Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bruce Campbell, Our Hero.

One thing my son and I agree on--well, there are actually shitloads of things we agree on--but one of them is that we freaking love Bruce Campbell. He makes us laugh. He always has.

Years and years ago we were in a big bookstore (remember those things...BOOKSTORES? Man, those were the days!). Anyway we descended the stairs from the top floor to the lower level (Yeah, I know, right?!! Two-story bookstores were actually a THING, man!) On a big table at the bottom of the stairs they had an entire display devoted to this book called MAKE LOVE THE BRUCE CAMPBELL WAY. We were just laughing at the title and cover. That alone had us going. So we picked one up and I started reading it out loud and after a few lines I was laughing so hard it was difficult to continue. But we kept reading it and it only got funnier.

After a while we put it down and left because clerks and customers were staring at us, plus I couldn't afford that damn book!

But it sure was funny.

Bruce Campbell--a man who carved a career out of corn. What a brilliant fucker.

Just the cover had us laughing.

PS: Sean Penn should have read this to learn how it's done.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Spring Wildlife

I love encountering wildlife when I go hiking and backpacking and kayaking. Those are the activities that most often put me in a situation where I can get photographs of wild animals. When I can't go hiking or backpacking I find that it's very easy for me to go kayaking in Mountain Island Lake which is just a couple of miles from my house. There I can see all sorts of critters from raccoons, deer, snakes and turtles, and dragonflies, to a staggering array of birds.

One of my favorite birds is the Great blue heron. For one thing, it's an animal that does not seem to be in any way under threat from pressure from humans. I see them all over the place. From wild open lakes in swamps and bayous when I'm kayaking, to rivers, to creeks in suburban neighborhoods, to Mountain Island Lake where I take my kayak (and camera).

One year one of my close friends (who is also, like me, a dinosaur buff) insisted that he had spotted a pterodactyl. No, he was not kidding. He was completely convinced that he had spotted one in the sky above his house. I tried to tell him that he had likely seen a Great blue heron, but he was having none of that. It was a pterodactyl, by God! Finally, a few days later he saw the same bird land in a neighborhood pond and called to tell me that I'd been right.

Still, they sort of are theropod dinosaurs (even if pterosaurs were not dinosaurs).

I was digging through old photos from a kayak trip I took on the lake last summer and enhanced some photos I took of what I think is the heaviest Great blue heron I have ever encountered. He did not like me one little bit because I interrupted his fishing trip and he had to fly across the lake to get away from me, croaking loudly about the inconvenience as he passed in front of my kayak. Screw you, human!

So here are the photos that I fiddled with to darken because it was a terribly bright, hot day and the raw photos are frankly not that impressive.

This was shot soon after I accidentally disturbed him. Initially he moved into the brush from the lake shore hoping I'd paddle on by.

Finally he got angry and took wing.

And he let me know what an asshole I was. "GRAK!" They sound about like you'd think a giant predator bird would sound.

He headed away.

Just before he got too far away for me to effectively photograph. 

You can kind of understand why my old pal could think it was a pterosaur.

Friday, March 30, 2018

They Call Me Jeeg

A movie doesn't have to be slickly produced to make me happy. And it doesn't have to make an awful lot of sense, and it certainly is not required that it have a big budget and a cast of superstars. All that I need for a good movie experience is an honest effort with a clever script , and fine performances.

Thus, with that in mind, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed the Italian superhero movie, "They Call Me Jeeg" ("Jeeg Robot" upon release in Italy).

Here we have the story of a loser schmuck who ends up getting doused in, apparently, a toxic soup of radioactive chemicals. Initially making him very sick, he eventually discovers that his bath in the concoction has given him two superhuman powers: amazing strength, and the ability to heal at an unbelievably accelerated rate.

Now, there is certainly nothing unique about the method by which the protagonist gets his powers of super-strength and hyper-healing. Chemicals and radioactivity combining to give a person god-like muscles and the ability to heal instantly are routine in comic books. What makes Jeeg different is the hero himself.

