Friday, December 31, 2004

What You Don't Need to See

It is odd, the things that will niggle at you. For the last few days I have been working, in the back of my head, at a theory I am calling "what you leave out". Lemme 'splain. We have been watching a lot of movies over the vacation, including HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Nothing in common, right? Well, not a whole lot, perhaps, except that both directors know when not to drag the watcher through a process that is implicit. I think this is a good thing.

William Goldman, in Adventures in the Screen Trade has a whole rant about the end of NBNW. About the end: it's a literal cliffhanger: Cary Grant is reaching to save his love interest, Eva Marie Saint, who is hanging off the face of Mt. Rushmore(!); a nasty spy has just grabbed the tschostke which contains vital microfilm, and is about to step on Grant's hand, sending him and Eva Marie plummetting. Meanwhile, the mastermind of the whole evil plan is just waiting to be reunited with the microfilm and then he's going to flee the country and menace America with the data. How long does it take to save Grant and the goil and America? And marry off Grant and Eva Marie and send them on their honeymoon? 43 seconds total.

A shot rings out, the spy drops to the ground, the tschotske breaks open disclosing the microfilm, there's a shot of the American forces--one sharpshooter who has clearly taken out the spy, plus a few others including the American spymaster--arresting the mastermind. Cary Grant has gotten a firmer handhold and is reaching to Eva Marie. She keeps saying, I can't; he keeps saying she can. Finally he says, "Come on, Mrs. Thornhill!" (Grant's character is Roger Thornhill). He pulls her up--into the upper berth of a sleeper car. They kiss, and in one of those heavyhanded 50s Freudian moments, their train goes into a tunnel, and THE END comes up.

What didn't we need to see there? Pretty much anything else. What, more James Mason spitting his defiance at the world? Cary Grant pulling Saint up, dusting off his clothes, and handing the microfilm over to the authorities? The wedding ceremony? Goldman says "I don't know of a more adroit ending to a film." Well, maybe. But he's certainly right that you don't need to see all that other stuff.

So, I was also watching HP3 with Younger Girl, and managed to sum up, to my own satisfaction, why it is far superior to the first two films. Again, toward the end, Harry and Hermione have gone back into time, saved Buckbeak the hippogriff, faced down dementors, and, flying on Buckbeak, head off to spring Sirius Black from prison. Buckbeak lands on top of a high tower where Black is imprisoned. They open the prison door, Black looks up, and the next thing you see is the three of them, Harry, Sirius, and Hermione, soaring away on Buckbeak. Similarly, the film ends, still at Hogwarts, with Harry getting a new high-tech broom and flying off into the air joyously.

What don't you see? Black greeting them with relief; Harry formally introducing Black to Buckbeak (hippogriffs are sticklers for protocol), all of them getting on to the hippogriff and flying away. And, at the end, the obligatory Everyone Gets off the Train in London scene (it works fine in the book) which has already been the finish of the last two HP films. The first two films, directed by Chris Columbus (of whose work I am not a fan) dwelled with stultifying literalness over every single scene in the books. Alfonso Cuaron, who directed HP3, cut some bits here and there--but the film moves where it should, and he tucks all sorts of details in the background without stopping to linger.

So now I'm on a mission to notice what does and doesn't need to be in the books I'm reading and the movies I'm seeing. In the hope, of course, that I can learn to leave out the things that don't need to be there in my own work.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


It is perhaps unkind of me, with the world in such a sorry state, to take such delight in this. But I think it's swell. I particularly like the 15oz. Demotivator mugs--take your negative reinforcement black or with cream.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Chicken Little

Today--morning and early afternoon, at least--were clear and bright and cold, the sort of day you get right after a big storm. Spouse and I went up on the roof; he patched things, I cleaned out gutters (on one side we have what are called Dutch gutters: a two-by-four covered in shingle, and ours were thick with moss). By nightfall the rain had begun again, and we were noticing that one part of the stairwell ceiling was wet, while previously soggy areas had remained dry.

Tonight, as I was putting Younger Daughter to bed, I noticed an ominous plinking sound from her closet (which is conveniently located right over the stairwell). Opened the door to find the floor wet, her clothes wet, and a big drip in the center of the ceiling.

It is 10:20 our time. Spouse has torn the plaster and some of the lathe off the ceiling, and disposed of a couple of buckets worth of 60s vintage insulation, in search of the leak. Younger Daughter is kipped out on the couch. Older Daughter is lurking upstairs, happy that this isn't her problem. God knows where the water is coming in; wish someone would tell me.

Before Christmas, the girls and I made a particularly beautiful gingerbread house (Wheat Chex make a great thatch roof). This morning we discovered that one of the walls had buckled, from the moisture in the air. I am trying not to take this as an augury of sorts.


