Sunday, December 31, 2017

Extirpation and Extinction.

I used to know a lot of people who hunted. When I was a kid I would go small game hunting from time to time with my dad. Rabbits, quail, that type of thing. I stopped when I was 13 years old, no longer able to kill birds and mammals. My choice, no wish here to dictate that to others.

Up until a few years ago I would still hang out and talk to hunters sometimes. Some people hunt for what they call sport. Others hunt because they enjoy eating wild game and consuming what they kill. Truth to tell, one of my favorite things to eat is venison. So I am making no judgment call here. I have friends who hunt deer and other game to put protein in their freezers which helps them to cut down on the expense of feeding themselves and their families; it also stops them from consuming meat produced on factory farms. This is a good thing.

However, in my conversations with my friends who are hunters, and with strangers I meet who hunt, the talk almost always ends up with a mention of predators. Hunters hate predators. They hate any animal that also eats the deer, elk, moose, grouse, quail, etc. that people like to hunt and kill. At first I just assumed that this rabid hatred of predators was due to a sense of competition that they felt. But I never heard any of these hunters verbally savage or complain about other human hunters. Their rage and hatred was only for Grizzly bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, lynxes, and other such animals.

But they reserved a very special species of hatred for one particular animal: the Timber wolf.

If the conversation ever turned to wolves, I would watch my hunter friends start to slobber at the mouth like rabid dogs. Their eyes would go crazy. They would begin to rant and rave, talking about how the entire species should be exterminated and how any liberal college-educated moron who advocates for the defense of wolves should be jailed or killed. And, no, I am not exaggerating. I have seen otherwise calm, normal men start yelling for the extinction of an entire species and the deaths of educated biologists over this topic. They almost always referred to those with college educations as scum of the Earth.

I mainly would just squint at these people and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them and look at them as if they were a kind of specimen wriggling on a microscope slide or some cocktail of infection culturing in a petri dish.

Later, I would sit and try to figure it out, putting together what I knew about the activity of hunting and the people I knew who engaged in it.

Almost every hunter I knew (or know) is a white adult male. Nearly all of them are not just avid gun owners, but also are right wing types who--in addition to hating wolves--also don't care for people of other cultures, nor for people who have different skin pigmentation. Most of them are members of the National Rifle Association. Most of them are registered Republicans. Most of them hate the environmental movement.

Also, most of the hunters I have known subscribe to one or more sportsman's magazines. I am quite familiar with these publications because when I was a kid and thirsting for information about wildlife I was drawn to them since they had garish covers with photos and paintings of wild animals on them. And I had an endless supply of back issues of such magazines because my parents owned used bookstores and had stacks and stacks of them in the shops. I was allowed to take home as many as I wanted to read.

One thing that I learned very early on from reading these magazines is that there was an editorial thirst to promote the hatred of all predatory mammals that are not humans. It doesn't matter what kind of carnivorous animal they chose to target, these creatures were presented in a light that was as negative as could possibly be conveyed in words and pictures. Grizzly bears were monsters that should be avoided at all cost except to shoot or poison. Mountain lions were killers of deer and elk that should all be tracked down with dogs and shot on sight. Coyotes and bobcats are worthless vermin that need to be completely obliterated for reducing the rabbit population.

But paramount in their hatred and propaganda was, and is, the Timber wolf. When you read these magazine articles there is nothing whatsoever good about wolves. They are a toxin on the forest landscape that must be expunged. No mercy for any wolf. No quarter to be given. Just kill them all down to the smallest pup.

As I grew older I also noticed that most of these magazines look toward the environmental movement in a similarly negative light. They didn't call for the murder of activists who are out to create wilderness and National Parks, but they did blanket them with disdain and advocate for legislation against them, and to fight any rule such people support or pass.

And there it was. These magazines are distributed to people who, ironically, depend on open, relatively wild spaces where they can engage in their pastime of hunting. But these articles attack mainly two bits of legislation--the Endangered Species Act, and the Wilderness Act. To this end these magazines lobby endlessly, rabidly, and ceaselessly to overturn these protections for wild places and the animals who inhabit them. Who would profit from this? Hunters? Not really. But the folk who do profit from the reversal of these laws need hunters to act as triggers to remove these Acts. Therefore, have those hunters advocate obliquely for the call to remove such protections.