Before he becomes known as "Jeeg" he is Enzo Ceccotti (played by Claudio Santamaria) a common thug and purse-snatcher. We first encounter him as he is fleeing from the police on foot (he's far too poor to own either a car or a motorbike) over the theft of a nice wristwatch. The chase leads him to the river where he hides the watch on a barge and avoids the police by jumping into the river and using the hull of the barge to hide. The police leave and he climbs out, but not before puncturing a barrel of the radioactive brew that sickens him and later transforms him into a superman.

There really is not much to recommend the character of Enzo. He's just a big strong-arm thug with some muscles and a good pair of lungs for outrunning the cops. Even his intelligence is not so good and he can't even find a job with the lowest level of the local organized crime. Once he sells his goods to a fence he buys food and retires to his hovel to watch X-rated movies. There seems to be nothing there in the way of heroic substrate.

Eventually, though, after a while he discovers that his bath in the chemicals has given him super-strength so vast that he can punch through concrete and steel, bend metal bars, and that his body can heal from gunshot wounds within a few hours.

But Enzo has no intention of becoming a hero until bad fortune makes him into a reluctant guardian of a mentally deranged woman (Alessia, played by Ilenia Pastorelli) whose father was murdered in Enzo's presence. She thinks Enzo might somehow know what happened to her dad so she keeps at him like the little girl that she emotionally is until he accidentally displays his powers in front of her and she thinks that he is the human incarnation of her favorite cartoon character, Robot Jeeg.

Slowly, methodically, she convinces him to stop using his power to steal money (he initially rips an automatic teller machine out of a brick wall when he figures out that he can do it), and to instead use his power for good.

Into this mix we are introduced to a local low-level crime figure named Fabio Cannizzaro who is a total psychopath with a wealth of annoying personality and a vast streak of violence. Played brilliantly by Luca Marinelli I at first found the character so over the top that he was annoying, but soon realized that he was playing the character just about right for what eventually happens.

Fabio, obsessed with the news of the superman (no one knows who he is) eventually figures out that Jeeg is actually Enzo and he captures Alessia to make him give up the secret of his heightened strength. Without giving too much more away, the situation gets really complicated for both hero, villain, damsel, and everyone else involved with the trio.

Ultimately I found the script just clever enough to keep the project a couple of levels above even the most highly budgeted US superhero movie. The hero remains a big, powerful thug with a heart of gold and fists of steel. The villain ended up reminding me more than a little of Steve Ditko's The Creeper, and this added to the fun.

Another thing that I liked is that while the script does wrap things up in a tidy, logical bundle, it's not all happiness for all involved. In addition, the acting of the three main actors who portray Enzo, Fabio, and Allesia are excellent. The three do a great job and their performances held my attention. Hell---Luca Marinelli could probably make a career in the US, at least playing character roles.

I'd heard this was a good film, and few movies that I hear about this way pan out for me. "They Call Me Jeeg" did meet the hype. might have exceeded it. A great, simple, clever, honestly created low-budget superhero movie.

Enzo, having discovered that he can bend steel with his bare hands.

Fabio, chewing the scenery in villainous style.

Allesia, the deranged, innocent, childlike damsel.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Separate Tables

Carole and I watched a great movie last night: Separate Tables, from 1958.

The film was directed by Delbert Mann and was based on a play by Terrence Rattigan. It stars Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Rod Taylor, David Niven (who won an Oscar for his role as Major Pollock), Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller in a role that won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress as Pat Cooper.

Often I will see a film that is adapted from plays that leaves much to be desired, generally because it's either over-directed with a heavy hand, or sometimes merely lensed in a bland way that mimics a stage (so what's the point?). This production altered the stage play somewhat, combined the two (altered) acts into a traditional screenplay, and delivers a really special movie.

