Last night I kept waking up, even though it felt like I was getting good rest, if that makes any sense. I finally got tired of trying to get some more sleep and went ahead and got up before eight–around quarter till, to be precise–because I have work to do and the deadline is ticking. I made some excellent progress yesterday, and have a lot more to do today. I am hoping to get the final chapters of the book completely refinished and rewritten today; so I can do mop up the rest of the week–and there will be lots of mopping up to do. This is maybe the ninth draft of the book since I wrote the first draft in 2015–but in complete fairness, all those revisions were of the first half of the book rather than the second; this is the third draft of the second half–I was struggling to find the right voice, to find the correct tense, and really, trying to figure out who my main character is or was. Most of this work has been, since I first wrote the first draft six years ago, scattered and disorganized and, in retrospect, primarily a case of me not trusting myself or my abilities and be intimidated by what I was writing about–with the occasional dose of imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure.
We watched the ice dancing final last night, and remain completely mystified by the results. Perhaps we’re partisan, but we simply failed to see the same magic in the routine by the Canadian team that resulted in them placing second in the free dance, and capturing the bronze medal somehow. But ice dance has always been controversial, and the judging has never made much sense. The Russian team that won was clearly the best in the competition; no question about that–but I also felt the second place Russian team, that finished fifth, was also better, more athletic, and more artistic, than the Canadians. But yesterday afternoon I also took some time to watch the men’s final, and it was delightful to see Nathan Chen make a comeback from a fall in the short program to win it all, his third world title in a row–the first American to do so since Scott Hamilton–and if he wins the Olympics and a fourth world title next year, he’ll be in even more elite company. The women also managed to earn the US three Olympic spots, which I wasn’t expecting to happen, so at least we’ll have as full a team as possible; I think Nathan winning automatically earns us three men for the team–but the rules may have changed, and I must confess I don’t pay nearly as much attention to figure skating as I used to. I hate this new points system; always have since it was implemented, and I don’t believe it forestalls arrangements between judges the way the old system did–not to mention the guarantee of anonymity so no one knows how any judge scored any competitor; I fail to see how this will stop collusion, but I am not the ISU.
The humidity has been ruinous on my sinuses lately; it’s so weird for it to be so hot and humid already this year. My windows are covered in condensation this morning, which is unusual for this time of year–that new HVAC system clearly works extremely well–an I am going to head to the gym later this morning for my weekend workout. The rain kept me from going earlier in the week, so for the last two weeks I’ve only had two workouts per week; not goo, but better than one and much better than not going at all. I need to get some new workout clothes, though; I haven’t bought workout shorts in well over ten years and thus they not only don’t fit properly but are also a little on the worn out side, and the more hot and humid it gets the less likely I am to want to wear sweat pants to the gym. I found some T-shirts in my T-shirt drawer back from the days when I could squeeze into a medium (I now wear extra large) and so I disposed of them as well. I really would like to get this book finished and turned in on Thursday the 1st (this week!) so I can spend my three day Easter weekend cleaning out books and going through my clothes.
I’d also like to spend some time finishing The Russia House. I read another chapter yesterday and greatly enjoyed it; I am really looking forward to spending more time with LeCarré. I also want to start reading more of these books that I keep buying and adding to my TBR pile, which is mostly out of control these days–I also need to recognize that many essays I have wanted to write about books and authors I enjoyed won’t ever happen because I will never have the time to write them, nor will I ever have the time to go back and reread the books; there simply isn’t enough time for all the reading I want to do, and I have to be more realistic. Some are simply too long–much as I loved Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke, there’s simply no way I can (or will) ever find the time to reread those books; let alone anything by Michener (I’ve been wanting to reread my favorite Michener, Centennial, for quite some time, but probably will never happen).
And once I have this book finished and turned in, I have to do some revisions of Bury Me in Shadows by May 1; I don’t think it’s anything major, really; a much more thorough copy edit, an additional clarifying sentence here and there, and then it will be finished, and then comes the first draft of Chlorine….at long last. There are also some submission calls I want to write for as well; we’ll see how that turns out, won’t we? But I think my stories “Death and the Handmaidens”, “The Blues Before Dawn”, and “Le Feu Follet” might actually have homes I can try to get them into; and there’s another call for a humorous mystery I’d like to take a shot at as well; my stories always seem to turn out to be darkly comic anyway.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.
