Monday, September 18, 2017

In the Short Term.

There is one thing for which I can thank ebooks and self-published writers:

Real books are stupidly cheap right now! Not only have independent bookstores been shutting down, not only are chain bookstores vanishing, but even used bookstores are going under. And the few used bookstores that are left won't even buy books anymore. So, guess what? People donate the shit out of books! They're in every donation shop you see, and packed into every flea market you stumble upon.

I discovered some time back, as traditional publishers began to wilt and fade at the assault from Amazon and Smashwords, etc., that I can walk into any second-hand shop and buy used books for next to nothing. I'm talking cheap. Cheaper than ever before. Yes, you could always find good books at a discount in such places, but not like this!

Last week when Carole and I were on a jaunt we stopped at an antique mall. Back in the day whenever I would find used books in one of these joints they would be prohibitively expensive for my cheapskate ass. But not now! I found an enormous selection of fantasy and science-fiction books from the 60s through the late 80s that ranged between 25 cents to a buck. Yes, I loaded up.

Today we visited a Goodwill store and I located more good stuff, nothing over a dollar.

So, for now, the self-published assholes and the emerging monopoly of Amazon have handed me a vast treasure of extremely cheap reading material. Cheaper by far than I could find online. Less expensive than anyone could purchase in even the most economy-driven used bookshop.

As you creeps destroy English literature you have given me cheap access to more books and more reading material than I could possibly read within a lifetime.

Thanks, you filthy, no-talent fucks (and your grinning monopolistic creep of a master). As you destroy literature, you have done something of value in the short term.

"Self-publishin' ferever!"

Friday, September 15, 2017

Comic Books are Doomed.

Ever since I was a child comic books have been a part of my life. Even during the periods when I wasn't so much as looking at a comic book they were still with me, the tens of thousands of them that I had read floating around in my mind.

Back in those days there were all kinds of comic books and they were inexpensive and readily available to children and their parents in all manner of places where people could buy them. They were in newsstands, grocery stores, convenience stores, at the druggists, bookshops, and so on. These days, not so much. Sometimes you can find a very limited selection of comic books in chain bookstores, but mainly you have to go into a comic book shop to locate them. Yeah, ever since around the 1980s or so, shops catering specifically to comic book fans have been the go-to spot to buy comic books.

At any rate, I'm not writing this to talk about why the comics industry is dying or how it happened. I'm just here to say that it is doomed and to explain, succinctly, how that's a foregone conclusion.

The two biggest comic book companies are Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Even the most non-nerdy of people generally know this fact. Both companies are owned by media conglomerates who make a huge amount of money producing feature films and TV shows. The reason they wanted to own Marvel and DC is because what they desired about the two publishing concerns was to get their corporate mitts on the intellectual property represented in Marvel and DC.

That is, Warner and Disney don't possess DC and Marvel to see the regular release of four-color periodicals. To the men who run those outfits, what they want are the grist that they use to make movies that produce billions of dollars in profits. In Disney's case they wanted the sweat of Jack Kirby's brow. Again, I'm not here to belabor the obvious fact that a corporate shill (Stan Lee) never created anything but was just the trigger that allowed Marvel to steal Jack Kirby's creations. That's an important part of the process of course, but it's not how the comics industry doomed itself.

The sad fact is that Disney and Warner no longer care one damned bit about comic books. What they want is the intellectual property that fuels the movies and cartoons that they make that, in turn, spawn toy sales and video game sales and infuse their coffers with the rentals of DVDs and streaming video. Fuck actual comic books. These guys don't give shit-one about the comic book and its place as one of the few uniquely American art forms.

Comic book publishing barely makes a profit mark on the logs of Warner and Disney. And that fine line of black on the yearly books keeps getting thinner and thinner. As far back as 1960 that profit margin was so small for a man named Martin Goodman who owned what later became known as Marvel Comics that he was going to abolish the company. Only the arrival of Jack Kirby and his talent put off that decision and created the basis for a billions-of-dollars company. But there aren't any more Jack Kirbys out there; and no champion with a gleaming mind and talent to illustrate is going to put off the demise of comic books.

Some years back I heard that the owners of comic book shops, and their customers, had begun referring to monthly comic books as "floppies". It's not a nice term and shows the contempt for comic books that both the sellers and buyers of them felt for the medium. Even at that point I realized that there was no way the industry could be resurrected. When the very people who sold them, and the "fans" themselves were using an epithet to label the books...well...that's just about the end of the line. To the big guys at Disney and Warner Communications floppies ain't something they want to deal with.

And here, then, is the bottom line:

DC and Marvel really aren't making a profit for Warner and Disney. At first, it was just a bothersome gnat for them. "These ants don't make us any money. But we gotta live with it 'cause we want the characters that we use for the movies and video games. What ya gonna do? Eh."

But it's only a small step from there to realizing that you can just as easily hire some hack writers to sit at a desk in an office somewhere and come up with more stupid superhero characters. You don't have to tend to a failing company like DC and Marvel rupturing cash and causing you momentary angst. Just close them down and have those low-paid hacks create for you and fuck the goddamned comic books.

It's coming. Hell...Warner came to the same conclusion long ago concerning real books when they shut down Warner Books and sold it off to a French corporation. If they can do it to a company that was making hardbacks and paperback books then they can (and will) certainly do the same with Marvel. These suits at the top of the heap will roll Marvel and DC up into the bigger corporation and shut down that annoying office full of incompetent editors and mouthpieces in New York. They can (and will) pay some clueless schmucks in Hollywood to make up silly superheroes for them without all of the cost and hassle of running offices on the other side of the continent.

Comic books are doomed. Soon, the only place you'll be able to find your "floppies" will be at the fan gatherings where nerds go to dress up as superheroes and fairies. For a while there will be some guys there selling moldy bits of limp pulp paper called "comic books". There will be some aging rubes there buying them for a decade or so, and then those rubes will die with their collections of acid-infused pulp decaying into flaking dust. There's a term for that kind of thing: Dead People's Toys.

