Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome to The Jungle

Yesterday during book club we were discussing "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Over a fantastic meal of salmon, salad, fresh bread and olive oil the following question was posed to the group: What makes a book a "classic"?
This question - courtesy of Kristin - basically asked if we thought that "The Jungle" could be classified as a classic novel. All agreed that it could. then the question was asked "Why could it be considered as such?"
The general consensus seemed to be that, among other reasons, it was considered a classic because the novel had made an impact on the American society. In this case, the barbaric descriptions of the work at a meat packing plant which were so deplorable that it (according to wikipedia) "caused Foreign sales of American meat to fall by one-half. In order to calm public outrage and demonstrate the cleanliness of their meat, the major meat packers lobbied the Federal government to pass legislation paying for additional inspection and certification of meat packaged in the United States. Their efforts, coupled with the public outcry, led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which established the Food and Drug Administration."
Other books that were mentioned in the same breath were "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Grapes of Wrath" which also forced the reader to face the harsh realities of the world around them. In this case, the spotlight was firmly on bigotry in the former novel and on poverty in the latter.
After agreeing with this narrow definition, Kristin then asked "So could 'Harry Potter' be considered a classic?"
This question sparked what could have been a wholly-engaging conversation had it been allowed to go on uninterrupted. This was not the case. However, it is a discussion worth having. So let's do so.
Should the Harry Potter heptalogy be considered a classic?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Ribbon of Moonlight

Kathy's post about languages yesterday got me to thinking about words. As all of you know - I love words. The right words in the right combination can produce their own rhythm filled with a beautiful melody, a questing melody or a haunting one.
As an example of this I present to you The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.
The words found within this poem are masterful. They pull the reader along with written imagery for background scenery. The repetitious phrases are used to create the image of a horseman riding at ease through the rural darkness to a lovers' tryst or of the soldiers marching down the same road to ambush him.
The Highwayman is one of my most favorite poems.

The Highwayman

The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

He'd a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He'd a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim, the ostler listened--his face was white and peaked--
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord's daughter--
The landlord's black-eyed daughter;
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say:

"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart; I'm after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light.
Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

He stood upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the sweet black waves of perfume came tumbling o'er his breast,
Then he kissed its waves in the moonlight
(O sweet black waves in the moonlight!),
And he tugged at his reins in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon.
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon over the purple moor,
The redcoat troops came marching--
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets by their side;
There was Death at every window,
And Hell at one dark window,
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say,
"Look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way."

She twisted her hands behind her, but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness,
and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest;
Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again,
For the road lay bare in the moonlight,
Blank and bare in the moonlight,
And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain.

Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding--
The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.

Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight--
Her musket shattered the moonlight--
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death.

He turned, he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o'er the casement, drenched in her own red blood!
Not till the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine-red was his velvet coat
When they shot him down in the highway,
Down like a dog in the highway,
And he lay in his blood in the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

And still on a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a gypsy's ribbon looping the purple moor,
The highwayman comes riding--
The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred,
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
* * *
The Highwayman is at once a beautifully romantic poem and a haunting work. To prove my point about words and melody, songstress Loreena McKennitt put the poem to music on her album "The Book of Secrets" - well worth listening to here.

Ferrets on Wednesday

No, this is not the name of a rock band - although it could be, someday. In this instance, "Ferrets on Wednesday" refers to Jenna's excited proclamation given around the table this past weekend in Vermont that, yes indeed, she was getting ferrets on Wednesday.
Why ferrets? Jenna has been asking for a ferret since she first gave actual, serious consideration to what she wanted as a present for her sixteenth birthday.
I have wondered for many years what Jenna's "Sweet 16" would be like. Above all else, I knew that I wanted her day to be magical, somehow. I had visions of a party at the Algonquin Club, a dance with sixteen of her closest friends or a huge beach party. I had always thought that this was when she would first ask us for a car or a fancy trip abroad. Whatever she asked for, I hoped that she would look back on this milestone event and think "This was the greatest birthday ever!"
Well, she did not want a car. She did not want her learners permit (although that is in the works). She did not want a party at the Algonquin Club and although she flirted with the idea of a party at Skatetown USA she ultimately decided against that, too.
Nope; she wanted a ferret.
Pam and I agreed that this would be a great gift for our rapidly running into adulthood daughter. She looked around through various ferret organizations online and somehow, through the goodwill of the ferret gods, she now has a pair of them waiting to be welcomed into her loving arms.
Wednesday has finally arrived and today - one month before her actual 16th birthday - we will bring home the gift that she has wanted for so long - ferrets on Wednesday.
She has been as excited as I have ever seen her. The joy on her face has been infectious. And I am so very happy for her.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Over My Head

