisingly, because the actor obviously isn’t actually playing the organ, Santa puts a lot of energy into playing the pedals. He does this, seemingly, to entertain the elves.

In a separate workshop area are gathered the elves. At least I believe they are elves. They appear to be children from around the world. Here we get a rather tedious scene in which children/elves dressed in traditional gear of their land sing songs in their native tongue. The children (the actors) appear drugged, perhaps overwhelmed by the movie-making process. Just the fact that it is snowing inside the workshop might be enough to explain their discomfiture. Maybe 10 countries are represented in this scene including Russia and the nation of Africa.

We shift from this scene to Hades, Satan’s domain. The workshop was trippy enough. Hades is where the bad acid takes over. Hades is dark and red and flaming. A handful of red demons with big ears and bovine horns perform a cheesy Broadway dance routine that I guess means to assure young viewers that Satan and his crew are a bit wan and not to be worried about. Maybe it’s just me but when I see demons doing high kicks, I know I’m looking at shoddy merchandise.

After the dance recital, Satan’s booming voice explains that something has to be done about this fellow Santa. Satan directs a demon named Pitch to head up to the surface and mess with Santa. This isn’t the childish crank depicted in the Book of Job, this is Snidely Whiplash inventing nefarious plots that thin to nothingness.

Pitch transports instantly to an earthly rooftop, where he laughs with unreasonable vigour. The game is on.

Well, all he does is irritate. A crowd of children and parents gathers outside a toy store to ogle the delights. Included are a rich man and his son, who is confident to receive a great gift. We also meet a wispy little poor girl, who doesn’t look to get much. Pitch tempts three boys to lean toward the coal side of Santa’s list. They proceed to throw stones at the store window.

At Santa HQ, an elf alerts Santa that something’s afoot. Santa commands that his viewing device be used. It’s a sort of telescope with an eye at the end. I remember this image from the ad of long ago. Santa also has a listening device, a big ear, an a speaking device, a big, weird mouth. All this serves Santa’s good/bad surveillance.

Santa approaches anger at the thought of these boys performing bad deeds. He understands that Pitch is involved but still lays a burden on the boys. When I was in first grade, some second graders convinced me to yell something at the policewoman who got kids across Bedford St safely. They did not bully me, just explained how doing so would be a good idea. Well I did, I yelled “You rot.” I ended up having to stay after school there at the crosswalk. High crime. The point of this reverie is that I knew no better, and neither did the three boys. But Santa no like the rules broken.

Pitch also convinces the little girl to go to the dark side in some minor way. Her good soul and that of her mother make this only a brief dalliance. And Santa’s there to help her. There’s also a boy whose parents are a little neglectful of him, which Santa needs to right.

Time to deliver the presents. Santa has his sack and the elves stick presents into its internal endlessness. The narrator informs us that Santa’s reindeer, all four, are mechanical. Another random adjustment of the familiar legend. Aint anybody heard of Clement Moore here?

Santa carries with him something to make people sleep, allowing him to make his sneak attacks, and something to allow him to float, so that he can make use of chimneys. He rights Pitch’s wrongs. Ah but Pitch manages to make Santa’s magical items go missing. And just then an angry dog chases Santa up a tree. This is desperate because Santa’s time on earth is almost up and Santa especially doesn’t want to disappoint the little girl.

Santa calls to the elves, who can hear him thru the listening device. A magician named Merlin is called for. He’s a fragile, doddering old man in wizard suit. I’m not sure Merlin actually does anything. It seems like some of Santa’s magic stuff just appears, and all is well. I mean the dog stops barking and Santa can climb down from the tree. When I put it that way, the crescendo of dramatic tension doesn’t sound like much.

Santa seems like a good soul, if not that bright. The movie evokes a sense of the downtrodden even amidst its concern for middle class virtues. The Santa myth lacks comprehensiveness, which is obvious here and elsewhere. Why does Santa even bother to give presents to the son of the rich man (identified as such): that kid’s going to get the toy he covets.

In the old days, Santa was seen doling out dolls for girls and tin soldiers for boys. You could see Santa and his elf crew making those. Who ever thought Santa made Rocket ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, let alone PS4? So that conception of Santa is a fizzle. The image of the laughing, red cheeked Santa pleases but you cannot really hold it all together, the myth. This movie has its visual strength and basically good soul. It differs from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which just wants to be antic and fails. I feel that Santa Claus the legend will soon be outmoded. Too simple, and not generative enough in terms of product merchandizing.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym is a writer who I suspect isn't well known in this country. I think I stumbled on a book by her in a used bookstore, years ago. I don't know what led me to get it. The book surprised me for being so intriquing without having much of a plot. Pym has been in play for the Booker Prize (for this very book) so Great Britain must know her better.

Beguiled by that first book, I read a couple others, with satisfaction. Been a while since I have read her, but finding this at the library proved invitation enough.

This is a wonder-full novel, tho its uninflected nature makes that something perhaps easy to miss. As I was reading, I thought of A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery and James Schuyler. A better comparison is Arthur and Guinevere, by Schuyler seul. It shares with those works a de-emphasis of plot. Characters move about and “do” things, but they don't seem really at the authour's bidding.

I think Quartet also belongs in a Jane Austen lineage. V S Pritchett described the way Austen's character's intereact as like naval manuevres. You can see that in the way she lets Miss X and Mr Y grandly move toward and away from each other in the course of the story. Pym doesn't pace that way but there's an almost coded system among the four main characters as they politely and tentatively engage with each other. This is major league stuff.

The previous novels that I read centered on unmarried women “of a certain age”, and how they get along. These women are settled with their unmarried status tho somewhat dissatisfied. The books end without romantic clinch. The reader may root for these characters to end up happy, but Pym refuses to obstruct the veritable human processses of the characters.

In one novel, the protagonist referred to herself as a spinster. The word struck me as shocking, because the setting was contemporary, and the word seems so anachronistic and dated. It even has a cruel savour, coming from a time when the unmarried older woman was a degraded thing. I suppose that cultural command still exists, but maybe eased some.

Quartet concerns two women and two men who work together in some dreary office. All near retirement age and indeed the two women retire in the course of the book.

All four are unmarried. Only Edwin, a widower, had been married. He has a house. He spends his time at church. Churches, that is: he daily roams about to whatever church that is celebrating a Saint's day. He's not motivated by religion so much as by an eagerness to immerse in church community.

Norman lives in a bedsetter, a one room apartment. Where Edwin is somewhat pompous, Norman is more querilous, perhaps a bit fussy. He's move given of the four to make snarky remarks.

Marcia lives alone in a house that she inherited. She recently had a double masectomy. She's the most eccentric character.

Letty (Leticia) is the central character, tho all four characters are given roughly equal weight. Pym seems to be most inside Letty. None of the characters are entirely likeable, but we find all finally sympathetic.

You can't really draw the plot of this novel. The four, at work, interact in a familiar, bickering sort of way. They regard each other almost as friends, but they do not socialize outside the office. Except for Edwin and his churches, they have no friends or even interests.

This may sound grim but Pym is amazing in her ability to create a lively, realistic dislogue with these people. The characters all have these inchoate ideas about the world, intimations of understanding, that they always drop before “getting too far”. They tease each other, almost touching nerves, yet they remain in their grey disengagement.

Tho their conversation remains eminently polite, they frequently make thoughtless remarks about each other. Remarks, for instance, about the hopelessness of the women's existence (as aging spinsters), or Norman as a pathetic little man. These comments are blurted without guile or even interntion. Letty especially reacts to these remarks, yet no one seems to take them deeply to heart.

When the women retire, the company does not replace them. The men won't be replaced either when their time comes. The men vaguely worry about how the women will get along. They all do this, actually, but the change in situation for the women intensifies the men's dull concern. They all have a lasting, unexamined concern for each other. Letty is at least competent within her bounds. Marcia spins into dazed eccentricity.

A comic prop thru out the book is Marcia's hording of milk bottles. During the late war (the book's set in the 70s), you didn't get milk if you didn't have a bottle. Somehow a bottle that Letty had came into Marcia's possession. Marcia's dairyman won't take back that bottle. She developes an animosity towards Letty because of this intrusion into her life. When Letty's apartment situation is up in the air, everyone thinks she and Marcia should live together. Marcia even considers it, but the ghastly affront of Letty's milk bottle puts the kibosh on that arrangement. Marcia also hordes tinned food, which she hardly eats.

Tinned meals, or an egg and toast, plus of course tea, are what all of them go home to. They all note tiny kindnesses, like Marcia willing to share an economy-sized tin of coffee with Norman at the office.

I liken this to Alfred and Guenivere because so much is intimated, so much ripples under the surface. And Pym, like Schuyler, is so delicate and humoured with her characters.

There are some resolutions by the end of the novel. Marcia, who spent her retirement fading away, dies quietly. She surprisingly wills her house to Norman, who realizes he may not want the responsibility. Letty had planned to move in with a longtime friend in the country until this friend became engaged to be married. In the end, that engagement falls apart, and Letty has that possibility again. Letty, however, is unsure whether she wants to live in such dependencies.

The plot doesn't seem to embrace any fabrication. Pym peers straightforwrdly at lives of quiet agitation, and manages a lively wit and a kindly sympathy. And the book is surprisingly funny. I'll keep looking for Barbara Pym's work.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Hey! An Operation!

Sunday I had my first operation since I was a teenager. As a child I had the tip of my finger lopped off. That required an overnight stay to sew it up. As a teenager, I had a deviated septum. I had my nose reamed (not the medical term). My nose was packed so I had to sleep breathing thru my mouth. Which I didn’t really do. The night nurse supplied an empathy that I still remember. I was told that my father sat by my bed for a couple hours after I returned from the operation. I never woke while he was there but I cherish that. I’ve had some emergency room stays. I have had several immersive stays when my parents and Erin variously had lengthy stays. I’ve seen the wringer but this was the first I really felt it.

Friday at work I suddenly felt sick to the stomach and shivery chills. I assumed food poisoning. It felt bad enough that I left work a little early. I had a really uncomfortable night with aches and chills and a pain in my gut. I also had a supreme and unlikely hunger. When I got up, I tried to make soothing oatmeal. It tired me just standing at the stove. I crawled under a blanket. I managed to eat what I made before I left for work.

