Young Offender

As I said yesterday, I had been wanting to reread Summer of ’42 for quite some time now, and finally decided to bite the bullet and start it yesterday.

He always intended to come back, to see the island again. But the oppertunity had never quite presented itself. This time, however, with a break in his schedule and with events moving remrkably in his favor, he had driven far up the New England coast to see if the magic still prevailed. Aboard the old ferry his Mercedes convertible earned the icy nonchalance of a half dozen craggy islanders, for very few new cars ever make that crossing. Cars that came to Packett Island are usually well into the varicose stage of their lives, and as such, they are by time and temperament unconcerned with a return trip to the mainland. “Cars come to this fuckin’ island to die.” Oscy had said that. Oscy, the big deal philosopher. And it was as true in 1970 as it had been in 1942.

He studied the faces around him, each turned to the wind, taking the breeze full face. It was apparent that none aboard remembered him. But then, he was barely fifteen that last time he forked over the twenty-five-cent fare. And in the intervening years nmuch had changed, including the twenty-five cents, which was now a dollar, and himself, which was now forty-two. How, then, could anyone remember him? The nerve.

The Mercedes moved with disinterest along what purported to be the Packett Island Coastway, for the speed limit was thirty, hardly a challenge for an exhumed LaSalle, let alone a hot Mercedes-Benz. To his left were the familiar dunes, sulking in the grass, incongruously scattered with the uncatalogued refuse and bleached timber that the sea could toss so casually across the road whenever it felt so disposed. And to his right, the sea itself, choppy and gray-green. And large. Very large indeed. One of the largest in the world.

I first read Summer of ’42 when I was either eleven or twelve; I don’t remember which; I just know that we had already moved out to the suburbs and I bought a copy off the wire racks where the Zayre’s stocked paperbacks, cover out and about four books deep. I’m not really sure why I picked it, of the scores of paperbacks from Dell and Fawcett Crest and Pocketbooks; there had to be a reason but nearly fifty years later I cannot remember. The movie was out at the time, and the cover art was from the movie, with Jennifer O’Neill standing in the sand looking out to see, and Gary Grimes seated in the sand behind her looking at her longingly; her little beach cottage was in the background along with the dunes and sea grasses. Was it because the cover depicted a beach scene, and we were beginning to spend our summer vacations including the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle in our annual jaunts to Alabama to visit family? The answer is lost in the mists of time, alas, but I did buy it, I did read it, and never really forgot it. It’s a lovely little book, nostalgic and sweet with a little tinge of sadness running through it; I think I also identified very strongly with Hermie, the main character (obviously, standing in for Herman Raucher; the book is supposedly semi-autobiographical). Hermie was a dreamer whose family didn’t really understand him, he had an older sister who is barely a presence at all in the book, and his fantasy life/world was just as strong as mine. He often went off into daydreams the same way I did, and he didn’t really fit with his friends, whom he enjoyed and was annoyed by in equal measure. At just fifteen, he is just starting to experience his own sexuality, and that summer of 1942 he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman who stays in a cottage just outside the small town on the beach. He sees her with her husband–also stunningly handsome, and they are so clearly in love, and begins to sort of watch them whenever he gets the chance. The husband goes off to the war, leaving her alone, and he contrives a way to meet her, offering to help her carry packages home when she is overburdened. He is also clumsy and awkward; saying and doing things that embarrass him, and they begin to develop a kind of weird and different little friendship. She just thinks he’s a sweet boy, but he is crazy about her, and she becomes his sexual fantasy; speeding along his awakening awareness of sex and sexuality.

The book is entirely from his point of view; so deep inside that we really don’t get to know any of the other characters in the book other than from his perspective and how he perceives them. There are parts that are actually quite funny–the scene where he buys condoms is hilarious–and the bittersweet feeling that she was his first love that he can never quite forget is the motor that drives the engine of the story forward. It’s melancholy, and Raucher was a really good writer; he captures that awkwardness of being insecure in your own skin at fifteen beautifully, and the entire tone of the book–that bittersweet melancholy for a lost love and a lost time and really, lost youth–is rendered exquisitely.