The cool water was in sharp contrast to the hot stabs of pain that shot through my feet from the hidden rocks below.
"Come on, Dad. Don't be a Pansy!"
I'm not a Pansy.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm comin'."
I watched as my daughter waded out into the middle of the river. Slowly, cautiously, I followed along. "Be careful," I yelled.
We were swimming in a river that flows through South Royalton, VT. We had parked the car along the side of the road and entered into a small, meandering tributary of the larger river twenty or thirty yards downstream. The day was hot; the water was cool. A perfect combination.
We passed a young couple playing fetch with their nine-month old bloodhound - a beautiful dog with a deep, baying sound. I had just dunked below the surface of the water. I ran my fingers through my wet hair when I realized that Jenna was now ahead of me wading in the middle of the river.
"Are you kneeling down?" I asked.
"No, the water's over my head here."
"Is it over MY head there?"
"Yeah. Probably."
Great. Just great.
I followed Jenna and Bridget through the slow-moving water and, sure enough, the water was VERY over my head. I swam for an outcropping of rocks, sure that the water level must be lower there. It was. Standing next to the rocks I watched as Jenna and Bridget caught up with Jim (Bridget's dad) who had made it to the main waterway. I watched as a family on inner-tubes came down the river. Jim had mentioned that there was a place to rent inner-tubes somewhere along the river. Clearly he was right. It looked like fun.
Finally we all caught up with each other and surveyed the river before us. The current was strong; not too strong, but it was moving at a good clip. Jim decided that he was going to swim over to an eddy among the huge rocks that jutted up from beneath the river. Jenna's eyes were wide with excitement. I knew that she would soon be joining him.
A Brief discussion later and Jenna and Bridget were going to ride the current down to the next outcropping of rocks. "Be careful" I said again.
"I will, Dad."
With a whoop and a holler they were off. I watched silently as Jenna and Bridget were pulled downstream. Arms were in motion the whole time as they bobbed and weaved their way through the current. They both grabbed onto the boulders and pulled themselves up close to it. When she emerged from the water the smile on Jenna's face was huge. Both of them seemed very pleased with themselves.
Jenna looked back upstream. "Come on, Dad! It's fun."
Fun, she says.
"I'm coming," I said as my fear of water was bubbling just below the surface of my demeanor.
I hate swimming over my head. I can't do it. Well, I can do it but it is with a very liberal dose of fear. Swimming in a current just added to my anxiety - because I have never, ever done it.
Still, there up ahead was my daughter. Smiling and laughing, waiting for her old man to join her at the rocks.
I pushed off from the shallows into the current. I was swept along quickly and I laughed for a second at the watery ride. Then the bottom of the river fell out from beneath me. I was in free fall down the river.
Panic grabbed me by the throat and shook hard.
Suddenly I was wading and swimming just to keep myself on course. I desperately wanted to feel the riverbed underneath me again, rocks and all. Just something, anything, to keep me from going under. I bumped against the first outcropping of rock beneath the water's surface. The rocks jutted out deeper and farther than I first thought. I maneuvered myself out a little further away from them. I was looking for something to grab onto. Bridget's hand appeared before me. "I've got you," she said as she grabbed my hand and pulled my to the rocks. Once perched on the damp boulders I felt the fear drain away somewhat.
"Isn't that great?" Jenna asked, smiling broadly.
"Oh, yeah. Absolutely."
"We should swim over there," she said gesturing to the main rock encampment along the roadway. Two families were also enjoying the water from these rocks. It was a serene spot. It was situated directly across the most powerful part of the current.
"Sure. We can do that." I said, gearing up for the next swim.
Bridget went first, then Jenna. They made it easily. For me, it was the same problem. I put my head down and swam hard for the rocks. Halfway across I could feel the current moving me away from the boulders. Fear's icy grip tickled at my brain as I redoubled my efforts. By the time I made landfall I was exhausted and out of breath.
And scared. I held onto that rock for dear life.
It was decided that one more ride down the current was in order. I knew (hoped) that I had one more swim in me so we jockeyed back into position and repeated the run.
Once back at the boulders Bridget and I watched as Jenna soared through the water - across the current - back to the rock encampment. Thanks to many summers in Cohasset waters my daughter has become an excellent swimmer. She LOVES the water.
As we watched Jenna clamber up onto the rocks on the opposite shore Bridget asked me, "Are you okay?"
I wanted to say "yes" and leave it at that.
"I'm afraid of the water; of being out over my head." I've never said that out loud before.
"Yeah. Absolutely. When Vic, Nick and Ben used to swim across Stetson Pond I was the one who stayed behind on shore. I can swim, but I don't like being out over my head."
The memory embarrassed me.
"Bridget smiled and said "It'll be okay." She offered to follow behind me in case I got into trouble. I agreed, thankful for her reassurance.
I looked out over the water. It was angry. The water churned and boiled, as if it defied any of us to risk crossing the current. Jenna had defied it twice. Now it was my turn to try it again. Fear percolated inside of me.
I hate being afraid. Today I wasn't going to be. Jenna had triumphed over the angry river god. Now it was my turn.
I turned to Bridget - "The things I do for my daughter" - as I plunged ahead into the cold, swirling and bottomless abyss.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Letter of Reprimand