The folk who would ultimately have the most to gain from destroying the laws that preserve the last bits of wild spaces that we have are mining outfits, timber companies, energy corporations, and real estate concerns. If only there were no wilderness protections they could lay waste to the forests and gouge out the minerals. If only there was no Endangered Species Act they could wade into our National Parks to do as they please.

And there I realized that all of these hideous little magazines were nothing but propaganda material for the worst of what my country has created: fossil fuel companies, timber barons, real estate moguls. These are the scumbags directing their poison through hunters, targeting our wild forests to scour out the things that keep those greedy bastards from taking possession of what little wilderness that remains.

I don't read those magazines anymore. I used to pick one up now and again in shops or libraries just to see if things had changed. They have not. The scumbags who write for them still sell their souls for a few dollars to malign wolves and mountain lions. My hope is that these pernicious bastards who work for the worst of the worst will all die choking on their own guts.

To look for evil, follow the trail of profit.

The eastern Timber wolf.
What hunting magazines tell you Grizzly bears do.

What grizzly bears really do 99.999999999% of the time.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Humans are Retarded.

All of my life I have thought critically. I can't actually recall a moment when I didn't question authority in some way--be it the words of my parents, or the lessons taught in schools, or the propaganda fed to me through various news services. However, I rarely met (or meet) anyone at all who is skeptical of the society in which we live and in the things society tells them to believe. I think this has always been the most frustrating thing for me when it comes to trying to communicate with other people. They seem incapable of free thought and any attempt made to get them to question official dogma is met by a kind of panic, or fear, or outright hatred.

When I was younger this frustrated me tremendously. To see people accept things as they were fed to them seemed absolutely insane to me. They were all locked into a kind of patriarchal method of acceptance that is a specific type of indoctrination that seems lockproof. Whatever they are told by those they trust (for no really good reason) they accept as unimpeachable truth.

Conversely, today I meet young people who believe in all sorts of insane things, fed to them via the Internet. Some of these people began to mistrust the things society and parents were forcing into them and so they turned to electronic commerce to find new answers. There, they have found all sorts of quasi-religious, unscientific, and extremist dogma that they have taken to heart and from which they cannot be freed. Chemtrails. Wild conspiracy theories. A mistrust of, and complete ignorance of, science and scientific principle. Adherence to new and wacky religions and nascent political dogma that lead nowhere. In some ways, this is equally as frustrating as the original closed minds I encountered earlier in life.

These days I witness western society in the grip of obscene nationalism, racism, and xenophobia directed at enemies who don't exist, or which the status quo wishes us to recreate as enemies. Frankly, I'm sick of it all. Some people continue on with the frustration and the hand-wringing, the Old Testament equivalent of the gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and tearing of hair. But, like the all-seeing, all-powerful deity of old, the new power of the 1% capitalists who sit in their palaces don't care about anyone's frustration, and they are immune to your protestations. All complaints fall on deaf (or nonexistent) ears.

I suppose it's time to just accept the inevitable and push on. There are trails to hike, mountains to climb, waterfalls to see, wild animals to watch. Well...for now. Maybe there will still be some of that by the time I shake off this mortal coil. Or maybe by then all of the forests will have been felled and all of the animals killed off.

Or maybe I'll just watch some loutish Norm MacDonald standup. Yeah. That's what I'll do.

"You know what country scares me? Germany."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


When I was a kid I remember when the USA was going to convert from the Imperial system of measurements to the saner, logical decimal system of Metric. Sometimes it seemed as if it was going to happen any time. Alas, the USA was as loony then as it is now and it never has happened.

Maybe it will happen someday. I don't know. But, it's possible.

One thing that would change is the obsession some hikers have for bagging certain summits all because they are over a certain elevation. In Colorado it's mountains that are over 14,000 feet in elevation. Here in the eastern USA there are groups that concern themselves with hiking to the tops of every mountain over 4,000 feet in some areas (such as the Adirondacks in New York), or all of the 6,000-foot summits in the south.

