Saturday, January 30, 2010

Happy birthday, Marty Balin

Marty Balin, born Martyn Jerel Buchwald on January 30, 1942, is best known for his time with the Jefferson Airplane and its successor, Jefferson Starship. While driving my car on a day in 1966 I heard the song "It's No Secret," which introduced me to the group. I was really impressed by Balin's strong and unusual tenor voice.

I like Balin's songs, the best of which convey a strong sentimental streak with which I identify.

So, it's no secret, Marty...happy 68th birthday!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie genres that need to go!

When the latest in the sexy vampire series, Twilight, came out as a movie a couple of months ago, I groaned. Then the movie Eli came out, eliciting a longer groan. Now we have The Lovely Bones, and more groans.

OK, so maybe these movies are really great movies with great acting and outstanding production values. I haven't seen any of them, but from the descriptions I put them into genres that are overused and tired. Hollywood really has no new ideas. It never lets a commercial idea rest until it has beaten it to a bloody death with a spiked club.

These are genres that really should be retired. Hell, if they didn't pop up again and again like zombies I'd say they should DIE. And that would be our first choice of a genre that should be retired...


Night Of The Living Dead, produced on a shoestring budget in Western Pennsylvania in the late '60s was really the progenitor of many movies that came after. It was outrageously original, even if director George Romero gave his influences as the 1954 Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, and the EC horror comics like Tales From the Crypt. It took awhile, but his cannibalistic, slow-moving and lurching dead soon found themselves in several movies, making a whole separate horror genre. The only jolt to the whole idea was having the zombies speed up their movements, like in 28 Days Later. There really isn't much you can do with this sort of movie except show heads exploding, which all zombie movies do in copious amounts and gruesome details. Enough of this. It's old, and the whole concept has slowed down to the speed of Romero's original walking dead.


We are inundated with vampires, a genre that refuses to go away. The first vampire movie of note was the silent and moody German Nosferatu, a steal of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Instead of making the vampire a sexy seductive count, they made him an inhuman, batlike monster. Stephen King used the monster vampire instead of the sexy vampire in 'Salem's Lot, perhaps the last vampire novel I thought was good. When someone needs to come up with an idea for a horror movie many times they'll choose vampires. It's gone on since movies have been made. We had Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire series. We had Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spin-off Angel. Now we have an HBO series, at least one network series, and the Twilight book and movie franchise. Enough. Really. Put a stake into these vampires. Send them to their eternal rest.


When I was a kid post-atomic war stories were really popular science fiction. They're still around in one form or another, especially in the movies. The latest is Eli. Denzel Washington is an outstanding actor, but think about how many other movies have had this theme. Too many. I mentioned I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which has yet to be made into a decent movie despite three attempts I can think of: Vincent Price in The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend with Will Smith. None of them have managed to capture the essence of what made the novel great, and so many post-apocalyptic movies have sprung up with similar themes that I say it's time to nuke these goddam movies. The best (in my opinion) was The Road Warrior, with Mel Gibson as Mad Max, made in 1981.It was the middle movie in a three-movie set, and the best of the lot. The first and third, like most post-apocalyptic movie visions, aren't worth anyone's time.


I think this genre stinks more than the rest because at least the other genres are fantasies. Often gruesome, but fantasies nevertheless. The serial killer--sometimes called mass murderer or thrill killer--is a real psychopath wandering amongst us, picking out victims. I've heard The Lovely Bones with Stanley Tucci as the killer is a good movie. Maybe a great movie, based on the response to it, but I remember guys like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, or Jeffrey Dahmer, as people you wouldn't want to glorify in any fashion whatsoever, and yet every time one of these serial killer movies comes out who knows how many ideas it gives budding killers out there?

The most influential serial killer movie would have to be The Silence Of The Lambs from 1991. While Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter got the attention for their character studies, the movie is about finding a killer called Buffalo Bill, who plays a minor, but extremely frightening role, right out of a nightmare. And it did give me nightmares. Let's give serial killer movies the electric chair/gas chamber/lethal injection (all at once) and be done with them once and for all.

After all, another genre, THE SLASHER MOVIE, Halloween, Friday the 13th, et al, seems to have finally cut and run. I suspect, or at least hope, the rest of these genres will soon surrender to a fickle public who will at some point find them as useless and boring as I do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy birthday, Richie Havens

Richie Havens is 69 years old today. Happy birthday, Richie!

I've spent some time today going through some of the YouTube videos featuring this unique artist. His greatest time on the pop music charts was in the aftermath of the Woodstock Festival in 1969. He did some great Beatles covers...and I've got two of them here. He also did a dramatic version of "High Flying Bird" on BBC television in 1969.

