Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallowe'en Tale #3: Change of Address

Mike Davies heard sirens, woke up, looked around. The place felt comfortable, if, in some way, unfamiliar. But Mike had been drinking a lot lately and had slept in a lot of places, so it wasn't disturbing. And he had a vague memory of moving into this apartment six months ago. July, perhaps.

He walked into the kitchen in tee shirt and boxers, and brewed a pot of French roast. He looked for a paper at the door, but it  hadn't been delivered. Still early, he thought. He went back to bed and turned on the radio. Everything seemed old news, more suicide bombers, more street demonstrations, more hostages. I've heard all this before, he thought. He turned to a station playing Latin jazz, sipped coffee, and watched the sun rise.

At 5:45, he heard the thump of a newspaper at the door, and padded out to get it. When he opened the door and reached for the paper, he saw a woman leaving an apartment down the hall. She looked as though she recognized him, but Mike couldn't place her. Probably she'd seen him on TV. Then she seemed to vanish into the elevator. An optical illusion, he thought. Or too much gin last night.

Mike had breakfast--a Bloody Mary, some anchovy paste (the Gentleman's Relish) on toast--and then walked around the grounds, waiting for the pub to open. On the path, he met a man leading a dog, who, he realized, had been his high school Latin teacher. The man, not the dog. Wearing the same grey pin-stripe suit. The man, not the dog. "Mr. Allen," he said, "quo vadis?"

"Oh, I've lived here quite awhile, Mickey. But I guess no one calls you that any more. That's a good show you do."

Mike began to say something, pat the dog, perhaps, but they were gone. Misty morning, low visibility.

That evening, after mixing a shaker of martinis, he heard a sound in the hall. He turned down the music and opened the door. In the hall was the woman he'd seen that morning--weary, sore-footed--lugging bags of groceries into her apartment. Her eyes were clouded with drudge-work fatigue, but when they met his, they gleamed red, like eyes in a photograph when the flash has been too fast.

"Could I help you?" said Mike.

"No thanks," she said. "I don't need any help from you."

Mike, back in his apartment, listening to Paul Desmond, began to think the woman looked like someone with whom he had gone through a brief, fiery, ultimately dangerous romance, now twenty years older. Shelley, he thought. Or Sherry. One of those. Well, he thought, one often sees similarities; after all, as an artist friend once told him, there are only six basic facial types.

The next morning he called the television station where his afternoon talk show was produced. He had missed shows in the past, but Phil Bailey was always there to fill in, and you could get away with a few repeats. Still, he thought, I'd better check in, call my producer, see what's on for the week.

"CWL TV," said the woman who answered. Nancy, thought Mike, that's her name.

"Nancy," he said, "it's Mike. Is Chet in yet/"

There was a moment of silence, like ice fog hanging in the air. Then, "Who did you say this is?

"Come on, Nancy, it's Mike Davies."

"That's not funny," she said. And hung up.

Mike shrugged, drank his coffee, tried morning TV, gave up and went for a walk. In the elevator was a man reading The New York Times. When the man lowered the paper and looked up, Mike saw the long, pale face and realized it was Max Vogel. Mike swallowed hard, shook his head, and said, "Max, wonderful to see you. Somebody told me--well, there was a story going around--that you..uh..were no longer with us."

Max laughed. "Funny things happen, Mike."

"Listen, Max, we have to get together, have a drink."

"Sounds good. Call me. I'm in 1402." And Max left the elevator.

Did that door open? thought Mike. Must have.

Strolling through the grounds surrounding the apartment complex, Mike noted a few squirrels, black and grey, a gorgeous red-crested woodpecker, and a skeletal grey cat. Then, on a far path, he saw two people who looked exactly like his Uncle Frank and Aunt Ethel. They waved and kept walking. Whatever altered state I'm in, thought Mike, it's taking me longer than usual to get over it.

