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The Character Reference I’m Not Providing

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Department Of A Blast From The Past

Enjoying the free time of the newly retired, I’ve been sorting through some old (VERY old) files. I found this letter your mom wrote for me to include in a scholarship application. However challenging her last few years were, I will always remember the sweet lady who took the time to do this for me.

A friend from high school sent me the above email earlier this week, along with a photo of said letter – my mother’s “character reference” for my friend.

That was so delightful of her to do that.  The letter made me laugh for several reasons, including the fact that it was for a “character recommendation.” I have no memory of needing a character reference for *my* college and scholarship applications. I do recall the jaw-clenching process of asking teachers for academic recommendations (and appreciating their patience, as it seems they were each juggling other such requests from at least twenty students), but “character” recommendations? I’m drawing a complete blank.    [1]   

Perhaps only certain kinds of scholarships required it (my friend was applying to a private college with a religious affiliation)?  In any case, I can’t imagine which adult I would have requested it (a character reference letter) from – and I know I would have dreaded the process.  However, variations on their possible responses do come to mind:

“Oh yes, I can attest, she’s a character…”

A sad – to me – historical/patriarchal footnote…that, unfortunately, remains more than a footnote some forty years later:  my mother’s signoff on the letter. My father could sign letters, recommendations and other documents of importance, legal and otherwise, with his name, which was also his “title.” They were one and the same.  Like so many women of that era, my mother’s own name wasn’t enough to confer weight to her declarations.  Just in case you weren’t impressed by her being herself, she had to parenthetically include her ownership status:

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of A Heart-Blast From The Past

This week, eleven years ago, 2-11-09: he left this life, but not this heart.

My father, Chester Bryan (aka, “Chet the Jet”) Parnell, died on 2-11-09. The years have changed my grief, as I think (and hope) they do for most people.  I’ve gone from anguish to appreciation, in that I realize “the luck of the draw.”  How fortunate my siblings and I were to have had him as our dad.

The following photo: I have just turned 19, and it is my first Christmas home from college.  Chet was 51, and was eager to prove to his wife (my mother, nervous, behind the camera:  “Don’t throw your back out!”) that he could still pick up his adult daughter.

Moiself can’t be the only person to look at a photograph of a parent and feel a combination of awe and weirded-out-ness to realize that you are older now than they were back then, in that photo.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yes, I Really Did Do This

Dateline: recently. Listening to the Curiosity Daily podcast, the February 7 episode, alluringly titled, “Measuring the Deadliness of Viruses (Like Coronavirus), Why We Do the Potty Dance, and Depression’s Cousin ‘Acedia.’ ”

Moiself was compelled to send feedback to podcast host Cody Gough, who was bantering with co-host Ashley Hamer during the recap/closing moments of the podcast.  Gough made a statement that…well…I could not let it go unchallenged.

Dear Cody Gough,

I’m a fan of the podcast, and as such, I need to offer a suggestion re a possible correction, after listening to your most recent (February 7) episode.  In the closing moments/recap of the episode, when you and Ms. Hamer were discussing practical tips about how to avoid having to do “the pee pee dance,” in response to a strategy recapped by Ms. Hamer, you said:

“…as a gamer growing up, I can tell you that’s not an option.”

I believe you need to apologize to listeners for the oxymoron
(i.e., linking the concepts of “gamer” and “growing up”).

Keep up the good work,
Nit-pickingly yours,
Robyn Parnell

 

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of Mere Words Cannot Express How Sorry I Am
That “The Irishman” Won No Academy Awards

 

 

There were two films I avoided seeing in 2019, even though they were each nominated for multiple Academy Awards.  Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I see a lot of (theatrical release) movies, and try to see all of the nominees for Best Picture and most of the nominees for the writing and acting awards.  But I just couldn’t bring myself to spend good money and lengthy ass-sitting time on Joker and The Irishman[2]

Joker, when I heard about its plot points from a friend, seemed too bleak and too venturing-into-incel-territory for my tastes.   The combination of a loner/misfit male blaming female rejection for his problems, and yet-another-comic-book-character movie…I’d rather stay home and organize the cat feeding bowls, no matter how much the (mostly male) critics seemed to be coming in their pants re the lead actor’s performance.  Then, I ran across this interview with Time magazine movie critic Stephanie Zacharek:

“(Joker director) Phillips may want us to think he’s giving us a movie all about the emptiness of our culture — but really, he’s offering a prime example of it”…(he) presents (The Joker) as a man beset by misfortunes, from unrequited love to Gotham City budget cuts…. In “Joker,” Zacharek says Phillips wants viewers to pity (The Joker) because “he just hasn’t had enough love,” but what he’s done is create a protagonist who could become the “patron saint of incels.”

Because she…wrote one of the earliest negative reviews, Zacharek “became a target of angry, derogatory, sometimes aggressively misogynistic missives from people who haven’t yet seen the movie.”…. Zacharek shared more specifics about the trolls who came at her with “sick burns” both on Twitter and Instagram. One called her a “lonely old hag.”

“It was just so stupid,” (Zacharek )said. “How many of these people are out there? These are people who don’t think things through, and if this is the audience that this movie is courting, that proves my point.”

(Excerpts from “Several male film critics praised ‘Joker.’
Here’s why female critics aren’t sold.”   The Lily, 10-13-19.)

 

 

Yep.

Moving right along… Martin Scorsese.  Oh, Marty Marty Marty – may I call him Marty?   [3] I’ve enjoyed a couple of his films over the years but never understood what all the fuss was about.  The overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male movie critics and members of the Academy love to refer to Scorsese as one of “the greatest living film directors.”  He is part of that (unofficial) Young Upstarts/Now Respected Veterans club – three males of a similar generation who came to films around the same time and who have earned venerated, call-them-by-their-last-name status: Lucas, Speilberg, and Scorsese.

I know it’s not a competition, but for movie directors, I prefer Spielberg over Scorsese any day, hands down. Spielberg has chosen such a variety of stories to present over the years, from Jurassic Park to The Color Purple, from Saving Private Ryan to Amistad, From E.T. to Schindler’s List, from The Sugarland Express to Lincoln…you can’t pigeonhole what a Spielberg film is.

 

Yes, the director of that also directed this.

 

Now, here comes Marty with The Irishman.  A criminal syndicate/gangster film – imagine that! What a bold, new path for him! 

I have become convinced that there are some male directors who, subconsciously or otherwise, choose subjects and/or time periods (e.g. they set their films “historically”) so that they have an excuse for the way they portray (the few) women in their films.  They are relieved of the burden of doing something they’re not interested in doing the first place – creating three-D, complex, female characters who have a role other than to decorate or prop up the male characters – because, you know, Authenticity. ®  (“Oh well, that’s what it was like back in the 1940s/ with Italian-Americans/in the gang subculture….”)

A gangster/crime movie – you can get away with having a few females in the background for window dressing. Female roles *can* be significant in these movies, but only in ways which relate to the protagonist, as per these Scorsese film examples (both via Taxi Driver ): you got Iris, the teenage waif/prostitute who needs rescuing, and you got Betsy, The Unattainable Icy Blonde Who Rebuffs The Protagonist’s Romantic Overtures  And Thus Serves As A Catalyst For His Violent Self-Destructive Spree ® .

I saw the trailers and read a few descriptions of The Irishman, and said to moiself, “Oh, please, again?  If this film were an Olympic athlete it would fail the male hormone doping drug test.”