I would have skipped work Saturday but I knew two people were unavailable. I thought I could muscle my way thru. I did eventually rally, and I ate a sandwich for lunch. I meant to work the full day but Beth encouraged me to leave when the next person in arrived. Beth made magic matzo balls and chicken broth and I went to bed.

I passed off the pain in my gut as gas but Beth suspected my appendix. I don’t think she ever trusted my appendix, when it comes to that. She consulted our doctor and he said go to the hospital. So there it was.

Completing the initial paperwork, we sat and watched the final inning of the Red Sox against Tampa. As Koji Uehara was about to throw his last pitch I got called to confirm my entrance. I wanted to see Koji’s celebration. Soon after, barely hearing any of David Ortiz’s bland interview with somebody, I got called to the emergency suite. Appendicitis offers more risks than the cuts, breaks, and muscle tears that I’ve otherwise brought for show. Short wait before a nurse came for vitals. Watched the Bruins finalize a win in souped up e-room convenience. Watching this was more to please the attending nurse. A doctor explained that the likeliest diagnosis was appendicitis, which a cat scan would confirm.

Cat scan = modern fun! Over the course of more than an hour, I had to drink apple juice laced with contrast liquid. This liquid would help the scan image’s clarity. This was not onerous labour but it took time. Beth went home because she was exhausted and the scan wouldn’t occur for another several hours.

On the other side of the curtain there was a teenage boy who fainted during an sat test. He suffered a mild concussion in his fall. I half dozed until a nursed collected me and took me by gurney to another emergency room. This was inscrutable because it seemed like the same room. It was already occupied by an older woman who had taken a fall. She broke ribs. Doctors and nurses kept remarking on the injury to her face but I never saw it. Hospital staff several times asked her about kin, and her answers always included addenda: Joe is my nephew and he’s married to Julie. She wanted answers about what was happening next. The doctor who answered one time was quite petulant in telling her that she had already been told. He tried to lead her on to answer her own questions but that tack didn’t work. I finally got gurneyed off to the scan.

This radiology wing, not unexpectedly, was scarcely populated. The scan operator was probably glad to have someone to talk to. A glitch right off: I’d had blood taken earlier, and the site was kept open so that… I hope I’m getting this right… more scan liquid could react with the scan. I’d notice that the site was a little painful but in fact the needle had come out. The operator had to do a new one. The initial site was a vein on my right hand. She tried the left hand. Turns out she was not that good at using needles. The operation hurt and she never made a proper site. I purposely kept my cool and brushed aside her apologies, not wanting to rattle her, or myself. She tried a vein at the crook of my left elbow. This was equally a painful failure, and left a bruise. She said I had very hard veins.

After that she called a nurse, who quickly and painlessly applied the needle. I was then stuck in the scan tube. The liquid was sent thru my veins. I was told that I would feel a warm sensation that might make me think I was pissing my pants. Also, I was supposed to listen to the instructions of the automated voice. This voice, when it spoke, was at first inaudible. That worried me. Ructions in my intestines also worried me. I should have asked how long the procedure took.

Finally the voice cleared and I felt the warm feeling. I had to take a deep breath and hold it a couple of times. It took a few minutes to finish. As I was exiting the tube, an intense and increasing sense of hunger fell over me. This turned immediately to nausea. I announced how I felt and the operator gave me a bucket. I dry heaved four or five times then felt fine. After a quick torso x-ray, I got admitted to a room. I think it was close to 3:00.

I had a saline drip. Where the needle was set, it was easy as pie for me to occlude the tube. This activated an obnoxious alarm, one that required a pro to quell. This happened probably ten times. The nurses et al were fine with this but I know my roomies were not. At 6:00, I readied for the operation. I had to remove my jewelry. For this peacock, that means an earring, two wedding rings, another ring, and a silver necklace. I had never taken any of them off before except the earring. All were given to me by Beth.

A footnote applies to the wedding rings. Not long after the wedding, the ring fell off. That was upsetting. We got another, larger one. They were cheap. Lo, the first one was found, so I wore that two. I didn’t even know how to remove the necklace. I felt a strong emotion in removing the rings. Just to add to that, twenty two years earlier to the day, in this hospital, my mother died. I don’t know why humans think like this but we do.

The doctor had earlier explained his diagnosis and intended procedure. The scan confirmed a sketchy appendix. Not perforated but increasingly ready to blow. He was mostly calming in the information he gave. He described an area on the intestine that could be inflamed. Alternatively, it could be something else, however unlikely. I wasn’t nervous. I would have been had this been a planned operation, but as it was, it was just a long, weird day. The surgeon stood before me holding a box in front of him to support a piece of paper. He drew a stick figure and explained how things were and would go. Because of the placement of my appendix, he would incise over it and make the snatch. Okay.

I was wheeled down to surgery. There I met the attending anesthesiologists. In sooth, it was one anesthesiologist, one nurse-anesthesiologist, and a nurse. The a introduced himself and spoke calmingly about what he would do. He’s actually the guardian angel who lets the n-a do the work and him get the money. Inequity, I’m sure. He was an entertainingly scruffy guy. He was also a physicist and apparently wants to start some sort of physics business, the nature of which I never got to hear. The others introduced themselves. It seemed like an affable group. The nurse injected me with something that she said would help me to relax and forget. It was the last thing I remember till after the operation.

I remember waking up brightly, as I typically do. I did not feel drowsey or out of it. I spoke to the attending nurse. Beth says that she was able to catch me as they were wheeling me to recovery (my next book Wheeling to Recovery, the hardhitting story of…). She reports that I said “you… you… you…” Then I declared that they didn’t do the operation, just pretended to. That’s something I would say, no doubt. On the other hand, perhaps a man on business from Porlock interrupted my dream. I dunno. Years ago, I contracted a doozy case of poison ivy. Beth was on constant watch that I didn’t scratch the rash. In bed I think I moved and Beth, still asleep, grasped my shoulder and said “Don’t scratch. I love you. What’s for dinner.” So we’ve got this crazy love.

What time did I reach my room? Eight, maybe? No, later, football games were impending. Beth stayed a while, then I watched football, dozed, read David McCullough’s book about some bridge in Brooklyn, and dozed. Beth and Erin returned, then football, doze, book, doze, and repeat. I mostly slept on my back, not my best choice. Left side hurt the wound, right side caused the alarm to ring. I slept in one hour portions, normal hospital routine.

During the night, I got a new roomie, the first leaving early in the day. I should have taken notes how to act sociable and pleasant. He had, I learned, diverticulitis. Med he was given apparently made him nauseous. I heard him throw up undramatically. When a nurse arrived he brushed it off as an inconvenience. I do that, brush things off. I don’t want the bad stuff to grow too big. I’m just not tuned to charming anyone.

I don’t know how we’ll pay for this extravaganza—thank you, Neanderthalis republicanis—but there was a large dose of experience. This is the first time in my large life that I was the old guy that needed help. It is not an easy position to sustain. Gracefully, at least. This is the time we start to learn things. Erin just served me some chicken soup he made.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

There the book was, so I decided to read it. I've seen two or three Clancy movies, Red October, Clear and Present Danger, for sure. They're the sort of thrillers that leave me convinced that I’ve missed ¾ of what's going on, but the ¼ I get offers some satisfaction.

You never know if a movie translates a novel fairly, or if “movie magic” keeps the eye transfixed, like jiggled string for a cat. I trudged thru the novel The Firm, somehow, not quite feeling the same excitement for billing as Grisham feels. Not to overpraise the movie but, despite starring Tom Cruise, it at least kept moving. So I assumed nothing as I entered Clancy's world.

Pop writers like Clancy, they tend to use random titles. The words just need to be punchy, not relevant to anything in the book. Altho Our Hero shows no remorse in one plotline here, he and everyone else in the book show plenty of remorse. Wear it on your sleeve remorse. A perfect storm of remorse. Let's go!!! Not to worry about it. We're here for action, and Clancy hands it out.

Clancy twines several plots that could have functioned nicely by themselves. There's an I'll show 'em quality to the shifting forth and back but he manages in near tour-de-force fashion to hold it all together. We won't fret the unlikeliness of the mayhem.

John Kelly, later Clark, is a young undersea demolition expert. He's a Vietnam vet, former Navy SEAL. His young, pregnant wife dies in a car crash, which sends the first glop of remorse into lugubrious motion. Cut to a few months later. Kelly seemingly has quit working but, since demolition is so lucrative (just guessing), he can live grimly on his island in the Chesapeake Bay. So okay, for some reason, he picks up a hitchhiker, a young woman who clearly has been thru a lot. That's the sullen version of meet cute. We learn slowly that she's an addict, forced into that condition by a ruthless pimp.

Am I going too fast here?

Well they fall in love. Then Kelly helps a couple who have boat trouble. One's a surgeon, the other's a psychologist. This is sort of meet cute, as well. The three help restore the young woman. The woman explains that other young women are held like she was. Kelly wants to help them. He and the woman go to the nasty neighbourhood just to scope it out. As I think on it, this seems both pointless and dangerous. The plot needed this action, however, because Kelly gets shot and the woman is killed. Tortured then killed.

Once Kelly recovers, he's out for revenge. There's the lack of remorse. Is that enough plot for you? Well there's also a fighter pilot who gets shot down over Vietnam. Held as a POW he gets interrogated by a Russian. There's a certain simpatico between the two, both being fighter pilots.

Meanwhile, some elder generals and admirals want to get him and the other prisoners out from the secret prison in Vietnam, in an off the books way. The son of one of these grandees was rescued from similar circs by a Navy SEAL named You Can Guess, back when Kelly was about 7. Yes, and Kelly found the lad at the same place as here we go. So there’s that plot, and it wants to help make everything sound plausible.

We're also watching closely how a black drug dealer and ruthless pimp sets up a biz with the mob selling pure Asian heroin. He has a mysteriously wonderful supply. By happenstance, they set up their lab right near Kelly's island. Okay, I'll tell you: the heroin enters the country in the corpses of dead American soldiers. The recompense for such horror ought to be pretty righteous.

