So Emotional

And just like that, Our Hero is sixty.

And, as I suspected, it doesn’t feel different; just another day.

But it IS my birthday, I somehow made it to sixty, and I am taking the weekend OFF.

Oh, I am sure I won’t be a complete and total slug; I really need to do the dishes (leaking dishwasher), and I have to take Paul to pick up his glasses later today, and also we have to go out to Metairie to get my deep dish pizza from That’s Amore–but other than that, I am really hoping to not leave the house this weekend other than to go to the gym briefly once or twice. I want to finish reading the book I am reading and at least one other; I have some organizing and cleaning to do, but….that’s the sort of thing I like doing. I also like writing; so I am probably going to do some of that this weekend as well. But I am not holding myself to anything; I am just going to spend this weekend drifting a bit from thing to thing, and if I get some things that need to be done done, so be it; if I don’t, well, that’t what next week’s stay-cation is for. I don’t have to work from Wednesday thru Monday, inclusive; if I can’t use that time to get a shit ton finished there’s really not much hope for me, is there?

I am also hoping to get even more reading done next week as well.

We’ll see how ambitious I actually am, won’t we?

But it’s nice. I didn’t think I would wake up to heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia”, the clouds parting and the sun shining directly on me or any such nonsensical things. I’ve never been one to be deeply into my birthday; sure, when I was a kid we celebrated and I had cake and got presents, but I don’t really remember it being that big of a thing…and I’ve carried that into my adulthood. I mean, sure, it’s nice to have a day that in theory is all about me (which should be every day, really–I AM a Leo, after all), but I also have that weird “I want attention/I hate attention” thing going on as well. It’s seriously a wonder that I am as mentally stable as I am–which is a very low bar–but my mind and my personality and ego and id and everything are always, it seems, at loggerheads with each other; all those voices in my head making me feel a little bit on the unstable side.

I also need to stop indulging myself for my birthday. Yes, I am sixty, and yes, I generally don’t treat myself to anything other than some books usually, but this year I got a new computer, a new Fitbit, a new phone, new shoes, books, a new toaster, a new coffee grinder, and a new atomizer for the kitchen. Clearly, I more than made up for past lean years (and dipped into the budget for future ones) already; but it’s also fine, you know. I don’t mind indulging myself by any means; the problem is stopping once I’ve started. I always feel like I should treat myself, all the time; all day every day, frankly, and so the issue is training myself to say no, you don’t really need that, do you? And when you look at things in terms of need vs. want, you find that there really is little that you actually need.

I got caught up on my Real Housewives shows yesterday while making condom packs, and yes, there definitely needs to be an entirely different, Real Housewives-dedicated post at some point. I am getting to the point where I don’t really want to watch them that much anymore, and it’s more from habit now than any sense of enjoyment; like it’s a duty to watch, the way I watched Dynasty all the way to the bitter end, UFO encounters and all. I’ve already paired down from a high of watching every one of the franchises to cutting back to simply the New York and Beverly Hills franchises, but it’s becoming very, very difficult to watch even those two. Paul and I watched this week’s episode of Titans last night as well–which is going in a weird direction this season, but I am here for it–not the least reason of which is Brendan Thwaites, who plays my favorite comic hero Nightwing, is smoking hot. SPOILER: I hate that they killed off super-hot Alan Ritchman and Hawk, but he’s playing the lead in Amazon’s Jack Reacher, and I will say I will be watching every episode of that. He really looks like Reacher, even if at 6’3 he’s a few inches short for the part, but I don’t think those three inches will make that big of a difference on camera.