One such group is South Beyond 6000. These guys (including me, at one time) set out to hike to the summits of every single mountain in the southerns USA that is over 6,000 feet above sea level. All of these peaks are located in either Tennessee or North Carolina. If we convert to the metric system, we will no longer use "feet" and will instead use "meter". So all sixers (the term for such peaks in these clubs) will vanish. Instead we will be looking at summits that will be measured in metrics, likely using kilometers to list them. Thus, the current listing of 39 southern mountains that are over 6,000 feat above sea level will become...well...something else.

Thus, such groups will have to do one of two things. They will have to continue to utilize the archaic and silly Imperial system of measurements, or they will have to adapt. Logically, the first choice would be to climb summits that are over 2,000 meters in elevation. This will reduce the 39 summits to merely seven--four in the Black Mountains, and three in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Or perhaps they'll move to climbing a set number of highest peaks. The 40 highest summits. Or the 50 highest. Etc.

Sillier would be to do all peaks over 1800 meters. Or 1700 meters. And so on.

This is one reason I never finished bagging all of the summits on the original list of mountains in the South Beyond 6000 list. Instead of doing this kind of thing I just switched to hiking and backpacking in areas where there are views or forests or ecological niches I wished to witness before they are plowed under or destroyed due to environmental changes and degradation.

At any rate, going metric will certainly change the way things are done in these little cliques among these tiny clubs of hikers and backpackers.

As for those Colorado 14ers...they all become summits that are over 4,267.2 meters above sea level. Eh.

Cattail Peak, which will go from being 6,600 feet above sea level to being 2,011 meters above sea level. It'll still be tied for being the fifth highest summit (with Balsam Cone) in the east, though.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Lucy is a total asshole. But of course Charlie's a schmuck.

You freaking dumbass. You deserve it.
'Tis ever thus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Films Where You Cheer for the Bad Guy.

In film, the best monsters are human.
Now and again I will watch a movie where I might admire the bad guy. In some of those cases I find myself actually cheering him on. Even while I'm admitting this admiration for the monster I still realize that the hero is a creep but that he is imbued with such glowing traits that there's nothing to do but like him. Or, if not able to feel any affection for him, to realize that the evil dude is one seriously tough person with a true agenda.

The first movie I ever saw wherein the bad guy was effectively portrayed as the hero was the Paul Thomas Anderson film "There Will Be Blood". The hero in this case was Daniel Plainview, a sefl-described oil man portrayed so brilliantly by Daniel Day Lewis that he made me forget at times that I was watching a fiction. Plainview is described as a driven man with an obsession for wealth and the power it will give him over the rest of humanity, all of whom he finds disgusting. He even hates the rich among whom he hopes to one day live.

The first time we see Plainview he is busting his ass at hard labor, working to find a vein of silver that he can then sell off to create the seed money for what he knows will make him fantastically wealthy: oil. In fact, the movie is loosely based on the novel OIL by Upton Sinclair. We watch as this hard, rough, driven fellow almost blows himself up and, finding himself in the wreckage of the explosion that almost kills him discovers that he has at last located silver ore that will give him the economic leverage he so dearly needs.

Over and over Daniel is revealed to us as conniving, lying, ruthless, obsessive as only capitalism can make a man so. He wants that wealth so much that his persona seems to ache for it. And it's not just the masses he hopes to rise above by gaining this wealth--no. He hates the rich  at least as much as he hates the poor. Plainview is a complete monster, but even if we cannot identify with the needs that drive him, we are forced to admire the effort he uses to achieve his goals.

You can see his determination here. His will. His hatred of other humans.

Around the same time I saw "There Will Be Blood" I also saw a movie by the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men" based (faithfully) on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. After some exposition and the setting up of a seemingly rather complicated situation we are introduced eventually to the real central character of the film (and book), one Anton Chigurh. Chigurh is a kind of hired assassin with no loyalties beyond his own singular code, to which he adheres fanatically.

The assassin is portrayed in a frighteningly clear performance by Javier Bardem. It's almost as if Bardem had been born only to play this character as his crowning achievement. He gives us a driven person who may or may not even be a human. I've argued for some time that the story is just a retelling of the Jesus versus Satan myth with Bardem giving us his version of Satan, with Llwellyn Moss as Christ. And Chigurh is one Hell of a Satan. Not without his own kind of flaws, and certainly not infallible, but nonetheless relentless.

