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Friday, April 20, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/20 - Legomania

A blurb in today's NY Post led me to an article at Here's the gist, edited by yours truly: A 15-year-old autistic boy from Iceland used 56,000 Legos to build a replica of the Titanic. He did it when he was ten. It is 26-feet-long, five-feet-tall, four-feet wide, and took eleven months, roughly 700 hours, to complete. His mom and grandfather provided encouragement. Before starting the project, he had trouble with communication and social interaction. That changed as people began to ask questions about the replica. He was finally able to look people in the eye, which thrilled his mom. His grades rose and his classmates began seeing him as another kid, not just autistic. The replica has been on display all over the world and is now at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Well done, young man. Here's a pic: 

I've been to a Starbucks only twice, in each instance waiting for a friend. I bought hot chocolate, which, knowing me, probably cost in the neighborhood of two bucks, perhaps less. Whenever I've gone into a fast food joint for an emergency bathroom break, I asked a person at the counter if it required a purchase. After this week's debacle, everyone now knows where to go to hang out with impunity. I wonder if it will become common practice at the venues of all such businesses, and if any owners will stand up for the right to oust those who do not spend any money.

From Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yt: A four-year old Massachusetts pre-school student told her mom she wasn't allowed to call a classmate "best friend." In a letter to the family, officials said it had been their experience that the use of the term, even in a loving way, led to some children feeling excluded. The parents are looking for a new school for the kid.

My thanks to the woman who bought five books in Russian, and to Mike and Eddie, who each donated five books. April 20th, and I wore seven layers, including my winter coat, to ward off the cold wind. Geez.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/19 - Bookin' It

Most lists about greatness are nonsense, plagued by omissions and containing politically correct choices guaranteed to rankle readers. I kept one on novels in a file on my PC and looked through it this morning. Here are the books on it I've read and my impression years, even decades later. I omitted a few I wasn't sure I'd read, which says a lot.
James Joyce, Ulysses - Most difficult novel I've ever read, even on a second go round. Understood about 10% of it, yet it inspired me to write mine own stream of conscious novel, which will be my last book, scheduled for less than two years from now - if I make it that far.
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow - Not as hard as Ulysses, but still tough. Recall a scene involving Mickey Rooney and Winston Churchill at a party that had me laughing out loud.
William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury - I remember liking it but not much else than the family dysfunction at its core.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita - Another tough read, but a story about a man obsessed with a girl not yet 13 is easily remembered.
Toni Morrison, Beloved - Presents a sound argument about the lingering psychological effects of slavery even in the present age. Although I was/am skeptical, the argument is intelligently rendered.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse - Another tough stream of conscious novel. No recollection of the characters or story.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man - Excellent. I have great respect for its racial balance.
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises - My least favorite of Papa's works. I remember only the running of the bulls segment and a fishing expedition.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Not a stream of conscious work. I don't remember anything about it.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby - I like it, but don't think it's a masterpiece.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness - Read it because it inspired Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). Didn't like it.
Joseph Heller, Catch 22 - Loved it. Still remember a lot of it, especially Yossarian's "Them!"
George Orwell, 1984 - Respect it because it dared to skewer totalitarianism at a time, 1948, when many were unsure about communism.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath - Great.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer - Pales in comparison to Tropic of Capricorn, which takes place in Brooklyn rather than Paris, which reveals my bias.
Jack Kerouac, On the Road - Didn't relate to it.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World - Still recall "soma" and other aspects.
Richard Wright, Native Son - Solid despite the author's belief in communism.
Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust - Didn't get it.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five - "Unstuck in time" - brilliant concept.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye - The standard in books about disaffected youth.
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth - Don't remember any of it.
Phillip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle - Forced myself to read it despite not liking the premise of What if the Nazis had won?
Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange - Still remember some of it. I would not call it great.
Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead - Gritty portrait of WWII way ahead of its time. It doesn't go as far as Platoon (1986) but in a similar vein.
Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy - Solid from start to finish, although, like the Grapes of Wrath, it tends to state that those at the bottom have little hope of rising. I've never believed that about America.
If I were to make a list of my 100 favorite novels, few of the above would be on it. Even though I'm a writer, I would not feel confident enough to dub the entries the greatest. That is for time to decide.

From Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yours truly: A Grand Rapids, Michigan couple welcomed the birth of their 14th son. They have no daughters. The mom was one of 14 children herself.  Here's a recent pic of the family minus an 18-year-old. The oldest is in his 20's.

Since it was only drizzling for most of today's session of the floating book shop, the scaffold kept everything dry. The rain didn't pick up in intensity until I began packing up. The best aspect was the absence of wind for the first time this week. My thanks to the Latino gentleman who rode up on his bike and overpaid for Lincoln the Unknown by Dale Carnegie, and to Ira, who bought How to Clean Practically Anything by The Editors of Consumer Reports. He was one of several passersby who mentioned the passing of Bruno Sammartino. To my amazement, Ira believes wrestling was not choreographed back in the day. I didn't argue. He has been my best customer, all of his buys non-fiction.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/18 - A Great Lady & A Living Legend

RIP Barbara Bush, 92, that wonderful grandmotherly presence that graced the White House as First Lady. She was the wife of a president and the mom of another. This morning talk radio host Mark Simone pointed out a fact I do not recall having heard. Maiden name Pierce, Mrs. Bush was a descendant of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of this great nation. She was the epitome of class. She and her husband were married 73 years.

RIP pro wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino, 82. The strongman from Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy was wildly popular during his long run in the square circle. I fondly recall announcer Ray Morgan, during interviews, asking Bruno to address the fans in Italian. To my chagrin, I have been unable to find any of those moments at youtube. I believe they would be hilarious in retrospect. I was so young then that I took them seriously. I remember him coming down the staircase of the 25th Avenue elevated train station, duffel bag in hand, on his way to a match at the Rollerama. I was in such awe I couldn't speak. After retiring from the ring, he did color analysis for the promotional events that aired on Channel 9. His lack of polish had him come off as real. Vince McMahon Jr. dubbed him "Wrestling's Living Legend." Bravo, signore. Grazie.

Hockey is unlike other big four pro sports. It is not unusual for a lower seed to advance far in the playoffs, and it's not unprecedented for an expansion team to qualify. Last night the Las Vegas Golden Knights continued their storybook inaugural season with a first round sweep of the L.A. Kings, who won the Stanley Cup in 2012 & 2014. The Knights are the third expansion team since '68-'69 to make the playoffs, and second to win their first four games. In 1970 the Pittsburgh Penguins did it. Has an expansion franchise ever qualified for the playoffs in any other sport? Remember how reluctant pro leagues were to placing a franchise in Vegas? The Knights played to 98.6% of capacity this season, averaging 17,958 fans per game.

My thanks to the kind folks who bought, donated and swapped books today, especially the young Asian woman who bought a Readers Digest compilation, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder, and works on proper diet and the environment. For a change a couple of novels in English sold: E. M. Forster's A Passage to India and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. As usual, two thrillers in Russian were also purchased. It was another cold afternoon, but at least the sunshine took some bite out of the wind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/17 - The Real Poop

A blurb in today's NY Post reports that approximately 200 people gathered in Rome for a week long course on casting out demons, which included the use of cellphones in the practice of exorcism. Too late to help Fathers Merrin and Karras. All together now: The power of Iphone compels you.

A brief Post article focuses on TV ratings. The Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes attracted 22 million viewers. Only 9.3 million tuned in to the James Comey powwow with George Stephanopoulos. It aired the same time as the Country Music Awards, which was watched by 12.1 million. Anyone surprised by these numbers?

Here's a great pic from today's Post which - astoundingly - has yet to be posted anywhere online, at least as far as I could find as of the writing of this blog. I shot a picture of it with my own camera, so the quality is terrible. My photography skills are minimal. It's the fabulous Jennifer Lawrence, not rehearsing for a modern version of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, but in a stoop to pick up her dog's poop - just like millions of regular folks do. I love JLAW.

