Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank You, Billy Crystal

The Red Knight from The Fisher King
from g8ors.blogspot.com

   The Emmy Awards Show last night was very interesting. I haven't watched it in years, but I'd heard that Billy Crystal would be paying tribute to Robin Williams during the show. Plus Downton Abbey was much nominated. And little did I know that Idris Elba was also nominated for Luther.
   My husband was surprised when I sat down to watch. I told him it was just until Billy Crystal did his tribute to Robin Williams. It didn't interfere with his reading so, for the most part, it was okay with him. Although the camera kept panning across the audience and showing Julia Roberts. Then very quickly moving on to other people in the audience. I could not remember her name and he didn't appreciate my asking him who she was because by the time he looked up she wasn't on camera anymore. I finally remembered the name of the one movie I could think of that she starred in -- Pretty Woman with Richard Gere. Then he told me her name and strongly suggested that I shouldn't involve him in my TV program any more.
   And who knew how much Seth Meyers looks like Ellen DeGeneres?
   The clothes were beautiful and neither the male nor the female of the species limited themselves to black.
   The attention Matthew McConaughey got seemed odd. I guess being on TV shows no longer carries the stigma for movie stars that it once did. Somebody said he was the Sexiest Man of the Year. Maybe it was that guy from Cheers. I agree that McConaughey is cute, but speaking of Richard Gere, now that was a sexy man. And probably still is.
    Then my husband and I got to talking about the movie Mud that McConaughey was in. We lived in far Southeast Arkansas for a time and we enjoyed McConaughey's accent. My husband remembered that he played a bad guy in that movie. To which I responded, "well yes and no." He said he was pretty sure that a convicted murderer qualified as a bad guy. So, okay, I'll give him that.
    Then the Emmy for the Best Supporting Actor went, not to our beloved Carson from Downton Abbey, but to some guy from a series called Breaking Bad, with which I am not familiar. And the clip of the winner ranting and raving while standing threateningly over some poor guy with a much bloodied face effectively guarantees that I will not become familiar with Breaking Bad.
    Not that I'm against violence in entertainment across the board. I do watch Luther which is pretty violent. Perhaps I just find violence with a British accent less realistic and thereby less scary.
    Like all good planners the Emmy Award Show saved the good for late in the production ensuring that people like me would watch all those other bits, including the commercials.
    The ads with Ricky Gervais did nothing to entice me into spending my time with anything else he's in, but Louis C.K. and his Louie does sound interesting and it's available on Netflix so no problem with commercials there.
    Then came the part I'd been waiting for. Billy Crystal spoke of the comedic genius and the high energy antics of the performer Robin Williams. But more importantly, he spoke of his friend Robin Williams.
    In Williams' unscripted appearances and comedic routines, his quick wit and wide-ranging references attracted me like a fly to honey. His frenetic delivery made it more like a moth to flame. Then there were his more serious movies -- Dead Poet's Society, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, etc. -- the movies that allowed him to do a dramatic turn. They showed his humanity. For me The Fisher King is the best.
    The picture that opens this blog is of the Red Knight, Parry's demon. It is at once wonderful and terrifying as is Jack's alcohol, and for many of us, the tenuous link we have with life and sanity.
     Like us, Jeff Bridges' Jack and Williams' Parry are damaged. But they connect and it's that connection more than their wounds that makes them human. Beautifully human. The picture of Parry explaining the legend of The Fisher King to Jack as they lie on the grass, looking into the night together is, for me, the image of that human connection. Yep. That's the way I want to remember Robin Williams -- lying naked on the grass telling us telling us the legend of a grievously wounded hero who must have help to recover the Holy Grail.
from it.wikipedia.org

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Hobbit -- a review

Where were you when . . . ?
I do not remember where I was the first time I read most books. But I do remember where I was when I first read The Hobbit. I was working in the State Office of the Oklahoma Welfare Department and going to college. I was not yet married and had no children.
The Hobbit was ostensibly a children’s book. My attitude has always been that if I hadn’t read a book when I was the traditional age to read that book, then now was as good a time as any. I’ve since read The Hobbit three times and as of yesterday, a fourth.
The first time I could read it only on breaks, at lunch, and in between classes and studying, and those my normal life activities that seemed necessary. I resented terribly those intrusions into the world Tolkien was telling me about. The wizard and dwarves, the trolls, the goblins and worgs. (Such a change from the classical fare one gets in college literature classes! Thackary and George Elliot and the so-called modern writers James Joyce and that other James boy, Henry. My professors must have been as old as they seemed.) The spiders and elves and the dragon. It was awful to have to quit reading and enter data into the computer or answer the phone or read an assignment when what I really wanted was to find out if Bilbo Baggins survived.
Thank goodness, the book is both short and a quick read. I wasn’t left long, dangling by a thick thread of spider’s silk or wandering through a dark and dangerous wood or trapped in an elf king’s subterranean castle or a dragon’s lair.
Now when I read it, I know the end and life’s interruptions don’t seem so frustrating and I can think fondly of my return to Bilbo’s story. Now my only dissatisfaction is that my grandchildren live 817 miles away and I can’t read it to them. Tolkien wrote this book to be read aloud. You can hear it in his conversational telling of the story.

“Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty.”

It’s like sitting before the fireplace with your favorite uncle and you’re not sure that his stories are not true. In fact, you hope they are true. And even though it’s quiet and safe where you are, you can see and feel and smell Bilbo’s dangers and he’s no bigger or stronger than you are.

Maybe I shall have to barge into my neighbor’s home at bedtime and read to their children. Tonight, and tomorrow night, and the night after that until our hobbit is safely back in his hobbit hole under the hill with his sword hung over the mantelpiece and his coat of mail lent to a museum. Of course even his homecoming turned out to be an adventure of sorts.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Day in the Life -- flash fiction

from blackcatrescue.wordpress.com

She was an Intake Worker for the Welfare Department. There were no average days. All her days could be classified as more eventful or less eventful and she thought the less eventful, the better.
She had her own office. Not a cubicle, but an enclosed five by seven foot room – one door and no windows. She sat behind a gray, metal, government-issue desk across the room from the door. To reach that door she had to squeeze around the east end of the desk and pass behind the two seats for clients.
The Welfare Department shared a one-story brick building with a local dentist and it was not unusual for her to hear drilling noises and sometimes screaming children through the wall at her back. That day, the dental office was quiet, for which she was grateful.
That morning she’d had two young women with their mothers. Girls really, one fourteen and the other sixteen. They’d arrived within hours of each other. The girls were quiet, obviously frightened. And not so obviously pregnant. One mother wanted help paying for prenatal care and delivery.
“She made her bed and now she’ll have to lie in it,” the mother said.
The worker counselled the woman and her daughter that this was something that would affect the rest of the girl’s life. The girl should have some say. She pointed out that using a child to punish a child was not fair nor helpful to either.
The girl said nothing. And the worker completed the application forms.
The other mother wanted the name and address of a clinic where she could get her daughter an abortion. And information about getting the procedure paid for. “She’s too young, and I’m not going to take care of any more babies,” this mother said.
She counselled them that the daughter would have to live with this the rest of her life and she should have some say in this very important decision. She suggested adoption or financial help for the family if they decided to keep the baby. The girl said nothing. And the worker wrote down the telephone numbers for three clinics. She explained that the state had no program to pay for abortions.
In between the two pregnant girls, a man came in seeking some place to stay. He’d just been convicted of burglary. The sheriff’s department had put him out while the court completed a pre-sentencing evaluation. While spending six months in jail awaiting trial, he’d lost his job and his apartment. His landlady locked up his belongings in lieu of back rent. The worker called the sheriff’s office, but they said they couldn’t let him stay there. The same from the city jail. She advised the man to contact two church groups that sometimes found housing for people who needed it.
“Thank you,” the man said, but he did not seem hopeful.
After lunch, another pregnant teen and her mother came in. The worker explained all the options and this time neither said anything. They were both too confused and sad to say one way or the other.
She was beginning to believe that all the people with the saddest problems were meeting down at the corner and deciding it was a good day to come see her.
Mixed in with these clients there had been food stamp applications and daycare provider questions and reports of men living with women receiving assistance and complaints about lost checks.
Then near the end of the day a man came in. At first he said nothing. Then he explained that he’d been out of a mental hospital for a while and that he thought he might have to go back. He said his wife was afraid of him and had taken their child and gone to her family in another state.
He held his left hand cradled in his right. He explained that he’d injured it by slamming it through the dashboard of his car on his way to the welfare office.
“Could you just call my wife and tell her to come home?” he asked.
She explained that she couldn’t do that, but she could help him see a doctor, someone who could help him.
He stood up, but there was no room for him to pace. He turned in a circle then smashed his uninjured hand on her desk. The noise and the action and his position standing over her seemed to inflame him. He shouted. “There is nothing wrong with me. I just want my family home.”
Following her one cardinal rule, don’t say or do anything crazy to a crazy person, she spoke quietly to him and asked him to sit down. He did. She was surprised that he did, but wasted no time. “Excuse me for a moment,” she said. “I need to get some information and then we’ll see what we can do for you.”
She edged around her desk and went behind him being careful not to touch him as she passed. She went out her door and walked to the office of the largest man working there.
“Will you come and stand by my door? I have a man who’s winding himself up. If it gets too loud, just come through the door making as much noise as you can. That should break his frenzy enough to let me get past him and out of my office,” she said.
She returned to her office and spoke to the man as calmly as she could. She found out the name of the man’s doctor and that the doctor had helped him the last time he felt like this. She called the doctor and made arrangements for the man to go there.
Her last call of the day was from the city police. The man who was out of jail awaiting his pre-sentencing report had just broken into his old apartment and would be jailed pending this new breaking and entering charge.
She smiled.
She would go home to her beautiful, healthy, six-year-old son. They would have dinner and play a little. Then she would read to him and put him safely to bed with his little black kitten. She would take a shower and read herself to sleep. And be thankful for her own problems.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tenth Anniversary -- flash fiction

