Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Where Were You in '52? ~ "A Negro and an Ofay" by Danny Gardner

The obligatory PSA. This discussion contains explicit racial language and discussions of race that the faint of heart may find disturbing. You are welcome to wait in the lounge. No harm. No foul.

Good books often find you when you need them. Last week I was thinking a lot about my dad on what would have been his 106th birthday. In 1952, the setting of Danny Gardner's A Negro and an Ofay, dad would have been 41. Had his family stayed in the northern Indiana place of his birth, my old man would have likely worked on the lines at one of the steel or auto plants or drove a bulldozer for the post-war construction boom. He also would have been one of the men swinging pool cues in the bowling alley Elliot and Frank pulled Chauncey out of.

My dad was an old school racist. The kind who painfully separated good coloreds (which he pronounced kollards with a sneer he thought was hilarious) from bad niggers and thought he was instructing me in the way of things. When I was about 10, the old man ran his shopping cart over the foot of a black man who had the audacity to be shopping with his white girlfriend. Even as a kid, I knew that was wrong. But like a poison that seeps into a wound, I grew up with my own views shaded by this man. Ferreting out and overcoming personal racism is an active process that has to be pursued every damn day.

No, I didn't pick up this book to prove how progressive I am. I picked it up because I am an online acquaintance of the writer and have read some of his work. I was lucky to get an early look at his story for the anthology Just to Watch Them Die, a book inspired by the music of Johnny Cash. It was lyrical and brilliant. As is this book. I picked it up to be entertained and challenged. I was both.

My thoughts about the old man were just to remind myself and everyone that when you read a book that takes a hard cold look at this country's over-arching shame, the crime on which our fortunes were built, that you are bringing your own baggage along for the trip. That said, "all aboard . . . "

Elliot Caprice is what dad would have called a breed. With a black father who got himself killed in race riots and a white mother who dumped him with "his own kind" as an infant, Elliot Caprice has a foot in both worlds and a foothold in neither. In the parlance, "that boy ain't neither fish nor fowl." After serving valiantly in WWII on an equal footing, he came home to a country that barely tolerated him when he decided to pass and openly scorned him when they discovered he was mixed. With a sense of honor and desire to recapture that feeling of duty done well from the war, he became a Chicago cop.

But nothing with Caprice is easy and things didn't go well. With blood on his hands and a price on his head, he went underground and was going along and getting along until his fondness for big-legged women touched off a bar fight that left him in the notorious St. Louis communal jail cell known as the "meat locker."

Caprice reaches into his past and secures the help of an old friend who is now the first black county sheriff in Illinois. This is where the heart of the story begins and gives rise to some of the stunning language and dialogue that kept me swiping at my Kindle screen long after I should have been asleep.

Enter lawyer, excuse me, attorney Robin. Why do I make that distinction, because:

Lawyers make trouble for their clients. Attorneys make trouble for everyone else. 

I love that line. I can proudly say I've made trouble for everyone else once or twice, like citing the 1946 UN Resolution on Driving in defense of a Mexican man accused of driving without a license.

With Elliot sprung from the slammer, the story takes off into familiar noir mystery territory. Shadowy millionaires who die suspiciously leaving the young wife to battle the family over the inheritance. Corrupt cops. Drugs. Guns. The threat of losing the family farm driving Caprice as he deals with his guilt for abandoning the uncle that raised him. BBQ joints. Dark bars. Jazz clubs. Route 66. And a car named Lucille. All careening toward a satisfying ending that left me wanting book 2. Oh and there had better be a book 2. I'm an attorney and you know what that means.

All interwoven with language that is beautiful in its brutality. Like this exchange from the jail between Caprice and Frank Fuquay:

---------------------------------

"What parts would those be?"

"Yazoo County, Miss-sip!"

"Is that so? My daddy was from around that way," Elliot said.

"Yo daddy, huh? No doubt sum' cracker that took the long way home one night."

That was the last slur of his mixed race that Elliot intended to hear. Big Black's buddy was a short-stack, but it was still two against one. Uneven odds were nothing new to him, so he resolved to play it cool.

"Tell you the truth, he was 'bout as inky as you."

"What you say?"

"Yeah, boy. It took a whole lot 'o snowflake to dilute that much buck. You a tall drink of Darkest Africa, Big Black. Whycome you got no white in you at all? Yo granny wasn't pretty enough for the slave foreman?"

-------------------------------

Hey, if you want uplifting prose that makes you feel good, read Roots. What's powerful about this ugly exchange is the authenticity. Squaring off over wooden cots on the greasy concrete floor of a dungeon of a jail, these men wouldn't be palavering ringing phrases of racial solidarity. And as someone who married a man who was called a "sawed-off batshit little motherfucker" in fights more than once, it rings true.  

Elliot Caprice rings true. Two feet. No footholds.

One of the underlying themes in the book is the frustrating nature of Caprice. He doesn't want your help. When he is desperate, he'll demand it and he'll take it, but part of him will resent the hell out of it. He'll help you. He doesn't really want to, but he will, as long as it is on his own terms and suits his sense of honor. (Except for white saviors. Fuck them. Including and especially John Creamer.)

However, at the bottom of the cipher that is Caprice was my frustrating desire to yell at a book something I have yelled at an actual human man:

LET SOMEONE LOVE YOU. 

I have a feeling that will be a continuing thread throughout the series. That is going to be the hardest battle he'll fight because it's not one that can be won with hot lead. It means he is admitting that he's worth it.

