THE BOOK WORLD AND MEMORIES THEREOF – Marilyn Armstrong

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as an editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

Really old friends

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than most of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are all corporate and conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products and often, not an important product. People run publishing houses who don’t understand books. I often wonder if they actually read books.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs and for literature. In those days, reading was entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.


Other entertainment? Of course, there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY – I bet the building isn’t even standing today.

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

The 1970s Doubleday I remember

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Old Doubleday and Company. I love those cars!

No doubt there were writers who could do the balancing act of writing, marketing, and advertising — but many authors are not very sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig. Ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

Thinking of a blog by Eugene O’Neill give me the creeps. Not my cuppa tea.

I miss authors, publishers, book tours, and the delicious smell of a bookstore. Fresh ink and paper. I miss beautifully edited manuscripts and elegant hard-copy books in which you could smell the ink and paper as you gently cracked the cover open. Twas a heady perfume.

SPACE AND SUPERHEROES – ELLIN CURLEY

I’m usually not a big fan of space or superhero shows, but I really like the “Star Trek”-ish television show “The Orville” and the movie “Wonder Woman.”

I think the reason I like these two particular representatives of their genres is that they focus on the human (or not quite human) relationships. The shows are not primarily about the pyrotechnics, battle scenes, superpowers or twenty-third-century technology, although those are elements of both shows. In these two stories, the characters and their interactions don’t get lost in — or play second fiddle to — special effects.

In the first part of “Wonder Woman”, I became absorbed in Diana’s early life on a mystical island of Amazon women. Then I enjoyed watching her adjust to life in the early 1900s of WWI. I also loved the way her romance with Steve evolved. The movie is, at heart, a beautiful love story.

I’m a big fan of WWI and WWII movies. The major plotline here revolves around a ratty band of anti-heroes — plus Wonder Woman. They are trying to destroy the Germans’ new, extra lethal nerve gas before it can be used on the Allies. You could also almost call the movie a WWI drama with superheroes.

Talking about “Wonder Woman”, I have to mention the star, Gal Gadot. In addition to being breathtakingly gorgeous, she exudes intelligence, strength and compassion. She embodies the quintessential modern female superhero.

If you have any reservations about watching something like “Wonder Woman”, I recommend it as more than just a typical comic book-based movie.

“The Orville” has a “Star Trek” vibe. But again, it is much more than your average space travel adventure. Members of the crew have quirky and interesting personalities and there are many fun and intriguing relationships on the ship. For example, the Captain and the First Mate are ex-spouses who haven’t fully worked through their issues.

Seth McFarlane is the writer, producer and also plays the Captain. He is fantastic, as usual.

There’s lots of humor and lightness in the show as well as charming banter between the exes. In addition, there are serious and topical issues that are brought up and discussed in most episodes. There was one that dealt with the conundrum of whether or not to change the sex of a female baby who would face serious discrimination and banishment on an all-male planet.

The plots are good and I find it an engaging and entertaining hour of television. I have ADD and often can’t sit through a one hour show, so that says a lot for me!

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at glazing over during most of the comic or space ship-based shows I watch with my husband. These are two that actually got my attention and kept me engaged.

Kudos to the makers of “Wonder Woman” and “The Orville.” You can watch “The Orville” on Hulu and Wonder Woman is, I think, still available on Netflix. But if not there, it’s surely on one streaming channel or another.

MANY GUNFIGHTS AT THE O.K. CORRAL – Marilyn Armstrong

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.”

It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater which was a small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When videotaped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits more than it includes, but if you are looking for accuracy, you should consider reading a book. There are quite a few written and some are excellent. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

They were a lot wilder and crazier than depicted in any movie made about them. They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers. The Earps fell on both sides of it, depending on which account you’re reading.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were also other Earp brothers who are left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy. There are just some genres that don’t work if you are searching for accuracy and westerns are a big one.

I watch westerns because I love horses, deserts, the great blue sky of the west, and dusty old towns with wooden sidewalks. Really, I will watch anything about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.

Tombstone

Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I cheer them on.

