Birds Above, Mud Below

More rain, more mud. Such is early April this year. At least the grass is green, even where it’s underwater.

The season also means active birds. At about 2 this afternoon, I was out on my deck — but not for a leisurely sit-down, which was pleasantly doable on Saturday — and noticed a lot of birds in the tree overhead. Who sounded like this.

At moments like that, you feel like you’ve stepped into The Birds.

I saw The Birds on television when I was very young, sometime in the late ’60s. I didn’t see it again for more than 20 years, though in the interim I managed to see The 39 Steps, Lifeboat, Notorious, Rope, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, and even Topaz (Hitchcock’s Henry VIII; can’t really recommend it). But I never got around to seeing The Birds as an adult until the early ’90s.

From the first time I remembered the birds pecking a woman to death, and a guy lighting a cigarette and blowing himself up at a gas station, as an indirect victim of the birds. I didn’t remember that Suzanne Pleshette played the pecked woman. Hey! That’s Emily Hartley being offed by birds!

Also, somehow I had it in mind that the movie depicted a worldwide attack by birds. So I was a little surprised to learn upon second viewing that the movie was about a local incident. In the hands of a lesser director — let’s say much lesser, like M. Night Shyamalan — the attack would have indeed been worldwide, and CGI birds would have destroyed the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, just for the birdy thrill of it all. Hitch would have had none of that.

Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pbh&b sandwich for a very modest price. At least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved to munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 42. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

Thursday Flotsam

I think I was in the 8th grade when I learned the difference between flotsam and jetsam. Mr. Allen’s English class. He was firm in his belief that you should learn things in school. I suppose most teachers feel that way, but he was particularly adamant. Once a wiseacre named Tim asked Mr. Allen why anyone had to learn what he was teaching. “Because if you don’t know it, you’ll be ignorant,” was his answer.

Saw La La Land recently. It was everything it needed to be. Namely, skillfully made and visually appealing light entertainment, with an especial fine use of the Griffith Observatory as a setting, and an ending a bit above the usual formula. A lot else has been written about it, of course. Endless commentary. As far as I’m concerned, that’s overthinking the matter.

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations weren’t right about everything, but I think they had a healthy take on song-and-dance movies. Mostly light entertainment, though there was the song that was just as powerful a weapon as any cannon or battleship in the First World War.

Speaking of war, after posting about the evacuation of Fort Moultrie on December 26, 1860, I found the digital version of The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to see if Maj. Anderson’s telegram was indeed the first item in that sprawling compendium. It is.

I was amused by the second item, also a telegram, dated December 27.

Major Anderson, Fort Moultrie:
Intelligence has reached here this morning that you have abandoned Fort Moultrie, spiked your guns, burned the carriages, and gone to Fort Sumter. It is not believed, because there is no order for any such movement. Explain the meaning of this report.
— J.B. Floyd, Secretary of War

Or as Sec. Floyd might have said privately, “The deuced you say! He did what?” Three days later, Floyd resigned as Secretary of War, and is remembered — when he’s remembered at all — for suspicious behavior in that office, at least as far as the Union was concerned, and as an incompetent Confederate general.

General Floyd, the commanding officer, who was a man of talent enough for any civil position was no soldier, and possibly, did not possess the elements of one. He was further unfitted for command for the reason that his conscience must have troubled him and made him afraid. As Secretary of War, he had taken a solemn oath to maintain the Constitution of the United States and uphold the same against all enemies. He had betrayed that trust.
— Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Recommended eatery in Charleston: Bluerose Cafe.

Bluerose Cafe

I started looking for dinner a bit late on a Friday night, and went to one place I’d found on Google maps. It was jammed, and more importantly, so was its parking lot. I went to my second choice. It too was full. Facing the possibility of fast food, which I didn’t really want, I headed back toward to hotel, when I noticed the Bluerose. Plenty of parking there.

The restaurant wasn’t packed either. In fact, at about a half hour before closing, only one table was occupied, with a fellow eating at a counter, and a hostess/waitress behind the counter. The place was simply decorated, but not drab, and the longer I looked around, the more I started noticing Irish touches, such as the sign that said, Céad Míle Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I sat at the counter as well, and the man eating there said, “I’ll get you something as soon as I’m finished. I haven’t had a chance to eat all day.”

He had a distinct Irish brogue. Turned out he was Denis O’Doherty, the proprietor. I told him not to hurry. We talked a bit, and he told me that he’d come to the United States a good many years ago, living in Boston quite a while, but in Charleston for the last 13 years or so, running the Bluerose. People get around.