Years ago in a safety seminar, a man who had been horrifically burned in an accident had one final message to the crews fidgeting in their seats, "If you don't care about your own sorry ass, think about those who do."

When you let someone love you, their love becomes your cross to bear. Your actions affect them, often in ways you can't even imagine. Elliot's not there yet, but he's working on it.

This book is 5-stars all the way. Let it entertain you. Let it make you uncomfortable. Let it make you think. Who knows, as the train pulls into the station, there might be a little less baggage waiting for you.

-----------------------------------------------------

SIDE NOTE: The word "negro" makes us uncomfortable as fuck. In some ways, it should. It carries almost two centuries of weight. It was used to make an entire class of people the "other." In some ways, it is more incendiary than "nigger." That's because it was often the term used by the supposedly nice people.

However . . . .

When I was working for Legal Aid, one of the things we had to do was collect statistical data about the people who called us for advice. The usual - age, race, marital status, income, etc. I was interviewing an elderly lady and got to the race question.

She hesitated for a second and said, "You put me down as a negro. I was born negro, lived as a negro, and will go home as a negro." I did the math on her age and realized she would have been a young girl during the Tulsa Greenwood massacre. In my book, that lady gets to describe herself however she damn well pleases. Words matter and it's not my job to tell her which ones are right or wrong. I checked the bland politically-neutral box on the interview form and went straight into the problem she was having with her landlord.

I'm not sure what she would have thought of a man like Elliot Caprice with his slick suits, smart mouth, and chip on his shoulder. But I damn well know she would have recognized the world created by Danny Gardner in A Negro and an Ofay.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Coop Black Dog Posse - For the Love of a Dog

This morning, Easter Sunday 2017, dawned gray and cool and matched what is in my heart. Yesterday, I had to face a hard truth.

One of my dogs is dying.

Not sick. Not frail. Not failing. Not fading. One of my dogs is dying.

Rocket Man
As of the time I'm writing this, Rocky hasn't eaten in three days and can no longer hold down water. I know about the food because I found where he'd been sick and a special treat I'd given everyone on Thursday was there, undigested. His organs and systems have been shutting down and now there is no disguising or ignoring it. Last night he started having small seizures.

I'm keeping a bowl of water by his head. He laps at it and then it comes back up. That's okay. As long as it gives him some comfort and satisfies his needs.

But it's more than just the outward signs. I can tell he is letting go.

And it's the other dogs. They are shunning him and I now realize that the squabbling I've been seeing for the last week is both their stress at losing one of their pack-mates and them resettling the pack order. A pack that no longer includes Rocky. If this was happening out in the wild, he would have found himself a quiet den and waited it out. No Disney soundtrack with this reality.

The old cliche of "they'll tell you" and "you'll know when" don't always hold true, but if you're willing to listen, the signs are usually there.

I don't know what happened. I don't know if it's a toxin or an infection or just some genetic switch flipped. There won't be heroic measures and attempts to diagnose. It's a holiday and where I live there are no emergency 24-hour facilities. If he hasn't crossed the bridge by tomorrow, I'll do my last duty as leader of this posse. It's my responsibility.

Yesterday I had to look into my options and decide what I could afford. I thought about a resting place in one of my flower beds, but an hour with a shovel told me that between my bad shoulder and the brick hard clay, that wasn't happening. I also hold no affinity for this land and know that I'll be leaving it some day. I'll take his paw prints in clay and on paper and then take him to a cremation service in Kansas City. Somehow, doing that research hurt me more than listening to his labored breathing and sounds of being sick. It made it real.

His spirit will be free. His body will be no more than a worn out suit that he no longer needs.

Because with Rocky, it's his spirit that matters.

Rocky is so busted. 
Rocky, AKA Rocket Man, The Rock, and DROP IT, is a magnificent stubborn loveable lunkhead of a DOG.

He's not a pet. He's not a "companion animal." He's not an accessory or a decorative accent. He is a crazy, goofy, free-spirited beast who still had a bit of the wild in him that never met a corner he didn't like to chew, a vertical surface that he didn't like to pee on, and a door he wouldn't bolt through. You left anything on the floor at your own risk.

If there was something nasty and smelly to roll in, he was the first on the scene. Only a month ago, I took a foul utterly dead mouse away from him. I had to scrub him (twice,) wipe him down with antibacterial wipes, AND powder him before I could stand to be in the same room with him.

And he made me laugh. Because that's what dogs do.

He came to Noah and me about 11 years ago. He'd been in a situation where he wasn't treated right. There was no intent, they just had no business with a puppy. It left him untrained, unsocialized, unsure of himself, and with serious trust issues. Noah carried him around inside his shirt for the first two weeks. After a month or two, this little quivering blob of black jelly found himself and has been going 90 miles an hour ever since.

Rocky scoffs at your "morning." 
He never learned any tricks and his relationship with house-breaking was always tenuous. But, he was always the first of the dogs to figure out a new doggy door arrangement or other challenges. What he lacked in brains he made up for in instinct and heart.

Because of his first year, he always had trouble with social cues, distrusted women, and could really be obnoxious. He wasn't sweet and adorable like Scruffy, a dog who never knew anything but love from the micro-second he was born. He lacked Charlie's dignity and Foxy's sheer beauty, but when you gained his trust, he was bonded to you for life.

