Sunday, January 31, 2010

Literary Calendar, January 31

This date in 1905:  John O'Hara born in Pottsville, Pa.  (which in his writings became Gibbsville).  Note to self:  re-read "Hope of Heaven," "Andrea," "Farmers Hotel," etc.

This date in 1901:  Chekhov's "Three Sisters" opens at the Moscow Art Theatre, with his beautiful and famous actress wife Olga Knipper as Masha.  Note to self:  remember Robert Graham's excellent staging of Chekhov plays for Westcoast Actors.

This date in 1948:  J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Banana Fish" published in The New Yorker.  Note to self:  re-read all "Nine Stories."

This date in 1923:  Norman Mailer born in Long Branch, New Jersey.  On his fiftieth birthday, Mailer invites 5,000 people to a party, at $50 a couple, money to go towards "a democratic secret police."  Five hundred people turn up.  Did the secret police get founded?  If so, it's still a secret.  Note to self:  prepare invitations for 100th birthday party.  $100 a pop, for the whole family.  BYOB. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

More Salinger

The last story J.D. Salinger published was "Hapworth 16, 1924," which appeared in The New Yorker issue dated June 19, 1965.  I read this that week on the veranda of a house in Carberry Gardens, Victoria, and regret that I did not save the magazine.  Purchased then for twenty-five cents, a copy today, if found, will bring at least $3,000.

Salinger wrote a number of stories before developing his Holden Caulfield style, and while he did not want them republished, a bootleg collection was brought out several years ago.  Of those stories, one that continues to hover around the edges of my mind, rather dream-like, is "The Inverted Forest," originally printed in Cosmopolitan (the pre-Helen Gurley Brown Cosmopolitan).  The plot is too complex to summarize, and besides, a summary would be unfair to any reader fortunate enough to find a copy. 

Okay, gotta go.  Seymour is on the phone. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Salinger, Auchincloss, Thigpen

     "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

     Most readers will recognize that as the justifiably famous opening of "The Catcher in the Rye," the landmark 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger.  Salinger died January 27.  He was 91 years old. This same week, Louis Auchincloss died, at 92.  (Writers have a gift for longevity:  Rex Stout was 89; Somerset Maugham was 91;  P.G. Wodehouse was 94.)

     Many will have read all four of Salinger's published books, but few, probably, have read all of Auchincloss's:  he wrote sixty.  Wrote them while conducting his practice as a Wall Street lawyer.  Best known among the novels are "The Rector of Justin" and "The Embezzler," but we remember with admiration "Motiveless Malignity," a collection of literary essays, and the memoir "A Writer's Capital." 

     Also this week comes news of the death of Ed Thigpen in Copenhagen.  A masterful jazz drummer, Thigpen is best remembered for his work with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown  (the three played a wonderful rainy afternoon recital at Simon Fraser University years ago) but he also backed Ella Fitzgerald and played with other giants, among them Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano and Blossom Dearie.  

     (Looking over this list, it strikes one that all those mentioned have moved on to the afterlife. To quote a memorable Oscar Peterson-Milt Jackson album, "Ain't But a Few of Us Left.")  

     So, how are you spending the evening?  I think I'll play something  by the Peterson trio and re-read "Franny and Zooey."  And write something.  It may work better than exercise.  


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bronc bustin'

Clint Eastwood may have written finis to the Western with "Unforgiven" (although "finis" seems not the right word--maybe ka-pow!) and we miss the movies, not only the classics, like "Stagecoach" and "Escape from Fort Bravo" and "Shane" (Shane!  Come back, Shane!  Pa needs you!  And Ma likes you!  I know she does!  Shayyyyun!) but also those we used to watch on Saturday afternoons--Gene Autry, the Durango Kid, the Three Mesquiteers, Lash LaRue, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard. 

A film to remember with pleasure, and happily watch whenever it turns up on TCM, is "The Lusty Men," Nicholas Ray's rodeo yarn, made in 1952.  But it seems also that "The Lusty Men" could be re-shot, this half-century later.

The story is of a bone-weary rodeo veteran who becomes the mentor of a brash wannabe. In the centre is the young rider's wife, looking puzzled/concerned/conflicted.  In the 1952 film, Robert Mitchum played the old bronc-buster, Arthur Kennedy was the ambitious newcomer, and Susan Hayward played the wife.  Arthur Hunnicutt turned up as a rodeo clown, the guy who runs out and distracts a vexed mustang or Brahma bull before things get ugly.

Mitchum, leathery and laconic, was terrific; so were Hayward and Hunnicutt.  But Kennedy, while always an intelligent actor (his best role was Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") seemed not quite right for his part.  For a start, he was three years older than Mitchum.