I’ve always been fascinated by politics and history; the two go hand-in-hand, and you really cannot understand one without understanding the other. (Economics are also a lot more important than is ever given credit in most histories–wars and exploration and colonization was, inevitably, always about markets and trade and thus money) I’ve maintained for years that history should be taught as the advancement of individual rights–the ups and downs of individual freedoms, rather than dates and battles and Kings and Queens and Emperors–and that study of individual rights also needs to examine prejudices and bigotry and zealotry, and how those three factors have poisoned civilization and humanity throughout much of its history. I also feel that, while the study of wars are important for their impact, the fact that the impact these wars had on the citizens of the country (countries) being invaded was also important. Putting humanity in the study of human history would not only make it more interesting, but would also further the understanding that should come with the study.
I tend to avoid books about politics, or political thrillers–the news provides enough stranger than fiction moments every day–and as a general rule, fictional films about politics rarely interest me, either. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years, thinking a fictional show about our government couldn’t be interesting enough for us to get vested in; we were clearly wrong (but I still refuse to watch The American President.) Fletcher Knebel, a long forgotten writer of the mid-twentieth century, wrote political thrillers, and while I was aware of him when I was young, I never read any of his books; why read about fictional politics when actual history is available to read and study? But a few years ago, I read an article about one of his books, recently brought back into print, and intrigued me enough to want to read it.
It’s premise: what if a sitting American President begins to slowly lose his mind and grip on reality?
And I am sure you can imagine why that premise was intriguing.
Jim MacVeagh’s burst of laughter came so unexpectedly, his hand jiggled the stem of the wineglass, and a splash of champagne spotted the linen tablecloth. Sidney Karper, the Secretary of Defense, sitting on his right, grinned in shared appreciation and shook his head.
“Unbeatable, isn’t he, Senator? He just won’t be topped.”
“Nobody can touch him when he’s determined,” agreed MacVeagh. He wiped at his eye with a corner of his napkin and turned back toward the center of the long head table, cluttered with late debris of ashes and crumpled menus amid the sparkle of glassware.
The speaker, President Mark Hollenbach, was mock-solemn again after flashing a responsive smile for the spray of laughter which greeted his first sally. His was the honor chore of the night–the brief reply to the toast to the President of the United States which signaled the closing of another annual Gridiron dinner. The news correspondents had lampooned the Hollenbach administration and its foes in a series of musical skits, some sharp as stilettos but one belabored in its buffoonery, while the Marine Band orchestra in shining scarlet coats. played for the 550 diners.
I finally read this book while I was on vacation over Thanksgiving week, and found myself enjoying it tremendously. It’s a thriller, of course, and the main character is junior Iowa senator Jim MacVeagh. Jim’s a good guy, without too much ambition, with a wife he loves and a tween daughter he adores; he also is having an affair with the chair of the DNC’s secretary–not really a smart thing to do, but we see this self-destructive behavior from politicians all the time (although the idea that adultery is disqualifying for higher office has long since been shown up as a lie). After the Gridiron Club dinner, Jim is invited by the president to join him for a talk at Camp David–and it is there the story kicks into gear. Enormously popular President Mark Hollenbach has decided to dump his vice-president for the upcoming campaign–he’s been tainted with a whiff of scandal regarding a building project a campaign donor was awarded–and the President is interested in having Jim join him on the campaign trail.
Naturally, this is very exciting for Jim, awakening ambitions he wasn’t aware he’d even had, and realizing that, if selected, this would make him the front runner for the top of the ticket in four years–which of course is very exciting for any politician, particularly a young one–but as the conversation continues, Jim begins to become concerned, as some of the things the President wants to do in his second term are not only unconstitutional but borderline insane–for one example, he wants to wire tap every American’s phone, so as better to track and prevent crime, espionage, and foreign agents–and he also displays paranoiac tendencies. As Jim gets closer to the President and one step closer to being on the ticket, more and more evidence of the president’s instability is revealed to him….and he has to. ask himself–party or country? Patriotism or partisanship?