Sixty. It does take some mental gymnastics to wrap my brain around it. I don’t feel any different–as always on a birthday–and of course, the aches and pains and wearing down of my body has been pretty regular over the last ten years; regular and gradual. I am going to, once the gym renovations have been completed, dive hard into weight lifting again. It occurred to me the other day that, sore and muscles tired from the workout of the day before, that I am going to always be sore and achy anyway; I might as well feel that way from pushing my body to its limits rather than just from every day life. I do want to lose some weight, which may mean changing my eating habits at long last (I didn’t have to for so long that it will be a severe and deeply painful adjustment) but I am going to indulge myself this weekend with the deep dish pizza and after that, I am going to try to start cutting back on fat content and simple carbohydrates–no more snack foods; a sad farewell to chips and Cheese Puffs and Toast Chee peanut butter and cheese crackers–and focus on more health foods. I need more fiber in my diet, and more greens, and less garbage. Heavy sigh. I am dreading this retraining, but it’s a necessary one and it would be great to get down to 200 pounds, and possibly even shoot for 190 again (although I do think that would be too lean for my frame, body type, and current muscularity). I was down to 203 earlier this year, but am now back up to 212, and this shall not stand–way way too easy to get back up to over 220 and I will NOT allow that again.

I don’t have anything witty or profound to say about turning sixty; it’s really nothing more than a testament to my weird survivor abilities–which I’ve done absolutely nothing to develop other than simply waking up every morning. I think that’s partly why I have such a mental block about celebrating birthdays, really–it seems a bit morbid to me; “yay, I’m still alive! Let’s party!” It’s not like I’ve been super-careful or anything; but somehow I survived and witnessed and made it through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and am now doing the same–so far–with the COVID one. I just seem to go on somehow; there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve seen a lot change over the course of my sixty years–we live in a completely different world than the one I was born into and raised in–and I’ve seen a lot of things I wished I hadn’t, lived through a bunch of things I’d certainly prefer not to experience ever again in however many (or few) years I have left. I have no secrets to life or how to live, not any deep knowledge or wisdom to share; as I said, I just endure and somehow keep surviving from year to year.

I sure as hell never thought I’d last this long.

And on that note, tis time to get cleaned up and prepare for my short little outing for the day. I will be blogging over the course of this weekend, as always, and periodically checking in on social media (when I get bored), but for the most part, am not planning on being on-line much for this weekend; I’m due a break from it all, methinks, and why not now?

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Me and Mrs. Jones

So, the vacation is going swimmingly so far. Yesterday I simply ran errands–prescriptions, making groceries, picking up the mail–and once I got home and put the groceries away, I decided to take the rest of the day off. Being out in the heat and humidity, even for that brief period of time, was exhausting and draining.

I also kept thinking it was Saturday–as the above is my usual Saturday routine–and actually went upstairs after putting the groceries away to start stripping the bed linens for laundering them before realizing, dude, it’s only Wednesday.

So, I retired to my easy chair and finished reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury.

And wow, do I ever have some thoughts about that book.

When Sarah Weinman brought up Mickey Spillane on Twitter the other day  by asking if Mickey Spillane was camp, I responded with oh god yes, which led to  further conversation with the end result that I decided to read, at long last, a Mickey Spillane novel; I just happened to have a copy of I the Jury on hand. (My references to Spillane being camp had everything to do with his image, reflecting back when Spillane was a public figure and doing everything from print ads to commercials; I’d also briefly watched the Mike Hammer television series starring Stacy Keach) I’d gotten a copy of I the Jury after reading an appreciation of Spillane somewhere (Crimereads? Perhaps) which made a very strong case that Spillane and his work was dramatically underrated in the crime genre, and was long overdue a study and another look;  furthermore, he was vastly more important to the genre than he was ever given credit for. I’d never read Spillane, primarily because as a gay man I was clearly not the target audience for his work; as I’ve said before, many times, I stopped reading crime novels in the 1970’s because I was very tired of the many, over-worn tropes of the genre and the toxicity of the fragile masculinity contained within the majority of the books/series.

The cover of my copy of the book also contains the tag line: Before there was Jack Reacher…there was Mike Hammer.

An intriguing bit of marketing by the publisher, don’t you think? I have greatly enjoyed Lee Child’s Reacher series, and think it is one of the best of our modern times; however, I also stopped reading the series over ten years ago. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the quality of the series or the character or the writing, but more to do with falling behind in my reading of the series and the next thing I knew, I was five or six books behind and I gave up on even attempting to catch up; this has happened with numerous other writers and series I enjoy, so this is not a shot at Lee Child, whom I also like personally.