Mike had lunch at a neighborhood bistro--Bombay Sapphire martini, shrimp and papaya salad, bottle of 2002 Saturna Semillon. Jean-Luc himself brought the wine to the table. "So good to see you again, Monsieur Davies," he said.

"Yeah, great to see you, Jean-Luc. I thought--well, I didn't expect to see you again."

"So many things happen we don't expect," said Jean-Luc. He poured a taste of the wine, waited for Mike's nod of approval, filled the glass, and left the table.

Mike went to the liquor store next door, bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's, went back to his apartment and watched old movies on the Golden Classics channel. He sat through Cagney in "White Heat" and Rita Hayworth in "Gilda." Then Bogart and Bergman came on. And even though Mike could recite most of the dialogue, he thought, how many times can you watch "Casablanca" and not get bored? Then he fell asleep.

The next morning, Mike heard a newspaper hit the door. I can wait, he thought. He brewed his first two cups of coffee, showered and shaved, dressed in one of his favorite casual outfits--burgundy turtleneck, grey Chinos, Ferragamo loafers, and went to get the paper.

Has to be some mistake, he thought. This paper is six months old. It was dated July 13, 2012. Even so, he unfolded it, and began to read. Then, below the fold, he saw his picture, and a headline that read:

                              Talk Show Host Dies in Traffic Accident

And the story continued: Michael (Mike) Davies, host of CWL TV's top-rated talk show "Mike on Mike," died yesterday in a vehicle accident on the Port Mann Bridge. Police say Davies's car, traveling west at 2:15 a.m., was moving erratically, sideswiped a truck, and crashed into a concrete barrier. "Speed was certainly a factor," said RCMP Sgt. Vern Olynyk. "I don't want to ay anything about alcohol." Davies's silver 560SL Mercedes-Benz was sheared in half. The truck driver was not injured.

"Mike was a hell of a broadcaster," said Chet Dustan, his producer, "Always surprised you. But he lived his life right up to the top. You couldn't tell him there was anything he couldn't do."

Davies, 56, is survived by his children, Sandra and Matthew, his former wife, Jacqueline Parrish, and, said Dustan, "a lot of loyal viewers." Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

There was more, but Mike dropped the newspaper, walked to a mirror, and stared at himself. He looked the same as ever. He looked away, and turned back. Now his face was smashed and bloodied, there was a deep depression in his forehead, one eye seemed gone, and his nose was spread across his face. He closed his eyes, and looked again. There was no image.

I wonder, thought Mike, what I was doing on the Port Mann Bridge.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hallowe'en Madness on Sussex Drive

Scene: The underground laboratory at 24 Sussex Drive. Agitated female enters.

Female: Dr. Frankenharper--it's 3:00 a.m.! (Gasp) What is that you're working on?

Dr. F: Don't interrupt, Laureen, my great experiment is almost complete. Igor, hand me that blowtorch.

J. Baird: Yes, Master. Look, look--the creature is moving!

Female: Dr. Frankenharper, you can't do this!

Dr. F: Ah, but I have done it! I have created the first of a series of near lifelike figures with which I will populate the Senate. Bah ha ha ha ha!

Female: But suppose, Dr. Frankenharper, these creatures turn against you?

Dr. F: That will never happen. Igor, give this creature an expense account and send him out into the world.

Female: This is madness!

Dr. F: That's what they said about all the great minds. You wait, Laureen, this will make history.

Monster: Where's the nearest bar?

Curtain falls to the sound of crazed laughter.

Monday, October 28, 2013


As Hallowe'en approaches, and we try to decide our costume--Frankenstein's monster or Mike Duffy?--it is time to once again declare our Spookiest List.

Spookiest music: Many might pick the bone-crunching theme from "Jaws" or the piercing shrieks Bernard Hermann wrote for "Psycho," but our choice remains Miklos Rozsa's dream sequence music for Hitchcock's "Spellbound," with that eerie, ghostly theremin.