This is a terrific read, and certainly one any American today could identify with and get caught up in the story.
I’m now curious to read other works of Knebel’s, and then of course, Allen Drury’s terrific series of novels about Washington, beginning with Advise and Consent.
I do remember reading an Arthur Hailey novel about politics–yes, government was one of the industries he turned his research and writing to–called In High Places. (I read this during my Arthur Hailey phase; I learned alot from his books. I read The Moneychangers when I worked at a bank; he was spot on about day to day operations on the floor. I reread Airport when I worked at an airport; again, pretty spot on, despite the decades of changes to the industry since he researched and wrote the book.) And The Coyotes of Carthage, which I read earlier this year, was one of the best books I’ve read about rural politics.
I think you might enjoy Night of Camp David. I certainly did.
And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.
I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.
Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.
It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.
I really miss doing my job every day.
And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.
Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.
We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.
So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.
Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.
I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.
Last Saturday, as you may know, the Hard Rock Hotel, currently under construction at the corner of Rampart and Canal Street in the French Quarter, collapsed. Today, they are going to set off some controlled explosions to bring down the damaged cranes, which are no longer attached to the construction and present a clear and present danger to the area. Many of the businesses in a very large radius from the construction site are closed until further notice, causing the businesses and their employees financial hardship.
Several people were also killed as a result of the collapse.
I no longer drive to and from work on Rampart Street–we moved into new offices for the day job last November; it’s much easier for me to get on the Interstate coming and going to work now–but I pretty much made that drive every day from 2005 through last November, other than the years the street was torn up in order to resurface it as well as put in the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line. The construction site was where the Canal Street Woolworth’s was for decades; the very Woolworth’s whose lunch counter was protested during the Civil Rights era because it was segregated. I always hated that the Woolworth’s closed and was torn down, because I felt that it was of no little historic significance; particularly at a time when the Confederate monuments still polluted the city. But Woolworth’s is no longer in existence, and what else to do with a prime real estate lot that wasn’t being used? There’s already a Hard Rock Hotel on Bourbon Street, but this complex was going to be much larger and was, I think, going to house a Hard Rock nightclub, if I’m not mistaken–because a nightclub at that corner is precisely what the city needed (eye roll).
The construction collapse also exposed some typical New Orleans corruption; the contractor is allegedly shady and has an apparently well-earned bad reputation on every level. There was also some bribery going on, and someone at City Hall, who was signing off on permits, and safety inspections that weren’t being done, was also arrested this week. I am very curious as to what that is going to mean for the future of the Hard Rock Hotel; even if they hire a reputable contractor, I would imagine everything already built will need to come down and be rebuilt; and how do you recover your reputation from that?
It will be interesting, and of course, I am thinking there’s a book or a story in this somewhere. I’ve already created a shady contractor in New Orleans, by the name of Sam Dreher, in Royal Street Reveillon; I can certainly use that character again, and who knows? French Quarter Flambeaux just might make a terrific Scotty novel.
It’s hard to imagine, though, at this point how the Hard Rock Hotel can continue to be built–I would imagine it would have to be torn down completely and started over, but what do I know? I am neither an engineer nor an architect. But I would also think it would be hard to get past the fact that several people died in a construction disaster while it was being built; here is the perfect set up for a French Quarter horror novel about a haunted hotel, don’t you think? One that is cursed with death and tragedy; similar to the Overlook in The Shining.
This also reminds me that Arthur Hailey’s bestselling novel Hotel, which was adapted into a television series in the 1980’s (it came on after Dynasty), was also set in New Orleans; the St. Gregory Hotel in the novel was on Common Street in the CBD, one block from the French Quarter–a grand old hotel of the city (the television show moved the setting to San Francisco; which I still think was a mistake. An anthology television series along the lines of a more serious The Love Boat, set in a hotel with guest stars every week playing out individual stories as they visit the hotel, to me, would work better in New Orleans than San Francisco; then again, I may be biased heavily) in desperate need of some financial investment. Hailey, who is not so remembered today, was a huge bestseller of his time, and he wrote sprawling novels about industries, and the people who worked in them, and the people who got involved with said industry somehow; with the stories all intermingled. He also wrote Airport, which became one of the first disaster movies, and eventually a series of sequels about plane disasters; he also co-wrote the novel Runway Zero-Eight, also filmed–and that film was what Airplane! spoofed. He wrote about banks (The Moneychangers), hospitals (The Final Diagnosis), power companies (Overload), drug companies (Strong Medicine), car companies (Wheels), and news broadcasts (The Evening News). He also wrote a political thriller, In High Places, which was one of the most thoughtful cold war thrillers; it was written from the perspective of the Canadian government, negotiating desperately with the United States since the skies over Canada were going to be the battleground between the US and the Soviet Union.
