Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

True Grit, by True-grit

Y'know, cowpokes, just about the last thang I wanna do right now is write a movie review. So I won't, even though I liked the new take on True Grit by the quirky Coen Brothers (previously known for putting characters through the wood chipper and stuff like that).

Like a lot of non-Western fans, I liked the old True Grit and wondered why it needed to be remade (though I was delighted to find that, even with all the changes, they retained one line, the immortal "Fill yore hands, you son-of-a-bitch!"). Jeff Bridges did a creditable (and credible) job filling the huge boots of John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, this old guy who likes-da shoot up people, like. So this little girl, this Maddie whose father got shot? She goes to him.

She isn't sorry, but that's not the part I liked. I liked the fact that nearly all the men in this thing were shaggy-like. They had long greasy hair and chin spinach and "mustaches" (the sheer size of them demanding a plural form). Just look at an old photo of Buffalo Bill Cody, will you (I mean, right now), and you'll see how awe-then-tick-lakk this-all is. No clean-shaven guys here, no razors on the prairies (or if they had 'em, they were just a-usin'-em to flick chickens). Even the eyebrows were different then, way out. They grew different, maybe it was the soil.

So this Rooster guy, he has this horse, and it don't look like any Western movie horse ever seen, not like Trigger or Silver or Desperado or whatever-else. In fact, all the horses in this movie look like real Western horses, a surprise that was almost a shock. Cowboys liked their horses compact, tough, low to the ground and savvy, none of this Arabian dish-faced mane-tossing bullshit. Just get the job done, and on the minimum volume of oats.

These horses filled the bill. They weren't showy, in fact some-o'-dem were sort of mingy little things, their necks straight, coats shaggy-like as if they lived outdoors, which back then they did. One of them was an Appaloosa, the kind with the dots on the butt, and the dots stand up like felt. Don't know where they got them, but certainly not from Horse Central Casting. Maybe they scrounged around to find them in the real West? Who knows, but these horses resonated with me and my former life rocking along the trails in a beat-up old Western saddle on a mingy but sweet little horse named Rocky.

Nobody knew his pedigree, because like a lot of horses he didn't really have one. Cowboys went on faith back then, and good trading. Their bloodlines were mostly mustang with a little bit of a racehorse that broke loose once by mistake. And Spanish Conquistador blood that went way, way back, so once in a while one of them, mingy or not, would start high-stepping all by himself. You'd hear a single, sad note of Spanish guitar, then he'd go back to lopin' on down the lone prai-ree.

I liked the horses and the chin-spinach and the foul talk in this movie (not really obscenity, just language snarled and spat and raunched, as if, in the words of Tom Robbins, it had been strained through Davy Crockett's underwear). I wanted to get on one of those horses, an easy climb. I could lean down beside his thick ol' neck and tell him things. He'd know what I wanted before I knew it myself. He wouldn't ask much, but would give all he had.

A horse gets ridden into the ground in this movie, and it's hard to watch, but it's only to save a little girl's life. The horse literally runs until it groans and staggers and collapses, and Rooster Cogburn shoots it in the head, a mercy. They don't make horses that game any more. They don't make horse casting directors that pick mingy little, game little, shaggy little mustangs that run 'til they drop, either.

I'd like to see more of it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My favorite Christmas music of all time


A Christmas Miracle

Below is an actual email, from an actual editor in a publishing house. A couple posts back, I went on a rant about the habit of some publishers of getting all the loose-end rejections out by the end of the year, so that they usually arrive a couple of days before Christmas. This reminds me of kicking Tiny Tim in the shins, and I wrote to him and said so. I was expecting either no reply or a blast, and got this instead!

Kind of gives me hope.

December 23, 2010

Margaret Gunning
3589 Chestnut Street
Port Coquitlam, BC
V3B 5V3

Dear Ms. Gunning,

Please accept my sincere apologies for the inconsiderate delivery of our letter. I very much agree with you that declining manuscripts in advance of the holiday season is an insincere act to those whose craft is an inconceivably laborious and passionate one. While sending rejection letters is a solemn task, I know it is incomparably more severe to receive them. We strive to be as sensitive to authors as possible in our responses, which means replying promptly, albeit not always personally. In this instance I made an accidental, thoughtless error that although was not malicious in intent, was cruel in its execution. I am very sorry.

Regarding your manuscript, The Glass Character, I thought your narrator’s voice was very strong, and I personally enjoyed the subject of Harold Lloyd himself. Douglas & McIntyre’s fiction program has refocused, though, with a vision to acquire books that explore the boundaries of genre, style as well as content. Our editorial board found your novel topically intriguing; however, we did not feel the setting, atmosphere, and narrative arc were entirely developed or successful. Notwithstanding, we think that you will indeed place The Glass Character, and wish you the very best in doing so.

Thank you again for advocating in defense of yourself and other writers. I have truly taken your advice sincerely, and will strive to be ever more conscientious and diligent in the future.

I wish you a very happy new year.