With few exceptions   [4]  Scorsese’s films present repeating themes:   Italian-Americans and their American assimilation (or lack of); hypermasculinity (as expressed via crime and violence); the search for a father figure; ethnic (especially Italian and Irish) tribalism, religious (read: Roman Catholic) notions of sin and guilt and salvation; crime, organized and otherwise; male power male pride male bonding….

Several months back, before I knew a thing about The Irishman, I read a snippet of an article which used a retrospective of Scorsese‘s career as a lead-in to a review praising The Irishman.  When I came across the phrase, “Scorsese does it again,” my reaction was, “Oh please, say it ain’t so…and get that man into cinematic rehab.”

 

“Is this what it’ll take to get you to see his movie?”

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [5]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

Vegan Holiday Cooking (from Candle Café; multiple authors)
Recipe:  Truffled Tofu Medallions With Wild Mushroom and Pinot Gris Sauce

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

 

Recipe Rating Refresher  [6]    

*   *   *

May you delight a longtime old friend with a copy of an old letter;
May you enjoy the petty pleasure of insulting gamers (or gangster movies);
May you remember your good fortune in loving even those you’ve lost;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Which could be indicative of my lack of character.

[2] And they made it easy for The Irishman, by releasing it on Netflix after it played in theaters for 5.6 seconds (or whatever was long enough to qualify it for awards nominations).

[3] That seems to be the moniker the Hollywood in-crowd uses to signal that they know Scorsese, or at least know enough about him to be so personal….

[4] Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; The Age of Innocence.

[5] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) once recipe from one book.

[6]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who’d eat anything, would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

 

The Casting Director I’m Not Thanking

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Department Of Putting It Off Until The Last Moment

Last Thursday I checked my list: only Roma and Vice were remaining. I needed to see those two movies in order to have seen every movie nominated for a major 2019 Academy Award.  [1]    And what, you may ask, are the major awards (and who decides such things?). The parenthetical answer is that moiself decides what is a major award, and they are the awards for:

– writing (best original and adapted screenplays)

– acting (best leading and supporting roles)

– best directing

– best picture

Roma was streaming; I watched it at home  last weekend. I had put off going to see Vice and wasn’t sure, until the very moment I was walking toward the theatre, if I was up for it: I didn’t want to subject myself to the images, memories and history of that gang of incompetents and liars, torturers and thieves (Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, ad nauseum), even if their stories were presented satirically, by actors.  Nevertheless, the theater got my money, and I’d say I got my money’s worth.  [2]

 

 

So, the terrorist coddling wimp actually had the cojones to sit through it?

 

Thus, when it came to our annual Movie Awards Dinner party on Sunday (a tradition I’ve written about previously in this space), I had fun watching the telecast, holding my sample Oscar ballot and commenting oh-so-knowingly on the categories (“Well, Sam Elliot gets my vote for best supporting actor, but I think the Academy will go for Mahershala Ali, even though he was nominated in the wrong category   [3]….”) .

I found most of the awards spot on, was disappointed with a few, and was relieved that Roma didn’t win best picture – a category for which I had no personal pick as I deemed them all (except Roma) more or less worthy of the nomination.  [4]   Right up until Julia Roberts made the Best Picture announcement I feared the Academy would do what they have done in the past – choose an “artier” film to show that we here in America can recognize and appreciate Serious Cinema ®. But while I found Roma to be beautifully shot (it won the cinematography award, and also Best Foreign film), it was too languid and plot-meandering for me. It’s like I made myself watch it because it was nominated for several awards and…because I was supposed to watch it.  You know, the cod liver oil criteria? (drink this stuff watch this movie; it’ll be good for you).

*   *   *

Department Of Not That You Asked….

As for the Oscar telecast itself: Yo, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are you listening?

 

Why, are you someone wealthy or important?

 

 

With the recent unintended [5]-but-successful, host-less telecast, y’all Motion Picture Academians or whatever you are finally appear to be at least trying to get on the right track.  Apparently the show “numbers” you are so concerned about   [6]   improved this year. But you still have some work to do. Like other pressing issues in this world – be they related to human rights, geopolitics, nutrition, [7] space exploration, you name it – things would be so much better if Those In Charge Just Listened To Me ®.

Thus, here are my suggestions to get a watchable (read: well under three hours) presentation:

* This year’s show proved that no host is necessary. Do not return to the Host format.

* However, do have Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler provide the intro to the show. Every. Single. Time. You simply cannot go wrong with those three.

 

 

I would voluntarily undergo and pay for a root canal sans anesthesia if these three writer/comedian/actors would host the procedure.

 

 

*Combine the presentation of awards with similar categories, saving stage entry/exit time for the presenters (you already did this, in at least two categories, during the recent show. Good on you). Have the same presenters announce all the awards for writing (original & adapted screenplays), “short” subjects (Documentary, short film/live action, short film animated), sound (editing and mixing) and the “staging/production” awards (costume; makeup/hairstyling, etc.)….

* Leave the singing to the Grammies and ditch the live performances of the nominated songs!!!  You don’t have other actors read the soliloquies from best acting award nominations, do you? Simply air a film clip of a snippet of each nominated song, showing where and how it fit into the movie – just as you play a brief (~15 sec) portion of each movie/acting performance nominated.

And about those acceptance speeches:

 

Make it stop!!!!

 

There must be a way to attach some cattle prod to the stage microphone – or give the Academy Award orchestra conductor some kind of fart noise-producing device to use – to humiliate encourage the winners to shorten their acceptance speeches.

I suggest the Academy send, via certified mail requiring a signature of confirmation – a contract to all nominees, informing them of the RULES – NOT SUGGESTIONS for their acceptance speeches, and then go over said rules at the banquet or whatever you throw for the nominees prior to the ceremony:

* Absolutely NO thanking of your agents, managers, accountants – no one who makes money off of you. Your $ucce$$ is thank$$$ enough.

* Also, do not thank your film’s casting agent, director, writer, costume designer, etc.  Not only are these thanks boring and gratuitous (your winning of the award validates their choice to work with you), it also comes off as if you are ass-kissing greasing the wheels in hopes of getting future roles. You may indeed be boundlessly grateful to director Spike Lee and his crew for taking a chance on your bony white ass – that’s great! But tell them privately, after the ceremony, when it will seem more sincere and less self-congratulatory.

* Tailor your time on camera for the audience watching the show – you know, the ones buying the tickets that keep the movie business in business? Say something humble and touching about your friends and family, and/or tell an odd/amusing/self-deprecating and BRIEF anecdote about what got you to where you are today ( anyone else remember composer Marvin Hamlisch thanking Maalox during his acceptance for Best Original Dramatic Score[8]  ) and then GET OFFSTAGE.

 

 

 

 

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Department Of And I Mean Every One, As In Every Single Fucking Person…

Dateline: riding the Max (light rail) train to Portland, to see the movie Vice.  After I boarded and the train began moving I noticed that everyone in the car (and once I noticed what I was noticing I craned my neck and turned to look forward/sideways/backwards to try to see every person on the train), including the Hillsboro High School wrestling team (on their way to a tournament),  bowed their heads, in unison. Was it respectful meditation time?

 

Yeah, right!