And yet…

He doesn’t know this woman at all, other than she’s quite beautiful and in their little exchanges, very kind to him, if a bit confused by his behavior. He doesn’t even know her name until the book is almost finished. (SPOILER) And when she does have sex with him in the end–after getting the shattering telegram that her beloved husband has been killed in the war and she’s been drinking, in the throes of a powerful grief–it never really made sense to me. Why would she do this? She’s in her early twenties and he’s fifteen. And despite her vulnerability in that moment, she’s the adult here…when I first read the book and saw the movie, that power differential wasn’t anything I noticed (as I said, I wrote my own story inspired by this one without a second thought about statutory rape and so forth), but now…it’s weird. And he of course has never forgotten the first woman he had sex with (they say you never forget the first) but it also doesn’t go into any of those directions, and why now has he decided to go back and see the place? There’s a lot left out, and I actually was thinking, as i read it this last time, how much I would have liked to have seen the story from her point of view.

It’s a short book and, as I said, the writing is well executed and it flows nicely. It made me start thinking about my own story and how I could possibly rewrite it now. I was able to read over the course of the afternoon (like I said, it was really short) and I did enjoy the reread…but this time it raised a lot more questions than it did to my much younger self.

But like Hermie, I also never forgot the story, so that’s something, right?

Turn

Saturday morning and I’m up much earlier than I usually am; I woke up around seven–the last time; it was a restless night–and finally decided to just go ahead and get up. We have to take Scooter to the vet at eleven for follow-up blood work (monitoring his diabetes) but other than that, the day is pretty free for me. I am thinking about going to the gym later to do arms (I skipped them last night because…well, because there were too many people there in the small space that is the gym and I don’t like having to force my way into spaces because so many gym-goers seem to feel like they are the only people there or they own the gym or something; I despise many things, but I have an especial hatred for inconsiderate assholes at the gym; always has been a pet peeve of mine) and was actually thinking it might be a good idea to go to alternating workouts; arms on one workout, shoulders/chest/back/legs on the other, with a goal to eventually give legs its own day in June). My muscles feel tired this morning, which means I worked them hard yesterday. That is a good thing. I also don’t want to waste today–which has a tendency to happen far too often on these weekends. The apartment needs some work done on it (it’s horrifying how much I’ve allowed the housework to slide since the first of the year) and perhaps getting up early this morning and using this time to actually do stuff rather than be a slug will help.

We shall see how this day progresses, at any rate.

One would never guess, looking around my apartment this morning, that I prefer to be organized, that’s for certain.

I’ve kind of decided to reread Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher next. I think I need a break from reading crime fiction–a palate cleanser, if you will–and I’ve been thinking a lot about this book and the film made from it lately; I don’t know why, or I don’t remember the reason it came up in my brain recently (hell, it may have been two years ago for all I can remember; I have absolutely no concept of time anymore). I read the book when I was eleven or twelve; I’m not sure when, but I know it was when we lived in the suburbs, and I’m also not really sure why I was so interested in it. I know I didn’t see the movie until it aired on television, and years later I rented the video to see the unedited version, but it always stuck in my head–so much so that I wrote a short story somewhat predicated on the same premise; nostalgic looking back at the coming of age of the main character. The story was called “The Island”, and rereading that story about ten years ago–I was fond of it, and it was very popular in the creative writing class I wrote it for–I realized, in horror, that it was very clearly a product of its time and could never be published without an extensive rewrite. There was a young woman in that creative writing class, and she hated the story, which of course deeply bothered me; particularly because her criticism was based on nothing–she had nothing concrete other than “it just made me squirm a bit,” was all she could say, and of course everyone else in the class just kind of rolled their eyes and dismissed her. On the reread, I realized precisely why it made her squirm, even though she couldn’t–or was afraid to–put it into words: the main character was thirteen and is seduced by a woman in her early twenties, so I kind of unintentionally wrote a grooming/pedophile story but wrote it as a nostalgic, coming of age romantic story. Ick ick ick. In retrospect, her reaction was the right one to have, frankly. I tried to rewrite it and make the characters closer in age–making the main character seventeen and the young woman twenty–but it still had an ick factor to it. I thought about changing it to a gay story, but that made it even ickier.