I reread Airport after I actually went to work at an airport, and have to say, Hailey’s research was excellent; he really captured the behind-the-scenes activity of an airport impacted by a blizzard perfectly. Likewise, I read The Moneychangers when I was working at a bank–he actually researched Bank of America for the book, which is where I worked–and again, spot on.
Now I’m thinking about rereading Hotel, if only to see how it was done, and how he depicted New Orleans in the 1960’s.
Anyway. I’ll continue to follow the story of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, and see where it goes, and maybe–just maybe–it could be the basis for something. As you can see, I’ve already had any number of ideas spring from the incident…as always.
Another cold morning in New Orleans. The Saints are up in Minneapolis playing the Vikings today, with the winner going to the NFC championship game to play Philadelphia in Philadelphia, so I shouldn’t complain about how cold it is here! I am hoping to finish cleaning the kitchen this morning so I have to time to go lift weights for the first time since AUGUST before the game. And stretch, and do some cardio. I am taking this get back in shape goal for this year seriously, Constant Reader.
I also didn’t read a short story yesterday, but I started reading one of the Kinsey Millhone stories in Kinsey and Me, and it’s quite good; I look forward to finishing it today during the game, and reading another to get back on track. But I am doing much better this year on the Short Story Project than I ever have in past years, and I have so many short story collections and anthologies to choose from; which is part of the reason I decided to make 2018 the year of the short story. I was also inspired yesterday to start writing two short stories–“Sorry Wrong Email” (which is going to take a lot of work to get right) and “Neighborhood Warning”, which I think can be really really good. I also want to work on finishing the final draft of another short story today, and this week I need to start reading the submissions for Sunny Places Shady People. With no offense to my Blood on the Bayou contributors, I think this one might be even better, I also need to finish an interview for my Sisters newsletter column (basically, writing the introduction and putting the questions in the proper order for flow) and I also need to work on my two manuscripts, and of course the Scotty Bible languishes. Heavy heaving sigh, the work of a Gregalicious is never done. I also want to read a novel; another goal for the year is getting the TBR pile down to a workable size. Tomorrow I am going to Target, and probably going to make it Leg Day at the gym in the afternoon (I have a long work day on Tuesday, so I can’t do an every other day; the nice thing about Leg Day is no cardio; just stretch, do legs, and some abs).
I watched the 1970 film Airport yesterday, based on the Arthur Hailey novel, it was one of the year’s biggest hits and was nominated for lots of Academy Awards, and even got great reviews. It was also the movie that kicked off the ‘disaster movie’ trend of the 1970’s, and spawned several sequels. The opening sequence of the movie was pretty interesting, as they showed all the ticket counters for the various airlines at “Lincoln International” in Chicago; obviously a stand-in for O’Hare. What made it interesting was how none of the airlines whose counters were shown, or were mentioned in the PA announcements over the opening credits (Continental Airlines Flight 220 is now boarding) exist anymore: Northwest, Eastern, TWA, Continental, Braniff, Pan Am. It’s hard to imagine today, with our limited choices, but just twenty years ago they were a lot of options.
