Saturday, October 30, 2010

Boil those yeggs hard

Manning is fighting for his life. He and a killer with a gun are going at it, street fighting on the deck of a boat, in a desperate struggle to kill the other. They're in the Gulf of Mexico on the Ballerina, a 37-foot sailboat. They both fall overboard, sinking into the water, still fighting. Manning breaks free and goes to the surface, thinking his enemy, Barclay, has drowned. He watches helplessly as The Ballerina drifts away from him.

Then, as described by Charles Williams in his 1955 book, Gulf Coast Girl, Manning tells his story:
I had forgotten about Barclay.

He came to the surface of the sea forty yards away. He was drowning--drowning in a waterlogged tweed jacket with a gun in his hand as if he would no more have parted with either of them than he would have condescended to notice the existence of the Gulf of Mexico when he was busy trying to kill me. I forgot even to be afraid, watching him. It was fantastic.

He would go under. The gun would reappear first, held above his head, and then his face; the broken jaw agape and water running out of his mouth. He would calmly tilt the gun barrel down to let the water run out so it wouldn't explode when he fired, and then he'd shoot. His aim was wild because of his exertions to keep himself afloat long enough to fire. The bullet would ricochet off a swell and go screaming into the blue emptiness behind me, and the ejected shell would whistle into the water on his right. He would go under. And then fight his way back to the surface to do it all over again. There was something utterly magnificent about it, and I didn't hate him any more. I forgot I was the one he was shooting at.

He shot three more times. The fourth time he didn't quite make it. The gun came up out of the water and then sank back and there was an explosion just under the surface as he pulled the trigger while it was submerged. He never came up again.

I was alone now. I looked around. The Ballerina was far out on the horizon, still going away.
Williams had a way with visual writing. The scene reads like a movie scenario. It's fitting, because for a time he also wrote screenplays.

Charles Williams wrote hard-boiled novels. Gulf Coast Girl, the re-named paperback edition, called Scorpion Reef in its hardcover appearance, contains all of the noir elements of the genre. It has a tough hero, it has a beautiful woman with a secret and a dead husband. It has a couple of killers who are looking for a plane downed in the Gulf, carrying $750,000 worth of diamonds. It doesn't need a lot of characters, because the plot is kept simple. It's the characters we care about.

Several American writers of the hard-boiled/noir school are idolized in Europe, like Williams now barely known in the U.S. where they wrote and published. The novels are symbolic of an American culture that exists below the surface, and Americans, like lone characters from the Wild West, who favor direct action. It's a shame a novel like Gulf Coast Girl is not in print today. Very few of Williams' works are still in print and available in the U.S.

There's a Wikipedia article on Williams, biography and bibliography. According to the article, Williams was born in 1909, and died a suicide in 1975.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hubba-hubba part 5

Some time ago in this blog I complained that the expression, "hubba-hubba," appears to have disappeared from the lexicon of males referring to females. It might not be cool because of sexual harassment, but I do a silent "hubba-hubba" whenever a foxy babe crosses my path. What she can't hear won't hurt me.

So here are some women I think deserve a "hubba-hubba", silent or otherwise, to show that I approve mightily of their pulchritude.

Here's a big hubba-hubba to girls with huge...eyes.

Hey, a Sarah Palin lookalike. Now this is a Sarah Palin I could get behind. Or in front of. Hubba-hubba.

Hubba-hubba to a rein-dear who makes me jingle my bells for Christmas.

"Hubba-hubba to Norma Jeane, partly dressed for Halloween."

Hubba-hubba to this old-time corset cutie. (Visit the fun, sexy and informative Gimcrack Hospital blog, and check in with Nurse Myra who looks terrific in a corset.)

Hubba-hubba to the sultry 1960s pin-up girl in her lingerie and big hair. (But shouldn't that headline be "Naughty Nora's Nylons" and not "Nora's Naughty Nylons"?)

Finally, Mick's daughter, Georgia May, a hubba-hubba honkytonk woman!