And that will be the end of comic books.

"Gimme $100,000! Such a deal!"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Two More Films.

I watched two more films this week: "The Master" (Paul Thomas Anderson) and "It" (Andy Muschietti).

"The Master" is a classic instance of when one should ignore the critics. When it came out in 2012 I heard absolutely nothing good about it and decided to avoid it. Based on what? The opinions of people I don't know, who don't know me. I need to stop listening to critical opinions. (But not you. You should listen to my critical opinions. Because I am the most critical guy you will ever meet.)

A lot of people were looking forward to "The Master" for many reasons. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film and--I would not kid you here--he does have a track record for making some really excellent films. His movie "There Will Be Blood" remains one of my all-time favorite movies. And many folk were anxious to see Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. Also, of course, lots of folk were curious to see what Anderson had to say about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard which, although the names were changed and all that, is what the film was supposed to deliver.

It's hard to say, though, what the film was really about. I watched it and I am not sure. Yes, the role of Lancaster Dodd was a thinly-veiled version of L. Ron Hubbard. The producers didn't even really hide that fact, save for perhaps some legal reasons. Hoffman does a commendable job of portraying a truly parasitic con man creating a religion. But I've seen films of L. Ron Hubbard and Hoffman didn't even try to do anything approaching a mimicry of Hubbard, opting for a largely unformed monstrous liar doing his best to sucker anyone he can convince so that he can fleece them. I did see glimpses of an actual historical person in the performance, but it was not the faker Hubbard. It was, in fact, the actual ego-mad polymath Orson Welles. I don't think it was my imagination that I kept picking out bits of Welles' game more often than I did of Hubbard's. Hoffman was a decent actor, but he was no John C. Reilly, nor a Daniel Day Lewis, so he relied on doing a passable imitation of Orson Welles.

The thrust of the story, though, comes from the writer's foil seen in the person of Freddie Quell, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix. Not sure what sources Pheonix used to conjure Quell, but it was an almost brilliant performance. The true protagonist of the film is a suffering, loony, alcoholic madman in some very serious need of psychiatric, emotional, and medical help. The off-putting and almost ape-like Quell somehow--and for some reason never mentioned--becomes friend and confidant to Lancaster Dodd; he's a kind of personal project of the Master. Perhaps it was their shared history of the US Navy, or maybe it's pity on Dodd's part, or perhaps even just one more piece of a religious structure being conjured by Dodd. It's never made clear and I cannot fathom the reason for it.

The film actually has a number of very fine actors in it. However, people like Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, and Kevin J. O'Connor just become set pieces in a film that focuses like a laser on Phoenix and Hoffman.

In the end, I have to admit that I enjoyed the movie and I'm glad I saw it. I did not consider it a waste of time and I will continue to dwell on the movie and its performers for a while. That's about as good as a film is going to get from me. It's rare that I will donate more praise than that.

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in "The Master".

"It" from director Andy Muschietti and adapted from the novel by Stephen King is, as I like to say, a piece of shit. I don't even want to waste too many of my words on it. What can I possibly add? It's a tired collection of shock takes and traditional monster images. And its all wrapped up in the kind of cinematic tale that uses the worst of faux-Spielberg tropes combined with uninspired direction, crappy acting, and cinematography that fails to show us anything of much worth.

In addition, the movie drags horribly and suffers from loopy dialog, campy drama, and totally unrealistic situations that prevented me from taking any of it seriously. One thing that bugged the shit out of me is that someone needed to either have had the kids enunciate more clearly, or have had the final print re-dubbed so that we could understand what the kids were goddamned saying half the time.

And where the hell were the adults?! Grownups make only the most brief of appearances, in order to fill in some insipid characterization points for the kids, and then vanish to some other dimension where people over 12 years old are banished when it comes to this story about Derry, Maine.


And, yes, if you've heard it's not a complete movie--only the first half a two-movie sucker deal, then you are right. When the final credits roll, we are met with "End of Part One".

Thank Jove for that, I figure. My two hours and fifteen minutes of torture were over and I know now that I will never pay to see "Part Two".

PS: Pennywise, as I like to say, sucked High Holy Ass. The monster's portrayal here was as flat and unimaginative as the rest of the movie. Unintentional humor. Cue the Curly Shuffle.


Fuck "IT".
"IT" floats. Like a turd!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pop Music.

These days I cannot abide pop music. What passes for hits these days grate on my every nerve whenever I am stuck in a place where I cannot avoid having my ears and my mind assaulted by this rubbish.

Of course I do have positive feelings for much of the pop music that was around in my youth and during those years when I was disposed to not only listening to it, but celebrating it. There is always room for hypocrisy and chauvinism when it comes to one's own nostalgia. So I will admit to that up front.

Thus, I do whatever I can to avoid modern pop music. I don't intentionally listen to radio at any point, and I don't allow it to be played in any car that I am driving. If I'm behind the wheel, then by Jove I will dictate the state of the radio and the speakers assaulting my ears. If you have your own device with earphones...go at it. Just as long as I don't have to hear it.

But sometimes I do enjoy listening to the pop music of my youth--which covers a lot of ground. I did listen and follow pop trends from about the time I was six or seven--when the Beatles were leading the British Invasion of the US pop scene--up until about 1990 when I completely stopped listening to pop. Typically, if anyone brings up a group or so-called "artist" who appeared after 1990 I have no idea who, or what, they are talking about.

One of the pop groups from my youth that I would only grudgingly listen to was the Bee Gees. Today most people dismiss them as some kind of twisted aberration of the US and British music scene, discounting that they were almost constantly charting hits from the '60s and for the next four decades. But those same people were glued to the radio and buying Bee Gees records for all that time. I never bought a Bee Gees record, but I did sometimes listen to them.