He was Noah's dog - heart and soul. When Noah passed, Rocky was really lost for a few months. Then one day, that internal switch flipped and he transferred all of his fierce love and devotion to me. It was pretty wondrous. Even when I was at my wit's end with him, I understood the value of what he has given me.

I didn't grow up with dogs. My dad lost his beloved Jerry many years before I was born and never wanted another animal. We had a few strays that stayed with us here and there, but mostly we moved around too much to ever have pets. Not long after Noah and I got married, he started badgering me for a dog with the will and enthusiasm of a 6-year-old ("I'll take care of him, I SWEAR!") That led to Charlie and then to her pup Scruffy, to The Rock, and then finally Foxy.

I can honestly say there are days when I wish I didn't have 4 dogs. But my heart is nowhere near ready for not having 4 dogs. Charlie is almost 17. She is slowing down and softening around the edges. There are some early signs of kidney problems. Scruffy is almost 15 and fighting arthritis. Foxy, despite her dainty appearance, is a rough and tumble little tomboy at 8. I had to have all of her silky fur shaved last year when she found some tree sap to roll in and turn herself into a giant piece of taffy. They are all, in their own way, dogs. Each with spirit and personality. They live with me, not for me.

Emperor Rocky
I never thought it would be Rocky. Last night he came and sat by the bed. He couldn't jump up like he always did, so I picked him up and put him in his regular spot. He sighed and rested his head on my foot. At that moment, my heart was simultaneously full and empty.

Right now, he has rolled himself into one of the blankets I keep in the living room for the posse. I call this arrangement a "Chihuahua Puff." He could just be cold and wanting to be alone, or his instincts to hide as the final time arrives could be kicking in. I'll check him in an hour.

I'm doing my best to keep my grief and stress in check for his sake. I know he doesn't want to hurt me or make me sad.

I'll also give him his dignity.

He's not a china doll. He's a dog. And in the end, that is a magnificent thing.

EDITED To Add: On the night of Easter Sunday, Rocky came into the bedroom and sat in his place until I lifted him to his favorite spot to sleep at my feet. That was probably his last conscious act. By morning he was in a coma. I took his paw prints and was ready to go talk to the vet about the final solution. The other dogs barked and whined and I went to check. Rocky had slipped away. That gives me a lot of peace. He was afraid of the vet's office. Too busy, too many animals, and too many strange smells. Instead, he did what he loved best, he saw an open door and slipped through it. Like everything else he ever did, he crossed the bridge on his own terms. And my late husband has his bestest buddy back at his side. Thank you for all the kind words and messages. We should all be so lucky to pass in our favorite spot, surrounded by our pack.  



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2017 Oscar Fest - The Broadway Melody

The second movie in my New Year's resolution to watch all the Oscar Best Pictures in order. Today is the winner of the second Academy Award, given out in 1930.

What's of note with The Broadway Melody of 1929, is that the original theater cut debuted with a Technicolor sequence, one of the first musicals to do so. It's likely that cinematic sorcery is what elevated this movie over its contenders. Sadly, that copy has been lost. The only surviving copies are all black and white. There was also a silent version because many theaters didn't have sound technology. Marinate on that for a second - a silent musical.

Competition was fierce that year. Broadway Melody beat out the gritty Howard Hughes movie about police corruption, The Racket. This movie was banned in more than one market because of how it portrayed the police. I'm guessing there were some politics at work there. Both in the nomination and in the loss. All art has a political component.

The Racket is exceedingly rare. I've only been able to find it in college library film collections. I will SO be checking it out.

Broadway Melody, the first all-talking MGM musical, also beat out the other MGM musical The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which was a cavalcade of talent. But, it had no plot. It was just a compilation of musical numbers, including Joan Crawford singing and dancing on stage. It's also rather rare, but on my must-see list. It is said that Hollywood Review was the beginning of the end of the line for many of the silent film stars when the voice didn't match the image.

What's cool about this project is not just seeing the evolution of movies and technology, but the studio politics and the social mores.



Obligatory plot summary: The Mahoney Sisters, plucky Hank and glamorous Queenie, arrive in New York City for their "big break." They've been on the county fair-dinner theater circuit to save enough money to rent a huge two-room apartment in a "theatrical hotel" that would probably rent for $5000 today (if you could find it.) But the girls have an ace. Eddie, a hometown boy who made good as a song and dance man, has got them an audition for the Zanfield Review on BROADWAY. *confetti* Eddie is also the high school sweetheart of Hank and hopes that she will finally marry him.

Until he sees Queenie. No longer a gawky teen, Queenie is now a statuesque platinum blonde with a farm girl's naive and open heart. Poor Hank. She always thought good old Eddie would always be there for her. She never realized that she was the third point on a love triangle until the very end.

The "big break" audition is awkward and almost painful to watch, but Zanfield says he can find something for the blonde, but not the "little clucker." Queenie, in a burst of girlish defiance, says they are a team, so The Mahoney Sisters are signed.

Queenie, however, becomes the toast of the show when the key sea goddess falls off the ship set in rehearsal. Suddenly, this small town girl is scantily clad in a Lady Godiva wig, on the prow of the ship, gesturing to the singer. SHE'S A HIT! And, of course, catches the eye of Jacques, the smarmy millionaire who is financing the show.

Hank loves Eddie. Eddie loves Queenie. Queenie loves Eddie but refuses to hurt Hank, so she throws herself into a whirlwind of New York glamor while ducking and dodging Jacques' ever more aggressive advances.

