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Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/19 - Puzzling Work

Sometimes a movie is so baffling I seek help in understanding it. Such is the case with The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), which I watched last night courtesy of Netflix. The Murphy's are the epitome of a happy American family. The father is a successful heart surgeon, the mother also has a well-paying job. The older sister is a talented singer, her younger brother wants to be a surgeon. The doctor is befriended by a teenager on whom he operated, whose father died on the operating table a few years back. Was the doctor inebriated during that procedure? That is never confirmed. In fact, a lot of the narrative is left unexplained. Somehow, the teenager manages to get into in the psyches of the kids. Despite showing all signs of being healthy, they suffer leg paralysis. The teenager threatens to kill the entire family if retribution is not made. Clearly, the supernatural is at work, although the viewer will never know the how of it. Is there greater meaning than a simple tale of revenge? There are many clues throughout. Sexuality seems to be a key. The husband and wife role play, the daughter has just had her first period, the father relates a bizarre moment from his past, and he fights off an aggressive play from his tormentor's mother. I was unable to figure out the meaning of all that in relation to the story. Perhaps it is simply coloring. I googled the title and found interesting analysis at taylorholmes.com, who says: "It’s a story of debt, loss, payment and retribution... of Justice." He also suspects it is criticism of the USA: "America is continuing to unrepentantly pillage the world to keep its place at the top of the pyramid." That is not unreasonable analysis, although I believe the accusation is bunk. As for the title, it is based on Greek mythology. In the build up to the Trojan War, Agamemnon accidentally kills a deer in Artemis’ sacred grove. Artemis punishes him by stopping the winds to keep his fleet from sailing to Troy. A seer tells Agamemnon he must sacrifice his eldest daughter in order to appease the goddess. It's no surprise that the director of the film is Greek, Yorgo Lanthimos, who co-wrote the screenplay with a countryman, Efthymis Filippou. The scenario won the Palme D'or at Cannes. Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and, briefly, Alicia Silverstone, bring their considerable talents to the role of parents, but the kids steal the show: Barry Keoghan as the weirdo teen, and Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Sulsic as the doctor's children. The film runs two hours and is slow-paced, not for the impatient. One aspect I really enjoyed was the score, which is attributed to a team of five. It is eerie and entirely unmelodic at times. 59,000+ users at IMDb have rated The Killing..., forging to a consensus of 7.1 on a scale of ten. Apparently, many understood it a lot better than I. I'm not comfortable rating such a work, so I won't, but I do admire artists who create such unusual fare, whether I agree with its themes or not. Those who want things spelled out should pass. It took in only $2+ million at the box office. I doubt it recouped its costs even after DVD sales and rentals and streaming. Still, it's good to see challenging work is still done occasionally. Here's a pic of the cast and the bearded director:



Best of luck to Harry and Meghan.

The floating book shop was rained out today. My thanks to whomever downloaded Present and Past to Kindle.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/18 - Choices

Our national curse continues. At least ten more young lives have been snuffed out by someone surrendering to the most negative impulse. WTF?

I've been very disciplined for a while now in not responding to the posts of liberals on Facebook. I'm also avoiding politics in live contact. When someone says it's time for an assault weapons ban, I don't say it would probably not stop our national curse, even though I'm now in favor of a ban. When Political Man goes into one of his anti-Trump screeds, I just stand there and listen and, when he leaves, say: "Have a good one, buddy." When Mountain Man grouses about how idiotic everyone is but him, I grin and bear it, even though he sometimes goes on for a half-hour. When finally he departs, I wish him well. He's obviously intelligent, well-read, and I wonder if ill health and limited finances have made him so negative. Today, when Gary, a really nice guy, said he can't wait to see the new flick, Book Club, starring two of his favorites, Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda, I was barely tempted to voice my profound contempt for the latter. When a retired cabbie uses the N-word, I don't repudiate him. I simply wonder if he harbors such hatred because he was robbed at least once at gunpoint. If all that makes me a hypocrite, so be it. I wasted enough time and energy on heated arguments in my youth. I hope the following quote is true: "Avoiding an argument does not mean you have given up, it means you have grown up." - Saqib Iqbal. It's not always easy, but the following pic sums up life's choices. Make yours. I've learned that 99% of my unhappiness is of my own making. I've gotten better at happiness but still have a long way to go.


It felt more like mid-April than mid-May today. At least it didn't rain. The floating book shop has been stationed under the scaffold for eleven of the past twelve sessions. Unfortunately, two more days of precipitation is in the forecast. I miss my Bay Parkway regulars. My thanks to the kind folks who donated and bought wares today. Here's what sold: A book on French cooking, three thrillers in Russian, CD compilations of Eric Clapton, Placido Domingo, Shakira and Andre Segovia, DVD's starring JLo and Beyonce, and several bootleg movies.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/17 - Worries

Alfred E. Newman played a round of golf in Hawaii:




In his business column in today's NY Post, John Crudele points out a couple of scams. Certain NYC mom and pop stores are selling fake stamps at half price. He alerted postal inspectors, who claimed the problem is unsolvable. He doesn't know how widespread it is, if it involves big bucks. Just this week the post office announced it has lost $65 billion in the past eleven years, a sum covered by tax payers through congress, maddening proof of government inefficiency and indifference. The second scam involves prison inmates, to which Crudele was alerted by a retired corrections officer. "Convicts fake illnesses, get medication they don't need and spit the pills out on the lawn outside the medical facilities, all so they can build a case for disability that will pay off nicely once they get released." The amount of fraud occurring in this great country is staggering. In this particular instance, it might be worth it if the beneficiaries, once sprung, eschewed crime.

