And what a week it was, was it not? I made some progress on the Secret Project–not enough, of course–and got some things done around the Lost Apartment; I have some more things to get done today so I can coast into the weekend feeling good about being able to get some things done this weekend. I will, of course, need to resist the lure of HBO MAX and all its wonderful movies (I could easily go the rest of my life never watching another episode of Friends; I’m not sure why they thought that would be a selling point–I don’t even care about watching the reunion show they filmed). I do, however, recommend the CNN docuseries The Movies, which is on HBO MAX. If you’re a fan of film and film history, it’s an interesting overview of the rise and development of American cinema. If you’re an aficionado, you probably won’t enjoy it nearly as much as it doesn’t get into a lot of depth.
It’s been a draining week, one that has left me very tired in its wake and unable to get nearly as much done as I would have liked over its last few days. Obviously, the world doesn’t stop turning and things don’t stop being due; for me it’s not so much about wanting everything to return to normal (I don’t think anyone understands or grasps the fact that regardless of what happens, the world isn’t going to return to its pre-pandemic state; New York and New Orleans never returned to their pre-9/11 or pre-Katrina states, after all) as it about me wanting to get a routine established so that I can know what to expect from week to week and when I can do this and when I have time to do that and so on and so forth. I am looking forward to a highly productive weekend–there’s not much choice there, really; I either have to get it all done over the course of this weekend or I am really going to be up the creek…I perform well under pressure, but the pressure and how I react to it is so bad that I really don’t want to ever have to perform under pressure, if that makes any sense.
I doubt seriously that I’ll have time to read anything this weekend, alas, and I am really looking forward to digging back into Larry Kramer’s Faggots.
But as the coffee kicks into gear this morning, I am starting to feel a little more confident about myself and what I can do and what I can get done in the meantime, which is always a better mindset to be in, anyway.
One of the weirdest things about me–really, there are so many–is how easily I can get overwhelmed and descend into depression; the depression also makes me snappy, and I’ve learned that when I am in that kind of state the best thing to do is not interact with anyone outside of Paul, Scooter, and my co-workers at the office, and generally I try to do that as little as possible. Yesterday, after working in the garage all afternoon screening–and as our temperatures continue to rise here in New Orleans, you can imagine how lovely that is–when I came home last night I was despairing of being able to squeeze everything in that I need to for the next three days; this morning, after a good night’s rest and some coffee this morning, I feel like, well, I can do this and then I can do that and then I’ll do this in the morning and then I’ll have the rest of the day free to do this and of course you can get everything done, why do you always have to doubt yourself?
And I’m sure the despair/depression thing has come from not having the energy to write the last two days.
And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.
Thursday morning and here we are, with a mere two more days before we can call it the weekend again. I’m not really sure why I am looking so forward to it; I just have to write and clean and do shit all weekend. Yay? But I guess it’s lovely because I am on my own schedule, I suppose?
I didn’t sleep for shit last night, which was highly annoying. Also, convenient because I forgot to set my alarm. Fortunately, my eyes opened at promptly six this morning. Huzzah?
So, overnight my HBO app on my Apple TV magically converted to an HBO MAX app, and I got lost in there for hours last night, just exploring all the options. I doubt I’ll ever watch the eight or nine Harry Potter movies ever again, but they are there, along with all kinds of over things. Scooby Doo Where Are You in its original two series is there–I watched one last night, delighted, before making dinner–and of course TCM is there, and there are so many classic films I’ve either not seen, or haven’t seen in a very long time. One of my all time favorites, Body Heat, is also there; I can’t wait to rewatch, as I’ve been wanting to rewatch it for quite some time. Also a lot of classic Hitchcock films, many of which I’ve never seen, including North by Northwest and several others. Essentially, with HBO MAX, combined with Hulu and Netflix and Prime and Disney Plus, I really don’t think I ever will have an excuse to be bored ever again, as there’s always something I can watch on one of those streaming services. There’s also some very good classic Hollywood, thank to TCM (Mildred Pierce, Laura, Bringing Up Baby, etc.). In other words, I am quite pleased.