I ordered the pan fried flounder before too long, and Mr. O’Doherty went back to the kitchen, which is visible from the counter, to prepare it. While he was at work on that, a woman came in and ordered some food to go, and talked a while with Denis as she sat at the counter. A regular customer. I got the feeling that the place had a lot of regular customers.

He didn’t let the talk distract him too much, because when I got my fish, it was superb. Which was the exact word I used when he asked how the fish was. Sometimes, when it comes to finding good food on the road — even in the age of Yelp and Tripadvisor and all that ya-ya — you just have to get lucky.

Now I Know Who Verne Troyer Is

Ah, Wikipedia. Your charms are endless. I really should give you that $3. Today I was looking at the entry on Seaport Boston Hotel & World Trade Center, a property in the Seaport District of Boston. Among other things, it lists “notable stays,” which looked like a list on a standardized test question — which of these is not like the others?

President Barack Obama
President Bill Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
President George H. W. Bush
President George W. Bush
Vern Troyer

I didn’t know “Vern Troyer,” so naturally I looked him up. Must be this fellow, Verne Troyer. An actor of diminutive stature, he’s best known for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies, which I’ve managed to avoid since the very first one nearly 20 years ago. And yet I’ve heard of Mini-Me. Some things just burrow their way into the wider culture.

The Full Griswold

Someone’s already thought of the Full Griswold. Maybe I’d heard of it before, but I don’t know where. I thought of it this evening driving along, noting the proliferation of Christmas lights in this part of the suburbs. Some displays, of course, are more elaborate than others, but I haven’t seen any Full Griswolds just yet.

Once the concept of the Full Griswold comes to mind, one’s mind naturally turns to gradations of it. That’s what I think about, anyway. The Half Griswold, the Quarter Griswold, that sort of thing. I believe fractional Griswolds would have more charms than decimal Griswolds, such as 0.5 Griswolds or 0.1 Griswolds or the like. Too metric for such a nebulous concept.

Then again, the millihelen’s a metric sort of nebulous measurement, so what do I know?

I’d say that I’ve seen a fair number of Eighth Griswolds and a few Quarters and maybe something approaching a Half this year. But the season’s early. My own house decoration would be somewhere in the hundredths of Griswolds.

The odd thing is, I’ve never actually seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation all the way through, not when it was new (1989) and not since then. I’ve seen bits and pieces over the years. Probably because Chevy Chase is best taken in small doses (which can be quite funny).

Thanksgiving ’16

One of the good things about Thanksgiving is that, while the next day technically isn’t a holiday — and some years ago, I worked for a skinflint who insisted that people work that day — it really is part of the holiday. So for me the thing stretched from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday afternoon (I usually get back to work on Sunday evening, since things need to be filed Monday morning).

Our Thanksgiving meal was pretty much the same as it has been for the last few years, after Lilly took over the making of the major starches: mashed potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese. The meat, ham. The bread, King’s Hawaiian. The drink, Martinelli’s sparkling cider. The dessert, pecan pie. Call it habit, call it tradition.

Time to read: a valuable commodity. Needing something light, I buzzed through Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015), a popular history by Sarah Vowell, which guarantees a humorous tone. Humorous, but with genuine historical information included and, something I particularly like, accounts of her visits to often obscure places and monuments associated with the subject. In this case, sites associated with Lafayette. In the case of the only other book of hers I’ve read, Assassination Vacation, sites associated with the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.

There was also time over the holiday to watch a few movies, two on the small screen, one on the big screen. Radio Days, which I hadn’t seen since it was new. I appreciate the wonderful soundtrack a lot more now than I did then. Then there was Twelve O’Clock High, a first-rate war movie and Gregory Peck vehicle that I’d never seen before.

On Saturday, we all went to a nearby movie theater. Lilly and Ann wanted to see The Edge of Seventeen, a coming-of-age flick. Yuriko and I weren’t interested in that, so we saw Doctor Strange, a superhero movie about a character I knew virtually nothing about. Been a while since I’ve seen a comic-book inspired movie, especially in the theater. It was better than I expected. The story wasn’t great, but it managed to avoid outright stupidity, and the CGI was astonishingly good.

I also saw pieces of movies over the holiday. Days off or not, I see more pieces of movies now than whole ones, because there’s work to do, but also because I often don’t feeling like sitting through a whole movie, especially ones I’ve seen before, or already decided I don’t need to see.