It’s just one of those things that can happen with prolific writers.

But in reading the book, I don’t really see the correlation between the two characters, other than, perhaps, their size. Reacher is an enormous man who takes up a lot of space; so is Hammer. But Reacher is more of a philosopher than Hammer–I’d say Reacher owes more to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than to Mike Hammer; although I suppose it could be argued that MacDonald and McGee may have been influenced by Spillane and Hammer.

I would also argue that Spillane also owes an enormous debt to Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, because there are some similarities in plot and structure.

I did start taking notes and writing down ideas, because I would really like to write a critical essay on I the Jury, because there’s an awful lot there–misogyny, homophobia, racism–that, while it may reflect the time in which it was written and published (1947), is problematic for the modern, present-day reader. Hammer is, in some ways, the embodiment of a masculine ideal that is very problematic, a personification of the type of a toxic masculinity that might not have ever truly existed, even in that time. The books were wildly popular, and I also believe the popularity of the books can be tied into the societal and cultural definition of what a man was supposed to be, but so rarely was in reality.

And frankly, the PTSD from World War II drips from every page.

The book is highly reflective of its time, and I think writing about it critically, both as a product of its time as well as through a modern lens, could make for a fascinating and interesting essay. We shall see.

I also started reading Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, yesterday, and while I only managed to get through the prologue, I was blown away by it completely, and look forward to delving more deeply into it during the course of today.

I am rather enjoying this life of leisure. I did do some other things around the house yesterday, starting reorganization/cleaning projects that can be leisurely finished over the course of my vacation.

And now, it’s time to repair to my easy chair with Ms. Kim’s novel.

Have a lovely holiday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again on the morrow.

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Loverboy

The ballet last night was exquisite.

I’ve seen ballets–or parts of them–on television or Youtube; and I remember, as a child, being taken to see The Nutcracker (isn’t everyone dragged to that as a child?), which I hated (interestingly enough, many things that most children love are things that I didn’t; The Nutcracker is one; The Wizard of Oz another). But as lovely and awe-inspiring as seeing ballets on Youtube or on television can be, there is nothing like being in an auditorium and watching one being performed live on the stage in front of you. I liken it to the difference between watching figure skating on television and then watching it in person; it’s very different, and you never watch it on television in quite the same way again. Romeo and Juliet is, of course, an ubiquitous story; everyone knows it, to the point that it has become almost trite and hackneyed; it’s been adapted for everything imaginable–opera, ballet, film, and of course West Side Story–but, at its heart, it is still a beautiful and sad story.

The opening sequence of the ballet reminded me so much of the opening of West Side Story that I couldn’t help wonder how much the ballet influenced the musical’s choreography, or vice versa.

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I read Romeo and Juliet when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d taken a class called Dramatic Literature; a class in which we read plays. Romeo and Juliet was paired with West Side Story (it’s also the class where I first read Tennessee Williams; A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to be exact); we even watched the films (the version of Romeo and Juliet was the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey with the gorgeous score by Michel Legrand). Shakespeare’s language was, to me at fourteen, a mysterious puzzle I couldn’t unlock; archaic references I didn’t understand written in verse, yet somehow beautiful in how the words were put together. At the time, I didn’t understand how two families could feud so bitterly and violently in an Italian city during the Renaissance; of course, now that I’ve read so many Italian histories (I am still greatly enjoying The Black Prince of Florence), I am more than a little surprised that the feud between Capulet and Montague was so bloodless (see the Pazzi-Medici feud, circa fifteen century).

Yet, despite the overwhelming familiarity with the story, it was impossible not to be drawn into last night’s version of it; despite there being no dialogue, no words. The entire story was, as is typical with the ballet, acted out without words and through dance. The choreographer’s choices in telling the story were quite interesting; the stage setting was incredibly minimalist, with emotions and passions being evoked through the movement of the two curved walls that served as set pieces; the long rising ramp that served as not a way to exit the stage but as Juliet’s fabled balcony; and the use of costume and lighting.