Alas, that will undoubtedly cut into my reading and writing time–but better that than Youtube black holes, right?
Larry Kramer died yesterday, and I thought, “you know, I’ve been meaning to reread Faggots for a really long time and perhaps this is the time to do so, as a tribute to Larry and everything he did for us all.” As I took the book from the stack, I also realized this meant pushing Night Has a Thousand Eyes back into the pile, and this was probably the kind of thing that has happened with far too great a frequency and why I’ve never gotten back to reading the Woolrich, so I decided to go ahead and read the Woolrich and then I’ll get back to the Kramer. Faggots was one of the first “gay” books I read after coming out officially (I had read Gordon Merrick and The Front Runner and The Swimming-Pool Library while in the closet. Faggots was recommended to me when I walked into my first gay bookstore, Tomes and Treasures, in Tampa in the early nineties; the incredibly sexy bookseller–on whom I had a major crush–told me I should read it and Dancer from the Dance, so I bought both and read them) and I sometimes joke that “it almost pushed me back into the closet.” The gay sexuality was so in in-your-face, and all the kinks and other variations depicted within the covers of that book–plus the clear misery and unhappiness of the main character, Fred Lemish–kind of was shocking to someone as naïve as I was when I first came out.
This also made me think about my life in those years prior to my thirty-third, which was when I stopped passively floating through my life and tried to take control of it–to start actively living instead of passively letting my life happen to me. I rarely talk about, or even think much about, my life between moving to the suburbs when I was ten and my thirty-third birthday; primarily because my existence was so completely miserable and tragic and pitiful. There was the duality of living as both a closet case in my more regular day-to-day life (and fooling no one, as I was quick to find out later), plus my hidden, furtive life on the edges of gay world. It’s difficult for me to look back at that twenty-three years and not wince or recoil in embarrassment at what a miserable life I was leading, and how desperately unhappy I was all the time. But that time was necessary, because it was also that same period where I was starting to recognize, and learn, that almost everything I was raised to believe was not just a lie but a horrible one. Unlearning those decidedly terrible values and lessons is an ongoing process to this very day, but it’s also terribly important and necessary to shed all that conditioning in American exceptionalism, evangelical Christianity with its bizarre morality and cognitive dissonance, and the true American legacy of white supremacy. As I thought about this last night–we watched the first episode of CNN’s docuseries The Movies on HBO MAX last night, and I was remembering, not only the unhappy first more-than-half of my life, but started unpacking the rest as well.
And it will inevitably show up in my writing at some point.
ANd now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.
That’s one lovely thing about three day weekends; inevitably it also means a shorter work week at least once. I know, I am simply doing nothing more than wishing my life away; but so be it. I don’t really mind the day job, really; I just wish I had maybe another hour or two free to write every day. Somedays I don’t write at all; some days I write over three thousand words; some days, like yesterday, I only manage six or seven hundred, and I basically was sweating blood to get those done. The three thousand I did on Monday? In the blink of an eye, without even putting any real conscious thought into it; I simply opened the document, knew where the story needed to go, went back to the beginning and corrected and deleted and rewrote and by the time I got to where I’d left off I was in a groove and I had not only managed to correct and revise about 1200 words, I was able to add 3700 to them. I only need one more chapter, and I honestly do think if I go back over the first two again, I can break it down into three, and revise it again to get them to a fairly proper length. Since the painful six or seven hundred words today were an attempt at a third chapter…well, I’ll just take a look at that document tomorrow, hope that I have more energy, and maybe I can have the same writer’s luck I had on Monday.
I’ve pretty much decided to read Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes next; I can’t think why I didn’t pick it back up once I was done with prepping for moderating that panel, whenever and wherever it was. I think I forgot what I had read–I have a vague memory of it being about a man walking home alone late at night in Manhattan along the river, near a park of some sort, and he starts noticing debris on the path–personal belongings, like things that may have fallen out of a purse. He eventually catches up to the woman whose things they are; I vaguely think that she was on a bridge, or standing by a rail along the water or something, like she was going to jump; instead she starts telling him this strange story–which I don’t remember; I don’t know if I didn’t read that part–I think I may have started; I seem to recall her father, an airplane crash, and a prediction that his plane would crash–but I can’t remember anything else. I do remember that the opening section I was reading was very well done–just as his short story “It Had to Be Murder” was very well done and clever. I think I may embark on a Woolrich Project next, in fact.