Betsy McCaughey addresses more government malfeasance in her op-ed piece. 5% of the population consumes almost 50% of all health care dollars. Everyone enrolled in Obamacare, whose rates are rising astronomically, pays the same premium. She points out that every proposal made by Republicans planned to pay for the care of those with pre-existing conditions through a general fund - and still nothing was done. Democrats play politics by blaming Republicans for the costs rather than admitting the disaster that is the ACA, and working on something more sane.

An Australian diner is equipping patrons with water guns to ward off seagulls, Here's a pic:


It was too wet under the scaffold - and still raining, so I decided to take the floating book shop to an old haunt, the viaduct at East 15th. Since at 68 I'm not the man I used to be, I brought only Russian books and CD's & DVD's. I didn't sell any wares, but a compassionate old-timer deposited four bucks in one of the boxes. Thank you, sir. The display was about a fifth of its normal size. Here's a pic:



Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/16 - Keeps on Trucking

Born in 1939, Fred Willard has had a long career in Hollywood. There are 305 titles listed under his name at IMDb, an astonishing number in any age, especially this one. And that total doesn't tell the whole story, as he has made multiple appearances on TV series, which, if added to the number, would boost it to the neighborhood of 500. He made 65 appearances on Fernwood Tonight alone, another 37 on America 2-night. He was on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno 80 times. As a young man, he worked one year with Chicago's famed 2nd City comedy troupe and was a founding member of another, the Ace Trucking Company. He has worked steadily since 1966, acting on the big and small screen or doing voice-overs for animated series. Along the way he wrote scripts for two TV movies and also had two crime novels published. His first, Down on Ponce, issued in 1997, has gone through at least five printings. A copy came my way via a donation to the floating book shop. It has a terrific beginning: a career criminal is paid $30,000 to kill a man's wife. Instead of carrying out the hit, he tells the woman to vamoose and runs off with the money. This sets off a series of deadly events. He falls in with a group of three thieves and hatches a plan to rip off drug money launderers. First the protagonist must bust a friend out of the loony bin. The characterizations are colorful. Each member of the crew had a horrific childhood, which explains the extreme cynicism. While none of the novel's complete cast of characters is portrayed in a good light, Republicans are especially drawn as hypocritical and evil. I became less and less engrossed throughout the narrative. Fortunately, it is only 279 pages and reads like considerably less. Set in Atlanta, the title refers to a street in a seedy section. Although not averse to killing, the protagonist is not completely devoid of conscience. At one point he muses: "... small payment on my karmic debt. I don't know if I will ever get off the hook." Later, he considers writing a self-help book and comes up with four rules. Here are parts of three: "1. ... by choosing the profession of Criminal, you are following in the proud tradition of the buccaneers, highwaymen, gunslingers, and robber barons who have made our country the interesting place it is... 2. If you find yourself the object of frequent probes, investigations or arrests, perhaps your crimes aren't big enough or your friends aren't important enough... 4. If they want you to talk, they don't have a case." I wish there'd been more stuff like that. Fans of action and high body counts would likely be pleased. Those, such as me, who only occasionally dabble in such fare will realize why they don't do so more often. Surprisingly, only 15 readers have rated the book at Amazon, forging to a consensus of 3.6 on a scale of five. I rate it 2.75. It is still selling modestly. Anyone squeamish about bloodletting should pass. Down on Ponce seems like a perfect vehicle for Quentin Tarantino to adapt to the screen. Here's a pic of the author back in the day:


So Dear Leader is threatening to pull out of the summit with the President. Is this an attempt at leverage? Maybe he's been studying Trump's The Art of the Deal.

The scaffold again enabled the floating book shop to open for business, keeping out the light rain. And once again the fact that the weather has nothing to do with sales was corroborated. The crates were on a lot lighter when I lugged them back to the car. My thanks to professor/author Barry Spunt, who bought They Thought for Themselves: Ten Amazing Jews by Sid Roth and Miss America by Howard Stern, and to Ira, who bought a hardcover on true ghost stories; and to the gentleman who selected a handsome art pictorial in Russian; to Michael, who took home three paperback romances; to the gentleman who bought Stephen King's The Shining; and to the young man who purchased the huge Nat-Geo pictorial.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/15 - What Comes Natural

It's no surprise the Supreme Court has all but legalized sports betting. Spendthrift pols nationwide are desperate for revenue. Slimeballs will now have plenty of cash to pass to those who will get them re-elected. Will there be a downside? I suppose there will be an uptick in gambling addicts, and states will employ cutthroat tactics competing with each other for the public's money. I believe the pluses will outweigh the minuses financially. As for the moral argument, it was defeated long ago - porn, pot, etc. - and there's no going back.