More hubba-hubba postings, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Living off the fat of the land

On the local morning news I saw a contestant from The Biggest Loser TV show (sorry, I didn't catch her name), answer questions from viewers about the Biggest Loser Ranch. I don't watch the show but am aware of it so I watched her with some interest. According to her interviewer, the lady is within 19 pounds of her goal. She told the viewers that when she was at the Biggest Loser Ranch they work out six hours a day, three with the trainers, and do a lot of walking. She's now off the show, but still does four hours a day working out, and runs for two hours! Whew. I grew exhausted just listening to that.

If you need to lose weight, the old tried-and-true is the best way: eat less, exercise more.

For many years, and to the delight of many purveyors of weight loss methods, diets, pills and nostrums, most people opt to take an easy way. I don't think anyone ever lost money marketing quick weight loss, based on the number of companies that have used that in their advertising. Notice the headlines in these ads from the early 1950s. One promises you'll CHEW CHEWING GUM, REDUCE. It's Kelpidine gum, made of fucus (sounds like mucus but it's a seaweed). Some people still swear by this product. Read this testimonial by a doctor in India My Unforgettable Cases. He helped an overweight young woman find love and a husband! Doc, you rock.

The other ad is the old "eat something before a meal and curb your hunger." For some people that would mean eating a double cheeseburger before dinner, but here it's a product called Meltabs. My personal feeling about that is why not skip the Meltab, have a glass of water instead? It does the same thing.

An article from The Philadelphia Inquirer October 18, 2010 was headlined, "At 79, he nibbles and noshes his way to health." It tells of Bob Kay, who eats up to 20 times a day, but he's foresworn traditional meals, and does what he calls nibbling or grazing, where he may eat some nuts or a fruit. As the article states, "Actually, Kay is more than surviving: he's thriving. Since becoming a nibbler, Kay has shed 25 pounds, His current weight: a trim 152 (maintained in part by four or five half-hour sessions at the gym each week). The article goes on to explain that Bob's blood pressure has dropped, then gives his regimen of "nibbling, noshing and grazing."

If you'd like to read more about Bob's great diet, see nibbling and noshing. I did notice that part about "four or five half-hour sessions at the gym each week," which means just what I said above, "eat less, exercise more."

If it wasn't bad enough that people feel bad about being overweight, some also feel bad about being underweight.

Can't everybody just accept themselves? Apparently not, and it makes the supplement manufacturers happy. I think we should all just think of the old saying: "For skinny people: don't eat fast. For fat people: don't!"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Heads you lose

To kill some time yesterday before a game on TV, I watched a two week old episode of CSI. I think the show goes out of its way with violence and gore, and I'm used to it. But even I sat up and took notice of the initial scene, a decapitated body strung up on a barbed wire fence. For the sake of illustration I took my Canon and caught the very moment. In the show it went so fast, a couple of seconds, that it made mostly an impression. The viewer is left with, "Did I just see what I thought I saw?" In its own way, as Grand Guignol, it's brilliant work by the special effects people who make realistic dead bodies for the show.

It is Halloween week but on some TV shows that spirit lives every week. Sometimes it gets morbid, but sometimes funny. The ghoulish scene of the pathologist pulling the head off a fence post was over the top, but also funny in a demented way.

Decapitation is one of those things that terrified me, even as a kid, and it's all because of this character, and Walt Disney.

When I was ten, about 1957, the Disneyland TV program showed The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. It was in black and white, interrupted by commercials, but I thought it was the scariest thing I had ever seen. The idea of being chased through the dark woods by a man with no head was too much for me. As I've told people before when telling the story, "I didn't sleep for the next couple of years." When Dad asked me what my problem was, lying in my bed, under the covers, whimpering, I told him. He said, "That damn Walt Disney. He's scared more kids than Frankenstein and Dracula." I had a nightmare once of the Headless Horseman being outside my bedroom window. Whew. Shudder.

In 1959 I saw The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow on a theatrical re-release and instead of being scared, I laughed because the cartoon is very, very funny. Even the scenes with the Headless Horseman are funny. So, my bogeyman, the decapitated Headless Horseman, was no more.

Decapitation is used as a method of execution, and there are a lot of pictures floating around the World Wide Web of real headless bodies. And bodiless heads. I'll spare you looking at them; I saw many of them yesterday when I was doing some research for this blog. You can find them by googling decapitation if you're that curious. You've been warned.