Havens is still performing and still as relevant as ever. Thanks to Richie for all the wonderful music. He put his own spin on songs and turned them into his own. I wish I had a decent video of Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," which I think is my absolute favorite. But I love anything he does, really.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hand in the cookie jar

I read in my local newspaper today that one of my former coworkers has just been arrested and charged with embezzling nearly $10,000 from the school district where we worked. Carolee was a financial secretary for a junior high school on my daily route.

According to the news story Carolee had been writing checks to herself, forged a teacher's name on some credit card receipts, and like most dumb criminals got herself caught. Over a period of three decades with that organization I saw other people succumb to the lure of having money in front of them and thinking how easy it would be to just take some. Maybe they also thought they'd pay it back when they got their paycheck, but when the auditors stepped in the curtain came down on their activities.

This 37-year-old woman was a bit of a scandal. She had tattoos on both arms and legs. I wondered how she got the job, since she didn't look professional in the least. The other secretary in the office told me when Carolee applied for the job she was covered up. She had a couple of kids and was living with a man named Mike, who she referred to as her fiancé.

A young guy worked as a custodian at the school. His name was Trent and occasionally I'd see him talking to Carolee. After I retired I saw Carolee and Trent having dinner at a restaurant. It was an aha moment. They were having an affair. She dumped Mike, she and Trent got married, even though he is 15 years younger than her. I hope he wasn't complicit in her crimes.

It's too bad that people risk their families and their jobs over stupid stuff like this. I'll bet she got in over her head, and when she started stealing she couldn't stop. I just wonder if she'll plead it down and avoid jail, or whether she'll end up serving a stretch and have to pay it back.

A couple of years ago I was talking to Carolee and told her that my granddaughters called me Papa Smurf. She thought that was hysterically funny. The next day I went into the school office and she handed me a gift, a pair of Smurf pajama bottoms. I wasn't the only one who thought that was kind of strange, but now I'm thinking maybe she embezzled to get those pants for me. Damn, I hope they don't come looking for my Smurf pajama bottoms. I'm wearing them right now.

(Note: I changed the names in this story to prevent me from getting beat up. "Trent" is a body builder and I don't want to mess with him. The picture on the top of this post is not the person named in the story, but yet another dumb embezzler. It'll do for illustration purposes. On the other hand, the little blue guy is actually Papa Smurf.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Most Beautiful"

After my last posting with the crazy high heels, a reader wrote to tell me she didn't like to buy really good shoes because her husband would ruin them by sticking his big feet in them and walking around the house. That sounds like a situation that shouts out for counseling. In the meantime here's some fiction I wrote a few years ago about such a situation. Re-reading it I realize I was retelling an old joke, but it fits the subject.

Tori walked into the bedroom just as Mike finished pulling on a pair of her pantyhose.

"I--I thought you'd be at work for another couple of hours," he stammered.

"Obviously," she answered. She sat on the edge of the bed, took a cigarette from her handbag. Mike stood uncomfortably. She could see the heat rising in him, his face as red as the burning tip of the cigarette. She took a deep drag.

"Well, this answers some questions I've had," she said. "Since I moved in with you I've noticed my underwear drawer seems awfully neat. I don't usually fold my panties. I've also noticed some of my pantyhose seem a little stretched out. I thought I must be getting fat."

Mike looked like he wanted to say something. He opened his mouth but closed it again without speaking.

"I guess this also answers my question of why you shave all your body hair, and why when we met, you made such a big deal out of us being the same height and overall size."

He moved to roll down the pantyhose but she stopped him.

"No, don't." She kicked off her shoes. "Try them on. They're new." They were open-toed red pumps, sling-backed with a 2" heel. He slipped into them and they fit. She unzipped her skirt and handed it to him. He stepped into the straight leather. It hit him just above the knee, like it did her. Then she took off her white blouse and her bra. She helped him put on the bra and then handed him the blouse.

When he was done she stepped back and looked at him.

"Wow. Those clothes fit you perfectly."

He had been holding his breath, then exhaled loudly. "I'm glad you like how I look in these clothes," he said. He started to unbutton the blouse.

"No, keep it." She went to the door and took her robe off the hook. Throwing it on she said, "Mike, I guess I should've known you were too good to be true."

He started to protest. "No," she said, "I'm going to leave. I'll be damned if I'm going to be with a man who looks better in my clothes than I do."


Monday, January 11, 2010

Fantasy afoot

As a 3F (Fancy Footwear Fan) man, it doesn't take much more than a pair of legs and some high heels to get my attention. So my eyeballs were jumping all over these pages from the February, 2010 issue of Harper's Bazaar. Or as my wife called it when she showed it to me, Harper's Bizarre.

These shoes aren't so much fancy as they are fantasy.

Can anyone walk in these? Or is that their purpose, anyway? I suspect such shoes were worn to get as far as the bedroom.

