This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

And here it is Wednesday, middle of the week and a storm on the horizon. It looks as though Zeta’s eye will be passing us to the east–possibly crossing over New Orleans East and Lake Borgne on its way northeast–and so there will be storm surge outside the lake levees. So, it should make for an interesting day, to say the least; the possibility of thunderstorms and high winds and street flooding always makes for an interesting day of getting to and from work.

We’ve cancelled services this afternoon because of the storm, so I only have to go into the office for the morning appointments. Ah, well, I think I might go back to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival while I make condom packs this afternoon; outside of Stephen King films (Carrie, Christine) my venture into horror for October has thus far been enormously disappointing; although a Scream marathon could be fun…

I went to the gym last night after work and had my second workout of the week; it was quite marvelous, even though the outer outer bands of Zeta had made it insanely humid and damp; I was a sweaty mess when I got to the gym, but breezed through my workout in very little time and with very little irritation and then walked back home in the humidity. I was sopping wet by the time I got home and made my protein shake, but despite the discomfort of thoroughly soaked through clothing my body felt terrific. Constant Reader, I am so happy to be working out again. I can’t believe I allowed myself to fall out of the habit…I know, I know, it happened because I was injured and my work schedule shifted and changed and I never adapted, but I allowed it to happen, and it was one of the stupidest things I did in my fifties. I mean, it is what it is, of course, and I cannot go back and change it–but I’m also not going to spend a lot of time beating myself up about it. So I got serious about working out again in my sixtieth year? That’s actually something to be proud of, you know? (See how I turned that around?)

I’m trying to see the positive in everything still–what I call the Ted Lasso effect–and it’s not so bad. It really isn’t that difficult to remain upbeat–it’s much easier than one might think. Granted, it’s very easy to get sucked down into the dark pits of despair–really, it doesn’t take much at all–but I am trying to resist that siren song of darkness and keep focusing on the positives in my life. I do work that I love in a city that I love with the man I love; what could possibly be more of a blessing?

Sure, money would be nice, but if I have to trade one of the above in exchange for it, no thanks.

However, after my workout last night I was exhausted when I got back to the Lost Apartment, so after having my protein shake and showering, I retired to my easy chair and tried to stay awake as I went through a series as I rewatched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. I find that both shows are remarkably comforting in an oddly endearing sort of way, and rewatching something when your brain and body are both tired is much easier than trying to focus and follow something you’ve not seen before. I slept extremely well last night–deep, restful sleep; I even woke up about half an hour before the alarm went off this morning but of course stayed in bed until it started clanging away–and I feel very good this morning. It’s really quite marvelous not to feel that tightness in my muscles anymore; it’s nice that they feel worked and stretched again. I almost can’t wait for my next workout tomorrow after work. There’s a barre class on Saturday morning I want to try–it’s a combination of ballet and yoga stretching–since I think it will be fun, and more stretching isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Not to mention the regular routine satisfies my need for order and routine! Always a plus, you know?

And on that note, I am going to eat breakfast and get ready to face the day. Have a lovely, happy, healthy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Change

I stretched yesterday.

I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense, either; I mean, I literally cleared a space off on our cluttered floor and gave my ossified muscles a good, old-fashioned stretch, going through exercises memorized as a teenager from warm-ups for various sports, but enhanced and modified for my Gymnastics classes. I was always flexible, you see–and the one thing no one ever tells people about flexibility is that it isn’t something you have to be born with–you can actually work on it, gradually becoming more and more flexible and pliant the more you work on stretching those muscles. Sure, they will tighten up again after a while, but the next time you stretch you’ll be able to go a little bit further than you did the last time.

Yesterday’s stretching felt good; so good, in fact, that I will probably do so again today.

And now I will talk about stretching in the metaphorical sense.

I am signing two book contracts today; one for Bury Me in Shadows and the other for the Kansas book, whose title (for now) is #shedeservedit. Both are books that I have been working on for an eternity now it seems; the pandemic and it’s bizarre effect on time doesn’t help with that mentality, of course. Both books are stretches for me, in that neither is a series book (sorry, Scotty and Chanse fans) but rather stand alones. I don’t know how they will be marketed, but Bury Me in Shadows has a college student as the main character and #shedeservedit is about high school. Part of the reason I finally went ahead and pitched the books is because I can’t seem to discipline myself to get them finished; the pressure and stress of a deadline, which I’ve been trying to avoid for the last few years, apparently is needed in these troubled times in order for me to get the work done. Both have required me to stretch as a writer–taking me into themes and plots that ordinarily I would avoid, and forcing me to go further and deeper into the characters themselves in order for the stories to work. Whether I have managed to succeed with either book remains to be seen, I guess. Signing the contracts is scary, of course; I am a bundle of jangly nerves this morning as I sip my coffee and get ready to face what has already developed into a challenging day before I even got to the computer.