It is in this implacable force and through his resourcefulness that I was forced to admire Chigurh. While he may be the complete antithesis of what we think of as good, he never lies and he never steers away from his goal. Similarly to "Blood's" Plainview, we have a man who has his own code and who will not be denied it. Monstrous though Bardem's Anton may be, he remains true to that code to the very end.

With buckshot in his leg he manages to push on, never asking for help.

Another monster who is nonetheless admirable for many of the same reasons as the two already listed creatures is the Sicario of the film of that title, directed by Dennis Villeneuve and written by Taylor Sheridan. I wrote about this movie fairly recently and don't want to repeat any of the things I already mentioned. So I will be brief here and just say that the portrayal of the man who proves to be the principal character was by Benecio Del Toro who I have to admit is one of my favorite modern actors (like Bardem and Lewis).

The script of Sicario allows Del Toro to deliver a performance that moves across a kind of graph that does not allow you to peg down what kind of man you are seeing until the final scenes of the movie. He seems to be moral at some times. There are moments when he comes off as compassionate, even caring. But in the end you see a thing that is moved only by a kind of drive that is both monstrous and all too human. By the time the end credits rolled I found myself awed by the job of Del Toro as an actor, but realizing that the director and writer delivered the raw materials for the actor to refine. And the whole gave us a picture of the pests who actually do these things, who really do walk the Earth, who deliver to the people what we seem to somehow deserve by accepting what they do without much in the way of complaint.

Unlike the first two films, Sicario left us with a situation wherein we'll see a new film featuring the enigma called Alejandro.

Nothing will make sense to your American ears, and you will doubt everything that we do, but in the end you will understand.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What It's Like to Live with Me.

I woke up from a very vivid dream in which I had been encountered by Mother Nature who appeared in various forms. The dream was very vivid. Lots of greens and blues and reds and oranges and yellows and…well, it was colorful.

Nothing to do and no pressing reason to get up. I looked to my left. My wife was awake, too, and peering into her cell phone.

“Hey! You’ve got your cell phone!” She chose not to respond. “Mine’s charging at my desk. I need you to look something up!” I was so lazy I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. “I need you to look up Marion Ross!” Carole gave me a funny look. “I need to know if Marion Ross is still alive!”

"Marion Ross?"

"Yeah. You know. Mrs. C.! Richie Cunningham's mom on HAPPY DAYS! Tom Bosley's wife on the show! Did you know that Tom Bosley was Jewish? I mean--Father Dowling? Fuck! That guy went completely under my Jewdar! Didn't see that coming!"

Carole ignores the raving exposition. "Why would you possibly need to know if Marion Ross is alive?"

“I just had a dream about Mother Nature appearing to me and her voice was Marion Ross’s voice! I vividly recall she sounded exactly like Marion Ross! Look her up. Is she dead?”

“Okay, okay. Give me a second.” Then. “Why does it matter if she’s still alive?”

“Because if they make a movie out of my dream then she’ll have to voice Mother Nature.”

Another funny look (as if 'yeah, that's gonna happen'), but by then she had the information. “Yes, she’s still alive.”

“That’s good,” I say, and sit up. “Hey! They have her picture and one of Erin Moran when she was young! She was really cute! Too bad she croaked.”

More funny looks. “Very sad, yes.”

“Do me a favor. Look up the German word ‘jager’ for me! I think it means ‘hunter’, but I’m not sure. Look it up! J.A. G. E. R. YAY-ger,” I add.

“You’re right, it means ‘hunter’.” I know she’s going to ask me why I needed to know that, so I look at the screen of her cell phone and yell, “DAMN! Why do they have a photo of a cool-ass European travel trailer there? That makes no sense at all! That’s a cool trailer! Click on that and tell me about it!”

“You!” She’s angry, of course. Between me raving and pushing my head between her chest and her cell phone she has had it. “Just…just go somewhere else!”

And my job there was done.