This set me to thinking about how our viewpoints on this sort of thing have changed over the course of my life, and whether Summer of ’42, which inspired the story in the first place, would still read the same way all these years later. NOW I REMEMBER! (There’s still some juice in the old brain yet!) I started thinking about my story again when I made the list of all the unpublished short stories I have in my files, and I remembered, not only this story but another one I wrote for that class that was never published anywhere, “Whim of the Wind”–and I was thinking about that story a lot over the last year because that one was also set in Corinth County, Alabama–the place I was writing about in Bury Me in Shadows, and the two stories (“The Island” and “Whim of the Wind”) are forever linked in my head because I wrote them for the same writing class and turned both in together (we could turn in as many stories as we wanted, but had to turn it at least once twice in the semester…I turned in two the first time, and six the second time; the first example of how prolific I can be when I set my mind to it and do the work). But I digress. Back in the day, when I was growing up and even up to my thirties and forties, the age gap thing–and the sexuality of teenagers–wasn’t as big a deal as it is today, if that makes sense. Even now, when there’s a scandal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult woman–usually a teacher in her early twenties–a lot of men don’t see the problem and say lucky kid or wish I’d had a teacher like that when I was in high school and things like that; as though there’s something natural and “manly” and normal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult (incidentally, if the teacher is male these same responses are most definitely not used; adult male teachers who have sex with girl students aren’t treated or looked at the same way, nor are male teachers having sex with male students; adult men are inevitably seen as predators–the very same type of double standard the classic Tracy/Hepburn film Adam’s Rib addressed in 1949).

It’s rather interesting now, as sixty looms on the horizon, to look back and see how the world has changed since I was a kid.

We got caught up on Cruel Summer last night, then tried watching The Serpent on Netflix–I’d read Thomas Thompson’s book about the murderous couple, Serpentine, years ago–but it didn’t really hold our interest, so we decided to skip it and move on to something else.

Okay, I’ve put off getting the day started for long enough now. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

All Too Well

Saturday morning, and there’s sunlight streaming through my windows–a lovely change from the majority of mornings this past week. I overslept this morning, something that has been happening with greater frequency over the last few weekends, but I also have been staying up later than normal and having trouble falling asleep when i finally do go to bed; I may have to change my pre-bed routine and go back to reading a bit before tumbling into bed. There was some study I read several years ago that indicated the light from screens made it harder for one’s mind to relax and turn off before bed, making sleep even more elusive than it already is for me.

The last thing I need in this world is to make it harder for myself to fall asleep.

I also realized yesterday afternoon when I finished work that I’ve been depressed for well over a week; going back to the week of my birthday. Depression is rather sneaky that way; I always forgot just how sneaky and malicious it actually is. You don’t have to feel sorry for yourself or have that ‘woe is me’ consciousness; it can manifest in being tired, having little or no energy, no desire to do your work, and thinking okay if I can just make it through this day. I literally felt myself come out of it, physically and emotionally, last evening after I finished my day’s work; the swing back to I can conquer the world was so palpable I actually can tell you what time it happened: 5:27, as I was loading blankets into the washing machine. These swings used to be much more obvious and apparent, and maybe…maybe I need something stronger than what I am taking to control all the chemical imbalances in my head. I don’t know. I worry so much about addiction that I am not even certain I should be taking the medication every day, and I also sometimes think I should take a week to wean myself off of it, to be certain, but then I remember that one of the symptoms of not taking the medication is an inability to sleep and like I need anymore assistance in THAT area.

It also never helps to have hurricane season amp up during the Katrina anniversary week. Sigh.