The reason I even mention them now is because of Robin Gibb who was the sometimes lead singer, but often stuck in a supporting role as vocalist. For decades I had supposed that his voice was electronically enhanced in some way, and that most of his vocals were, in fact, the trio singing in tandem as harmony while he led.

But this was a misconception. That really was Robin Gibb singing solo. And, no, his voice was not being artificially enhanced, nor was it some kind of spliced-in harmony with his two brothers. It really was his voice.

Yeah. I was surprised. I've heard his voice referred to as an acquired taste, and I admit that it can be annoying. But there is something unreal about it--almost, I would say--supernatural. When I finally read that his voice was not being twisted in some electronic way I wondered how this was so. For a while I refused to believe that it was one person singing and that it was not, at least, being looped with multiple tracks.

Since then, I've heard it described as a kind of unique vibrato, or a strange kind of tremulous warbling. Whatever it was, it was singular, and now and again I'll find myself intentionally listening to tunes where he was the lead vocalist, or singing without the benefit of his brothers.




Monday, September 11, 2017

Hallow's Eve is Waiting

I woke up this morning and it was really nice and chilly out. As I write this it is September 11th. Back in the days of my childhood, this is when the season began to turn from hot days and warm mornings to mild weather with cool temperatures at dawn. Recent years have put lie to that old standard but when the muted sunlight filtered through thick clouds to wake me it was nice to see the weather doing the right thing.

In the mountains on Saturday Carole and I saw a few trees just beginning to change from green to the burnished hues of approaching Autumn. Out in the yard this morning I noticed that the dogwoods are already going that way, too. They're always the first to take that trip.

So I know that Halloween is coming. That day when the trees are conspiring to give us a show of golds and reds and orange and all manner of fantastic hues. And the winds will begin to drift mildly out of the north to cool the skin and dry the perspiration from my brow. The nights will be not-quite-frigid and the days will be crisp. Gardens will give up the last of the crops while we humans ascend into a series of celebrations as we enjoy this season in wait of the frozen embrace of winter.

The days and evenings of ghosts and brittle leaves, of heavy fruit lying in the soil, of glorious lights and shadows; the winds whispering to us of exciting portents and the cold yet to come.

Hallow's Eve.

We'll all soon be there. It's been waiting for us.



Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.

Kumbrabow State Forest, West Virginia.

Kumbrabow, WV.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Rocky Face Recreation Area, NC.

The view from Mount Craig, second highest summit in the eastern USA in Autumn. It doesn't get any better.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

A Short Hike Day.

Carole wanted to go to Skyland Orchards to pick apples today. So we did that. I had not expected the crowds! Thousands! Who knew so many city folk liked to go to apple orchards to pick apples??!!

After that we stopped in Hendersonville where we toured downtown and bought lunch at a burger joint that looked really cool but which served just barely average food.


After that we headed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to take in the views and where I was able to take one brief hike of a little less than 1.5 miles. I climbed to the top of Craggy Pinnacle where I took about a hundred photos and shot about five minutes of video, some of which you can view and watch below.

Craggy Dome, taken from the slopes of Craggy Pinnacle. I used to want to bag Craggy Dome--one of the state's 6000-foot summits. But I really don't have that old urge to bag summits any more.

The famous gnarly birch along the trail where everyone must stop.

Mountains, baby!


Monday, September 04, 2017

TWIN PEAKS--THE RETURN.

After 18 episodes of the new TWIN PEAKS, I have to say that I was underwhelmed. I went into the series with an open mind and knowing that Lynch was not going to tell a traditional story in a traditionally cinematic way. And on that I was right. However, while I was hoping to see something that I would find both artistically pleasing and challenging, I was left with a true mess--a situation in which I was actually hoping that an outside hand had stepped in and filed down the hard edges of Lynch's unsettling vision. 

To give you an example of this--I was thinking that I would like to see a work that might challenge me the way MULLHOLLAND DRIVE did, but without the confusing excesses of INLAND EMPIRE.

That's really about the gist of what I want to say about this series. I'm glad it was produced and I'm happy that a lot of my friends got a big kick out of it, but ultimately I did not enjoy it and I am not completely happy that I invested so much of my leisure time watching it. Maybe that will change, later. There have been works by artists that I initially disliked and later came to enjoy. But I rather doubt that will ever happen with this (hopefully) final series of TWIN PEAKS. 

Lynch does not tell linear storylines. Also, he is obsessed with the idea of alternate reality and enjoys plucking at the threads of reality and our perception of consciousness. He is the cinematic equivalent of a jazz musician. He gives you glimpses of notes that your square ass can follow, and then intersperses those lines of notes with a litany of discordant melodies.  Lynch has given us inconceivable puzzles, but he has also failed to give us the keys to solving them. If there is meaning in the stories that he has chosen to tell the past few years, then the explanations for them reside only with him, and he isn't willing to share the answers within the body of those works. He even has told us as much.

You either get it, or you don't.

I get it...but just as I'm not a big jazz fan, I have grown weary of Lynch's shtick. I just doesn't work for me.

The ending was a moment of classic horror, though. I'll give it that much.


"My cow is not pretty, but it's pretty to me."-- David Lych.

"It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It is better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it's a very personal thing and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for someone else." -- David Lynch.


The author of the confusion.

The puppet.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Back in the Day.

When I was a kid my dad gave me a book about the history of Stone Mountain, Georgia (the mountain, not the town). I ignored most of the book because it was obsessed with the fucking carving that now blights it. But what I did like about it were the many photos of the mountain before it was violated by that stinking carved monument.

Somewhere along the way I lost that book, and I wish I still had it just to see those photos. Because the mountain was beautiful in those days. I recall there was a series of photos showing the initial dynamite charges being set off to straighten out the bulge of the cliff face to facilitate the obscene picture that now mars the mountainside. Even as a kid those photos made me want to vomit.