The movie had, as all these types of films usually did, what was called an ‘all-star cast’; Oscar winners Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Van Heflin, and Helen Hayes (who would win a second Oscar for her role); as well as other bankable stars as Dean Martin and Jean Seberg; newcomer Jacqueline Bisset, stunningly beautiful who would hit major stardom later in the decade in The Deep; stage actress Maureen Stapleton in one of her first roles and who would later win an Oscar of her own; and assorted others (Gary Collins, for example) in small parts early in their career. The premise of the film is simple: a major airport is in the throes of a several day long snowstorm; it was inspired by the blizzard of the winter of 1966 (which I remember), and how the airport operates in such a crisis, and the personal stories of the airport employees intercrossed with those of several people who pass through the airport. Burt Lancaster plays Mel Bakersfeld, general manager of the airport, who is married to his job and ignores his wife and family as a result. His marriage to Cindy (Dana Wynter) is in shambles, and he’s strongly attracted to the widowed Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) who is some sort of manager for Trans Global Airlines (her job is never really defined in the movie; it certainly was in the book–Hailey was nothing if not thorough). They of course don’t act on their attraction, but it’s there–and she is considering a transfer to San Francisco and ‘fresh start’ since they have no future. He fights with his wife several times on the phone, mostly to show how unreasonable she is–obviously his job should come before his wife and family! Dean Martin plays asshole pilot Vernon Demerest, who also happens to be Mel’s brother-in-law, married to Mel’s sister (played by Barbara Hale, best known for playing Della Street on the original Perry Mason series). He’s a great pilot, but a dick–and he and Mel disagree frequently about airport operations, etc. He’s also having an affair–the latest of many–with co-worker Gwen Meighan (Jacqueline Bisset), who tells him before they work their flight to Rome that she’s pregnant–including the icy line “You can stop twisting your wedding ring, I know you’re married”–which in turn doesn’t really either of them sympathetic. The head of Customs and Immigration’s niece is also going to be on the Rome flight…as it soon becomes apparent that this particular flight is going to be the film’s focus and everyone’s paths are going to cross in some way regarding Trans Global Flight 22, The Golden Argosy. Helen Hayes plays Ada Quonsett, an older woman who stows away on flights to try to visit her daughter and grandchildren in New York, caught and being sent back to Los Angeles, but she manages to evade her watcher and sneak aboard Flight 22. Also on the flight is D. O. Guerrero, a bankrupt failure with mental problems and lots of debts who also happens to be a demolitions expert, and his briefcase, which contains a bomb. He wants to blow up the plane so his wife (coffee shop waitress Inez, played by Maureen Stapleton) will collect on his flight insurance. (He’s played by Van Heflin.) This is before security, metal detectors, etc., and the rash of hijackings in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s started the change to tighter airport security (so many New York to Florida flights were hijacked and redirected to Havana that it became a joke in the zeitgeist; “my flight was hijacked to Cuba.'” Of course, after the flight takes off it becomes apparent to those on the ground that he must have a bomb; the flight crew tries to get it from him with the end result he sets it off in the bathroom, blowing a hole in the side of the plane and causing explosive decompression. Gwen was trying to get into the bathroom to him when the bomb goes off and experiences severe injuries. The damaged plane has to return to Chicago as all other airports are closed; and of course, the issue of the big runway being blocked by a plane stuck in the snow that opens the movie now becomes crucial; the plane must be moved because the damaged aircraft needs as much room as possible to land, since its rudder, and steering are damaged which means the brakes might be as well.
Complicated, right? Of course the plane gets moved, and the flight lands safely. Mel’s wife admits she is having an affair and wants a divorce, and it looks like asshole Vern might do the right thing with Gwen after all. At least if Mel and Tanya get involved, they’ll be together at the airport all the time, although as they prepare to drive off together at the end, there’s another crisis…but this time Mel says “let him handle it” which means…what, exactly? He’s not going to be a workaholic anymore?
The acting in the movie isn’t good, but then again they aren’t really given a lot to work with. Hailey’s books probably don’t hold up, but they were huge bestsellers in their day–I read them all. He always focused on an industry or business–medicine, hotels, airports, hospitals, banks, power companies–did a lot of research, and then wrote enormous, sprawling books that not only showed how the businesses worked but told melodramatic stories about the people who worked there or were involved somehow. His novel Hotel was also filmed, and then turned into a Love Boat like weekly television series in the 1980’s; in the book and movie the St. Gregory Hotel was in New Orleans (based on the Monteleone, actually), in the TV show it was moved to San Francisco. The book, written in the 1960’s, also dealt with racial issues; I should really reread both it and Airport. The Moneychangers, which was about banking, I read when I worked for Bank of America, and I was amazed at how spot-on he got working in a bank. I should reread Airport to see how different airports were in the 1960’s than they were in the 1990’s, when I worked for Continental. But his male leads, who usually ran the business, were Ayn Rand-ian style supermen: married to their jobs, good at them, and devoted to the point there was no room in their lives for a personal life, which also kind of made them unlikable.