Spookiest movie: We have a friend who still shivers when he thinks of 1932's "The Mummy," and "The Shining" and "Rosemary's Baby" can set goose bumps in motion, but our choice for best in this category is still "The Uninvited." Think of Ray Milland carrying a candelabra up the stairs into the icy darkness...

Spookiest book: M.R. James's "Collected Ghost Stories," given us by an elderly archbishop, is fine Hallowe'en reading, and Saki's tales always raise a chill, but the best of all ghost stories, for this edge-of-the-seat reader, remains "The Green Man," by Kingsley Amis.

Wait a minute...what's that noise behind us? Where did that black cat come from? Why is that shadow coming closer..and closer..and---

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fog bound

The heavy fog that has enshrouded us of late brought to this foggy mind many foggy thoughts,

First, there was a very clever film, circa 1955, called "Footsteps in the Fog," and for a 1966 film, "The Deadly Affair," Quincy Jones wrote a fine score, including "Don't Fly When it's Foggy." Some will remember Burl "Big Daddy" Ives singing "Foggy Dew," and that Mel Torme was dubbed the Velvet Fog, a sobriquet he detested.

But what one remembers best, and is pleased to still often hear, is the Gershwin brothers' song "A Foggy Day." It was written for a 1937 production called "A Damsel in Distress," and it was sung first by Fred Astaire. In his memoir, "Lyrics on Several Occasions," Ira Gershwin wrote that it was early that year, they were in Beverly Hills, and had finished three or four songs. "One night," he wrote, "I was in the living room, reading. About 1:00 a.m., George returned from a party, took off his dinner jacket, sat down at the piano, and said, 'How about some work?' Got any ideas?'"

Ira said, "There's one spot we might do something about a fog. How about 'A Foggy Day in London' or 'A Foggy day in London Town'?" "Sounds good," said George. "I like it better with 'Town.'"

"And," wrote Ira, "he was off immediately on the melody. We finished the refrain, words and music, in less than an hour.

"Next day the song still sounded good." Uh-huh.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harper in for Munro

Stockholm, October 17 (AP): The Swedish Academy says Nobel literature prize winner Alice Munro won't travel to Stockholm to collect her award because of poor health. It's not clear who will represent her at the December 10 ceremony.

Stockholm, December 10: "Good evening, your Majesty and Academy members. My name is Stephen Harper, here on behalf of Ms. Munro and all Canadians, proud that Alice, if I may speak familiarly, received this award under a Conservative administration. I know that you were expecting Justin Bieber to be here, but at the last moment, we had his passport cancelled.

"Let me say first of all that I love your meatballs. And, I have often watched Henrik and Daniel Sedin in action. Which brings me to this book of mine, a work I offer for your consideration next time the jury is in. (Ha ha.) It's a book about hockey, which has taken a great deal of work. I have had to prorogue Parliament a number of times to allow me time to complete it.

"Now, I know there is no precedent for a book on sport to receive the Nobel Prize, but look what the award to Ms. Munro has done for the short story. I submit that if the Academy were to recognize the literary merit of this work of mine, there would be a golden renaissance for sports writing.

"I have here a few dozen copies of my book which I would like to pass around, and I'll be available for signing, wearing my old Maple Leafs jersey, once we get through the rest of this stuff.

"Thank you. See you at the smorgasbord."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

To Make a Long Story Short...

One of the ripple effects of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Alice Munro is the discovery of the short story.

Suddenly people are writing about the art of the short story as though until now, no one had been aware of it. But there always have been great short story writers. Among other Nobel laureates, there are Hemingway, Faulkner and Kipling. Hemingway's best work may be in his short stories ("The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," and scores more). Faulkner wrote many short stories, including "The Bear" and "Barn Burning." And John Huston thought Kipling's "The Man Who Would be King" the best story ever written.

The New Yorker was for decades home to three of the best short story writers, all named John: O'Hara, Cheever and Updike. And then there was Thurber, whose classic "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is about to be filmed again, this time with Sean Penn, which is very promising indeed.

