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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/25 - Fascinating

An article in the NY Post led me to Wikipedia for the following facts: The Ritchie Boys were U.S. special military intelligence officers and enlisted men of WWII trained at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. 2200 of the 15,200 were German-speaking immigrants, many Jews who fled Nazi persecution, born in Germany or Austria. The group was primarily utilized for interrogation of prisoners on the front lines and counter-intelligence in Europe. Most of the men were assigned because of fluency in German, French, Italian, Polish or other languages. There is a new book out on the subject: Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson. Of course, no one is capable of remembering everything regarding such a vast event as WWII, but it is amazing how often yet another forgotten aspect is remembered, brought to light.

The Fast Takes column in the Post tagged climate scientists as "Merchants of Misery," which I had not heard before and enjoyed. It highlighted a recent article that put forth suggestions on reducing one's carbon footprint such as: Have one less child, eat a plant-based diet, live car-free, avoid air travel, let the lawn grow longer, hang clothes outside, and raise chickens in the backyard. In response I say: Being childless is the biggest regret of my life; ixnay on the total vegan stuff; I need my car to operate the floating book shop; I haven't used an airline since the late '90's, not because of any environmental concerns but because I'm one of these nuts who hates travel; I don't have a lawn; I hang my clothes to dry in the basement of the old house, although there is a dryer there; raising chickens as a form of environmental correctness seems a symptom of mental illness.

Sci-fi continues to become reality. From Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yours truly: A Wisconsin company is offering to microchip its employees, enabling them to open doors, log onto computers and purchase break room snacks at the simple swipe of the hand. Three Square Market said more than 50 employees are voluntarily getting implants at a "chip party" to be held at its headquarters. The devices, which cost $300 each, are the size of a grain of rice and are inserted underneath the skin between the thumb and forefinger using a syringe. The procedure takes a couple of seconds. The company is picking up the tab. Employees are free to opt out. Addressing privacy concerns, officials claim the data is encrypted and does not use GPS, and the chip can be removed in seconds. Michael Zimmer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, sees potential for "function creep," where the stated purpose of a technology ends up spilling over into other uses, including surveillance - ye olde unintended consequences. He prefers less invasive means like an iPhone app. Here's the chip:

My thanks to the woman who purchased the huge pictorial on Israel and novels by James Patterson and Nora Roberts, to the woman who bought two by Maeve Binchy and one by Cynthia Freeman; and to the home attendant who settled her tab.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Monday, July 24, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/24 - Money Matters

Recently, an official said taxes needed to be raised by the billions to fix NYC's subways. An editorial in today's NY Post suggested another method to find the necessary funds - ending tax subsidies for movies and TV. In the first three months of 2017, the state doled out $53.9 million in credits. $20.9 million went to The Tonight Show, $15.4 to The Good Wife, and $13.6 to Law & Order SVU. Let them sink or swim on their own. Here's another suggestion: politicians get a 50% reduction in salary.

Scott Blumstein, a Jersey guy, was the last man standing at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. 7200 participants entered. Oddly, his winning hand was a pair of deuces. He took home $8.1 million and a commemorative diamond bracelet. He has a degree in accounting from Temple University. The funniest fact in the accompanying article in the Post was that he employs a sports psychologist. The runner up took home $4.7 million. Man, it must be fun to make a living gambling. Investors face 50-50 odds. As mediocre as my stock picks have been, I've still earned at least five percent overall. Gamblers face longer odds, much longer in some cases. I've always felt I would come out way ahead betting on the major sports, but I never had the nerve to enter more than football and baseball pools. My nature is too conservative.

After yesterday's win at the British Open (I'm not calling it the pretentious "Open Championship"), Jordan Spieth now has three of the four legs of a career grand slam. After a bizarre bogey save at 13, he was brilliant down the stretch, separating himself from fellow American Matt Kuchar. He took home $1,845,000. Kuchar, 39, won $1,067,000, but I'd bet he'd trade it for a victory in a major. After all, his solid career has earned him a lot of money. He has won 13 events. This was his first runner up in a major. He has now been in the top ten seven times. He should have other chances, but one never knows. His best play may come in non-majors.