But back to the film–as corny and badly acted as it was, despite the terrible dialogue, they did a really great job of building up the suspense about the bomb as well as would the plane be able to land safely; and since that was the most important part of the film, it worked on that level. It was also hard to not laugh a bit from time to time, having seen the spoof Airplane! so many times I can speak the dialogue along with the movie when watching; it’s weird seeing this stuff not being played for laughs (although Airplane! was primarily based on Zero Hour! with elements from Airplane 1975. In an interesting aside, Arthur Hailey did the novelization of Zero Hour!, which was called Runway Zero-Eight). It was also interesting seeing how much things have changed since this film was made: divorce isn’t the societal horror it was back then; people don’t stay in bad marriages “for the sake of the children” anymore; abortion wasn’t legal in the US when the film was made so Gwen’s abortion would have to be in Sweden, if she chose to have one; and of course, all the changes in airport security. The plane itself was a Boeing 707; which aren’t used anymore. Stowaways can’t really get onto planes anymore, either.
Plus, back in the day the concept that airline crews were boozing and sexing it up all the time, and that flight attendants (then stewardesses) were good time girls fucking every pilot they could lure into their clutches was such a stereotype–one the airlines actually bought into because they had age, size and looks standards for the women, and ran print and television ads playing up the sexiness of their stewardesses–that it took years for that to be changed…and it still exists to a certain extent.
It was certainly not something I learned from the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids! I’ve always wanted to write a crime series about a flight attendant–kind of an update of Vicki Barr but not for kids–but can never really figure out how to make it work. Maybe someday.
Back to the spice mines! The kitchen ain’t going to clean itself!
Last night I got home from work early; after stopping at the grocery store to alleviate some of the errands I must run today. I cleaned the living room and worked on organizing the books some, did some laundry, and did the living room floor, as well as laundered the living room blankets and vacuumed the love seat and my easy chair. Mindless chores, as I mentioned on both my panels at Comic Con last weekend, are marvelous for brainstorming and thinking; which I did a lot of. The Short Story Project is also inspiring me, which is really cool, too. The Facebook ban is freeing me up to do a lot more reading, a lot more brainstorming, and so really, I have to thank not only the Puritan trash who keep reporting my pictures of shirtless men but the equally puritanical censors at Facebook, whose word is law and cannot be questioned. As I mused early on in the ban, all this is really succeeding in doing is breaking me of the Facebook habit. How horrible! What a punishment!
So, last night I repaired to my easy chair once I had made myself something to eat and the living room was cleaned and organized. I started looking through my Amazon Prime app on the Apple TV–I can’t tell you how nice it is to have that app now, so I don’t have to switch over to the Prime function of the TV, which doesn’t work as well–and realized that I had subscriptions to both Acorn and Starz through it! I found a bunch of wonderful movies that I’d like to see again, or haven’t seen and want to, on the Starz menu; likewise for some series on Acorn. I settled in with my book and started watching The Towering Inferno, which I had actually never seen. Highly entertaining, badly acted, and starring a smorgasbord of Oscar winners and other interesting casting choices (O.J. Simpson! Mike Lookinland! Soap diva Susan Flannery! Susan Blakely! Richard Chamberlain! Robert Vaughn!), I kept rolling my eyes at the terrible dialogue and immensely stupid situations, not to mention the insane solutions to the fire they kept coming up with–um, it was an electrical fire; yes by all means use water so people will get electrocuted.