from spin.com

She awoke early. Not a stitch of bedding covered her. She was cold and her left hip ached. At thirty-five she was too young for arthritis. Unfortunately her hip didn’t know that.
Wrapped up in the blankets, her husband slept, breathing through his mouth. Unfortunately, he’d not brushed his teeth after that last beer. If his mouth felt and tasted like it smelled, how could he stand it? Even in his sleep?
Only twenty minutes left before the alarm. She might as well get up. One look at the bathroom floor and she almost forgot why she went in there. His work clothes, underwear, and socks drifted against the dirty clothes hamper. Against the hamper! What was so difficult about lifting the lid and dropping them in there?
And, speaking of lifting the lid, what was so difficult about closing the toilet lid?
She sighed.
She reminded herself that if it bothered her, then it was her problem and she would have to deal with it. She’d told him before that it bothered her. Did he not believe her? Did he enjoy irritating her?
She picked up the clothes and closed the toilet lid after herself.
In the kitchen she hit the coffee maker’s ‘on’ button and leaned against the counter waiting for that wonderful falling water sound that it makes as life-giving liquid pours into the carafe and the soothing aroma fills the room.
Nothing happened. Is it plugged in? Yes, it’s plugged in. There’s no water in the reservoir. There are no fresh grounds in the basket. He told her he’d set it up before he went to bed. He made a special effort to tell her he’d do it. If he hadn’t said he would, she would have.
She slammed the cabinet door. So what if it woke him up? He needed to get up anyway. And he could make his own breakfast. If he could handle pouring oatmeal into the bowl and operate the microwave. Whatever. She certainly was not going to do it.
She heard him get up and go into the bathroom. The toilet flushed. At least he flushed the toilet. He probably didn’t notice that she’d picked his clothes up.
She heard him rummaging around in the hall closet. What was he doing now? That was his closet and she never went into it. She’d be afraid to. Large, furry animals had probably set up housekeeping in there. Heaven knew he hadn’t done any housekeeping in there. Or anywhere else.
He came into the kitchen wearing a do-rag and an old T-shirt from some concert back in the old days when they went to concerts. He must have lost his mind.
Smiling like he’d won the lottery, he waved his phone at her.
“You, my beautiful wife have an appointment at the day spa.”
He HAD lost his mind. Her boss expected a full-day’s work for a full-day’s pay. She didn’t get time off for spa visits.
“It’s all arranged. Alex is letting you off at 2:30 and a taxi will take you to the spa. I’ll pick you up at 5:00. We’ll have a hamburger at that little joint on 23rd and be in the amphitheater by 7:30.”
How could he be so enthusiastic and noisy that early in the morning? She poured herself another cup of coffee.
She set the cup down barely avoiding disaster as he grabbed her around the waist and whirled her in the air. He brandished the phone at her again. This time giving her a chance to read the screen. Two tickets, $118.52. What was he thinking? That much money would almost pay the phone bill.
“Santana! My own black magic woman!” His eyes twinkled, and his breath was minty fresh. “I won the Pick Three. 10-13-4! That was our first date. Ten years ago today.” He threw his hands out wide and wiggled a little dance step. “We saw Santana and you were the most beautiful woman I knew. I couldn’t believe you’d go out with me, but you did. And I’m even gladder now than I was then.”
Gladder? Ah, well. Words were not his life. But she thought he was pretty cute.
“Wear that blue outfit, honey,” he said. “You look really hot in it.” Then he winked. “And even hotter out of it.”