I dressed stupidly twice today. When I left the apartment just after 10:30, it was sprinkling. I'd just listened to the forecast, which said the rain would be stopping at lunch time, so I assumed the intensity would diminish rather than intensify. I didn't go back to the apartment for my rain jacket. By the time I reached Stop n Shop's recycling center, I was soaked. Later, when the rain stopped at about 11:30, I went out without a jacket, which was as dumb as not keeping one in the car - just in case. The temperature may have been 70, but the cloud cover and wind made it feel a lot cooler. I tried to jake myself by thinking what a relief it was from last week's heat, but it didn't work. After two hours, I was shivering a bit. Fortunately Jeannette, my dentist's wife. came along and bought Five Cents, the only sale of the session. My thanks. My back was stiff as I walked home, but it's loosened up since. A 67-year-old should know better.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/23 - Far from Thin

Last night PBS in NYC ran Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), the fourth of the six pairings of Hollywood royals William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. Overall, they did 14 films together. No screen couple has ever had better chemistry. The Thin Man films are characterized by snappy dialogue. The screenplay for Shadow... was written by Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz. It was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who was at the helm of 93 movies in his short life. He died at 53. Here are some lines from a list at IMBd:
Nick Charles: I want to know something about apartment 25C. What I want to know is, how long did Rainbow Benny live in that apartment?
Greek Janitor: Oh, no long. He's move in last night at seven and he's a dead at ten.

Nick Charles: I tell you what, you go home, cold cream that lovely face, slip into an exciting negligee...
Nora Charles: Yes.
Nick Charles: And I'll see you at breakfast.

Lieutenant Abrams, played by Sam Levene: Is this your gun?
Paul Clarke, played by Barry Nelson, boyfriend of Donna Reed's character: No. No. It was Whitey's and it hasn't been fired.
Lieutenant Abrams: So it hasn't been fired? Then its usin' a new perfume! Burnt powder!

Nora Charles: Did Daddy read you a story?
Nick Charles Jr.: Yes.
Nora Charles: Tell Mommy the story.
Nick Charles Jr.: Son-of-a-Gun is 40 to 1.

Lieutenant Abrams: [Reading the "laundry list" found in Whitey Barrow's pocket] Three bloomers, twenty-five kimonos, ten slips, five panties, fifteen chemises.
Nora Charles: Sounds like wash day at Vassar.

Claire Porter aka Clara Peters, played by famed acting teacher Stella Adler: I haven't killed a jockey in weeks. Really.

'Link' Stephens: You're gonna see some great wrestling tonight.
Nick Charles: How do you know? Were you at the rehearsal?

Lieutenant Abrams: You know that jockey Golez, the one who was caught throwing the fourth race yesterday? He was shot.
Nora Charles: My, they're strict at this track!

Nora Charles: He's getting more like his father everyday.
Estrellita, played by Louise Beavers: He sure is. This morning he was playing with a corkscrew.

RIP John Heard, 72, consummate Hollywood supporting player. There are 178 titles listed under his name at IMDb, which include six that will be released posthumously. Equally at ease on the big or small screen, he was particularly adept in the role of white collar criminal, which he did on all three of the Law & Order incarnations. Well done, sir.

My thanks to the young Asian woman who purchased Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James, and to Bad News Billy, who grossly over paid for Bush league: a History of Minor League Baseball by Robert Obojski, and to the elderly couple who donated about a dozen paperback best sellers.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/22 - Forgotten Film Resurrected