Faithful readers, today I turn your attention to the right-hand side of my blog home page.
Look! Over there! Do you see it?
Do you see the link to "Dr.Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"?
Of COURSE you do.
Want to know what its about?
It's about a low-rent supervillain, who's trying to get into the Evil League of Evil and defeat his nemesis Captain Hammer and work up the nerve to talk to the pretty girl at the Laundromat.
Sounds good, doesn't it?
You bet it does!
Want to watch it?
Of COURSE you do.
Do you remember the link I mentioned earlier? The one at the right-hand side of my blog home page? The link to "Dr.Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"?
Click on it.
Not now, dummy. Click on it AFTER you're done reading my words which are right here being typed as you read this well not really but I'm typing them now so that you will read them later which is kind of like a time travel thinghy in "Star Trek" but I digress.
If you want a cure for your average day blahs and you want to marvel yet again at the creative awesomeness that is Joss Whedon and you want to see why NPH is the BEST singing supervillain ever who also starred in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" which if you haven't seen it yet you certainly need to because NPH is a freakin' riot in it and you want to see how firmly Nathan Fillion has his acting tongue in his cheek here as "Captain Hammer" and why Felicia Day is just all sorts of wonderful both here and over at her own web series "the Guild" then THIS is the link for you.
Not THIS - the link over to the right.
Parts I and II are already available. Part III will be available on Saturday and all three parts are FREE for the viewing until Sunday, when they will be pay for download - at least until the DVD comes out.
So go over there and click on the link!
Go ahead. I'm done.
Click on it.
If you don't, there will be a letter of reprimand from the deputy mayor placed in your file.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Work in Progress