All this action gets plenty of attention from Clancy.

Kelly starts methodically killing drug dealers in search of the main perps who killed his love. Did you guess that the black drug dealer is the one who killed her? The military men interrupt Kelly's spree. Remembering Kelly's earlier heroics, they invite him into the rescue mission. He trains with a select group of Marines then goes with them to Vietnam.

I'm getting caught up in all the plots. Clancy handles the story telling well enough. He writes with a sense of expertise. Wikipedia merely informs me that Clancy ran an insurance agency before becoming a bestselling author. Maybe he was also a SEAL or some such, but I suspect his expertise is painted. When actors come on talk shows to hype their latest, they are often interviewed as subject matter experts. If the movie's about the Civil War, they're regarded as experts on the Civil War. Here, the book crackles with military terms and slang. We get in depth insight into how Kelly machines his guns for ultimate performance. It sounds right out of Clancy's life, when he murdered a bunch of people in revenge for... Well, whatever. Possibly Clancy is just a writer, and he's making it all up.

When Clancy lets his characters start in on emotional issues, momentum stops. Wearisome dialogues ensue. The book tops 600 pages; 100-200 represent sleepytime. That would be a dreadful percentage except that the rest is well carried and nifty. Plus Clancy demarcates sections so you can easily skip over the trite emotional shit.

Clancy goes to the trouble of describing Kelly several times as a big man. Specifically he's 6' and 190. Sorry, that aint remarkable. Kelly's a machine, tho, James Bond without the martini. He just is.

The admirals and generals pretty much let Kelly run things in the Vietnam mission, which presses unlikeliness a bit much. Kelly seems to be in his early-mid twenties, and he's not even in the military anymore. The mission goes awry because the enemy has been tipped off. Even so, Kelly manages to capture the Russian interrogator. This allows the play of an East-West espionage plot line.

Back home, Kelly goes back to killing off those who helped torture and kill his lover. Even when things go wrong for him, they go right. This is where Clancy overcommits to his hero. He doesn't want, cannot accept, any blots in Kelly's 'scutcheon. Franchise writers have that prob. The writer's protagonist becomes the writer's good self-image. No room for the Not Okay child here.

Kelly has befriended a nurse who has worked with the surgeon and who helped Kelly's lover recover. She may get to dance with him in later novels. Currently, she mostly offers moral questions that Kelly doesn't need because he's right. He doesn't believe in killing unless people deserve it. As the I think 17 drug dealers did. It's a Republican simplicity that I guess one can expect from Clancy. By the end, Kelly's murders convince the nurse of his mission. Now okay, maybe, but Kelly savours the thrill of the hunt and loses no opportunity to take pleasure in his victim's demise. His fanciest and most extensive effort in this regard is using a pressure chamber to extract information from one of the perps. Trusting Clancy's science here, Kelly gives the guy a day's worth of the bends before putting a period on the sentence.

The ending is just the happy bloodlust that satisfies us so. The prisoners are saved—thru diplomacy. Too bad about the no guns part, but it allows related righteous killing. The kindly brutal Russian interrogator, who's not a stinking Vietnamese, is allowed to go home because he was sort of nice to the fighter pilot. The Ivy League twerp who dealt info to our foes was exterminated. Guess what, after learning that Kelly was the one killing all the drug dealers, those military guys send him to kill the twerp, which Kelly does righteously. Then they invite him to join the CIA. Because he's just crazy enough.

I could read another Clancy novel but don't expect to. I don't feel the commitment. One summer I read 11-12 Stephen King novels. Just to see. They were entertaining enough but I see no need for more. I get a twitch of interest when I see one of his recent 9000 page epics, because I wonder what he can do with so many pages to fill. Tho he's a competent writer you realize he's just blowing it out his ass.

The same goes with Clancy. They both produce comfortable franchises. Their competencies are straightforward and undeniable, but then you realize that triteness is one of the competencies. They have to give the reader something comfortable and familiar. We all accept this, that's why we have movies and television. Committing to this just doesn't seem in my best interest, however. But I like looking around.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Conceptualism, or, The Prime Minister Has Been Kidnapped!

Facebook and its Internet has seen some discussion lately about conceptualism vis-a-vis poetry. Why argue? I get the rancour of the competing sides, rancour is how we assert. But why this particular battleground? Poetry that we read needs this?

After all these years, I'm still not good at thinking of the stuff that surrounds poetry, the criticism, the theory. It all seems so private. Yes, we share poetry, but poetry works like dreams: the mechanisms and interpretations are personal. Theory ingratiates the poem to a stricture of delay. We await the confirmation or denial of the critical boundary overlaid upon the poem. The poem itself, it passes by, bored with argumentative readership.

A word like conceptualism is a backwards word. You have to look at all the roots and stems, all the integrated bits to understand it. Then you have to add in all the interpretations that people have accrued on the term. It's pretty confusing. Okay, the world's confusing. But gee, do I need this portmanteau conceptualism. How does it help my day?

A forward word would be one like tree. In reading the word tree, we have a picture based on our experience. That picture can lead anywhere, but it goes forward into the world. If you say tree and I say tree, between us we can develop a wider view. I mean exactly of oak, apple, or whatever, but also figurative possibilities. We're all nuts for figurative possibilities.

With conceptualism, we start with the big part, concept, whatever that might be. Then we have to work out all the other syllables, Greek and Latin tracks back to some primordial group of meaning. Then we sorta hafta agree on what we mean with the word, today if everyone's agreeable. Which they are not. And how does one experience conceptualism, anyway?

What I am saying is, conceptualism doesn't write poems. It's just an adjunct blur to keep poetry away. It's a debate word, a word with sides. Even in my stupid young youth, I never thought poetry had sides. I'll bet you felt likewise, in your poetic youth. As an instructional league teenager who just wanted to write, and with poetry's wide or even non-existent boundaries giving hope, I saw no sides to poetry. I saw clouds resolving into pictures, words into meaning. Or stranger still, words resolving into mystery. That is, the secure meaning that I understood with the words didn't seem to work. This was agitating, quite, but after all: interesting. Words are round and inclusive.

Conceptualism, as a concept, as a shared debate, is an exclusion. I say this, and I don't even know what people are “getting at” with the word. Exclusion is built in, tho. The descriptor conceptualism serves to limit if not mislead. The thing, poetry, is a thing: poetry. Poetry shakes us, round and round. The gabble of critical consequence is a loss of that.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pacific Rim, Movie

Erin and I absorbed a matinee yesterday. In his particular Internet stream, this was something of interest. I had not otherwise heard of it.

We arrived to an empty theatre: would we be alone thru out? Nay, a good 13 others joined us for this Wednesday entertainment.

In the offing is just about nuthin’. There’s a not quite buddy pic with Mark Walberg and Morgan Freeman except that it turns out Denzel Washington is Morgan Freeman now. Or vice versa? A dystopian future flick has Matt Damon as part of the vast prole underfoot separated from the primo non-polluted satellite where bleachy prune Jodie Foster rules the best part of society. Doesn’t look like one of her best roles. Plot-wise, well, you know, but it looked good, with wide futuristic vistas and stuff. Finally, I would hope, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts skywalking when I guess a collision with space trash requires 2 hours of cinematic saving of each other way way way above the earth. No thank you, times 10,000. Creeped out just thinking on it. Other crap on the way, can’t think whosis whatsis. Don’t miss it if you can, as I think Louis B Mayer said.

I had the vaguest expectation for Pacific Rim, monsters versus robots. The extended set up explained that destructive giant monsters have appeared, Godzilla plus a lot. Seems a rift in an undersea plate has a portal to another dimension, thru which pass these mega-monsters. The movie explained it more briefly than that so people wouldn’t hurt themselves thinking about it too much. Anyway, you mention other dimensions, everyone nods knowingly.

The monsters seem intent on coming ashore and devastating. Godzilla wants its plot back. It’s later explained, if explained is really the apt term, that dinosaurs were precursors of these beasties, in an earlier alien attempt to take over the planet. The monsters (I think) are tools of this alien race that takes over planets, uses them up, then moves on.

So, still in the set up, us earthlings discover that normal war machines were insufficient. The human world, as one, developed gigantor robots. To run these majestic destroyers required two people. The strain of commanding such mongo machines was more than one person could handle. Thus pairs were used. There was a three-armed bot run by triplets, but it didn’t last long. As Erin pointed out, the triplets must feel special to have a bot built just for them.

Pilots connect psychically thru some process called the drift. No need to explain how. Basically, one person would be right brain, the other left. The two pilots would move arms and legs and the robot would perform those moves. There were hints of Transformers, GoBots, and Pokemon in all of this. Also War of the Worlds. Almost plausible too, if you accept that physics and biology don’t exist. I mean, getting into a bot had all these NASA-like procedures, which created a sort of reality.

Continuing, still, with the set up, we meet two brothers, one of whom clearly has pectoral muscles. They are pilots and we see them give battle. The scale of the monsters and the robots is kept loose, at a guess between 10 and 100 stories tall. The word ridiculous comes to mind. The younger of the brothers gets ripped from the robot, and the older barely survives. Okay. Now we can get going in the present tense.

Some five years later, surviving brother has quit the bot biz. The whole bot program is in disarray.  The monster are evolving, and the bots are getting beat. The whizbang world leaders have decided to place funding in building a wall to keep the monsters out. Oh, that oughta work. I’ve neglected to describe how these shark-like dinosaurs destroy cities: they run amok. Nothing has stood up to them, so why expect the wall? Okay, stop asking questions.

Our hero at this time is helping to build the wall, an exaggerated Texas border. The wrenching death of his brother has left him in doldrums. The head of the bot program seeks him out. Funding will last just a few months more, until the stupid wall is finished. He wants to make one last all out effort against the monsters. Oh, the monsters are called kaiju, which is Japanese for something. The bots are called jaegers, German for hunter.