She drank her second cup of coffee and smiled. She knew there were more important things in life than a man who picked up his clothes and brushed his teeth every night before bed. Any man who was lucky enough to win the Pick Three and thoughtful enough to remember their first date – not to mention, think her beautiful – had a lot going for him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver -- a review

My daughter has been trying to get me to read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible for a while now. I’ve been trying to get her to read John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. Since I’m writing a review on Kingsolver’s book and Grace isn’t writing one on Irving’s, I guess you know who won this one.
Actually, I think I’ve won, because now I’ve read them both. And I’d give them each five stars. That means I think they’re worth reading more than once, which is the rarest of endorsements from me.
I am disinclined to read any book titled anything to do with a bible. And, having said that, I will add that books written in the first person are not generally my cup of tea. If you’ve read many of my reviews, you know all too often I begin them by saying this is not the kind of thing I read, but ….
And here we go again.
Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is written in first person from five women’s points of view -- a mother in her mid-thirties and her four daughters from ages fifteen down to five. The Price women accompanied their Baptist missionary husband/father from Bethlehem, Georgia, to the Congo during the 1960’s, a time of political upheaval in both places.
Nathan Price’s point of view is not recorded here. He is just another of the natural disasters that this family must face and survive. That said, this is a book that gives us strong female characters, each different and identifiable one from the other. And, I think, each is a realistic portrayal of women, not a homogeneous ‘they’ but a ‘she’ and a ‘she’ and a ‘she’ five times. Even the youngest sees things as she would see things, not as her sisters or her mother do.
In this book tension is sustained and heightened not by chase scenes and explosions and things that jump out at you, but by impending death and the fear of death. Death doesn’t stalk these five women and the people of the Congo like a jungle cat. It hangs in the humid air and lies curled beneath an elephant ear leaf. It shadows children in raggedy clothes and floats down the Congo River. It festers in the hearts of men – Americans and Belgians and Congolese – far away from the Price family. And in the ambitions and jealousies and fears of men in their village and in their own house.

The women come through this period in their lives, each in her own way. Though not always in a way that we might admire or seek to emulate, they each demonstrate that greatest of human strengths, they endure. 

If I Had a Chance

image from the Guardian.com

A friend recently posted this question on Facebook, “If you had a chance to go to the concert of someone deceased, who would you choose?
Aside from realizing that she should have used the word ‘whom’ (perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in edit mode) it occurred to me that I’d rather sit in on a lecture being given by Stephen Jay Gould. An evolutionary biologist, he wrote essays for Natural History magazine. Many of which were published as collections. These were my only opportunities to experience his knowledge and humor. Hens' Teeth and Horses' Toes, and The Flamingo's Smile are two that come to mind.
But the original question was about a concert performer. Okay. Freddie Mercury and Queen. It would have been loud and rowdy with lots of flash. “We Are the Champions” of the world!
And my mind was off and running. Of course there was Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite writers and activists. His novels presented the world from a little left of reality, a point of view that suited me perfectly. So maybe lunch with him. He was a WWII American prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, during the firebombing by Allies. He was named Humanist of the Year in 1992 by the American Humanist Association.
Which brings to mind Isaac Asimov, a past president of the AHA and prolific author of science, both fiction and nonfiction. His science fiction is generally considered ‘hard’ science fiction meaning that his vision is consistent with what is a believable extrapolation from what science knows today. And his nonfiction is brilliant and clearly stated. From Atom I finally got the answer to my question about electricity. When you flip the switch in your living room, is it a particular electron generated in a particular power plant that has traveled down those miles of line that lights your world? Or is it an electron that was already in that bulb and is excited by an electron beside it in the wire that was excited by an electron beside it, and so on along those miles of line back to the generating plant?
Or instead of a concert or lunch with someone, I think I would like to march with Gandhi or Dr. King.
No. I think lunch with Margaret Burke-White. She photographed Gandhi and Stalin and so many interesting famous and nonfamous people in between.
Or Abigail Adams who was in on the ground floor at the founding of our nation. A competent and independent woman who would have many other interesting people at her dining table. Including Benjamin Franklin, of whom she probably disapproved in many ways, I’m sure I would think him a better story teller than her dear husband John.
I’ve got it!
Lunch with the artist Georgia O’Keefe who left New York City when it was the center of the world and embraced the wide open lands of New Mexico.
Dinner with Carl Sagan to plan our out-migration from Earth.

But, best of all, to wake up and have breakfast with Robin Williams during one of his quiet times between mania and depression.