In the end, it's Hank who sacrifices herself for her sister's protection and happiness. *sniff*

Romance! Music! Broken Hearts! Skimpy Costumes! Wisecracks! Wacky Mayhem!

Yeah, it's as thin as it sounds, but there are two saving graces. The first is New York in the 1920s. The Art Deco glamor of the scenes and sets is just luscious. The second is an oddly satisfying musical number of a cast dancer, in what looks like a sexy mouse costume, tap dancing en pointe in toe shoes. TAP DANCING IN TOE SHOES.

The cast included the gamine Bessie Love and the glam girl Anita Page. Love received a nom for Best Actress for her, um, enthusiastic performance as Hank.


The caddish Eddie was played by Charles King, a vaudeville showman, who couldn't convert his stage career into box office gold.



Viewed through a contemporary lens, the three had an awkward comedic chemistry that was occasionally painful to watch but overall carried the story through to the expected ending. I had to remind myself that the audiences were seeing PEOPLE TALKING ON FILM. Some for the very first time. The exaggerated city accents and over-dramatic breathless presentation was par for the course. All the director and actors had to go on was stagecraft, which lacking the intimacy of film, required the extra drama to play to the balconies.

What is fun is the look behind the scenes of a low-budget Broadway review, done as a movie. The costumes and props had a cheesy realism and the character actors decorating the background were delightful.

"Is it safe?"
"Yeah"
*scream**crash*

I'm sure plenty of that actually happened. The costumes were an absolute scream.

I couldn't find a good screen cap of the mouse-costumed toe shoe tap dancer. It was a WTF moment, inserted into a dance routine. It was like, "I dunno, but she's good, get her on stage now!"

What's fun about these movies looking back is that the old folks were pretty damn hip. No matter what we think today.

The dancers were healthy and robust. Curvy legs, real girl thighs, soft rounded shoulders and zoftig curves were in evidence in tiny shorts and skimpy costumes. Tons of peroxide platinum and elaborate beautiful cosmetics, coupled with an absence of, um, foundation garments conveyed the lush image of the flapper who managed to be naughty and innocent at the same time.



As with Wings, I was amused by the use of kissing in Broadway Melody. I don't know about y'all, but I never kissed my sister like this.

There was an also openly gay costume designer. Today, he would be seen as a flamboyant cliche, but there was no closet here. When he chucked another man under the chin and called him a cutie-pie, there was no doubt what the director was saying.

If our society could have kept the open free society of the 1920s, I think we'd be in a lot better condition now.

So, is The Broadway Melody high art? Absolutely not. It hasn't held up nearly as well as Wings or other classics of the day.

But, it's the beginning of:

Talking movies.
Musicals.
The screwball urban comedy.
The first use of the New York skyline/aerial shots in a movie.

And the music from the movie is still being played. This was the film debut of "Give My Regards to Broadway," by George M. Cohan. How many big budget blockbusters will be able to say that in 90 years?



Next up - All Quiet on the Western Front. 















Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 Oscar Fest - Wings

I have a good friend who sets up adventurous New Year's Resolutions. Fun stuff like decorating for and celebrating every last holiday or doing something new every day, even if it's taking a different route to the supermarket. Inspired by her, I set up my own for 2017. I'm going to watch all of the Oscar Best-Picture winners. I'm far from the first to do this (and blog about it,) but it's a big deal for me. Without being maudlin, events kept me away from doing many fun things these last few years and I'm on a mission to reclaim that time. I was watching a documentary about the history of the Oscars and was struck by how much I missed watching movies and how much I love old movies.

I have the technology to change that. I decided to wind it all the way back to the beginning. A combination of eBay, Netflix, (and Vimeo in a pinch,) are yielding up the treasures of yesteryear. A few are harder to find than expected, but so far so good.

Movies are our stories. They are our fables around the campfire and it's only right they be kept alive and passed on. So, let's get in the wayback machine and set it for 90 years ago:

*whirring noise*

The very first best picture Oscar was awarded on May 26, 1929, for the 1927/28 movies. Wings, a Paramount production took home the first award.

My 2017 resolution is totally worth it because it brought this gem into my life.

Produced in 1927, Wings was the first and only totally silent movie to win for Best Picture. And given the technology of the times, it not only holds up, but exceeds many modern movies. It also has some amazing tidbits that tell tales of how American societal and entertainment mores have evolved and not necessarily for the better.

A quick plot synopsis:

A small town boy named Jack is loved by a small town girl named Mary, yet he is too stupid to see it. He pines for the exotic Sylvia who is "visiting from the city." But Sylvia is smitten with David, son of the wealthiest family in town.

OH! NO! WAR! In the form of WWI, shown in a flaming panel, just in case you didn't know.

David and Jack join the Air Corp to become pilots. Jealous and distrustful of each other, they settle matters in the boxing ring, where Jack, after pounding David, says, "You've got game." Now the best of friends, they perform great acts of derring-do. Plucky Mary joins the Women's Motor Corp and serves the war effort in France. Sylvia, played by Jobnya Ralston, looks languid and ethereal.

The friend zone was a very real thing, even in the 1920s.

Cue mayhem, shenanigans, and romance (and bromance, but more about that later.)

*NOTE - from here on out, there be spoilers - ye be warned*



Mary is played by Clara Bow, Paramount's "It Girl." Shunned by Jack, she can portray the sorrow of the ages just with her eyes.

She was the consummate silent movie screen star. She also wasn't afraid to get dirty or show some skin. Working in a rough men's world, she should be regarded as a feminist icon.