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was the victim of a mass hallucination  — note that mass hallucinations are not nearly as common as Hollywood suggests — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then the movie was  filmed in “Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 124 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. It was a heat wave, but heat waves seem to be pretty common there.

I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks. It certainly isn’t to keep the rain off.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch westerns for escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in a kind of violence I normally abhor but somehow when they are shooting their 145th bullet from a six-gun, I forgive them.

THE CYCLONE! – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: CYCLONE

The first time I rode the Cyclone, I was 8, as were my friends. Mary’s mom dropped us at the rides and went to visit a friend while we girls rode the Cyclone for hours. It was off-season and if there weren’t any people waiting, they’d let kids stay on as long as they could.

I rode that beast many more times until a few years ago when my bones and Garry’s said “Enough!” and we said goodbye.

THE MIMES ARE COMING, THE MIMES ARE COMING! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Pantomime

The proper definition of pantomime follows, but in my life, what it really is how you try to communicate what you want to say when you’ve forgotten the word for it.

Garry, for some reason, never seems to be able to make sense of my arm waving and occasionally throwing out what I think might be a related word. Usually, before my show is over, I remember the word. Sometimes, I don’t.

For that, there is Google. If Google doesn’t work (but it almost always does), I forget about it. It will then pop up at the most unlikely moment.

I think more people are afraid of mimes than clowns — and that’s saying something.


pan·to·mime
/ˈpan(t)əˌmīm/

noun: pantomime; plural noun: pantomimes

1   –   A dramatic entertainment, originating in Roman mime, in which performers express meaning through gestures accompanied by music.

2   –   British – A theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, that involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.


THE GLORIOUS OLD-FASHIONED MUSICAL by ELLIN CURLEY

I normally wouldn’t write a blog about a Broadway show since most blog readers would not have the opportunity to ever see the show themselves. However, I recently saw “She Loves Me”, a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable musical that most of you will be able to see because the show is being filmed, live. It will be streamed starting on June 30. So you too can revel in this charming piece, with the added benefits of close-ups, which I didn’t get in my viewing from the nosebleed seats high in the Mezzanine.

“She Loves Me” was nominated for a Tony Award for best revival of a musical. It also got glowing reviews, all well deserved. It was often referred to as “old-fashioned” and “a jewel of a musical”. Those phrases aptly describe it’s character and ambiance.

It is definitely an old-style romance set in a Parfumerie in 1934 Budapest. The story is based on the book that also provided the plots for two movies, “The Shop Around The Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail”. The latter is the more modern, computer age version. In all three, the main characters work together and don’t get along. However, unbeknownst to them, they are falling in love as anonymous “pen pals” through a lonely hearts club (an online dating service in “You’ve Got Mail”).

Ice Cream Scene

In the show, there are seven main characters who work in the Parfumerie. Each has his own plot line and solo number. The delivery boy who dreams of being a sales clerk; the brown-nosing employee who will do anything to keep his job; the young woman who is “used” by the womanizing co-worker she is having an affair with. You get to know and like all these people as well as the verbally sparring leads.

split dance

The dialogue is well written and quite funny. The sets are sophisticated and beautiful, as are the costumes. The lead actors are perfect. The music is melodic and the lyrics artfully develop character and move the plot along. The staging and choreography are brilliant, intricate and fast-paced. The full cast, including eleven subsidiary characters, work together like a well-oiled machine.

The show creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t get often anymore in the musical theater. I prefer like this kind of “small,” character-driven show. It’s the thing theater can do better than movies or TV. Seeing this kind of show gives you an experience you won’t readily get from any other entertainment medium.

final kiss

You can see a video montage from the show at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx. Scroll down to Videos / Montage

But I urge you to sit back and enjoy 2 ¼ hours of pure entertainment and simple joy. You’ll be smiling and tapping your foot through most of it.

Here’s how you can watch it:

“She Loves Me” will be streamed by a new company called Broadway HD. Their goal is to stream as many theater performances as possible so theater will reach a wider audience. The show will be filmed using nine or ten cameras, so I expect the watching experience will be somewhere between live theater, and movies or TV. It will cost $9.99 to watch it on the Broadway HD website. It will also be available via Roku and Apple TV ( I don’t know about costs on those).