Here's a pic for the ages. While the gentleman is proposing to his lady love, her son decides to do what comes natural. It happened in Bay City, Michigan, while the guy's 11-year-old daughter was shooting video:


RIP wildly successful author Tom Wolfe, 88. Like so many writers, he began as a journalist. He earned a PhD at Yale, and is cited as a founder of the New Journalism, in which literary elements are employed in articles. He is credited with coining the term "radical chic," which skewers the left. He may also be the one who came up with "The Me Decade" and "Trophy Wife." His career took off with the publication of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which profiles proponents of LSD. The Right Stuff honors America's astronauts, and was adapted to the screen memorably in 1983. I get chills when I conjure the film's final scene - Chuck Yeager, played by Sam Shepard, emerging from the smoke after a plane crash. The Bonfires of the Vanities, his first novel, takes on the culture of certain Wall Street traders, and was adapted to the big screen in 1990. In all, he published 13 works of non-fiction, four novels and countless articles, earning him many awards as well as legions of fans.. A cinematic opera of Bonfire... is in post-production. Well done, sir. Here he is in a white suit, his trademark:


My thanks to the woman who purchased CD compilations of Elton John and The Eagles, to the woman who bought a thriller in Russian, and to the Frenchman, who selected Eramus' In Praise of Folly; and to the gentleman who came along as I was closing shop and took home four DVD's. The beautiful sunshine has been chased by dark clouds. Severe thunderstorms are expected.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/14 - Superwomen

RIP Canadian-born actress Margot Kidder, 69, who will always be remembered as the big screen's first Lois Lane in the four films of the Christopher Reeve Superman series. She did a lot more than that, including voice-overs for animated series. Equally at home on the big or small screen, she has 135 titles beneath her name at IMDb. From 1968 forward she had at least one credit in almost every year, despite struggling with mental health issues. Here's a still from the memorable scene that will live on:


I've been doing a lot of scanning at youtube lately, searching for funny bits involving wrestling legends Classie Freddie Blassie and Captain Lou Albano. Neither of those two titans is in the clip I found yesterday. It involves Mary Lillian Ellison, who came to be known by a catchier name. She is the most famous female wrestler of all-time. She wrote an autobio with Larry Platt titled, in the typically modest fashion of that bizarre profession, The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. She made her debut in 1949, and reigned on and off as the lady's champ from 1956 through her retirement in 2004. She even wrestled at the age of 80. She passed away in 2007 at 84. In 1984 she lost the belt to Wendi Richter, who was backed by Cyndi Lauper. As so often happens in pro wrestling, the loss inspired a sneak attack. Here's the clip, which is a microcosm of the wacky, madcap shenanigans I enjoy most about the sport of kings. It runs less than three minutes and co-stars Mean Gene Okerlund as the middle man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCeDpXQ74D0


Today's session of the floating book shop was very quiet. My thanks to the gentleman who purchased Dale Carnegie's Effective Speaking for his female companion, and to the woman who donated four romance novels.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Writer's Life 5/13 - Numbers

Today's NY Post is chock full of interesting articles. Peggy Noonan devotes her op-ed piece to Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and his new book, I Love Capitalism. A child of the lower middle class, he grew up on Long Island and started working at eleven, and eventually made his fortune on Wall Street.


Mary Kay Linge re-introduces Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Soviet WWII sniper who took out 309 Nazis. She toured America in 1942 and became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. So valuable to his propaganda machine, Stalin wouldn't allow her to return to combat, despite her pleas. For the first time her memoir, Lady Death, is available in English.


Reed Tucker covers the effort involved to reach Pluto, which is the subject of Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. Despite a speed of 31,000 MPH, it took the craft almost ten years to arrive at its original destination. The info it transmitted took a year to reach Earth. It discovered surprisingly diverse terrain - canyons and mountains described as geologically active. It even found a hint of water beneath the surface. It has now traveled a billion miles beyond Pluto. At the start of 2019 it is expected to photograph the Kuiper Belt, a collection of orbiting rocky bodies, then continue further and further into space, boldly going where no man has gone before.   


Oliver Libby profiles several young entrepreneurs in a two-page spread. Kudos to the Post for its defense of the system that has done far more for mankind than any other - capitalism.

In his business column, Jonathon Trugman points out a stat that was buried under the avalanche of this week's big stories: there are currently 6.6 million job openings in the USA, the highest ever recorded, more than the number of people unemployed.

As for this unabashed capitalist, for the seventh straight day I did business under the scaffold, and will do so for at least the next four, barring the unforeseen, as I secured the second best parking spot. My thanks to the young woman carrying a pizza, who bought John Grisham's The King of Torts, and to the gentleman carrying flowers, who purchased three thrillers in Russian.