Erin Moran and Marion Ross laugh at me.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


One year when I was trying to get a college education in between the hours when I also operated the comic shop I owned, worked at night on a loading dock at RPS, and tried to find time to eat and sleep in between all of that insane shit, I took a class in film appreciation. The class was a lot of fun. I don't particularly recall much about the professor who taught it, but I did manage to learn a lot about movies and I got to watch some films I might otherwise have never seen.

One of these was a movie called TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE. The movie was written and directed by Zbynek Brynych who was a Jew of Czech extraction. The film takes place in the concentration camp called Theresienstadt. Brynych was actually a survivor of that camp, having emerged from it as a teenager at the end of the war as the Soviet Red Army rolled across eastern Europe liberating the extermination facilities and opening the concentration camps. Oh--and also killing the fuck out of German Nazis and as many of their filthy collaborators as they could find and execute.

Brynych lived it. He was there. I got to talk to him a bit both before and after watching the movie. One thing that I recall is that a lot of people ended up leaving the film (we watched it in a small college auditorium). It disturbed me to no end that the group of Jewish students who took up the row behind me all left halfway through the movie. Why? To tell you the truth, I think they just got bored.

It's not exactly what you might think of when you compare it to US movies about the Holocaust. The movie is very low-key. Almost silent at times. There is brutality, but not the bestial, bloody type of thing you see when you watch movies about those crimes that were produced here in this country. After the war was over Brynych chose to remain a Czech citizen and became a movie director, lensing several projects about the subject of the Holocaust.

The nice bit about the movie presentation was that Brynych made himself available to answer any question concerning the movie. I remember that he said that he chose to cast the Nazis with Jewish actors and those of the inmates with gentiles. He also talked about how Stephen Spielberg had lifted specific images and scenes from his movie and reshot them for use in SCHINDLER'S LIST. Brynych had a fatalist's view of that. You could tell that it upset him to a certain extent, but with a shrug he passed it off. What was he gonna do about it? Nothin', that's what.

He told me that Spielberg had called him once to say that he'd seen and enjoyed TRANSPORT, but had said nothing about the sequences he'd borrowed for LIST. And that was all that he mentioned about that particular subject, which had been brought up when another student had asked him if he'd seen Spielberg's movie.

Anyway, the two are very different films. Of them, I prefer TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE for a number of reasons. One reason is that Brynych of course lived it, emerging from that concentration camp as a teenager. One chilling thing he told me about his experiences watching the rise of the Nazi juggernaut was that as he saw it all unfold, he found the power of the Nazi imagery to be "beautiful". That's the word he used to describe it. (He spoke English fluently and knew exactly what he was saying.)

Also, he told me of one his friends at the camp--a teenager like himself. The kid had been placed in the camp because his father was an SS officer, and his mother was a Jew, (which halachically made the kid a Jew). As an officer in the fanatical SS, his dad had given up his wife and son because they were Jews and he had continued his work as an SS officer.

Brynych said that--in the last weeks before the Red Army liberated them--the kid had gotten his hands on a pistol, somehow. The kid told Brynych of his plan to sneak out of the camp (there were still guards there at that point) and to find his father who was quartered nearby and kill him with the gun. Apparently the kid did get out of the camp, but returned later, dejected, having crept back in. The teen had tried to find his father, but in the chaos created by the advancing Soviet troops, the SS-man was nowhere to be found.

This opened up a whole notebook full of questions I wanted to ask Brynych, but I never got the chance as he had to leave for other meetings.

I still have those questions, but Brynych is no longer among the living, and I am left with the mysteries of them.

Carefully framed shot from Brynych's TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE.

This is the only video clip I could find from the film on the Internet. Closing shots, but it does give one an impression of the atmosphere that Brynych created for the movie.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trunk Stories. My Titles.

Many writers have what they call "trunk stories" and "trunk novels". These are works on which they labored with varying amounts of effort and time. But, for one reason or another, they fail to sell to any market. And thus they are transported to the gulag of "the trunk".

Back in the days before digital files all of our stories were typewritten and on paper. The place you put the unsold work was in a filing cabinet or in a trunk in the closet or on the floor or under the bed (etc.). Since the advent of word processors and desktop computers and laptops, we writers just relegate the unsold projects onto hard drives or disks or thumb drives where they gather whatever passes for dust in the unmined ether of the digital world.