Certain movies fall through the cracks, go lost for decades. Such was the case with Something Wild (1961), starring the lovely Carroll Baker, which I watched last night courtesy of Netflix. Shot in black and white, mostly in Manhattan, it is the story of the rape of a college student on her way home from classes at City College. She keeps it to herself. There are long stretches without dialogue, something I've always loved as long as sound accompanies it. It is easy to empathize with what the young woman is thinking and feeling. The best scene occurs during a morning after commute on a packed subway car, fueled by the pulsating score of Aaron Copland, one of the 20th Century's most renowned composers. The music during the opening credits burst from the speakers, and it immediately had me wondering who was behind it. I paid a lot more attention to the soundtrack than usual. The first hour or so of the narrative focuses entirely on the psychological effects of the ordeal. It takes an odd turn when the character is saved from jumping off a bridge by a mechanic played by Ralph Meeker. Are the ensuing circumstances plausible? I think so, given that the young woman has not sought counseling. Who's to say how she would behave? The major flaw is the lack of development of the male's character. The leads are outstanding. Meeker has always been under-rated. The supporting cast features several Hollywood stalwarts. Mildred Dunnock and Clifton James play the parents, left by the young woman without a word or trace. Jean Stapleton plays a wacky neighbor, Doris Roberts a co-worker. It is a solid, interesting film worth resurrecting. Based on the novel by Alex Karmel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jack Garfein, who directed, it runs a bit less than two hours. The pace is deliberate. 61 users at IMDb have rated Something Wild, forging to a consensus of 6.8 on a scale of ten. The title, which suggests something light, does not fit the ultra-serious tone of the scenario. Perhaps something was lost in its adaptation from book to screen. Garfein, who met Baker at the famed Actor's Studio and later married her, has an interesting history. Born in Czechoslavakia, he survived Auschwitz, where he was sent at 15. He has only four screen credits, two of them in TV. He also directed plays. His union with Baker lasted 14 years and produced two children. Born in Johnstown, Pa. in 1931, Baker's real name is Karolina Piekarski. She had a solid career that spanned 50 years and included an Oscar nomination for Baby Doll (1956). She has 83 titles listed under her name at IMDb. Here's a great quote attributed to her: "When Clark Gable kissed me, they had to carry me off the set." That was in But Not for Me (1959). She retired to care for her third husband, and has not taken a role since 2003. Here's a still from the film. Meeker passed away in 1988 at 67.

My thanks to Jonathan's mom, who allowed him to select The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg and Licence To Kill by John Gardner, a novelization of the film starring Timothy Dalton, one of the 16 Bond novels the author did. Jonathon, 14, will be attending Brooklyn Tech in September. He has grown past six feet. I asked if he will be playing football. He said no. The coach will be very disappointed. It was another tough session weather-wise. I hope the forecast, which predicts an end to the heat wave, is right.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/21 - The Good, the Bad & the Sad

The mainstream media would have Americans believe Trump is batting zero. Yesterday, radio talk show host Mark Simone, a personal friend and staunch supporter of the President, mentioned a list of the accomplishments during the first six months of the administration. Many of the 50 are too vague to be taken seriously, or haven't been finalized ("Working to" is not an accomplishment, although there is hope that it eventually will be.). The one about low unemployment is bogus, as many have become too discouraged to look for work and are not represented in the figure, same as during Obama's reign. Real unemployment is probably at least nine percent and may be as high as 20%. Here are the items I find noteworthy, many reworded by yours truly: Appointed Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; Withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership; Opened first new coal mine in decades; Will continue Keystone & Dakota Pipelines; Selling Energy to Poland; Pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord; Signed more than 13 Congressional Review Acts; Signed 30 executive orders; Eliminated many Obama era executive orders; Signed 40 bills into law, including holdovers from before he took office; Set ICE loose to make 41,000 arrests; Refugee intake reduced by 50%; Federal deficit reduced by $100 billion (Why isn't this being publicized or, if not true, refuted?); Job creation increasing (Still inadequate, however). Here's the entire list so that you can decide for yourself. Leftists will be appalled, of course. Everyone from left of center to the extreme right should read it make up his/her own mind. Don't let the talking heads do it for you:


Another day, another disaster for the NYC transit system. A train derailed in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, just one stop away from our neighborhood. A fleet of ambulances and maintenance trucks was lined up along Sheepshead Bay Road and into Avenue Z, curbside where I set up the floating book shop. Fortunately, there was only one minor injury. Unfortunately, service was disrupted. Packed shuttle buses transported commuters from the stations that had been shut down to the one that services our stretch. Access to Coney Island was unavailable on the D/Q line.