Their eyes meet. Each locks their gaze upon the other, drinking deep the measure of their opponent. Which will move first?
Silence fills the space between them. Silence and anticipation.
Who shall blink?
They are ill-matched for combat. One weighs in at 10 pounds; the other at 72. She is the yin to his yang; the black to her white.
They were born for combat.
A flick of a tail is followed by a low, purring trill.
Game on!
Callie leaps at Doyle, who has expertly hidden underneath the living room chair, which slides a few inches while she strains to reach the nimble cat, whose paw are now wrapped around her muzzle. Suddenly, the jaws of death bite into Callie, holding her tight and ceasing her attack. I wonder for a moment just who is attacking who. Callie slips her nose out from Doyle's "Ten Claws of Death" attack and lunges ahead. Doyle's head briefly disappears inside her mouth before Callie readjusts her hold. Now Doyle's neck is gone from view. Undaunted, Doyle bides his time and ceases struggling. A second passes...then two...then three...then Callie releases her grip. Too late she realizes her mistake, as Doyle breaks free from her grip, darts out from under the chair and streaks across the living room into the hallway beyond.
Legs scrambling, Callie starts the hot pursuit.
She bolts through the french doors but cannot negotiate the sharp turn due to the runner in the hall. The rug slides out from under her and she sideswipes the pew along the staircase. A teasing "rowr!" from Doyle is heard from afar as Callie scrambles into the kitchen and the battle - now unseen - continues. A kitchen chair scrapes along the floor and the patter of eight paws slap against the marble flooring. Doyle breaks for the hallway again, narrowly missing the water dish that Callie cannot avoid. Water splashes the floor as Doyle turns the corner with the grace of an Olympian. Callie crashes along, her sharp eyes following Doyle even if her legs cannot keep up with him. Doyle is back underneath the chair and the games begin again.
Welcome to any night of the week in our house.
Callie joined our family one year ago today. To say that this has been a year of trials and tribulations would be an understatement. The last twelve months have been filled with broken furniture, destroyed rugs, a late, lamented espresso maker, puppy Prozac and vet bills. But, somewhere along the way my fear of the sharpness of her teeth on our home gave way to the softness in her big brown eyes. The irritating early morning barking (mostly done away with) has given way to hugs at first light when she greets me each new day with a loving look and a gentle nuzzling. Her impatient anxieties have given way to a wagging tail when the three pets - two dogs and a cat who thinks he's a dog - greet us at the back door each evening as if we were the second coming.
For now, I look back on the last year and, perhaps for the first time, it is without a twinge of regret. It's somehow like when we view our children through our mind's eye. When doing so we focus on all of the good times while the bad times are diminished somehow. For example, you can forget the dresser drawer full of kittens dipped in baby oil and instead remember the random hugs that were ever present in your house. The pains of child-rearing give sway to the more important knowledge that you have given love and you are loved in return.
Yes, it's been a trying time and Callie is still a work in progress; but aren't we all? Today, when I think about Callie, I know that I have given her love and that I have been loved back in return. That's enough for now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sunday Mornings - in Concert

Stuffed with my usual Sunday morning breakfast of bacon and pancakes I have plunked myself down on the couch to continue watching Sunday morning television. "Davey & Goliath" has made way for "Kids are People Too" which would then be followed by reruns of "The Big Valley" or "Star Trek". By 11AM there is nothing good on TV anymore. Mark, Barbara and I would usually scatter to the four winds in search of something to do.
Soon afterwards the familiar crackle of a record on the turntable meant that Mom had claimed the den as was her wont and due.
We grew up in a very small house. Mom and Dad plus three kids and a lovable old mutt. Solitude was at a premium. Except for your bedroom there was literally nowhere to go that someone else would not need to traipse through to get to someplace else. We had two TV's - a large console color TV in the den and a small black and white set in the living room. Mom & Dad used the B&W while we used the color TV. However, the record player was also in the den. Therefore, it was not possible to watch TV and listen to records at the same time. Six days a week the den was for the kids. On Sunday's, it became Mom and Dad's room - for just a few hours.
During this time they would pull out an LP from whomever struck their fancy at the moment. Regular performers included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jim Nabors, Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio and many, many others. I don't remember my parents ever enjoying anyone who was popular (to us kids, anyway...). Instead, it was all of these "old-timers" belting out hits that I would never hear on top 40 radio. At the time I mocked them.
Yet they stuck with me.
From an early age I remember singing along absent-minded to Frank, Bing, and Johnny Cash. I actually liked the music although I couldn't tell you why I did. My parents liked it so it must be okay. It wasn't until junior high that I realized that having tastes that did not coincide with the other students meant nothing but trouble. Note to self - when a junior high schoolteacher asks what music you listen to at home - LIE and say anything but "Johnny Cash". This will save you a towel whipping in gym class.
Further note to self - the above advice is crap. Listen to whatever you want to and to hell with your "peers".
My musical tastes may not have been popular when I was a kid but boy, am I glad for my parents taste in music now.
Watching "Walk the Line" the other night made me realize how much I liked the music of Johnny Cash. This realization sent me to Amazon to buy "At Folsom Prison". As I listened to the sample tracks I realized that THIS was the album that my parents wore out on Sunday mornings. I knew instinctively what the next song would be on the play list just from hearing the previous song. Clearly these records stayed with me more than I ever realized.
As I've gotten older I enjoy the singers and standards of my parents generation more and more. I've always like Big Band Music (see above 'note to self') and Jazz (ditto) but now, I realize that my musical taste was shaped long ago by my parents, who took time out from their busy week to listen to a few LP's from their childhood once in a while. Jenna already likes some 80's music because of my incessant playing of "Back to the 80's Friday Nights" on MIX 98.5 so there must be something to this immersion in song. Maybe someday her kids will roll their eyes whenever she rocks out to "Jessie's Girl"? Or not.
My music shipment from Amazon arrives this afternoon. I think that I'll play "At Folsom Prison" on Sunday morning - right after a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