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The friar was used as a connective device throughout each scene; he was, if anything, the true star of the show, and its emotional heart. The dancer who played the role was magnificent. The ballet was a thing of beauty; I couldn’t stop marveling at how fantastic the dancers were, the exceptional shapes and lines they could form with their bodies, the almost super-human stretches and leaps and twirls and spins, the intimacy of their lifts and how they could mold their bodies around one another’s.

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It was also my first time inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts since Katrina; ironically, it was also the first time the Ballet des Monte-Carlo performed there since 2005. Both the outgoing and incoming mayor were there; the Honorary Consul for Monaco, and the ambassador from Monaco were all introduced and thanked from the stage.

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And yet, as a crime writer, and someone with a vested interest in group dynamics and politics, who has viewed documentaries about ballet companies, with a knowledge of human nature and interaction,I couldn’t help wondering, as the company took its well-deserved bows to a long standing ovation last night,  what turmoils and temperaments boiled beneath the surface of the linked hands and bowing bodies; what slights and grudges boiled behind the smiling faces; which members of the company were friends and which were enemies; who were lovers and friends and who were enemies and rivals, who was gay and who was straight.

I definitely want to write a ballet noir.

And here are two short stories, for the continuation of the Short Story Project.

First up is “Split Second” by Daphne du Maurier,  from the New York Review of Books collection of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories:

Mrs. Ellis was methodical and tidy. Unanswered letters, unpaid bills, the litter and rummage of a slovenly writing-desk were things she abhorred. Today, more than usual, she was in what her late husband used to call her “clearing” mood. She had wakened to this mood; it remained with her throughout the morning. Besides, it was the first of the month, and as she ripped off the page of her daily calendar and saw the bright clean 1 staring at her, it seemed to symbolize a new start tom her day.

The hours ahead of her must somehow seem untarnished like the date; she must let nothing slide.

“Split Second” is an exceptional exercise in character. Du Maurier thoroughly examines and exposes Mrs. Ellis’ character from beginning to end, and while she doesn’t go into a great amount of detail, it isn’t hard to figure out exactly whom she is from what we are told as readers. She’s a widow and her entire world revolves around her daughter, who is off at school; she decides, after a thorough cleaning of her home to go for a walk and is almost run down by the laundry truck as she walks back home. But when she gets back to her house, things are different. It is her house, but it’s no longer the house she left behind; other people are living there, her neighbors are gone–the entire world has changed and shifted as she walked home. It’s a horrifying story, even as the reader begins to glean what has actually happened long before Mrs. Ellis does; not that she ever does, even by the end of the story, and that is part of what makes it so sad, so effective, so powerful; no one has ever quite captured that elegant, melancholy sadness the way du Maurier does.

I then moved on to “The Picture of the Lonely Diner” by Lee Child,  from the Mystery Writers of America anthology, Manhattan Mayhem:

Jack Reacher got out of the R train at Twenty-Third Street and found the nearest stairwell blocked off with plastic police tape. It was striped blue and white, tied between one handrail and the other, and it was moving in the subway wind. It said: POLICE DO NOT ENTER. Which, technically, Reacher didn’t want to do anyway. He wanted to exit. Although to exit, he would need to enter the stairwell. Which was a linguistic complexity. In which context, he sympathized with the cops. They didn’t have different kinds of tape for different situations. POLICE DO NOT ENTER IN ORDER TO EXIT was not in their inventory.

