Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Mad Ones.

My new book BEAUTIFUL BOY is coming out some time this year. I'm not sure of the exact release date, but the principal edits are done.

Working on the edits made me start thinking of my writing career. When I was a young man all I wanted to do was write. Almost everything else took a back seat to my desire and need to write. If there were other things to do, the act of creating a short story or a novel took precedence and so that is what I would do instead of anything else.

These days, though, this is not the case. I am an outdoorsman and enjoy kayaking, hiking, camping, and (especially) backpacking. Now when faced with a choice of working on a new novel or plotting a short story, or planning and executing a backpacking trip or a jaunt to go kayaking on a lake, I will choose to be outdoors, out in the sun, or climbing a forested mountain, or taking photos of waterfalls and wildlife.

When I was a kid I would look at the careers of many of the authors I admired in those days. And one thing generally struck me: their careers seemed to end well before they got old and died. I began to wonder if there was a burst of creative energy that lasted only so long and no longer. Yes, there were exceptions--folk who wrote for many decades. But most writers seemed to be active for only ten to fifteen years and then...nothin'.

I haven't, by any means, stopped writing. But I sure as Hell don't write obsessively as I did as a young man. When I do write I take my time and budget the hours and work with all due consideration. I used to think of myself as one of those "mad" folk that Jack Kerouac talked about:

“[...]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

― Jack KerouacOn the Road

That's the way I was when I was writing. Mad and burning and obsessed by the world around me and focused on the fantasy of characters and situations whirling around in me ol' brain.

Maybe that fire is burning out. I don't know. All I can say is that often I would much rather be standing on the summit of a mountain that I labored to climb instead of sitting in front of the white screen putting down the words that once drove me crazy with desire to transfer to paper.

I think that I'm still one of the mad ones. But in a different space.

Yeah...I know where I'd rather be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fort Frederica

The USA has never done anything of more value than the establishment of National Parks and Forests and their accompanying wilderness areas, monuments, refuges, and associated sites. I have spent my life wandering around and exploring these places. There is actually nothing I like more than visiting what we have preserved and restored for everyone to enjoy.

Among these places are National Historical Monuments. My family and I rarely miss an opportunity to visit one when we find them. One that I have been visiting since I was a child is the Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island along the coast of Georgia.

In fact, some of my earliest memories are of walking around this well-preserved and protected historical site that was once a thriving military town of over 1500 people. It was established by the British to protect this part of the southeast from incursions from the Spanish who were, at that time, still competing for territory in what is now the USA.

The British, though, finally defeated the Spanish in the well-named Battle of Bloody Marsh and their foes retreated, never again to threaten the British colonies with invasion. After that, the military town began to lose its funding from the Crown and since it basically had only one reason for existing, the village population dwindled until no one was left and the maritime forests of pines and oak and palmetto covered it all and hid it from us.

Today the former town and fort have been carefully excavated and partially restored. The grounds are now immaculately kept and adorned with information signs with an excellent modern visitors center and museum attached.

My parents thought the monument was so beautiful that they requested that their combined ashes be scattered there, at the verge of the marsh. And so they were. This is one more reason I try to stop to visit the place whenever we travel near it.

Part of the fort with old cannon at the edge of the marsh.

Carole took this photo of me with this gigantic Live oak.

These old foundations have been excavated along the various streets of the almost vanished military village.

The grounds are beautiful and well maintained.

Bits of the old village cemetery.

Vines and Spanish moss adorn the big oaks.

A short video of part of our exploration of the Monument.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Life

I've lost close friends in the past, but no friend as close and as decent a man as my pal, Bill Gronroos. This past weekend I drove down to my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia to deliver the eulogy for him at his memorial service at the Palmetto Cemetery.

I cannot imagine ever having a more depressing thing to do. It was very hard and the entire time I was traveling to and from my hometown a cloud hung over me which has yet to dissipate.

Here, then, is the eulogy that I delivered, and some photos from the service and from a series of displays that were set up by his cousin, Mauri, to celebrate his life.

Bill as a radio DJ and from about the time he was the Voice of Woolworth's.

Bill's favorite Superman actor was George Reeves, but his cousins found this pen sketch he tossed off from memory of Kirk Alyn as Superman.

Me, delivering the eulogy.

One of the many displays of photos and memories of Bill's life. Created by his cousin, Mauri Lazaro.

One of Bill's Superman collectibles.

“Never Ending”
A Eulogy for Edward William Gronroos, Jr.

I knew Bill for most of my life. Since I met him when I was 18 and I’m now almost 61—that’s over 42 years--it is easy to say that he was the closest friend that I’ve had for the longest time. We knew one another well.

One thing that I want to mention today is the fact that Bill and I occasionally talked about sensitive subjects that lots of friends avoid because they want to stay friends. I think that says a lot for our friendship. You know the two subjects—religion and politics. Specifically, though, I think of what Bill had to say about the human soul.

Because Bill did believe in the soul and that it was ever-lasting. He thought that it was created, that it was here for the duration of his time on Earth, and that when he died it would continue on. Ever-lasting, as he insisted.

Another thing about Bill came from almost the first day I met him--he sincerely took to heart something that we both had heard and read as children and it went straight to the core of who he was.

You’ll recognize it if you ever spent much time around him. It originated with his favorite bit of pop literature—Superman, and it meant as much to Bill as anything can mean to anyone.

He believed in the never-ending battle.

He felt that a person was in for a never-ending battle as long as they were alive. And I saw it every day that I spent in Bill’s company. People gave him a hard time. Even his friends sometimes were less than charitable to him. But Bill persevered. It was all part of his eternal struggle. Not for truth and justice, maybe. But for as much of dignity as he could find and grasp while he was with us.

I knew that Bill suffered from depression. He told me about it from time to time, and what a burden it was for him. It was especially hard in the face of cruelty, and in the wake of all manner of personal disappointments and broken plans and dreams. But Bill was true to the creed that he’d first heard as a kid. It was important for him to keep up that never-ending battle because only a coward would do otherwise. More than anything, it was Bill’s job to be as strong as possible against whatever adversary the world chose to throw his way.

And now Bill is gone. Now he doesn’t have to struggle against the cruelty and harshness that sometimes found him. I often saw Bill create a solid wall of stoicism through things that would have reduced me to tears or rage or even violence. I watched Bill deflect hardship and callousness with humor, humility, and compassion. Bill was far and away a better man than I am.

This was because he displayed a kind of courage that I know I could never match. I could try for another forty years to do it and I’d never measure up.

And I know that Bill was right, that his soul is ever-lasting because of everyone who is here. If you knew Bill then a little of his personality is present in your hearts. When you hear music you will hear Bill’s voice. If a person is being bullied and responds with a smile you will see Bill. Someday when you are passing a bookshelf and spot a kid reading a superhero comic, you’ll know that Bill just gave you a wink. And if you are sometimes lonely you can think of Bill’s voice and his tendency for reason and his cool response with love in the face of difficulty, and you will be better for it.

Bill Gronroos fought that never-ending battle to the last beat of his heart, and his kind soul is certainly ever-lasting because I have felt it and heard it almost every day since he left this place where the rest of us still reside.

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.