I have mentioned before how one story I wrote went almost two decades as a part-time trunk story before I sold it. I liked the yarn and refused to give up on it. So now and again I would drag it out of the drawer (I started writing it before I had a computer) and would re-tool it and edit it and tighten it up. Eventually I did sell it for a tidy sum to an anthology at a major publisher. It was one trunk story that ended up finding a market. That short story in that anthology remains in print after 14 years. So it was good that I didn't give up on it, (even though the thieving editor has never paid royalties due and earned on the title since that time).

More years ago than I would like to admit I wrote a horror novel that was very dear to me. It was, in fact, the second novel that I wrote. The book went through several agents and was rejected time and again. Each time I would take the manuscript out and edit it and re-tool the book. I'm not sure which publishers saw it or which editors took a look at it because some of my agents were not, to put it mildly, forthcoming in how they conducted their business. (In contrast to my first agent--Richard Curtis--who kept me carefully apprised of where, when, who, how, and why.)

This novel was relegated often to trunk status, but every so often I would drag it out of the thumbnail cobwebs and tinker with the book. A few times I completely overhauled everything-- even basic parts of the plot. The only thing that remained constant in that work were the theme, the major characters, and the title. I loved that title, borrowed from a wonderful John Lennon song.

Finally, one of my agents was shopping the book around when a non-fiction book appeared on the best seller lists that had the exact title of my novel of ghosts and monsters. I texted my agent and wondered if I should give the book a new title. So for a while that's exactly what I did. Now, I have always had a hard time with titles. My books are mainly ideas and plots and characters to me and I often tackle them and have no idea at all what title will be appropriate when I finish. Not so with this book. From the fist chapter I knew exactly what I wanted the title to be: BEAUTIFUL BOY.

So, for a while I did change the title. But when that agent parted ways with me, I went right back to my original title. Frankly, I don't give a rat's ass if another writer came up with the same title for his book years after I wrote the first draft for mine. It's unfortunate, but frankly I had it before he did and no other title I was thereafter able to concoct delivered the thematic and emotional punch of that first one.

This is why my next novel, scheduled tentatively from some time in 2018 will be BEAUTIFUL BOY.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Carl Barks Moment

When I was a little kid reading the giant stacks of comics in my dad's warehouse of used comic books, I would fixate on certain books for varying periods of time. First it might be for the cover art. Then it could be for my fascination with the principle character. After a while I reached a point in which I sought out stories illustrated by specific artists whose work I appreciated over that of other artists.

When I began to read various Walt Disney comics I gravitated toward stories with Donald Duck and his family--Uncle Scrooge; Huey, Dewey, and Louis, and supporting cast. I didn't care for Goofy or Mickey Mouse or Pluto, etc. It was the raucous, angry, impetuous Donald Duck I liked, and of his stories I began to discern that one artist stood out above all the rest. I didn't know the guy's name, but I sure as shit knew what his style of art was like.

So I'd go into the warehouse or back room where my dad was storing the comics to replenish his stock of used books and I'd pick through them and raid them for the ones I wanted to take home to read. For a while I targeted only Disney books and I'd look for covers I'd never seen and open them up to see if the "good artist" had illustrated them.

Around this time--eight years old--I was also reading books avidly and had realized that some writers were a hell of a lot better than others. I could depend on Ernest Thompson Seton, Ray Bradbury, and Jim Kjelgaard to deliver the kind of story I wanted to read. This had me wondering if the guys who drew the comics I liked the most were actually writing them.

What I began doing was looking through the comics to see if I could find a clue how the stories were produced. I asked my parents, and they didn't know. Marvel Comics and DC Comics often labeled the creators (sometimes falsely, I later discovered, as in the case of the lying shill, Stan Lee). This was one way that I knew that sometimes one person wrote the stories and another guy drew them. But with the Disney comic books there was no such method and a total lack of evidence. All I knew was that there was one "good artist" who drew the Duck stories and the other guys sucked in comparison.