 

 

Really; it was odd. As soon as the train began to move, all aboard (save for moiself) dropped their gaze to their cell phones and/other other electronic devices they held on their laps. Or, perhaps they found their own crotches to be particularly fascinating? Meanwhile, looking out the window, I espied a majestic great blue heron standing in the middle of the field next to one of the train stops – a beautiful sight, oblivious to the crotch-gazers.

Here are just a few of the sights my fellow train light rail passengers missed:

*  a Canadian geese couple (or a couple of Canadian geese – I shouldn’t assume they were a couple; they may have just been good friends, or on a first date) confronting a squirrel over the squirrel’s cache of goodies at the base of a maple tree;

* the afore-mentioned heron;

* two people hoisting a blanket, which was rolled up into a way that made it look as though they were transporting a body in it;

* a rather disaffected-looking young man vigorously picking his nose in the boarding area at the Sunset Transit Center.

But, nooooo. Ig was if aliens had forced everyone’s head down.  For a moment, when the train approached my stop, I thought of throwing a question into the void: Hey folks, are your crotches really that fascinating?   [9]

 

 

 

 

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Department Of (Yet Another) Podcast You Should Be Listening To
(And Not Looking At Your Cell Phone While Doing So)

Disclaimer: Moiself is not anti-digital technology; I am pro personal interaction.

Most people are familiar with Alan Alda as an actor, but the self-professed science geek hosted Scientific American Frontiers for 12 years. Alda is presently channeling his lifelong interest in getting people – particularly scientists – to communicate clearly by working with the Center for Communicating Science.   [10]  He also hosts a podcast, Clear + Vivid, in which he and his guests explore how to better connect and communicate with others in every aspect of life.

In a recent episode of Clear + Vivid, “… How We’re Losing Touch With One Another and What We Can Do About It,” Alda speaks with MIT professor/clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle, who has spent the last 30 years studying “…mobile technology, social networks, AI, robots…our relationships with our devices and how our constant connectedness isn’t always the best thing for us — and what we can do to disconnect from our technology to reconnect with our humanity.”

While speaking of her research Dr. Turkel made one of the more profound observations about modern/present communication I’ve ever heard. She nailed it, I thought, when she described about what happens between people who are talking face to face (or backseat to front seat) when they are in the same place with one another – what happens when, for example, someone pulls out their cell phone when they are having lunch with a friend or dinner with their family. Whether or not it is their intention, the phone users have removed themselves from the interaction, without having taken a step out of the room:

“…there is that sense of a shared space…one of the things that has come out so poignantly in my research is that when you go to your phone you’re basically saying, ‘I’m leaving the shared space.’  When you take out a phone, you aggressively leave the common space of the people you’re with.

…It has to do with presence. What the phone does at its worst is take us away from – give us an alternative to – presence.”

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

May you realize it’s never too early to start honing your
2020 Academy Awards acceptance speech;
May you consciously endeavor not to be one of the crotch-gazers;
May you, when inhabiting the common space, put down your phone
and actually be where you are;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Confession:  I (along with the majority of movie-goers) missed the one about Vincent Van Gogh that had William Dafoe (nominated in the best Actor category) in it. It was not playing in a nearby theatre and not streaming – there was nowhere for moiself to see it.

[2] In other words, thumbs up…if somewhat painfully.

[3] Ali’s performance in Green Book was a leading role, not a supporting role!

[4]My criteria for best picture includes which one(s) would I be willing to see (and pay to see) again?).  

[5] Comedian Kevin Hart was scheduled to host the telecast, but abruptly backed out in December when past homophobic tweets of his came to light, and the show’s producers could not find a replacement host(s).

[6] That would be, the ratings. The “Oscar” show had had years of declining viewing audience, especially among younger (as in, under age 40) viewers.

[7] Go plant-based, everyone!

[8] For The Way We Were, 1974.

[9] Although, in the case of the wrestling team, which was composed of buff teenage males…you could make an argument for a vigorous and sincere YES MA’AM! answer to that question.

[10] A multidisciplinary organization, the Center for Communicating Science is a cross-disciplinary organization founded in 2009 within Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism (Stony Brook, NY), with the goal of helping scientists learn to communicate more effectively with the public.

The Connections I’m Not Calling

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Department Of Random Ideas Which If Implemented By The Right People
Could Turn Out To Be A Groovy Thing

Calling all the Music Industry Connections I have:  [1] please do pass along the following suggestion to Ms. Bonnie Raitt.

Background: I’ve always loved the music of the Lynyrd Skynyrd song Free Bird, even as I’ve found the lyrics to be annoying (as in, whiney).  [2]   In a Flash of Insight ® …

 

 

insight

Yeah, kinda like this.

 

 

 

 

I had this week (while guess what song was playing on the radio?), I realized how the song could be redeemed, for moiself:  if Bonnie Raitt did a cover of it.

Ms. Raitt, are you listening? If so, please give us music-living mere mortals something to talk about  (sorry) and work your magic. Couldya wouldya, please oh please or please?

Or if not, could you please find an excuse to get Dennis Quaid out of his sly sexy devil semi-retirement and the two of you could do another flirty, Thing Called Love-ish video?

 

 

 

 

 

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Department Of The Damage To Our Selves, Our International Reputation,
Our Environment And Civil Rights And Women’s Rights
And Basic Human Decency 
Is Almost Worth It…

…to hear an actual patriot/worthwhile human being, in this case Senator Tammy Duckworth   [3], have the opportunity to respond to The Cheetos Hitler’s treacherous oral spew. Here, in a series of tweets, Sen. Duckworth drops the mic on #45’s latest:  [4]

We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.

Thankfully, there are better quotes from better Republican Presidents. Here’s one from Theodore Roosevelt—a Republican who earned the applause he received—that Trump might want to consider:

 

 

bonespurjpg

 

 

 

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Department Of On Second Thought

Hyperbole, schmerbole – I realize that nothing is worth the damage to ourselves, our international reputation, our environment and civil rights and women’s rights and basic human decency and and and and and and…

and I apologize for, in a moment of trying to find the silver lining in the megaton dumpster of shit coming out of the White House, implying that the relentless opportunities for mockery provided by Cadet Bone Spurs is almost worth…anything.

 

 

 

picard

*   *   *

Department Of Well That’s Enough About That   [5]

Ever seen something so cute you just wanted to puke a stream of 100% proof  [6]  blood sugar?

Dateline: earlier this week, in a Trader Joe’s . I’m pushing my cart down the aisle when I hear a little girl’s yelp of delight.  The high-pitched voice belonged to a half-pint-sized dynamo who raced around the corner of the aisle to stand in front of, and point at, a shelf with various apple- and fruit sauce mixtures. She looked over her shoulder, toward (what I presumed, and later confirmed) her mother’s shopping cart, the edge of which I could just make out jutting from another (intersecting) aisle. The pitch of the girl’s voice and size of her body made me think like she couldn’t have been more than three years old, but what came out of her mouth was beyond precocious.

“I think we should get this one!” The girl jabbed her finger upward, indicating a jar of apple-carrot sauce mixture, and her tone changed from excited to reassuring. “Now, I’m not saying I don’t like the other one,” she pointed to the regular, apples-only applesauce, “but I think this one would be much healthier, Mom.”

 

 

slothpeekaboo

I don’t have a picture of the girl, but she was about this cute.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Movies I’m Not Critiquing

Except of course, when I am.