I watched Chinatown yesterday as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and it really is quite a marvelous film–the costumes! The sets! The cars! The cinematography! Also a very twisty and sometimes confusing plot; with strong performances all around from the cast, particularly Jack Nicholson in the lead; Faye Dunaway is also gorgeous, if a little mannered and stiff; and John Huston just oozes evil from every pore as Noah Cross. It was a great homage to the classic noir films of the 40’s and 50’s; I was also a little amused at the conceit of the private eye having an office with a secretary and two operatives–obviously, Jack Gittes was quite successful as a private eye chasing adulterers around Los Angeles. Chinatown, with its focus on the systemic corruption of money and power in Los Angeles at the time, with a focus on the war over water (and seriously, given its history, why is Los Angeles not considered as corrupt a city as New Orleans and Chicago?), I enjoyed the film immensely. Dark and lush and with great attention to detail, I can see why it was a hit and achieved such critical acclaim; however, given that it is a Roman Polanski film, there was always this edge of guilt as I watched it again. I first watched it about twenty years ago and didn’t really think too much about Polanski’s status as a convicted child rapist and fugitive from American justice; same with Rosemary’s Baby, which I think, despite being from the late 1960’s would also fit in this film festival. I like both films and enjoy them both; but in modern times it has become increasingly difficult to separate the art from the artist. I did make a decision years ago never to watch a Polanski film made after his conviction and escape from justice, somehow justifying that his earlier films should be exempt from a justified boycott.

Separating art from the artist is a difficult debate, with many nuances and points of view from both sides that I kind of agree with. The fact that Roman Polanski committed a crime and then fled the country to avoid punishment should have, by all rights, ended his career–yet somehow that didn’t happen. He has continued making films–even won an Oscar for Best Director, I think–and has enjoyed success and critical acclaim. Should his art be judged separately from his personal life? Am I hypocritical for refusing to read Orson Scott Card because of his vigorous anti-gay activity back in the day because it affected me directly, yet still watching pre-crime Polanski films? In all honesty, I doubt I will ever watch Chinatown again after this second viewing; I most likely won’t go back and rewatch Rosemary’s Baby either, despite its being based on a terrific Ira Levin novel and the brilliance of Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevets, and the fact that it fits into this film festival–the cynical movies which flourished in the 1970’s actually started being made in the 1960’s, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of the best films about paranoia ever made, frankly.

Something I really need to put some more thought into, definitely.

I need to get cracking, too–I have an essay to edit, another one to write, a short story to edit and revise; and of course the manuscripts that need working on. I have bills to pay and emails to answer, and I also have to go into the office today to get some work done there, stopping at the grocery store on my way back home. We literally have no food at all in the house, sigh.

And so on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Archer

It’s always something, isn’t it? If could go back in time and tell my younger self anything in the way of advice or assistance in dealing with life, that’s the lesson I would try to get through: it never stops, there’s always something, and sometimes you just can’t get away from things–but you also can’t get away from dealing with these things. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will be minor and small annoyances; but they will inevitably include things that are an enormous pain in the ass, and if other people are involved….well, inevitably they will make things worse rather than better.

You rarely will go wrong underestimating the intelligence of others. Sometimes, rarely, they will surprise you–but those moments are both lovely and rare.

This has been a week, of ups and downs and emotions all over the place and irritations and trying to fix things that shouldn’t need to be fixed in the first place; another thing you can never go wrong with is assuming that no one will ever take responsibility for their mistakes, their incompetence, or their stupidity. I am very glad to have reached Friday with the shreds of what’s left of my sanity somewhat intact; I intend to spend this weekend cleaning and writing. I had, in a conversation with a writer friend yesterday, one of those marvelous epiphanies about why my writing has stalled or is taking me so long to get this manuscript finished; which is that I am trying to make it perfect–and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with striving to write a book that is perfect, there’s also no such thing as the perfect book; it’s an impossible standard to reach, and what I really need to be doing is focusing on writing the best book that I can.

The weather yesterday was beautiful; there wasn’t a lot of humidity, so it felt lovely and cool–even though according to the weather when I got home from work, it was 83 degrees outside and “felt like 90.” It really did not; I wasn’t even mildly hot or sweaty carrying things out to the car in the morning on my way to work or out to the car on my way home from work (condom packing supplies; and condom packs on the way in), and it didn’t feel either hot or stuffy in the house once I got inside–which it always does, when it’s miserably hot and humid out.