I don't know why the mountain became a center for Klan activity and white nationalism. Maybe it was because the man who owned the property was also a piece of shit and invited them in. I sincerely don't know (and don't care).

At any rate, it's hard these days to find photos of the mountain pre-carving.

Here are a couple for those of you who might be interested.

I vividly recall the first time I went to see Stone Mountain. They were still working on that goddamned carving. My dad and I were standing at a viewing platform below looking up at the schmucks carving rock. I turned to my dad and asked, "Who are those three guys in the carving?"

And my dad answered, "Just three goddamned assholes who don't amount to a pile of cow shit."


Some nearby people glared at my dad but didn't say jack shit.


One of the largest granite monoliths on Earth. Almost 900 feet from base to summit.




Monday, August 28, 2017

Creator

Today is Jack Kirby's 100th birthday!
Jack Kirby, the single greatest creator in the history of the comic book art form. The list of the characters his mind produced for various comic book companies boggles the mind. He conceived them, he wrote their stories, and he brought them to life in illustrated sequential format.
Keep in mind that he never had a "co-creator" with the sole exception of one of his business partners (Joe Simon). The so-called "co-creator" often linked to his name was a salaried no-talent company shill who existed only to enable a corporation to steal Kirby's intellectual property.
The fact that Kirby was able to keep producing amazing stories for children and young adults even as he was being robbed is the evidence of his willpower and his love for his family and his fans.

Kirby, the Creator.






Thursday, August 24, 2017

Perfection

I've never understood filmmakers who want to either recreate or follow a movie that is already perfect. (Or, for those who think there is nothing that is perfect, a truly excellent film.)

One of my favorite films is BLADE RUNNER, the 1982 production starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. It is one of the few movies that I feel is about as perfect as they make them. Based on Philip K. Dick's novel, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, it takes the premise of that book and bends it to appeal to what was then modern sensibilities. It of course takes liberties with Dick's novel, but retains the seed that Dick intended. (I know this because PK Dick approved of the movie which he saw shortly before it was released and just before he died.)

The movie, to me, is a classic. Ford is used to great effect even though he is not--in my opinion--a very good actor. Rutger Hauer turned in what may be the best performance of his career portraying the child-like android, Roy Batty who is the leader of a small group of escaped "replicants" (artificial humans); and whose existence places him as a kind of Christ-like figure. The rest of the cast similarly give us amazing turns. Again, Sean Young as Rachel--a replicant who doesn't know she is not human--never looked better and never again turned in an acting job like that one. Small character roles like M. Emmett Walsh as a corrupt police captain, and Hy Pyke as Taffy Lewis, the sleazy owner of a drinking/prostitution establishment turn out pure performances and unforgettable voices and exposition. Joe Turkel is unforgettable as Eldon Tyrell. James Hong as Hannibal Chew. William Sanderson as J.F. Sebastian. Every actor was chosen brilliantly and directed to perfection.

Even the music (by Vangelis) is inspired. The direction is flawless. The script polished to a dark and horrific onyx.

The movie is, to me, as good as it gets. And yet, when I research the production of the film, I realize that it was saved as much as what ended up being left out of the storyline as by what was revealed onscreen. Scenes were eventually excised that would have ruined the movie. Further research has led me to conclude that studio executives who obviously had some amount of insight used a heavy hand to reign in the director, Ridley Scott. Putting lie to the idea that officious high-minded pricks are always a bad thing when it comes to creating art. In this case it seems that they saved a film rather than hindered or ruined it.

Since BLADE RUNNER is just about the best movie I've seen--and easily the finest genre film I've watched--I wonder what has possessed the money men to create a sequel. The best that they could hope to achieve, artistically, would be to equal the flawless original. And the chances of that are almost zero. So, given that they likely cannot even meet the quality of the first movie, why bother to make what will probably be considered a bland and lifeless movie when compared to the living, gleaming creation that was revealed to the public in 1982? It's as if they're courting disaster not just critically, but economically, also.

I don't think I'll watch the sequel. I won't even mention it by name. I just don't trust the odds that the talent and the pure chance and accident that created the merit of BLADE RUNNER can possibly be repeated.

Sean Young as Rachel: image of perfection.


M. Emmett Walsh as Bryant.

Joe Turkel as Eldon Tyrell.

Hy Pyke as the sleazy Taffey Lewis.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina.

I have visited a lot of urban parks. Lots of cities have amazing downtown parks. Of all of such parks I have visited (in places like New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, etc.) the best one I have ever walked is Falls Park on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville, South Carolina.

The centerpiece of this park is the amazing waterfall on the Reedy River. For many decades this waterfall was hidden by a bridge that had been constructed in such a way that it was almost impossible to view the waterfall. In addition, the area was surrounded by light industry and warehouses and the neighborhood was decaying and unpleasant. The only people I knew in the 90s who were aware of the waterfall were people who obsess with visiting and photographing waterfalls of note. They would find a place to park their vehicles and then scramble down the weed-choked banks to creep under the bridge to take their photos and then beat a hasty retreat.

Fortunately, the City of Greenville had some far-sighted citizens who worked to change the sad fact that all of this beauty was hidden and otherwise blighted. Beginning in 1967 these people began to work to change things. The Carolinas Foothills Garden Club started the process by reclaiming 26 acres and worked with Furman University, and the City of Greenville to begin improvements. As the years and decades passed the park began to form and in 2002 the Camperdown Bridge was finally removed, allowing citizens to once again see the falls.

Millions of dollars in donations and tax levies later, the Falls Park is an absolute delight to see and experience. There are trails, a unique pedestrian bridge that allows unparalleled views, gardens, monuments, and lawns. All around the park retail and restaurants, hotels and real estate have flourished. Having visited Greenville in the past before the park was created, and today, I can say that I have never seen an urban area more rewarded and invigorated by something as simple as the establishment of a park.