I saw a multiplex extra jumbo popcorn-sized jug full of good films this past year. Thus, it’s going to be difficult for me to root for my favorites when it comes to Academy Awards time.

As always, I am trying to see all (or as many as I can) of the films which have been nominated in the “big” categories (Best: Picture, Director, Lead and Supporting Acting, screenplay original and adapted).  Once again, it is likely moiself will fail in that endeavor, but I think this year I’ll come close to seeing most of them.

The favorites I’ve seen in the past ~ 14 months include:

– The Shape of Water
– Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
– Wind River
– Lady Bird
– Get Out
– The Big Sick
– The Post
– I, Tonya
– Wonder Woman
– Battle of the Sexes
– Hidden Figures
– The Disaster Artist
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

 

andtheoscar

 

 

 

Here’s how my list compares with the Oscar Best Picture nominees, which are:

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I have yet to See Call Me By Your Name or Darkest Hour, but plan on seeing both movies. I saw Dunkirk and Phantom Thread, but they did not make my list of favorites. (I wish one of the two war flicks [Dunkirk or Darkest Hour] and Phantom Thread could trade award consideration places with Wind River and/or The Big Sick).

Right now, my choice of best picture is between about five of the films up for the Oscar.  I could force myself to narrow it down to two choices, each of which is representative of the two classifications into which I can sort almost any movie I deem worthy of seeing:

(1) that which portrays an alternative and yet somehow believable or at least captivating reality (as in, The Shape of Water);

(2) that which presents a reflection of reality which, while fictional, is remarkable and poignant in both its narrative and character development/believability (as in, Lady Bird).

 

 

windriverjpg

 

 

 

 

Movie buddy and dear friend CC and I have often discussed how our judgment of the movies we like are based on not so much the immediate reactions, but those which stick with us – the movies that have you going over and defining to yourself, for days or even weeks afterward, what you saw and how you felt, as well as what you think the movie’s creators were trying to get you to see and/or feel. (Wind River, Three Billboards… and The Big Sick, for example).

The small moments of character revelation, the big u-turn in plot, all the elements which cause you to turn to the side, locking eyes or exchanging a knowing nod (or an eyebrow raising WTF?!?!?) – yes, even in the dark, with your friend or family member, or a total stranger….

Have more fun this year. See more movies. Get out of your house and off of your couch and mingle with your fellow bipeds, even if just for a couple of hours.

Yep, this is an unabashed promotion for the theater-going experience.  [7] A tragedy is more keenly felt, a documentary is more riveting, a comedy is funnier, when you’re gasping or laughing (or crying) with company. Two thumbs up for sitting with strangers in the dark.

 

 

 

theatre

Strangers…or maybe friends you haven’t met yet.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Things I Want To Know Before I Die,
But I Don’t Want To Find Out And Then Die, Like, Right Away

Can anyone tell me what exactly is the pompatus of love.

I refer to the song lyric, and not the movie with the same idiotic title.

Every once in a while I think about things like this.  [8]   Not that I want to take all the mystery of life….

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

 

 

May you avoid puking (anything, for any reason) in the aisles of Trader Joes;
May the pompatus of love warm the cockles of your heart;
May you bond, however temporarily, with strangers in the dark, over a good movie;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] How many ways can you spell none?

[2] Dude, grow up and change, if your lack of it is causing you problems, or if it’s fine then just stop complaining about how you can’t – what are you, five years old?

[3] She of multiple honorable identities, including military veteran and helicopter pilot (who lost both legs in combat); first Asian American elected to Congress in Illinois and first disabled woman elected to Congress.

[4] This time, calling those who did not applaud during his self-congratulatory deluded ramblings State of the Union speech “treasonous.”

[5] Which was my father’s go to phrase when you were getting into conversational territory in which he didn’t want to tread…even when such territory was entered, honestly and directly, in response to a question he had asked you.

[6] Or however the stuff is measured.

[7] Although I’m talkin’ movies here, this includes live theatre – plays and musicals – of which I am also a big fan.

[8] Usually when moiself is trying to avoid thinking about something more consequential.

The S*** I’m Not Explaining

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trueamerican

 

Unlike every other developed country on earth (those with very high human development on the Human Development index) the United States of America does not have Universal HealthCare.
(The U.S. is the Only Very Highly Developed Country Without Universal HealthCare, fact.myth.com

So, what the fuck is wrong with this country, you ask,  [1]  that we, unlike the other “first world” nations, cannot come up with/agree on a way to provide health care for all of our citizens?  I frequently come across this question, and sympathize with the viewpoint behind the rhetorical query/statement, even as it makes me just…tired…to consider the issue.  I also understand the criticisms and concerns regarding “nationalized” or one payer system, even as I’ve come to consider them rather immature and uninformed. Yes, Virginia, we all realize that any form of health care will not be perfect – it involves human beings, and health and behavior and organizations – nor without bureaucratic entanglements and fraud (like that *never* happens now ).

 

 

DUH

 

 

Still, I still have to wonder at…well…at those who continue to wonder anew and again and again re why we don’t do this.

Look at our federal budget, vs. those of those other countries whose universal health care systems you cite.  [2]  One of  The Mandarin Mussolini’s #45’s favorite non-shithole countries, Norway, whose health system is ranked one of the top in the world, typically spends from 1.4 to 2.1 % of its GDP on its military, while we….

 

 

usbudget

 

Any questions?

We police the effin’ world – that’s one of the biggest reasons why we (think we) can’t afford to pay for health care for all of our citizens. And some of the same, well-meaning people who ask why we don’t spend $$ on providing health care for all are the same, well-meaning people who, when there is suspected or evident ethnic cleansing/genocide and other human rights abuses in the latest formerYuglocentralslavianmiddleEastdumbfuckistanAmerianSubSaharan dictatorship, insist that we must go in and stop it – that we have a moral obligation as leaders of the free world to get involved in yet another country’s religious/civil war quagmire helping those who are being oppressed….

 

*   *   *

Department Of A Rose By Any Other Name

Last weekend MH and I stopped at our favorite grocery store, where a Perky Young Wine Rep ®  was offering tastes of several varietals from a local winery. Funny, how my grocery cart always seems to make its way to the wine sampling table.

Due to its label, a certain Pinot Noir caught my eye (and later, my taste buds). Although the name on the label turned out to be a tribute as to how this particular vintage was produced, I took the opportunity to tease PYWR that, although I assumed she had nothing to do with the wine’s name, she might want to tell her bosses that the more politically correct term should be Tenant Farmer, and not Sharecropper, as the latter is considered pejorative by those coming from a sharecropper background.  [3]

So I am hearing, replied the PYWR. She both grinned and grimaced as she went on to say that I wasn’t the first person that day to tell her that.

The wine is delightful and fruity (and I actually like the label).  I wish I could raise a glass with, and speak the favorite toast of, my son of a sharecropper tenant farmer father:

These are the good times.

 

 

 

sharewine

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Different Points Of View

Last Sunday afternoon MH and I saw The Book of Mormon in Portland, which meant that last Sunday eve we were discussing the musical over dinner with son K and friend LAH.  It soon became obvious that I liked TBOM much more than did MH.

When LAH asked for our differing views, I said that I simply found TBOM (which has been described as “pushing Broadway to new levels of obscenity, blasphemy and outrageousness”) highly entertaining.  Despite understanding and appreciating satire and dark humor (as I must point out in his defense), MH thought the play “glorified violence” (Uh, remember, the people who wrote this are the people who created South Park, said moiself), among other annoyances (Yo, uh, the South Park. people…again).

