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Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/18 - Light in the Dark

I consider Winston Churchill one of the great men of all-time, so the following may not be entirely objective. Last night, courtesy of Netflix, I watched Darkest Hour (2017), which covers events of May 1940, immediately after Neville Chamberlain's resignation as Prime Minister of England. The Nazis, at the height of their power, seemed unstoppable, gobbling up large swaths of Europe. 300,000 British troops have been pushed to the English Channel and face annihilation. Churchill must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight, the latter a huge risk given Germany's superior forces and armaments. That awesome responsibility is the major crux of the film. He agonizes, fighting doubt. The arguments pro and con are intense. Those men were living history, not seeing it from the 20-20 hindsight of the viewer. Gary Oldman disappears into the part of Churchill, his performance the pinnacle of his spectacular career. Kudos to screenwriter Anthony McCarten for his even-handed rendering, showing the leader's foibles as well as strengths, and for leavening the narrative with bits of humor, almost all of it dry. Character development is intelligently built along the way. The brief scene with Churchill's four adult children reveals so much despite the sparse exchange. Three are clearly resentful, one is doting. And the depiction of Chamberlain, to whom history has not been kind, is humanized, not a caricature. He was simply wrong, naive, not a dolt. He is played wonderfully by the prolific Ronald Pickup, who has also brought to life Einstein, Nietzsche, Verdi and Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston's father. Kristen Scott Thomas brings her usual brilliance to the pivotal role of Clemmie Churchill, the great man's rock. Lily James is quite affecting as the secretary, and Australia's Ben Mendelsohn is solid as King George. As for the film's historical accuracy - liberties were taken. They are noted in an article at Only one aspect disappointed me, although I suspected it was poetic license and not fact. Nonetheless, it is a great sequence. Most of the other errors involve dates. For instance, the famous rousing speech to parliament and the country occurred on June 4th, not in May. The narrative also implies the 4000 troops Churchill sent to lure the enemy away from the evacuation at Dunkirk were wiped out. Most survived and were taken prisoner. In the end, the film belongs to Oldman. I got misty during the speech, which is often boiled down to: "...We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender..." Oldman received an Oscar for his performance. Joe Wright directed. He was also at the helm of these fine adaptations: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012). 108,000+ users at IMDb have rated Darkest Hour, forging to a consensus of 7.4 on a scale of ten, way too low in my opinion. It runs a tad more than two hours and consists almost entirely of dialogue. Here's a still from the film:

The humidity persists. My thanks to the young woman who purchased Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and to the middle age man who bought a book in Russian.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/17 - Words & Pics

16 nurses who work together in the intensive care unit at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona are pregnant. "Calling Doctor Howard, Doctor Fine, Doctor Howard." Here are 12 of them:

From Yahoo Sports: One of those great oddities that occur in MLB's 162 game schedule happened last night in Arlington, Texas. Rangers teammates Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor turned a triple play without retiring the batter, which hasn't happened since 1912 when the Brooklyn Dodgers did it against the Cincinnati Reds. With the bases loaded and no outs, 3B Profar short-hopped David Fletcher’s liner down the third-base line, stepped on the bag, tagged out Taylor Ward, who wandered off third base, and threw to Odor for a force-out at second. Many on and off the field were confused as to what went down. Here's video:

There's a new book out for anyone who wants an alternative to what the mainstream media covers or ignores. One of the reasons why those who lose security clearance are so angry is that it costs them access to contractors who enrich them:

If this weather pattern holds through winter and the temperature regularly dips below freezing, there will be record snowfall in NYC. This conjures Mark Twain's great quote: "I knew a great many troubles in my life, but most of them never happened." May it be so.

My thanks to the middle age woman who got things going in the right direction by buying two paperbacks in Russian as I was setting up shop. Another soon came along and bought two tiny booklets, one on brothers and sisters, the other on Jewish spiritualism. Thanks also to Shelley, who selected QB VII by Leon Uris, and to the guy who bought a book in Russian. I had a nice laugh when a gentleman who yesterday bought From Beirut to Jerusalem - and thought it would occupy him for months - returned. As soon as he'd noticed it was by NY Times liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, he dumped it in the trash. Today he chose John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. My kind of man.

Here's a pic I took on the sly of a lovely young woman oblivious to all but the screen of her phone:

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/16 - Dragon's Breath

RIP Aretha Franklin, 76, the "Queen of Soul," one of the most popular singers of all-time. Her 1967 recording of Respect remains a great listen to this day. She won a boatload of Grammys and was the first female elected to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Well done, madam. Thank you.

I've wondered if the legalization of marijuana would have negative unintended consequences. Until today I hadn't read anything that suggested the consequences were anything but benign. A brief article in today's NY Post reports that more than three dozen people in New Haven overdosed on pot laced with fentanyl. A few of the cases were life-threatening, some of the people not responding to the anti-overdose drug Naloxone. I realize that the mix is vastly different from smoking regular ganja, but I wonder if the liberalization of society's attitude makes it easy for those who want to experiment further to rationalize their behavior.