Lee Child is one of the most successful writers in our genre today; everything he publishes is a New York Times best seller, and his character, Jack Reacher, is one of those ubiquitous characters that will go down in the history of the genre, like Poirot, James Bond, and Kinsey Millhone. I am years behind on Lee’s novels; but if you’ve not read Lee Child, you simply must read The Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel. It is quite superb. This story isn’t Child at his best, but Reacher the character is at his best at novel-length, with the labyrinthian plots Child somehow concocts and manages to keep track of (one of my favorite fanboy moments was having lunch with him and Alafair Burke at the Green Goddess here in New Orleans several years ago; while I just sat there wide-eyed and listened to the two of them talk about writing and publishing, praying that I didn’t have sauce running down my chin), but this story does evoke the melancholy that Child evokes in his novels; the inevitability of fate and the powerlessness of humans to counteract it once the gears are moving. I do recommend the story; there is some amazing imagery in it as well.

And on that note, I am back to the spice mines. There are bed linens to launder, and short stories to edit, and a chapter to write; it is rainy and gloomy outside my windows this morning but I am well-rested and ready to work.

Or maybe it’s just the caffeine kicking in. Who knows?

Tonight

SNOW DAY!

Yes, we had freezing temperatures in New Orleans the last two nights, and when I woke yesterday morning it was only 20 degrees; it’s 21 today. There was snow and ice outside both yesterday and today–not much, it’s New Orleans, seriously–but the exciting news yesterday morning was work was canceled because the roads were closed! The text went out around nine in the morning, but I, good boy who is determined to stick to his goals that I am, was at the gym. Yes, I got up yesterday morning, bundled up against the cold, and went to the gym. There were tumbleweeds blowing through there, of course, but I did my stretches, my workout, and twenty minutes  of cardio(okay, it was 17:58, but it was nine and I thought I needed to get home and get ready for work). I came home, did the dishes, packed Paul’s lunch, got cleaned up, packed my own lunch and headed out to the car, which had ice all over its windows. I got inside, started the car and turned the defrosters on, and was about to plug my phone into the stereo when I saw that I had 15 text messages….the initial messages about the office being closed and responses from co-workers. I immediately shut off the car and came inside and put my sweats back on.

Here is the horror that was New Orleans yesterday morning:

Really not much of anything, seriously. But as I told my boss last night, I know how to drive in snow and ice, but these people down here? Not so much.

The problem, apparently, was that the bridges into New Orleans–we’re kind of an island, surrounded by water and swamp and you have to cross a bridge to get into the city no matter from what direction–were icy, and of course, that makes them dangerous because people here don’t know how to drive on ice and the bridges are all pretty high. So the bridges were closed and so commuters couldn’t get into the city; the highways are also raised in many places and therefore dangerous when icy. So basically, the entire city shut down. I could have made it to work, but hey, you know, the office was closed. Today so far I’ve not heard about anything–I doubt very seriously we would close two days in a row, and I have no problem with going in.

But it was nice having a free day to stay home with the cat, you know? I did laundry, and since it was so cold at my desk in the kitchen even with the space heater on, decided to make it a real Snow Day and simply retire to my easy chair with the cat in my lap and work on the Short Story Project. I read a Lee Child story from one of the Lawrence Block painting anthologies, and a Laura Lippman from her collection Hardly Knew Her.

Lee Child’s story was “Pierre, Lucien, and Me”, from Alive in Shape and Color:

I survived my first heart attack. But as soon as I well enough to sit up in bed, the doctor came back and told me I was sure to have a second. Only a matter of time, he said. The first episode had been indicative of a serious underlying weakness. Which it had just made worse. Could be days. Or weeks. Months at most. He said from now on I should consider myself an invalid.

I said, “This is 1928, for fuck’s sake, They got people talking on the radio from far away. Don’t you have a pill for it?”

No pill, he said. Nothing to be done. Maybe see a show. And maybe write some letters. He told me what people regretted most were the things they didn’t say. Then he left. Then I left. Now I have been home four days. Doing nothing. Waiting for the second episode. Days away, or weeks, or months. I have no way of knowing.

I’m a fan of Lee Child, and one of my favorite memories was walking to Green Goddess with Alafair Burke when Romantic Times was here one year, and we ran into Lee on the street. I was a big fan, of course, but had never met him. Alafair, of course, knew him, and she invited him to join us. So I not only got to have lunch with Alafair Burke but also Lee Child. (How awesome are my namedropping skills?)