Co-produced by Burt Lancaster, he portrays one of the major characters and delivers the usual performance that one expected of him, with his personality and physical presence pretty much overwhelming most of the scenes in which he appears. His character (John Malcolm) is often scruffy and confused and mildly drunk, and Lancaster seems to do his best to subvert that enormous screen presence that served him well. He obviously respected the script and the play on which it was based.

A mousy, drab woman Sibyl is played by Deborah Kerr who at this time seemed to be doing a series of roles that intentionally depressed her beauty to make her appear plain and subdued. I suppose she made a conscious effort to turn in these performances and choose these characters, because in my youth I had never thought of her as particularly attractive because I'd seen so many of them. Maybe this was the first such role she accepted and she liked being appreciated for her talent and not her striking beauty.

Sibyl is a young woman totally subjugated by her overbearing upper class mother who does not approve of her attraction to an older retired officer, Major Pollock as created for the screen by David Niven. I have always been accustomed to seeing Niven do characters larger than life and almost cartoonish in their British flourish. But here he plays a sad, deceptive man living on a pension who is not only lying about being a major (he retired as a lieutenant), but a bit of a sexual pervert in a mild sort of way. It is the discovery of Pollock's flaws and falsehoods that presents the thrust of the drama for the movie.

There is, of course, a secondary storyline involving a bit of a love triangle between Malcom (Lancaster), Pat Cooper, the owner of the inn where the story unfolds (played by Wendy Hiller), and Malcolm's estranged wife Anne (created by Rita Hayworth). To me, this story was secondary and pedestrian when compared to the one focusing on Colonel Pollock and Sybil, and Niven definitely turned in the finest performance I ever saw from him, and one of the best by any actor from any movie I've watched in a last few years. I was only one year old when the movie was first-run, so I guess I can be excused for only discovering it now.

The film does address some issues that I find are more and more important to me as I get older, especially the issue of class. For one of the levers used to punish Pollock when his secrets are revealed is that he is merely from a working class family when others who reside at the inn are from the UK middle class. He is definitely not one of them when he had posed otherwise. In addition, the entire situation with Niven as accused is a metaphor for the situation of gays in that day and age and not, of course, the crime of which he is accused in the screenplay. This was, of course, 1958.

Hiller is pretty much the glue who holds the entire production together and I have to admit that I mainly watched it because of her presence. When I was a kid I watched the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" when I was in my teens and fell in love with her at first sight. What a gorgeous young woman she was, so I decided to watch "Separate Tables" without knowing anything at all about it other than her presence.

Oh. I have to mention Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton as a young unmarried couple staying at the inn back in the days when cohabitation by unmarried people was forbidden. The pair serve as comic relief and each appearance by them definitely produces a lot of humor. At the time Taylor's star was in ascendance and he only agreed to take the small role because he admired the script and the folk producing the movie.

If you can, catch the movie. Carole and I watched in on streaming video via the Filmstruck channel. I suppose it's available on other venues and DVD.

Wendy Hiller as she appeared in the 1938 film "Pygmalion" and not the 1958 movie I watched tonight. But this is what she looked like the first movie in which I saw her. Yeah, love at first sight for me when I was a teenager.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

There's Something Wrong

“There’s Something Wrong”

At one of my jobs there was a guy who worked mainly nights several times a week. His name was Oliver and he had a hard time of it. I would see him arrive at work walking down the highway sometimes just after I got there, as he either did not drive, or couldn’t afford an automobile even if he could drive.

Oliver was—to me—a completely pitiful fellow. He just was not put together right. That’s the only way I can describe him. And I’m speaking as a person who is himself not put together in perfect symmetry. I have crooked teeth, am blind in one eye, tend to go to fat; and am not, frankly, good-looking. So I’m not picking on Oliver when I say this.