She hated this role. She rightfully saw herself as the whipped cream on top of the bromance and felt she was too big a star for this. But damn, she is awesome. AND THOSE BOOTS.



The stars of the movie are Charles "Buddy" Rogers as the irrepressible Jack and Richard Arlen as the suave, yet sensitive, David. Their tag lines of "All Set?" and "O.K." play through the movie, including a hilarious scene at the Folies Bergere.

Don't we all wish we had someone who looks at us the way Jack and David do each other?

And in their leather pilots coats and goggles, well, sigh . . . . .

Another note is that in 1927, the screenplay was co-written by a woman, Hope Loring, and she got full screen credit for it alongside her husband.

Wings is a visual masterpiece. Instead of the usual 30 days it took to crank out a "matinee masterpiece," Wings was in production for 9 months. With an unheard of budget of $2 million and the full support of the War Department, the director, himself a skilled aviator, created a vivid, accurate, and exciting look into the lives of the pilots of WWI.

Filmed in San Antonio, Texas, the movie pioneered camera techniques for filming planes in flight as they looped and swooped through the mock dog fights with the Germans. Arlen was already a pilot and Rogers took enough training to be able to film their open cockpit scenes in real time in the air. Those are not on-the-ground glass matte scenes. The guys are behind the stick of those rickety little biplanes.

Given the era, the equipment, and the state of technology, the aerial scenes rival anything put out today. Wings was the Top Gun of its day.

They also wheel out a German Gotha, a two-story tall biplane that was the "dragon of the sky" bomber. It was stunning.

With the Air Corp behind the production, you get an inside look at the training methods of the day and those amazing little airplanes that so many risked (and lost) their lives in the part of the war that doesn't get as much coverage on the History Channel.


What sets Wings apart is the story-telling and the cinematography. Yes, the story is fairly predictable, but it is very satisfying, managing to tug nearly every heartstring.

Hidden in it are also some tidbits that surprised me. Well before the infamous Code and eschewing the bowlderizing of so much of the media, Wings is far from prudish.

I burst out laughing at this scene at the military induction center.

As recruits were filling out paperwork, a door in the background kept opening and closing to reveal a line of fine young men wearing nothing but their birthday suits.

Never referenced, just that line of taut butts flashing in the background as one of the comedic bits played out in the foreground.

I'm sure that got some shocked intake of breath and titters in the theater.

A fabulous sequence plays out in "Paris" with lush sets and superb camera work as our young heroes blow off some steam at the Folies Bergere. As the camera marches down the tables, we see an elegant lesbian couple, a couple that looks like a man and a trans-woman, and all the gorgeous 20s decadent glam you could want. There are even some early "generated effects" as Jack gets so drunk he "sees" bubbles coming out of not only the champagne but also the musical instruments.

David scoops up a satin clad girl and yells "All Set?" to which Jack clutches his cutie and replies, "O.K." Oh my. Oh la la . . . Enter Mary in her staid, but sexy, uniform and puppy dog eyes.

The kisses were quite open and passionate, including a rather uncomfortable one between David and his mother (played by Hedda Hopper in an uncredited cameo.)

But it's this kiss that showed just how far ahead of its time, or actually, how real Wings truly was. Unlike the later WWII stock John Wayne type war movies, giving a dying man a cigarette and a salute, this is how Jack says goodbye to David, and, in that way of early movies, his youth and innocence. He is no long "the shooting star."

Come on, we knew that David, for all his veneer of sophistication, was too pure and sensitive for this world. He was the designated victim. We knew it the moment David took the little bear from his mother after planting one on her.

Toss in a guest appearance by Gary Cooper as "Cadet White" and Wings is a party.

AND NOBODY SAYS A WORD.

It's all handled with dialogue panels and music.

And isn't afraid to show a close relationship between men that isn't all drinking beer and chasing chicks.

And isn't afraid to show a woman in uniform who is performing a vital and dangerous role in a combat zone. Who, while she is "whipped cream" to the main plot, isn't just there to hang her boobs out and be a prop.

In 1927. 

Yeah, we're so hip these days.

This is one of those movies you didn't know was missing in your life. So, suspend belief and scare up a copy of the DVD or hunt it down online.

I'd say my foray into the land of the Oscars is off to an excellent start. Next up, Broadway Melody from 1929. It is the first taIkie and the first musical to win for Best Picture. It includes a scene of tap-dancing in toe shoes. What's not to love?

PS: These posts will be filed and labeled #OscarFest2017 if you want to follow along.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: The Long and Faraway Gone


I don't write a lot of book reviews.

That's because there are far too many books I don't finish. I don't have a lot of casual reading time and I guard it like dragon's treasure. I'll drop a book like it's on fire if it isn't giving me what I need. I didn't put down The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney.

In fact, I was so drawn in that I temporarily set aside Bruce Springsteen's stellar memoir Born to Run in order to devour this literary mystery. Any one who knows me knows that to come between me and anything Springsteen is something worth taking notice of.

It came well-recommended to me from friends I trust and they didn't disappoint me. I was captivated from start until almost finish (more about that later.) In fact, the end filled me with such melancholy that I had to come home and hug a puppy.

With a book like this, I can't give much of the plot without including potential spoilers. In a nutshell, there are three plot lines involving three crimes. Two are from long ago and one is happening in real time. It's the catalyst that brings the main characters together off and on, neither realizing they are helping the other. It's well handled. The memories and emotions are deftly interwoven and you never get that sense of the hazy camera cut to the "flashback sequence."