Best regards,
Ebeneezer Editor

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Angel of grief

This angel has lowered her head in grief because she could not be there to save someone.

She could not be there to save a little girl, four years old, laughing and shrieking with delight as she sledded down a hill during a rare, thick Vancouver snowfall.

She could not be there to stop the truck as it rounded the corner, its driver blinded by snow.

Turn back time, turn back time. . . just take time away. Extract this sorrow from my blood, draw it from me now, for soon my heart won’t bear it.

I am only on the outermost fringes of this tragedy, and have no right even to speak of it, but it reverberates in me still. For this astonishing, unspeakable loss happened two years ago, on Christmas Eve.

Some say everything happens for a reason. I want to pin them to the wall and ask them to prove it.

Some say God never gives us more than we can handle. I want to take their hand and pull them into the suicide wards, the prisons. Just take a look.

I don’t know what potion can relieve such horrors, losses that can’t even be spoken, except that I can’t keep silent and make these cute and whimsical little posts forever.

Everyone assumes everything’s just fine with me because of that whimsy. They don’t see it as the smokescreen it is. The anodyne, the analgesic for a sometimes overwhelming grief.

I too must bear the completely unjust, undeserved and senseless horror of this, and keep on, though my grief is but a particle of her parents’, her grandparents’. Everyone’s.

Sometimes people say, when spared some dreadful calamity, “My angel must have saved me.” Oh yes. And this angelic little girl lost her life and her future in a snowdrift on the sweetest night of the year?

If you are reading this and if you pray, pray. Just pray, don’t even bother with words. If you don’t pray, try. Anything will do. Just begin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Once more, into the void

You've got to ask yourself why you do this.

Why, when it's already happened two or three times.

It goes like this. After having published two well-received novels (though admittedly, no threat to Stephen King or J. K. Rowling), you write another one. One that you're proud of, one that you are sure will find a home with relative ease.

Surprise: it's punch, punch, punch in the face. Sorry, but that's what it is: all those rejections, as if your work never existed and never drew all those (now sadistic-sounding, hope-dangling) reviews.

Maybe it's all over. N'est-ce pas?

More than once - perhaps three times, since I began to send out fiction - I've received a form rejection at a certain time of year.

The week before Christmas.

This is a season of fizzy hope, anticipation of a wonderful holiday followed by a fresh start in the new year. So why do editors routinely send these things out NOW?

Well. . . like everybody else, they want a clean desk to come back to in 2011. A lot of loose ends in the form of rejected novels are lying around, and one has to be efficient, doesn't one?

Isn't it better to get the slight/damage over with now, rather than prolonging the illusion/delusion of acceptance for a couple more weeks?

Aren't you a real writer? Don't you know what that entails? Be a man! Suck it up, girl friend! It's just a rejection. At least the one I got today was a form letter, not my own letter sent back to me with a rubber stamp on the corner (which actually happened to me, and which I wrote about a couple of months ago).

One must never, never, never, never, NEVER answer a rejection. Don't express an opinion, or it will get around like wildfire that you are "difficult" and no one will want to work with you. Or at very least, they'll think you're oversensitive and probably shouldn't be working in the field at all.

So I answered the rejection. I just - told the guy. Told him, not that he shouldn't have rejected my work (which he shouldn't), but that his timing is lousy and steps all over the feelings of writers everywhere.

He will likely be angry, piqued, may even send me a blast I'll receive on New Years Eve or some-such. They always get angry if you say what you feel, or hope.

Especially, in the week before Christmas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

For Glen

We hardly knew you

Below is a reprint of a piece I wrote in 2005. I could not believe it was that long ago: I thought it was maybe a couple of years. I lost a lot that year, including my health, but this was a stunning blow.

When he disappeared, there was a police report describing Glen Allen as 6' 2", 150 pounds, with a front tooth missing. A recent photo revealed a gaunt figure with feverish eyes and an attempt at a smile. Except during crushing depressions, Glen had always fought his weight and was normally closer to 225. The way he died was eerily like the street people he knew and loved.

It was one of those longstanding correspondences. I suppose they happen now, electronically, with almost always a sexual connotation, a bartering, a price.

There was no price here. Only his life.

December is long and dark at the best of times, and this year the merriment of Christmas was dulled by a death. When I opened my daily paper to the obituary section, I saw a face that made me gasp, a face I had never actually seen but knew as well as my brother’s. I read the account of his death in disbelief, shocked but not completely surprised that my friend had frozen to death beside some railroad tracks in Toronto, full of pills, after wandering away from a psychiatric ward.

My friend was Glen Allen, newspaperman, Maclean’s correspondent, world traveller, insightful and witty writer, gentle, courageous (and, at the end, lost) soul. What brought us together was some ferociously honest writing about alcoholism, and what held us together for years and years was a mutual struggle with various demons. He always wrote about them better than I did. Or so I always thought.