So, in this week’s film festival:

I watched Midway, the 2019 film about the climactic battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, which was the first American victory over the Japanese in the war and a major turning point; military historians consider it one of the most important naval battles in history, along with Salamis, Lepanto, and Trafalgar. I generally don’t watch war movies–I’ve never really cared for them much, and while I was watching Midway I realized why: I despise, and have always despised, toxic masculinity, and war movies are all about that amped up, testosterone driven macho bullshit. The main character of the film was someone who made me extremely uncomfortable with his posturing and, for want of a better term, dick-swinging; it wasn’t until he finally realized his posturing had resulted in the death of one of his airmen that he started to get it, and softened a bit, and became more likable (I also realize that this macho attitude is undeniably necessary for soldiers and the military; these are people who are putting their lives on the line and it really is a matter of kill or be killed; the problem is that it is incredibly difficult to shed that kind of training when you’re not on duty anymore or a civilian again, not to mention the PTSD). It also wasn’t until the end of the film, when the characters were shown as played by the actor with the story of what happened to them in their lives later, and the actor morphed into the real person on screen, that I realized that almost everyone in the movie was based on a real life person, not just the big admirals and so forth; that did make the movie a lot more powerful as I realized that not only was what I had just watched a fairly accurate depiction of the historical battle, but the individual experiences of the actual men who fought it. It’s a gorgeous film with stunning visuals, and the Pacific Theatre of the war never gets enough credit or recognition from us–we tend to remember the war primarily as being against the Nazis and the battle to free Europe from the Germans; bit the Pacific Theatre of the war is just as compelling, and the opening sequence–the horrific bombing and slaughter at Pearl Harbor–was just horrible to watch (one of the most moving experiences of my life was my first visit to the Arizona cemetery and memorial out in Pearl Harbor, where the water is so clear you can see the ship resting on the bottom, and oil bubbles are still escaping from the wreckage).

Yesterday I watched Blade Runner Final Cut  as part of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival (and yes I know it was released in 1982, but I consider it to be one of the last films that count as a Cynical 70’s film), and was most impressed. Rutger Hauer, of course, stole the film completely, and it was also a bit funny to me that the movie supposedly was set in 2019 (what an enormous disappointment 2019 turned out to be, given how Ridley Scott originally saw it forty years ago); visually it’s an amazing film, and I can also see how the visuals and art design of the film has influenced filmmakers ever since–the constant darkness and rain in Los Angeles (I kept thinking it’s rained more in this movie than it has in Los Angeles in the last year) reminded me of the  Alien film franchise and Altered Carbon and any number of other films. It was also interesting to see Sean Young and Daryl Hannah in the roles that first really brought them to audience attention–Sean Young was on the brink of major stardom for a while until she got labeled “troublesome and crazy; makes you wonder if she refused to fuck Harvey, doesn’t it?–and of course, a still young Harrison Ford just owns the screen. The concept behind the movie was interesting as well; it made me want to go back and read the source material (I’ve not really read much of Philip K. Dick, and given how influential his work was…yeah), and I still might. I bought a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?–great title–a few years back, but I can’t seem to put my hands on it now.

We also watched two documentaries last night: Class Action Park, about the exceptionally dangerous water park in New Jersey and the Showtime documentary about the Go-Go’s,  The Go-Go’s. Both are excellent and I do recommend both; I’ve always wanted to write about an amusement park–I have a short story somewhere set in one based on the old Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach–and still might; I’d hoped to do a Scotty book back before Katrina set in Jazzland, which is now, of course, a derelict ruin. The Go-Go’s, of course, were and remain one of my all-time favorite bands; I still listen to their music today and of course, contributed my story “This Town” (one of my favorites) to Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

So, I am now awake after two cappuccinos (Gosh, why do I have trouble sleeping? A mystery for the ages), and looking ahead, there’s a lot to get done for me this weekend. I am way behind on both emails and the book, and of course I want to start reading Little Fires Everywhere, and the filing! Good lord, the filing. I also need to make notes from All That Heaven Allows, the biography of Rock Hudson I recently read as research for Chlorine, so I can return the book to the library this week; and it wouldn’t hurt to go through Tab Hunter Confidential and at least mark the pages that would be of use to me later.

We also finished watching The Case Against Adnan Syed, and I definitely have some thoughts and opinions about that case and show.