He was very thin--his arms and legs were like elongated sticks. Oliver’s torso, also, seemed strangely stretched, as if formed in a kind of rectangle with no deviation from shoulders to hips, which made the addition of those fragile-looking limbs that much weirder. His face was somewhat effeminate and chinless and he wore a bit of downy beard almost as a challenge to this unfortunate situation concerning gender. There just seemed to be something intrinsically wrong with him.

Even his demeanor was somewhat annoying with a high-pitched voice and a speech impediment that tended to make the ‘sh' sound whenever he tried to form an ‘s’, which would also sometimes trail off into a whistle at the oddest moments. It didn’t help that he occasionally tried to discuss things which were not pertinent to the job at hand and he would now and then try to engage co-workers in conversations about subjects only of interest to Oliver.

His job was as a kind of janitor at the place where I worked and he did a commendable job mainly, except when some real muscle power was required and he always needed help in such situations. Fifteen or twenty pounds seemed to be the limit he could move without help. He was the picture of physical frailty. Of course I wondered if he had gotten the job in some kind of aid program, but I didn’t care about that. He worked and seemed happy to do so.

What did bug me about Oliver were some of the co-workers. It is the common wisdom that bullies vanish when high school is over and people move on into the adult world of jobs and marriage and parenthood (or life as a single person making a living for those of you among the politically correct). But this is not true. The tendency for cruelty in some continues—as near as I can tell—forever. I’m sure that there are notorious bullies in old-folks homes tottering about on their walkers and terrorizing their fellow inmates.

Oliver suffered from bullying. Often I wondered if he was even aware of it the way that I was. He would speak to someone in authority and get a cynical reply. Or he could ask for some help from those whose jobs it was to respond and they would make fun of him and answer with classic snark. For his part, Oliver seemed accustomed to it, or he had learned to let it roll off his back with a smile. I never once saw him get upset or angry or tearful. It is quite possible he didn't even notice it as cruelty.

I, on the other hand, did get angry. Many were the times when I wanted to scream at the assholes and get in their faces and maybe bash some teeth out. Finally, one day I did respond to a fellow in lower management who complained about misfit Oliver.

“I see the way people talk to Oliver,” I told him. “If Oliver ever complains, or if anyone challenges the company on his behalf, I will tell them what I have seen and heard. This place will get the shit sued out of it.”

Almost immediately I noticed that no one bothered Oliver anymore. No one said anything snide to him. No one made fun of him, or even smirked at him when his back was turned. But rather than feel a sense of victory or accomplishment I instead began to worry about him. Maybe I’d done him a disservice. It wouldn’t take any effort at all for someone in higher management to decide to get rid of him. There is no difficulty at all in the USA for a corporation to shed a part-time worker who is already dirt-poor. Especially if the company feels any kind of economic threat from them whatsoever. Perhaps I’d doomed his employment by speaking up. Maybe this was the lull before termination.

Maybe two weeks later I noticed that Oliver had been absent for a few days. He had not appeared in late afternoon to do the cleaning into the evening hours before walking along the highway back to wherever he lived. I asked another laborer and they didn’t know where he was.

Finally, one afternoon I saw him reenter the building, pushing a trash bin with broom and mop. “Hey, Oliver,” I said.

“Hey, Bob!”

I asked him where he’d been. And he proceeded to tell me that he’d had a bad case of the flu and had been in bed for most of a week.

“Well, you look OK now,” I told him.

“My mama always said I was really strong,” he replied. And he raised those poor stick-like arms and made a muscle pose.

And for the first time I thought not of Oliver, but of his mother, which had never occurred to me. What is a poor woman going to do if she has a kid like Oliver? A child who is imperfect physically, and not quite there mentally or socially. No money. No one who really cares or who can help. What she does, I suddenly imagined, is tell that child that he is strong. That mother informs him that he is smart and special and can do whatever he needs to do. She does that because that’s really all she can provide before she is gone and her imperfect baby has to find his own way in a society full of assholes and bullies.