But what really offended (Hello, remember, South Park?) MH was (SPOILER ALERT ) what he saw as the play’s “happy ending,” which he took as the promotion of the idea that facts and reality aren’t really important. In his opinion, the play’s point of view was that it doesn’t matter what made-up crazy stuff you believe. Just pick one – whether it’s the Book of Mormon or The Book of Arnold, and you’ll be happy.

 

 

peanuts

Sorry, even if a nice guy said it, that still doesn’t make it true.

 

 

 

Moiself disagreed with MH’s interpretation, which prompted MH to ask what point of view *I* thought the musical was presenting…which got me to thinking about my initial, brief assessment. I wasn’t sure the play had a POV, other than that which the South Fork creators have been presenting for years: that all POVs should be open to analysis – and subject to ridicule – based on content. 

The play uses Mormonism as a template for critiquing religious doctrine and proselytizing – and does so quite brilliantly (although as some have argued that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, as the LDS  religion’s cup overfloweth onto their temple garments when it comes to providing material for a satire). You gotta love a musical with a song which references how church leaders attempted to solve the LDS god’s…problematic, to say the least… history of race relations (what one twentieth century [!!!!] Mormon apostle called “the Negro matter” ) when it became obvious that the LDS crazyass racist shit doctrine about the Lamanites (aka African Americans and indigenous Americans peoples) would not fly in the modern era.

[ELDER PRICE]
I believe!!! …that Satan has a hold of you
I believe!!! …that the Lord God has sent me here!
And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people! (Black people!)
You can be a Mormon! A Mormon who just believes…

[GENERAL BUTT-FUCKING NAKED]
(The fuck is this?)

(lyrics from “I Believe,” from The Book of Mormon (musical),
by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone.

 

 

generalBFN

 

 

 

You also gotta love a play with a character named General Butt-Fucking Naked.

And the dancing Starbucks cups in the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream musical number? Totally worth the price of admission.

Making fun of politics and American culture and religion is the South Park creators’ forte. Although they chose Mormonism for their musical they could have just as easily chosen to riff on Scientology or Southern Baptists.  I’d love to see how they’d deal with Catholicism…although, upon second thought, the resulting chorus line numbers featuring high-kicking pedophile priests might get a bit icky

Once again, I digress.

Although TBOM pokes fun at a conservative religion in particular I was glad to see it get in several shots at how contemporary, liberal religious believers – otherwise modern and intelligent people – justify still giving credence to their Iron Age Scriptures. How do believers work around the astounding misogyny, ignorance, brutality, violence, racism and just plain what-the-fuck-isms found in their holy books? They say (in their best, sweet but patronizing tone of voice), “Oh, that’s silly – of course it isn’t meant to be applied literally – it’s all _____ (symbolic; imagery; an allegory; metaphorical – insert your weasel word of choice)…

 “Salt Lake City isn’t an actual place. It’s an idea, a metaphor.”

…despite the fact that nowhere in their religions’ scriptures is it written that the prescriptions and proscriptions contained within them are only to be taken metaphorically, and despite the fact that their religions’ forbears took those scriptures/practiced those religions literally, as their knew scriptures commanded, for hundreds and even thousands of years.

I can understand MH’s take-away (and I’m sure he’s not the only one who found the play’s ending unsatisfying), but I did not think for a moment that the play advocated for believing mythology over embracing reality, nor did it promote the idea that faith, no matter what you place it in, overcomes all obstacles. After all, remember the play’s last line (another spoiler alert)?    [4]

 

*   *   *

Department Of One More Shot Before I Move On

 

explain this shit

 

 

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today…. The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather…. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.

(Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, speaking at a 1960 LDS Church General Conference, suggesting that the “Lamanites” [Native Americans] would go back to a lighter skin tone upon being placed in Mormon homes and accepting the Mormon gospel.  As reported in Conference Report, October 1960; Improvement Era [an official magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 1897 and 1970], December 1960, pp. 922–23.)

 

 

 

can you hear yourself when you speak

Can you hear yourself when you speak?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Random Things I’ve Always Wanted To Say To A Canadian

 

“So, what’s with Manitoba?”

 

canuck

Am I supposed to take that question literally, or is it a metaphor?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of One More Thing About Literalism Vs Metaphor

Reason #459 why I’m on a sabbatical from writing fiction:  I’ve known for years that whatever I make up simply cannot compete with the images available from reality, as per one of my favorite newspaper headlines from a few years back:

Teen high on LSD starts fight with a mailbox

 

 

*   *   *

May you take Broadway musicals literally and all else with 5 billion grains of salt;
May you be able to enjoy a toast with your father, whether in person or in memory;
May you say random (but nice) things to a Canadian;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] And really, could you ask without the profanity?

[2] Actually, you could compare our budget with that of any country in the world, to see the skew.

[3] My father, gently but consistently, corrected me whenever he heard me referring to his family as sharecroppers.

[4] “I STILL have maggots in my scrotum!”

The Heritage I’m Not Claiming

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I’d given up on attending Christmas-themed theatrical performances – at least, the ones which (theoretically) are comedies. The disaster that was A Tuna Christmas has become legend in my family. Several years ago MH got our family tickets for a Portland performance of the play, at my request, as a family outing for my birthday. When intermission was announced and everyone in the theatre stood up to stretch their legs and find the bathroom, I turned to son K, who was standing beside me, and asked, “Would you be disappointed if we left now?”

Oh, Mom, K gushed, hugging me so hard I almost toppled out of the balcony, “I’m so glad you feel that way!” His enthusiasm quickly spread to daughter Belle and MH, who, as it turned out, were all equally unimpressed with the play. We’d each been sitting there, thinking the same thing (this play sucks), each of us thinking we were the only one who felt that way….

There are few worse forms of entertainment than unfunny comedies, especially those that present themselves as satire and/or farces. The series of Greater Tuna plays – set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas and described as satirical yet affectionate take-offs on small-town, Southern life and attitudes – are, IMHO, a prime example of that phenomenon.

I suppose…I can maybe imagine…how, in the early 1980s, the sight of two gay men portraying a play’s twenty-plus cast members, including elderly female characters, was considered to be thigh-slappin,’ boot-stompin’, side-splittin’ hi-larious. For some folks. [1]

Moiself? I found it dated, and, worst of all – take it away, Joanne Worley – 

 

 

joanne

BOOOOOORRRRRRING!

 

 

Last Sunday I decided to give the Christmas Comedy one more try, thanks to local theatre company Bag & Baggage.  Because nothing says holiday spirit like the description of their one time cabaret event, Drunk as the Dickens:

Five of our Resident Actors will start drinking at 5:00pm. We will pull as many vaguely Victorian costumes as our drunken hands can carry, and then head over to Clark’s Bistro and Pub where, at 8:00pm, we will make them pull their characters from out of Scrooge’s nightcap, hand them a 1 hour(ish) version of A Christmas Carol and see if any of them can read while hammered. What could possibly go wrong?

*   *   *

Speaking of Christmas….