Anyway, he was as charming and self-deprecating as I’d heard–ridiculously tall and slender as well.

I love his Reacher series, but am many years behind on it, alas–so many books, so little time–but this story was short and quite lovely. The main character, as you can tell from the opening, is dying, and reflecting on his life; thinking back on whom he might need to apologize to or make amends with, and cannot really think of anyone. Then a name pops into his head; a millionaire he rather swindled, and the tale of the swindle makes up the rest of the story. The voice is charming and the swindle itself isn’t really that terrible, as far as these things go; he didn’t cause any harm, really, even if what he did was a crime.

I then moved on to Laura Lippman’s “Hardly Knew Her”, from her amazing collection Hardly Knew Her:

Sofia was a lean, hipless girl, the type that older men still called a tomboy in 1975, although her only hoydenish quality was a love of football. In the vacant lot behind the neighborhood tavern, the boys welcomed her into their games. This was in part because she was quick, with sure hands. But even touch football sometimes ended in pile-ups, where it was possible to steal a touch or two and claim it was accidental. She tolerated this feeble groping most of the time, punching the occasional boy who pressed too hard too long, which put the others on notice for a while. Then they forgot, or it happened again–they touched, she punched. It was a price she was more than willing to pay for the exhilaration she felt when she passed the few yew berry bushes that marked the end zone, a gaggle of boys breathless in her wake.

But for all the afternoons she spent at the vacant lot, she never made peace with the tricky plays–the faked handoffs, the double pumps, the gimmicky laterals. It seemed cowardly to her, a way for less gifted players to punish those with natural talent. It was one thing to spin and feint down the field, eluding grasping hands with a swivel of her nonhips. But to pretend the ball was somewhere it wasn’t struck her as cheating, and no one could ever persuade her otherwise.

Sofia, called Fee by her family and by no one else–she won’t allow it–has a father with a gambling problem; he plays in a game in the neighborhood tavern every Friday night. When he does well, there are gifts for the family on Saturday; when he doesn’t, he takes those gifts in the middle of the night and pawns or sells them, or turns them over as payment for a debt. He’s not a good bluffer, like his daughter, depending on the luck of the draw for his success or failure. But Fee is given a lovely amethyst necklace for her birthday–an heirloom–and when her father takes it to pay a debt, Fee is finished with her father, finished with this existence, and decides she is getting her necklace back. How this all plays out for Fee is a coming-of-age tale like no other I’ve read; one that only a talent like Laura Lippman could write. This collection of short stories is really quite extraordinary; as is the Block anthology; y’all really need to read these two books if you are a fan of short stories.

I also started watching, of all things, original episodes of Scooby Doo Where Are You? through Amazon Prime; I’ve been thinking a lot about Scooby Doo and its predecessor, Jonny Quest, since getting to meet one of the directors/animators for Hanna-Barbera at Comic-Con a couple of weeks ago. Jonny Quest is actually the first memory I have of watching something mystery/adventure related, and my love for Jonny Quest never really abated; I think, therefore, that the show was what triggered my lifelong love of mysteries and the crime genre; Scooby Doo came along around the time I was discovered the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I’ll keep watching and musing about this some more, before making a post. I also still owe a post about I Tonya. I also finished reading Joan Didion’s Miami last night; so I’ll have to post about that as well.

So, that was how I spent my Snow Day; resting and relaxing and reading. It was actually quite lovely; we watched two episodes of Broadchurch last night and only have three to go before finishing the show. This third season is also quite good, and it’s cool how they’ve woven characters from the initial story into the present investigation; this entire season is an exploration about sexual assault, sex in genre, and porn. I am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

And now, back to the spice mines. As I said, I don’t think we’ll get another Snow Day today, so I have to get back to work. But how lovely to have a day where I didn’t really have to do anything; it’s been a long time. (Okay, I did the dishes and a load of laundry, but overall, it was a light responsibility day.)