I also looked at the forecast, and we are getting low 80’s/mid-to-high 70’s next week; it looks like fall has arrived in New Orleans and the heat may have broken. MAYBE. Possibly. Could be. Maybe. It’s gray and hazy outside the windows this morning; thunderstorms in the forecast for the day, and a tropical system of some sort out in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico trying to form and become something. With any luck today I won’t have to even go outside, and if I do, it won’t be for very long. I do have condoms to pack today–not sure what today’s film will be, either; I may break with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and may start another–the Problematic 80’s Teen Movie Festival; Fast Times at Ridgemont High is available on one of the ridiculous amount of streaming services we subscribe to, and since it was really one of the first teen movies of its type, it seems like the perfect place to start. Has anyone ever written a book about the development of the teen movie, from its origins in the Andy Hardy films up through the sex comedies of the 80’s and to what we see today? That would be interesting.–especially in deconstructing the underlying messages imbedded in those 80’s movies we all grew up with and loved.

Which reminds me, I had an interesting point about Grease I’d intended to make when talking about American Graffiti, and never made; and of course, now I can’t really remember what it was–something along the lines of how American Graffiti, while nostalgic, was also dark; and Grease was the other extreme–nostalgia taken to the point where everything was presented as harmless…but if you look past the gloss, Grease itself is a pretty dark film as well. My point is in there somewhere, I suppose.

This week wasn’t a good one for reading; I didn’t read anything outside of the occasional email or website. I think Babylon Berlin might be a little too densely written for me to get into right now, so I am going to put it aside and read some short stories–the Short Story Project has, in fact, been idle for far too long, and I have all kinds of gems lined up to get into. I also may reread one of my long-time favorite comfort reads, either Rebecca or In Cold Blood, something like that, or perhaps a Mary Stewart ebook already loaded into my Kindle app. I definitely need to spend some more time reading and writing; I think the absence of both from my life this past week has been part of the emotional downturn i’ve been dealing with.

We’re still enjoying House of Flowers, but are now into the second season, and the changes between seasons is quite startling and may take some getting used to. We’re going to go another episode or so before giving it up; but that first season is absolutely golden, and again, there on a Mexican show is inclusion of bisexuality and transgender representation, which is quite marvelous.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Daylight

Well, here we are again, back to something resembling normality, whatever that may be, for this awful year of 2020. The stress hangover has finally, seemingly, passed; and now I have to try to remember what I was working on and what is in progress and what is finished and what I need to do. Lord. It also seems weird to be talking about my stress hangover while western Louisiana still is in ruins, with Mobile and Pensacola and everything in between joining them after this latest natural disaster. (And California is still burning.) But, as I always say, suffering isn’t an Olympic sport, and admitting to being in a weird place emotionally doesn’t demean or diminish those who are losing, or have lost, everything.

Ah, well. That which doesn’t kill us, or whatever.

This week is very off, as so many this year have been. I have trouble remembering that today is Thursday, frankly; I’ve had to stop and think about it several times this morning already and occasionally there’s even a thought o oh wow it’s Thursday already isn’t it? Yeesh.

I feel rested and rather emotionally stable this morning–always a plus, and becoming more of a rarity it seems these days–and so I am hoping that today will be an enormously productive day as well. The sun is shining outside, there’s no haze and I can see white clouds and blue sky; so overall that’s a very pleasant way to go into the day. I think one of the primary issues I’ve been having lately is related to the lack of a football season thus far–I know games have been played, but the SEC season hasn’t started, and for me, that (mostly LSU) is how I gauge the season, and so for me at least, I won’t think of it as having started until LSU plays a game. It’s also going to be weird that the entire conference is having a conference-only schedule. I suppose this season will have an asterisk beside it for all eternity? I don’t know–but I feel like people should be aware in the future that 2020 wasn’t a normal year on any level.

I’ve not really been able to do much reading or writing this week; hell, keeping up with my emails has been an utter failure all week and I may even have to give up on the clearly impossible dream of ever being completely on top of my emails. I tried picking up Babylon Berlin again last night while I waited for Paul to come home, but couldn’t even open to the page where I left off, and even my current nonfiction read, The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, held no interest for me last night. I will say, though, that I am leaning more and more towards writing a stand-alone Colin adventure–a historical one–and that is becoming more and more appealing to me the more I think about it, particularly since I can go back in time and write an entire series of Colin books going back to the late 1990’s without having to deal with writing about anything in the present or current day, which I will admit is more than a little cowardly on my part. I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and then the Kansas book so I can write Chlorine and then do a Scotty book, or perhaps the novellas I’ve been working on. Time slips through my fingers so quickly that it’s really upsetting and frightening on some levels to know that the there will be at the very least a two–if not three–year gap between the last Scotty and the next now; and there’s also a little voice in my head telling me not to write another Scotty and let the series end, or at least write another to end the series once and for all. I don’t know what to do.