I was also thinking I should probably reread Joseph Hanson.
Today’s pay day, and most of the bills aren’t due until next week; so I am thinking I may just wait to pay them until say, the weekend, and bask in the false sensation of having money in the bank for a few days. It’s such a lovely feeling, really, even if it’s entirely false.
We continue to watch White Lines every night; it’s really quite a bizarrely entertaining show. One of the things I’ve noticed about Spanish productions (or co-productions, as in this case) is that when it comes to drama, there’s no limits for the writers. For example, White Lines also features, in one of the warring Spanish/Ibiza Mafia families, an extremely twisted mother-son relationship that is physically inappropriate on every level–but never quite crosses over into full-on mother/son incest. The funniest thing about White Lines is the primary story–in which Zoey has come to Ibiza to find out what happened to her d.j. brother Axel twenty years earlier after his dead body turns up–is the least interesting part of the show. If you simply took Zoey out of the show entirely, you could still do the murder mystery about Axel’s murder (he was fucking both mother and daughter in the bizarrely incestuous Spanish mafia Calafat family, as we discovered last night) and you’d eradicate the least interesting part of the show. Zoey makes no sense whatsover; she had a complete mental breakdown when Axel disappeared, wound up in therapy and institutions for a while, married one of her therapists and has a daughter–she has abandoned both husband and daughter to go to Ibiza to solve this mystery…and is having an affair with the head of security for the Calafats (his name is Boxer and I don’t blame her for this in the least), has gotten involved in a cocaine cover-up and a couple of murders…her motivation doesn’t really make any sense, and she can’t seem to make up her mind whether she wants to salvage the marriage her behavior is slowly disintegrating or embrace the party-hearty freedom of life in Ibiza. Unless there’s a big twist coming, she exists solely so this show is bilingual; partly in English and partly in Spanish.
And apparently, my HBO app today is going to transform into HBO MAX today. I am curious to see what difference that may make. More shows to stream! As it is, I often forget about Amazon Prime–and frankly, their streaming service isn’t the best; primarily because a single show will have each season have its own link, rather than having sub-links per season under a single link for the entire show–probably has to do with some of the stuff needing to be rented or purchased, I suppose, but still annoying.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines and back to work. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone!
A while back, I talked about how intimate living conditions in urban areas are, and how we all like to pretend that we do live in privacy. I was talking about my story “The Carriage House,” which was published in Mystery Tribune, but it really does apply to many other stories. One of the (ridiculously many) stories I have in progress now (“Condos for Sale or Rent”) is one of those stories; it’s also a quarantine story, which makes it even more claustrophobic–and of course, the ultimate urban lack of privacy crime story has to be Hitchcock’s film Rear Window, which also touches on the voyeuristic impulses so many of us have (to a lesser degree, that’s what Raymond Carver’s short story “Neighbors” is about as well). I wrote my own version of Rear Window years ago as an erotic short story called “Wrought Iron Lace”; which is a great title that I wish I’d saved for something more mainstream.
So, recently when I was looking into Cornell Woolrich, imagine my surprise to realize he had written the short story which the film was based on. WHo knew?
I read it yesterday, and it’s called “It Had to Be Murder.”
I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.
Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was, my movements were strictly limited just around this time. I could get from the window to the bed, and from the bed to the window, and that was all. The bay window was about the best feature my rear bedroom had in the warm weather. It was unscreened, so I had to sit with the light out or I would have had every insect in the vicinity in on me. I couldn’t sleep, because I was used to getting plenty of exercise. I’d never acquired the habit of reading books to ward off boredom, so I hadn’t that to turn to. Well, what should I do, sit there with my eyes tightly shuttered?