Okay, enough of that.

There are two inescapable themes driving the characters and the story. The first is the intractable gravity of your home town. It's encoded in our DNA. For some it is a launch pad. You make escape velocity and the place of your birth becomes either a nostalgic longing or a rock to rebel against. For others, it's an anchor around your feet. Every house, every business, every landmark carries the weight of memories of past glories and failures. It can also be a repository of hoarded grudges and unfinished business.

The second concept that threads the entire book together is the toxic nature of survivor guilt. Why am I alive and someone else is dead? What could I have done differently? What did I do wrong (or right?) Just what the hell actually happened?

Combine these two ideas and you have a potent brew.

The hometown theme is usually a small town, but Lou Berney uses Oklahoma City beautifully and exposes a fundamental truth. Cities, especially old ones like OKC, are a string of neighborhoods and small enclosed microcosms connected by exits off the interstate. I know enough about OKC (I went to school in Tulsa,) that I was comfortable in Berney's world.

The two main characters, Wyatt and Julianna, are anchored to OKC by great crimes that occurred in their teens. The kind of crimes that inspire and spawn true crime books, documentaries, and PTSD textbooks. And both of them, regardless of what they tell the reflection in the mirror, are wracked with survivor guilt.

Julianna, anchored to OKC by the weight of history, becomes obsessed with a cold case and stops all of her emotional growth dead in its tracks. She goes to school and has a successful career, but her secret heart is 26 years in the past, in that horrifying summer when her sister disappeared without a trace. And she is willing, even determined, to risk everything to answer the question of what happened and why. Like someone who swipes a razor blade over their own arm, Julianna keeps lancing into the wound, digging deeper to fan the flames of the pain, all in an effort to keep from moving forward in her own life. A psychic hair shirt to expunge her own guilt of being the "little sister of that poor girl from the fairgrounds . . ."

On the other hand, Wyatt ran. Actually, his family did, moving across the country a year after Wyatt, then Michael (he even ran from his name,) was the sole survivor of a mass murder in his sophomore year of high school. And he never stopped running. New towns, new jobs, new loves - one foot always out the door. He became a private investigator so he wouldn't have to commit to a day job. He could keep running, even when he was standing still. He would have never came back to OKC if not for a favor to a friend's sister. He agreed to look into a series of vandal attacks at Candace's bar. However, when he gets to OKC, the past threatens to well up and drown him in the way that only your home town can.

Wyatt and Julianna dance in their own orbits in OKC, crossing paths a few times, neither one realizing the other was riding the same pain train. Toward the end, a chance remark at a meeting in a trendy coffee house, gives the other a clue needed to solve their own mystery.

The book is literary and lyrically written. My only quibbles are a matter of taste. As someone who primarily reads and writes genre fiction, there were times when I could have gone for a little less talk and a little more action. I found a couple of the subplots and tertiary characters went on longer than needed (the Halloween parade sequence for example.) Once the mystery of Candace's bar was cleared up in spectacular fashion, I was ready to get to the resolution of Julianna and Wyatt's spirit quests. I needed the resolution.

The thread that finishes out Wyatt's storyline was brilliant and foreshadowed all along. It was one of those "duh" moments and a nice flashback/epilogue rounded it out perfectly. The "how" didn't completely clear up the "why," but it gave him a path to move forward. AND Berney avoided an obvious romantic trope and left it open and unresolved. I'm glad for that. Wyatt has what he needs to put his past behind him, but it wasn't going to be neat and pretty - he has a long way to go and a neat resolution to the chaos of his personal life would have felt like a cheat.

The Julianna storyline also resolved satisfactorily, but felt a bit pat and rushed. I just could not believe that she would get the answer she'd nearly destroyed herself - physically, financially, and emotionally - for and then just walk away from her own personal white whale without even asking "where?" Same with the flashback/epilogue. It felt a bit forced. I still want to know what really happened that early fall night. And the trip to the zoo? WTF was that about?

Understand, none of this lessens the book. I never had the urge to put it down. In fact, over lunch, I was willing to race the battery in my Kindle and finish on my phone if that's what it took to get the answers I needed.

That's some damn fine writing.

All in all, I give it 4-stars up and a bag of chips. Grab The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney. You'll be haunted and isn't that the point?



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Circle X Ranch Update

Hi everyone! The website for the Circle X Ranch, located at:

www.marxmanbros.com

and/or

www.magicmarxie.com

is going dark to be reconstructed. It's never been right since I was hacked a couple of months ago (no customer data breached, it messed with the attached PayPal account.)

It is also sorely out of date. Goods that are sold out are still listed, as well as new stock never added. It's gotten to a point where it's just easier to start over.

I anticipate it being down for about 30 days.

If you are looking to place an order, you have several choices:

1. Email me at terrilynncoop@gmail.com

2. Join the super Facebook group "The Marx Action Figure Collector."

3. Look me up on Facebook.

The CXR is just getting a desperately needed facelift. It will be back.

Thanks everyone!

Terri Lynn Coop

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Weighty Topic . . .

Today I am writing about change. This photo of a bunch of marbles is the most important thing I'll do today. Not the photo, but what it represents.

I come from healthy farm-folk, there is very little cancer, heart disease, or other maladies. Pretty much, the leading causes of death are complications of extreme old age. Also almost no obesity. Now, there is a thread of sturdiness running through the women. In those days, that meant survival. But overall, we are a tall lean lot.