I never knew Glen in the usual sense. I never saw his face. I had heard his voice a number of times, most memorably when he read his Getting Sober and Staying Sober pieces on CBC Radio’s Morningside. I sensed straight-from-the-shoulder directness and convoluted complexity in one person. This man was in pain, and so eerily distanced from the pain that he could write about it in prose that shimmered and shocked and stung. His writer's mind was so alive and focussed as to be almost crystalline, whereas the rest of him seemed to be slouching towards oblivion.

Sometime during his short tenure on Morningside, I began to write to Glen Allen - this guy just had a magical way with words, and seemed like a genuine (and pain-ridden, and large-hearted) human soul. I just had to get in touch with him. I was delighted to get responses, brief at first, then longer and longer, and over time we developed a sort of relationship through the mail.

This was in the days of real letters on paper, written by hand, and I always delighted in his vital and elegant script, even if it deteriorated pretty badly towards the end. Often he’d write on beautiful blank cards, and I have one in front of me now, gorgeous sprays of crimson and gold called Flowers for Lord Buddha.

I think my letters must have gone on and on. I could hardly help myself, in those days, since I had no idea what was wrong with me and why I could not settle myself the way everyone else seemed to. But Glen had the same square-peg syndrome, which in his case registered as endearing eccentricity.

He had a black lady cat named Imelda (I can’t think of a better cat name, can you?) He was concerned about his future once, and instead of seeing an investment broker or a psychiatrist, consulted a psychic in the backwoods of New Brunswick. When asked to be a speaker at an AA meeting, he told me how he had shared his “experience (long), strength (not much), and hope (I’m going to hang on if it kills me)”.

Ten years is a long time, ten birthdays, ten Christmases, ten Easters. What did we write about? I can barely bring myself to open the file folder that holds all his letters, still preserved and precious to me. The stark end of his life has made it impossible But I know we wrote about recovery: from alcoholism (we were both afflicted, and though his sobriety was patchy at best, he genuinely loved AA and treated it with the greatest reverence in his writing), from our parents (both of us had grown up with oppressive, cuttingly sarcastic fathers who withheld affection unless our performance in life was perfect: meaning we were never loved at all), and the worst thing of all, depression, the thousand-pound rock that weighs on the sensitive soul and destroys pleasure and joy and love.

Both of us had bench-pressed thousands of pounds over the years, and though he told me his official diagnosis was manic-depression, now rather slickly called "bipolar disorder", I did not realize we shared the same affliction until this past spring, when I experienced what is delicately referred to as an “episode”.

I thought then of Glen, wondered where he was, how he was doing. It wasn't the first time. Wasn't even the twentieth. We wrote to each other for an amazing length of time, given the fact that Glen pulled up stakes and moved again, and again, and again, afflicted with terminal restlessness, an attempt to outrun his own pain. But in 1996, I finally lost the thread. I tried and tried. I even e-mailed his brother Gene, but got no answer. The trail was cold, and I had to surrender him to fate or the angels.

When I read his obituary, accompanied by a picture of Glen looking like a mere boy, sweet and shy, someone who just called out to be loved, I was barely out of my own thrashing battle, still trying to figure out what the hell happened to me, how the genie had exploded out of the bottle and derailed my life. But I kept thinking: Glen would know. He'd know just what to say to me, he'd know how to spread balm very gently on the raw wound of my mind. Like a spiritual sherpa, he'd been there before me, braved the elements and somehow survived it all.

Until now. When I read of the way he died, frozen to death like a homeless person (those souls he so identified with and wrote about with such compassion), with no one to hold him as the life ebbed out of him, I wanted to scream at the injustice of it all: at the medical community's complete inability to help such a large-hearted, lavishly gifted human being; at the gap between Glen and his loved ones (there was no doubt he loved them, but something always got in the way), at the grim, fearful, love-deprived boyhood that left scars on him, and in him, that would never be healed.
I did take out the folder, and looked at his dear, graceful handwriting, but haven't read the letters yet. I had thought of writing a piece about him, a sort of tribute to him quoting his witty and insightful prose, but I knew no one would really get it. When I think of him, which is often, tears well up, and I just want my funny, sardonic, gentle, wounded, wonderful brother back.

There is a song from the 70s by a group called Bread that I keep hearing in my mind. It has a haunting lyric that is like an impressionist painting of Glen's life:

"For a love that wouldn't bloom,
For the hearts that never played in tune.
Like a lovely melody that everyone can sing,
Take away the words that rhyme, it doesn't mean a thing."

The words seem to make a melody of themselves: I think I knew his name. I never knew him, but I loved him just the same. Wish that I had found the way, and the reasons that would make him stay.

But he couldn't stay; the pain was too great, the loneliness had hollowed him out, and the demons that screamed inside his skull had to be silenced once and for all. Such a person, making an intentional exit, is often described as "finally being at peace".

I think it goes beyond that. I think he is everywhere. I know he hangs around here, a warm spot in the room, a kind of disembodied smile, and I don't want him to go.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This might even work!

A while ago I discovered, to my utter dismay, that the domain name for my web site had been stolen by a Japanese shoe company. (No, I'm not kidding.) I had gotten one of those renewal notices in the mail (!) that I assumed was, like 95% of them, phony, so I didn't do anything about it. I knew the site still existed, but didn't know how to access it.