Speaking of bodiless heads, here's a picture I swiped from Hairy Green Eyeball blog, taken from an old monster magazine. It reminds me of the animated series, Futurama, with Nixon's head kept alive in the future.

A headless man was used on the cover of this classic children's book, The Man Who Lost His Head. Maybe I'm lucky, considering my story of the Headless Horseman, I didn't see this 1942 book when I was a kid.

There's also this infamous cover of a 1954 comic book, Crime SuspenStories.

It was used in a Senate investigation into juvenile delinquency. The publisher of EC Comics, William M. Gaines, who went on to publish Mad magazine, was questioned by the Senate panel. Gaines said his horror comics had covers that were "in good taste." A senator held up this comic and asked, "Do you consider this in good taste?" to which Gaines replied that for a horror comic, yes. He went on to say they could have shown a more graphic scene of the neck dripping blood. But the hearings, being televised, had done their damage. The cover, with its decapitated head, was shown on television to a horrified nationwide audience.

As the wise man said, "Keep your head, even when all about you are losing theirs."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The spider man's spider house

Sally and I took some pictures today. I drove her to a street I traveled every work day. It's been a tradition every year for the homeowner to decorate his house for Halloween with a big spider in a web.

From my yearly observation, the spider house is the only one on the block decorated for Halloween. When I'd drive by in Octobers past I'd often think, "Wish I'd brought my camera." Today I did.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Heel, boy!

The other day I read one of those factoids--interesting facts of no real importance--that had a headline, "Men were first to wear high heels." The story was that men wore high heels to keep their feet in the stirrups while riding. It ended by saying, "Once women started wearing high heels men stopped wearing them." Well, most guys, anyway. (They forgot about cowboys, or the Beatles, who wore 3" heels on their boots when they came to the U.S. in '64.)

I'm not sure about that factoid, because my dad's childhood book, The Book of History, from 1930, shows pictures of high heels on women in ancient Greece. Here's an illustration from the book, which was taken from a fresco.

An illustration of Helen, wife of Menelaos, meeting Paris, prince of Troy, is given some authenticity by having the clothing taken from pictures of contemporary dress found on pottery and frescoes. It shows Helen and her handmaidens all wearing high heels. And exposed breasts.

(This picture had a particular fascination for me as a child, as you might imagine.)

I don't know the history of high heels, but I know that women have had a love affair with them forever. Shoe styles change, but high heels are never out of style.

I went on the Internet and found these pictures. So, who do you think looks better in high heels? This leggy lass?

How about this leggy lad?

This pair of queens?

Or this queen?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Somebody's watching me

A local news story tells of a guy who stole a school bus and led police on a chase. Pursuers, in the interests of public safety, called off the chase fearing someone would get killed. The thief crashed the bus and got away. All cops have is this picture, which they're sharing with the public.

Our pictures are being taken more than we think. Walking into your local grocery store, convenience mart or department store, or getting out of your car in a parking lot, chances are there is a camera looking at you. Many places use cameras in intersections to catch stoplight runners, or on the road to catch speeders, then issue robotickets.

When it concerns public safety we're all for these cameras until we get caught by one of them.

I like the idea that if someone robs a bank or a store there will be pictures of the robber. Besides helping to catch the crook, there's a secondary benefit. Seeing pictures on TV news of identifiable robbers may discourage other would-be robbers. But I don't like pictures being taken of me without my knowledge. I think about it sometimes when I'm shopping. I don't do anything that would look suspicious, but sometimes I get a kind of tingly feeling in the back of my neck, like Somebody's Watching Me. To someone who already thinks like a paranoid it can be creepy.

I'm all for security people watching bad guys. I'm all for security not watching me. Too bad there's no camera that can see intentions. It'd make me feel a lot less paranoid if I knew as soon as a camera saw me it would say, "look away; this man is on legitimate business."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fatherless, motherless boy

I tried to think of something that could be a tribute to John Lennon for his 70th birthday. I just haven't been able to come with up with anything that hasn't been said a million times.

Reading the September 13, 1968 issue of Life, with excerpts from Hunter Davis' biography, The Beatles, I was struck once again by the story of Lennon's early life. He was born in 1940 in the heat of war, his father left the family, his mother left him with his aunt Mimi and her husband. I wonder how much his early years percolated in his brain, and came out in his music. Probably a lot.