Luckily, I never saw Top Gun but I know that it echoes here. Raleigh, brother of dead Yancey, must prove himself to the elites who didn’t quit the service. Raleigh, surprise, is not exactly by the book. Marshall, the bot program boss, brings in a woman as an expert to decide who shall be R’s partner. Turns out she’s highly qualified but Marshall won’t let her be part of the fighting. Raleigh does martial arts with various candidates for partnership. It’s a chance to show that he has pecs too, like his brother. And abs. The woman scores him harshly, tho he succeeds against all. This pisses off R, who challenges the woman. They spar, with sticks, and she wins and he magnaminously accepts her, but Marshall still says nay.

Meanwhile, there’s a cocky Australian who is teamed with his father. He snarls at R, and finally they fight. Dramatic tension, or something kinda like. Expect the two to develop a grudging respect for each other.

The world seems to be going dingo, with the onslaught. The monsters have mouths within mouths, which is an inexplicable trope that I’ve seen in other movies. Anyway, comic relief with two scientists. One is flippant American nerd biologist, the other is German math major with a cane. They have competing theories about the monsters. Rather outre, especially the German, but lively.

R and the woman finally are teamed, against Marshall’s instinct. In battle, she gets lost in the drift. The drift is Vulcan mind meld, but in that zone she could not forget her own past, in which as a child, she flees the devastators that killed her family. She freaks out and nearly kills a bunch of people. Discredited.

The monsters are arriving in grander configuration. Time for the last best. The idea is to blow up the fissure where the inter-dimensional gate is. I missed plenty as the movie proceeded. The nerd biologist drifted with part of a monster brain. Learned stuff, I’m not sure what.

The bots seem pretty unlikely. They are huge + huge, but really. They are carried to the battle via helicopters, which seems primo lame. Dropped into the sea, they walk thru the waves. Let’s just forget about physics for a while. They move with the grace of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Completely and completely out of their element, no matter the element. A lot of crashing about. When battling on land, you get all the collateral damage you could need and more.

The bots mostly punch and slam the monsters. Occasionally they use highly effective rockets, and you wonder why not always go that route. Well, the monsters can spit up a furious sort of acid that completely ruins a bot, but they choose to do so rarely.

Nerd biologist needs a complete alien brain to perform drift on. He seeks out Ron Perlman, only actor in the flick that I’ve seen before. Perlman enjoys the chance to act out with his sleazy flesh monger role (alien flesh and stuff is used for all sorts of sketchy stuff).

Well, no need to serve up the plot further. Nerd biologist discovers, with the bickering help of math guy, that the fissure cannot be breached (with atomic pow) without alien monster. That is, the portal closes to aliens (id est humans).

Dramatic expected deaths, and all, and it is down to Raleigh and the woman. We learn that she was a child who Marshall saved and then upbrang. He dies, of course. This last bot is just about done working, arm missing and stuff. Situation normal for bits to fall off and electrical stuff flashing and burning. They’re going to grab a monster and drop the bot down into the fissure where its nuclear core will be set to explode. Raleigh sends his injured partner to the surface in a pod since only one can perform blow up sequences. The bot explodes as per, closing the portal. Raleigh manages to escape in a pod. Blimey!

I wonder if I got half the plot here. I’m sure all 15 of us in the audience frequently said “Oh, I saw that coming” during our 2 hours in this other world.

And yet.

Despite the cliches running wild, the characters seemed to stand stalwart. Marshall had to give a rousing speech before the final battle. It’s the same speech as given in Independence Day. Marshall gets to put a period to the final paragraph with this great line: “We have canceled the apocalypse.” As Erin asserted, no finer line.

I found all the actors strangely likeable. Guillermo del Toro directed. I’ve heard the name but have nothing to attach it to.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Movie Totaly Sux: Gods and Generals

Saw this made for tv effort last night. I should have been less hopeful but it's about the Civil War, so it had that going for it. And little else, it turns out.

The movie derives from the sequel to the novel by Michael Shaara, Killer Angels. That one was about Gettysburg. Shaara interweaved several character plots into a reasonable whole. Of course the battle itself is intriguing.

Shaara also wrote a prequel, which concerned many of the same characters, but back in the days of the Mexican War. Michael Shaara didn't write Gods and Generals, his son Jeff did. And that brings up the unfortunate problem of franchise.

Years ago, Arthur C. Clarke took on a protege, perhaps several. Gentry Lee was one. And they started collaborations on sequels to Clarke's famous books. I don't want to hear about it. If the gold mine is played out, salting it won't actually make it better. Frank Herbert apparently went crazy writing Dune sequels. They got weirder and weirder, and then we find that his son has taken the reins. Anne McCaffery's another who took on some leech for a pilot. I see it only as attenuation. I hate it. Look, Jeff, just because your dad could do it, doesn't mean you can.

But okay, I never read Jeff Shaara's book. And the movie is, after all, about Stonewall Jackson. How can you screw it up? With a concerted effort, that's how. Team effort, headed by the noxious fume called Ted Turner.

Ted Turner made Killer Angels into a small screen spectacular. It wasn't that great but it was filmed on location. Turner lurks behind this shambles, as well, again filmed on location.

First of all, the makeup artists never came to terms with the Age of Extreme Facial Hair. We're not looking at characters but rather bearers of beards. Several actors get to wear dapper mustaches. Most, however, look dispirited behind the shrubbery. You try to tell James Longstreet from George Pickett. I guess the shooting schedule didn't allow the time for actors to supply their own beards to the movie magic. Stephen Lang, who plays Jackson, wore Brillo on his face. Brillo!

The movie starts slow, then eases up on the accelerator. Robert Duval as Robert E Lee receives invitation to lead the Union against the insurrection. With compelling blah blah blah about his home blah blah blah Virginia he declines the offer and instead opts to lead the South.

This scene should have been a warning because while Duval, I think, gets the accent right, the acting seems too openly actorly. I believe the director causes this. Most of the screenplay consists of florid speeches. Thus the actors are set up to make each word count. That means tics, pauses, and slowed pace. Acting!

So then for a miserably long time, various characters come to grips with the coming storm, enlisting or seeing loved ones go. Everyone's got a speech. Stonewall foremost has the Good Book to fall back on, in case his speechifying needs a little gloss. In times of darkness, quote the Bible.

Historically it's probably true that many leaned on the Bible for encouragement. In this movie, it only comes across as the pitter patter of received wisdom. It all sounds like rote. Stephen Lang, who plays Jackson, doesn't make him crazy enough. I take the historical Jackson to have been a fire eater of sorts. Perhaps not to the John Brown level, but tightly wound. Lang has Jackson take the Bible as more like an instruction manual. The scenes where he and his wife share a few verses have the ring of Kraft cheese.

Don't worry, Northerners can bloviate too. Jeff Daniels plays Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was the moral core of Killer Angels. Here he's just another blowhard, as is his wife, Mira Sorvino. They have a scene in which she confronts him about going off to war. She manages to recite an entire Richard Lovelace poem before Daniels could open his mouth. The scene gave the aura of Shakespeare refined to pure fakery.

Daniels tops her later on by quoting a quite lengthy stretch from the writings of Julius Caesar. He and his soldiers are in formation at the time. At first Bull Run. Awaiting to enter the fray. Not a single Maine boy in the ranks rolls his eye.

The focus of the movie is the South and their just cause. You can argue state versus federal rights, it continues in argument now. Slavery was an ancillary issue, but you wouldn't know it in this movie. Jackson takes on a black cook—I don't know if he was free or a slave—who feels as strongly about his Virginia homeland as Lee. It's just a little too nice.

After a while, some battles actually occur. Bull Run is the first. I'm being picky but when soldiers charge they do so without hint of berserker. Seems like with cannons crashing and bullets catching soldiers in mid stride, a bit of adrenalin might be apparent. Nope.

Early on we meet a family of Southerners. Two of the boys are off to the war. The professionally distraught mother must fret their fate with her daughters. Later, the Yanks invade the town. An ambulance is found to cart them all to safety. A slave and her children offer to stay behind to take care of the house. The ambulance rattles off, for some reason towards the incoming Yanks. I thought some sort of drama might occur but the ambulance bangs a u-turn and heads away.

The Yanks come to the house. The slave lady and her children come to the door. They are dressed in finery. The Yanks ask suspiciously if this is their house or their master's. The woman says it is hers. Great! Saved the effing house for Southern Mistress.

On Christmas Day, pickets from both sides, Johnny Reb calls to Billy Yank. They decide to make a trade. Johnny brings a pipe and Billy a cup of coffee. Johnny sips and Billy smokes. They barely acknowledge each other. Wordlessly they return cup and pipe, and saunter away. Surprisingly underplayed scene.

Eventually Jackson gets hit by friendly fire, mutters about crossing the river, and dies. It took hours to get to his point. The black cook is there at Jackson's funeral, faithful to the end. Beth gave the movie her highly regarded Worst Movie Ever award. I felt like I accomplished something getting thru it without sleeping too much.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise, and Kim K

I think it has been established that language no longer exists. Not the imprecise language of words, that resists definition and professes roots in gardens. Instead we have a hardcore gallimaufry of manufacture. Can poets match that test?

We saw War of the Worlds the other night. It was an entertainment and worth reseeing, but a word to Steven Spielberg: you might want to pull up your socks. As far as atmosphere, it isn’t a patch on the Gene Barry starring thriller. Okay, I saw that one when I was believable (able to believe): a young and willing auditor of marvels, and the words that tell them. Marvels like Tom Cruise (synecdoche for Hollywoodia) have made me wary, wary. Spruced up marvels of any ilk, I mean.

Spielberg’s movies usually look good; this one looks hasty, compiled, and a bit sloppy. It held up as entertainment, a worthy purchase from the supermarket cheap rack, but embarrassing, perhaps, in terms of Spielberg’s oeuvre. It aint no Close Encounters.

Tom Cruise irritates me, which means I should investigate. I don’t mean Scientology or that stuff, that’s just the human side of murk seeping thru. As a Star of Acting, he makes me flinch. I grant him actual acting skill. He’s not just a one tempo puppy (Arnold, Bruce, Sylvester). Unfortunately, you always see the gears turning, the calculation. If he could just let go of that occasionally, I might release some of my irritation. Anyway, he’s competent as actor, even so.