Just to pick a few at random: Straight over, and the windows square, there was a young jitter-couple, kids in their teens, only just married. It would have killed them to stay home one night. They were always in such a hurry to go, wherever it was they went, they never remembered to turn out the lights. I don’t think it missed once in all the time I was watching. But they never forgot altogether, either. I was to learn to call this delayed action, as you will see. He’d always come skittering madly back in about five minutes, probably from all the way down in the street, and rush around killing the switches. Then fall over something in the dark on his way out. They gave me an inward chuckle, those two.
The next house down, the windows already narrowed a little with perspective. There was a certain light in that one that always went out each night too. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad. There was a woman living there with her child, a young widow I suppose. I’d see her put the child to bed, and then bend over and kiss her in a wistful sort of way. She’d shade the light off her and sit there painting her eyes and mouth. Then she’d go out. She’d never come back till the night was nearly spent—
Once I was still up, and I looked and she was sitting there motionless with her head buried in her arms. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad.
The third one down no longer offered any insight, the windows were just slits like in a medieval battlement, due to foreshortening. That brings us around to the one on the end. In that one, frontal vision came back full-depth again, since it stood at right angles to the rest, my own included, sealing up the inner hollow all these houses backed on. I could see into it, from the rounded projection of my bay window, as freely as into a doll house with its rear wall sliced away. And scaled down to about the same size.
Woolrich was gay, lived with his mother for much of his life, and was an alcoholic–but he was a fantastic writer. “It Had to Be Murder” is a terrific story, absolutely terrific–and while many of the things from the movie (particularly the Grace Kelly character) are not in the story, it’s suspenseful and scary at the same time.
I highly recommend it, and can’t wait to read more of his work.
I’ve always wanted to go to London, and hopefully, one day before I die I’ll be in that former capitol of world empire; visit the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum; see the jewels in the Tower of London and the spot where Anne Boleyn died; stand at the side of the Thames and acknowledge all the history that sailed from its banks. I do love me some history, after all, and after I’d become incredibly familiar with American history I moved on to English, and eventually European (primarily French, to be honest); it was the time that PBS was airing first The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell, and later Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson (who is whom I always picture when I think about Elizabeth I, with due apologies to both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett); plus, the establishment of the Atlantic coastal colonies was directly, obviously, tied to English history. I read about the Wars of the Roses and the family split that led to them in Thomas B. Costain’s The Last Plantagenets, bought at a flea market for a dime; I eventually read his entire “Pageant of England” series: The Conquering Family, The Magnificent Century, and The Three Edwards; The Last Plantagenets was the final volume of that series (Costain also wrote terrific historical fiction, which I ate up with a spoon), and thus, Costain is responsible for my fascination with two of the most interesting women in English history–Eleanor of Aquitaine (total badass) and Isabella, aka the She-wolf of France; she who overthrew and murdered her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover…only to eventually have her lover murdered by her son’s adherents and wind up banished to Castle Rising for the rest of her life.
Someday, London. I know you’re waiting for me over there to come.
Yesterday was a good day as far as work was concerned; I managed to write almost three thousand words on the Secret Project (maybe even more, since i also revised the first chapter) and I’m feeling a lot more confident about it. I knew I would, once I dove back into work on it, but just wish I hadn’t pushed it off for so long; I could be done with it by now if I’d not wasted so much time, which is highly annoying, but also kind of par for the course, really.
But…there it is, you know? Why waste time with regrets?
White Lines continues to entertain us highly; I swear, people, if you’re not watching shows from Netflix Spain, you are missing out on some seriously bonkers drama. First Toy Boy, now this? A crime drama set on Ibiza, with feuding club families, cocaine and Ecstasy everywhere, and murder? I’m telling you, it’s like Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon got together and created a show–and it’s oddly compelling, for all of that (as was Toy Boy).
Tuesday and a short week staring us all down. I already feel off; as though my hard-won equilibrium has been stripped away somehow and I’m not even remotely sure where I am at and what I need to do.