ENJOY!

TRAVEL ANXIETY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m getting ready to leave on a weekend trip. I am not a relaxed traveler. I have never been able to throw a few things into a bag at the last minute and head for the door. I’m more of a planner. And a worrier. Starting a week before I leave.

In my defense, I have to make sure that all the clothes my husband and I want to take are clean. I also travel with a mini medicine chest and I have to make sure nothing in there has expired. I haven’t traveled in a long time, so this time, almost everything had expired which required a trip to the pharmacy.

See why I have to plan ahead? Way ahead?

Members of our group performing

This trip is not just an ordinary pleasure trip. This trip requires another level of planning and obsessing. We are traveling with our audio theater group (Voicescapesaudiotheater.com) to perform a 90-minute show on Sunday at Youngstown University in Youngstown, Ohio.

Eight of us are traveling together so the trip will also be a fun social experience for all of us. It’s the first time we’re traveling a long distance to the venue. It will also be the largest audience we’ve ever had. It’s a big deal for us!

Because we are going to perform, my usually laid back, easy going husband is joining me in my packing panic. He has to bring all kinds of equipment for our performance. So he’s packing a whole suitcase full of wires and chargers and connectors, two computers, two telephone handsets for sound effects as well as his own scripts and headphones.

Some of Tom’s equipment

In addition, I had to fit six carpet samples squares and two square pieces of foam into my suitcase. Why? The actors need these to buffer the sound on their music stands when they turn the pages on their scripts. Amazingly, I had just enough room.

Carpet samples in my suitcase

Now we’ve got everything packed except for a few last minute items. We go online to check in and get our boarding passes. Tom gets his boarding pass but for some reason, I can’t get one. The computer says I have to get my boarding pass in person at the airport. That’s annoying. We call Delta and the representative on the phone can’t figure it out either. He gets a message that says that I have to check in tomorrow due to government regulations! No idea what that means. Very strange. I hope this won’t be a hassle at check-in. Another thing to worry about!

Traffic is terrible going from our house in Connecticut to La Guardia airport in Long Island, New York. Especially on a Friday. So we’re leaving extra early so we don’t have to bite our nails if we hit traffic en route. At least that’s the plan. Another way to try to minimize anxiety.

Once we get to the airport on time, I get my boarding pass without incident and we check in our bag, then I can relax and have fun. I can start to enjoy my friends. And look for a Cinnabon or an Aunt Annie’s Pretzels, my guilty treats when I fly!

So, here’s hoping for a routine flight, an eventful, exciting trip, and a successful performance!

HEY, RUBE! THE FIGHT IS ON

“Hey, Rube!” is a slang phrase most commonly used in the United States by circus and traveling carnival workers (“carnies“), with origins in the middle 19th century. It is a rallying call, or a cry for help, used by carnies in a fight with outsiders.

In the early days of circuses in America (c. 1800–1860), it was very common for carnies to get into fights with the locals as they traveled from town to town. Circuses were rowdy, loud, and often lewd affairs, where country people could gather, blow off steam, and voice political views. Mark Twain’s classic description of a circus and other shows in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides illustration. It was a rare show that did not include at least some violence, and this often involved the members of the circus.

When a carnie was attacked or in trouble, he would yell “Hey, Rube!” and all carnies in earshot would rush to his aid. Circus pioneer and legendary clown Dan Rice called it “a terrible cry, as no other expression in the language does, that a fierce deadly fight is on, that men who are far away from home must band together in a struggle that means life or death to them.”

‘Hey, Rube!’ remains the safety phrase used by modern theatrical performers to alert security of a violent audience member, especially in environments where entertainers face large numbers of drunken patrons. (Wikipedia)


I remember this from growing up. It was the cry of the circus people, calling all their friends and co-workers to come join the battle. It was the circus and carnival people against the rest of the world. I think there are at least two movies and who knows how many books using this as their name. The circuses are almost all gone now. The realization of the cruelties against animals and sometimes humans in carnivals and circuses eventually doomed them. It makes me sad because I loved the flyers — the trapeze artists — and the high-wire people. I loved the glitter and the tents and that scent of strange creatures.