Then I blundered on to these links! They seem to work. Perhaps you need only one of them, but just in case. . .

(Is this a "sagn"? Is my wretched luck about to turn? Stay tuned!!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wonderful, but confused: It's a Wonderful Life, Part II

OK, I don't exactly expect you to read all this stuff. Most movies have little inconsistencies that only the most OCD-infested person would notice. We're willing to go along with the sleight-of-hand that is the movie world.

But it does seem that there's an unusual amount of hokery, or maybe plain sloppiness, in this classic film. No one else has noticed Beulah Bondi's amazing disappearing act, but when the same woman walks by on the street five times in thirty seconds. . . you've got to wonder what's going on.

Soooooo. . . let's play Spot the Capra Gaffes!

Continuity: Ol' Man Gower's cigar disappears when he sends young George to deliver a prescription.

Continuity: Just before George speaks to Harry on the phone, George removes a wreath from his arm and places it on a table. The wreath immediately reappears on his arm.

Continuity: George's pipe disappears when talking to Violet in his office.

Continuity: George and Clarence swap sides as they are thrown out of Nick's.

Audio/visual unsynchronized: George jumps into the river to save Clarence. As he is rescuing him Clarence is screaming "help" but his mouth is not moving.

Continuity: After George storms out of Uncle Billy's house, Uncle Billy lays his head on his arms. At first he has his arms crossed right over left, then immediately they are crossed left over right.
Continuity: When George and Clarence are drying off in the bridge keeper's shack the postcard hanging by the thermometer on the wall, next to the door repeatedly disappears and reappears between shots. When Mr. Potter offers George a job, the chain on the the skull and chain on Mr. Potter's desk changes positions repeatedly between shots.

Continuity: When everyone is jumping into the pool during the dance, the same person jumps in twice.

Continuity: As George approaches Bert and Ernie by Ernie's taxi, and then all three ogle Violet as she walks down the street, the same woman in a print dress, holding the brim of her hat, walks by five times in 30 seconds.

Continuity: As Violet walks away from George, Ernie, and Bert, Ernie watches her out the window of his taxi. He stops watching and moves away from the window. In the next shot, he is watching from the window again.

Continuity: Snow on Ernie's taxi disappears and reappears when arriving at George's dilapidated house.

Revealing mistakes: When Mary (Donna Reed) throws her rock at an upstairs window of the dilapidated old house, the rock disappears a split-second after leaving her hand, and then reappears in the distance just before crashing through the glass. The roof of the house was a matte painting, added after principal photography by the visual effects department. When Ms Reed threw her rock (and it was her throwing it, not a stand-in), the arc of its flight was a bit too high, and it crossed the matte line for most of it's travel. Consequently, it was covered up by the painting, which was added later. Appartently the live-action crew did not notice the potential problem when filming the shot.

Continuity: As George and Mary prepare to drive Martini's family to their new home, Mary (in a close up) is holding the goat's horn/antler. The scene cuts to an extreme long shot in which her hand is nowhere near the goat.

Continuity: When George wanders across the street (soon to be joined by Violet), the man approaching him with the pipe suddenly becomes a woman.

Continuity: After Clarence disappears while being wrestled by Bert the Cop, you can see the shadow of Ernie the Cabdriver, shaking his finger. However, when the camera shows Ernie, he has both hands on the tree, and then he begins to shake his finger.

Continuity: During the run inside the Building & Loan, the hat changes position on the coat stand outside George's office.

Continuity: A hat being held by someone donating money in the Bailey house first has a little snow then a lot of snow then no snow.

Continuity: Alignment of George's car when it hits the tree

Continuity: Standing position of Potter's bodyguard when Potter talks to Peter Bailey at the Building & Loan.

Audio/visual unsynchronized: When Mary and George are walking down the street after the dance, she asks him, "Well, why don't you say it?" The next shot George is heard saying, "I don't know. Maybe I will say it," but his mouth is not moving at all.

Continuity: When George arrives at home and finds Mary lying there, he puts his right hand on her right hand and kisses her. Next shot he is caressing her head with his right hand.

Continuity: When George invites Carter to come in and follows him, he is holding the pipe with his left hand. But in the shot after someone asks him about hang up the phone, he appears with the pipe in his right hand.

Continuity: When George crashes his car into the tree, there's not much snow on it, when he gets out of the car to have a look at the damage, there's lots of snow on the car

Continuity: When George and Mary are throwing rocks at the dilapidated house on the way home from the dance, when George throw his rock, the window that Mary is supposed to throw a rock at is missing. Then when Mary gets ready to throw her rock the window is there.

Anachronisms: Young George Bailey is shown working in a drugstore in 1919, but he's standing next to a Coca-Cola Silhouette Girl Thermometer which wasn't produced until 1938.

Continuity: When George visits his father in his office and finds him arguing with Potter, his father is standing behind his desk talking to Potter. There is a cut away form this but upon return George's father is now on the same side of the desk as Potter.