When I was a kid both of my parents worked, so my sister and I were latch-key kids before it was cool. In the mornings on her way to the bus stop my mom would drop my sister and I off at the home of an older Polish lady down the street, who would feed us breakfast and send us off to walk to block or so to school from her house. Eli Whitney Elementary School didn’t have a cafeteria nor did it provide lunches for the students, so everyone had an hour to walk home to get lunch and come back. We went to our babysitter’s, and she would feed us. She’d had like six or seven kids of her own, and the youngest was a senior in high school when we first started being watched by her; I guess she liked having kids around. Anyway, in the summer time we would spend the days with her–she watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows–and sometimes she would go to Goldblatt’s, a department store that seemed a million miles away to us as kids, and do her shopping. Whenever she went–and sometimes we went with our mom–Mom would give my sister and I a couple of bucks to spend. The real treasure of Goldblatt’s was the bargain basement, where they remaindered stuff, and there was always this enormous table filled with books for kids, marked down to 39 cents.
It was on this table that I discovered some of the lesser Grosset & Dunlap series for kids, and particularly the Ken Holt, Biff Brewster, and Rick Brant series (they also had copies of the Chip Hilton sports stories by Clair Bee; I would buy one or two of those because my parents were trying to make me more boyish than I was, and it always pleased them when I showed an interest in something more masculine than usual). I remember the very first two Ken Holts I bought off that table: The Secret of Skeleton Island and The Mystery of the Plumed Serpent. (I would also get The Rocket’s Shadow and The Egyptian Cat Mystery in the Rick Brant series, as well as the first three Biff Brewsters: Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery, The Mystery of the Chinese Ring, and Hawaiian Sea Hunt Mystery.)
And Ken Holt very rapidly became my favorite, above even the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.
The phone booth was hot and stuffy, and Ken Holt wiped the moisture off his forehead for the third time. He opened the door slightly to get some fresh air an just then the phone came alive.
“Here’s your party,” the operator intoned.
“Hello,” Ken said loudly. “Hello.”
“Global News,” came the answer. “Granger speaking.”
“This is Ken Holt, Mr. Granger. I’m out at school.”
“What’s up, Ken?” Granger asked. “Need some money?”
“It’s not that. I just wanted to know if my father had come in.”
“Your father?” There was a pause before Granger continued. “Why, kid? He’s not expected so far as the office knows. He’s still in France.”
“I got a letter from him last week saying he’d be in on the eighteenth and that he’d call me.I haven’t heard from him since. And today’s the twentieth.”
Some hundred miles of telephone carried Granger’s booming laugh from the busy offices of an international news agency to the quiet corridor of Galeton Preparatory School.
“That’s pretty good,” Granger said, after he had stopped laughing. “He’s only two days overdue and you’re worried. He‘s famous for that, son. We’ve lost track of him for weeks, but finally he’d let us know where he was or what he was doing. Forget it. He’ll turn up when he gets good and ready.”
Ken blinked a little to get the perspiration out of his eyes. He moved a little closer to the mouthpiece as if that would help Granger understand better.
“But you see, Mr. Granger, Dad wrote me that he’d be in on the eighteenth. He’s never missed a date with me.”
The Secret of Skeleton Island opens with Ken, as you can see, worried about his father, who’s two days overdue for a meeting–and Richard Holt, who tends to disappear or vanish while chasing a story, has never once in his life stood up Ken or been late without letting him know ahead of time–not an easy task, either, in times when operators had to place your phone calls for you and you either sent telegrams or wrote letters.
Having loved those first two Ken Holt novels I’d read, the next time I went to Goldblatt’s I got a few more: The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, The Clue of the Marked Claw, The Secret of Hangman’s Inn, and The Mystery of Gallows Cliff. But after that, they became much harder to find; we’d moved out to Bolingbrook by then, and they had already lapsed out of print (hence the Goldblatt’s sale table), and it took years for me to start collecting them again–in the wake of Katrina and my discovery of eBay. I still don’t have a complete set–and some of the copies I acquired were not in the best shape–and the ones I am missing are generally so rare that they command prices I am not willing to pay. But the quality of the series never let up, even in the later books–and the writing was always stellar.
Ken Holt also was responsible for me having a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy; during his Grand Master interview at the Edgar symposium, he mentioned reading the kids’ series when he was growing up, and preferring the Ken Holt over the rest–and asked, “Does anyone here remember the Ken Holt mysteries?” and I raised my hand, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Ah, only the gentleman right here in the sweater. You, sir, have excellent taste.” He also pointed at me with his index finger, cocked his thumb like he was pulling a trigger, and winked.