Images fill my head, like Chinese foot-binding or other tortures that used to turn men on.

Something that interests me is that designers have merged boots and shoes, making open-toed boots, and footwear you can't tell where the shoe ends and the boot begins.

Last month Harper's Bazaar featured something more accessible, like this joyous cover of actress Kate Hudson in a short dress and high heels. Kate looks a lot like her mom, Goldie Hawn, here, doesn't she? I'm sure if I saw this vision coming down the sidewalk I'd have to hold on to something lest I topple over from pure shock.

I'm not sure about these shoes. The designer must've been on drugs.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tonight I'm gonna party like it's One Thousand Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine

Ever have something that annoys you and won't go away? My annoyance comes when people tell me what annoys them, because it sticks in my head. Ever since the 1990s some people have claimed that the 21st Century didn't really start until January 1, 2001. That's because numbers go 1-10, as should decades. Ah, baloney. When the calendar rolled over to January 1, 2000, we all claimed it as the new millennium. So, people who claim the 2001 start to the millennium may be technically right, but they're still annoying.

So now we have people who are telling us that we shouldn't call 2010 Two Thousand Ten, we should call it Twenty Ten. As annoying as those people are, I tend to agree with them, so I'm being annoying, too.

We never said One Thousand Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine for 1999, or for any year in the Twentieth Century. Or Nineteenth, Eighteenth...on down the list to Nine Ninety-Nine. I'll bet they said Year One Thousand for 1000 A.D., or maybe even Y1K!

Years ago we started calling 2000 "The Year Two Thousand," because there was no way to say "The Year Twenty Hundred" in English without it sounding awkward and wrong. We stuck with that "Two Thousand and. . ." during the decade just past. But now we have a chance to start saying it correctly. Twenty Ten.

Twenty Ten. Next year Twenty Eleven. Then Twenty Twelve. Say it folks, Twenty Ten. You know I'm right. Annoying, but right.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Who knows where the time goes?

January 1, 2010 was our anniversary. Sally and I eloped to Elko, Nevada on New Year's Eve, 1968, and got married the next day in the Elko County Courthouse.

As is our custom, we went to dinner on our anniversary. We talked about the changes we've seen in our 41 years together. Seven months after we were married we watched the first moon landing on an old black and white television. It's been a steady climb for technology since then.

We talked about the things we never dreamed would exist in that year of 1969. The internet. Cell phones. GPS. Home computers the size of paperback books.

We also talked about costs. The first year we were married we were billed for electricity every two months, and it cost us $7.00. Even in those days that was pretty cheap. Our apartment was $70.00 a month. Top floor, no air conditioning and it was hot.

Gasoline was 32.9¢ a gallon. Someone tried to tell me that in 2010 dollars gas was more expensive at 32.9¢ a gallon than the $2.49.9 I pay per gallon now. It doesn't matter. The 1969 price sounds cheaper to me.

Another thing we mentioned was there aren't a whole lot of places to loiter now. We could always go to a record store and flip through the bins, looking at album covers. They were big, 12" x 12". I have to get out my strongest reading glasses to see the artwork on a modern CD. You can't go to Walmart and loiter.

About the only place I can loiter nowadays is in the public library or in a bookstore, both good places to kill time without spending any money.

In 1969 Sally and I walked about 12 blocks from our apartment to Liberty Park where we fed the ducks, strolled around the park and looked at the hippies lounging on the lawn, stoned. There were other guys in cut-off t-shirts and sideburns who were parked in shady spots, waxing their cherry rides, a 1957 Chevy or '65 Ford Mustang. They'd have the door open and the radio blasting out Santana or the Doors, whatever was on the 8-track tape.

Nineteen Sixty-nine was the year of Manson and the Tate-LoBianca murders, big news everywhere. Woodstock was huge.

In some ways 1969 seems so near to me, like a year I can reach out and touch. The first year we were married everything we did seems memorable. Our first joint bank account, started when I cashed in some savings bonds. The single bed my mom gave us with the mattress sprung in the center, so that we rolled together all night. Good for keeping that honeymoon feeling, terrible for sleeping. Our utensils were all hand-me-downs. We shopped in a discount food center where we entered the store and picked up a grease pencil so we could write the prices on the cans. Everything was set up like a warehouse, and we used old flat trundle carts with cardboard boxes for the groceries. If a can of peas was 19¢ we marked that on the can. I never dared mark it down to something like 15¢ for fear of the cashier calling me on it and publicly embarassing me. I'm sure other people did it all the time.

During our New Year's Day anniversary dinner we both marveled at how fast things have gone in 41 years. We both asked, "Where did all that time go?"

It reminded me of this great song by Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, which is from 1969. This should be the theme song of the Baby Boomer generation, as we all look back and wonder where it all went.