I rewatched Don’t Look Now yesterday, even though it doesn’t really fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, yet it is a film of that decade and while it may not be a cynical film per se, it certainly has its moments. It’s naturally based on one of my favorite short story/novellas of all time, the superb Daphne du Maurier tale “Don’t Look Now,” and while the film has differences from the story (I much prefer the opening of the story, frankly), it has to be, because things that are told in the story to set it up, the backstory, cannot really be done properly on film, so the tale of John and Laura Baxter and their agonizing grief spools out on film by taking us to the moment they lost their daughter, Christine, by opening with her death by drowning in a pond while wearing her bright red slicker. In the story, they’ve come to Venice for a holiday to get away from home and its haunting memories; the pain is still too fresh and Christine is still too raw. In the film, they are living in Venice now while John works restoring an old church; time has passed since Christine’s death, but Laura is still not completely recovered from it; the pain is still there, a lingering grief that still throbs like an aching tooth you’ve gotten used to. The film does an excellent job of building the tension and suspense in much the same way du Maurier did in her story–God, if you’ve not read it, you really must, Constant Reader–and the imagery director Nicholas Roeg uses–those reds!–really amplifies it. Julie Christie is stunningly beautiful as she underplays the role of the grieving mother; Donald Sutherland is also at his young handsome best (those eyes! that mop of curls!) as skeptical John–at a lunch, they encounter two sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic, who tells Laura that she sees Christine and she’s happy and laughing, but that John is in danger in Venice and must leave. John doesn’t believe in any of that–afterlife, psychics, ghosts, etc.–and so he thinks they are after something from his wife–even though he does keep having close calls with accidents and possibly death…and he also keeps seeing a small figure running around Venice, wearing a red slicker like the one Christine died wearing….

Christ, what a great film and story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

I Know Places

This has really been a most unsettling year.

Remember as 2019 was coming to a close and we were all looking forward to that hellish year ending and a brand new start in 2020? Yeah, that’s why I am pointedly not looking forward to this year ending and a different year beginning for 2021. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

And at least in 2019 we had the greatest LSU football season of all time to enjoy from September through January. (And yes, I still go back sometimes, when I am feeling down, blue, or depressed, and rewatch games from that wonderful season. And I won’t feel bad about it, no matter how much you try to shame me, primarily because I’m not ashamed of it.)

Today is a strange day, in which I am either working at home or taking a personal day of some sort; I haven’t really yet decided what I am actually going to do today; I have condom packing supplies and as long as I have Internet access I can do work-related things. I wasn’t quite sure what precisely I was going to wake up to this morning; the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty kept shifting gradually more and more to the east as yesterday progressed, until when I checked before going to bed New Orleans, and in fact all of southeastern Louisiana, was no longer in that dread Cone anymore. That bullseye was squarely on the panhandles of Mississippi and Alabama, and the storm had also slowed; landfall moved from the wee hours of tonight/tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening, possibly Wednesday morning. My heart breaks for that stretch of the Gulf Coast, and my friends in harm’s way–and of course, we still don’t know what to expect here. Ah, the lovely, unbearably bearable stress and suspense of hurricane season–and there’re even more systems out there in the Atlantic basin.

Hurray!

But now that I’ve checked, I see that we are going to be missed; it continues to creep forward with now landfall projected to be sometime tomorrow night, and we’re back down to merely a tropical storm warning. It’s a relief, of course, but horrible for where it’s coming ashore, as I mentioned earlier. The weather here is weird and hazy, yet still sunny; the sun is behind some haze, making it seem grayish-yellow outside my windows this morning, but there you have it.

We started watching a most delightful Mexican dramedy last night on Netflix: The House of Flowers, or La Casa de las Flores, and it is absolutely wonderful. We probably would have stayed up all night watching; fortunately, Paul had the strength and fortitude to stop the binge in its tracks.