Revealing mistakes: In the scene where George saves Clarence on the bridge (or Clarence saved him), he is seen to be visibly sweating even though it is supposedly winter. This is because the scene was shot in warm weather.

Factual errors: 1919: No National Geographic Magazine mentions "Fiji" and "coconuts" in the same subject.

Errors in geography: At the scene showing the new houses at Bailey Park, California hills are visible beyond the houses. The film is set in New York state, which only has much gentler, rolling hills.

Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): When George Bailey is arguing with Mr. Potter in the board room after Peter Bailey's death, George says to Potter: "What'd you say just a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home." But Mr. Potter never said this line.

Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): The medal is frequently, albeit incorrectly, called the Congressional Medal of Honor, stemming from its award by the Department of Defense "in the name of Congress". It is correctly the "Medal of Honor".

Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): At one point George (James Stewart) calls Violet (Gloria Grahame), Gloria.

Continuity: When Mary puts on "Buffalo Gals" on the phonograph, she starts a ten-inch, yellow-labeled record, but in the next shot, a dark-labeled record is playing. Also, when Mary breaks the record after the conversation with George, she breaks a twelve-inch, yellow-labeled record instead of the original ten-inch record.

Revealing mistakes: In the drugstore when Mary leans over the counter to whisper in George's ear, a piece of tape suddenly appears on the edge of the counter between George's and Mary's heads. This was most likely done as a reference mark for the young actors so the focus puller could accurately pull focus.

Plot holes: When George and Clarence go looking for his car which he had run into the tree, the guy George is talking to about the car and the man's tree smells his breath and says "that must have been those two other trees" implying that George's breath smelled of alcohol and the man thought George was drunk. But if George had indeed not been born, he would never have been at Martini's before that and had any alcohol at all. And this was before he and Clarence went back to Martini's so there couldn't have been any scent of alcohol on George's breath.

Revealing mistakes: James Stewart's toupee' falls off after he and Donna Reed fall into the pool during the Charleston contest.

Plot holes: When George goes to his Mother's house and she doesn't know him, he asks about her Brother, Billy. If Uncle Billy is his Mother's brother, why is his last name Bailey?

(Incredibly, there are more, but they're listed under "spoilers". I wouldn't want to give anything away!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's a Whunderful Whut??

This thing comes on every year and I get caught up in it, even worse than Taxi Driver. And I forget every year that it's the longest, most suffocating piece of drama ever created. A festive favorite about a man who wants to commit suicide because his life has been an exercise in futility and failed dreams, capped off by a totally unfair charge of bank fraud.

Ah! It's a Wonderful Life. Ringling, tingling Christmas trees, Zoo-zoo's petals, bleeding lips, newel-post knobs nearly hurled across the room. Chickens on a spit, bar brawls on Christmas Eve, irrelevant songs about Buffalo Gals, and wild-eyed overacting all around.

Dis guy, see, he's like, um. Kind of disillusioned, like, cuz. His Uncle Billy, who's half nuts but was the father in Gone with the Wind so sort-of famous, has lost the eight thousand dollars that the Bailey Savings and Loan has earned in the past fifty years or so. He sort of dropped it somewhere and the Big Fat Man, the Bad Man, Lionel Barrymore in his most Grinchimous role, went and spent it on a hooker or something.
So da guy, this George, he decides he's worth more dead than alive (do I hear silver bells?), and stands there not jumping off a bridge. Then this old guy in a nightgown jumps off the bridge, and. . . the rest is history.

Oh, I shouldn't be so cynical, but this thing - this long thing, this three-hour marathon of hopelessness and small-town suffocation - it's about the farthest thing from festive you could imagine. Even Scrooge has glimmers of hope in it, but this - . George acts like some sortofa downtrodden saint for two hours and forty-nine minutes, then he kind of explodes and screams at his wife and family and tells them he basically hates them for holding him back and completely destroying his life.

His . . . wonderful life.

OK, I have a few problems with the logistics of this thing. When they get married and have to give all their money away to save the bank, Donna Reed gets chickens going on a spit in this old ruin of a house, the one they use-da throw stones at for luck. And they move in to it? make it habitable? On his salary of $2.70 a week or whatever-the-frick-it-is? Raise a family? George wears the same suit for 17 years, for God's sake.

Jimmy Stewart overacts. I'm sorry, but he does, he overshoots. He smears his facial features around with his hand, his hair is wild, he looks like a candidate for the psych ward, and finally he mumbles to his hokey old guardian angel (the guy in the funny shirt that ties up in front because buttons hadn't been invented in the year 1300) that he wishes he'd never been born at all.

Kind of the ultimate in nihilism, wouldn't you say? Jimmy Stewart, the guy with the 6-foot imaginary pet rabbit, the guy in whatever-else-he-was-in, all those Westerns and Mr. Smith and whatever, attempting to annihilate all traces of his existence on earth. A holiday special?