From Yahoo's Odd News, edited by yours truly: A North Carolina burger joint designates April as exotic meat month. In the past iguana, alligator, camels, python, turtle and various insects have been featured. This year it was tarantula, a staple of Cambodia, where the spider is mixed with salt and sugar and cooked. Since the place gets only 15 of the farmed, organically raised creatures each year, diners fill out a lottery ticket. No winner has yet to back out. One said it tastes like potato chips. Here's a pic:

My thanks to the woman who donated five books in Russian, and to Mike, whose apartment is being painted, which prompted him to lighten his cases by donating about ten books. Most were his daughters, and several have to do with magic. Ira bought three of those, as well as another ten from the Mysteries and Myths series. Thank you, sir. April 17th and I packed up an hour early because I was cold. It feels more like late February.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/16 - Departures

RIP R. Lee Ermey, 74, whose military career led to a long run in TV and movies. At 17 he was given a choice by a judge - jail or the service. He chose wisely. He spent eleven years in the Marines, 14 months in Vietnam, where he earned several medals. From 1978-'86 he appeared in only four films. Hired as an adviser for Full Metal Jacket (1987), his insight impressed Stanley Kubrick so much that the director cast him as the drill instructor, which led to nomination for a supporting actor Oscar. He is the best aspect of that otherwise disappointing film. From there his fortunes skyrocketed. He has 124 titles listed under his name at IMDb. Most of the roles are figures of authority.  Here are two quotes attributed to him: "It's my firm conviction that when Uncle Sam calls, by God we go, and we do the best that we can." "You can take a man out of the Corps, but you can't take the Corps out of the man." And here's one from Full Metal Jacket that isn't laced with profanity: "You're so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!" Well done, sir. Thank you.

RIP NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer, 81. In 1955 he was the first black to play at a public college in West Virginia, where he starred at Marshall. He was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the 76ers, and was a rare player who spent his entire career with a single franchise. In 15 seasons he averaged 19.2 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. In the playoffs he upped his scoring average to 20.4. He was a ten-time all-star, named game MVP in 1968. He guided the Sixers to the championship in 1967. In 1996 he was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. I'll always remember how the PA announcer simply said: "Greer" whenever the man scored. Well done, sir.

Here's a great pic of prom night in Minnesota:

The floating book shop opened three hours later than usual today. What a contrast there was between conditions during the storm and mid afternoon. My thanks to the gentleman who purchased The Twilight Zone Revisited. Special thanks to the woman with the bewitching eyes, who bought a discounted copy Present and Past that contains a couple of errors. Self consciously, I felt compelled to tell her there was a lot of sex in it, and she said she didn't mind. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/15 - Potpourri

How interesting that several conservative media voices disapprove of the missile attack on Syria. They hoped President Trump would keep the USA out of such foreign entanglements. I think their criticism is premature. American involvement may go no further. The most important aspect is that no coalition lives were lost, and that Assad's chemical capabilities may have suffered considerable damage.

Jackie Robinson's son David, 66, is a coffee farmer in Tanzania, where he owns 200 acres. The seeds were planted in him when his mom took him to Africa in 1967 so that he might explore his roots. He returns to the states twice a year, and will participate in ceremonies honoring his dad this weekend.

Rhode Island is home to a most unusual tourist attraction, a 60-foot advertising display of a blue termite. It overlooks a highway in Providence. Here it is:

Last night the Svengoolie program, channel 33 on Cablevision in NYC, ran Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953), which is at the lower end of the iconic duo's canon. The face of Allura, the Queen of Venus (the boys never make it to Mars), was familiar but I was unable to recall her name. Mari Blanchard, a California girl, had an interesting history. At nine she was stricken by polio myelitis. Her mom, a psychotherapist, worked with her for three years and she was able to walk again. Much of the rehab involved swimming. At 17 Mari ran away and joined a circus, where she rode elephants and did trapeze work. Her mom tracked her down and brought her home. She enrolled at USC and earned a degree in international law. While working for a modeling agency, she was noticed by cartoonist Al Capp, who patterned one of the L'il Abner characters after her. She lacked luck in Hollywood, losing roles to other actresses that may have provided a springboard for her career. She participated almost exclusively in B movies. During her starring stint in She Devil (1957), she nearly died from acute appendicitis. She guest-starred on many TV shows in the 50's and 60's. She has 61 titles listed under her name at IMDb. At 40 she began a seven-year battle with cancer, which she lost in 1970. Here's a quote attributed to her: "Basically I'm a career girl. I want to prove myself as an actress. Maybe I won't . . . But I'll have to search until I do. I'll do it--or die trying. I've got lots to learn about pictures . . . I've worked hard. When I know I haven't given my best to a scene, I suffer." Life is so unfair to an unlucky few. Here's a pic of the brainy beauty:

The weather has gone into a complete reversal. Gone is the warmth and glorious sunshine of  the past two days. The dreary pattern that has dogged NYC since early March has returned. With the threat of rain in the air this day, I thought it best to work under the scaffold at my usual nook. Fortunately, the second best parking spot opened up after a half hour wait, so I didn't have to lug the crates very far. All sales were in Russian. My thanks to the woman who bought twelve hardcover thrillers, and to the one who purchased a children's book.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Writer's Life 4/14 - Charlize & Milos

The reason I added Atomic Blonde (2017) to my Netflix list is Charlize Theron, a dynamic cinematic presence. The movie was what I expected, action galore, adherence to one of Hollywood's modern cliches - the kick-ass woman capable of dispatching several trained tough guys at once. Set in the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's the story of a British agent sent to recover a stolen list of spies. She navigates her way way through the city, described as "the wild west" by a colleague, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake. Although it is obvious who the main villain is from the early moments, there's a fun twist at the end. Style is more important than substance, although a quote from Machiavelli is injected: "It's a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver." It's a fast-moving flick that comes in under two hours. The action scenes are well-coordinated by director David Leitch, a former stuntman who received full credit for the first time on this effort. He will get plenty more work. The screenplay was adapted by Kurt Johnstad from the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston, illustrated by Sam Hart. Made on a budget of $30 million, it returned $73 worldwide, so a sequel is possible. Even if Theron refuses to participate, her role could easily be assumed by many actresses willing to don a wig or dye if necessary, and smoke up a storm. 116,000+ users at IMDb have rated Atomic Blonde, forging to a consensus of 6.7 on a scale of ten. Action fans would not be disappointed. Those squeamish about violence should pass, as there is more blood-letting than I'd seen in a while. James MCAvoy and John Goodman lend yeoman support, and Sofia Boutella, an Algerian, makes a good impression as a French agent. The 80's sound track is excellent, especially in the opening scene, a brief chase to New Order's Blue Monday. "How does it feel?" - Ouch! Surprising for its absence, Blondie's Atomic. Here's a pic of Theron in the role:

RIP Milos Forman, 86, who had a glorious run as a director. Born in Czechoslovakia, he saw his parents, protestants accused of subversion, hauled off to separate concentration camps, where they died. He emigrated to America in 1968. In 1975 he became an American citizen. He took on the daunting task of bringing Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) to the screen and won the Oscar for best picture. It is a rare instance of a film being better than the book. In 1979 he adapted an energetic version of Hair, in 1981 a solid adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's epic, Ragtime. Amadeus (1984) was a surprise hit that won him a second Academy Award for Best Picture. He also has 13 writing credits listed at IMDb, and nine in acting. Here's a partial quote from him: "... The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not." Well done, sir. Thank you. Here he is directing his cinematographer:

Friday the 13th proved spooky for a golfer at this week stop on the PGA tour in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Kelly Kraft hit a seven-iron off the tee of the par three 14th hole. The ball glanced off a big bird in flight and landed in a water hazard. He made double bogey and missed the cut by one shot. The bird was unharmed.

My thanks to the old gentleman who bought a gangster epic in Russian, to the young one who paid double for an entry in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and to the woman who bought kid's books for her granddaughters and Five Cents for herself, saying she wanted to see what I was all about.