As I was making condom packs yesterday afternoon, I continued with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, watching American Graffiti and Marathon Man. That might seem like an odd pairing, and one might not think American Graffiti actually fits into the Festival, but I remembered the one time I saw the film, decades ago, and remembered it being rather a dark film. It’s debut brought on a wave of nostalgia for the 1950’s in the 1970’s–the music, the clothes, the things the teens did in the movie–but the movie was actually set in 1962, not the 1950’s, but most of the music was from the 1950’s. American Graffiti‘s success led to another revival, for example, of the Beach Boys; eventually led to the series Happy Days (which also starred Ron Howard–although in the movie he was billed as Ronnie Howard, a holdover from The Andy Griffith Show); and sparked that 50’s nostalgia trend I mentioned earlier. The movie really doesn’t have much of a plot, other than it’s the last night in town for Steve and Curt, who are leaving the next morning for college in the east somewhere. Steve is dating Curt’s sister Laurie, who is head cheerleader and will be a senior when school starts, Curt is having second thoughts about leaving for college; Steve cannot wait to get away from the unnamed town, which was director/writer George Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. These three are played by Thomas, a very young Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams. Basically, the movie follows them and a few of their friends throughout this last night, as Steve and Curt decide about their futures. It’s really about growing up and making decisions about who you are and what your life is going to be, and while rather light-hearted in tone for the most part, there are dark elements to the movie as well–and the end, with Curt flying east, and as the plane is silhouetted against the clouds, a scroll lets us know what happens to the four male characters: Steve is an insurance salesman, Curt is a writer living in Canada, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, and John was killed by a drunk driver. There’s a definitely 50’s feel to the movie, even though it’s set in 1962–some say the 50’s didn’t really end until the JFK assassination–but it’s not as “feel-good” as one might think. There’s sadness and poignancy in the movie, as well. And of course, it’s the film that launched numerous careers, including Lucas’; the afore-mentioned stars, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others. It wasn’t as heavy drama as The Last Picture Show, which was another dark film about teenagers in the 1950’s, but it’s still darker than most people think of it.

Marathon Man definitely belongs in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. William Goldman adapted his novel for the screen–I read the book, never saw the movie (although the sadistic dentist scene is legendary; it was much worse in the book)–and now that I’ve seen the film, there’s no question about it. The film opens with an old man going to a ban and checking his safe deposit box; his car stalls, which starts a road rage incident with another old man, with the two men swearing at each other in German and the second man realizing the first man is anti-Semitic, if not an actual Nazi, and so begins a car duel between the two that ends with both of them crashing into a fuel truck and being killed. The film then cuts to Dustin Hoffman, who is training to run a marathon. He is also working on his PhD in history, trying to clear his father’s name–his father was smeared during McCarthyism in the 1950’s and ruined, finally killing himself. Because his brother, played by Roy Scheider, works for a mysterious secret agency for the government (doing the things in that gray area between the FBI and CIA), is somehow involved with actual Nazis who escaped from Germany at the end of the war (we never really learn why our government helped those Nazis escape–although that’s actually true; in most cases it was scientists we set to work on the space program), Hoffman actually becomes involved peripherally with this case through no fault of his own, and people are now trying to not only kill him but torture him as well, trying to find out “if it’s safe”, and he has no idea what they are talking about. This is the ultimate paranoia/conspiracy movie: an innocent person being stalked and his life threatened and he has no idea why, and all he can do is try to stay alive and figure it all out (this is also the underlying story of some of Hitchcock’s best films, and many Robert Ludlum novels), and there is quite literally no one he can trust: not the woman he is seeing, not his brother’s fellow agent, and certainly not any of the Nazi henchmen. It’s a good thriller, but I don’t think it would make it today because of the pacing and the slow developing plot, but once it starts rolling it really goes quickly.

It also reminded me that another element of the 1970’s was actual Nazis; Israelis were still hunting down and exterminating war criminals, and the war and the Holocaust were still in recent enough memory that it was still very much in the public consciousness. War novels still proliferated (this was the decade Herman Wouk published both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance), it also brought forth William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Ira Levin’s brilliant The Boys from Brazil. Ludlum’s career also got rolling in the 1970’s, and one of his first novels dealt with Nazis–as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as villains, with the Vatican a close second; one of my favorite Ludlums, The Gemini Contenders, used both.

And now back to the spice mines.

The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

The Moment I Knew


Thursday, y’all, and I think I am going to take a vacation day tomorrow to try and help me get caught up on all the things I need to get caught up on. Another three day weekend, following up on the one just past already? To be fair, it kind of needs to actually happen, to be honest. I also have to remember to dedicate myself to making sure all the things I need to get done actually get done.

Which, you know, is the real trick here.

I also kind of need to pull myself together. While I am fully aware that there are certain things about myself I cannot control–depression, the mood swings, etc–it is still enormously frustrating to have to deal with them, try to work through them, get through them while trying to keep going with everything I am juggling these days. Part of it comes, undoubtedly, from my inability to ever get a handle on everything; even when I am making lists and working from them there’s always something I am forgetting when I make the list or something that comes up new after I make the list–and the list is so long and daunting to begin with that the thought of adding something else to it is paralyzing, which drags me back into the endless cycle of plate spinning to “Flight of the Bumblebee” again.

Obviously, the insomnia never helps either, nor does fearing, every night when I go to bed, that I am going to have insomnia again.