OK, another big problem. He has this obnoxious friend named Sam Wainwright who keeps saying, inexplicably, "hee-haw". A dumb-ass par excellence, he lucks into a strange new business just before the war breaks out: plastics. This assures he'll be obscenely wealthy doing no work at all.

He's George's best friend, for blippin' sake, and George is all stressed out and wanting to kill himself over 8 thousand dollars when 8 thousand dollars isn't even POCKET CHANGE for Sam Wainwright. In the dramatic ending when everyone turns their linty little pockets inside-out for George, he gets some kind-of-a cable from Wainwright saying, in so many words, "your measly little problem that you were willing to die over is peanuts to me. I'll give you three times that amount and change. There, feel better now?"

I doubt if he would. But think about it. Would Wainwright ever let George be dragged off to jail for such a shabby little amount? Money is power, right? Wainwright could make Old Man Potter dance like a jerky little marionette on a cold winter's night, and George is all stressed out about jail? (I liked his idea that Uncle Billy should go, instead. Made sense to me.)

But hey. He might get conjugal visits from that, who's that little floozie anyway? Jeez, what's she doing in this thing? Spozed to be a family show?

Oh, oh, and I just thought of this: it gets me every year. Why is it that after George yells at Uncle Billy that he's a mental defective, a moron and a lunatic, a squirrel jumps up on his arm? What the - ?? a squirrel? Could this be a foreshadowing of the squirrel from hell in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation?
(Actually, it screams of "cut the animal scenes, this thing is running too long." But for some reason they left in the crow.)

This time around (when as usual I kept saying, "OK, I'll turn it off in another 5 minutes" for 6 consecutive hours), I noticed a few other discrepancies, such as George's mother (Beulah Bondi) bawling and dabbing at her eyes during the final cash-spilling orgy in George's living room. Well, about ten minutes ago when George was on the phone with his brother Harry in Washington, where he just got the Congressional Medal of Honor for filing his nails or something, George repeats to the listening crowd, "Mother had lunch with the President's wife."

Not only do the writers of this thing obviously not know who the President was then, but Mother must be able to teleport herself from Washington to Bedford Falls in a matter of seconds! Hey, lady, tell me how you can be in two places at the same time and I'll buy the patent.

But I gots-ta confess to one thing. No matter how I prepare myself for it, no matter how cynical I try to feel, no matter how cornball I know it will be (and it is), that final scene has me bawling every time. Just bawling. I don't know what it is. The generosity of the people. The look of astonishment on George's face. Zoo-zoo. Beulah Bondi, beamed down from the planet Zargon.

I remember a superb SCTV satire of this scene, in which a succession of ever-more-notable people kept sweeping through the door, from George's brother to the President of the United States to, finally, His Holiness the Pope. It's a potent fantasy, all right - one we wish would come true for ourselves. That one day, in spite of futile sacrifice and grinding toil and zero recognition, something wonderful will happen to make us see that it has all been worthwhile.

This has something to do with the American work ethic, always handing the glory to someone else like that ratfink brother-who-got-the-Congressional-Medal-of-Honor-while-we-got-stuck-with-goddamn-rubber-drives-during-the-freaking-war. Let's face it, there are more Georges than Harries in the world. We all have our lunatic uncles, our goddamn rubber drives. Our eight thousand dollars.

And if George hadn't-a saved Harry when he slid down on that slippery old thingammy on the ice, why then -

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's my blog, and I can tell cat stories if I want to!

At this festive time of year, when our brains all turn to mush, it's nice to reflect on Christmases past. Isn't it?

No? OK, but I'm going to do it anyway.

We had a cat for 17 years. A cat who dominated the household in more ways than one. His furballs were life-threatening hazards, and his continual meowing for forbidden tuna or ham could grind down a human nervous system to the point of collapse.

Murphy was such a fuzzy little cuteball when we first took him home. But there was something ominous about him: his paws were huge, with big tufts of white fur growing out of the fat pink pads. Along with the tufts at his eartips, this made him look a little like a lynx. Soon he grew into those paws, then morphed (Murphed?) into one of those big sedentary housecats that look like permanent home installations.

But this is a seasonal story: Murphy's First Christmas, a sentimental tale laced with unexpected violence.

When he was only about 8 months old, we brought a fresh Christmas tree into the house (the last time we ever did it), and Murphy just went wacky. This thing wasn't supposed to be inside the house. It smelled pungent and outdoorsy, and it had bugs and other things in it. This tripped off something in his primitive little triangular cat brain.

He would sniff at it delicately, and the fur would rise on his back like some ludicrous orange Mohawk. But we thought he'd get to like it, or at least get used to it.

I'm not sure who witnessed this first-hand (or did any of us? It was a long time ago.) Anyway, at some point the 8-month-old lynxy-cat gathered himself up, waggling his behind for a huge pounce, then sprang into the air and grabbed hold of the tree about 1/4 of the way down. It didn't just bend: it collapsed completely, sending ornaments (including heirloom glass ones) flying all over the room. Worse, the big thingie of water that the tree was sitting in tipped over, saturating the rug. The cat wouldn't let go right away. He was stapled on. Finally, with a feral snarl, he popped off and ran around and around the house with his tail kinked up. Then he disappeared under a bed somewhere and didn't come out for half a day.

