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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/18 - Penny & Co.

RIP Bronx born actress/director Penny Marshall, 75. Her dad was Italian, born Masciarelli. She is quoted as having said: "My brother and sister were much older. They were planned. I was not planned for. I was called the mistake, amongst other things." She certainly corrected it in a big way. Although she had help breaking into show business from her highly successful brother Garry, she made her own mark. She had a number of minor roles before landing 27 episodes of The Odd Couple. Soon she won the role that would make her famous, Laverne DeFazio on Laverne and Shirley, which shot 178 episodes over eight seasons, 1976-'83. And it was there that she learned the art of directing. She was at the helm of only seven big screen features, but two were huge commercial successes and one a memorable pairing of Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. She was the first female to direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million in the USA, Big (1988), and the first with two that surpassed that figure, A League of Their Own (1992). She left her comedy comfort zone to direct the ultra serious Awakenings (1990), doing a fine job. Although she never won an Oscar or Emmy, she did win 15 other awards, several overseas. Well done, madam. (Facts from IMDb)

Each night at nine, PBS affiliate WNDT, channel 14-1 on my over the air antenna, runs European crime dramas. I've really enjoyed two Swedish productions: Beck, whose protagonist is a commissioner, an older gentleman, and which still seems to be going strong; and Johan Falk, which seems to have completed its run. The episodes run about 90 minutes and are frequently violent, which for some reason surprised me, as I think of European societies as passive in terms of law enforcement. Then again, Steig Larsson's wildly popular Millenium novels are hardly tame. Another program is Flemming, which is shot in Berlin and runs about 40 minutes. It too has ended it run. While it's interesting, it seems a bit too pat in the psychology of human beings. The central figure is an obnoxious know-it-all detective, a Freudian Sherlock Holmes, who also hosts a TV show. Oddly, I haven't been able to get into the Italian offering, Anti-Drug Squad, which seems dominated by hip young detectives. I was unfamiliar with all the players in these series, although I've since researched them and found the names of several in fare I'd seen. Although the shows are subtitled, the print is large, easy to read. English is occasionally spoken by bad guys protecting the privacy of their nefarious discussions. Although the station has been around since 1970, it periodically changed its call letters. It began its current incarnation in 2018.

It hadn't happened in a long time. For the second straight day one of my own books sold. My thanks to the young woman who bought Exchanges, and to the gentleman who purchased four DVD's; and to the lady and gentleman who each selected a thriller in Russian.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/17 - Degrees

We all have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves to a degree, which is often absurd in this nation of plenty. Occasionally we are brought to our senses by the story of someone who suffered real hardship. In 2006 Sergeant Jay Strobino, serving in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, was shot 13 times during combat. Awarded a Silver Star, he was in rehab a year. He just graduated from Middle Tennessee State U., earning a degree in Exercise Science, minoring in Biology. He was able to walk onto the stage to receive his degree, an inspiration to us all.  (From, edited by yours truly).

NFL players are tough as nails, but they are not heroes to a significant degree. Last season, Eagles' starting QB Carson Wentz was injured. His backup, Nick Foles, led them to the Super Bowl, where he was the MVP. When Wentz was ready to return this year in week three, he was handed the reins. The team struggled. This week he was sidelined by a back injury, and Foles was again at the helm, facing the Rams in L.A., his team a 14-point underdog. The Eagles pulled off the upset, and the question must be asked: Are they better with Foles as the starter?... Two teams that looked like contenders seemed pretenders yesterday - the Seahawks losing to the lowly 49ers, and the Cowboys shutout, drubbed by the Colts... Only diehards thought the Giants were going to make the playoffs... As usual, the Steelers stepped up in a time of desperation. They've been a great franchise since the days of the Steel Curtain in the '70's... In the years that the Patriots have earned a first round playoff bye, they've gone to the Super Bowl. When they haven't, they have not. If the season ended today, there'd be no bye for them. Still, lesser teams - wild cards - have won the championship. 

And to a minute degree, the writer as hero. It looked like zilch for the floating book shop today, then B.S. Bob showed late in the session. I hadn't seen him in months and I wondered if he'd passed away. In his 80's, he's now hooked up to one of those oxygen feeders and, although walking under his own power, he's accompanied by an aide. He does not look well but he's still fighting. He has a meeting with someone at Netflix lined up and asked if I had anything, in case he gets lucky and lands a position as a producer, that might translate to the screen. I showed him A Hitch in Twilight, billed as 20 Tales of Warped Imagination. While he was in the bank, I recalled that I'd sold him a copy when it was published in 2009. I suggested he take Billionths of a Lifetime. Four of its 31 stories fall into the same categories as the aforementioned collection, and there are also two screenplays, a teleplay, and a one-act play. I told him to look for Hitch on his shelves. I know better than to get excited about this, as I've been down this road several times and ended up nowhere. Ditto for Bob, but we both keep at it, dreamers, not heroes like Sgt. Strobino.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/16 - Mystery Woman