Add to the list Ellen Gilchrist, whose short story collections include "Drunk with Love" and "In the Land of Dreamy Dreams," Irwin Shaw ("The Girls in their Summer Dresses," "The 80-Yard Run," "Tip On a Dead Jockey") Deborah Eisenberg, and W.R. Burnett, whose "Dressing Up" should be a movie, and almost was, by film maker Phil Surguy.

And how about Ring Lardner, Dorothy Parker and Salinger?

Now that the short story has been discovered (ironically, at a time when the market for short stories has almost disappeared) there may be hope for the novella and the essay.

Keeping our 2/HB pencils crossed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bickering and the Nobel

A friend announced that she is observing this as Alice Munro Day. And that seems to be the euphoric and triumphant mood of many.

Meanwhile, thinking of the Nobel Prize for Literature, we looked at an article in The Daily Beast, a U.S. on-line magazine. It listed seventeen writers who coulda been, and perhaps were, contendas.
Most of the expected names, well known in the English-speaking world, were there--Tolstoy, Joyce, Woolf, Borges, Updike, Nabokov--but there were some surprising inclusions (Willa Cather, Edith Wharton--not that they weren't worthy), some surprising omissions (Proust, Graham Greene), and some names perhaps unfamiliar to many readers--Kobo Abe, Chinua Achebe, Lu Xun.

Among current writers whose names seem never to come up on the Nobel short list is Philip Roth. Scott Raab, in an interview with Roth in Esquire, said, "After they've made awards to every possible political constituency across the globe, your day may come."

Roth replied, "After the Trobriand Islanders."

According to Michael Specter, writing in The New Yorker, "Bickering is common [among the six people on the selection committee] and the battles that kept the Nobel from Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene and Anthony Burgess were intense."

But no battles here, for this is Alice Munro Day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, indeed. That is how Alice Munro must feel after being named the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Growing up in the 1930s as Alice Laidlaw in rural southwestern Ontario, a trip to Stockholm was probably not in her expectations.

Celebrations throughout Canada's literary community--although a non-celebrant may be David Gilmour, the writer and University of Toronto professor who said "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. If you want women writers, go down the hall." This reckless statement may not only mean problems in the classroom for Gilmour; it may mean he never gets another date.

Meanwhile, Champagne corks will pop at the top of the Park Plaza and in other writers' hangouts for Ms. Munro. And for Canada at large, it is clearly the greatest international triumph since Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New Corporate Slogan Unveiled

We all know how important slogans are in the corporate world. Think of McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It," Home Hardware's "Homeowners Helping Homeowners," Wendy's "Now That's Better." And now, this on-line service unveils its new corporate slogan--a few words, pithy, profound and poetic, that express the essence of Pointless Digressions.

We must confess that the words did not originate with our team. In fact, they were found on an abandoned appliance, left on a suburban curb. Even so, we knew instantly that the words encapsulate a deep truth. Here they are, proudly revealed for the first time:

                         Cracked, but Still Working Perfectly

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Great Turkey Escape

'Twas a week 'til Thanksgiving,
  and down on the farm
The turkeys knew someone
  was planning them harm.

Their courageous leader,
  Gobbler McQueen,
Said "We're getting out--
  we're blowing his scene.

"Tonight at twelve,
  we're making a break.
When Thanksgiving comes,
  let them eat steak."

Clouds covered the moon
  that October night
When two hundred turkeys
  prepared for their flight.

But problems arose,
  when one said with a sigh,
"It ain't gonna work--
  we forgot how to fly."

Gobbler McQueen said
  "I've got a new plan--
a way to escape
  that sizzling pan.

"We'll steal the farmer's
  old pickup truck
and head for the hills,
  with a bit of good luck."

"But Gobbler," said one,
  "do you know how to drive?
"Who cares?" said Gobbler.
  "We'll still be alive."

And Gobbler cried out,
  as the truck sped away,
"Enjoy your Kraft Dinner
  on Thanksgiving Day."