 

Annual Holiday History Lecture Reminder To The War On Christmas Imbeciles Bunch

 

 

heathen

 

The more fundamentalist the believer, the more ignorant they seem to be re a fundamental truth behind their religious observances: “Christian” holidays, in particular the biggies (Christmas and Easter), began as pagan festivals. Christmas belongs to and was in fact originated by pagans. Christians just changed your own history and renamed the festivities. However, in the true spirit of generosity, we heathens are happy to share the jolly season with one and all. As per these self-plagiarisms excerpts from my previous blogs:

  The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”  [2]  Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.  [3]

 

pagan-idol

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”

Heretics/apostates non-Christians We happy heathens often hear this question at this time of year.  The inquiry is sometimes presented in ways that imply our celebration (or even acknowledgement) of Christmas is hypocritical.  This implication is the epitome of cheek, when you consider the fact that it is the early Christians who stole a festival from our humanist (pagan) forebears, and not the other way around.

 

 

santa

 

 

Who doesn’t like a party/celebration, for any reason? We who are religion-free don’t mind sharing seasonal celebrations with any religious folk – sans the superstition and government/church mumbo-jumbo — as long as they acknowledge the fact that the ways we celebrate this “festive season” predate Christianity by hundreds of years.

The fir boughs and wreaths, the Yule log, plum pudding, gift exchanges, the feasting, the holly and the ivy and the evergreen tree….It is hard to think of a “Christmas tradition” that does not originate from Teutonic (German),Viking, Celtic and Druid paganism. [4]  A celebration in the depths of winter, at the time when, to those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stop its southerly descent before gradually ascending north, is a natural instinct. For thousands of years our Northern Hemisphere ancestors greeted the “reason for the season” – the winter solstice – with festivals of light and gift exchanges and parties.  The Winter Solstice was noted and celebrated long before the Roman Jesus groupies pinched the party.

 But, isn’t “Jesus is the reason for the season?

The reason for the season?  Cool story, bro.  Since you asked, actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season.  For all of the seasons.

 

winter_solstice_diagram

 

 

Our names for the days of the week come from religions predating Christianity. The Greeks named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five (at the time) known planets which they’d named after their gods… then the Romans substituted their equivalent gods, followed by the Germanic, Norse and Celtic peoples. For example, Thursday comes from Thor’s-day, Friday from variants on Frigg’s and Freya’s Day, Saturday from Saturn’s Day….

The god Woden is the reason the middle of the week is named Wednesday.  [5]  My calling that day Wednesday doesn’t mean I celebrate, worship, or “believe in” Woden.  I don’t insist on renaming either Christmas, or Wednesday.

 

 

 

woden

“Go smite the sheisskopf who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

 

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.   [6]   The early Romans celebrated the Saturnalia on the Solstice, holding days of feasting and gift exchanges in honor of their god Saturn. (Other deities whose birthdays were celebrated on or around December 25 included HorisHuitzilopochtliIsisMithrasMardukOsirisSerapis and Sol.)   [7] 

When the Roman Catholics came to power and spread north from Rome, they encountered pagan practices that had gone on for thousands of years before the Popes decided to claim divine authority and subdue the illiterate masses by dressing like the bastard spawn of Elton John and Lady Gaga.

 

gaga

 

 

The Celebration of the Saturnalia was too popular with the pagans for the new Christian church to outlaw it, so the new church renamed the day and reassigned meanings to the traditions.   [8] Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshiping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the (Christian) church. Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshiping the rising from the dead of the son-of-god.

In other words, why are some folk concerned with keeping “the Christ in Christmas”  [9] when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

saturnalia

 

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of Is She Or Isn’t She

I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s happened to me. In a lecture hall at college; in a restaurant; while riding public transportation; with fellow travelers in a rowboat on Lake Bled in Slovenia….

It’s a combination of my reminding people of someone else, and/or my saying or doing something that makes people suspect (or even hope) that I might be one of their clan.

Are you Jewish? You’re Jewish – right?

It (the questioned ethnicity/group of origin in question) is almost always not the case, and I can’t help but be fascinated by why it matters to the person asking. The default explanation presented to me (by someone who once asked) is that if you are in the minority, in any way or group, you tend to notice [10] who might be one of your kind, so to speak.

Hands down, the majority of identity inquiries I’ve received have been about my being a member of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Chosen People. But not exclusively. Other Are you _______?s have included gay/lesbian, Russian, Native American and – one of my favorites – Australian (hello?  Aussie accent, like, nonexistent?).

 

 

 

gday

We don’t claim her, mate, now G’day and bugger off.

 

 

 

Most recently it happened at a seafood bistro, during last week’s sabbatical-of-sorts trip to the Oregon Coast.  It was a slow evening for the restaurant, and my waiter and I had established a chatty rapport.  Near the end of my meal, before he frightened me with the dessert tray,  [11]  and seemingly apropos of nothing, the waiter asked if I or any members of my family were French Canadian, or Cajun?

I told him that, to my DNA analysis-deficient knowledge, the only thing French about me was the attempt by certain relatives on my father’s side of the family to downplay their indigenous heritage (this was back when it wasn’t considered “cool” for white folks to claim Native American ancestry) by reassuring my maternal grandmother than the purported Chickasaw/Cherokee woman who’d married a Parnell man was “maybe just French.”

The waiter chuckled; I asked him why he wondered about my heritage. He replied that, physically and mannerisms-wise, I reminded him of several relatives on his mother’s side of the family, and also, specifically, his mother.

The waiter was at least my age (several years older, I’d bet).  Nevertheless, I told him I would take that as a compliment, and he left verbal skidmarks assuring me that, indeed, that is what the similarity was supposed to be.

I did not order dessert, but left a good tip. Monetarily ,that is. I refrained from leaving him another good tip: never tell a woman who is older than twenty that she reminds you of your mother.

 

*   *   *

May you never be forced to endure a humor-free comedy;
May you acknowledge the old traditions before creating your own;
May whatever tribes or traditions you claim bemuse the hell out of someone;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

Happy Saturnalia and Solstice and Yule and Merry Christmas and Boxing Day and Hanukkah and Kwaanza and Festivus and….

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Like, say, your mildly homophobic grandparents.

[2] Increase Mather, A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England (London, 1687).  See also Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

[3] Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday.

[4] “Learn not the way of the heathen…their customs are vain, for one cuts a tree out of the forest…they deck it with silver and gold…” Jeremiah 10:2-5

[5] Wednesday comes from the Old English Wōdnesdæg, the day of the Germanic god Wodan (aka Odin, highest god in Norse mythology and a big cheese god of the Anglo-Saxons until the seventh century.

[6] The Julian calendar, adopted by Julius Caesar ~ 46 B.C.E., was off by 11 min/year, and when the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope – wait for it – Gregory,  the solstice was established on 12/22.

[7] The Winter Solstice and the Origins of Christmas, Lee Carter.

[8] In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries regarding wooing potential converts: don’t banish peoples’ customs, incorporate them. If the locals venerate a tree, don’t cut it down; rather, consecrate the tree to JC and allow its continued worship.

[9] And nothing in the various conflicting biblical references to the birth of JC has the nativity occurring in wintertime.

[10] And in some cases/in some situations, it can be life-preserving to keep track of such things.

[11] Really, out of nowhere a ginormous dessert tray appeared by my side, and my being startled by it greatly amused my waiter.