So in our re-make, we have Brad Pitt as the rodeo veteran; Amy Adams as the wife; and, as the kid--Johnny Depp!  Tell me this wouldn't be a box office smash!  Oh, and the clown?  Bill Murray.  Or maybe Jay Leno.  Or Michael Richards, he may be looking for work.  

Coming out of the gate, we've got a movie that'll buck "Avatar" clear out of the saddle!  For, in Mitchum's memorable words from the '52 "Lusty Men":

"There was never a horse
  That couldn't be rode,
  And never a cowboy
  That couldn't be throwed."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vote for Nude!

The Scott Brown phenomenon continues to swell, despite the carping of some Democrats who say the Massachusetts voters "made a bum decision."

Other politicians, however, see this as an opportunity, and have been quick to take advantage of it.  It has been reported that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in a move interpreted as a step toward running for the Republican nomination in 2012, is applying to have his name legally changed to Nude Gingrich. 

Nothing has been heard on this matter from the Sarah Palin camp, but one observer said "I think it's unlikely we'll see Mrs. Palin peelin'."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Violet Brewster-Hinckley of Women for Dominance applauded the move toward a strong masculine presence in the political arena.  "We need men," she said, "who in the face of daunting challenges will remain erect."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Renude Hope for Republicans

The election to the US Senate of Scott Brown, onetime Cosmopolitan centrefold, has led to renude hope for right-wing Republicans, who declare they are now "stripped down for action" and prepared for "a full-frontal assault on Washington."

Marvin Fassbender, a spokesman for the GOP, outlined what he called "the Party's nude strategy. From henceforth," he said, "we will solicit candidates from the studly ranks of the Chippendales." The Party has begun testing its new campaign slogan:  "Economy Sunk?  Vote for a Hunk!"

Here at Pointless Digressions, never slow to leap aboard a fast-moving train, we have organized a contest.  We ask for your entries on these questions:

1.  Which Canadian politician would you most like to see naked?

2.  Which Canadian politician would you pay money not to see naked?

The entry judged most thoughtful and illuminating by the Pointless Panel will  be awarded tickets to one of the most eagerly anticipated artistic events of the 2010 Olympiad:  the performance by a cast of elite cabinet ministers of The Full Monty.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Frightening Prospect for Voters

Reports that the Massachusetts election to the US Senate of Scott Brown may have been stimulated by Brown's nude photograph in Cosmopolitan have brought new fears to the electorate. 

"If, in fact, this is the case," said Marley Rosenkrantz of Voters for Decency, "it raises the frightening prospect of other candidates stripping for the media.  We find this most disturbing.
We have learned to tolerate naked ambition and bare-faced lies, but unclothed politicians are unacceptable."

In Ottawa, meanwhile, officials rushed to destroy risque photographs of longtime Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bleak News for Book Lovers

The news that Duthie Book Stores will finally and, one fears, permanently pack up all their cares and woes after more than fifty years of extraordinary devotion to the trade is a sad blow for Vancouver book lovers, right up there with having your library card shredded.

At one time, Vancouver could boast that it had more book stores per capita than any other Canadian city. Those days are long gone, and one thinks of the many stores that have vanished--Pauline's Books, English Bay Books, Granville Book Co., et al.  There are still some very good stores, primarily niche servers, like Kidsbooks and Barbara-jo's Books to Cooks, but the general interest independent stores are a seriously endangered species.  

And of all the stores Vancouver had, and of all the booksellers, Duthie's and Bill Duthie were the best.  One remembers Bill Duthie's quiet charm, his air of mild amusement, his unfailing taste, his quest for the little-known.  His first store, on Robson Street, with the wrought iron spiral stairway leading to the Paperback Cellar (on which I once found myself chest to chest with a polo-coated Sean Connery) was a treasure, but others followed, most memorably Manhattan Books, backed by Binky's Oyster bar, named for another legendary bookman. 

These are not good days in Canada for clever, personalized book stores.  Gone, for yet another example, are two of McNally Robinson's wonderful stores.  (One McNally Robinson store in Winnipeg had a yellow brick road leading to the children's section.)

So here we book lovers go, looking for another yellow brick road.  One is grateful for Munro Books in Victoria.  Meanwhile, farewell, Duthie's.  And many and enduring thanks.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Resolving the NHL Crisis

In a move calculated to pour soothing hop-infused waters on the troubled NHL, we have invited Alex Burrows, Stephane Auger and Ron MacLean to share a beer in the Pointless Digressions garden.

"In the garden?  It's raining, for gosh sakes!"