Watching Magic the other day, and a young Jerry Houser’s appearance in a bit role as the cab driver reminded me of another movie from the 1970’s, which I wanted to rewatch to see how it holds up: Summer of ’42, which also has one of the most beautiful scores every recorded (it won an Oscar for Michel Legrand, who composed it). I read the novel by Herman Raucher, and the book and movie are both considered seminal works and examples of the “coming-of-age” novel–and thinking about it now, how exactly would that work out nowadays? The main character was a teenager–15 or 16, I don’t remember which–and he becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman in her early twenties whose husband is off to war; when the husband is killed in her insane grief she sleeps with the young boy, who returns, even more deeply in love with her, the next day to find a goodbye note and her gone. The book and movie are told in retrospect; many years later, as an adult, he returns to Nantucket, still remembering her, and then the story is told in flashback, and then at the end he sadly looks at her old beach house and drives away. This remembrance also reminded me that I had written, as a short story, my own version of the same story–which never really worked–called “The Island”, which I still have here somewhere and could possibly at some point revise and rewrite; the primary problem for me with the story I wrote was the main character was only thirteen–RED FLAG–and just now I figured out how I could revise it and make it work (definitely not with a thirteen year old main character).

I might to actually spring for the $1.99 to rent Summer of ’42 on Prime, and see how, and if, it fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

And now it is time for the spice mines. Enjoy your Saturday, Constant Reader!

IMG_4178

Tusk

As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve always had issues with my weight and, by extension, my body. I am trying–the goal is, anyway–to get down to 200 pounds. I am currently hovering at a plateau of 212, with fluctuations running from 210-215. Tuesday I tried on a pair of pants I’ve not been able to wear for several years and they fit comfortably; yesterday was the true acid test of my black Levi’s–which I haven’t gotten on in almost four years.

Not only did they fit, they fit fairly comfortably…and as the day progressed so began the ever-green struggle to keep pulling them up constantly as they slid down. I don’t know what that means–other than the reality that jeans do stretch when you wear them–but I’d like to think my body shape has changed. That fifteen or so pounds I lost has made a difference.

Huzzah! Now, of course, I should use that as motivation to improve my bad eating habits and start going to the gym with some degree of frequency…and also need to keep reminding myself that no matter how sore I may get, or how tired, or how little I want to lift the weights–I always feel better afterwards.

I worked a little on the WIP yesterday–not as much as I would have like or preferred, but so it goes, you know? I am still reconstructing that first chapter, which, now that I’ve started pulling it apart and trying to put it back together to try to make it more compulsively readable, isn’t quite as good as I may have thought it was when I originally conceptualized, and wrote, it. A lot of that probably has to do with originally conceiving the book as first person/past tense; and now I am shifting it to first person-present tense, so the reflective tone of the opening paragraphs no longer works.

The opening sentence, which I’d loved, has to go: My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good opening sentence, but it doesn’t really work anymore. Choosing to write in the present tense–which most y/a fiction I’ve read recently seems to be in–changes that dynamic; plus I always seem, at least in the early draft stages, to have a tendency to create a reflective, looking-back framing device for the story, like my character is remembering how it all happened from the vantage point of the adult he now is–and that’s just reflexive and lazy writing on my part. (It’s not a bad device, I’m not saying that by any means; but I use it too frequently, or try to, at any rate. I blame reading Herman Raucher’s Summer of ’42, which used this device beautifully; as did Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Perhaps someday I will use it when it is appropriate and will work. I need to reread the Raucher; I bet it doesn’t hold up–primarily since it’s theme is about a teenaged boy who has sex with a woman in her twenties and he basically stalks her; hmmm, there could be a really interesting essay in there…)

I hope to get that first chapter revised, restructured, and rewritten this evening, since it’s one of my two short days this week; and tomorrow I can move on to the next chapters. I  started reading The Woman Who Fed The Dogs, part of my TWFest homework, and I also need to get that finished so I can read the last bit of my homework, Samantha Downing’s My Lovely Wife. 

Always, always, always so much to do!

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

IMG_0950 (1)