Another article in the Post informs of an odd food trend. Suffolk County Long Island health officials are cracking down on businesses selling a confection called Dragon's Breath, which is made by dipping a cereal such as Fruit Loops into liquid nitrogen. Officials warn that it can cause frostbite, skin tissue damage and even suffocation. Why do people consume this? An article at may have the answer: "Skewer the sweet and crunchy puff, toss one into your mouth, and you’ll start breathing out a cloud of smoke for a few seconds." Of course, this encourages selfies. Here's what the product looks like:

Although I'm in almost complete disagreement with the policies of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, I don't believe he's stupid, even though he comes off as incredibly stiff, almost a dullard. Does he really believe he will be elected president by claiming America was never great? Good luck with that.

My thanks to the kind folks who bought, donated and swapped books on this hot afternoon, especially the young man who purchased Five Cents

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/15 - Rigid Visions

Catalonia, a region in Northeast Spain, includes Barcelona. It was in the news in 2017 when it tried to become entirely independent. According to Wiki, 35% of the inhabitants speak Catalan, which evolved from the vulgar Latin of Roman conquerors. During his rule, fascist dictator Francisco Franco banned the language outside of people's homes. Upon his death, the restrictions were phased out, and the region recovered its autonomy. Salvador Dali and Joan Miro lived there, as well as Picasso during his childhood. Not surprisingly, there are Catalan authors. I'd never heard of any, so when The Time of the Doves by Merce Rodoreda came into my possession, I decided to give it a whirl. Set in Barcelona, it is a first person account of a woman from her late teens into middle age. It is dubbed "stream of conscious," but it's an infinitely easier read than James Joyce or Virginia Woolf. Since the protagonist is not a writer but an average person, the style is unpolished, the prose often repetitive and clumsy. In this instance the artist's rigid vision detracts from the overall effect. I faced this problem regarding what I believe is my best work, Killing, which I wanted to be completely uncompromising. It's first incarnation as an ebook featured dialogue that was 95% Brooklynese, which people found very difficult. I'm glad I eventually compromised. The dialogue is now approximately 50% Brooklynese and accessible to all. Back to the novel in question, a portrait of the bittersweet mystery of life, the frightening disconnect between individuals, even spouses and children. Unfortunately, I experienced a disconnect between the novel and me, although there were moments it almost won me. Fortunately, it is only 201 pages. The title refers to the husband's collection of birds. I suspect that aspect is a metaphor but I was unable to grasp the relationship between it and the lives of the characters. The Spanish Civil War, which took place 1936-'39, and which Franco's forces won, figures prominently, although the fighting is on the periphery. 25 users at Amazon have rated The Time..., forging to a consensus of 4.2 on a scale of five. Obviously, many of those folks connected with it. Published in 1962, it is still selling modestly, ranked 305,000th at a site that lists more than 13 million titles. In all, Rodoreda had 13 novels and four short story collections published. She passed away in 1983 at 74. Here's a pic of her relative to the protagonist of The Time of the Doves:

I wonder what percentage of white folks have uttered the N-word in their adult lives. I'm guilty. What percentage have thought it? I'd bet it's as high as the percentage of hip hop artists who use it.

Paris has installed new public urinals. Some natives are not pleased. Here's a pic:

A day without rain is like - really rare this summer. It was beautiful this afternoon, but it didn't help business any. My thanks to Michael, who bought another obscure paperback romance, and to the gentleman who purchased a CD the Mets put out, which features a mix of rock tracks and radio highlights of games. Special thanks to the woman who said I look younger and younger every time she sees me. How I wish it were true. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/14 - A Great American Family

An article in today's NY Post sent me searching for more info on a great American family. Here are excerpts, edited by yours truly, from a piece at Dominic and Victor Ragucci are the last survivors of an eleven-sibling Philadelphia family. Five brothers fought in WWII. Two died less than 90 days apart. Nicholas, killed in Italy in 1944, was brought home right after the war. Emil, who died in 1943, remained lost on the Central Pacific atoll of Tarawa, where more than 1000 Marines perished in a three-day battle. The family thought Emil's remains would never be found. He was 19 when he underwent basic training. A breakthrough came from the work of History Flight Inc., a nonprofit group of forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and other volunteers formed to help repatriate the remains of American soldiers missing in action. In 2013 they found what was labeled Cemetery 33, a small plot of land with a couple dozen sets of remains. The Department of Defense arranged to fly them to its forensic anthropology lab in Hawaii, and it was discovered that Emil Ragucci was among them. Kudos to that organization for giving survivors a bit of closure. Here's a picture of the young Marine:

And here are his parents, Carmela and Nicholas, and sister Mary:

Last week I filled out a will online at It arrived in the mail yesterday. Of course, there was a goof. I chose my youngest niece as executor. I used her maiden name - duh! Since that might invalidate the document, I will make the change. Fortunately, there is no charge if it is done within a month. There's another hitch. New York law requires that the will be notarized in front of two witnesses, and it can't anyone who will benefit from the will. Before I bother anyone, I will ask my bank rep if I can do it there. I suspected the process seemed to easy to be true.