Fred Allen said something to the effect, Hollywood is where you brush away the glitter to get at the real glitter inside. Tom’s inner glitter is hard to express in words. Is he goodlooking in the certifiable, documented, Hollywood way? I guess so. The young Cruise seemed like a stupid high school jock. He looked malleable, with a mushy, wet clay smile. Perhaps the clay has hardened, he looks more chosen now. I mean, he fulfills the checklist, except that he’s unacceptably short. And yet he lets that be no barrier.

He resembles the veritable Kim Kardashian in some ways. In Hollywood terms, she’s no spring chicken. The rage of age has brought her unforgivably into her 30s. Yet she’s buffed and bound and looks perfectly identifiable. She is thus allowed to become pregnant. Who knew that women got heavy when pregnant? According to my read of magazine covers at the supermarket, Kourtney and Khloe have also become pregnant. And fulfilled (and yet).

You do wonder about these Kardashians. When journalists must explain the Kardashian quantity, the women are called stars of reality shows, i.e. stars of their lives. It’s an odd complex, but then, Tom Cruise has been doing that right along, tho not in so many words. Not in any words, let’s be honest.

Kim is the star Kardashian. Khloe is the baby. Besides getting married, divorced and pregnant, Khloe doesn’t seem to Star in much. Kourtney was a something or other on one of those shows, but has since been fired. It might even have been her job to get fired, so that the larger theme of being something within nothing could supremely squirt into the atmosphere of attention. Kim, meanwhile, has been the spokesfemale for Midori watermelon liquor, at any rate, tags on bottles have forensically flaunted the Kim K image. Which has led to the enviable position of attachment to the Kanye West whatever, with further episodes beckoning.

Kourtney may be some sort of avatar. Rumour has it that she’s really O J Simpson’s daughter, which puts scale to the property (Kardashian Inc.). She’s notably taller than her sisters, and… and… Oh, I dunno…

I guess they are all avatars. The conservative wrecking ball demands a secret insensitivity to human iniquity. That’s why healthcare is such a great topic of contetion. Within the meta-range, Cruise and the Kardashians make unmitigated flarf out of life terms. I say flarf because it is context recontexted. The Kardashian flarf is immobile, however, lacking words. It’s not really flarf, or anything, at all.

I sweated bullets when the aliens almost finished off Gene Barry et al., in that black and white movie. Almost, but the human-saving virus did its deed. Spielberg thoroughly brushed that tension aside as afterthought. Instead, it’s the majesty of monster that he,and we, indulged. Independence Day, an exhilarating romp, as they say, showed how wonderful monster can be.

Cruise and the Kardashians are monsters, in the old school way. It says in Merriam Webster that monster derives from monere, to warn. I guess that’s all I’m saying, in my personal science fiction here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Yes, I saw Star Trek today. We intended to do a matinee, but Beth had an appointment in town (Boston town), that ate into the afternoon. I went along so that I could say, I think you should have turned back there.  Tho seriously we got in and out meetly. And Boston Common is just so lovely, a city being sensible. So we had pizza then went to the cinnyMAH.

Re upcoming films, I got nothing to look forward to. I don’t even remember what’s coming. Superman doesn’t excite me. I don’t even want to illustrate the demise of western, eastern, northern, and southern society as these summer mishaps flatten the intellectual step of our many nations. Snarky boom, the end.

Much anticipated movie, this ole Star Trek. None of the tv shows excited me. They were entertaining but I cannot see them in the Beloved category. The first movie clicked on all cylinders. This one probably did too, but I guess I wanted to see redefinition of the genre. The crackle of this ensemble clearly delivers a strength. There is rapport amongst the actors and a written ease given to them. If the tv shows had this sort of energy, they’d still be on the air.

I had an odd feeling of the plot being both rushed and stalled. It’s an action film problem, where the ACTION takes basically meaningless time while the plot waits. The action is expressive if not vivid. Fight scenes are essentially vivid blurs augmented with crunching sounds. The equation drips policy, as if no real action occurs, just elevated plot advances. What I mean is, if we have to have fights, let the ballet play. Jolting remarkable agitation is another way of saying confusing.

Which reminds me that one of the movies in the foredoom is a modern martial arts mess. Martial arts movie times the square root of video game, plus 3. The trailer had the despicable catch line that winners remain standing. Losers equal pogrom, holocaust, tornado victims. I mean really, is that the math?

Another math was in Star Trek, when the admiral’s daughter wants to help Kirk with his bomb problem, or something. Anyway, she says, turn away, and she proceeds to strip down to underwear. Which is a calcified James Bond moment that has no reasonable position in a grown up movie. She had to change into bomb defusing clothes, oh yeah. Peter Weller played her father the admiral. He had an old school army accent. His daughter had a swish British one. Adding that up right now.

Christopher Pine has brash down pat. To me he perfectly performs the idea of Kirk, which Shatner never really approached. I read one or two Star Trek novels. The whole idea of the franchise as franchise made me glum because it seemed to regulate how people made and how people enjoyed scifi. Anyway, I kept thinking, Shatner’s doing this, saying that??? The esteemed Priceline guy has that kind if imprint. We get it as well with Pine: he’s going to grow up to be Shatner? You just don’t see Shatner in bed with two alien females with tails. That’s another James Bondian off note, btw.

Benedict Cumberbatch is the god of autistic embrace with his Sherlock Holmes. He was good here, grisly evil with a nice accent. I suppose we need one more hyper-powered wundermann. What made me flinch, tho, was that he was Khan. Ricardo Montalban’s expert hamminess needn’t be challenged. The idea that JJ Abrams has to stick to the clunky timeline of the original is dispirirting.

A scene in which the Star Fleet command endures a helicopter attack recalled a similar scene in Godfather 3. Good Lord, copping to Godfather 3!!!!!! The action gets a bit blurry and the slaughter is wholesale but it’s pretty dynamic. A space ship crashing into a city later on recalled 911. I kinda think they ought to leave that alone.

Abrams repeats a few scenes from the first endeavour. Kirk and Khan diving out of a spaceship in freefall, tho this time it looked like they had control of their fall. The fight on the drill from Number 1 turns into a fight on some sort of moving platform in Number 2. In both instances, my vertigo made up for the lack of vertigo of the contestants.

Bones, Sulu, and Chekov have to wait for Number 3 to get more lines. Not that they were that busy in the tv show, but Scotty was featured some in this flick. The door’s open for Khan to return, but I would rather that the Enterprise move on.

Oh jeez, I just remembered that one of the upcoming movies features Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro, and Kevin Kostner or was it Kline in a puerile Vegas hijinks movie. The Hangover at 70, with Academy Award cred: ugh!!! Anyway, Star Trek was a fun movie, perhaps more muddled than the first. The first had the advantage of surprise: we didn’t know if Abrams would get it right. Knowing he can, we might get a bit picky.

As we were leaving, an usher told us her son was in the movie. He played one of the aliens in the opening homage to Indiana Jones sequence. It was fun to hear the proud mother. Her son’s been in some 12 movies, so he’s got something going.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Concord Estates and Woods

Since last summer, Beth and I have gone to the same place in Concord to walk and take pictures. The wish would be daily, the actuality more like 2-3 times a week. The place offers extensive and varied acreage but we usually take the same route, a mile loop around an old millpond. Despite such a limited area, we have found something new and engaging every time. The flow of seasons and weather present continual change.
Neither Beth or I consider ourselves photographers, at least in the sense of trying to make “art”. We just take pictures of things that catch our eye. We don’t fuss with the pictures either. Especially we don’t amplify the colours, which is a sort of common romanticism focused on idealism. There is no “truth” in these pictures, just interest.
We share the camera. I take the most pictures because I like to click away. Beth puts more thought into her camera work. We point and talk and ask questions.
Yesterday, we entered the woods by a different route. Years ago, I skied in from this path, but I remembered nothing of it. One drives down a country road with grand estates on both sides. This was all farm land, in Concord’s working heyday. The estates show it, with barns and horses, fences and rock walls. Some owners sly the taxes by growing hay and calling the place a working farm. It all was probably very good farm land, the land of Concord seems blest, but it all now just represents American extent. Food comes from someplace else now (tho some farms remain in town). In fact life comes from someplace else, because even Concord isn’t good enough to satisfy the wants. What’s here in this town is muchly all documentation of what is “Mine.” I don’t really begrudge it, don’t envy the owners,  not in a come the revolution sense. I am, however, wary of hedge fund success and the a-holes who hire it.
The grandest estate has numerous buildings. The main house is old, with several chimneys (chimneys in the middle of the house rather than the side, as this house showed, indicates older houses). The barn is large and trig. There’s a ridiculously lovely old beech tree, a cluster of apple trees (in bloom!). A small house on the estate has a pretty kitchen garden of herbs. The lawn close to the main house has been mowed to golf course trim, but much of the open area has been allowed to engage its natural grassy habit. When I say natural, I mean the grass grows tall and other plants are allowed to grow. The cycle burgeoning toward reforestation of course will be stymied in the fall.
We left all this comfortably unnatural wonder and followed the path into the woods. The paths are somewhat tortuous. I got lost once on my bike, with my attention tuned to avoiding rocks and roots. I ended up eating my bike but got out alive.
We met a family on the path who, oddly, walked in single file, dad first, the kids, and mom. It didn’t look like they were there to engage but of course I don’t know that. I could imagine the allure of television and vid games hanging heavy with the crew.
Sunlight glimmering on leaves. A few tiny violets still in bloom. Lily of the valley. I thought I saw the flick of a deer’s white tail but it was a sidelong sight, perhaps a bird instead. There were deer tracks at the place. Deer stay scarce during the day because many who walk these woods bring dogs. I consider dogs part of the habitat. Love to see the happy wet coming up to greet us.
We wound down hill till we came to a small, rather dismal pond and a fenced in field. Sitting above it was the house at the top of the hill near the other entrance to the woods. We actually drove up the long driveway once. The house itself is no big deal, no mansion, but it’s a glorious chunk of land. Our view from the shady path revealed the hillside as just about a cliff. Clouds at the moment showed a cumulous heft but didn’t block the sun. Spring in this world of poor mutts.
We found trillium next to the path, and geranium. I’ve seen lady’s slippers in the woods here, and we were hopeful. Honeysuckle and lily of the valley were everywhere and in bloom, gorgeous scents. There was an exotic tree that I’ve never seen before, very large leaves and beefy flowers somewhat like roses or peonies. We got the idea that this was a formerly tended area left to make its own way.
The path led to a sign on a tree indicating private property. We turned around. A cyclist soon came bounding down the path from the verboten area, unmindful of such restrictions. We took another direction. The whole hillside was covered with lily of the valley. Like with honeysuckle, the flower is small and undramatic, but the scent is intoxicating.
We looped back to our entry path. We greeted a family marching in, alerting them to the hillside of lily of the valley. There were 15-20 cars parked along the road in, but we saw the contents of perhaps 4.
Much of this is town land. I know a little school called Harvard owns some of the land. I don’t know if our steps ever landed on Harvard land, whether Harvard allows access. On our way home, we stopped at the organic farm near where we usually enter the woods. It’s a beautiful looking farm, nestled at the bottom of the hill with the Concord River on its far side. Happily, this land is held in trust, a farm “forever”.
Beth’s uncle built a place on the Jersey shore just after WWII. Nothing was there at the time but things changed dramatically over the years. It was a small place, even after it was enlarged, about 50 yards from the water. It sat on a street that ran perpendicular to the water. The houses along the shore road kept getting bigger, so that when I first visited, ocean view was blocked. One entered the beach thru an alley between two McMansions.
The depredations of Hurricane Sandy destroyed or greatly irked most of the houses in the area (Beth’s aunt had moved some years before). One shouldn’t and cannot make that some kind of justice against these magnates of exclusivity. One can, surely, see—if blinders are removed—that this “land” is a spit of shifting sand, however. The monuments were not bound to last, even by the measly standards of human lifetime.
As beautiful as the estates in Concord are, someone’s going to realize it’s just a tax bill. And the throng grows of those who want a piece. Of course it is all Maya. Daniel Boone lighting out for further expanse simply has little chance nowadays. Expanse is now dictated to us in little notes and messages. Might as well see what these messages say.

