Monthly Archives: December 2009

Celebrity deaths

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There is generally nothing that affects me less than a celebrity death. Other than a knowing cluck of the tongue at the “oh-too-soon” expiration of another Hollywood wastrel, most of them pass me by with nary a notice. But in the almost-a-celebrity, or the once-a-celebrity, there I find something of interest, and particularly for those whose efforts long, long ago occupy some shadowy corner of my memory, I feel a sense of loss – not necessarily for the person, for as much as we kid ourselves, these people are unknown to us, but for some little piece of the past that has gone by, a way the world was that won’t be seen again.

Arnold Stang, whom I believe Drew Friedman once referred to as a “high priest of horn-rimmed humor,” represented a time that is now lost to us. He was one of those entertainers who bridged the gap between the early days of radio, the middle years of film, and the dawn of television, seemingly ubiquitous and always playing some variation of the same character. He came from the black-and-white world of late-night movies and TV re-runs, and it seems especially fitting to me that I best remember him for something he didn’t really appear in, a comic page (again Drew Friedman) that paired his nebbishy character with Robot Monster. Who else out there still represents that school of humor? There was a time when humor wasn’t so snarky.

And then there was Jennifer Jones, who appeared in a number of prominent movies and even won an Oscar, but who is forever emblazoned in my memory, in brilliant black-and-white, as the scheming, ditzy Mrs. Harry Chelm in the offbeat and severely underappreciated John Huston film “Beat The Devil.” Other than Gina Lollobrigida, whom Jones outplayed with her charming portrayal of a certain kind of woman who rationalizes her mercurial loyalties, I think she was the last of that interesting cast still alive.

We used to interact with films and television in a different way, and I think their hold over us was different then. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to see it when it was out, or wait years for it to reappear on TV. Our three television stations padded their schedules with forgotten black-and-white movies that, for the most part, few would watch today, but which built my impressions of the world that had gone by, the world my parents and grandparents had grown up in. What I knew of the urban jungle came from Dead End Kids (and East End Kids, and Bowery Boys) movies; what I knew of good guys who took a wrong turn came from John Garfield pictures. And because they weren’t there on demand, on a convenient tape or disc, at the press of a button, there was something somewhat magical about that late-night peek into a world that, while it was Hollywood magic, was still an interpretation of the world just before I came along, a world I’m endlessly fascinated with.

A holiday message

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Stop picking your nose!

I thought perhaps I had hallucinated this billboard when I saw it last weekend, caught without my camera, and I despaired for my sanity when several attempts to view it during the week presented me with no such public-spirited reminder. But yesterday afternoon, there it was again, tucked in among the countdown to Christmas and ads for a nightclub — a special request from Lamar for drivers along I-787 to stop picking their noses.

‘Tisn’t the season

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The run-up to Christmas always involves more than I expect. No matter how early the “shopping” is done, there is always a little more to do – the Christmas Eve gifts, things for people we didn’t know we’d be seeing, the mailing and arranging and serving as a package depot for others sending their gifts here. About 90% of the actual gift-buying is done online, and has been for years, but a couple of purchases required three trips to the mall, which is three trips more than I like to make in a year. The mall is not my thing, and in times of straitened circumstances, it seems not only noisy, busy and filled with horrible people, its offerings of pointless purchases, items of absolutely no value that are only sold because some sort of gift is needed, feels tasteless and desperate. That’s not to say I haven’t given tasteless, unthoughtful and desperate gifts, just that I don’t like to be reminded of it.

It also involves housecleaning on a level that I’m short on time for this year. The simple installation of the Christmas tree led to moving the couch which led to rearranging, realphabetizing, and consolidating every CD and DVD we own into albums, a ridiculous effort that ate up 7 or 8 hours over the weekend and resulted in a room that looks 7 or 8 percent neater. The inside of the refrigerator must be scrubbed, so naturally I’m thinking of putting down new flooring in the hallway, which has gone happily unfinished for years. The outside lights did not get put up and likely won’t – lights were never my big thing anyway – but I am making progress on digitizing my old cassettes, because the living room re-org led to the realization that there is no reason to have the cassette deck in there (and no reason to have the mini-disc player at all). Gone is the complicated system of tubes and wires that connected the tape deck to the laptop, the needless copying of files from laptop to the real computer, etc., etc. I just plugged the cassette deck into the computer, and now I’m happily copying away those gems from yesteryear. Why was that so hard to figure out?

We got through one holiday concert this week, then we have The Nutcracker on Sunday (every last minute of Sunday), a couple of school days next week and then a long, drawn-out Christmas. Divorce screws up Christmas plans for everyone, even those of us who aren’t divorced, so don’t do it. What used to be a fairly compact little celebration that started on Christmas Eve and was completely over with by the next night this year requires an extra day, an extra meal plan, extra logistics on who is opening what when, and a plan for how to fill the time that would have been spent with the family members who won’t be here. (Our current plan for that, by the way, is to be one of those families who go to the movies on Christmas day, and go enjoy a bit of rampant silliness in the new Sherlock Holmes movie.)

I also haven’t played any Christmas music yet, which is probably responsible for a good chunk of my lack of feeling, so I guess it’s time to put “Daddy Drank Our Christmas Money” into the rotation. Merry Christmas!

A farewell to arms

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I had wanted to go to Abruzzi. I had gone to no place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery and hare-tracks in the snow and the peasants took off their hats and called you Lord and there was good hunting. I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of caf├ęs and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring. Suddenly to care very much and to sleep to wake with it sometimes morning and all that had been there gone and everything sharp and hard and clear and sometimes a dispute about the cost. Sometimes still pleasant and fond and warm and breakfast and lunch. Sometimes all niceness gone and glad to get out on the street but always another day starting and then another night. I tried to tell about the night and the difference between the night and the day and how the night was better unless the day was very clean and cold and I could not tell it; as I cannot tell it now. But if you have had it you know.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

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