Suck it up, Ron.  The garden is traditional.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Going for the Gold

In Ottawa, with the arrival of the Olympic Torch (courtesy Bicks) BC Premier Gordon Campbell declared that Canada would win "gold medal after gold medal after gold medal."  Of course, he was right, but we believe he was focused on a parallel series of games:  The 2010 Politicolympics.

Events in which our Canadian competitors are expected to excel:  Mindless Bloviating, Evasive Maneuvering, Faux Sincerity, Devious Behavior and Blatant Self-Enrichment.

And there will be more opportunities to cheer on our politicos, in Malicious Attacks, Pompous Posturing, Craven Apologies, and finally, the key event in this year's Politicolympics:  Snap Proroguing.

Yes!  Our team has shown over and over again that it knows how to go for the gold!   

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Major Prime Time Broadcast Changes

An NBC spokesperson today announced that rumors that Conan O'Brien will move to this blog site ("depending on the time slot") and that Pointless Digressions will now air  on the network at 12:05 a.m. remain unconfirmed.

Teacher's Pest

"Ho!  Young man!  I'll have your attention, please!  Right now!"

Omigosh, it's Miss Bowring, my Grade Seven English teacher.

"I read yesterday's entry on--what is it called?--your blog."

Yes, Miss Bowring.

"Blog.  Another of those four-letter words.  Ugh.  Disgusting. Sounds like a bodily excrescence."

I didn't make it up, Miss Bowring.

"No, I suppose even that would test your limited imagination.  But what I have come to speak sternly about is your mangling of an adverb.  You wrote 'all ready,' when clearly it should have been 'already'."

Mea culpa.

"Don't try any of those fancy phrases on me, young man."

Okay, my bad.

"And then, after your egregious, might I say, inexcusable error, you thrust upon us your lame witticism about losing your marbles.  Now, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

I do have a question.

"Yes.  Go on."

Did you ever date Mr. Playfair?

"Why, you young wretch!  You miserable scamp!  Down to the principal's office with you, and no ViCo at recess time!  Out of my sight, you diphthong, you split infinitive, you dangling participle, you fractured syntax, you...."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Frugal Diapers

With an eye toward improving my education, which effectively ended during a marble game at recess in Grade 3 (I lost all my marbles) I have been perusing catalogues of Continuing Education courses.  Among those that have caught my interest:

* Bargaining 101 - Pay Less Every Day!

* Fabulous Abs, Hips, Butts & Thighs

* Past Life Regression (bring snack, yoga mat, blanket and pillow)

* Nobody's Perfect - Arabic (not a slam against Omar Sharif; the course is conducted in Arabic)

* Fancy Diapers -- and, at the other end, if that's not an inappropriate term, Frugal Diapers

Finally, and I commend this to all my broadcast buddies who are still waiting for the residuals, Voice Over Announcing.  The catalogue assures us that "with increasing employment in the film industry as well as the local radio and TV market, the job opportunities in voice over announcing are on the rise.  Who knows, this may be the beginning of a new career for you!"

I've begun practicing all ready.  "Around the rough and rugged rock the ragged rascal ran." Ready when you are, Mr. Producer.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Waiting for the Bus

The other day, a CBC Radio host--the one who tells us his name every fifteen seconds--spoke  of the rich pleasures of public transit, with its resultant immersion in cultural diversity.  He cited, as example, that well-known ode to group travel,  "Marrakech Express."

Your correspondent decided to heed this advice and began journeying by bus; and found, to his surprise, two contrasting phenomena:  increased politeness and increased thuggery.  Bus drivers now smile and greet passengers; passengers on disembarking call out "Thank you!"  But at the other end of the day, there have been attacks on drivers, which leads one to wonder if soon night-drivers will guard themselves in the manner of long-distance truckers, with a baseball bat in the cab and a shotgun in a rack over the dash.

Part of the cultural diversity in which I have immersed myself is the curiosity of fellow passengers talking to themselves.  Not disturbing, generally, but one was somewhat unnerved to hear a driver talking to himself.  (Well, I suppose, whatever is needed to get through the day with every little thing intact, as Gary Fjellgard memorably once sang). 

I thought briefly of John Steinbeck's novel "The Wayward Bus," in which the driver decides he will veer from the usual route and take his busload of passengers to Mexico.  This later was made into a film, with Dan Dailey behind the wheel. 

That gave a whole new meaning to "busman's holiday."  This term originated in the days of horse-drawn vehicles, when a driver, on his day off, would go for a ride with one of his pals. The oddest modern instance of a busman's holiday took place in Toronto during the year-long run of "2001:  A Space Odyssey."  A projectionist, after watching the film three times a day, six days a week, would return to the theatre on his day off, buy some popcorn, and watch it again.  When the film finally ended its run, the projectionist was bereft:  "I don't what I'll do with my life," he is reported to have said.