Friday, May 10, 2013

American Idle

We do not have cable, which is close to admitting that we have no electricity. We realized the ROI was getting pretty slim. Even before that, I found myself not really interested in what television offered. I watched but didn't invest.

I am now in a state where I don't now recognize many of the people on the cover of People, let alone the the supermarket tabloids. This leave me uneasy. All this culture in which I swim, passing me by. Okay, I know who the Kardashians are but am pressed to say what their hold on us is.

So anyway. I saw a bit of American Idol last week. The last (perhaps only other) time I saw the show, Simon Scowl was still a judge, and the talent was at a much more amateur level. My recent viewing, I guess the competition was well along; the singers were competent and they had accompaniment. But the fabrication was just as taut as before.

The orchestration endemic to the show is a political nuisance, and always has been. Simon of course played it the best. His commentary was mean and republican: you're all equally bad. His pleasures were concessions to the idea of winning, and winning big. The other two judges, Paula and Dawg, were there to pretend hope existed. Hope has always been a nice story line in this country.

The latest set of judges showed less centre. Whereas Simon anchored the centripetal force, no one really holds the chain with this latest bunch. Nicki Minaj comes the closest. Her comments seemed unrepentently sour. She's balanced by the cheerful Mariah Carey. Supposedly there's tension between the two, which is just the respected theatre we feel that we need. Folksy hip Keith Urban adds a thoughtful note, and R-Dawg is R-Dawg. I checked Wikipedia, by the bye, and Randy Jackson has serious cred as session bassist and producer. Cred on American Idol is simpler, he just has to say Yo Dawg.

The three singers competing were all women. I don't know if categories exist in the show: male, female, group. The singers all sang heartfelt ballady tripe. Excuse me, I sound a little impatient. I guess they're effective songs, just not on my turntable.

Each singer had a taped session with Harry Connick Jr before performing live. He'd joke with them in a friendly, folksy way then tell them how great they were. Shrug.

After an enthusiastically received song by one of the singers, Nicki Minaj directly said that something was missing. Well first she said she liked the singer's pants. Minaj noted that the singer didn't commit to the song enough. Plausible, tho not perceptible to me. Surprisingly, Mariah agreed, tho she said so in a nicer way. Keith agreed too, but allowed that nerves and pressure effect performances. And so on.

That's the keynote to the show: it goes on. Ryan Seacrest hosts the show, taking the media mogul crown from the now completely dead Dick Clark. Seacrest has no rough edges, is just politically there as a process of containment. Basically, he runs the republic. His blandness, like Clark's, lets him into our homes as the Mayor of Distraction.

And since we have once again had terrorist attacks here in the U.S., thank heavens for the distractions. The patent says that America gets together to worry about American Idol. Well, the country worries about Bachelors and Bachelorettes too, which to me is an amazing insight into our country's soul. We're watching people pretend to date!

I'm sure this goes on in other countries, I'm just not up on the latest data.

I know Idol is losing ratings and, flashpoint, Randy Jackson, as well. People are right now discussing how irreplaceable Dawg is. Honestly, why do I know this?

That Idol exists doesn't bother me. It's the professional wrestling of entertainment. Maybe Nicki Minaj (from parts unknown)has a foreign object in her hand as she points out a performer's failing. It's a zestless subject of conversation, the probity of catastrophic political muteness. That's the less good side of this crap.

Of course that Benghazi tv show has become popular, and we're still watching reruns of Boston Marathon Mayhem. I think the perpetrator did it. They usually do. And we need to know that perps are responsible. Makes things nice and clear.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Ironman 3

Saturday, 5/4, was Erin’s birthday. Twelve years ago on the same date, he had four stainless steel pins removed from his femur. The pins held the bone together so the breaks could heal. He was in study mode this past Saturday, so he and I went to the movies Sunday. Pretty full house, e’en tho a beauty day. New England is good for fine days but doesn’t often string them together like this past week. Anyway, the trailers:

Well jeez, everything explodes! I know there‘s no reason to get thoughtful, but why are we so excited about explosions and crashes? I don’t know from Fast and Furious, but I get the faked up dynamics of crash, vengeance, and super-powered nothingness. The franchise is up to six, and I have no doubt you could not tell the episodes apart. Oh this is the one where the car crashes and spewing guns represent justice. Justice, sir, is what I hand to you.

Marvel has Thor comin’ at us. The comic that I remember, Thor flickered between the mighty god and the limping mortal. The first Thor movie strained too much at the soap opera sentiment, Marvel’s gift to comix. Went nowhere near the limping mortal. The best parts of that movie were the interactions of god world with this one. It looks like this next one dishes up the next Armageddon, again.

Marvel also exudes The Wolverine this summer. I don’t find the character, or Jackman, interesting. Wolverine seems like the type who would engage you at a party with how his liposuction operation didn’t work out, I mean it’s all on his sleeve. Okay, he’s a hunk, maybe the human growth hormones he takes gives him a rash. Let’s just say his gravitas seems a bit phony.

A Hunger Games sequel seems prodded. I stand posted as having little knowledge of Hunger Games, but this seems like tripe. I care for none of these flicks, waiting on Star Trek. At least no animated blockbusters in the offing.

Oh yeah, the Lone Ranger. Of some interest to me, but it looks too explodo. Seems like nowadays, scale = explosion. Putting the explosion into a less explosive era just rocks too hard.  I never saw Downey’s Sherlock Holmes but I glean from the trailers that they’re not a matter of grey matter but instead action hero. Which is an off note (and more) for me.

Ironman has one resounding resource: Robert Downey Jr. I cannot think of an actor with a more ready, flip delivery. I know nothing of acting but I think there is effort and craft in his flip delivery. He commands the rhythm, so that you don’t know what to expect, tho the set up is obvious. His effort and understanding carry the film.

I missed the 2nd I-man. There seems some effort at continuity. I know there’s reference to The Avengers.  Comic continuity has always been a bete noire, like anyone could make sense of all the plotlines.

The plot of I-man 3 is simply a petrie dish in which things happen. Add zingers and and explosions and you’re done.

I only vaguely remember The Mandarin from the comics. Sort of a Fu Manchu arch-enemy type. Today’s worst nightmare. In 3, he is firstly served as an Osama Bin Laden cubed. He takes credit for mysterious bombings that don’t offer any evidence of bombs.

I started to flinch when the Mandarin appeared, because it gave off the odour of let’s get the Muslims. Moreso, bombings as entertainment shows an odd panache. I mean, after the heart-rending and hand-wringing of the past month. Ben Kingsley does a lively job with the character, tho. Ominous and crazy, with an interesting rhythm. We feel better, it seems, when that one crazy person is identified. That guy is our problem.

In a flashback, Tony meets with an attractive lady scientist and a wild-looking crackpot science type. Both are just bumps in the night for pre-enlightened Tony Stark. More later, of course.

Tony suffers post traumatic stress disorder, apparently from the Avengers movie. It’s good that the writers have heard of such a thing. Gywneth Paltrow is tiresome, I’m afraid. I think People named her the most important something. In the first I-man, she appeared so that it could be said that she appeared. I think she shall continue to look 25 for a few more years. Can’t last forever, and what are we going to do then? Not really to blame her for that, it’s just a cultural rule that a 40 year old Paltrow would be unacceptable. Same with Jennifer Aniston. Same too with Tom Cruise, as I think of it. Even tho it’s okay for men to age.

Tony Stark, finally ready for action, challenges the Mandarin to bring it on, going so far as to give his Malibu address. Attractive lady scientist comes to warn Tony about crackpot science type, now somehow a hunk. Then Mandarin’s choppers attack the Stark compound and everyone almost gets hurt.

I think I-man flies away. Pepper takes ALS to safety only… Perfidy! ASL and hunky crackpot are in cahoots.

Tony ends up in snowy Tennessee on a snowy Christmas Eve. His Ironman costume is broken. He meets a young boy who is fresh from some Frank Capra movie. There’s a cheesy back story there. Luckily, Stark snarks, and the malevolent attacks on our heartstrings are neatly averted. Some great lines between Stark and the kid. Downey gets next to the people when he acts. Even with the big apparent ego, he’s there with the other actor.

Thru out the movie, bits of I-man armour fly about, often to satisfying slapstick effect, but sometimes gimmicky distraction. Kinda wonder why that bit stuck.