Hunter Davis, in this short excerpt from the magazine, tells of Alfred (Fred) Lennon, John's father, and Julia Stanley, his mother. No matter that it is told in the biography in just a few paragraphs, it ended up in his songs. I've included a performance from a New York appearance, where John sings "Mother," and even though he says in his intro it's not personal I don't think even he believed that when he said it.

Then John's own son, Sean, does a great job on his father's song, "Julia," on a 2001 TNT special honoring Lennon.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The bully boy

The last few years have seen some attention paid to bullying in public schools. I saw a couple of stories about it just yesterday, one on the Today Show and one on Oprah. I was bullied for a short time, my first year in high school.

I was kind of surprised at the time because I wasn't an obvious target for a bully, but for some reason Garry Starr picked me out. And his name was really Garry Starr, and I haven't changed it for the purpose of this blog, because Garry showed himself to be a coward. I don't worry about him coming after me nearly 50 years since he picked me out to bully. He could be dead by now, for all I know.

Garry Starr was an ugly kid. I can't even imagine what he would look like as an adult. Maybe like the guy in the picture. Starr was hulking and slope-shouldered, but big. He was about 6' tall, but his height was in his torso, which was long, as were his arms. His legs seemed short in comparison. So he looked like the gorilla he was. He had a lizard face, some sort of skin condition that gave his face a scaly appearance. He didn't do anything physical to me. He grabbed me by the collar one time, but there wasn't any hitting, just mainly insults, brought on by...what? I never could figure him out. I was just singled out in his pea-sized brain to be a victim. I did what victims of bullying do, too. I tried to avoid him, and that wasn't always possible. Because he was a year ahead of me in school we didn't have any classes together, but occasionally I saw him in the hall, at which time he'd get in my face.

Why? I have my theories. Nowadays they talk about gay kids being bullied, and I wasn't gay. I was smaller than Garry, and I'd had a date once with a girl who he'd bring up when he'd threaten me. Maybe he was jealous.

My friend Ron had once run afoul of Garry Starr and Ron's dad had given him some advice. "If he corners you, haul off and hit him in the nose as hard as you can, then run like hell." I thought about it and shuddered. If I did that maybe I'd get away, but there would be hell to pay later. I would try to avoid being cornered.

Bullying was considered a rite of passage in those days. I didn't tell my parents, because my mother was adamant that I stand up for myself if faced with such a situation. "I can't fight your battles for you," was her phrase. Someone, I think it was my brother, told Dad, and he was upset. The last time Garry Starr bothered me was when I was driving. He spotted me and followed me home. I pulled up in front of my house. He pulled up next to me, in the street, rolled down his window and started his usual line of threats. Suddenly I was aware of my dad coming out of the house at a run. Garry saw him and floored his car, getting out of there in a cloud of burning rubber. Dad yelled at me, "Get out of the car!" He jumped in and took off after Garry Starr. He didn't catch him but I was never bothered by Garry Starr again. Garry had realized that my dad, all 5'5" of him, wasn't intimidated and a bully can't handle that. As long as someone (i.e., me) was scared of him he was in his element; like most cowards if faced with someone who'd fight back he ran. It taught me a valuable lesson about bullies. In this case Dad had "fought my battle for me" and I was grateful.

A few years later I was confronted with that mentality when I was in the Army in Germany. Some guys took a dislike to me. I had a sarcastic mouth and attitude, I admit, and they didn't like it. I never showed any fear to any of them, just ignored them, and after a time they left me alone. It's no fun when the target of bullying doesn't play along.

It's about time someone did something about kids bullying other kids. I'm glad to see programs addressing the problems. When I worked for the school district they would identify these problems if they could. No one wanted another school shooting like Columbine, where bullied kids took weapons and killed indiscriminately. Bullied kids will carry weapons if they think it's the only way they can protect themselves. There came a time when adults realized that bullying wasn't just a kid thing, but a dangerous situation that could turn deadly.

The glum group

I found this picture, framed, on a friend's wall. (Click on these pictures to make them big so you can see what I'm talking about.)