Uhhh, it was a mess, and only funny in retrospect. Kind of like his savage chasing down of a neighbor's black cat in our back yard, tearing through the bushes until the intruder leaped over the fence. At which point Murphy would put on the brakes, sit down and begin to groom himself like nothing had happened.

In spite of his flashes of savagery (including leaping 3 feet in the air and catching a dragonfly in his mouth), he didn't look like much of a hunter. He was fat. FAT fat. At his fattest, he weighed about 22 pounds, though I swear to God we didn't feed him much. (The vet thought we were lying). He was only sick once, when he nearly died of liver disease and had to have surgery. He came home like an empty sack of fur, but, as cats will, he dramatically rose from his own ashes when he realized we were going to feed him straight tuna until he recovered.

There's one other funny Murphy story, except that it's kind of macabre. As he passed the 17-year mark, he began to dwindle down, to become more clingy, to eat less. He didn't see well or hear well, and even walking was hit-or-miss. Toilet habits all came undone. We knew it was only a matter of time.

One evening, he began to act very strangely. He was staggering like he was drunk. Bill and I looked at each other. "He can't even hold his head up," Bill said.

It was plain the end was near, but it was far too late to take him in to the vet's. We tried to get him settled for the night, though he stubbornly kept trying to go upstairs.

Bill gets up very early, but I don't. For some reason on that particular morning, I did get up early, and noticed Bill making his lunch. I asked, "How's Murphy?", and he gave me a weepy thumbs down.

"Ohhh. . . he must've died during the night."

"Yes. It just looked as if he was sleeping."


"Yeah. Except he was stiff."

We burst into guilty laughter. Then we had to find a suitable cardboard box for a stiff dead cat. When we carried him in to the vet's office where he had been a client for his entire life, the vet, a jaunty fellow who never seemed to be in a bad mood, beamed at us and exclaimed, "Oh! Is this Murphy?"

"Uh. . . yeah, except that he's. . .

"What? Is he sick?"

"He's. . ." We showed him the contents of the box.

"Oh. Ohhhh! Oh dear."

We were barely able to restrain ourselves until we paid the cremation charge and got out the door, then doubled over.

POST SCRIPT. I think I may have told these stories in a previous post. Can't remember. But don't we always repeat the same shit every Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life and all that?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mummy, Mummy!

That last post left, shall I say, a bad taste in my mouth. But I couldn't help it. I was watching a National Geographic special (God knows how old; most of them are at least 15 years out of date) about "bog mummies", poor sods who couldn't com-peat in the real world, so were either murdered for sport, or executed for crime. Their bodies were then heaved into the quagmire of the bogs.

Some of these guys are creepouts: parts of their bodies are incredibly well-preserved. But it's haphazard. One poor guy is only 1/2" thick, with his skeleton the thickness of your fingernail. Others are so lifelike, you can still see their facial expressions after 3000 years. Sorta like Pompeii and all that stuff.
Altogether more lifelike than Burt.

I TOLD you to keep it in the fridge!!

Bog Butter Mystery Solved?
(Not written by me, but by somebody in the UK. I have to give credit where it's due.)

For many years farmers and turf cutters have been finding huge lumps of what looks like butter in the peat bogs of Scotland and Ireland.

The 'butter' is a waxy substance, usually a creamy white or very pale yellow colour. Lumps dating back as far as the Bronze Age, 3000 years ago, have been found in barrels, baskets or animal skins. They're buried in holes deep in the bogs.

Bog butter has fascinated experts for years as until now no-one's been sure exactly what it is.
A team of scientists have been running tests on bog butter from the Museum of Scotland and found that some lumps were made of dairy products while others were meat-based.

This tells us for sure that our ancestors in Scotland and Ireland used the peat bogs as a sort of fridge (remember, this was long before electricity was discovered and fridges were invented). They would put their stores of food in the bogs to keep them cool and safe.

Peat bogs are laid down over thousands of years as plants decompose, or rot. The peat's very wet and heavy so does a good job of keeping the bog butter sealed, away from germs and bacteria in the air.

Once peat has been dug up and dried out it burns very well, which is why locals dig up the bogs and keep finding bog butter.

All sorts of questions still remain though. Why do you think the bog butter stores weren't dug up and used by the people who buried them?

Was the food buried because the bog made it taste better perhaps? Was it buried for special occasions or as part of a ceremony?
(Or did they just really really really really really like shortbread?)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Frock on!

Weird things happen at Christmas.

Many of them are predictable. Every year, women's magazines run articles about How To Beat That Holiday Stress, using such techniques as placing cucumber slices over your eyelids or going to Acapulco for a few weeks with that guy from the tanning booth.

How this is supposed to help you pay your Visa bill, I don't know. They don't explain it.