The Gifts I’m Not Authenticating

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Department Of Almost Feeling Guilty

Imagine the conundrum for a socially conscious political cartoonist, comedy writer and/or comedian: As a good citizen you want the electorate to make rational, informed choices; you want your fellow voters to consider the issues at stake when weighing a candidate’s qualifications for elected office and not be swayed or misled by hyperbole and fear. On the other hand, [1] you can’t help but savor the guilty pleasure arising from your knowledge of the inverse proportion between the level-headedness of a presidential candidate and the resulting opportunities to ply your trade.

I refer of course to the embarrassment of satirical riches – the material for monologues, jokes, cartoons, videos, memes, animated GIFs, you name it – to be found re the current primary season. Oy vey, what a dilemma. You of course want the best for your nation, but for your profession, the more Dan Quayles, [2] Sarah Palins, Ted Cruzs, the better.

And I will gladly suffer the WTF?!?!? barbs from people residing in the rest of the civilized world (What is wrong with your country, that such people can even be considered for president?!), as long as those people keep supplying us with gems like the following:

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Last Saturday MH and I attended NARAL-Pro Choice Oregon ‘s annual dinner buffet/auction benefit in Portland. Since we had tickets to a theatre matinee (also in Portland) the following afternoon, we decided to book a hotel room and make a night of it. The benefit was entertaining, the buffet items tasty, and it was even fun to force myself to get dressed in something other than a tie dye shirt and yoga pants. Also, the people-watching opportunities were prime – you couldn’t spit without hitting a local or state politician (and believe me, I did try). During the auction, MH and I mused about one day being able to bid on the high end items, once we stop our “bidding” on college tuition.

On the way from our hotel to the benefit we had a little time to kill, which we did by watching A Guy On A Horse [3] Ride Up And Down The Steps Of Pioneer Square © . Because, Portland.

 

horse

 

After the event wound down we cruised downtown Portland, taking in the street sights and allowing ourselves to feel superior to the line of tourists outside Voodoo Donuts. Feeling in the mood for something else, [4] we stopped in at a Portland institution, Huber’s Cafe .

This was our first visit to Huber’s. Fortunately for us newbies, the people sitting at a nearby table ordered the café’s signature drink, a Spanish Coffee, which, the café boasts in the culinary understatement of the year, is “flamed tableside with great flair.”

The bartender approached the table with his tray of accouterments. He managed to hold three stemmed goblets between the fingers of his left hand – I was impressed, even before the swirling of liquids and the flaming began – and undulated his left arm as if….

Okay: picture a dude in a tuxedo working on mixing a multi-layered cocktail and then setting it aflame while riding a roller coaster. I don’t even like Spanish Coffee, but I am definitely going back to Huber’s to order one before I die.

The timing must be right, of course. I don’t want to order a Spanish Coffee, and then die.

 

 

 Only two goblets? Amateur.

Only two goblets? Amateur.

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Belated Holiday Pathos

 

This week I’ve been feeling a little bluesy.

 

 

Like this?

Like this?

 

 

No, not in a Bessie Smith bluesy way. More like in the reflecting upon the passage of time, How Did It Get To Be March Already, way – a way that, for some reason, made me think about how and why our post-Christmas cleanup gets easier each year. Now that our offspring are Young Adults ®, there is less gift flotsam there is for MH and I to deal with.

When K and Belle were kidlets, there were many, many, many – and did I mention many? – years where it took us up to four weeks post-Christmas to find enough room in the garbage can for all of the non-recyclable packaging materials which were indigenous to gifts that came from A Certain Side of The Family.

Read: my side. Specifically, my mother. [5]  Mom was abetted in her trashing of the planet abundantly swathed present-bestowing by the good folks at Lillian Vernon. Are you familiar with that catalog company? If so, you have my sympathy.

 

LillianV

 

My mother discovered the Lillian Vernon catalog (too) many years ago. Once she did, there was no turning back for her. The catalog became her go-to source for gifts for her grandchildren, and a more wasteful source I’ve yet to encounter. Why a four inch tin-plated Model T replica needs to be encased in enough Styrofoam insulate an entire Uzbekistan village is a mystery to me…but that, apparently, is the shipping policy at Lillian Vernon.

The excessive packaging of the gifts was one thing. The gifts themselves, ay yi yi. All made in China, of substandard construction [6] –– and almost all items but clothing are accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.

 

This is an authentic piece of crap, guaranteed.

This  crap is authentic, guaranteed.

 

 

Most bewildering of all was how inappropriate the gifts were. Not inappropriate as in giving a life-size Uzi replica to a five year old; rather, inappropriate in that the gifts had no relation to what K and Belle actually wanted.

I’ll never forget K’s reaction the year he opened his present from Grandma M, dug through the layers of packaging and…oh, um….yeah…a set of miniature antique automobile replicas? Perhaps for some child somewhere, that would have been a welcome present. K had no interest in “antique replicas” (even those that came with certificates of authenticity).  Thus K, along with his sister, got an early introduction to practicing the art of Present Face.

 

 

 

It was (kinda sorta) terrible to laugh at the gifts, but we did – after I gave K & Belle the usual parental reassuring (Grandma means well). Year after year, my mom gave her grandchildren stuff they neither wanted or needed.  I tried to figure it out, thinking aloud to MH one Christmas, after K & Belle had opened their respective, bewildering (but authentically certified!) LV boxes: It’s as if my mom is using suggestions based on someone’s idea of gender and age; here are gifts for Boy Child, ages 9-11, and for Girl Child, Ages 5-8….

Which, as I would discover, was exactly what my mother did.

In year three or four of the They Sooooo Do Not Want These Things For Christmas (the year of the antique replica cars) phenomenon, I resolved to find out what was going on. I tried to be gentle during my Christmas Day phone call to my parents – I tried to tease out what made them think K would be interested in a set of Ford Model A and T cars? I could have used a verbal sledgehammer, for all of my mother’s obliviousness. [7]

I do all my Christmas and birthday shopping from the catalog, my mother explained. (actually, it was more like bragging than explaining). I have all the categories covered – they list them for girls and boys, of any age. When it’s time for a Christmas or birthday I go to the boxes in the garage or under my bed and pick one out!

Hmmm…yeah. Say, Mom, for next year, how about if you ask K and Belle what they’d like? Or they could send you a gift list, like you used to have me write up for my birthday and Christmas. K really likes to draw – there’s an artist’s pencil set he’s interested in, and Belle loves Legos and….

That’s okay, I already have next year’s Christmas presents picked out!  Birthdays, too! I keep them all in a big stash under the bed. K’s and Belle’s birthday presents are ready to go – it’s so convenient. Oh, here’s Dad….

I was more direct with my father: “This is difficult to say…I want my kids to be grateful for any gift, but Dad, it’s like the presents are from a stranger who doesn’t know them. It’s nothing they are interested in. Why doesn’t Mom ask them what they’d like? They’d love to tell her.” He just didn’t hear me (Well, that’s how she likes to do it.) and changed the subject.

Later that day I sought email counsel from my older and younger sisters. It wasn’t just my family’s dilemma – they’d both dealt with the LV catalog gift gifting issue, and had tried everything from dropping hints to being directly confrontational.  Their advice: Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Learn to live with it.

 

 

sad

 

MH and I raised K and Belle to look at gifts as just that – gifts, not entitlements. We encouraged them to find something about which to feel grateful for any present they received; we advised them to never expect nor request presents, but to be gracious and specific when asked by someone what you’d like.