I took a snapshot of it, because what struck me about this large group portrait of some 1953 fez-wearing conventioneers is that there are no smiles. Nowadays when pictures are taken the photographer usually exhorts the subjects to put on a happy face. This is just conjecture, but it could be because of one of these reasons: the dinner was rubber chicken--for the 34th straight year; the speakers bored the hell out of them, like every other year; they were missing the Milton Berle show on television, or the open bar just closed.

There are two people who have faint traces of a smile.

They are flanking this man who appears to be grimacing. He might be wondering when the Pepto-Bismol will be passed around.

Judging by the ages of the people in this photo I'd say these are the age of my grandparents, born in the 1890s or early 1900s. They had been through two world wars and the great depression. In 1953 Americans worried about things like the Russians dropping bombs: atom, or horrors, hydrogen. Maybe these people just find it hard to smile because they're all wearing dentures--in that era aged Americans died with just a few of their real teeth left in their mouths--or it could be after a long life spent going to conventions they're just all smiled out.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Time flies when you're having life

I've got one more day to enjoy beautiful Northern California, but in the meantime I've got some of my favorite postings that I'm recycling. I'm retired now, since January 1, 2009, after 32 1/2 years working for a large school district. This was written on the occasion of my 30th anniversary at the district, June 23, 2006:

Today was an anniversary for me, but I shared it with only a couple of people, because it's not that big a deal to anyone but me. Today was my 30th anniversary of working for the school district. I started there on June 23, 1976.

When I started working for the school district we had 69 schools, and one female principal. Now we have 100 schools (give or take a couple, since almost every year they shut down old schools or open new schools), and the last figure I heard was that 2/3 of the principals are female, and about half the administrators in our district offices.

Up until a few years ago, when my parents' generation started retiring or dying, the school system was still patriarchal. The principals were all men who sat in their offices doling out punishment. To get called to the principal's office meant you were in TROUBLE. Now it means you might get a certificate good for a little toy at the school store if you were good that week. A kid might look forward to being called in to the principal's office. Back then the principal was a godlike figure who presided over a school like Moses over the Israelites. To be summoned was to feel fear and trembling.

As society has changed, so has our school system.

I was hired by Big Jim, who was Warehouse foreman, for whom I worked in one capacity or another for about 26 years. He went on to become Director of Purchasing, and an even bigger pain in the ass than he was as the Warehouse foreman, but that's another story.

One of the guys who worked there when I started knew me from when we were teenagers. He was then a warehouseman, but he went on to bigger and better things, and now he's a high school principal still working for our district. Since he's gained about 50 or 60 pounds in 30 years he tells me, "I should've stayed with that job; I'd still be lean and mean." Well, mean anyway.

On my first day of work in 1976 I was sent on a work detail to unload a boxcar load of toilet paper at a railroad siding. That was the first and only time I ever did that. As some sort of an initiation on my first day the guys working with me took me to a bar for lunch and wanted to buy me a beer but I refused. I'd been out of work for seven months when I was hired, and didn't want to be fired on my first day for drinking. That was the first and last time that ever happened, too. My first day working for the school district was a day of first-and-lasts for me.

A whole other story, worthy of more room than I have here, would be about those men I worked with when I started. As the district has gone kinder-gentler in its administrative ranks, so have the men working in the non-teaching jobs like mine gotten more modern and smarter, less the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals common in those days. I'm a remnant of that Neanderthal bunch, but I think I was a harbinger of what was to come. Maybe a cross between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.

I worked with a guy nicknamed Grunt, who was such a character I've got to devote a whole blog posting just to him. I only worked with him for two years before he quit but he was one of a kind, and I haven't forgotten him. He was a deserter from the Marine Corps, working for an amnesty discharge by working a minimum of two years for a non-profit organization. He did his two years for us and hit the road.

There isn't anyone nowadays who would quit after two years. Men work for us for a long time. It's the benefits. Their stories are always similar to mine; they worked another job, they got laid off, or the benefits sucked, or they needed something more secure. The school district is a big security blanket for many of us.

Whatever my background, I didn't think like that in 1976. The last thing in the world I was thinking about was retirement. I didn't plan on staying there, as a warehouseman or anything else. I had other plans: be an artist, be a writer, get back into the creative business. The need to make a living has a tendency to crush plans like that.