There’s an I-man prototype that works for the government, with Tony’s friend Colonel Somebody inside.This must have shown up in I-2.  A bad guy gets into that suit and attacks Airforce One. El Presidente is snatched, and a hole in the plane causes many to be pulled from it. Rather than freeze to death immediately, all 18 decide to plummet until I-man manages to collect them all and place them safely in the ocean. From there they wave to the hero. Nice!

I guess I should mench that ALS developed a something that allows regeneration. Prob: unstable: causes people to explode. Which is the answer to the bombings.

Anyway, it looks bad for the Prez, bad for Colonel Somebody, bad for the world. Tony finds the Mandarin’s compound and, well, it turns out that the Mandarin is a fake. He’s an actor. Kingsley plays him as a small time actor. Kingsley has fun with the role. This guy is supposed to be an innocent figurehead but in one scene, he kills a man. He has captured a businessman then, by invading everyone’s television, including the President’s, he kills the guy on tv.

The movie is pretty violent, in the careless way we like it. Bad people die and sad people die, everyone else can worry about justice.

So the guy behind the Mandarin is hunky crackpot. He shoots ASL when she evinces a moral streak, and so, well, gotta bring it to the mat. Colonel Somebody joins Stark fighting the bad guys with the most explosions possible. An army of Ironman suits aid the good guys. Pepper appears to be dead after a fall into an inferno.

The final battle, I-man vs whack job, is the usual unmeasured mess. They trade vast blows with no effect. Still, it looks like Stark will be toast until… Pepper Potts blasts fire thru her mouth. She’d been infected by the same thing as the whack job. Dunno why this particular attack worked. But it cooked him.

After that, a check in on everyone. Oh by the way, the vice president was somehow involved in the evil plot. The end suggests that Tony Stark may be quitting the superhero biz. We’ll see about that.

It’s fun to watch tho there is a lot of relevant stupid going on, in all these possible flicks. It’s not much different from the stupid in real world, like, okay, for instance, the actions and reactions, the explanations and panic, surrounding the Boston bombing. Magic fire will come out of our mouths and solve all problems. Count on it.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Henry Adams on Snooki Polizi

Reading The Education of Henry Adams, a quirky autobiography, if ever. It takes some getting used to his grimly acerbic third person account, but there's a guarded hilarity in there, and real intent.

A phrase struck me—he speaks of his education in Germany—to wit: “...when by-products turn out to be more valuable than staples.” It reminded me of Williams' laser beam: “the pure products of America go crazy.” Both phrases gained traction for me because, at the gym, I saw part of a bio of Snooki from Jersey Shores. I haven't seen that show but the capillary action of American culture assures that I somehow “know” about it.

And I won't run Nicole “Snooki” Polizi down, but I think it is fair to wonder why she's whatever she is. The bio paints her as a someone trying to be someone, wit the deft arithmetic that “someone” = “no one”. Or more accurately, no one = something, accent on thing. We, audience that we are, seek not works but thingness. Snooki is a quantifiable thing, no doubt. Her pure product, which isn't her or hers, is crazy, let's be honest. We, audience, seek quantity. She (by which I mean this formidable televised thingness, not the “person”), is a quantity, one that we can measure. I have sort of lost gumption to investigate further.

There exists a sense in this trembling country that by-product is product, just as Adams intimates. Poisoned water table is a product somehow (miraculously, you ask me), because we need fracked oil so much. Somehow we need Snookis, id est: heroes: as in: broken leg college b-ball players, swimmers in Olympics, champion gymnasts moving on in career: nobodies elected to somebodies. The democracy of fame.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Emergency Room TV

Here is what. Beth's mother, staying with us, revealed a surprising high blood pressure. She does cardio and lifts weights, and usually maintains good bp, so this was cause to visit the emergency room (Emerson hospital, where I was born). They didn't keep Beth's mother, and gave a course of action.

I went with Beth to take Norma there. I kept to the waiting room, when she finally got called, in a fit of discretion. My last trip to the emergency room, I had been bit mildly on the butt by one of three dogs. The only concern was rabies, tra la tra la. While waiting, I watched loathsome 700 Club then or some such, the fare on the tv. Pat Baboone hawked gold as investment, which reminded me of Jesus in his fit of pique.

Yesterday, the offering was first of all Katie. It's that Couric lady, boiled down to iconic 1st name. Larry King, I swear to god, reported how he tried to put the moves on the young Katie, impress her with his suspenders. The current Katie seems ageless. Perky smile to the end.

I had a book with me so wasn't attending carefully. One segment concerned a website that brings women together on the Internet. Sort of feminist but really it's just more accommodated enterprise. Not so much feminist as those who benefited from feminism. The site will still have the same yuck as anything else on the net. I mean, the show is geared to the feminists who watch television at 4 in the afternoon.

Another segment seemed about the same thing, tho I don't remember its specifics. All squeezed into a segment, with noise and commercials between segments. Television. Katie is good at the three minute interview, I just don't get the three minute interview. Especially as it could as likely be with a half life semi-celeb or the Prime Minister of Somewhere Important. All boiled down, neat.

Next came Ellen, another first name basis. Her sitcom was drab but she's a pleasant enough entertainment entity. She started the show with a stand up routine just as shitty as Jay Leno's, a disturbing lack of effort. Apparently it is free amphetamines for the studio audience because they were jacked to the nth. I guess I could seem exciting with a claque like that.

One of the lame jokes concerned the recent near miss asteroid. A few minutes later a pretend asteroid was sent down a cable to surprise no one. It was like elementary school.

The main bit of the show concerned a woman who had been on previously. Just an ordinary person like who watches Ellen daily. She was on earlier to explain how she does stuff for everybody. I mean, so I infer. As a reward for this generosity, Ellen sent a camera crew to the woman's workplace, a beauty parlour I think.

The woman was suitably animated, which apparently makes her funny. Ellen meanwhile stares at a monitor as if she were looking at Dick Tracy's 2-way wrist television. A grinning minion was onsite at the beauty parlour, ready to scream as needed.

First there was a need to seem surprised that a camera crew was at the beauty parlour and Ellen had deigned to communicate thru the airwaves. THEN a male stripper appeared, but he and his pecs were largely ignored. Finally Ellen presented the woman with fifty thousand cash money. The minion had a briefcase she was supposed to open but had to go off camera to undo the stuck latch.

Ellen's show has the annoying habit of showing both upcoming and passed bits from the day's show. I thought they were already done with that but the woman had to do thru her screaming surprise, joined by the grinning minion. This stuff accounted for several segments thru out the show.

In a quieter moment, Ellen interviewed Josh Duhamel. I'm sorry, I don't know who he is. I've heard his name but can attach it to nothing. Standard stuff, helped by Ellen's mild flakiness.

He's either married to or girlfriended by an additional celeb, I don't remember who. After references to Valentine's Day—the show was a bit dated (1973 was my guess)—Ellen presented him with “sexy” heart-shaped underwear. It was a de rigueur sort of gesture that no one wanted to play with. Josh did put them on but didn't let it bloom into a bit. However, later in the interview, he said, “I hate to admit it but I have a heart on”. That seemed pretty good but then I realized that he just read it off a cue card. Oh of course, this is television.

Gosh I forgot that after Ellen's perfunctory stand up, she announced it was time to dance. Her band—a guy on a keyboard—started in on something lively. The crowd went crazy, many moneymakers were shook. Ellen glided around to some other music in a distracted way, like she wanted us to know she had ADHD.

Josh got another segment, wherein he and Ellen asked a studio member questions. A bag of green goo from Nickleodeon hung over her head. After sufficient wrong answers, the bag would fall on her head. Her final question was what is the third planet from the sun. Cue the hilarity.

Bethany Frankel I'd heard of. Darn it, I never saw Real Housewives of Anywhere, but I know she started and sold Skinny Girl margarita. So there's that. She wasn't interesting. She has a show that supposedly shows off her business acumen. Someone who has been mentored by Bethany on that show came on to sing Bethany's praises. The mentored has developed a product, to wit: dolls that attach to cameras so that children will smile when their picture is taken. That seems like a curious nothing but then I never sold a margarita mix to Jim Beam for millions.

The local news followed. It's been a while since I watched the local news. Many of the same people, only older. This one has a face lift, that one looks all crinkly. At least it was the A-Team. The bench players tend to do that frowny face to show concern for those folks whose house burned down. Updates on new pope deliberation.

Entertainment Tonight followed but I won't try to detail that mess. However there was one Kim Kardashian story I cannot pass by. Since Kim's youth is fleeting, or fleeing, she has upped the ante, beauty regimen-wise. The latest trick from the heroes of cosmetic surgery is oh my god injections of one's own blood. This entails oh my god jabbing needles in the face to get the blood, then centrifuging the platelets out—I was a little too shocked to wholly get the science—and then oh my god the face is jabbed again. And that was Kim's blood bespattered mug right there. My god!

Oh, there was also a news story in which someone had interviewed Matt Lauer. Apparently Matt did not put the skids on Ann Curry's Today hosting gig, says this guy speaking for Matt. I just want to know why Matt is important. I get Katie to the degree that she's lively. I guess Matt's good looking, and sort of a comfortable presence, but I am yawning as I write this. For god's sake, why Larry King, for that matter? Why Bethany? Help!

And all the while, the hospital. A police officer asked if I was Eddie (I wasn't). A grandmother and young granddaughter waited while mother was attended to. The girl went immediately to a busy board, on which was a telephone. She would call Andrew inviting him to come by, then go to grandmother and tell her Andrew was coming by. She called someone else to invite them to come by to see Andrew, who was coming by. Etc. This went on.

The television put forth many hyperventilated announcements concerning the 1/2” of rain we would get thru the night. None of the rivers that might flood flooded.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Laboured Musings on my Father’s Death

Eight years ago today my father celebrated his 94th birthday. Tho he had been bedridden for two months and was in serious decline, he really did celebrate. The entire family came by that day to see dad. This gave Beth and me a chance to go out, a brief respite from care duty. While out we confirmed to each other that we could no longer care for dad at home.

We tried. He required 24 hour care. Even with a hired caregiver, Beth and I were swamped. And how was it all affecting Erin?