My thanks to the woman who donated five books in Russian, and to Herbie, who handed me a large paperback; and to the retired super who pulled his SUV to the curb and gave me a hardcover on battling addiction. Wolf bought two books in Russian, one a bio of Landau, the father of the Soviet atomic bomb; another gentleman also purchased a book in that language; and a young man pounced on a hardcover version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, the novel that had the largest influence on yours truly, and which led directly to Close to the Edge. In the blurb I wrote: "Raskolnikov was sexless. These three are not." Thanks, folks. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/13 - Supreme

Hail Brooks Koepka, who has won three of the past seven golf majors, including back-to-back U.S. Opens. He demonstrated nerves of steel in yesterday's two-shot victory at the PGA Championship. He shrugged off the gallery's raucous preference for Tiger Woods, and the fact that his excellence would be overshadowed by the media's and public's obsession with Woods. Not fair, but that's the way it is. All those white folks rooting for Woods in racist America - who'da thunk it? As for the Bellerive course, which is located in a suburb west of St. Louis, it is beautiful. Softened by rain, it was eminently playable, too easy. I enjoy it more when the final scores at a major tournament are around par. Still, Koepka was sensational. Kudos.

While the event was in commercial, I picked up the remote and paused when I hit The Bionic Woman on Cozi-TV. The lovely Lindsay Wagner was dressed as a gypsy. It was episode seven of season two. Within minutes, five Hollywood mainstays were on screen: Vincent Price, William Windom, Julie Newmar, Abe Vigoda and Hermione Baddeley. Loved it.

RIP Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, 63, who succumbed to a medical emergency. He was a two-time WWE tag team champion alongside his brother-in-law, Hall of Famer Bret Hart. He was a record-setting shot-putter in high school in California, and had a brief stint in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders. Sad to see another pro wrestler die relatively young. Thanks for the laughs, sir.

The newsstand I patronize did not have the NY Post this morning. Two doors down a convenience store had copies that were weird, blank except for the banner and the word Supreme in the center of both the front and back page. The guy at the counter said it was five bucks. I put it back on the shelf. I just ran a search to see what was what. Supreme, which opened in 1994, has become a very popular street wear brand, famously selling out its new collections within hours and drawing huge lines at its flagship store in SoHo. The company has satellite shops in Los Angeles, Tokyo and London. It agreed to partner with the Post, whose chief anticipated the issue becoming a collector's item. In certain places it sold for $12 bucks. Include me out.

The floating book shop opened two hours late due to the rain. I'd snagged the optimum parking spot beside the scaffold at my usual nook as I was out for my morning walk, so I didn't have to worry about the wares getting wet if the skies again opened up. My thanks to Bus Driver, who bought two paperback thrillers; and to the woman who purchased a Danielle Steel translation in Russian; and to local barber Viktor, who selected a book on rare coins in Russian.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Writer's Life 8/12 - Angst

In her op-ed piece in today's NY Post, Selena Zito suggests the angst, the intense focus on special elections is misguided, as they "...don’t usually predict a party’s fate in the midterms. The Democrats lost all their special elections leading up to the 2006 midterms only to flip the House by 30 seats; four years later the Republicans lost all their special elections going into the 2010 midterms — and went on to trounce the Democrats by winning 63 seats back..." How cool that others research this stuff, allowing the rest of us short cuts so that we may pursue our interests outside the disenchanting arena of politics. Thank you, madam.

Also in the Post, here's how sports media critic Phil Mushnick concluded the main part of his column today: "...The players, team owners and Roger Goodell deserve one another. And as their product — their business — grows more insufferable by the season, they continue to pretend that they have nothing to worry about." Right on, sir. Kudos... There's an article at Yahoo Sports about Miami police wanting to boycott Dolphins' games because of the kneelers. I doubt politicians would allow it, but suppose many cops colluded in a sick-out?

Yesterday the chance of rain seemed 100%. Today it seemed 50-50, so I took a chance and set up shop on Bay Parkway, and things worked out much better than I'd expected. My thanks to the woman who bought a book in Russian, and to Bill Brown, author of Words and Guitar: A History of Lou Reed's Music, who purchased two CD's: Louis Armstrong Plays WC Handy and Duke Ellington's Blues in Orbit... Happy 79th birthday to Bob. As a gift, I let him select a book from the display, and he chose a bio of Samuel Beckett, master of the theater of the absurd. He was waiting - not for Godot - but for his son and grandkids to take him shopping. They're giving him a new Iphone... Now for the best part. A middle age couple has passed the floating book shop countless times. For several years neither said a word, then they began greeting me warmly. Today the man asked if I had any books on Biology or Archeology. I don't. Then he asked if I had anything on Italian-Americans. Most writers would be thrilled at such an opening to promote their work. I always think: Suppose he hates it? Fortunately I overcame the reluctance and he purchased Close to the Edge, the first and most downbeat of my novels. I was hoping he'd select Killing. My thanks. After that, I decided not to tempt fate and closed up shop, about an hour earlier than usual. It was pouring by the time I got to Sheepshead Bay and parked the car. Some days you just get lucky.
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