Between Wednesday and today, I saw pieces of (no more than 30 minutes, no special order): Swing Shift, The Gay Divorcee, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Marie Antoinette (2006), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Capote, Juno, and Gran Torino. The last two were the only ones I’d never seen before. I lucked into some justly famous scenes in a few cases, such as the escape from burning Atlanta in GWTW, and the particularly memorable Phoebe Cates scene in Fast Times.

CineFix

I was able to eat lunch on my deck on yesterday, and sit there and read after I mowed the lawn. There’s some chance those things might not be possible again until some unexpectedly warm day in March. Or there could be a string of dry, warm days throughout this month. You never know with October.

CineFix does a nice job on YouTube of the usually vapid format “Best 10” lists about movies, certainly a lot better than the dimwitted WatchMojo, though it does use the annoying construction “Best X or Most Y of All Time.” That’s always bothered the nitpicking editor that I am. It should be the “Best X or Most Y So Far.”

Still, the production team behind CineFix, whoever they are, clearly knows a good deal about cinema, and they write well about it. The lists are organized not so much as a countdown, but as a collection of movies that share certain characteristics (more or less). For instance, Movie Villains includes outright evil characters, likable bad guys, repulsive villains, amoral killers and so on. Each of these subcategories is illustrated with a handful of movies, with one ultimately picked to illustrate the point best, in the opinion of CineFix.

Though the majority of the picks are English-language movies, as befitting the audience, CineFix isn’t afraid to praise movies with (gasp) subtitles, old movies, even silents, or black-and-white movies. I’ve never understood the prejudice against any of those kinds of movies. Quite a few of all them are included in the videos. As illustrated by Character Arcs or Rule-Breaking Movies or Most Beautiful Animation.

Best of all, I’ve come away from some of the lists wanting to watch some of the movies mentioned. Some I’ve heard of, a number I knew nothing about before. Not a bad use of YouTube at all.

Notes From the Silly Season ’97

August 8, 1997

Summer is dwindling… & the days float by like so many logs on a river, on their way to the sawmill of mind, to be made into the planks of memory… hm, don’t know that I would show that metaphor in public. Or is it a simile? What was the difference, anyway? So much for my liberal education.

Had a light brush with celebrity last Friday. A movie crew spent the whole day out in front of my office building, shooting something. It’s a good, very urban sort of location, and features a conveniently large traffic island to boot, so they weren’t the first ones I’ve seen there.

But it was no small effort, unlike a TV commercial or some music video. On hand were two huge cameras, a couple of cherry pickers outfitted with artificial shade that they could adjust as the sun crossed the sky, dozens of extras and a lot of technicians and crew waiting around for something to do. As I left for the day, I could see some active filming going on, and the star (as I’d heard) was indeed Bruce Willis, whom I got a short look at. Not my first choice among movie stars, but he was good in 12 Monkeys, anyway.

E-mail has proven itself quite interesting in the month or so I’ve had it. I’ve heard from people I almost never — in a couple of cases, flat-out never — get real mail from. I’ve also found out a number of things I might not have otherwise, not at least for months or years. Just this week an old VU friend e-mailed me to say he was moving to San Francisco after living 14 years on the East Coast. Not long before that, I found out that a Scotsman I knew in Japan had become a father this year.

Then there was the running series of E-Postcards (the sender’s phrase). One fellow I know took a laptop on vacation and has sent a daily report on his movements (mostly on the West Coast) to a large number of e-addresses, mine included.That’s something you won’t catch me doing, taking a laptop on vacation.

2016 Postscript: Since then, a child of mine then in utero has grown up, I often take laptops on the road, but not on vacations per se, and the most recent Bruce Willis movie I’ve seen is The Sixth Sense. I think Mercury Rising was the movie being made that day. It was one of the turkeys that earned Mr. Willis a Golden Raspberry that year.

As for email, I don’t use the hyphen any more, and the in pre-social media days, the regularity with which people corresponded on paper was a pretty good predictor of how much they used email. After the novelty was over, people who were lousy paper correspondents proved to be the same electronically.

Nonstop-Kino, Last Day of July 1983

Why do I still have a movie ticket stub after a third of century? Don’t ask. I don’t save all of them, or even very many. This one, yes. On July 31, 1983, I went to the Nonstop-Kino in Innsbruck, Austria.