We started watching Mythic Quest last night on Apple Plus, and it’s not bad; we watched two episodes and I think it has the potential to become really funny; it stars Rob McIlhenny of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I was really surprised to discover that not only was he the driving force behind that show, but this one as well. We’re also watching We Hunt Together on Showtime–we started the other night, before getting distracted by Ted Lasso, which I absolutely love–and while it’s not bad, it’s not the best British crime show I’ve watched. It’s very unusual in that it features two mixed couples (a Black man and a white woman) on opposing sides of the law–the investigating detectives and the criminal couple killing people–and reflects the similarities of relationships and their dynamics in both; it’s like they are mirror images of each other if it’s a funhouse mirror. It’s an interesting choice, and the acting is superb; the female cop is played by Eve Myles of Torchwood fame, whose work I always enjoy.

During my condom-packing hours yesterday I also returned to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, this time watching Jane Fonda in her Oscar-winning role as Bree Daniels, the call girl, in Klute (what is with women winning Oscars playing prostitutes, anyway?). Klute is a very strange film, and it’s the first of what is called, by film scholars, the Paranoia Trilogy of director Alan J. Pakula (I have recently watched the other two, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men). Klute, to me, is a deeply flawed film, but an interesting one all the same. It’s a crime movie, the title character is a cop who takes a leave of absence to investigate the disappearance of a friend, and yet neither the cop nor the investigation are the lead story of the movie; it’s really a character study of Bree Daniels. Klute, the detective, is played almost completely emotionlessly by Donald Sutherland (obviously a choice made by both director and actor; since this is also the same period that produced his stunning performance in Don’t Look Now), so the emotional heart and center of the movie is Fonda’s performance. I came away from the film not entirely convinced by that performance; there was complexity there and some moments of truly fine acting, but over all–the film hasn’t really aged all that well (the underground world of orgies and call girls and pimps and heroin of Manhattan in the 1970’s it is trying to depict feels very screenwriter-ish to me; a film studio’s thoughts about how that particular subculture would look, walk and talk)–but I can see why she won an Oscar; those scenes where she is able to really inhabit the character are stellar. Klute is a subversion of noir/crime thrillers, really; by focusing on the character study of Bree rather than the story, it becomes less a crime story than the story of the unfortunate aspiring actress/model who turns to tricking to pay the bills and then is trying to leave the life but isn’t entirely able to; not only because she needs the money but because she likes the power of being in control–or at least, the allusion of control hooking brings her.

Imagine Double Indemnity if the focus of the film wasn’t the plan to kill Phyllis’ husband, but rather who she is and why she is the way she is.

The paranoia is also there in that Bree’s phone is tapped, not only by Klute but also by the killer. There’s another part of the film that is a flaw; the motive for the killing and the motive for hiring and paying Klute doesn’t really wash; but’s that probably also the crime writer/editor in me. I had also thought the film was based on a book but was apparently wrong; I could have sworn I remember seeing a paperback novel of Klute on the wire racks at Zayre’s, but of course it could have simply been a novelization of the film.

I did find Don’t Look Now also available to stream somewhere as I idly looked through all my streaming services apps last evening before we started watching Mythic Quest; I definitely want to watch that film again–and it’s not a bad idea for me to delve back into Daphne du Maurier’s short stories again. I may even have to read one of the novels she wrote that I haven’t read yet; there appears to be an adaptation of The Scapegoat (which I’ve not read) available to stream as well. The concept of the book intrigues me–the concept of the look-alike, which is something I’ve always wanted to write about myself. I’ve always had this idea of a bartender in a gay bar being approached by someone who thought he was someone else as a great starting place for a thriller; the problem, of course, being that now DNA would take away any possibility of an imposter passing for someone else. (FUCKING technological improvements.)

This idea came to me–not the least because of The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart–but because when I used to visit New Orleans before moving here, consistently people–locals–would come up to me and start talking to me like I was someone else; eventually I would point out to them that they didn’t actually know ME and they would be very startled. This continued for a year or so after we moved here–I would sometimes get bought drinks by total strangers who thought I was someone else, and now that I think about it, perhaps the reason so many bartenders gave me a drink for free now and then was because they thought I was someone else. But it stopped after living here for a few years–I’d forgotten this used to happen–but they would always tell me I had a double here in New Orleans; one that I never met or saw anywhere. Isn’t that strange? But I always thought it was a good opening or idea for a story–but of course now, as I mentioned before, DNA has ruined the imposter stories forever.

Today is a better day, so here’s hoping it lasts and I can get back on track.

Teardrops on My Guitar

Saturday, and the first blog entry of the three day Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day.

September.

Sep-fucking-tember.