I left high school at 5'7" and 118 pounds. Because of my youth and heredity, food was nothing to me. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. As a result, I knew ZERO about nutrition or food discipline.  Of course, the magazines still told me I was fat, but, overall, my genes rocked my jeans.

Fast forward to 2008. I was married, more unhappily than happily. My freshman 15 had hung on, but I still wore 32/32 Levis and was a size 10. A family business was in start-up phase and I'd been in court on an idiotic intellectual property lawsuit for 3+ years. But I only thought things were bad. The market crashed and the business just . . . stopped. Things spun out of control until November 2009 when I got the dreaded door knock with the four words that change everything, "There's been an accident." My husband's incipient drinking and prescription drug problem had finally rang lemons. In the next horrifying 12 weeks driving the 50 miles back and forth to the hospital during one of the harshest winters in years, food became a combo of comfort and afterthought. I'd bundle the dogs into bed, add on three blankets and eat cold hotdogs and potato chips because that was all there was.

I don't even remember much of 2009 through 2014. It was nothing but a grind of care-giving for a paraplegic, working three jobs, and wondering what the hell had happened to my life. I ended up living in a place with little heat and no kitchen, so, the corner diner became my haven. Add in the loss of my only brother and the suicide of my husband and I was out of fucks to give. But food didn't ask for anything in return, it didn't judge me, and it was always there.

I'd find myself sitting up eating donuts at 4 a.m. because that's when the nightmares came.

Let's just say I was fully in touch with the "sturdiness" of my farm heritage. I thought this was my lot in life. Just another one of the "People of Walmart." Someone who had given up because she was just tired.

Then the "thing" happened.

My business, the one that keeps the lights turned on, is to buy, sell, and trade antiques and oddball collectibles. That requires a lot of iron-butt patience at auctions and digging skills at rummage sales. I was at an auction and noticed the pain in my knees. By the time I'd made it to a big multi-story flea market, the pain was grinding and lancing. A two-step platform required me to hang onto the handrail. I was in danger of losing my mobility. That was unacceptable. I've lost weight before, 25 to 30 pounds, but it didn't stick for one reason.

I didn't change.

This time, with a year of therapy to deal with the PTSD, I am changing. Not just my eating habits. I'm changing my head and redefining my relationship with food.

Back to the photo at the top of the post. I'm visual and numbers-oriented. I'm an engineer, it goes with the territory. So, I set up a Pinteresty thing with two antique glasses and some colored marbles. I used a different color for every goal. Every Monday, when I weigh myself, I get to move a marble for every pound. The clear ones were the first goal. The brown one is the first pound in the next goal.

Overall, I've lost 21 pounds in five months.

BUT BUT BUT . . . . WITH THIS DIET YOU CAN LOSE ELEVENTY-SEVEN POUNDS IN TWO WEEKS . . .

*hand over mouth* Shut up and listen.

I'm not on a diet. I'm changing myself. Weight loss is the tangible dividend. I'm not eating cottage cheese and celery or juicing or drinking boiled bone broth. And for gawd's sake, I'm not paleo. I'm not doing any of the things that dieters loathe and can't wait to stop doing. If I want Chinese buffet, I go get Chinese buffet. My "diet" includes butter and chocolate and having breakfast out with my friends.

What I'm doing is asking myself why I want Chinese. Am I lonely? Am I bored? Am I trying to avoid work? Do I need a nap? What is the bottom line? When the answer is, "I want to sit with my book around other humans and enjoy myself with a heaping plate of Chinese food," then it's time to go. Otherwise, I need to do something different and be honest about my intentions. The honesty is the hard part.

Special food is an event. It's not a substitute for dark emotions or fatigue or loneliness. It's something to be savored and treasured and enjoyed. It is not something to feel guilty about or to wail, "I'm a failure, nothing matters, hey, is that cake?"

Even with my regular meals, I do not work. I might read or play a silly game or watch TV. My food is an event for my own benefit. It doesn't just sustain me, it fulfills me.

So, with no real dieting methods or obsessive calorie counting, I have been losing about a pound a week. Some weeks have been zero. Others have been as many as four pounds. I got some very bad news. It triggered a mild binge for a week. But the difference between then and now is that I could stop without beating myself up and get back on that horse that threw me.

So how am I doing it? I've had a few people ask, and I'll share what has worked for me. Obligatory PSA: no two people have the same health. None of this may work and only your doctor can advise you on what is or isn't safe for you. That said, here goes . . .

1. Above all, I eat reasonable portions of healthy food. Bacon is about as insane as I get. I alternate between low carb and low fat. You can't do both at the same time. It's unhealthy and won't work long term. I alternate because it changes the menu and keeps down the temptations.

2. Portions. Quit fooling yourself people. You probably eat too much. 12 ounces is 2-3 servings of meat, not one. 2 tablespoons = 1/8th cup is all the salad dressing you need. Stop with the Ranch geyser. These are all the utensils I use. The red is one fluid cup or about 4 ounces of ground meat. That's a quarter-pounder and all you need. Really. On other meat, I read the package. A pound doesn't get cut in half. It gets cut into quarters.  The white are mixing spoons that are an 1/8 and 1/4 cup. It's a lot more food than it sounds like. Read the labels on containers and portion accordingly.