Last night while scanning with the remote control I landed on Cinema 13, which was running Algiers (1938), starring Charles Boyer as a thief and the exquisite Hedy Lamarr as the femme fatale. It's a remake of the innovative French classic Pepe le Moko (1937). The film is best known for a quote that was not used in it: "Come with me to the Casbah." That was a product of comics lampooning Boyer, which the actor hated. According to, it was voiced by Pepe LePew in Looney Tunes cartoons. Anyway, the shunned woman in Algiers was played by someone unfamiliar to me, Sigrid Gurie, who was born in Brooklyn in 1911. Her family moved to Norway the next year, and there she remained until discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, who brought her to the USA in 1936. That's her in character in the above photo. She has only 14 credits under her name at IMDb, some in TV, the last in 1951. There was a big to-do when the press found out she was born in Brooklyn, not Europe. Goldwyn turned on her, which seems silly, as she was in Norway from the age of one to her mid 30's. She had a twin brother who, according to her bio, treated her cruelly. Knut Haukelid was a WWII hero of the Norwegian underground. The Heroes of Telemark (1965), starring Richard Harris, was based on his exploits, although they changed his name to Straud for the movie. Sigrid married and divorced three times. She became a talented artist. In 1969 at the age of 58, she succumbed to an embolism while living in Mexico. When her brother found out, he suffered an embolism himself, but survived and lived until 1994. There are several beautiful landscapes on her google photo page, but there was no attribution to her on any. Here's a painting that had it:

What was playing on the radio in the bagel shop? - Baby It's Cold Outside, which has recently been attacked by leftists. I chuckled. No one complained.

Fortunately, there were no parking spots available near the scaffold, which had me shunning the temptation to open the floating book shop on this rainy day. I tended to chores, read and did a crossword puzzle. I also found some old photographs that may bring smiles to the the faces of the subjects. I will post one every Thursday at Facebook for about two months.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/15 - States of Mind

Mental illness is a tricky subject for writers. I haven't explored it, although I've created a few characters who are nuts. In those instances, the portrayals are not defined by clinical diagnosis. Last night I watched an odd independent film, Aardvark (2017), courtesy of Netflix. It's the story of a schizophrenic, played by Zachary Quinto, Mr. Spock in the current incarnation of big screen Star Trek. He visits a new therapist who has major issues of her own, played by Jenny Slate, who has a solid career going, particularly in lending her voice to animation. Jon Hamm of Mad Men plays the protagonist's successful actor brother. Sheila Vand plays a woman attracted to the disturbed. She also is on a nice career run. Are the three supporting characters real or figments of a misfiring brain? I suspect it's the latter, although I cannot say for sure. I have no idea what the title and shots of an aardvark imply. The tone is subdued for the most part. Is it a good film? I can say only that it's different, although I'm sure most people would bail on it quickly. Fortunately, it runs less than 90 minutes. Brian Shoaf wrote the screenplay and directed it, his first full length big screen work after a couple of shorts and TV movies. I wonder if it went straight to video, as there is no listing of it at Box Office Mojo. I'm sure its production cost was minimal. 300+ users at IMDb have rated it, forging to a consensus of 4.2 on a scale of ten. My guess is that only a small fraction of movie fans would stick with it to the end. Here's a montage of the principals in character:

Life being what it is, I was not surprised when I ran into Andu on my morning walk. In his early 30's, a talented artist, he's in an epic struggle with mental health. He's on meds that limit his sleep, so he's frequently out walking in the wee hours. He was conversing with a homeless man when he spotted me. He feels a kinship with them, especially with a guy I've dubbed Ol' Smoky, whom I haven't seen in a while. Andu accompanied me even to Stop n Shop. The security guard was active, trailing someone. I'm not sure if it was Andu he was watching. We left without incident. He said that when he first arrived from communist Romania he looked at supermarkets as a wonderland. Sadly, he seems to be suffering delusions of being recruited by Navy intelligence, and of a possible affair with Taylor Swift, with whom he is in contact at Instagram. I never know how to address his flights of fancy. I know it's futile to argue with someone in his state of mind, so I accept all he says. Is that worse? Does it encourage even more delusions? All I know is that it is all very sad.

My state of mind is sound after today's session of the floating book shop, even though the mist put the kibosh on setting up on Bay Parkway. Minutes before I was going to close down, I spotted the Latino gentleman approaching on his bike. He bought nine more DVD's and, as usual, paid much more than I asked. Gracias, amigo. My thanks also to the woman who purchased three thrillers in Russian, and to the young man who selected an entry in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/14 - A Passing, An Arrival & A Panacea

RIP Nancy Wilson, 81, consummate artist, personification of class and dignity.  Her career spanned more than five decades, from the mid 1950's to the early 2010's. Although her singles did not chart very high, she won three Grammys, recorded more than 70 albums, and played concerts around the world. She also acted. There are 19 titles under her name at IMDb. She is a member of  the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, and the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. My favorite track of hers is the gut-wrenching I Can't Make You Love Me, composed by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, a hit for Bonnie Raitt. She had a regal presence but came off as completely down to earth. Kudos, madam. Thank you.