I think the kindest thing anyone can say about this year is that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most people, and putting it that way is perhaps a bit of a stretch. I do feel bad for people who are actually having good things happen to them in this year of utter misery and repeated horror; as I said recently, this is why we  need to get our joy where we can find it. Adaptability is one strength (supposedly) of our species, and I do see people adapting left and right; on the other hand, I also see others desperately clinging to the past and resisting adaptation most stubbornly. This has been quite a year on every level–and it has been interesting seeing how people have adapted, and how people are handling it all so differently.

This is why it surprises me when I see authors talking about how they are going to handle the pandemic in their work–or rather, how they are not going to address the pandemic in their work. It’s so global and so intense and it’s affected everyone, changing how we do things and how we live our lives, from the most mundane things like picking up prescriptions to grocery shopping to going out to eat, to the big things like jobs and house payments and school attendance and daycare. It has affected every part of our lives, so how can we ignore it or pretend like it never happened? It’s very similar to the Katrina situation New Orleans writers found ourselves in afterwards; we couldn’t pretend like the city hadn’t been destroyed or that we’d all been through a horrible trauma. But when I, for example, started writing my post-Katrina work, we were over a year into the recovery and so I could write about what it had been like, rather then trying to figure out what it was going to be like. Pandemic writing, of course, will inevitably date your work, just like Katrina divided my career into before and after. I’m still, frankly, trying to decide how to deal with it in my own work–or if I even want to continue writing the series or not.

And let’s be honest: my first and thus far only attempt to write pandemic fiction, started in the first weeks of the quarantine/shutdown, quickly became dated; I am very glad I didn’t finish it because a lot of the work would have been wasted. I do want to finish the story, though, see if anyone wants to publish it.

Today is going to be my catch-up day; I am going to try to get a chapter revised today, but my primary concern is getting things caught up; I want to finish reading Little Fires Everywhere (I really got sucked into it for a few hours last night) and get started on The Coyotes of Carthage, and I also think I might spend some time today with some short story reading–that Sara Paretsky collection keeps giving me side-eye whenever I sit down in my easy chair–and of course, there’s always electronic files to sort and clean up as well as physical ones. The house really needs some serious cleaning, frankly, and I know I’ll feel much better once that chore is actually accomplished.

Then again, who knows? This could easily turn into another lazy day.

Yesterday during condom-packing time, I watched the season finale of Real Housewives of New York (Dorinda’s recently firing makes a lot more sense now) and moved on to the next on my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, All the President’s Men. To digress for a moment, can I just say how fucking ridiculously good-looking Robert Redford was? I know, I know, commenting on the almost insane beauty of Redford isn’t like anything new, but good lord. Dustin Hoffman was also never considered to be particularly good-looking, but he looks pretty good in this movie and isn’t completely overshadowed by Redford, which would have been expected. It’s a very good film, from top to bottom; everyone in the cast is superb (it was also interesting to see so many people in bit roles that would later become stars on television–Polly Holiday, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter Birney), and it also made me miss the heyday of the thriller featuring the intrepid, dogged, never say die investigative journalist. This is something we’ve lost with the rise of the Internet, 24 hours news channels, and the death of print: with magazines and newspapers either shuttering or cutting back staff, it’s really no longer realistic to have the crusading journalist as the heroic center of your book or movie; as I watched the show I kept thinking about the old Ed Asner series Lou Grant, and whether it was streaming anywhere.

All the President’s Men, of course, is the film version of the book Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward wrote about their investigation into the Watergate break-in in 1972, which was the tiny thread that was pulled and eventually brought down the Nixon presidency and almost destroyed the Republican party in the process. I read the book initially when I was in college–it was required reading for my Intro to Journalism class (I was torn between majoring in journalism or English; being unaware that I could have gone to college somewhere and majored in Creative Writing–but actually, I am very glad I never did that)–and it was my first real experience with understanding, for the first time, what Watergate was all about. It happened in real time during the course of my life, but I was also between the ages of 11 and 13 from the first reports of the break-in and the resignation of a president, and so I didn’t really understand what was going on and only had a vague idea as it infiltrated every aspect of the culture beyond the news. It certainly gave rise to the concept of conspiracy theories and the belief that the government couldn’t be trusted–which gave rise to Reaganism in the 1980’s–but reading the book was my first baby-step forward to shaking off the ideology with which I had been raised. I had never seen the film, and so it really seemed to be perfect for my Cynical 70’s Film Festival…although it was difficult for me to get up the desire to actually queue it up and click play, frankly; the utter failure of the 4th Estate to do its job properly in this century plays no small part in why we are where we are today. But it’s a good film, and it also depicts the back-room aspect of journalism–the battle for column inches, the struggle for the front page, the competition with other newspapers and television–which is really kind of a lost world now. (I had always wanted to write about a newspaper–which is partly why I made Paige a journalist, morphing her gradually into a magazine editor.) I will say watching this movie now made me think about writing about a modern-day journalist; the struggle between the print and on-line copy, etc. If I only had more time.