Jimmy Stewart (clown) and Charlton Heston in “The Greatest Show On Earth”

After I realized the ugly underpinnings of these shows, I couldn’t attend them any more. Neither — apparently — could a lot of other people, hence the closing.

Nonetheless, I think I’m allowed to miss the excitement of the circus, the something unique and special that an arriving circus brought to town. And then, we can all watch a nice, cleaned-up version of the story in “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

You just can’t go wrong with Charlton Heston.

LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU?

DUNKIRK – TRAGEDY AND MIRACLE


Last night, I rented (from Amazon) “Dunkirk” and we watched in the comfort of our living room. I must say, it was a far better experience (and a lot less money!) than going to the movies, finding a parking space and dashing through the icy cold to finally warm up in the theater.

And at home, when someone needed the bathroom … there was a “pause” on the television. Ah the joy of the “pause” feature.

Sometimes, when we are watching something serious, it is hard to call it entertainment, yet surely it was. This movie took a rather different approach to Dunkirk, looking at the event from the aspect of the soldiers stuck on that beach. It was a movie of few words. Extremely visual.

So close to home they could just about smell Dover in the wind, yet with their back to the sea and every expectation of being destroyed to the last soldier.

When all those little ships from England appeared on the horizon, my eyes welled up. What more amazing sight than all of a nations boats crossing over to bring home a stranded army?

If it wasn’t entertainment, then what was it? Well, it was educational. Not that we didn’t know about Dunkirk, of course. If you know anything about World War II and Great Britain’s role in if, you have to know about Dunkirk. In many ways, this giant defeat-turned-miracle was the turnaround for England’s war. This was when — for the first time — the entire country said “We will never surrender” and they meant it.

They never surrendered and eventually, we New Worlders came and saved the Old World from destruction. Would we do it again?

I would hope so. Great deeds by millions of small and regular people give me hope.

SUPERHEROES AND SPACESHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m usually not a big fan of space or superhero shows, but I really like the “Star Trek”ish television show “The Orville” and the movie “Wonder Woman”.

I think the reason I like these two particular representatives of their genres is because they focus on the human (or not quite human) relationships. The shows are not primarily about the pyrotechnics, battle scenes, superpowers or twenty-third century technology, although those are elements of both shows. In these tow stories, the characters and their interactions don’t get lost in — or play second fiddle to — special effects.

In the first part of “Wonder Woman”, I became absorbed in Diana’s early life on a mystical island of Amazon women. Then I enjoyed watching her adjust to life in the early 1900’s of WWI. I also loved the way her romance with Steve evolved. The movie is, at heart, a beautiful love story.

I’m a big fan of WWI and WWII movies. The major plot line here revolves around a ratty band of anti-heroes — plus Wonder Woman. They are trying to destroy the Germans’ new, extra lethal nerve gas before it can be used on the Allies. You could also almost call the movie a WWI drama with superheroes.

Talking about “Wonder Woman”, I have to mention the star, Gal Gadot. In addition to being breathtakingly gorgeous, she exudes intelligence, strength and compassion. She embodies the quintessential modern female superhero.

If you have any reservations about watching something like “Wonder Woman”, I recommend it as more than just a typical comic book based movie.

“The Orville” has a “Star Trek” vibe. But again, it is much more than your average space travel adventure. Members of the crew have quirky and interesting personalities and there are many fun and intriguing relationships on the ship. For example, the Captain and the First Mate are ex spouses who haven’t fully worked through their issues. Seth McFarlane is a write, producer and plays the Captain. He is fantastic, as usual.

There’s lots of humor and lightness in the show as well as charming banter between the exes. In addition, there are serious and topical issues that are brought up and discussed in most episodes. There was one that dealt with the conundrum of whether or not to change the sex of a female baby who would face serious discrimination and banishment on an all male planet.

The plots are good and I find it an engaging and entertaining hour of television. I have ADD and often can’t sit through a one hour show. So that says a lot for me!

