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Tromping around that house was quite fun. It’s an old farmhouse, built in the 1840s. The original farmsteader was someone called Nathaniel Husted. (This person is probably his son.) Maybe three miles outside the extremely charming hamlet of Pleasant Valley, which was a big Quaker settlement back in the day, famous for its Underground Railroad activity.

The house had good bones. And the price was right! But I advised Valerie against taking it be-cawse….

(1) It sits on the edge of a rather precipitous drop of 30 feet or more that I imagine leads down to a small stream, one of Wappinger Creek’s tributaries. The drop is maybe eight feet in back of the house. So, though the house is being sold as a two and a half acre parcel, since most of the land is on the other side of the drop, it’s unusable. Plus Valerie has two young teenage sons and a limited budget for ER visits. Plus premise liability.

(2) The west-facing property line, again very close to the house, has a couple of abandoned buildings on it just on the other side of the fence. I would be very worried about vagrants and meth labs.

I’m gonna go look at another property for Valerie later this afternoon. This house was built in 1805 and is just three miles away from where I live, literally right down the street from Eleanor Roosevelt’s old digs at Val-Kill.


In the afternoon (Stephen King completist that I am), I went to see It. Not a bad movie! I liked what they did with Pennywise. The actor who played the clown is deeply creepy, and the special effects were good.

But what keeps me interested in Stephen King’s stories – and why I was a fan even before he learned how to write well (and he does write well now, haters!) – is how deeply textured his characterizations are.

All of that was lost in this movie.

King writes about a world in which children are actively unkind to one another. This correlates pretty well with the reality I remember from being a child. Children are cruel little beasts, if you think about it. I know I was a cruel little beast! Empathy is a learned trait for most of us. (Yeah, yeah. There are exceptions! Max, for example, was highly empathetic from Day One. Robin, on the other hand, is just learning what “empathy” means now in his early 20s.)

But in today’s renditions of childhood, children are not allowed to be casually cruel. It’s politically incorrect. Bullies are bullies not because they enjoy pushing around kids who are weaker than they are but because they have psychotic parents or because they are psychotic themselves.

There’s a whole level of subtext that’s just lost in contemporary cinematic renditions of childhood, and this It remake suffers from that.


I dillydallied. Did not do enough revenue-generating. Kept finding myself being sucked into the minds of people who’d elected not to evacuate Florida and are now waiting for certain doom to strike. Saw the sunny and completely empty streets through their eyes, the white-washed houses, most of which – in my mind at least if not in the photographs screaming at us from every media outlet – did not have storm boards.

What a strange and eerie feeling it is to be preparing for a doom that you cannot yet see.

I remember it so, so it vividly from the two or so days before Sandy hit.
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The photo streams out of Houston are wild. More of that, But it can’t happen here – can it? Bwah-hah-hah-hah! vibe.

Does it matter that the catastrophe is meteorological and only in part manmade? (Rises in sea level – almost certainly due to climate change and other human disturbances, most notably oil drilling – made the storm surges half a foot higher than they would have been a few decades before. Sea temperatures are also approximately two decrees warmer than they were a few decades ago, which means the storm had the ability to absorb more water.)

No, not really.

It can happen here is your basic scare scenario.

I can remember sitting in the back seat of my grandfather’s old Chrysler a million years ago or so, listening to him explain how, inevitably, the seas would rise, and everything we were familiar with would drown. I was only three or four at the time. His words scared the shit out of me.


Some of those Houston pictures are downright heartbreaking:

And, of course, some humans are always eager to prove their essential pettiness.

My various social media feeds are filled with vengeful progressives. A state that gave us Ted Cruz and George W. Bush can just go fuck itself!

Hey, assholes! I want to write. Harris County is a Democratic stronghold; it went for Hillary Clinton by 12%.

But I restrain myself.

Because, really: What is the point?

I’ve always liked Texas, and yes, I have spent time there. Larry McMurtry country, doncha know. Unlike the anal inhabitants of the benighted midWest, Texans are very friendly even when you disagree with their politics.


Houston will impact the U.S. economy as a whole. Texas has the 10th largest economy in the world and exports more than the states of California and New York combined.