But this is no ordinary park. It is, in fact, worthy of being a vacation destination. One can spend a day or two moving just around the park and its periphery and the place will never fail to excite.

If you've never visited Falls Park, I highly recommend a trip. If you have, then you don't need me to tell you how great it is or that you need to return. You've probably already revisited it many times.

The author of the experience.

This old warehouse/factory was re-purposed to dramatic effect.

Roots of a tenacious beech tree.

The Falls for which the park was created.

The unique curved suspension pedestrian bridge.

Wonderful infrastructure everywhere you look.

Typical scene around the falls and river.
For the people.

"Let's go back!"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can't Tear It Down? Legislate It Away.

Growing up I lived in four places: Brunswick, GA; Atlanta, GA; Macon, GA; and Ellijay, GA.
Brunswick, Macon, and Atlanta were all majority African-American. (And still are.) But there are Confederate memorials on public property in all of them. Atlanta has the most wide-spread of these things. I mean, hell...the entire freaking city is a Confederate Memorial. My home town, Brunswick, has the least presence of such memorials. There is one that I know of, and it's really obscure and isolated...so isolated that it's not really very objectionable. As far as I know it's the single such memorial in the city.
Ellijay was not merely majority white--it was 100% white. And as I recall they also merely had a single Confederate memorial; which is really weird because that part of GA refused to support the Confederacy and instead sided with the Union. But it's also the most virulently racist place I ever lived so I reckon they figured they'd best have a monument to the Confederacy.
At any rate, I wonder why any city with a majority of black voters would put up with this shit.
And here is Stone Mountain, GA. It is not technically Atlanta, but is nearby, and is home to the most vile of the Confederate Monuments. It should be scrubbed off of the mountain. I'm sure it could be accomplished without blasting.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Two in a Row!

I watched two films this week and liked both of them. Yeah. I know. Completely unheard of.
My son came over last Sunday and we looked through a host of trailers trying to pick out a film that we thought would be fun. We settled on COLOSSAL. It stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Now, I have to say I have never been too keen on Hathaway. I tried to watch a couple of her chick flicks with my wife but I just couldn't handle them--ephemeral and cheesy.
However, this movie was really good. She turned in what I can only say was an excellent performance, and frankly I've never found her so attractive. Yeah. We dug this one.
The film has a really superficially silly plot of a giant monster appearing in Seoul (a "kaiju" for the geekier among us). As the film progresses the heroine realizes that the monster's movements correspond to her own. Interesting.
Then another monster--a giant robot--appears and its movements correspond to those of Jason Sudekis who plays a bar owner who is obsessed with Hathaway.
From there, the film remains an interesting read of Hathaway's character and her interactions with the various male players (there aren't really any other females in the film). There turns out to be a reason and a cause for the monsters and their connections to the two leads, but it's of course silly, but you know what? Giant monsters are silly.
The underlying themes of the film are deeper than that, of course, dealing with relationships, obsessions, addictions, and--more or less--feminism and independence.
We both enjoyed it.


The other movie I watched was THE ARRIVAL. It stars Amy Adams (who i rather fancy) and is about aliens suddenly appearing on Earth in vast ships that have stationed themselves at twelve spots around the planet. Adams plays one of the world's leading linguists who is recruited by the military to try to communicate with the aliens, which she finally does.
Jeremy Renner--another actor I admire who seems to be somehow stuck in action and superhero flicks--portrays a physicist also recruited to try to break the code that will allow humans and aliens (eventually called 'hexapods') to talk to one another.
Over all this hovers the threat of military violence from several of the other nations who have found themselves as parking spots for alien craft. The two scientists have to figure out how to talk to the aliens before it is too late and before anxious military types start shooting.
Woven into all of this is the recurring back-story of Adams' daughter who died of some type of rare disease years before the events with the aliens.
I found the film to be entertaining, and it has a decent--and appropriately subdued--moral message. And of course there is a rather sweet twist that takes place at the end of the film which had a good romantic, and hopeful, development.
I rather liked it.
Not only didn't these movies piss me off, I had a good time watching both of them.
I think I'm going to run out and buy a lottery ticket before my luck runs out.




Friday, August 11, 2017

Gentrification

Over the years I watched the gentrification of Charlotte NC's economically depressed inner city. For whatever reason it was done--logic, profit motive, real estate development, etc.--I had a front-row seat as a letter carrier. I would deliver mail in places where gunshots were a common background noise, drug deals were open and going on in plain sight, police crime scene tape was like a bright yellow Easter decoration on every block. Fights and screams and threats of violence was something you tuned out and walked through; garbage was piled high from time to time, and stray mutts ran loose while trained attack dogs were chained in about one of of every three yards.

Despite the crime, these neighborhoods were gorgeous. Hilly streets. Enormous hardwood trees everywhere. And even the poverty of the then-current owners and renters could not hide the former beauty of most of the faded old homes that had been built when these neighborhoods were where the people with higher paying jobs had once lived.

And then...poof! The investors came in and started buying up the houses. If the homes were rentals, the new owners waited until leases were done and did not renew. Once the tenants were gone they boarded up the structures until 50-75% of the neighborhoods were vacant. They bought apartments and multi-family units and knocked them over.

After that...the Yuppies moved in. They fixed up the old houses and turned them into attractive and now high-dollar properties. Lawns were seeded and maintained. Flower gardens were planted. Street lights were repaired and replaced. The police were suddenly present as smiling security and not as brutal enforcers. New buildings sprouted where the low-rent apartments had once stood. Nice shops, neighborhood bodegas, boutiques, restaurants--all of these appeared.

It only took, on average, about six years or so for these various neighborhoods to be transformed from poor to middle class. All are easily accessible to downtown Charlotte. The old cars that once rattled around the streets were suddenly replaced with shining, new sedans--Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Audi--in freshly paved driveways and on roads gleaming with newly pressed asphalt.