I remained ignorant of this good artist's name for some years, but what I began to do was look for clues to whether or not this same guy was also writing these amazing stories. And then, one day, sitting at the dining room table reading a story that featured Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, I came to the last panel. Today all I can recall about the story was that it had, as a principle foil, an elephant in the storyline. I seem to recall that Uncle Scrooge ended up with the pachyderm and Donald did not. That final panel featured Donald. Nothing strange about that. The last panel should feature the title character.

But... in the corner of that final scene, on the horizon, was the silhouette of the elephant being led away by Uncle Scrooge using his cane as a kind of tether that the elephant was grasping with his trunk. This image was terribly small. Donald dominated the scene in the foreground, but the panel had been illustrated in such a way that your wandering eye led you to see these tiny silhouettes off in the distance.

And in that instant I realized that the guy who was drawing these amazing images was also spinning these wonderful yarns. No mere writer of scripts could possibly have included such an engaging and funny detail! Therefor, the guy drawing that story was also the man writing it!

It was only much later that I learned that the "good artist" was a fellow named Carl Barks and that he had been hand-picked from the animation department at Disney specifically to oversee the production, writing, and illustrating of all of the Duck stories for Dell Comics (and, later, Gold Key). Walt Disney himself chose Carl Barks, because back in those days Disney comic books published by Dell sold well over a million copies per issue! Each and every month. Disney knew that millions of kids would be seeing these comic books and reading these stories and it was important, almost paramount, that only the best of the best should produce the kind of comic books worthy of the Disney logo and trademark.'s to Carl Barks, the "good artist" whose work I picked out of the crowd, and who also made me realize that the guy who was drawing those wonderful tales was also writing them.

Donald Duck, as portrayed flawlessly by the brilliant Carl Barks.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Songs.

Unlike so many other people, I dig Christmas time. The season does not drag on too long for me, but I do find that for me it's over much too soon. For me, part of it is that I just do enjoy this time of year when the days are short and cold weather makes an appearance. And, of course, I have a great deal of warm nostalgia for some of the Christmases of my childhood and youth.

So, I really like the holiday and make no apologies for it.

Here, then, are some of my favorite Christmas songs in no particular order except for the first one which has been my favorite since I was a child. Here goes!

First on my list is "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" from Andy Williams. Except, perhaps, for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" this is the earliest Christmas song that I can remember enjoying. I know I heard it the year it was released (1963). My mom adored Andy Williams so we watched any show he hosted or where he was a guest.

The Ronette's "Sleigh Ride". Produced by Phil Spector, the song showcases Veronica Bennett's wonderful voice. Again, I must have heard it the same year I heard William's song--when I was six years old. It must have been a good year for Christmas songs.

I have always enjoyed this tune. I have to admit that I've been a Gilbert O'Sullivan fan since I was a kid. I know that some people can't stand his work, but I enjoy it. This tune does bear some similarities to another favorite of mine, but not so much that it bothers me.

Thematically, O' Sullivan probably nabbed some thoughts from this Lennon song. Unlike most Christmas songs, this tune can be enjoyed by just about everyone, no matter what time of the year it is.

I discovered this song very recently. First of all, I have to apologize for a bit of the quality of this recording. It's the best one that I could find, but is such a bit of a novelty song that I couldn't locate a better one. Valerie Masters was a UK actress who also had an engaging voice used to excellent effect on "Christmas Calling". The song was produced by Joe Meek, one of the most tragic figures in 1960s pop music. They made a good artist/producer pairing.

I've always preferred the Bobby Helms version of "Jingle Bell Rock". There have been plenty of others, but this one is my favorite. It first appeared the year I was born, but that's not really why I like it best. Helms just had a damned good voice, especially on this tune.

I have to put a Carpenter's song on here. They did so many great ones, but this is my favorite. I'm not sure whose idea it was to infuse this song with so much bittersweet emotion, but it is extremely effective in that way. Touching, a spirit of nostalgia, and an aching sadness that reminds us all that joy, like life, is fleeting.

Most people prefer Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and it's a great one, for sure. But to me "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" nails down some of the ideas and images that make Christmas sweet and fun.