Jerry Orbach has died.

Okay, everyone in the world knows him from Law and Order. When we were still living in NYC, and Sarcasm Girl was very small, we used to see cast members from L&O all the time--they even used her preschool as a location once. But my first exposure to Orbach was the cast album of The Fantasticks, when I was about nine years old. That's a long time to hold on to a specific voice. I just had to break it to the Girl (who, when not being sarcastic, is a stone Broadway musical junkie--I think it's genetic) who is very distressed. "Why do the good ones have to die?" she wailed. "Couldn't it be a politician or something?"

Deep in September our hearts should remember...

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Reality Check

Meanwhile, in the face of what has happened in Thailand and Sri Lanka, I feel pretty stupid complaining about the state of my roof. The overwhelming size of calamity beggars the imagination.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Old Man is Snoring

Christmas, in its chaotic and joyful way, has been and gone. Driving north on that day from San Francisco to Sonoma County, to have Christmas dinner with my sister in law and her family, I foolishly commented to my husband that the winter rains had not really started yet. On the one hand, this is a good thing, since we have a hole somewhere in our roof that has not yet been addressed (other people having jumped the line with the roofer, damn them!) and no rain means no leaks. On the other, it might auger ill for next summer: San Francisco appears to get most of its water during November, December, January and February, leaving the other eight months for fog and intermittent sunshine. I shoulda kept my mouth shut.

Of course, yesterday it began to rain. Thunder and lightning during the night. And the nice, well controlled little leak in the front hallway has now sprouted cousins and nephews, creeping in two directions up and down over the stairway and leaving ugly glue-colored spots on the already ugly carpet. I do not want to think what this means for the interior of the walls where the leak is appearing...I keep imagining structural damage, mold, thousands of dollars in repairs. Eew.

Until we moved west, we owned an apartment in New York. An apartment is a different thing. You may not have as much room for upward and downward expansion, but when the roof leaks, it is the building and not the apartment dweller who must fix it. It's nice to own your home. Except when it isn't.

Friday, December 24, 2004

What's That, Lassie?

One of the pleasant rituals of my childhood (at least until we started going out of town every weekend, to return too late on Sunday night to see the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan"--can you tell that still rankles?) was watching "Lassie" on Sunday evenings. This was the black and white "Lassie," with June Lockheart and Jon Provost. The show was sponsored by Campbell's Soup, if I recall correctly, and so I always had soup--usually tomato. I was probably four to six years old during that time, and utterly free of irony, as befits a small child in the late fifties. Each week I would get terribly involved, afraid that Timmy would be stuck in that mine, or unable to reclaim the treasure that was morally, if not legally, his...

So this morning Emphatic Girl calls me in to the sunroom, where she is getting her early morning ration of vacation TV (far more nourishing than school-day TV) to tell me that "Lassie" (the sixties, color version) and what they're calling "Timmy and Lassie" are showing on Discovery Kids this morning. "Just like when you were a kid! You have to watch them with me!"

With no insult intended toward Lassie himself, I have to say that the sixties "Lassie" is static, preachy--a real dog. Even the color is washed out. The print of the black and white "Lassie," however, was crisp and handsome. There's June Lockheart, beaming at Timmy. There's Timmy, earnest and honorable. And there's the dog him/herself, beautiful, beady-eyed, saving the day (in this case, stealing a calf from the farmer who wasn't taking proper care of him, but somehow the show managed to make that a case of rescue rather than theft).

Afterward Sarcasm Girl, who had wandered into the room while we were watching, asked, "Weren't you the least bit cynical about it when you were a kid?" To which I answered "I was not in the least cynical. I was five, and I loved it." (I pointed out that SG herself was not cynical watching The Little Mermaid at the same age. Sarcasm is a gift attained, not inborn.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Private Label Marmalade

Now we live in California, which is not like The Land of My Birth (New York City). One way in which we are daily reminded of ths is by looking at the lemon tree in our back yard (another way is by the actual possession of a back yard, but that's another story). Our lemon tree is relatively small, in robust health, and wildly productive. There had been a good deal of discussion about what kind of lemon tree it is, because the lemons produced on it vary in size from garden-variety supermarket lemon size to something closing in on the size of a grapefruit. Further, these lemons are frequently oddly shaped, with folds and tumorous lumps. They are very thick skinned (more than half an inch of peel) and sweet fleshed, and wonderfully fragrant. The Little Old Lady who used to own this house was famed for her lemon meringue pies. A visitor a week or so ago suggested that they were Ponderosa, or near-Ponderosa lemons (I'm flashing back to Lorne Greene here, and showing my age once again).