"...For an Old Man You ain't Bad in a Fight."

"This ain't going to be easy."
"Not as easy as it used to be."
Thus begins "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".
For the next two hours I sat and caught up with old friends. I left my belief suspended by the door and just went along for the ride. And what a ride. Indiana Jones has weathered well since the "Last Crusade". He can still lay a solid right hook on the bad guys and use his bullwhip to escape trouble when he needs it most. After 10 minutes of viewing the film I lost sight of the character's age and just watched Indy in action.
And there is action.
Lots of it.
Some believable; most not so much.
As I said earlier, you really need to suspend your belief to make it through this movie. It is very far-fetched. To analyze it with any type of logic would cause this film to fly apart at the seams. If you allow yourself to just sit back, relax and go along for the ride then you'll be okay.
However, for all of the action in this movie, I feel that this is a character-driven piece.
Indiana Jones is older, maybe wiser and certainly sardonic. This all comes across beautifully in the hands of Harrison Ford, who has turned irascible into an art form. From references to Marcus Brody, Henry Jones Sr., the Ark of the Covenant and Marion Ravenwood, character moments abound throughout the movie. While this movies works for the uninitiated it is better appreciated by those who have seen the previous three movies. Unlike its predecessors, this movie is not as much of a travelogue as it is a family album. Here we are given the rare opportunity to see our hero (and those he loves) in action one more time. Lines like this kept me glued to the screen:
Marion Ravenwood: I'm sure I wasn't the only one to go on with my life. There must have been plenty of women for you over the years.
Indiana Jones: There were a few. But they all had the same problem.
Marion Ravenwood: Yeah, what's that?
Indiana Jones: They weren't you, honey.
Naysayers be damned, this was a fine film. Could this have been a better film? Absolutely. Is it another "Raiders"? No. No film will ever be as good as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" which is perfect in every aspect. It is the "Perfect Storm" of movie making in that all of the separate parts came together to make a brilliant whole. So, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" falls somewhere between the sequels, told in the style of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." To me, this means that it is at least as good as the latter and it is better than the former. And I was okay with that.
Again, for me, this film was about the characters and it is full of them. Mostly, it is filled with the larger-than-life presence of Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr.
Twenty seven years ago Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and (most of all) Harrison Ford created a hero that is iconic. With their attempt to make an homage to adventure serials of their childhoods they created their own legend; a legend that lives on from my own childhood. This film was directly targeted to those of us who first discovered Indiana Jones on the big screen in 1981. Last Friday, 27 years later, I spent a joyful two hours with one of my childhood heroes.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wicker and a Willow Tree