Where did the poor go? In the most massive part of the irony of it all, the white flight that had been from urban to suburban has been reversed. The poor blacks, Hispanics, and Asians I once delivered mail to are now in those suburban houses where the white folk had retreated a few decades back. They just switched places, like a tide ebbing and flowing, but populations being moved by the gravity of money instead of the Moon.



Recently I took a drive through several of the old neighborhoods where I used to deliver mail. These were places many letter carriers couldn't wait to move out of because of the crime and poverty and the labor of avoiding dog bites and dodging bullets (but where I worked for about twelve years). Now, sparkling with safety, not much breaks the silence. All we saw were a few kids riding their bikes and some young moms pushing baby strollers. And the rambling ranch houses one could have bought for $30K in 1995 when I started carrying mail? A lot of them are still there, but you'd hardly recognize them with poured concreted driveways, second-floor additions, fresh paint, and $700K price tags.

Nothing moves humans like the power of cash. Or lack thereof.





Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Comic Book Sales and Emotionally Retarded Adults

A lot of people are talking about the death of the printed comic book today. Many blame the price. I haven't bought a new comic book in many, many years so I wasn't sure how much one costs. Apparently it is between $3.99 and $4.99.
So. How does that measure up to a ten cent comic book published in 1960? As near as I can figure (from Internet sources) ten cents had a modern value of $1.25. So back then a new comic cost that much--a buck-twenty-five. Yeah, that's a lot less than four or five bucks.
But is it just the price of the comic itself that is killing sales? Back in 1960 there were comic books that sold near, or over, one million copies per month. Walt Disney Comics and Stories, Superman, Batman, etc. Also, there were more comic book publishers selling lots of titles back then.
Therefore, it must be more than just the price that is killing the comic book industry. And as I noted many years ago that reason is that kids don't read. I mean, they just don't. Face it. 99.99% of kids would rather watch TV or play a video game than take the effort to read a comic book. Sure, many parents are going to balk at paying $4 for a goddamned comic book about superheroes. But it's not just that. If a kid wanted a comic book, hundreds of thousands of parents would buy them some.
It is no trouble to conclude that something else is going on and that thing is that kids don't want any damned comic books. The reasons for that are many, but when you get right down to it, I just have to repeat--kids don't read.
The number of readers in general is growing slimmer every year. It's not just kids. But we see in these new generations of children what will be heading down the pike in years to come. No kids reading comics equals no adults reading anything beyond food labels and directional signs in a couple of decades. Switching to electronic comics isn't going to help, either. Because people who download electronic literature tend not to read that stuff. Yeah, they pay for the downloads, but then they rarely read them. At some point people are going to stop downloading ebooks because the only reason they bothered to take that step is because of some advertising and perhaps some peer pressure from the couple of people they know who do read.
The printed comic, like the printed book, is going to vanish soon. There won't be any comic book stores just as we see book stores fading like rotten fruit on the vine.
Are comic books too expensive? Maybe. But if no one but a few thousand emotionally retarded adults (which pretty much describes the current audience of superhero mainstream comics) read them, the format is already doomed.
Unless kids start reading again, and unless the comic book market place branches out and produces material other than superhero stuff and nihilistic violence aimed at those same emotionally retarded adults, then very soon there will be no comic books to read. Wave goodbye to what may in fact be the only actual USA-inspired art form: the periodical printed comic book.
Alas.
Where's my vomit emoji?





Saturday, August 05, 2017

Today, Tomorrow, Forever.

One of my son's childhood friends died a couple of days ago. I had not seen Jacob in several years--not since the CD and DVD exchange store he managed closed it doors and I no longer had a chance to stop there to talk with him about music and movies. Even Andy had not seen him in over a year, and once upon a time when they both were teenagers and then high school graduates it seemed Jacob was at our house as often as not.

Jacob died of a drug overdose--heroin.

He was a great kid and we always liked to see him around. Jacob seemed level-headed and responsible and had a good job both before he graduated high school and after. There never seemed to be a time when he was not smiling and never a moment when he was around that he didn't make everyone else feel happier. In brief, he was a very nice person and we were always cheered to see him come walking through the door with Andy.

I have no idea what made him take heroin. It makes no sense to me, nor did it to Andy--but who knows what drives a person? Perhaps it was depression? I honestly cannot tell you.

The memorial service today was overflowing. Easily 300 people. The folk running the service barely had enough space to provide everyone with parking.

Carole and I arrived for the service and immediately I became depressed, recalling what a nice young man Jacob had always been. And of course there is nothing on Earth so heartbreaking as seeing a mother who has lost a child. Mothers are not supposed to live to see their children precede them in death and when I see it I always am filled with despair.

I like to think of myself as a stoic. Sometimes I think I would have made a good Brit. Stiff upper lip and all that, you know. That's me. I try to keep most of my emotions at bay, especially despair and grief. Anger, I can handle--and sometime welcome. But sadness is not my old friend and I try to keep him far away. But today...seeing Jacob's mother in the throes of complete misery, I had to admit that bastard sadness into my life. Despite my best efforts to hold it in, seeing my own son in tears over his old pal fleeing this life, and memories of Jacob's ever-present smiles and laughter, I could not forestall those tears, either. They came, even if I hadn't seen that boy in several years. He had been a part of my own son's life for so long that I could not help it.

Jacob was 31 years old. Yes, a man of course, but my memory of him was as a kid a little older than my boy. The snuffing out of his brief life is a tragedy, and I cannot imagine what his mother has been enduring the past few days and what she must endure for the rest of her life.

Several people spoke. His older brother, his minister, his girlfriend. They talked about how happy he made them. But his younger brother also spoke, and he was bitter and angry. He had not known his older brother who had loved him so and had made him laugh so hard was tormented with a drug problem. Few, apparently, were aware. And this kid brother admitted his anger toward those who knew and did not tell others, who did not help.