You can expect to pay at least 25 cents more per gallon at the gas pump for the next six months or so. Possibly, this will renew the interest in fracking the northeast’s shale fields.

Difficult to say what effect this will have on the stock market – which, despite all the reasons that it shouldn’t, has continued to perform strongly since Trump took office. Energy stocks should stall. On the other hand, construction stocks should benefit.


I got through my awful mood over the weekend by submerging myself in escapist movies and novels.

I was practically snorkeling!

First, I wondered why I had such a strong aversion to seeing Dunkirk despite being a big Christopher Nolan fan. It’s because I remember seeing another film about Dunkirk, and I thought it might be Atonement. It’s not: The middle section of Atonement takes place as Robby Turner is traveling to Dunkirk; he never makes it.

Where, oh where, do all those images in my head of soldiers huddling on a grey beach with broken Ferris wheels behind them come from? I wonder.

Atonement is a pretty good novel and a not-completely-awful movie.

There’s something about the actor James McAvoy I’ve always found… compelling. And so, the scenes where Cecilia tries to snap Robby out of his fugue states – Come back to me! Come back – moved me.

Then I had to watch The Prestige – for like the tenth time: It’s one of my favorite movies (and I love the novel, too, although the novel is very different from the film) – and then I had to watch The Shining! In between I had to go out to breakfast and hike around the Point and try to figure out what Alice's secret games were when the grownups weren't looking.

Weather hasn't completely returned to me, but at least I'm not tearing up at pictures of dogs.

I suppose I should line up some social expeditions for when I travel to NYC in the next few days to water [profile] lifeinroseland's plants.
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Saw Detroit. Man, that is one harrowing movie.

It’s a narrative I’m very familiar with: I read John Hershey’s The Algiers Motel in 1968 when it was first published. I was 16, and the book had a profound effect on me. It’s a literal reenactment of the infamous Milgram experiment.

There’s no behavior so depraved that a human being won’t do it if the responsibility for that behavior can be shunted up some chain of command. The three people who read this journal may be thinking, No, no, I wouldn’t!

Except yes: You would.

And so would I.

And that right there is the root of all evil.


I’m not at all sure I understood the extent of the racial divide in this country when I was 16. New York City in those days was integrated in theory but segregated in practice. For example: PS 87, the elementary school I attended – right around the corner from the Museum of Natural History! – had lots of black students, but there wasn’t a single black kid in my class. There weren’t any black kids at Hunter College High School either, which you could only attend if you scored above 90% on its incredibly arduous entrance exam.

My mother’s family – educated Jews - called black people schwartzes.

My father’s family – uneducated Sicilians - called black people niggers.

I can’t remember what I called them. But I knew that when you met a black person, the doctrine of equality meant you had to pretend there were no differences. I still remember with great gratitude the black nurse who took me aside my very first day on the wards and said, “Our skin gets ashy. Ya gotta use lotion. You don’t brush our hair like you brush your hair. They didn’t teach you any of this stuff in nursing school? Well, no. They wouldn’t.”


The 1967 Detroit riots were probably the deadliest and most destructive in American history. That same year, there were riots in Newark and in Plainfield, New Jersey, in Milwaukee and in Minneapolis. The next year, Martin Luther King was shot, and the riots spread to more than 100 other cities – including Berkeley, where your faithful narrator was a member of the People’s Park mob that got tear-gassed and shot at by Alameda County sheriffs.

(Come to think of it, I was a veritable 60s Zelig of sorts, having been present at (1) the screaming hoards of teenyboppers welcoming the Beatles to the Plaza Hotel in 1962; (2) the 1969 People’s Park riots; and (3) Altamont.)

There’s never been a definitive account of the events that took place at the Algiers Motel on the night of July 25 in which three young men ended up dead. Ballistics analyses linked their deaths to firearms commonly used by the Detroit police. Three cops were subsequently charged with homicide, but Kathryn Bigelow couldn’t use their real names since they all got off. She couldn’t use any of the material in Hersey’s book either since the rights could not be secured.

For the record, the cops’ real names are Robert Paille, Ronald August, and David Senak.