When I entered the room, I found people making the best of dad's best. Dad had perked up as he hadn't in two months. He was alert and responsive, even if he didn't speak. And he even ate ice cream and cake. He really hadn't eaten or drank anything in weeks but now he was enjoying ice cream. He was shockingly perky, as if belying the effort of Allen and Beth.

Dad went into the hospital with pneumonia, which he'd had before. As a patient, he was stoic. He didn't complain much, accepted the eternal annoyances of hospital care. At some point, he confided to Beth (not me) that this was his last. It didn't seem like it except that he had stopped eating and drinking. The hospital sent him to rehab after a few days. He didn't improve. I don't remember the details but at some point there was a meeting with the rehab people and the social worker with the result that dad would be brought home.

An oxygen system was brought in, and round the clock caregivers were hired (one per shift). I remember one wild night with a blizzard and shift change. It was like a hallucination for me, trying to rest with brouhaha all around. Beth or I had to help the caregivers because there were things that a single caregiver could not do alone.

My father became surprisingly combative at this time. I was helping to turn him over and he wailed at me, “Why are you doing this to me?” It was all too much.

His 94th birthday then. I entered the room with this family of mine, carrying a burden of betrayal. It felt cruel that I now had to announce that we could no longer take care of dad. And on his birthday, and at a time when he showed a boost. I burst into tears as I did so. No one argued the point but no one thanked us for the effort.

The next morning, I waited for the ambulance to take dad back to the rehab, which now would be hospice care. Beth took Erin to homeschool class and some normalcy. I had to watch as the ambulance drivers put dad on the gurney and lifted it into the ambulance. My brothers, their wives, their children were elsewhere, anywhere else, I presume.

We visited him at the rehab but he was clearly going down. He didn't want anyone around.

On his ninth day back at rehab, Beth and I visited him. After a while, Beth left me alone with him. His breathing was terrible. I was prepared to stay with him till he passed. I spoke to him. He was awake but not responsive. He didn't seem to want me there. He gestured unhappily. I decided to leave.

My mother died when no one was around. The family kept a pretty thorough attendance but she seemed to wait until she was alone to die. It was this thought that let me leave dad. I stepped from the room and again burst into tears. The attending nurse hugged me.

When I got home, I called my brothers and let them know that dad didn't have long. An hour or so later, one of my brothers called to say dad was dead. None of my brothers were able to get there in time. I took and still take satisfaction, I'm sorry to say, that they did not get to see him one last time. The day was, it seemed fitting, the last day of winter.

I write on a chilly day that nonetheless feels like spring. Red polls are chirping and investing themselves at the birdfeeder. I miss dad. I don't really miss my family—those brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews, and nieces—except as a kind of unsatisfying invention of family loyalty and love. They complained about how we cared for dad, and this, and that. Burdened those who were doing the work.

Both my parents just wanted a family. They wanted to see their children and their wives and their grandchildren. Lives of busyness made visits rarer and rarer. The nucleus disintegrated. Little else remains but ill will.

I've seen one brother since dad died, at a funeral of someone we both knew. I have heard from none of the others, nor have I tried to get in touch with anyone. The three brothers, the three wives, the six nephews and nieces. Petty things occurred and petty things grew.

Eight years later, I see the boundaries that I assumed didn't exist. We weren't really that close. We tried, in honour of our parents, but we were too ready merely to delude ourselves. And I want to write about this but I don't want to complain. I know we all have our stories. I'd like to step across the boundary.

I'm a little envious of those at the AWP groupgrope, just down the road. Arcane subjects to share in Publish or Die Land. It seems a closed system. The panels would interest me, but would they help me? I'm still talking my father's death, and disappointment with my family. I'm trying to find a language in between the anger and sadness, and better than either. Poetry is no good if it lacks intensive spring.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

BruekL Reads Bramhall

For the past 14 years, I have posted poems to the Wryting-L listserv. Alan Sondheim helped start the list, which has gone thru a couple of name changes. The lit has evolved into a small community of writers who post work that fairly settles under the rubric Experimental. We dassn't worry about the term except to say that the work posted varies greatly in conception and style. I have met a few listees in the flesh, and have corresponded with others.

Recently, Bob BruekL went to the trouble of close-reading a poem of mine. Bob should be better known because his writing is vivid and startling with an often scatological hilarity. People rarely comment on work presented, so Bob's extended reading of my poem proved surprising. In correspondence, Bob has pretty much stated that there''s Gertrude Stein then everyone else. He is nonetheless well-read, and read each word with care.

I herewith post my poem and his response. I do so not to add weight to my writing, but to present someone's approach to reading poetry. As a poet, it is not really my job to know what I'm doing. I am a conduit. That does not mean I renounce intention and technique, it means I honour the process of the words' gathering. A poem doesn't write itself, it finds itself, thru the poet.

Below is my poem, which I also posted to my poetry blog, Simple Theories, here. Bob's reaction, which he calls “Luminoius Lint”, follows the poem. Apologies for the spacy format in Bob’s section. Now how he presented it, but too time-consuming to correct.

* * * * *

You Will Hear a Dial Tone to Confirm Your Connection

My dying dad, we talk of rags. The beginning sees the Winston cigarette that somebody wanted. Later approval wore shoes. My dying dad in 2005, fit full of years. Destination smoke. You could say that, tho he smoked a pipe. His smoke was named relishing, which is a principle of poetry.

Why the weird gaze, populace? You old in the hills when you smile piles of underwear track panic. Scouting density is the new fat band. Traces of words stick to rock walls and halos. The linear fat check smiles Galadriel paddle ball. After it smoke rendering oil, the torso of occasion bends windward.

Words of rotation caulked the seeming. The present dad is when you look on a promontory. Whilst, in the evening, memory wants oil. So sliding posse fetch, to bring outlaw rampart dogma home.

The cattle of dad goes to prime. Each word conks oboe with a brow beat. You say intend, everyone else matches panza division hearing loss. Express words in digits of computed aggression, and sorry for the sag.

Too many words associate with too many not really exact ponds. A pond is life and dad. In dad the concept of dad, the concept in all time of dad, when really, it was a form. It bled into a country flag, forming the moral equivalent of lint.

Rags excursion sent my dad. You in clergy, belfry, Reader, pant.

* * * * *

Luminous Lint (by Bob BruekL)

What is this Poem about?  Is it a complex Poem?

Is it a luminous Poem?  Is it a Poem about concepts?

Is it a Poem about words?  Is it a Poem about words as concepts?

Are words nothing but concepts?  Is it a Poem about Poetry?

Are all Poems ultimately about Poetry?  What is Poetry?

Is it a Poem about lint?  


Obviously it is a Poem about the Poet's connection to a memory.

It is about from what he has descended, his flesh and blood.

It is about a bunch of memories, some of them seemingly seared

in his brain.  But the Poem is about the Poet's destiny too,

the Poet's dying:  the destination of the Poem is destiny,

the dying of us all, of all creatures, all things, the Universe itself.

But there is THE BEGINNING, and in hindsight, all beginnings

can be seen to see, to harbor insights into what is to come.

But LATER, when everything is worn out, when everything

has gone up in smoke, puffs of words linger.  Words can

imply anything, but things -- objects -- rear their ugly or

beautiful heads constantly, almost accidentally.


So "a principle of Poetry" is squeezed into this Poem,

into almost all the Poems of Allen Bramhall, in fact.

Grammar itself, words, sentences -- all these are subjects

of his Poems, or seem to sneak into all of his Poems.

His Poems are about Poetry, even though the number one

subject of this Poem is the memory of his flesh and blood --

heart and brain, the balls and guts from which he has been

at least partially conceived and created, from which he has

been begot.  The Poet asks us why there is a "weird gaze"

on our faces.  But only Poets know that no Poem is weird.

The Poem is not only about the line from which he descended,

but it is about things like PANIC and DENSITY and FAT.


But "traces of words" always "stick" around to enlighten

and muck things up, creating other levels of slippery complexities --

and dare I mumble under my breath -- gaiety and even hilarity

in spite of our ultimate destiny.


"The torso of occasion bends."  All of our bodies "bend"

toward a seemingly dire death.  But why is death necessary?

It IS necessary, "but words of rotation caulked the seeming"

of it -- ah, caulked the seams of death, attempting to screw it,

or at least screw around with it.  Rotating words are being

screwed into the subject of the Poem that it be tightly fixed

in memory, or cemented into something -- anything.


A solid contact is being attempted in this Poem.

Thereby the Poet can at least temptor pre-tempt

a heads-up about the memories that are being

stirred-up and aroused by the rotating words of the Poem.

(And it is not an error to admit that all feelings

are inundated with pain.) 


The Poet is stalking all of the words in his Poem

from a "promontory" that he himself has constructed

that he might see what the heck is being destroyed

and re-created, particularly about the subject

of the Poem which is the opposite of death.




All the while this is simultaneous with the unruly memories

and things that are "sliding" and slithering away,

away from the Poet's heart and brain and grasp.

Is the Poem the Poet's attempt to harness something solid

and permanent out of the mess that is the opposite of death?

"Each word conks oboe with a browbeat."

The beat is the rhythm of the coming of death,

and the echoes of deaths that are no longer coming

because they occured, and now nothing remains

but memories -- the remains of memories.  So?

"Express words in digits of computed aggression..."

The Poet implies that the complexity of a Poem

can mar the description of anything, even a pond.

But can a Poet ever possess enough words?

Are words the problem, or is it the fault of each Poet

in how they are abused?  A Poem can express

the love one possesses for anything.  This Poet,

in this Poem, is expressing his love for the Spirit,

Soul, and Body -- for the flesh and blood

that once was here, and is now gone -- yet here

in memories and a Poem, and never totally gone.

Love, memory, a Poem -- are all of these things

only concepts, ideas, structures of words,

foaming words, words foaming at the mouth?

Are words only "the equivalent of lint?"

The Poet's message to us seems to be that

the unconscious experience of the opposite of death

is sacred, and the conscious experience of it 

is shocking and spectacular.  Whoever you are,

wherever you are, whatever you are --

if you are not dead -- "PANT" in awe.