Regardless of their nametag, I have lemons, and thus have undertaken all manner of lemon-related cooking. Yesterday I made a dozen half-pints of lemon marmalade. Since a friend had commented that his wife has now ordered her fourth copy of PETTY TREASON, and that this seemed to qualify her for a part-time position in my aggressive yet charming marketing staff, I offered to send her a jar of lemon marmalade. Lemons are plentiful; money (as with most writers) a little less so. So I wasted half an hour making up labels for the marmalade: "Miss Tolerance's Best Lemon Marmalade • Sweet • Tart • Not too Bitter." I have decided to send some to various people around the country (as soon as I can find suitable boxes and bubble wrap. Perhaps there is marmalade in your future!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Food and Me

I grew up one of those kids who would eat anything (well, I did draw the line at hard boiled eggs and liver, and there were things I wasn't incredibly thrilled with, like lima beans and shad roe). I ate lobster and clams and okra without demur. My mother, a quite good cook, didn't much like cooking, but I did. Teaching myself to bake fairly challenging things like brioche and croissants, to frost cakes and bake bread, was one of my adolescent rebellions (I recall a flush of power when, at age 13, I realized that if I was hankering for biscuits there was nothing to stop me from going down to the kitchen and making them...with great power comes great responsibility or great weight gain, your choice). I liked to find an interesting recipe and try it out.

And then I married a recovering picky eater. And then I had kids. It isn't just that my daughters are picky eaters. They're both working on it, and each one manages to try new things from time to time. But each one of them is picky in a different way from the other. This afternoon I had one of those rides in the car with the kids. "What's for dinner?" "I'm thinkin' meatloaf," I say casually. The younger one, Emphatic Girl, yells "Yay!!!" Sarcasm Girl sighs heavily. "Meatloaf isn't very...celebratory. I thought we were celebrating." (Tonight is the 2 year anniversary of our move to San Francisco from New York). "Okay," I say carefully. "What were you thinking of, celebratory-wise?" Sarcasm Girl dithers--when not in full sarcasm mode she is prone to dithering. "Hamburgers!" she says at last. From the back seat, Emphatic Girl wails "I HATE HAMBURGERS." I think over the contents of the refrigerator and what can be done with them without actually going to the market. "How about spaghetti and meatballs?" I suggest. "Yummy!" says Sarcasm Girl. But Emphatic Girl is dismayed. She loves all pasta except spaghetti, due to the treacherous nature of spaghetti, eating-wise. This turns into a fight between the front seat passenger and the rear-seat passenger, at which point I suggest heavy-handedly that perhaps NO ONE NEEDS TO EAT TONIGHT.

To say this leeches much of the joy from the creation of meals is only to say sooth. They must eat, of course. And I, as the designated Mama must feed them. I'm thinking okra, with a side order of shad roe...

My Childhood on Replay

You gotta love a website that will offer you the chance to play the whole theme songs from Mr. Ed, Magilla Gorilla and Mighty Mouse. Or at least, I do.

WavThis-TV & Cartoon Theme's

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Red Sky At Morning

It occurs to me that I ought to have given the attribution for the title of this blog. It's from RED SKY AT MORNING by Richard Bradford, one of my most favorite books in the world. I just learned that my brother Clem had never read the book, and so I had to go out and buy him a copy for Christmas. Clem and I don't see eye to eye on some things (his politics are to the right of center, and mine are center-learning-left) but he has a powerful and twisted sense of humor. I think he'll like the book. If he doesn't, I may have to rethink our entire relationship...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Loose Fingers Sink Ships

I can't quite figure out if I'm the relic of an earlier and gentler time (always possible, of course) or if I'm just naturally shy, retiring and reticent. But after reading this (The New York Times > Magazine > Phenomenon: Your Blog or Mine?) I begin to wonder if I come from the same species as the people--particularly the women--mentioned in this article. Perhaps the woman who blogged about her sexual conquests--some paid--in Washington thought she was working toward some higher good, but I don't get it.

Um...if I were being paid for my sexual favors--at least, if it was coin of the realm and not a diamond solitaire or a mink or some other bit of trumpery--about the last thing I would do is blog about it. If nothing else, the possibility that indiscretion in my blog might bring the Vice Squad to my door would have a chilling effect. For what it is worth, the last thing would be to put up a billboard in Times Square, but blogging isn't far behind. This may render my blog lackluster, but I find there are still a few things I don't actually want the whole world to know about me. My sexual habits (and whether I get paid for their excercise) are on that list. So are the contents of my refrigerator, my weight, what medications I'm on, what the rudest thing I've done in the last six months is, and the actual count of dustbunnies under the beds in my house.