Maybe that anger will help see him through all of this. I hope so. Whatever gets you through the night, my friend.



Monday, July 31, 2017

Old Movie

After several years I viewed DRAGONSLAYER again. This is a 1981 film that I saw during its initial release. It was also the first monster movie I watched that employed a primitive version of CGI that we have come to accept as the norm.

This movie is excellent in every way. Cast. Direction. Cinematography. FX. Art design. Etc.

This is also the film that famously made Ray Harryhausen retire. Over Go-Motion. Even though they used a stop-motion figure for the dragon, they enhanced it with inter-frame blurring. The FX guys gave Harryhausen a preview and he knew then that his days were done--that computers were going to do it all and that his career as an artisan were over.

I love this film. I can't really find anything at all to criticize when it comes to this movie. It's almost perfect. As such, I should hold it in higher esteem, but for some reason I don't list it among my favorite films. Perhaps there is something subconsciously bugging me about it that I'll have to find on a future viewing. Or maybe I'm just a critical curmudgeon.

I've seen it now probably five or six times (I don't keep count). But pretty much the casting is perfect. Ralph Richardson is spot-on as Ulrich, the last remaining wizard. I think the movie was Albert Salmi's final performance before he committed suicide. The fact is that I can't think of anyone in the movie who turned in a less than excellent performance and for which they were not effectively cast.

Also, the monster, Vermithrax pejorative, is the most perfectly designed dragon that I have ever seen for the movie screen. Anatomically the creature looks right and moves logically and remains both awe-inspiring and terrifying. When it attacks a village it looks like some kind of organic fighter jet spewing napalm. 

I'll probably give it a few more viewings before I get tired of seeing it. If there is a flaw that keeps me from placing the movie higher in my esteem, maybe I'll find it.

Ralph Richardson as Ulrich, the Wizard.

Peter MacNicol and Vermithrax pejorative.
The late Caitlin Clarke as Valerian.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alligators

I read about another alligator-on-human attack in Florida today.

For all of my reading life and note-taking in my many outdoor adventures (you can better believe I always have done my freaking research when I go out into the wild) I would read that alligators are essentially harmless to humans. Over and over and over. Time after time I would read this and hear this. To the point that several times in my trips on Florida and south Georgia creeks and ponds I would go swimming with alligators nearby.

I was misinformed, for sure. And I was lucky that I was never attacked (I did have a close encounter with a big alligator that taught me that all of the "facts" I'd read about how they were harmless to people were so much bullshit). But why would anyone say this about an apex predator that can kill and dismember and eat large prey up to the size of horses?

It was because from the 19th Century until relatively recent years the alligator was actually a threatened species. Their numbers had dwindled so much due to over-hunting that they were approaching dangerous levels for the species. Then, in the 1960s they were protected. Harvesting was limited and ecosystems were put into parks and wilderness.

Alligator populations rebounded. With a vengeance. And, more importantly, they were allowed to live to be old. In the days when they were under threat there were almost no older, larger alligators. That is, there were very few gators who could seriously look at a human being as a prey animal--and those few were safely tucked away inside wildernesses where they were unlikely to ever see a human.

Not now. Now I see enormous alligators almost everywhere I go in Florida. 8-foot alligators are now routine. And we've all seen the film of the monster alligator on that golf course. You can better believe predators of that size would look at a 200-pound human being as nothing more than something good to eat.

These days I do not go swimming in rivers or creeks or springs in Florida unless I am DAMNED sure that there are no large alligators around.

It ain't worth the risk.

And, yes, I'm sure everyone has seen this video. I've heard it said that this alligator is between 16-17 feet in length. Keep in mind this is nowhere near the largest recorded gator which was almost 20 feet long. It's time to be careful when you go swimming in the deep South.

Be careful out there.



One of the largest alligators I have seen in Florida. He was at Wakulla Springs State Park. Very fat. Very healthy. Very damned intimidating. I would not swim around this animal.


I've heard it said the alligator in this video is 16-17 feet long. That is not as long as the largest on record (over 19 feet). It would look at you as something to eat.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

In the Trenches. First in a Series.

"In the Wake of the Bottles."
By James Robert Smith.


In one of my jobs as a laborer I knew a guy named Jimmy. Jimmy had a lot of good stories and I used to enjoy hearing them. Some of them seemed outlandish, but others were more down to earth. One that straddled the territory between the two was his yarn of cleaning gasoline storage tanks.

For years and years--decades, really--Jimmy spent his life as an itinerant drunk. He was rarely unemployed for long periods of time and always seemed to be able to not only find steady work, but to hold it until he felt like relinquishing it due to boredom or the itch to move on. But wherever he was and wherever he worked were in the wake of the bottles.

However, I don't think Jimmy was an alcoholic in the classic sense. That is, he didn't drink because of addiction, but merely because it was a way to pass the time. Mainly, he told me, he drank only beer. And not just beer, but shitty American beer. Occasionally he would drink bourbon, but that cost too much and he saved that for special occasions or moments when he was flush with cash.

To back up my impression that he was not an alcoholic, he told me of the day his wife finally managed to get through to him with her pleading that he stop drinking. "As long as you drink we will never have anything and we will never go anywhere."

That simple moment of pleading seemed to hit home and...he stopped drinking. Just like that. He said he tossed out the last case of shitty beer and never drank again, and never missed it. Frankly, that doesn't sound like an alcoholic. At least one that I've ever heard of.


As for the story, he said that during one of the stretches when he wasn't working but was mainly drinking, he walked out of a bar one evening--drunk, of course--and sat down on the curb with his feet in the gutter. A big, shiny sedan drove up. It stopped. The window went down. Not a roll down, but an electric window, which was pretty rare in those days.

"Hey, buddy," a guy inside said.

Jimmy looked up. It was hot out, even though the sun was going down.


"Yeah?" he asked.

"You look like a guy who needs a job. You want a good job?"

