World Book Day

On Earth Day I pollute. On World Book Day I watch movies.

If I list my favorites, it becomes clear that most actually started out as novels—even Cool Hand Luke (Donn Pearce, ’65) and Midnight Cowboy (James Leo Herlihy, same year).

Easy Rider (’69) is the exception.

Love and Protest

Amy’s Story by Anna Lawton sets a tempestuous romance against the turbulent half-century of global change that erupted in the 1960s and flowed across the land like a modern Great Flood. The novel plants the seeds of these decades in the post-World War One migration from Europe to the United States and reveals the newest fruits—poison to some, nectar to others—in the closing pages. The private romance and the public turmoil work together to create a story as much about love as it is about progress, about aspiration and success as about longing and loss.

A third conflict, the subtle struggle between the adventurous Amy and childhood friend Stella (with whom she shares a surprising connection) can be summed up in a line: ‘She tried to pull me back and make me think before jumping into action, although my instinct often prevailed.’

At every level the book addresses the question, ‘Where are you from?’ And the structure suggests there is no true answer without first understanding the history that brings you there.

The protagonist arrives in L.A. from Turin as the lover of a charming, if arrogant, Fulbright scholar. Jim is writing an industry-shattering book about Italian film’s influence on Hollywood, an anti-establishment work that will keep him struggling for years to win his place at the table. The pair struggle together; they’re a team; and their struggle occurs at a time when baby boomers around the world are struggling to upend the status quo.

We know the reasons: the war in Vietnam; political assassinations; craven and unstable American leadership; beats and hippies and drugs and music; the push for racial and gender equality. A trip to Mexico during these years reveals the nightmare women endured in the years before Roe v. Wade, a stunning description of the harrowing limits being pushed in the struggle to maintain control over a woman’s own body.

But as her mentor makes plain, not all protestors understand exactly what or why they protest. ‘These kids fill up their mouths with words such as Marxism, Communism, class struggle, revolution, but they don’t even know their true meaning. They lack historical knowledge, never went to the roots.’

The roots he refers to are the ideas from Europe that stitched themselves into the fabric of the American Constitution. And his lesson carries an eerie foretaste of the conformity and demagoguery that duped 46.1% of voting Americans last fall: ‘The ‘mass’… this is one of the favorite words in Marxist parlance because the mass can be easily manipulated. All you need is a charismatic leader, a simplistic doctrine, smart images on posters and banners, and…. A new dogma is born, an absolute truth, and all genuflect to it.’

Continue reading Love and Protest

Earth Day for Dummies

What I plan to do for Earth day is drive a gas guzzler up the road tossing hamburger wrappers out the window and blasting Metallica’s “Blackened” ’til Johnny Law hunts me down in his fuel sucking hot rod and hands me a ticket for speeding, littering, and noise pollution.

Earth Day? What a scam! We should treat Earth Day like the Mardi Gras of pollution. Don’t celebrate Earth Day by riding your bike to work in a green shirt and re-using your dental floss. That’s shallow and disgusting.

Walk or bike to work the other 364 days a year; also properly dispose of your batteries and engine oil; eat eco-friendly vegetables; turn off the lights and turn down the A.C.; reduce, re-use, recycle! That’s the 364-day plan!

Earth Day is a day for flushing the toilet twice instead of not at all. Take long, hot showers and eat meals that require an abundance of grassland and disgraceful amounts of irrigation to produce. Water your lawn and wash your car! Add noise pollution to this mix of insanity and blast your favorite big hair aerosol band from 1988! Rock on! Live free or die. It’s Earth Day!

Then wake up and treat the next 364 days like Lent, pious and observant. We have only one Mother Earth.

* And don’t get me started on all the other International Days of This and That!

Literature Only

Southwest. Demanding the best of its passengers. Headed home from the Keys, I dropped in this classic.

It must be very strange in an airplane, he thought. I wonder what the sea looks like from that height? They should be able to see the fish well if they do not fly too high. I would like to fly very slowly at two hundred fathoms high and see the fish from above. In the turtle boats I was in the cross-trees of the mast-head and even at that height I saw much.

Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Paul Panepinto is bored at work. How could he not be? He’s a painter trapped by lapsed policies, cold chocolate in a Federal Funding mug, and long stints of muzak while on hold with Mortgage Depot. Also there are his smarmy daydreams of ‘better times’ with Suzanne Biedertyme to get him through the monotony.

Panepinto works in insurance.

As with most of the office hacks in Michael J. Sahno’s Miles of Files, Panepinto’s silver lining is that he works for not just any insurance company, but for Flambet Insurance. As the name suggests, the place is about to go up in flames.

Enter Graham Woodcock, the British second-in-command to Flambet’s witless heir, James. Woodcock’s embezzling from the company IRA through the phony accounts of non-existent employees Dolores Buenas and Philip Banks.

When Panepinto stumbles across the accounts with a few errant keystrokes, the novel’s central thread is set. Miles of Files is on its way to being a literary PI story focused more on the innocent and the victimized than on the PI or the crook.

Continue reading Miles of Fun, Miles of Files

Swimming with Sharks

My first shark dive, over a decade ago, our group encountered half a dozen reef sharks in the Red Sea. The big monsters circled the coral an hour offshore. The sight stole my breath, my aqualung pumping furiously—not the best reaction at minus 30 ft.