This, I think, is significantly weirder even than these famous lines from Annie Ross's lyrics to Wardell Gray's "Twisted":

"Oh they used to laugh at me 
 When I'd refuse to ride 
 On all those double-decker buses
 All because there was no driver on top."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bad Reviews & Literary Embarrassments

On this date in 1878 Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, Illinois.  His biography of Abraham Lincoln was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1939, but this did not stop Edmund Wilson from writing "the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg."

Roughly 110 years ago, Henry James's play "Guy Domville" opened in London.  When James responded to cries of "Author! Author!" he stepped on stage, expecting thunderous bravos and perhaps a standing ovation.  Instead,  he was driven from the stage by a barrage of booing and hissing.  

Final embarrassment:  On January 5, 1825, Alexandre Dumas, pere, gallantly stepped forward to fight a duel.  It ended when his pants fell down.

All of which proves that writers should stay home and write.   

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Full Body Scanners

Good day, security-conscious fellow Canadians!  This is Transport Minister John Baird at the Ottawa International Airport, along with our leader and his Yamaha portable, for a demonstration of the new full body scanners put in place for air traffic safety.

I know there has been some concern regarding the implementation of these devices, as they are reported to produce a revealing electronic disrobing of passengers.  That's why Steve and I are here, to prove that you need have no fear of an invasion of privacy. 

To play the role of a typical airline passenger we have with us Philomena Buxtable, known to many as Miss Tar Sands of 2009.  Miss Buxtable will step in front of the scanner (dubbed by its users Ol' X-Ray Eyes) while Steve plays and sings "I Can See Clearly Now."  Everyone ready? Then here we go. 

Well, see how easy that was?  And all conducted with total decency and decorum, and respect for the passenger.  (Umm--Miss Buxtable--interesting placement of the Conservative Party logo tattoo.)

And now, Steve himself will step in front of the scanner, to show he's one of us.  There we go, Steve.  Hey, nice boxers. 

And that concludes our demonstration for...what's that, Steve?  The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders are about to board?  Well, I guess we could stay a little longer.  Steve, please let go of the controls, I'm running this thing!  Go back to the piano!  Steeeve!

Monday, January 4, 2010

So You Want to be on Reality TV

"Hi, viewers, and welcome to a new season of Reality Television, bolder and more challenging than ever!  I'm your host, Vince Sadismo, introducing the first of our features:  'So You Want to be a Gladiator.'

"The concept is simple but brilliant.  Contestants enter a ring, designed to resemble the old Roman Coliseum.  Each contestant is allowed to carry a weapon of choice.  Then we open the cage doors, and wild jungle beasts, which haven't been fed for three days, and have been prodded with pointed sticks and electric probes to make them really, really cross, are let into the ring. The challenge for the contestants is to defeat the beasts and get out of the ring more or less intact. There are penalties for lost limbs.  Our judge, the toga-clad Nero DeCruel, will award thumbs up or thumbs down, depending on how he rates the performance. 

"And now, I think we're ready for our first contestant.  Entering the ring, wearing sandals and loin cloth, is Farley Dorkmeister, a parking meter checker from Washakaw, Manitoba.  Farley is carrying his chosen weapon, which happens to be a badminton racquet.  Get ready, folks--the cage bars are rising, and here come the ravenous beasts!

"Well, tough luck, Farley. Thumbs down from our judge.  There is a consolation prize, however:  a year's supply of BandAids.

"That's our show for tonight, folks.  Join us tomorrow for another Reality adventure. Tomorrow's program will come to you from Niagara Falls.  Be watching for 'So You Want to be a Tightrope Walker.'  

"Thanks for watching, and remember:  Always Get Real!"       

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Post New Year's DVDs

This year's top five DVD rentals for the post New Year's Eve period, as recorded by Film Freak Magazine:

1.  Come Fill the Cup

2.  The Lost Weekend

3.  Blackout

4.  Hangover

5.  Clean and Sober

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Janus Looking Both Ways

So here we are in January, the month named for the Roman god Janus, keeper of the gate of Heaven.  Janus, having two faces, can look both forward and backward.  This double visage appears on some ancient coins.

Not everyone has called this month January.  Drawing on Brewer's Dictionary of Fact & Fable, I am able to tell you that the Dutch once named it Lauwmaand (frosty month) and the Saxons Wulf-monath (apparently there were a lot of wolves around, looking for something to eat, like Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother).

I go now to adjust my two faces:  one Brad Pitt, one Rondo Hatton.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Wass

"It's better to have a few mornings after than never to have a night before."

--Jack Wasserman