It’s also very sad to know that if Watergate was happening now, the story would be killed by an editor, and we’d never know the truth.

We also finished watching Outcry last night, which was terrific, and the latest episode of Lovecraft Country (it dropped early because of the holiday weekend), and its continued brilliance is really something. We also saw the preview for Raised by Wolves, the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, and it also looks terrific. A new season of The Boys also just dropped on Prime; so there’s a wealth of things for us to watch, and I rediscovered (oops) my Showtime watch list last night, which also has a cornucopia of delights on it.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into ye olde spice mines for the day. May you all have a lovely, lovely day today.

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Untouchable

And here we are at Friday again, with a three day holiday weekend looming over us. This would have been Southern Decadence in a normal year, and around four o’clock this afternoon I would be departing for the French Quarter to pass out condoms and people-watch. Instead, I will be at home in the air conditioning, making condom packs and doing other work-at-home duties while watching today’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choices.

I had another good night’s sleep last night, which was quite lovely, particularly as I have a bit of a busy day ahead of me before I can slip into my three-day weekend. The kitchen, well, the entire Lost Apartment, is a mess yet again; I try to keep it cleaned as I go, but inevitably at some point during the week I get too tired and let it go–and from that point on I just look at it and feel defeated, certainly too defeated to take care of it, and let t slide for the weekend. Perhaps not the smartest way to housekeep, and inevitably I resent the time I wind up spending on it on the weekend having to clean, but I do enjoy cleaning, and there’s something to the fact that cleaning helps me think.

I read some more on Little Fires Everywhere last night; it really is remarkably well written and interesting, and I am really looking forward to finishing reading it this weekend. We also are watching a Showtime documentary called Outcry, which is about the Greg Kelley case in Texas; to wit, Greg Kelley was a local football star in his small town and very well-liked, and then was accused, and convicted, of molesting a four-year-old child–and at every level, the justice system clearly failed, from the investigating officers and police department, to the prosecution AND the defense attorney, to the jury. I don’t know whether Greg Kelley actually molested that child or not–he of course claims he is innocent–but the mentality evident from every level of the justice system clearly wasn’t to give him a fair trial. Just like with Who Killed Garrett Phillips?, it was clear that very early on the police decided who was guilty and shaped their investigation, not to find the truth but to build a case that backed up their belief. It’s shocking, and horrifying, but this is the sad truth in most criminal prosecutions and investigations; I’ve even touched on this in some of my books–that the cops, who are generally overburdened with cases, decide on a suspect who is guilty early on and that decision impacts and directs their entire investigation–and they don’t rule out other suspects.

This systemic flaw in our criminal justice system is very terrifying; what could be scarier than knowing that you are innocent, not believed, and the full force of our system is being brought to bear on convicting you? Every American has a constitutional right to a fair trial, to due process…it’s the corner-store of our entire system. The Constitution provides for protecting the individual against the abuses of the state, and this is something people tend to forget frequently when it comes to criminal justice. The Constitution and our system specifically makes it difficult to convict people of crimes by making certain that individual rights aren’t being violated during the investigation and in court; but this only works when a judge is impartial and when prosecutors aren’t looking to make names for themselves but are actually looking for justice–not to get a win-loss record that their raises and futures are dependent on.

Quite frankly, I have reached a point where the thought of just being a witness in a criminal case is worrisome; you never know when the cops are going to decide that you are the actual criminal and are going to slant their investigation towards convicting you.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Outcry documentary is seeing the white people realize hey, if this can happen to a good-looking white football star in Texas, it could happen to ANYONE and then get involved in trying to make change.

I think part of the problem is that we elect judges and district attorneys; there’s always something political involved in their decision making, and the idea that justice is dependent on their reelection prospects (and further political ambitions) is kind of terrifying.

But it’s much easier to believe that our system works the way it’s supposed to rather than take a long, hard look at it, and try to make important reforms.

I also found it interesting that at least in the Greg Kelley case, the word of the victim–a four year old boy–was taken as gospel truth without question to the point it was literally the only evidence used to convict a nineteen-year-old and send him to jail for twenty-five years; why aren’t women who are sexually assaulted given that same courtesy?

Don’t get me wrong–I think child abuse (whether physical, sexual or mental) is one of the worst crimes out there and every effort should be made to protect them and convict those who are actually guilty; but it is in the entire best interest of society to ensure that those who are convicted of these crimes are actually guilty.

For every innocent person sent to prison, there’s a guilty person still walking around free, and that’s scary.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.