I'm fascinated by the idea that there are people who post lists of their sexual partners (and other details) or discuss the progress of their therapy, or anything of the sort. My fascination extends to one of the few reality TV shows I occasionally watch, "Airline," where camera crews are stationed at various airports to watch how badly the passengers on an economy airline behave, toward each other but more particularly toward the airline staff. Aside from the complete lack of self-awareness ("What bad language? What shouting, you moronic bitch!" a man screams at an airline employee) the thing that kills me is that each of these people had to have signed releases giving permission to the production company to use the video footage of themselves, drunken, abusive, foul-mouthed or just stupid. I imagine one stand-out woman gathering her family to watch her appearence on the show, proudly pointing out "that's Mama on the TV there!", serenely unaware of how grotesque and brutal she looked. Yikes!

Me, I shame easily. I still flinch over things I did when I was five, let alone last month. I am well aware of my shortcomings; I don't need to post them here and see them on display. I don't think I'll be breaking up the career of Washington diplomats any time soon, but if I do, I won't blog about it.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sarcasm Girl Strikes

I have two kids, the older of whom is 14 and a freshman in High School. At her school all freshmen take "Strategies for Success," a class meant to instill good work habits and teach organization. Since said child is organizationally challenged, this would seem to be a good thing. But as is often the case with such classes, the materials they give the kids lend themselves to parody and sarcasm (SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TEENS--the habits are fine, but the book couches them in terms that are often condescending and dim).

So yesterday the kid comes home with a worksheet she has to do--not turn in, the point of the journey is simply to think about your answers to the questions. One of the questions was something on the order of "Having a vision of who and
what I want to be in the Future is important because:"

Her response: "...otherwise you'll end up in a trailer in some Red State eating Spam(tm) and asking your insignificant
other (who is about to dump your lazy, sorry butt) to get you a beer from the fridge."

And that is why we call her Sarcasm Girl. I'm thinking of getting her a spandex superhero costume...

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Selling Paranoia

So I'm trundling through Target this morning looking for hangers for Christmas decorations, and I pass by the electronics area, where there are a number of TV sets labelled "Now with AlertGuard!" And what is AlertGuard? It is a warning system for "weather advisories and other emergencies." If you're watching TV--cable, broadcast, even videos and DVDs--or even (apparently) if your set is turned off, AlertGuard will, um, alert you to what the emergency is. According to the RCA AlertGuard website, "AlertGuard(tm) is the first alert system to be integrated into a television to receive digital data and audio information for a wife range of alerts from the federally broadcast all hazards NWR network." There's a built-in LED that lights up: yellow for advisory, orange for watch, and red for warning. When an alert is issued, you can push a button to hear a report on what the crisis is. Crises covered include:

NOAA Natural and Weather Events (tornadoes, flash floods, avalanches, blizzards, forest fires, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes), State and County Emergency Alerts (non-weather civil emergencies such as localized chemical spills, nuclear power plant emergenvies, gas line breaks, checmical storage center emergencies, train derailments, oil refinery fires, immediate evacuations, shelter-in-place, and missing children alerts. And of course, the paranoid heart of the matter: National Emergencies such as national attack warnings, terrorist attaalerts, bio-warfare alerts, and other immediate life-threatening emergencies.

Okay: I was in New York on 9/11. Didn't have AlertGuard (and in fact had to be alerted by a friend from out of town who called to ask me if I was okay...I, clueless as usual, had no idea what was happening). But I have to say that, once alerted, I got more information than I needed, all day, on every channel except for Nickelodeon (which very usefully showed cartoons all day, for those of us who have kids and didn't want them watching and rewatching the news coverage). But there are already many systems in place for contacting the citizenry and letting them know what's happening. And if you're not watching your television (say, you're at work or asleep or out in the back yard or at the mall) you're not going to be able to avail yourself of the service provided by AlertGuard.

I am not in the market for a new TV, but I have to say I would pay good money -not- to have AlertGuard on my set; I really resent the fact that manufacturers are using the anxiety of the times to make money. It may be inevitable, but I still hate it a lot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Emperor Gets His Due

I love this a lot: the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco have passed a resolution to name the new Bay Bridge after Joshua Abraham Norton, self-styled Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. The resolution goes to Mayor Newsom, and if he signs it it goes to Oakland (the other end of the bridge) for them to ratify.

The story is here:

I hope Neil Gaiman has heard of this; I first heard of the Emperor in the pages of SANDMAN.

It's a small delight, but I'll take my delights where I find 'em.

Now We are Blog

This all started because I wanted to respond to a post elsewhere. Now see what's happened....