I also noticed a rather obvious theme that runs through all disaster movies–human hubris, and human greed and incompetence always seem to play a part in the disaster. To bring the construction in under budget, Richard Chamberlain cut corners in safety features as well as in the specifications for electrical wiring. In The Poseidon Adventure the ship is top-heavy because they didn’t take on enough ballast-in fact, removing some–to try to make it to their final port on time as they are running behind; which of course made the ship prone to capsizing in the case of a tidal wave. But next up on my Starz viewing is the 1969 film Airport, based on the Arthur Hailey novel and the blockbuster hit that really kicked the Disaster Movie craze of the 1970’s off–even though the movie is about more than just the imperiled airplane. I’ve not seen this movie, or reread the book, since I myself worked for an airline at an airport; this could make it really interesting.
As for the Short Story Project, I may have mentioned sometime this week that I discovered a collection of Ross MacDonald short stories on my shelves that I’d forgotten I had, The Archer Files. I read the first two stories in that collection this week. I came to MacDonald rather late in life; I became aware of him in the 1970’s, but his book covers, with their lurid scantily clad women and back cover blurbs that promised machismo and tough guy behavior, didn’t interest me. I didn’t start reading MacDonald until years later, when Christopher Rice recommended him on a panel we both were on. I’d come to love John D. MacDonald in the 1970’s, and so I decided to give Ross a whirl. I think the first one I read was The Drowning Pool, and after that, I was completely in on Ross MacDonald. I have also come to a great appreciation for the extraordinary talent that was his wife, Margaret Millar…I love to imagine what their dinner conversation was like.
The two stories, “Find the Woman” and “Death by Water,” were not originally written or published as Archer stories; they were adapted and turned into Archer stories later, after MacDonald was dead and this was authorized by the estate. The stories work as Archer stories, which is really all that matters. I’ve not yet read any of his non-Archer novels, but some of them are in the TBR pile; I’ll be curious to see if there’s a stylistic difference, or a significant change in voice.
I sat in my brand-new office with the odor of paint in my nostrils and waited for something to happen. I had been back on the Boulevard for one day. This was the beginning of the second day. Back in the window, flashing in the morning sun, the traffic raced and roared with a noise like battle. It made me nervous. It made me want to move. I was all dressed up in civilian clothes with no place to go and nobody to go with.
Then Millicent Breen came in.
I had seen her before, on the Strip with various escorts, and knew who she was; publicity director for Tele-Pictures. Mrs. Dreen was over forty and looked it, but there was electricity in her, plugged into to a secret source that time could never wear out. Look how high and tight I carry my body, her movements said. My hair is hennaed but comely, said her coiffure, inviting not to conviction but to suspension of disbelief. Her eyes were green and inconstant like the sea. They said what the hell.
That is how “Find the Woman” opens, and what a great example of the hardboiled, noirish style of crime writing. Not a lot of words, not a lot of sentences, and yet we get a strong sense of Archer’s character, just out of the war and chafing restlessly at his new life and existence, and the danger inherent in Millicent Breen. She is beautiful, older, sexy and dangerous; she wants Archer to find her daughter, a movie starlet who has disappeared, and this leads Archer into the dangerous world of movie stars and film people, of love gone astray and a slightly sexist depiction of restless women who might love but need someone in their bed every night. I enjoyed it, not only as an example of the writing style but as a time capsule; it was easy to picture this in black-and-white, with Bogart as Archer and maybe Myrna Loy as Millicent Breen.
He was old, but he didn’t look as if he were about to die. For a man of his age, which couldn’t have been less than seventy, he was doing very well for himself. He was sitting at the bar buying drinks for three young sailors, and he was the life of the party in more than the financial sense. In the hour or so that I had been watching him, he must have had at least five martinis, and it was long past dinner time.
“The old man can carry his liquor,” I said to Al.
“Mr. Ralston you mean? He’s in here every night from eight to midnight, and it never seems to get him down. Of course some nights he gets too much, and I have to take him home and put him to bed. But next day he’s bright as ever.”
And so begins “Death by Water.” Again, note the writing style; the sparse use of words to get a point across, the inherent toughness in the words chosen and how they are put together. Mr. Ralston ends up dead later on, of course; drowned in the swimming pool, and Archer is on the case. It’s a great little crime procedural, with Archer taking mental notes as he talks to witnesses and the people involved, and once the case is actually solved, it’s pretty clear that the solution was right there in front of our faces all along. Well done!