Jimmy stood up and erased the one foot separating him from the car. He put his hands on the dark, glossy door of the new car and leaned in. It was cool inside. Air conditioned. Also not a given back in those days. The guy inside was well dressed. Suit. Coat. Tie. Not cheap shit, either. The real stuff, from a tailor. Jimmy knew how to spot that kind of suit because his brother had made it as a businessman and wore those sorts of duds.

"What kind of job?"

The guy reached into a coat pocket and produced a card. He handed it to Jimmy.

Jimmy looked at it. The guy's name and an address. The card stock was pretty nice, with sunken lettering and raised outline in black ink. He ran his finger across it. "Getty Oil?"

"Yeah. I have a contract with them. We always need people who are willing to work. Good wages."

"What kind of work?" Jimmy blinked in the failing light and glanced again at the card. He had been at this bender for a while and had been drinking mainly and not eating. His face had a good two days growth of whiskers. His clothes were okay, but wrinkled and dirty. He was not penniless, but he knew that he sure didn't look like someone a general employer would think of for a job. Especially not when he had been sitting on the curb with his feet in the gutter.

"You got transportation to that office? If you don't, I can pick you up tomorrow. Too late today. But we can explain the work to you and give you a run through tomorrow morning. Good pay," he reiterated. "You interested?"

Jimmy nodded, his greasy black hair falling down across his high forehead. Someone told him once that he looked like a skinny Frankenstein monster. Even Jimmy had to admit the smartass had been close to the mark.

"Sure, yeah. I can get there."

"What's your name?"

"Jimmy Macy," he told him.

"See you tomorrow, Jimmy. Ten in the morning."

And the guy drove off.

So here we were, twenty years later, me and Jimmy working in a shop that made pool covers. We were on lunch break. The room was full of smoke. I was the only person in the joint who did not smoke. Jimmy might not have been an alcoholic, but he was one serious nicotine addict. He could not go more than fifteen minutes or so without a lit cigarette in his face. Through a cloud of Camel smoke Jimmy asked me if I'd ever put gasoline in a milk jug. "You know, for your lawnmower or any kind of small engine?"

"Yeah, sure," I told him.


"Well, have you ever left it sitting in a tool shed or storage building for a long time?"

"No. I always use it right away. Maybe a week or so. Why?"

"Well, if you leave it in there for a while--say a month, and you go back to get it and look at the jug, you will see a layer of crap at the bottom of the jug."

"What? In gasoline? Does it react with the plastic jug?"

"Naw. It doesn't matter what you put it in. Glass. Metal. Plastic. There will be a layer of brown sludge at the bottom of the container."

"What is it?"


"Well, gas has solids in it. Suspended in solution. You let it sit long enough and that stuff settles out. It sinks to the bottom."

"Okay. What's that got to do with the job the guy was offering you."


The next day Jimmy did as he was supposed to do. He showed up at the address listed on the card. A nice office in an industrial area near a tank farm. Those big areas where they have the enormous above-ground tanks where they store gasoline.

Once there the guy with the nice suit and the new sedan with electric windows and air-conditioning ran through the offer with Jimmy and three other guys. After the presentation two of the other guys got up and left. Only Jimmy and one other remained.

"What was the job?" I asked.


Jimmy and the others had watched a film. The job for the tank farm was to suit up like a fireman covered from head to foot in some kind of rubber. Boots, pants, coat, hood. All of the parts were sealed together so that when you were in it you were protected from liquids and gases. There was a very long hose attached to the hood (which had a glass mask so you could see out). The hose fed you air. Not oxygen, but air. A re-breather kicked out your breath so that the suit wouldn't fill up with CO2.

What then happened was that a pair of workers would go up there with another guy--a safety tech. The tech would suit up the other two and connect the hoses and start the air pump and keep watch on it. Then the two workers would open the same number of man-sized lids on the top of the tank and descend a ridiculously long metal ladder to the bottom of the tank. The tank would have been drained of all of the liquid gasoline. On the floor of that tank was about two feet thick of gasoline sludge--that solid shit that they can never quite get out of the gasoline that you buy at the pump. It had to be suctioned out before the tank was refilled with new gasoline.

Once down in the hold, Jimmy and the other guy would be fed a suction hose and they would basically walk around the floor of the tank vacuuming up the annoying brown sludge. The job paid $14 an hour, which was a shitload of money in those days. Especially for a guy like Jimmy.

"Fuck," I told him. "That sounds like a horrible freaking job."

Jimmy just shrugged. "It didn't bother me for a while. We would just go down there and suck that shit up until almost all of it was gone, then we'd climb out. When they took the suit off of us you couldn't even smell gasoline. You'd think some of it would go home with you, but my wife never smelled it on me."


"How long did you work it?"

"About three months."


"Why'd you quit?"

One day Jimmy and one of the other guys got to a tank. They suited up and went down just like always. They siphoned up all of the sludge and it was time to go back up. The other guy was a few steps faster that day than Jimmy. But Jimmy didn't notice. He just climbed up and got to the top and crawled out of the small opening up there so high above the floor.

The guy who suited them up was standing at the manhole gesturing for Jimmy to hurry. So Jimmy hustled up the last few rungs and as he stuck his arms out, the worker pointed to the other side of the tank.

Jimmy's co-worker in the tank was lodged halfway out of the manhole. He was covered in flames which were shooting out like jets. Blue flames. The guy was a cinder. That quick, surrounded by the blue fire. The safety guy helped Jimmy peel the suit off in double time and they scurried across the roof and descended the tank.

"Goddamn. It didn't blow?"


Jimmy shook his head. "Naw. It kind of burned itself out. Killed that guy pretty much instantly. They told me some kind of static charge set it off when he was climbing out."


Both of us sat there in silence for a while.

Jimmy smiled. "I never went back. They sent me my last paycheck in the mail."

"I never went back."