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at glazing over during most of the comic or space ship based shows I watch with my husband. These are two that actually got my attention and kept me engaged.

Kudos to the makers of “Wonder Woman” and “the Orville”.

GOOD NEWS STARTS WITH A BALL AND A BAT

Where have all “the positive” stories gone? Didn’t there used to be “positive stories” on the news?

Actually, the answer to that is “not really.” Even in the better-than-now old days, when the world was a little bit less insane, and calamities weren’t a daily (hourly?) event, news media focused their efforts on evil-doers.

Drugs. Murder. Fire. Car crashes. Plane crashes. Derailment. Financial disasters. Trials. Protests. Scandal. More scandal.

Garry worked in the news from 1962 until he retired in 2001. He didn’t do a lot of “positive” stories. He did a lot of murders, trials, drugs, fires, and blizzards. The theory of news stations is that death and destruction sells best. If you don’t have death and destruction, scandal and political protests can take up the slack. If, by some miracle, you run out of scandal … well … maybe you can add a feature about glorious autumn leaves or the new, improved zoo. Maybe there’s a hero somewhere getting an award.

That’s not just the way it is. That is the way it was and has been, as long as there has been “news.”


News isn’t good. It should be called “bad news” since it pretty much always is. Bad, that is.

They used to say “if it bleeds, it leads.” Carnage makes news sell better. If you can scare people to death, your ratings are sure to go up. We complain about the awful things going on politically and climatically, but news ratings are way up. The worse things get, the higher ratings go. Even people — like us — who used to avoid watching news find we watch at least a piece of it every night because we have to at least keep up with change.

The only other thing that sells news as well as murder is extremely bad weather. If, by some extraordinary luck, you get terrible weather that also results in deaths, bet your ass every news channel will be on it like ticks on a dog.

It is interesting to me that the same people who complain about how we don’t have any “good news” on the news, also complain that sports are a waste of time. Because essentially, sports are the good news portion of the news.

The point of sports is to have something entertaining and involving which doesn’t include politics, ranting commentaries, and piles of bodies. For example, you can get fully engrossed in baseball for decades or your whole life. The most tragedy you are likely to experience is a bad shoulder injury by a winning pitcher, a losing home team, or maybe a scandal. Even the scandals rarely involve death or destruction.

I have learned to enjoy sports. I don’t come from a sporting family, though I know back in the very old days, we listened to the Dodgers on the radio and rooted for them. We weren’t fanatics, but we were interested. For the past couple of years, the Red Sox and the Patriots have brought smiles to our faces even when the rest of the world was in a state of siege.

Say what you want about “overpaid athletes.” You try throwing a fastball 90 feet to get the batter out at the plate. It may be a game, but it isn’t an easy game. I bet you couldn’t play it no matter how much money they offered you. They pay these guys a lot of money the same way and for the same reasons we pay actors, singers, dancers, and other performers a lot of money. Entertainment matters. Why do you feel a great pitcher is less deserving of being well-paid than a movie or television star? You mean … pretending to be a detective on TV is so much more validating than playing quarterback on a football team? Because being a fake detective is inherently more enriching than throwing a ball?

We pay entertainers — including athletes — a lot of money because they do things we can’t do and which we enjoy seeing. Because we need something in our world that is interesting, involving, and fun. A place in our universe where we can go and just enjoy it. Whatever it is.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in the arts. Or books, movies, music, television and other events humans enjoy when they aren’t fully absorbed in horrors of politics and war. But sports is more than just entertainment. It gives us something to root for. These days, we need that. I need that. I absolutely need something I can be “for” which isn’t life and death.

Sports has been our saving grace of the past few years as what used to be reality turned surreal — and sometimes became meaningless.

The next time you watch the news, consider that there is good news. It’s sports.

PONDERING PUBLISHING AND THE WORLD GONE BY

I usually say I wouldn’t want to ever work again, but I got to thinking about that. I realized if I could get back my job as editor at Doubleday? I’d do it in a heartbeat. How many jobs give you unlimited sick days, two-hour lunches, and require you to read sleazy novels during the day? And pay you for the privilege? And give you the best bunch of people as colleagues you could hope for.