When I started my job Gerald Ford was President. Now I consider him the biggest welfare recipient in the history of the U.S. because he's gotten a fat pension as a former President when he was never elected to anything but Congress. He was appointed to Vice President and became President by default. (One of my rants, if you haven't guessed.) Now we have another unelected President. Well, unelected in 2000, that is, and barely elected in 2004. (Another rant.)

For the whole 30 years I have been on a 243-day-a-year contract, commonly called a 12-month contract. People in school districts have varying lengths of contracts: teachers have 9-month, school secretaries have 10 ½ month, principals 11-month, etc. So in 30 years that means that I've had to wake up 7,290 times and either go to work, call in sick or take a vacation day. That's kind of awe-inspiring when you think about it.

I accrue about 22 days a year vacation, and 13 days sick leave. I rarely call in sick, but try to use my vacation to avoid total burnout by taking a week off here and there. My job is to stop at 32 schools a day, which adds up to 160 stops a week. I get to a point where I need a break to recover. The toll on my body has been considerable. My lower extremities, feet, knees, ankles, have taken a direct hit from walking, standing, stepping down from a truck. My beard has gone from dark brown to white. The sun, which in 1976 could not penetrate the thick dark hair on my head, can now sunburn the bald spot.

In total, 30 years adds up to 10,950 days, give or take a few leap year days here and there. But then, who's counting?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I invented sex

I'm still out of town, so I'm recycling old posts. Here's a favorite of mine from April 17, 2007:

Today I was speaking to a teacher in the faculty room of an elementary school. I was taking a break, having a cup of coffee. Besides working for the same school district, Linda and I have been neighbors for over 30 years.

Neither of us have to have newer, bigger houses, keep up with the Joneses by buying boats, motor homes or expensive cars. Since we're both still married to our original spouses we got on the subject of when we were young and first married. I said, "When Sally and I went through our hippie phase we had no money for anything but rent, groceries and utilities. We didn't miss money. We invented things to do. We had sex. We went to the park and fed the ducks, we went to the public library and read books."

Without missing a beat Linda said, "You invented sex? Well, thank you!"

I blushed, thrilled to be finally thanked for my contribution to humankind.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Space in my head

I'm reposting some of my favorite oldies while I'm partying in Northern California with friends. This is from April 9, 2007:

Going through some old files I ran into the oldest story of mine I still have, a science fiction short called "Zero Hour." Many more of my stories went the way of all things over the years. It seems that some of us--me, in particular--put no value on much of our pasts, and let a lot of it get away from us.

Based on the handwriting I was probably in fourth grade when I wrote it, about 1955 or 1956. It isn't necessary to read past the first page to see where the story is going. Joe McLenen (sic) is checking out some "intsurements" on the rocketship SP-12. The dumb "enginner" wasn't "carefull" and slammed the hatch on poor Joe. Joe compounded his problems by slipping on some "greese" and falling.

I can say something for "Zero Hour," reading it 51 years later: it has a beginning, a middle and an end, which means I was already familiar with plots and story structure. It also showed my early interest in space, rockets, trips to the moon and even beyond.

I was a solitary kid, just as I am a solitary adult. I have lived most of my life in my head. If I'm awake I'm dreaming up stuff and when I'm asleep I'm dreaming of stuff to dream up. I used to read books on the future and talk about space and rockets a lot. So much so that when my third grade teacher saw me in the hall during my fourth grade year she said to me, "I thought you'd be on Mars by now."

I wasn't on Mars, but Mars was in me. I read everything I could on the subject of the solar system and knew as much as anyone about the then-current knowledge of the planets.

One Saturday morning last year my brother and I were having coffee. We both said that in some ways we didn't regret getting older because it meant he had lived through some important parts of the Twentieth Century. The thing that stuck out most in his mind was the moon landing on July 20, 1969. It was one of my Top Ten life-moments, too.

It seems that as a species we made that giant leap, and then have gone back to taking baby steps on our way into space. Of course, as I watch the days dwindle down to a precious few, as the old song says, I get less patient. I want to see people boldly go where no one has gone before!