A stiff breeze made conditions a lot more tolerable than yesterday. Several people noted how different it felt passing under the scaffold than in the sun. My thanks to the sweet middle age woman returning from her daily shopping, who purchased Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly by Dean Ornish, and Eat Great, Lose Weight: Eat All the Foods You Love by Suzanne Somers. I sense a theme there. Thanks also to Ira, who bought two more Hollywood bios, Fred Astaire and Vivien Leigh. He must have the history of just about every star from the Golden Age in his library by now. My thanks also to the gentleman who bought a book on Judaism. He's the first person from Tajikistan I've ever met. He's trying to make it in real estate. The only fiction sale of the session went to a middle age woman who showed me what she's reading, one of those historical novels on the kings and queens of England that became popular about a decade ago. It prompted me to fish The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland out of its place in the display. The lady beamed.

I was witness to an ugly side of life. A handsome man in his early 20's came stumbling along, obviously intoxicated. He happened to make his return the same time as Nell, a lovely middle age woman who always wishes me well. She cared enough to engage him. He put an open bottle of prescription drugs to his mouth and swallowed a few pills. Nell asked what we should do. I had no clue. Had she owned a cell phone she would have called the cops, even though the kid mentioned he was carrying heroin. He also said he was ready to jump off a building. Nell hit the nail on the head in saying he was too stoned to be making any decisions. I sensed he was issuing a cry for help. She mentioned the program at Coney Island Hospital. He asked her to come with him. She balked, then started walking with him. They'd made it through two of the eight block journey before I lost sight of them. While they were beside me, one of my main benefactors arrived with four books. She mentioned that her daughter, 25, who worked for the Board of Education, died of an overdose of oxycodone. All I could say was how sorry I was to hear that. I imagine the parents of the young man are heartbroken over his state. Hopefully Nell is the angel that leads him to recovery.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/20 - Rejection

Here's a list of famous entertainers who were not dissuaded by brutal rejections, gleaned from, edited heavily by yours truly. The original piece was written by Garry Pullman: When Boy George made his desire to become a musician known to his career counselor, the adviser laughed in his face and suggested he consider working in a factory... Following his audition for admission to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Gary Oldman was told he couldn't act and should seek another career... Most Hollywood talent evaluators told Arnold Schwarzenegger his hope of transitioning from bodybuilding into acting was a pipe dream given the three strikes already against him: accent, overly developed body, unpronounceable name... In the 1960's Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood were fired on the same day. Eastwood was terminated because of his looks. Reynolds said: “They told him his Adam’s apple stuck out too far, he talked too slow and he had to get that chipped tooth fixed.” When Reynolds asked why he was fired, he was told: “You can’t act.” As the canned duo left the premises, Reynolds told Eastwood: “You’re in a hell of a lot of trouble. I’ll eventually learn to act. You’ll never get rid of that Adam’s apple!”... When Sidney Poitier auditioned for his first role in a play, the director told him: “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”... The individual who evaluated Fred Astaire's first screen test said: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.”... When Brad Pitt auditioned for a part in The Accused (1988), starring Jodie Foster, his performance elicited “three seconds of silence” followed by the question: “Have you ever thought about acting classes?”... After an audition, Elvis Presley was told not to give up his job as a truck driver - because he was “never going to make it as a singer.” And the rest is history.