We met at Doubleday!

I also had to write stuff about the books I read, but a long review was still shorter than any of the pieces I write for this blog. Even in my crumbling state of health, I think I could handle it.

The trouble is, the job doesn’t exist. Publishers are thoroughly conglomerated. Each is a subsection of some über corporation where books are one of many products — and not an important product, either.

The 1970s were wonderful years for reading. It was a tremendous period for books and book clubs — and for literature as an art. In those days, reading was major entertainment. People read books and talked about them by the water cooler. If you got excited about a book, you told all your friends … and they read it, too.


Before the internet.

Before cell phones.

Before cable and satellite television.

Before computers and many years before WiFi …

We had books.

Other entertainment? Of course there were movies, but you had to see them in a movie theater. Television was there, but it had limitations. We had — in New York which was entertainment central — seven channels. Unless you had a really good antenna on the roof, you rarely got a clear picture. There was interference called “snow.” Pictures rolled — up, down, and side-to-side. Vertical and horizontal holds on your TV were designed to help control it. Sometimes, they did, but I remember many nights of giving up and turning the set off because we couldn’t get a decent picture. Meanwhile, many of us used a set of rabbit-ear antennas that worked sometimes — if the wind was blowing due west.

I spent more time trying to convince the rabbit-ears to receive a signal than watching shows.

Doubleday in Garden City, NY

Not surprisingly, television wasn’t our primary source of entertainment. Instead, we read books — and we talked to each other — something we old folks continue to do. Sometimes, we had conversations that lasted for hours and in my life, occasionally ran into weeks. Blows your mind, doesn’t it? All that talking without a phone? Without texting, either.

Books were big business. If you wrote anything reasonably good, there were more than enough publishers who might be interested in printing it. I miss that world, sometimes more than I can say.

All of this got me thinking about how hard it is to get books published these days. So many people I know have written really good books and have never found anyone to back them. It’s rough on writers, and it’s not a great sign for the art of literature. Not only has our political world caved in, but our literary world is sliding down a long ramp to nowhere. In theory, many more books are published today because anyone can publish anything — and sell it on Amazon. All books — the great, good, mediocre, and truly awful are lumped together. Most of them are rarely read since none of them are being promoted by a publisher. This isn’t a small thing. Publishers were a huge piece of what made books great. If your publisher believed you’d written something excellent, you could count on being visible on the shelves of bookstores everywhere. You’d also be part of book club publications. People — reading people — would see your book. There were book columns and reviews — and people read them they way they read stuff on upcoming television shows today.

Of course, we are also suffering from the vanishing bookstore … a whole other subject.

A great idea followed by a well-written manuscript was just the beginning of a book’s life story. From the manuscript, publishers took books and did their best to sell them to the world. Today, all that pushing and pitching is left to authors, including those whose books typically sell well.

Can anyone imagine how Faulkner, Hemingway and Thomas Wolf would do trying to “work the marketplace”? No doubt there were writers who were able to do the balancing of writing and marketing, but many authors are not particularly sociable. A good many are downright grumpy and a fair number are essentially inarticulate. They are not naturals to the marketing gig.

And … ponder this … what kind of blog do you think Faulkner … or … Eugene O’Neill … would have written?

I miss books. I miss authors. I miss publishers. I miss carefully edited manuscripts and beautifully published books where you could smell the ink and paper as you cracked the cover open. It was a heady perfume.

SINGING AND DANCING AT THE GREAT BIG BIRTHDAY PARTY

Yankee Doodle Dandy

We watched “Yankee Doodle Dandy” tonight. Again. This is a movie that I have watched several hundred times. They used to play it on “Million Dollar Movie” on channel 9 in New York, where I grew up.

“Million Dollar Movie” played one movie a week. It played the same movie all day every day for seven days — often horribly mutilated to make room for the advertisements –and if I happened to be home sick from school, I watched that movie all the time. They played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” often and it seemed to coincide with incidences of tonsillitis, one of my primary reasons for being out of school. I learned the songs. The dances. I know all the words not only from the songs, but from the entire script.