There's also the inevitable How To Keep Your Diet Resolutions Through The Holidays piece, which tells you to fill up on plenty of bean curd before you go to the office party. Therefore you won't snarf up 3000 calories-worth of deep-fried fruitcake washed down with some sort of red stuff.

And, don't let's forget, How To Safely Thaw That Holiday Turkey. Don't you even think of putting it on the kitchen counter! Let it thaw slowly in cold water, changing it every half-hour, for 48 hours. (And isn't it worth it to set the alarm in the night? If not, just let it thaw in the fridge for 72 hours per pound.) If this seems daunting, try to focus on the results: a perfectly glazed, savoury 32-pound bird that you bear in on a giant parsley-garnished platter while smiling proudly in your gingham apron (not streaming with sweat and ready to scream).

Foo. My turkey looks more like the one in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (my fave seasonal movie: with the added bonus that it has Randy Quaid in it!). My favorite of these well-meaning but identical articles (which I suspect are recycled almost verbatim each year by exhausted magazine staff ready to go partying ) are the fashion pieces.

I saw one recently that said in its headline, "Party Frocks Rock". I've always thought "frock" is an archaic word, or at least very English, but it surfaces every year like annoying relatives. The word "retro" kept popping up too, a la Mad Men (and don't get me wrong, I live for Mad Men. But if I dressed in a wiggly sausage-casing like Joan Holloway, I'd be arrested.)

Yes, this year we will "bling" in the New Year, in which we must pick one essential "glad rag" for the season, something so radical we don't even know quite how to say it:

The dress.

I've worn these. Not lately, of course. I prefer pants because I don't have to shave my legs. Plus my knees are starting to look like rounds of unbaked Pillsbury biscuit dough.

But never mind, back to the bling. We will herein quote the advice of one Emily Scarlett, PR manager of H & M Canada in that centre of the Canadian universe, Toronto. (Do you detect a note of wire service here?)

Pick the right little dress, and you're fixed. "You can put a blazer over top and put on some thick black tights and wear it to an office function." Unlike on Seinfeld where Elaine and a co-worker make out like bandits, this particular gal's office parties seem pretty tame.

"And then if you have a holiday party at night with friends or family, you just whip off the blazer, throw on a nice heel, and bam! You've got a great going-out little cocktail dress."

The violent verbs in these descriptions always get to me: whip off, throw on (especially a "nice heel": isn't that a contradiction in terms?). It sounds a little like Clark Kent changing into Superman. If I "threw on a heel", I'd likely miss and hit the cat.
Besides, I like it better the other way: "whip on, throw off." Adds a pinch of Christmas/S & M spice.

But wait, there's more. "Retro-inspired embellishments are definitely welcome this season," the article continues. "The black, stretchy-wool Monogram Bow Dress at Banana Republic (various locations, $275), for instance, has a beautiful, oversized pop-out flower attached to the left side of its rounded neckline."

This seems to get into Carrie Bradshaw country, where only an unconventional fashionista (who's a size zero) could pull it off - oops, I mean put it on! But here also is some sage shoe advice, this time from Tara Wickwire, PR director for the Gap (based in - guess where?): "What's really fresh now is putting a nude shoe with a black dress. You see a lot of celebs doing that." I'm not sure what a nude shoe is, but you'd save a bundle just going barefoot. And what's this "shoe" business? I've even seen trousers referred to as "a pant". So what else, "a sock"; "a mitten"; "a glove"? Why does one side of the body have to get cold like that? It's winter, for God's sake.

Let's frock on: "Whatever dress you go for this season, you're going to have to accessorize, and most stylists are saying the same thing: statement pieces, statement pieces, statement pieces." I'm trying to figure that out. Does it have to say something on the front of your ultra-feminine Pleated-Organza Bustier Dress (BCBG Max Azria, $778), kinda like a "message" t-shirt? Obama Sucks? Free Randy Quaid?

Whatever. If we get pie-eyed and start doing a frenzied boogaloo at the office do, no one will notice what we're wearing anyway. Yet another Toronto-based PR rep from RW&CO says we must "choose one piece that's glittery and really own it." In other words, don't pull a Winona Ryder this season. Own it! Pull out that charge card! (And no buying it, wearing it once and taking it back the next day with a guacamole stain on the front.)

By way of illustration, I've included some glam shots of my favorite fashionistas displaying their finest retro styles. According to Gertrude Heathcliff, PR rep for Target, Inc., these iconic icons wear nothing but the most cutting-edge, backward-looking fashions, which they really own (plus they're iconic).

I mean, really.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Separated at birth, Part Deux

Rain dance

First heard about these guys on ABC's Nightline. It's a new phenomenon (or not-so-new, growing organically out of break dancing, mime, Michael Jackson's moonwalk, and Shields and Yarnell's robot routine) called turf dancing, with sudden, spectacular leaps and jumps and flips. This was also called the rain video, in memory of Rich D, of whom I know almost nothing. This is a phenomenon of Oakland, California, for reasons unknown. A "how do they do that?" sort of thang.