"Is everything done?" Mom asked managerially.
"All set," I replied, wiping the sweat off my forehead.
"Thanks," she would reply as she darted back into the kitchen. The familiar slam of the screen door masking my reply - "You're welcome."
After putting the lawn mower away I got myself a cold glass of milk from the kitchen. I gulped down one glass - then another while Mom was busy tossing a green salad. Tomatoes and cucumbers mixed with iceberg lettuce in a faux wooden bowl sat next to a large white bowl of macaroni salad. Steaks were marinading in the metal baking pan while a huge pot of water bubbled furiously on the stove. A moment later and the cut potatoes were submerged in the water, which ceased to boil.
It was hot in the kitchen. The standing fan was on the floor between the kitchen and the living room, trying in vain to drop the hot July temperatures below 80 degrees. It didn't stand a chance against the warmth of the stove.
"Bring these out to the picnic table," Mom said as she handed me paper plates and the multicolored wicker plate holders; a staple of summer dining on Antilla Court.
I walked out the backdoor, down the stairs and across the side yard to the picnic set that was situated beneath the giant weeping willow. I sat down and assembled the plates with each plate holder and stacked them neatly. I looked over across the backyard and there was Suki, nestled into a hole that she had recently dug. Her own brand of air conditioning. She watched me as I got up and walked over to her, her tail wagging in eager anticipation of a long belly rub. I obliged her.
She had knocked over her water bowl so I grabbed it and walked back to the side of the house where the hose was kept. I rinsed then refilled the bowl, taking a long gulp from the hose for myself. I walked back over and replaced the water bowl. I patted Suki again as Dad appeared from the rear yard with the grill in tow.
I watched as Dad went to work, methodically placing the grill, the grilling tools and the bag of charcoal in their assigned spots. He surveyed my handy work. No comment from him meant that all was well. Silently, Dad poured a mound or charcoal into the center of the round grill and doused the briquettes with lighter fluid. A quick strike of a match and we had fire.
Dad watched the flames for a few moments then he sat down in the nearby Adirondack chair. It would be awhile before the briquettes were hot enough for cooking. He pulled a pipe from his pants pocket, filled it with tobacco and lit up. Contented, he sat in silence. I gave Suki a final "scritch" and joined him. He looked over the freshly mowed yard between puffs. The smell of cherry tobacco mixed with that of the burning briquettes on the hazy afternoon air. I breathed in deeply.
"Looks good, me boy."
Now we waited.
We knew that Mom would come up with another chore or twelve before our guests arrived. We expected this. Every barbecue at our house went off without a hitch because Mom was a master in the kitchen and we knew to stay out of her way until she called for us. Then we just did as we were told.
The sounds of a working kitchen were heard through the screen door as a cool breeze whistled through the willow. It washed over us and we savored its caress.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Radio Stars & Celluloid Heroes

July reminds me of long, summer nights riding in the car with the windows rolled down and the radio turned up.
When I was in high school I listened to top 40 radio. I once thought that Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" was a great song. While I was listening to WZOU my friend Stan listened to classic rock on WZLX - 100.7. He listened to all the classic bands: Cream, Yes, Traffic, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, Hendrix, etc. You name it and he owned it. His music collection was legendary.
One great memory is Stan introducing me to "American Pie" by Don McLean. He knew all the words and he would sing these songs at the top of his lungs while gesticulating wildly between puffs on his butt. The fact that he really couldn't carry a tune never deterred him, either. I grew to love that song because of his love for it.
Stan also used music to make fun of me once in a while. Two lines from different songs made him giddy with the teasing. In "Werewolves of London" the line "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's - and his hair was perfect!" made him insufferable for the rest of the song if I was in the car. The other was "and if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with!" by Stephen Sills. According to Stan, both applied to me.
On warm summer nights we would cruise around in his Charger, 'ZLX blasting from the presets as Stan chain smoked Marlboro's. All of Stan's presets were set to WZLX. This is because when I got tired of all of this classic rock crap I used to change the channel. Finally, one day, I changed the channel - right to ZLX. Next button - ZLX. And so on and so on. With a smug look on his face, Stan cranked up the tunes a bit more. I would never try to change his radio again.
At the time I wondered why anyone would want to listen to this "old hippie stuff". This attitude is confusing because of my love for classic movies from the thirties and forties was just coming into its own during this same phase. How I couldn't connect "classic films" and "classic rock" escapes me. However, hanging out (and living) with Stan afforded me all sorts of opportunities to listen to classic rock.
And listen I did.
One song - Celluloid Heroes - bridged the gap between rock and the movies. Listening to this song gave me a first hand look at the world that I loved (classic film) with the world that he loved (classic rock). The Kinks nailed what Hollywood was all about in this one song, as well as the inhumane manner in which the Hollywood industry drains and exploits its stars, while their iconic film images endure. He knew this song was one that would appeal to me and my love of old movies. As the song progressed, I marvelled at all of the actors that I knew within the lyrics. Soon, whenever we were in the car, cruising off to go bowling or to shoot darts at Squires - all involving pitchers of beer - I was sure to hear the familiar "ka-chunk" of a cassette falling into place and the bellowing forth of "Celluloid Heroes".
Right now the windows aren't rolled down and the radio isn't turned up. But, take a moment and listen to "Celluloid Heroes" anyway.