I love it. I still love it. Garry loves it. This despite the fact that we cannot figure out why it wasn’t made in color since it is so obviously a movie that ought to be in color — but I digress. At the end of the movie tonight, Garry commented that “All young movie makers should be required to watch this movie.”

In many ways, it is perfect. If this can’t get a little American fervor running through your veins, nothing will. This despite the current pathetic condition of America’s politics and elected officials. It still makes me sit up, smile, and sing along. I love the piccolo solos and the singing and the flag waving. It reminds me that I really am American. Born here, raised here. Went away, but came back because this is my home and I belong here. However awful it is these days, it simply has to get better. I demand it get better! I am horrified by this version of America and I want it to go away.

It’s the 6th of July again and the fireworks are over. Boom, bang, and back to reality.

When we lived in Boston, we got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony where we lived. I know all the dog owners are dyspeptic about the fireworks and I understand, but I can’t help it. I like fireworks. Shoot me down, but I love the bang and the flash and the giant flowers in the sky. I always have. Back in New York, it was a mile walk to the park and we walked it. And back because the roads were a parking lot and there was nowhere to park even if you did manage to get there.

We would lie flat on the ground and watch the sky light up.

BostonFireworks2013

We watched Boston’s show last night on Bloomberg. David Mugar is no long sponsoring the fireworks and none of the TV stations had the money to cover the show. Bloomberg stepped in and took over sponsorship. I’ve never bothered to watch Bloomberg before. It was strange not to be watching it on NBC or CBS, but it was the same great show. Now only does the Boston Pops play one rousing version of the 1812 Overture, but the guys from the Army drop by and shoot off the artillery. It has got to be the loudest concert in history.

Now today was movie time.

We watched again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Happy Birthday to US!

This is the beginning of American autonomy, when we stepped off the sidelines and entered the mainstream of the world’s history and politics. Let’s hope we remember that what we do matters, not only to us, but to the entire world. We aren’t a little colony anymore. We’ve moved up to “the Bigs.” We need to really make America great.

Really great. Again.

HEAR NOW – A FESTIVAL FOR AUDIO LOVERS

HEAR Now – A Festival for AUDIO Lovers


Visit: http://www.hearnowfestival.org for additional information

HEAR Now: Audio Fiction & Arts Festival returns to Kansas City June 8-11, 2017, for its 5th annual 4-day weekend.

Like a good film festival, HEAR Now features panels of producers and artists showcasing their work, an annual “Audio Forum” blending audio fiction and storytelling with other disciplines in an immersion experience of audio arts. You won’t believe your ears!

Country singer songwriter Kasey Lansdale (daughter of author Joe R. Lansdale) will be available to discuss Wondery’s podcast, featuring her new horror tale – Blind Love. Simon Jones will perform a brand new Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

“It’s the only festival of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to the art of recorded and live audio storytelling in all its many genres and forms,” says HEAR Now Festival Director Cynthia Allen. “This is a chance to educate your ears and your imagination.”

INNOVATIONS opens the Festival at the Kansas City Public Library’s Truman Auditorium on Thursday, June 8th from 7:00pm – 8:30pm.

HEAR Now also offers hands-on training in production and story-telling. Dramatic Podcast Workshop 101, led by former NPR anchor Frank Stasio and playwright Howard Craft, focuses on creating new original short fiction.

The NATF Playhouse showcases productions in a high-quality listening environment. The show runs through Friday, June 9th.

It closes with a retrospective of Simon Jones’ more than 40-year career as a voice artist, beginning with Arthur Dent in the first-ever Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and ending with special new audio treats.

For more information visit http://www.hearnowfestival.org. Questions? Email hearnowfestival@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter at @HEARNow!

“DEADLIEST CATCH” SUPER FANS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I are huge fans of a reality show called “Deadliest Catch”. We’ve watched it religiously for 13 years. The show follows six or seven crab boats, based in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, as they fish for crab each year in the Bering Sea.