3. Carbohydrates. The quickest way to get started is to cut carbs to the bone. Kick bread to the curb along with chips, noodles, rice, and potatoes. You can add them back in after you can naturally control your portions. Start at 20 carbs per day for a month. Then add a few more in depending on your weight loss and appetite. Your body has to work harder to burn fat, killing off the easy fuel makes your metabolism use more energy to extract the fuel and nutrition from your food.

BECAUSE . . .

4. Water weight. Unless you are extremely muscular, your first month or so is going to be losing the bucket of water you've been hauling around. This is primarily what was causing my knee pain. It is also a culprit in high BP. When you eat more carbs than you can burn, it converts and stores in tissue and muscles. Those stored sugars attract and bind water molecules. Imagine wearing this as a belt everywhere you go, every step you take:

This is 16 pounds and you probably have it stashed on your body.

Since offing my water load, my BP dropped from 128/90 to 85/63 and most of my joint pain has vanished. You'll know when the off-loading starts. Let's just say you don't want to be too far from the bathroom.

5. Get enough sleep. Your body needs time to process the water weight and re-adjust your metabolism. If you aren't sleeping, your body doesn't have the down time it needs to do this vital work. You know how after a short bad night of crappy sleep you feel puffy and bloated? IT'S BECAUSE YOU ARE PUFFY AND BLOATED. And fatigue is a huge trigger for binge eating.

6.  Carb Brain. This is a side-effect until your metabolism straightens out. Like anything addictive, carbs and sugars create and nourish pleasure centers in your brain. As you deprive them, the screaming begins. It can manifest in feeling foggy and tired and you may experience a hunger that is as profound as any you have experienced. If something protein-filled, like cheese, doesn't satisfy it, you'll need to feed the beast. It doesn't take much. But all carbs are not equal. Pizza is a huge trigger for me. The scale shoots up and it takes a good week to get stabilized. On the flip side, a couple of ounces of high quality dark chocolate doesn't even faze me. In fact, a few bites of chocolate feels like a damn shot of Demerol when the monkey on my back is howling. Make it an event. Don't gobble it down in the car. I make some fresh tea, put on a show or open a book, and break it into small pieces, savoring every nibble as well-being spreads through me.

7. Forgive yourself. Unless you've been ill, you didn't accumulate this weight overnight. You won't get rid of it and keep it off overnight. Even if it's flabby and unappealing and hurts, your chunky butt is the only body you have and deserves your love and respect. This is going to sound weird, but roll with me. When you decide to make this change, take a hard look at your body in the mirror. Squeeze and poke, and muddle. I couldn't bear to take the "before" pic. I am tagged in enough Facebook vacation pics to make myself cringe. The reason it is important to be self-aware, is that your body will begin to change quicker than you think and you deserve to enjoy it. Mine was the discovery of "Well hello there hip and collar bones, it's been too long."

The steps to forgiveness are:

1) Be honest about your weight gain and the reasons behind it. If you can change something like a bad relationship, a hateful job, or an untreated mental issue - do it. If not, call the past the past and move on. You can't uneat the ghost of pizzas past.

2) Be realistic. I won't see my high school body again and that is okay. What I want is health, mobility, and maybe an occasional cute outfit. I am acceptably single and have no desire to cougar or MILF, so well-fitting yoga pants and polo shirts are fine by me.

3) Be kind to yourself. You are going to fail. Make sure you fail big and enjoy every damn second of it, because you will be looking at sugar detox again. Then forgive yourself and move on.

4) Avoid quick fixes. Juice fasts, "detoxification regimes," binges on certain foods, etc. are nothing more than temporary fixes that can become permanent problems. Oprah Winfrey is brutally honest in her book where she finally confronted her weight. She permanently jacked up her metabolism with all of her goofy-ass protein fasts and made it next to impossible for her to keep weight off.

5) Read the damn labels. "Lite" "Diet" "Slim" and omg "Low-Fat" formulas use sugar to beef up the texture and flavor of everything. They don't work. Also watch portions. That "lite" sauce may show for a 1/4 cup portion and when you compare it to the regular 1/2 cup portion, the calories and carbs are the same. I use full fat butter and salad dressings in, you guessed it, moderate portions.

BUT I HATE DIETING, THE FOOD IS AWFUL!

I'll finish this (too) long post with a quick overview of my typical day's menu. You can decide if it's icky or not.

MEAL 1:

Saute two cups mixed of onion, mushrooms, and garlic in butter and olive oil.
Scramble in 2 eggs.
Add one diced tomato and 1/8th cup cheddar cheese. Fold like an omelette or scramble.
Garnish with salsa.

If I am going low-carb, I add bacon or sausage. If I am in low-fat mode, I add an english muffin. One or the other, not both, and not neither.

MEAL 2:

Saute a mixed cup of vegetables (I don't like peppers, but feel free to go there) in butter and olive oil. Season to taste. I vary - sometimes soy sauce, or Frank's red hot sauce, or Zesty Italian dressing.
Cube up 4-5 ounces of lean meat (beef, pork, chicken, burger) and pan fry with the vegetables.
Shred up a 2-quart mixing bowl of Romaine lettuce (nothing magic, I just like Romaine)
Toss in 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of full-fat Caesar dressing.
Toss in the meat and vegetable mix.
Add 1/8th cup of real Parm cheese (not the grated sawdust)

Lemme tell ya, that's a salad. If you aren't counting carbs, add in a small handful of croutons.

Not a drop of cottage cheese. Real food in reasonable portions. The goal is to not be hungry. Either of these meals, you will not be hungry.

It may take me another four months to get to the next color of marbles in the glass. But that's okay.