My thanks to the young mom who didn't reject me, who bought three works of non-fiction, among them Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, and Walking the Weight Off for Dummies. I was lucky she didn't leave in a huff. When I pointed out one of Suzanne Summers' diet books, she looked me in the eye and said: "I'm not fat." In the business, that's what's called a faux pas. Thanks also to Ludmilla, who bought a book in Russian. She's working part time selling organic supplements. She gave me the hard sell, pulling out charts that showed how much she and her recruits had earned recently. I rejected her as gently as possible, saying I'd rather sell books. Undeterred, she said to ask for her card when I'm ready. My thanks also to the Jewish Meals on Wheels lady, who gave me two dinners, one of which I just had, some kind of sausage mix and veggies that wasn't bad. I'll have the other for lunch tomorrow. The heat was brutal. Fortunately, the old Hyundai was only 15 yards away. Unfortunately, I had to move it for the Alternate Side regulation. If I don't get it close tomorrow, I might not set up shop. It's supposed to be another scorcher. I hate doing it, but I have to make concessions to age.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Writer's Life 7/19 - Zahir

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, Paulo Coelho worked as a director, theater actor, songwriter and journalist before becoming one of the world's most popular authors. It is estimated that there are 165 million copies of his works in print. He has been published in 150 countries, translated in 56 languages. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated book, The Alchemist. His path to success was not easy. At 17 his parents had him committed to a mental institution, from which he escaped three times before being released at the age of 20. In the 1960's he lived for a time as a hippie, traveling through South America, North Africa, Mexico, and Europe, using drugs. In 1974 he was arrested by the ruling military government of Brazil, which had taken power ten years earlier and viewed his lyrics as left-wing, dangerous. I just finished The Zahir: A Novel of Obsession, published in 2005. The title is Arabic and means "the present" or "unable to go unnoticed... something that occupies our every thought, until we can think of nothing else... considered a state of holiness or of madness." The object can be a person, job or objective. The main character is a successful writer, married for ten years to a renowned journalist, his fourth wife. One day she leaves, and he has no idea why. The mystery consumes him. He muses: "Everything seems to be in its place, but beneath the surface lies the unknown, the darkness, the incessant search for self." Eventually he embarks on a quest to find her. He comes into contact with an immigrant from Kazakhstan who may have been her lover. The young man leads a performance group that proposes spirituality without formal religion, "a celebration of the miracle of daily life." Its aim is "... to forget who we think we are in order to become who we really are." I'm not spiritual, so it was hard for me to relate to this new age-type thinking. And even though I went through a ten-year obsession over a woman, I found the character's unconvincing, as so many lovers come into and out of his life, including a famous French actress immediately after the departure of his wife. Eventually, the Zahir becomes society and not the woman. I related much more to the author's literary obligations, although I'm at the very bottom of the writer's totem pole and have no experience in the role of popular author. At one point he defends himself against his critics, musing: "If a book isn't self-explanatory, then the book isn't worth reading." And later: "... Why do I write? ... because I want to be loved." That was certainly my main objective at first. Now, at 67, the denial or defiance of death has entered the picture. I also related to his thoughts on the bittersweet mystery that is life. 489 readers at Amazon have rated The Zahir, forging to a consensus of 4.3 on a scale of five. I say 3.5. I didn't have the nerve to go to three, as I don't want to come off as a complete idiot, downgrading someone who is so highly regarded. Coelho dedicated the novel to his wife. Unlike the character, he has been married to the same woman since 1980. I would be remiss not to mention that this was the smoothest translation I've ever read. Kudos to Margaret Jull Costa, a Brit who specializes in such work. The 296 pages of the large paperback edition were as easy a read as can be.

Is the floating book shop a Zahir? I'll let others decide that. Today's session tilted all the way to the madness possibility rather than the holiness - not a single sale despite an impressive array of books, great variety. Fortunately, it wasn't a total waste of time. A middle-aged Latina with bewitching eyes donated a second bag o'books that included four in Spanish. To repay her generosity, I suggested she select one of mine. She chose A Hitch in Twilight. Is this progress? Doubt it, but at least I know she will attempt to read it. My thanks also to the retired Russian super just back from his house in the Hamptons, who donated two works of non-fiction, and to the couple who pulled up in an SUV as I was packing up. I repressed a groan when they asked if I wanted books they had planned to donate to the library, which doesn't accept such gifts anymore. Among the ten or so, an interesting blend of fiction and non, was a copy of The Zahir. I laughed out loud.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
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