“That’s great, Oliver.” And I had to make a dash for the bathroom to hide.

Later, I heard Oliver talking to someone. “I think there’s something wrong with Bob. He was crying.” 

Not put together just right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Life of the Working Class

Semi-retired these days, I have a part-time job in a grocery store. As with almost every job before this one it is as a laborer. Similar to my previous such positions I am often placed in situations where I hear people talking, casually discussing their lives. Never in my life would I intentionally eavesdrop, but when you are quietly working and other people are talking nearby you cannot help but hear what they say.

A few days ago I was stocking shelves with produce—fresh vegetables, fruit, salads, and the like, and I heard a young woman talking to her son. The boy was about five or six years old. So his mom must have been very young when she had him because she couldn’t have been older than 23 or so.

The young woman was pushing one of the smaller grocery carts—the kind that’s about one-third the size of a normal cart. She was very carefully picking things out to put in there. I have noticed this is how people shop when they have little money and have to be sure not to put more than they can afford into the buggy. She was doing this. There was not much in it and she was not tossing things in there at random.

The boy had a small container of cut watermelon that his mom had told him he could have. He looked back at the shelf and noticed a larger container of it. He obviously liked watermelon and took down one of the larger plastic boxes. “Nanna gave us $30.00. Do you think I could get the big one?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, honey. But we already spent that money. We can’t afford that one.”

“Okay,” he said, and put it back.

After a little while they were gone, and I filed the experience there in the back of my mind with a million other such things that I would probably never recall.

About fifteen minutes later I was told I needed to go to the front of the store to a specific cash register. I did so, and as I got there I knew that it was to retrieve merchandise that someone had decided not to buy so that I could return it to the shelves. As I looked down at it, I realized that almost everything that young woman had placed into that puny shopping cart was lying on the checkout counter. Even the tiny container of cut watermelon for her little boy.

And every day people ask me why I am so angry. When they say this to me with these expressions of fat, complacent judgement on their stinking faces I want to punch them all in the teeth. This horrible thing that I saw is not rare. This nation is awash in human beings who are nearly homeless, or already so. We have more billionaires living in unimaginable luxury and greed than any nation has ever seen, and over half of our people are the barest step ahead of homelessness and starvation.

The next person who asks me why I am so angry is perhaps going to get their fucking ass kicked.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pearson's Falls

I have done so much hiking and exploring around Saluda, North Carolina over the years that I've lost count of the number of times I've been in or close to the town. However, for one reason or another I have managed to never see Pearson's Falls located on the edges of the city limits.

Maybe it's because of the $5.00 admission charge and the fact that the property is in private hands and no part of our public lands. I can't recall why I have passed it by to visit other places in the area, but I have.

Today Carole and I visited the Pearsons Botanical Preserve and paid the $5.00 admission fee and it was certainly money well spent. Pearsons Glen is the location of the waterfall and the Garden Club that owns and administers to acreage has done a more than admirable job of providing access and infrastructure for visitors to see the land and the waterfall that is its centerpiece.

The trail that leads to the falls is excellent work worthy of the best of the CCC trails that are in our National Parks and National Forests. It follows the stream which cascades down the rocks and boulders and offers an unending music to those who visit.

And what a great waterfall! Pearson's Falls is said to be 90-feet high and it does seem to be that tall. It is an especially striking a photogenic waterfall. Carole and I hope to go back in the spring with the various wildflowers will be showing their color. I highly recommend a visit!

Hiking the short trail to Pearsons Falls.

A picnic pavilion near the parking areas.

Standing near the base of the falls. No trespassing beyond the chains! (Seriously. Don't. The owners will prosecute.)

Decaying log at the bottom of the falls, alive with moss and new growth.

Carole along the way.

A bridge across the creek.

One of the picnic spots on the way to the falls.

A new blossom on March 17.
Carole and I get a kick out of Saluda. It's a nice and popular village.