Strange, yes–but even with what little Ellroy I’ve read, I can actually see the influence. The Holt novels were pretty hard-boiled for kids’ books; and one of the things I loved about them (just like The Three Investigators) was that Ken actually solved the mysteries; and unlike the Hardy Boys, Ken and his best buddy Sandy frequently were involved in fisticuffs; threatened by criminals with guns or knives; and were often placed into incredibly dangerous situations where they literally had to, by use of their wits and whatever else might be handy, escape with their lives (there’s a particular scene in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant that has always stayed with me; they walked into a set up where the floor of an old shack collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plummeting down an old well; and they had to climb the slick walls of the well to get out; this scene, and its aftermath, had this weirdly homoerotic flavor to it that I remember to this day–and will inevitably write about it, I’m sure).
Shortly after this opening, Ken gets permission from the headmaster to head into New York and nose around his father’s apartment, to see if he can find out any clues to where his father is or what may have happened to him. As he waits at the train station (a six hour ride into the city; still not sure if he’s on Long Island or really far upstate, but my guess is, given speed and so forth, most likely Long Island) he is offered a ride by two men who purport to be from Global News; it isn’t until Ken is in the car with them that he realizes they are liars, and undoubtedly connected to whatever happened to his father–and they plan on using HIM as leverage against his dad. Ken has to figure out how to escape–and manages to do so near the town of Brentwood, running away and dodging into the only lighted building on the town’s main street, the offices of the Brentwood Advance, which is how he encounters the Allen family. He tells Pop, Bert and Sandy Allen–enormous beings with red hair, whom he convinces of the veracity of his story and they get on board with helping him. Sandy is his own age, and all the Allens:
Ken swung around quickly toward the direction of the new voice and saw two replicas of the man before him. They were much younger, one of them looked about Ken’s age, the second a bit older. They too were huge. There was no doubt in his mind that this trio was a father and two sons. Actually, the only difference between them was that the sons had flaming red hair and the father’s was beginning to gray.Ken almost felt like a pygmy surrounded by these three towering figures.
The Allens listen to his story, check it out, and believe hi–and the next morning he and Sandy go out to start looking into the case. The action comes fast and furious after this–there’s one particularly harrowing scene where the boys, captured by the bad guys, are duct-taped to chairs. Ken manages to break an alarm clock, and gripping a jagged edge of glass in his teeth, saws at the tape holding down one of Sandy’s arms (this feat is repeated in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, only instead of a piece of glass he uses the jagged edges of a can lid, removed by an opener).
The adventure is pretty amazing; the boys wind up escaping the bad guys onto one of the freighters that the bad guys are using as part of their scheme, and find their way back to Skeleton Island, where the adventure also continues. So much action–and it’s all so well-written you feel like you’re a part of it, right there with Ken and Sandy as they basically use the combination of their wits and their brawn to get away and break the case wide open, rescuing Richard Holt and…in a lovely happy ending, it’s decided that Ken will finish his term at the boarding school and move in with the Allens.
It’s a great set-up for a series, and it’s mystifying to me that it never achieved the heights of popularity that the Hardy Boys did. Every one of the books is good–I can’t think of a single clunker in the entire series–and the typical masculinity based boys’ story (9-12 year olds aren’t, apparently, old enough to care about girls yet) sees neither Ken nor Sandy ever have a date or a girlfriend, or even anything remotely close to a romantic interest; in fact, the friendship bond between Ken and Sandy eventually grows so strong they are practically a couple–and that homoerotic undercurrent to the series (which, frankly, also existed in the Rick Brant series) was also an enormous part of its appeal to me. I wanted a “best friend” like Rick or Sandy; and the frequent references to how “big” and “muscular” Sandy is…well, yes.
Perhaps someday I will do an essay about the homoerotic undertones in both this series and the Rick Brant series.
So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.
But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.
Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.
I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.
I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.
Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.
And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.