Crab fishing used to be known as the most dangerous profession in the United States because of the high rates of injuries and deaths on crab boats each season. It’s less deadly these days, but still treacherous. An intrepid production crews live on the boats with the fishermen while they fish. They film conversations with and between the captain and the crew as well as following the ups and downs of the hunt for large quantities of the lucrative crab.

Why do we avidly watch people fishing day after day? Well, the viewers also get to know the captain and crew very well. There’s always tension between crew members and/or between crew members and the captain. On several boats, the captains bring along family members as part of the crew – brothers, sons, nephews, even a daughter once. So there’s plenty of family drama as well.

We’ve followed medical crises, including heart attacks, injuries, addiction, and even the death of a beloved captain. We’ve watched fights and feuds as well as bonding and friendship both on the boats and between the boats. You get to really like some captains and hate others because of their style of leadership, bad judgment, arrogance or quick tempers.

It’s fascinating to watch these men live in close quarters for weeks at a time under stressful work conditions in the middle of nowhere. This definitely creates an unusual dynamic. I used to think that the personal relationships and the personalities of the captains were the main elements that kept us watching week after week, year after year.

But I realized that I would not watch this show, with the same people, if they were on fire trucks instead of crab boats. It’s not just the characters or their dangerous jobs that keep us watching. The sea and its unpredictability is a major character in the drama. That’s what makes the show riveting. There are frequent, treacherous storms throughout the season. Winds can get to more than 60 miles an hour and the seas and waves can grow to be more than 30 feet high. Yet the men fish through all but the worst storms!

It’s mind boggling to watch these boats take on giant waves, smashing through them or being catapulted from side to side like children’s toys.

The sea is also isolating. Each boat fishes over 100 miles from their home port. They are often far, far away from any land. The boats are often far away from each other as well. So when something breaks on a boat, which happens frequently, the crew is totally on their own. They have to figure out how to fix it without a trip to the store or any outside advice. They at least have to be able to patch things up enough to be able to limp back to shore for repairs.

There is something mesmerizing about these men, alone in a giant and tempestuous sea, trying to find crabs and stay afloat and alive. This is one of the few shows we actually watch on the night it airs. We can’t wait to see the next episode.

We’re not alone. The show airs in over 200 countries and has lasted for 13 seasons!

Who’d have thought anyone would be at the edge of their seats, waiting to see if a crab pot coming over the edge of a boat is full of crabs or empty? Who’d have thought the same story every week would keep us coming back for more than a decade?

And there’s no sex and almost no violence. Go figure!

DEVIL IN MISS JONES

Halloween was always a special holiday for my group of friends. From the early 1970s, we held an annual Halloween party. Each year, we descended on a friend’s parent’s summer house in the Berkshires. The house was not huge, but we were young and found places to sleep, even if it was on the floor or a hammock on the porch.

Those were the days before DVDs or even videotape — long before big screen televisions — so we rented a projector, screen and a movie. The occasion called for a horror movie. We tended to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman (poor Larry Talbot) … but lacking one of these, any horror movie would do.

It was the centerpiece of our weekend’s entertainment — in addition to the pleasure of getting together to see each other.

The last year we had the party in the mountains, just before most of us got married and settled down, the guys in charge of movie rental were late getting to it. All the familiar films were gone. So, in the spirit of trying something new, they rented “The Devil in Miss Jones.”

It sounded like a horror movie to them. The Devil? Halloween? Right?

Given the audience and our condition — drugs and alcohol flowed freely in those halcyon days of yore — the movie had predictable but hilarious (depending on what you find funny) results. I won’t go into lurid detail, but I think it was our absolutely best ever Halloween party. Subsequent parties became more elaborate. Bigger, almost like virtual reality rides at a theme park.

But the year we watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” brought us closer in ways we would not soon forget. I certainly haven’t, especially since that party was when Garry and I grew really close. Now we are fused at the hip and share those special memories. Do you youngsters ever wonder what grandma and grandpa are giggling about over there on the recliner?

So you see? Things can turn out fine, even when they apparently go awry. Thank you Georgina Spelvin and Harry Reems. It was your finest effort!