The white tip is a predator, though not likely to charge across open water for a taste of human. Still, they were massive. We sent bubbles to the surface in thick veils. We watched and photographed for long minutes.

This was a side adventure during a dangerous time in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. We’d escaped the very real threat of terrorism on shore in pursuit of terrifying thrills at sea. There was purity in the experience. The vast blue surrounded us. Our dive team numbered the same as the sharks. We had the cameras; they had the advantage.

Months later, we would be hit hard by the terrorists (more). The sharks never bothered.

This comes to mind all these years later after taking up the snorkel once again, this time with my youngest son. Our charter from Big Pine Key brought us 30 minutes out, to Looe Key reef. The wind was big and the waves bigger. They rocked the boat as we climbed down the ladder and pushed away, the six-year-old in my lap. Continue reading Swimming with Sharks

Poisonwood

A nightmare tree grows in the hammock jungle along Route One of Fat Deer Key. Poisonwood. Its touch will boil the skin; its toxin, when burned, will sear the lungs; its berries, if ingested, will sour the gut.

At mile 56 the Poisonwood grows alongside its antidote, the Gumbo Limbo. Folk medicine has it the remedy should be sipped as tea. Gumbo Limbo’s nicknamed here tourist tree: its peeling red bark reminds locals of sunburned visitors.

For a time today we hiked among these opposing forces. I had the Gumbo Limbo for the Poisonwood. Gumbo’s monstrous appearance—deep, iridescent red amid the gentle green of the trail’s dominant thatch palm—seemed the very incarnation of evil. The Gumbo Limbo grew in clusters, trunks twisting and sinister as they climbed among the subtle, grey Poisonwood. Who wouldn’t think the former evil?

Stranger still along the coral-lined trail: tokens and small treasures lay about at odd intervals. Silver tokens here, blue-and-white marbles there, a tin marked ‘Fun Fun Fun’ in the crook of one tree, a twenty and some baubles in the opening of another. At one point we found an Easter egg, this Monday before Good Friday. Continue reading Poisonwood

33 Inches for Kerouac

At CVS today I bought one item. One. Doesn’t matter what. When the purchase was finalized, the cashier handed me the receipt.

Guess how long that sucker was.

Some of this is necessary, perhaps. Now I know I was served by a person named Reina. Hi Reina. Phone number, store address, price paid plus taxes (the total came to $9.32).

If I were a modern day Jack Kerouac I suppose I’d cook my Sudaphedrine into something more exciting, wind the fresh 33 inches of scroll into my portable Underwood Royal Standard and bang out the next great road-novel-as-jazz-symphony, then die an early death wrinkled, fat, and forgotten ’til years hence.

I’m not Jack. Instead I scrutinized this fascinating 3-foot evidence of my purchase. Turns out its a list of admonitions and rules:

Pick up your Easter Essentials!
Returns with receipt before 6/5/17.
Try this gentle mist for powerful allergy relief today.
$12 off your next $60 purchase (pseudo ephedrine and milk excluded).
$1 of $7 coffee & tea (excludes beverages)????!
Extra Care card required.
$1.50 off Greeting Cards—make someone’s day!

Holy shit.

At Giant next door I bought 3 items and the receipt was only 22 inches long.

Pass the typewriter. I’ve got work to do. The world’s gone mad and there’s only one way to escape.

Murder and the Father of American Diplomacy

We all know Ben Franklin as one of the nation’s earliest Renaissance Men: scientist, printer, writer, businessman, scholar, politician, diplomat. Fireman. In David R. Andresen’s short mystery Murder in a Blue Moon Ben takes a break from his more gentlemanly pursuits, such as chess, to solve a serial murder in Philadelphia.

It’s fall of 1752, the American Experiment still a quarter century from Independence. Constable Geoffrey Hunter turns to his friend over glasses of Madeira to mull the facts of a case involving prostitutes with broken necks and surprised looks on their faces.

The short mystery develops quickly, clues tying the mystery together sparse, the time between each murder so great they go undetected for nearly a decade. The narrative style befits the times. We take our modern P.I. and dial the voice back to the 18th Century. Andresen succeeds at doing this without slowing the yarn or making it stumble:

I’m not known for being a quiet man, but much of my work required discretion and the rest was so much a simple litany of common greed, sin, and sheer folly that I found it best to spare him and me the despair and disgust so many of my duties as Constable entailed.

When our good Constable does unburden his heart of the details of his case,  it requires the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac to put this puzzle together.

An imaginative slice of early American life that’s a tad more lurid than average, Murder in a Blue Moon is a quick, entertaining read.

House of Cards, Sleight of Hand

Think the opening credits for House of Cards is just some anodyne tour around the nation’s capital? Not so.

One minute into the 90 second clip the camera pans desolate tracks. It’s night. All is still, the music foreboding. A locomotive blows through timed to a sudden guitar chord—sound and vision merged for a dramatic second before the tracks go empty again. The music pulses low and ominous.

Soon after a horn peels in martial tone, saluting the statue of General Grant high up on his horse. The horn and military man work in concert unifying sound and image.

The audio buzzes in hellish frenzy. The screen zeroes on a shadowy demon (the statue is Thales, a philosopher-electrician, not the devil but demonic nonetheless). Sound and vision subtly collude in these final seconds, producing certainty that what follows will be the cold calculations of evil minds, deceptions making an inhuman city a place of dread. Continue reading House of Cards, Sleight of Hand