My parents never asked. [8]

K and Belle dutifully wrote their thank you notes to Grandpa Chet and Grandma M. After year two of getting presents they didn’t want, it became somewhat of a silly family ritual: on Christmas morning, along with our gift-opening accouterments we also set out a direct-to-Goodwill bag for the Lillian Vernon haul, and there was a special ceremonial flourish when a Certificate of Authenticity assumed its rightful place in the paper recycling bin.

Along with the droll (okay, snarky) comments and laughter which became a part of our gift-opening, there were genuine hurt feelings, for both me and my children. It sliced at my heart the first time K and Belle looked at me with sad-round eyes and said, Why don’t they ask me what I want?

It was so effin’ impersonal; it showed no interest in them as individuals. My mother took pride in being done with her present shopping months (even years) in advance…and took no interest in finding out what her grandchildren actually wanted. You can learn a lot about children by asking them what they’d like for a present – it can be a segue into finding out about their hobbies and interests and talents, about finding out who they are and what they like to do.

Instead, it was This Christmas Belle gets something from the Girl Toys Ages 6-9 bag under Grandma M’s bed.  My mother even mixed up the presents one year: K got a gift that was meant for his cousin. The gift tag read, “To X, Love Grandma M” (cousin X, my younger sister’s second son, was the same age as K)!

At my suggestion and with my father’s encouragement, my parents switched to giving checks to their grandchildren a few years back, a practice my mother continued after my father died. Now, the LV catalog present years are the stuff of family lore. Then, it was Yet Another Life Lesson for my children (and their parents) in tolerance, acceptance, and loving people as they are, warts/quirks and all. Looking back, a part of me is even grateful for the experience, which provided us with one of our favorite family code phrases:

Belle: What do you know about that new cafe downtown?
Moiself: I haven’t heard much about them, only that each menu item comes with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Belle: Whoa, thanks for the warning.

ohno

*   *   *

May all of your gifts be authentic;
May your foo-foo cocktails be flaming,
And may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] You have other fingers. No, that never gets old (for me).

[2] I remember reading an interview with a joke writer who worked for a late night comedy show – it may have been The Tonight Show during Carson’s reign – who said that during the Dan Quayle years “…sometimes the monologues just write themselves.”

[3] This was not a mounted patrol officer. Just some random guy with his cool as a cucumber horse.

[4] Which, in my case, translated into onion rings, sautéed mushrooms and a glass of Pinot Gris.

[5] Content reassurance: my mother is alive, albeit in poor physical and mental health. We speak at least once a week; she doesn’t remember our phone conversation from the previous week (nor often what I said five minutes ago). She is a shut in, in her own home, with 24/7 care by patient and loving attendants. She has no access to the internet, doesn’t read my blog, doesn’t know I write a blog, doesn’t know what a blog is….

[6] I was going to write shoddily manufactured…there’s just no nice way to put it. That shit was cheaply made.

[7] And it was my mother’s doing. As was common to many men of his generation, my father gladly ceded the birthday and holiday gift-choosing tasks to his wife.

[8] MH’s usually did.

The Lab Specimens I’m Not Sniffing

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Department of Big Surprises

Son K is enjoying his job as a research assistant for a medical diagnostics company, and I love to hear his stories about his tasks. Recently he was preparing lab specimens used to cultivate proteins. Specifically, he was working with  e. coil bacteria. Dare you guess how descriptive K was when trying to convey to MH and I what the lab samples smelled like?

 

bad smell

 

*   *   *

And now, a related breaking (sorry) news story, which I shall classify under

Department of Tempting Fate

From The Looks Of Things © , I am probably the youngest student in my Tai Chi-Qigong class.  And from the sounds of things, I am also the only student who has not (yet) inadvertently let one slip – if you know what I mean and I think you do – during one of  the class’s twisting routines.

 

qifart

*   *   *

By Grabthar’s Hammer…

…this is one actor I am really going to miss.

Alan Rickman played an amazing range of characters over the years. Praised for his performances across the board in the theatre and television, he was most widely known for his movie roles. He was perfectly cast to play the complexly nuanced, ostensible-villain-turned-heart-rending-hero, Severus Snape, [1] and probably most widely known for turning what could have been just another wise-cracking action film (Die Hard) into Something Truly Memorable, with his performance as arguably the greatest bad guy of all time, German terrorist Hans Gruber.

My favorites of Rickman’s many movie roles included the reticent, infatuated, honorable Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) and Alexander Dane, the hilariously frustrated classically trained actor fallen on hard times who finds himself stuck repeating a catchphrase from his role in a sci-fi Television franchise he despises (Galaxy Quest).  And I managed to forgive Rickman for so convincingly playing the conflicted husband who broke wife Emma’ Thompson’s heart in Love, Actually. For a real cinematic treat, revel in his “gloriously nasty” portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham, by which Rickman steals Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves right out from under Kevin Costner’s spasmodic British accent.

When I read the news of Rickman’s passing I noted he was the same age as David Bowie. The world lost two truly Great Brits, esteemed and beloved in their respective fields. Thanks and RIP – you guys rock (ed).

Now, if you believe the old husband’s tale that “these things [2] come in threes,” who’d you put $$ on to be the next to go? I hear O.J. Simpson is turning 69 this year….

 

 

*   *   *

Yet Another Reason To Hate/Quit Writing Go On Living

I belong to several professional writers associations. The Authors Guild is the largest, oldest and most influential of the lot, and the one I most admire. As per its mission to “…advocate for authors on issues of copyright, fair contracts…protect authors’ copyrights…establish fair royalty rates for both e-books and print books…” the AG has its work cut out for it, especially in these days of the digital and electronic piracy and royalty grabs changes in publishing.

 

book

 

The AG are the good guys; they fight the right fights. There are so many fronts, so many battles, for authors these days, I truly wish I could – as per the suggestion on the AG’s membership renewal form – add a donation in addition to my dues to further their work.

Except for one pesky detail: I have no spare writing income with which to do so.

The AG has a tiered membership dues structure, based on author members’ annual income from book and magazine writing.  There are four levels: I ($0 – 24,999; II ($25 – $49,999); III ($ 50,000 – 100,000): IV ($ over $100,000), with dues rates increasing with each level.

I am (surprise!) at the lowest level. My writing income-loss sheet [3] has remained the same as last year, and the AG’s Level I dues have jumped 38%, from $90 to $125.

 

sob

*   *   *

Department of Apparently It’s a Thing ® Now

…to leave up your Christmas or solstice tree year round, and decorate it according [4] to whatever season’s or month’s commemorations strike your fancy. For example, you might hang paper flags from the branches during July (to celebrate Independence Day);  Bunny and Easter egg ornaments in March (Spring); candy corn and mini pumpkins in October (Halloween); Quaaludes and still photos from The Bill Cosby Show in April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month)….

Well. I’ve left our tree up, but I’m not sure you can call it decorated (I did leave two of my favorite ornaments on it). I just like having it around. I don’t know why, but I derive much sinple contentment from looking at the little blinking lights.

 

tree

*   *   *

May your enjoy whatever constitutes your own blinking lights of contentment,
and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] I don’t need to reference the Harry Potter series of books and films, do I? I do not require readers to be fans of either; I do assume a certain amount of cultural literacy.

[2] In this case, famous and/or infamous peoples’ deaths.

[3]  I’ve not done the figuring for 2015, but already know it will rival last year in pathetic-osity.

[4] Simply not enough footnotes in the New Year.

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