And now, back to the spice mines with me. Paul’s going into the office, I have some errands to run, and we’re going to go see I, Tonya tonight; I intend to do a deep, overdue cleaning of the kitchen today as well, around writing and editing.
Well, the brake light thing was nothing serious; merely an internal computer malfunction of some sort, so the internal computer had to be reset, which took longer than I would have liked, but I love my dealership and I love my car, and sitting there gave me the opportunity to finish reading the amazing Ivy Pochoda novel, Wonder Valley.
He is almost beautiful–running with the San Gabriels over one shoulder, the rise of the Hollywood Freeway over the other. He is shirtless, the hint of swimmer’s muscle rippling below his tanned skin, his arms pumping in a one-two rhythm in sync with the beat of his feet. There is a chance you envy him.
Seven a.m. and traffic is already jammed through downtown, ground to a standstill as cars attempt to cross five lanes, moving in increments so small their progress is nearly invisible. They merge in jerks and starts from the Pasadena Freeway onto the Hollywood or the Santa Ana. But he is flowing freely, reverse commuting through the stalled vehicles.
The drivers watch from behind their steering wheels, distracted from toggling between radio stations, fixing their makeup in the rearview, talking to friends back east for whom the day is fully formed. They left home early, hoping to avoid the bumper to bumper, the inevitable slowdown of their mornings. They’ve mastered their mathematical calculations–the distance x rate x time of the trip to work. Yet they are stuck. In this city of drivers, he is a rebuke.
When I was watching the Joan Didion documentary, I was stuck by something that was said about Ms. Didion’s work; that she wrote beautiful sentences about terrible things. It was a terrific quote, and as I was currently savoring Ms. Pochoda’s stunningly brilliant novel, particularly apt: because that is what Wonder Valley is; beautiful writing about terrible things.
The prose is spare, like James M. Cain’s and Megan Abbott’s; each word chosen with care for its evocative power with an economy of writing that it so much more difficult to do than being overly florid. The novel is complexly structured as well; bouncing around in time between something awful that happened in 2006 and how the ripples from that event are affecting 2010, the current day. She juggles timelines and points of view effortlessly, and changes the rhythm of her words accordingly so that each point of view has a distinctive voice and view point; you can tell by tone and sentence structure what point of view you are seeing the story from without having to know the character.
That is some seriously mad skill.
There were parts of this novel that reminded me of my favorite James M, Cain novel (Serenade); and having been to Palm Springs and that area, she captures the bleak beauty of the desolation of that sun-blasted arid area. Her characters are fully formed, damaged, lost, trying to cope with issues of guilt and damage with varying degrees of success and failure, yet these deeply flawed people are heroic in their simplicity, their desire to move on and affect change in their lives they are somehow powerless to achieve; the shadows of guilt are too long and have consequence. They are so brilliantly drawn and developed that you want them to succeed; whether it’s Britt’s struggle with her own self-destruction; Ren’s attempts to move past a crime he committed when he was twelve; James’ being trapped in a life not of his own design because of a mistake; Blake’s dark desire for vengeance. Their lives cross and intersect on a Los Angeles traffic jam. This is a difficult style of story to pull off; dating back to The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder; which was a Pulitzer Prize award winning novel about a group of people who died in a bridge collapse, and how their interrelated lives all brought them together on the bridge that fateful day. The lazy way to do this kind of story is, of course, the Arthur Hailey formula (Airport, Hotel), but the way Pochoda has done it is worthy of Wilder, maybe even surpasses his own novel which created the trope. She also explores class in how each of the characters have dealt with their own guilt–and only Ren was actually punished by the system, of course; people of color are always punished by our system, while the wealthy white lawyer, the daughter of privilege, even the white son of the cult leader live in prisons of their own mind and guilt–and even those mental prisons are colored by their own levels of privilege.
It’s not an easy read, but it is a book to be read and savored and cherished.
I’d not read her first novel, Visitation Street, but it’s definitely moved closed to the top of the pile. I would be very surprised if Wonder Valley doesn’t make Best of lists and award shortlists. It’s simply extraordinary writing and story-telling.