Nonstop-Kino Innsbruck 1983Rich and I took in a screening of Manhattan that afternoon. All together only four people — including the two of us — were at the show. Even so, in an example of doing what the Romans do, or in this case the Austrians, we actually sat in Row 6, Seats 7 and 8.

I’ve seen movies in London (Return of the Jedi and Babette’s Feast and Duck Soup) and Rome (I forget what) and of course many in Japan and some in other Asian countries, but the cinemas in the German-speaking world are the only ones I’ve encountered that sold seats like a live theater.

Manhattan was dubbed in German. I’d seen movie before, so that didn’t matter, but I didn’t think the voice actor doing Woody Allen was a good fit. In the age of the Internet, it’s easy enough to find out that the voice actor who’s done Allen for years — the Synchronsprecher, love that word — is one Wolfgang Draeger (who also was Sir Robin in Monty Python und Die Ritter der Kokosnuß). Apparently Draeger’s highly esteemed, especially for doing Allen. Still, I didn’t care for the match. His voice wasn’t nebbish enough.

The Force Awakens

We went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently, since I’m not the sort who rushes out to see the newest thing in the theaters, though that did happen with the first movie of the series those long summers ago (more than a dozen of us went together; it was an event). On the whole, the most recent yarn had everything it needed to: sympathetic characters, old and new, lots of action, lots of spaceships and exotic sets, lots of improbabilities and coincidences, lots of homages — many homages to the original movies, some simply visual, others in bits of dialogue — and so on. My favorite homage was the discussion of throwing a captured First Order minion into a trash chute, though you don’t actually see the heroes do it.

All in all, worth second-run prices. Some quibbles: Interestingly, Finn said that his bad-guy job was in sanitation, which set up the homage to the trash chute. Certainly a necessary function, but if so, why was he part of the death squad detail at the beginning of the movie? Do all of the storm troopers rotate into death squads now and then, just to keep them murderous? If so, why are they such lousy shots?

Why is the armed force defending the presumably re-established Republic called the Resistance? Sure, resistance has a noble undertone, but it implies trying to overthrow tyranny, not protect a government. Shouldn’t it have been the Galactic Force or the Republic Defenders or the like? (Or the Force Force?) Guess the Republican Guard wouldn’t work, the Iranians having taken that one.

And how is it that the Jedi were so thin on the ground that the retirement of just one of them, namely Luke Skywalker, shut down the whole enterprise? Weren’t there others? You know, a second string? Maybe these things are explained in the expanded universe, but I’m grown man. I refuse to have anything to do with that.

Also, I wonder just how much dough Mark Hamill got paid, along with top billing, to stand there for a few seconds and look old? Maybe that sum is a balm for his, shall we say, not-as-stellar-as-Harrison Ford’s career. By contrast Ford had a meaty-ish part in the latest movie, but then again he clearly signed up only for this one, unless there’s some movie resurrection magic ahead for Han Solo.

The supreme bad guy was malformed and ugly, or at least his hologram/projection/whatever of him was. But of course. Ugly = Evil. As I wrote a good many years ago, when I was busy ignoring one of the prequels, I pictured the unseen evil emperor in the first movie as “a handsome yet ruthless tyrant, a spellbinding demagogue, a despot who made the hyperdrive trains run on time, and who had an intensely loyal following in parts of the galaxy that got public works contracts. But no. He turned out to be a drooling, hissing, ugly fellow who ruled by channeling the Dark Side, rather than bread and circuses (and maybe a gulag).

“Better still would have been a despotic Emperor with some virtues, someone who offered peace to a Republic torn by civil war, someone along the lines of Augustus. In that case, the rebel alliance might still be fighting for freedom, but with less purity of motive — and willing to blow up a planet or two itself…”

Christopher Orr in the Atlantic did a reasonably good review of the movie, except for this line toward the end: “The original Star Wars was in almost every way an original, a movie that forever changed filmmaking for both good and ill.” Maybe original if you were 10, as he was.

But it was fully known and commented upon at the time that, aside from the remarkable special effects, very little about the first movie was original, and not just in the sense that all Hero With a Thousand Faces on a Journey of a Thousand Leagues stories tap into archetypes. Still, that didn’t make the first movie any less enjoyable or important in the history of summer blockbusters. Obviously the thing struck a chord. I remember reports of people going to see the first one many, many times. Then again, people also went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show many, many times. That struck a somewhat different chord, I figure.