Look who dropped in to the California Academy of Sciences:

From Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yours truly: Once a month for the last decade, Pepe Casanas, a 78-year-old Cuban farmer, has hunted down a scorpion with which to sting himself, believing its venom wards off the pain of rheumatism. Researchers believe the stuff does have anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties, and may even be able to delay tumor growth in some cancer patients. A pharmaceutical firm has been using it to manufacture the homeopathic medicine Vidatox. The company sends out workers to capture the critters. It has 6000 at its lab. Once a month they're hit with an 18V electrical jolt that triggers the release of a few drops of venom. In Cuba, a vial costs under a dollar. On the black market abroad it can cost a hundred times that. Retailers at Amazon are selling it for up to $140.

My thanks to the sweet elderly woman who donated a book in Russian, and to Barry, who donated two works of non-fiction on NYC gangsters, one of which, 

Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935 by Patrick Downey, was scooped up by Candy. Thanks also to the old-timer who selected two thrillers in Russian, and to the woman who chose My Last Breath by radical Mexican filmmaker Luis Bunuel and Book of Angels by Sylvia Browne; and to the gentleman who bought two DVD's.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/13 - Old & Young

From, edited by yours truly: Irene O’Shea celebrated her 102nd birthday by becoming the oldest person ever to skydive. The stunt raised money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, which took her daughter’s life years ago. Kudos. Here's the intrepid Aussie:

Also from fnc, edited by yt: Caroline and Isabel Bercaw started Da Bomb Bath Fizzers in their parents’ kitchen when they were 10 and 11 years old respectively. Six years later the products can be found in over 15,000 stores nationwide. They are packed mixtures of dry ingredients that bubble and hiss when wet, used to add oils, bubbles, scent or colors to bathwater. Da Bomb had more than $10 million in revenue in 2017 and is expected to hit $20 million this year. Caroline said: "... we wanted to make our own because a lot of times it would stain the tub.” All together: "Now why didn't I think of that?"

I thought getting a book to market this year would be easier than in the past, as everything in the manuscript file seemed in order. Amazon suggests that it be converted to PDF, which is more compatible with their printer. Fortunately, there are sites that allow one to do it for free, and its simple. I us I also add page numbers there, as it is so easy compared to the process in Word. One aspect worried me this time. Amazon's requirements seem stricter than in the past. For some reason, places the page number way at the bottom. In the past it wasn't a problem. This year Amazon wouldn't accept the file because the numbers were deemed outside the margin, which meant I had to wrestle with doing the task in Word. I cursed up a storm during the first fall before my morning walk, and the second after I'd read the newspaper. I was so juiced I knew playing the guitar was out of the question this day. After a break, I went back at it. I divided the manuscript into two sections, hoping I'd be able to begin the numbering at the start of the second. It worked to a degree. The numbering would not start with page one. No matter what I did I couldn't make it work. By some fluke, I inadvertently divided the file into three sections - I don't even know how - and that did the trick. To illustrate how silly the Word system is - the first section was three pages, the second one, the third about 260. I've ordered the first proof copy. Now I'll have to guard against mucking up the page numbers if corrections are needed. I'm sure they will be. I don't understand why the eggheads at Microsoft don't look into the PDF method.

My mood really lifted after that, so much so that I decided to open the floating book shop despite the cold and drizzle, the latter of which was kept out by the scaffold. I was hoping to snag someone interested in books in Russian or the impressive inventory of DVD's. None of those sold, but several books did. My thanks to Ira, who bought two Time-Life instructionals on Kitchens and Bathrooms; and to Barry, who purchased Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World by Noam Chomsky & David Barsamian; and to Maria, who selected A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber; and to the young man who settled his tab. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Writer's Life 12/12 - Grave Matters

A tisket, a tasket, a pink and silver casket. Polish coffin-makers Lindner has published a calendar since 2010. The price for the 2019's is £30. Here's one of the pics. "I love, I love my calendat girl...":

The left is hoping Michael Cohen's payments on behalf of President Trump to Stormy Daniels and the Playboy model will be ruled illegal campaign contributions and be grounds for an indictment. According to an editorial at, since 1997 the swamp has shelled out $15.2 million of taxpayer money in a hush fund created to silence complaints against congressmen accused of sexual harassment. Now that's bipartisanship.

I was watching a video at youtube today and the guy in it mentioned, which is designed for those who opt to use an over-the-air antenna. Once, there, I punched in my area code, 11235, and a chart came up indicating the stations that should be available at my location. At the top of the list is ABC, the origin of the signal only 9.1 miles away. For some reason I don't receive it, probably because I'm on the second floor of a six story building. WPIX is the same distance away, and it doesn't come in either. 

Yesterday when I submitted the novel I intend to self-publish a message came up stating that the margins on many pages needed to be adjusted or words would be cut off at the outer edge. I followed the instructions given and the page count increased considerably. That would increase the production cost. On a hunch I decided to reduce the font to ten-point. That solved the issue, and reduced the page count from 304 to 261. Trouble is, I forgot to add page numbers to the new file - duh! That will delay the process at least another day. Oy.

The forecast was wrong again. Clouds rolled into the area and it got so cold I had to close the floating book shop about 40 minutes earlier than planned. My thanks to the gentleman who bought a book in Russian.