For just creating the finest imagery more effectively than any other Christmas song I know, we have Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" which, Torme' said, Nat King Cole insisted he be allowed the first to record. I think this one is from 1961, which means I was four years old at that time, so I probably heard it that year for the first time.

Here's another song that I just really got a kick out of when I was a very young child. It aired for the first time in 1964 on the Christmas TV Special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" from Rankin-Bass. Voiced by Burl Ives as the Snowman, to me it's a classic tune and conveys a wonderful idea.

This is the most recently written and produced song on my list of favorites, so I'll close it out with this one. From George Michaels (and Wham!), it's "Last Christmas". One of the few Christmas songs written after the 1960s that I really like.

I could have gone on with a vast list of great Christmas songs, but I'll end it here. To me, these are pretty much my favorite songs of the season. So, I'll leave it here. I'm sure I'll discover more holiday songs as I get older, and songs not at the top of my list now will find their ways to the top. Or maybe friends and family will tell me about some compositions I'd never heard and I'll find they become my new favorites. As I said, life (and tastes) are fleeting.

My wife and I picking out our tree at a choose and cut tree farm in 2009, on an appropriately snow-covered day.

Thursday, December 07, 2017


I am not a fan of pop culture. Seriously. I tend to hate that shit. Every day people mention pop music stars and the latest young actors, top-grossing movies, fad novels and such...and I have no idea what they're talking about. I just do not follow current trends in modern media. Basically, except for a brief period of my youth, I never have eaten at that trough.

To make it plain, I ignore the latest in hit films and, since the media is packed with ads and promotions for movies that I consider garbage, I tend to avoid the advertising for all modern movies. This means that I often miss hearing about films that I might enjoy because of the fact that I remain ignorant of them due to intentionally avoiding the constant bombardment from vast corporations promoting their vile shit.

Thus, I missed hearing about a 2016 movie called THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER. The movie was written and directed by "Oz" Perkins (Osgood Perkins, son of the later actor Tony Perkins and Berry Berenson). Set at a private all-girls Catholic school, the story reveals itself as a particularly creepy tale of madness, obsession, and (possibly) demonic possession. Told partially in a series of flashbacks, the story unfolds slowly and effortlessly, although with a kind of cool tension.

And cold is the key word for this film. Everything about it is chilling and sterile. The setting of the film at the Catholic girls prep school is the ultimate of alienation and abandonment. Amid this frozen landscape (both within and without) we are introduced to a pair of students who find themselves trapped at the location because each set of parents failed to show up to gather the girls at winter break. (Yes, the school director attempts to locate and communicate with the two sets of parents, to no effect.) So the girls must wait to be collected by their parents for another day, during which everything changes for them both.

Kat (played by Kiernan Shipka from MAD MEN--yes, I have seen some pop culture TV now and again) is convinced via a nightmare that her parents have been killed in an auto accident and will never arrive.  Rose, (performed by Lucy Boynton, an actress I had never seen before) has intentionally misled her parents to think that she is to be picked up later because she wanted to see a boyfriend before she left for home. So the two girls (one older than the other by a couple of years) are left in the silent halls with only a couple of nuns for company--the girls staying in their structured dorm, the nuns in a brownstone on the campus.

And there is the appearance of a third youthful woman (played by Emma Roberts) inserted into the plot whose story seems disconnected from the others, told in a setting that occurs several years after the initial storyline. Alone at a bus station, she's offered a ride by a married couple played effectively and coldly by Lauren Holly and James Remar (who normally delivers villainous roles, but not here).

I found both Perkins' script and direction to be exceptionally good. The feelings of sterility and alienation that he communicates via images and dialog are effective. The story he tells is also deceptively simple, which adds to the power of it as it unfolds.

If I had any criticism of it after this recent viewing, it would be that the theme of the movie could be considered routine in some ways. But again, I am a hard viewer to please, so I often find fault in most movies.

I do think the movie is engaging in most ways. Keep in mind that it is a horror movie, and an effective one. It's not a romance, and it's not a feel-good yarn. It's a horror movie, with accent on the slowly unfolding, implacable monstrosity. 

Lucy Boynton as Rose.

Kiernan Shipka as the creepy Kat.