Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tomie de Paola's Christmas Message

Every year for many years, I've received a Christmas card from Tomie de Paola. Anyone who has had the nerve to have small children over the last four decades is very familiar with the works of Tomie, especially the story of Strega Nona. He is one of this country's premiere children's book author/illustrators as well as a pretty cool guy.

This year the card arrived yesterday, no doubt first routed through New England by way of the Hindu Kush. However, the message on the back...PEACE...remains just as relevant in January as it would have December 24th.

This illustration is from the chapter "A Fairmount Avenue Christmas" in the book Christmas Remembered, written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Even I Saw Elvis

Today is Elvis' birthday so it gives me a legitimate excuse to disconnect my arthritic hips to the beat of "Viva Las Vegas", not surprisingly my all time favorite Presley song. In the early 1970s I led a quasi-debauched snake eyes existence, as all future television executives invariably do, and morphed in and out of Vegas more often than the New Jersey mob. The boy from Tupelo, Mississippi was still several years away from his morbidly fascinating appearance as the beached Hindenberg. I saw him six times in two years at the Hilton where he always gave a sweat filled, wild eyed, swivel-hipping, karate chopping, kick assing performance.

But when I truly want to reminisce about my life in Vegas during the 1970s, I close the windows, draw the blinds and relax with my fiber bars and warm milk and play ever so softly this rendition of "Viva Las Vegas.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Patience is a Virtue and Other Myths

I was thinking about this piece of animation while stuck in a "ripping my eyeballs out with a socket wrench" traffic snarl earlier today. I have no idea what caused the mess that turned the 405 into a personal steel cage match, but that's just one of the upsides of living the good life in Los Angeles.

The freeway problem did not involve road construction, fender benders, drive by shootings, earthquakes, mudslides, volcanic eruptions, or flash floods. It's like magic when this happens, but years of Boy Scout training prepared me for those times when the world moves slower than a statue. I always carry Tolstoy's War and Peace with me. I never know when a freeway slow down will force me to finish reading some of my high school assignments.

The woman in front of me was wailing away at her kids (well I hope they were hers). I found this quite disturbing, as she had one hand on a cup of coffee while the other was full of make-up paraphernalia. Women like this confound me, as I have no idea where they hide their third hand in normal situations. The guy to my left was making out with his passenger, reminding me that I had yet to see Milk. The driver of the semi, clinging so closely to my right side that I could smell his Old Spice, was kicking back and looking over a foldout map of Utah. The kid driving up my tail pipe was lost in a world of haze. Damn this younger generation for not having the 60's manners to share.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Marriage Advice for Today's Bridegroom

A friend of mine, whose wedding I attended sometime during the last century, now has a son who will soon walk briskly down the matrimonial aisle unless his bride wises up. For this young man's benefit I post the following two videos from the 1950s. His father took their educational component to heart. At least for his first two marriages.

Are You Ready For Marriage? Part I

Are You Ready For Marriage? Part II

Monday, January 5, 2009

Snurfy, Rest In Peace Old Buddy

I only knew you for the last of your nine lives, but any cat that would leap a distance of half a room to be my fur cap was alright with me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Revolutionary Road Apples

Critics describe Richard Yates as a writer’s writer. No author ever wants to read those words in his or her own obit. That sobriquet is literary code for a tremendous talent dying ignored, unloved, and broke -- capillaries filled with more smoke and drink than could have been found at an unlimited martini lunch at Sardi’s during the 1950s. Authors fitting that description no longer have even their finest novels in print, making them believe in their last moments that their lives were filled with nothing more than well-diagrammed sentences.

Literary snobs scour the arcane articles of The New York Review of Books like archeologists in search of the ruins of Troy, searching for gems lost the day after their publication. Prizes of extra tea and scones at their literary salons are offered to the most "lostest" book found. Without The Review, literary snobs would spend their salon time grousing about spouses, tablecloth designs, and the Johnny Come Lately works offered up by television hosts.

Literary nabobs abhor Hollywood movies and Oprah tie-ins. Hollywood rarely gets a classic novel's nuances correct. Reprint editions have the movie stars on the cover rather than the original old cars or depression era farmers looking glummer than dirt. Reprints cheapen the dog-eared copies with wine-stained pages and bindings choked with ancient flecks of Crème Pâtissière owned by the literati. I am a literary snob; my books are wine-soaked and dessert-clogged. I'm not proud that my original editions can pass neither a breathalyzer test nor a heart stress exam.

I first stumbled down one of the latest of Hollywood's adaptations, Yates's Revolutionary Road, while attending a modern lit class at the University of Wisconsin. I still remember the reading list for that class. Along with Revolutionary Road, we were required to sift through John Barth’s Floating Opera, William Burroughs's Grove Press edition of Naked Lunch, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. I felt really smart back then.

One beautiful spring afternoon, I threw Revolutionary Road at someone who was dressed as a policeman. It was during a demonstration against some third world slight, long since forgotten but, no doubt still quite important. Surprisingly, education at Wisconsin continued in between the tear gassing, the advances of the proletariat, the bad football seasons, and everyone’s favorite dance steps: jogging up and down Bascom Hill with the National Guard. Running from the bulls was a regular nationwide campus activity in the late 1960s, a slight variation of Pamplona's Running of the Bulls. Later that night, I went back to the scene of the misunderstanding and retrieved the novel, lying frontispiece wide open where I had written my name, home address, and telephone number, all necessary information for some to locate me should the text ever be left behind somewhere.

I would never have aced the class had I not had a girlfriend at the time reading the assignments and taking the exams for me. I have no idea what she saw in me, but I've lost it since then. At June graduation, she did give me all my books back and a cold Arctic blast to go with them. That's why I still have my copy of Revolutionary Road, though her extreme temperatures did cause some foxing around the edges.

I primarily go to films where the final act resolves itself through guns, knives, fists, and an occasional meteorite. But since Revolutionary Road is one of my favorite partially-read novels, I was curious to see what director Sam Mendes, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Sam's wife, Kate Winslet, would do with it after so many years of frustrating development.

I have been looking forward to the re-coupling of Jack and Rose ever since Jack went down with the Titanic, but was not surprised that it took so long for the two actors to make a second appearance together. It is possible to look at the movie Revolutionary Road as an unintended sequel of sorts, an extended time line of what might have happened to those iceberg lovebirds had Captain Smith kept awake during the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Add a generation or so to their ages, change the characters names from Jack and Rose to Frank and April Wheeler, and you end up with a perverse example of whom not to settle down with in 1950's Connecticut.


Apparently Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet cannot appear together in a movie without one of them dying a gruesome death. Halfway through the screening, I began to wonder what their next screen pairing might be. He freezes to death in Titanic; she bleeds to death here. So, logically, their next roles would have them both dying horrible, prolonged deaths, perhaps as two Protestant lovers caught up in Paris during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre with James McAvoy playing Henry of Navarre, Keira Knightly as Marguerite de Valois, the ever versatile Meryl Streep as the vile Catherine de’Medici and Steve Coogan as the court jester, Yankel. By the time I thought of other casting possibilities (Vincent Cassel as the doomed Gaspard de Coligny), the movie was long over and I was being hassled to leave by the cleaning crew.

Once both of these fine actors find a suitable property that kills them off as the end credits role, I would hope to see them in an R-rated Judd Apatow sex farce, possibly a remake of Steamboat Round the Bend.

Leo as Will Rogers

Kate Winslet as Swamp Girl