Bigelow’s film draws heavily from the memories of the surviving victims and includes a lot of speculation, particularly about the death of Fred Temple who was the last of the three men to be slaughtered. In that sense, Detroit has to be viewed as fiction.


Bigelow has always been an interesting filmmaker from my point of view because she defies gender expectations. She makes unsentimental movies about the effects of violence – a traditionally male expertise. (Interestingly, she was once married to James Cameron who makes bloated, sentimental movies about sinking ships and climate change.) She’s a very attractive woman, too, which should be irrelevant to any conversation about talent, but (let’s get real) isn’t.

The critics who liked it liked it a lot.

The critics who didn’t like it didn’t like it becaw-w-w-w-se:

(1) It was excessively violent. How could a director tell an actor to administer these brutal blows, not just once but repeatedly? decried a squeamish New Yorker reviewer.

(2) It was an example of cultural appropriation! Movies about black people should only be made by black people! (Ya gotta believe this line of reasoning was an underground whisper campaign paid for by Spike Lee.)

(3) It didn’t show the rich cultural life of people in Detroit! Well, no. Because then it would have been a bloated, sentimental movie and her X-Husband could have made it.


I was the only person in the audience for Detroit – a 6:30pm showing on a Friday night, and this doesn’t auger well for Detroit’s chances of earning back its initial investment. Even black people are staying away from this one, and I can see why: When you’ve moved well beyond dire events in the history of your people, you might appreciate if not exactly enjoy a movie about those events. My mother’s family members were all big fans of Schindler’s List.

But as the failure to convict Philando Castile’s murderer indicates, the United States has not moved beyond the events portrayed in Detroit. Young black men continue to be humiliated and slaughtered by white cops and watching that transpire on a screen without the slightest promise of redress is just too, too painful.


In other news, I spoke at some length with Celeste, and the story of Tailisen is even kinkier and weirder than that I’d initially thought.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s third wife Oglavanna is Gloria Swanson straight outa Sunset Boulevard. A Gurdjieff groupie! Taliesen West was just this festering brew of weird sex and egos!

And then there was that whole subplot with Stalin’s daughter!

This will make a fine bestseller! And it’s a memoir! So, you know – someone’s opinion!

The best thing would be if I could stumble across any supporting evidence to prove that Frank Lloyd Wright spent the last years of his life as a bumbling old idiot, being dressed up in white suits and wheeled out on special occasions (his keepers, all the while, hoping that he didn’t pee on himself ‘cause, you know: Depends hadn’t yet been invented, and pee stains white suits.) And that his apprentices designed all the buildings! Including the fuckin’ Guggenheim!

But I suspect that might be a little too much to hope for.


Anyhoo, I must read The Fellowship : The untold story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship, which apparently is the definitive smear book about Tailisen as well as T.C. Boyle’s The Women, which apparently is a novel about Oglavanna.
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The fabulous [profile] lifeinroseland is visiting this weekend. Whirlwind of activities!

Exciting tour of the Poughkeepsie ‘hood!

Strange dinner cobbled together from ingredients found at Ocean State Job Lot.


Dragonboat fest!

Local Downton Abbey sighting!

Rhinebeck retail! (I bought a $3 pair of scissors at Sharpy’s!)

More sl-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eep!

Barbecue with L’s drunken boyfriend!



Today’s itinerary:

An intimate meetup with the Biggest Buddha in the Western Hemisphere.

Antiquing in Cold Springs.

Teary farewell!


I am dying to see if that pink Dior jacket in perfect shape that I didn’t buy for $50 three years because it was a tad too small is still in that antique store in Cold Springs.

It was still there two years ago although bizarrely, the store had doubled the price – I mean, if something doesn’t sell, aren’t you supposed to discount it?

The jacket was beautiful, and for an entire year, I tortured myself: I will write away to Hong Kong for fabric swatches to find one that will match its precise color – something between Hello Kitty and that frothy color you get when you beat Cool Whip into raspberry jello – and then I’ll find some struggling seamstress who is struggling to make commissary money to send to her sons – all three of whom have been locked away in the Fishkill Correctional Facility on cocaine trafficking charges – and I will pay her $25 bucks to lengthen the sleeves and do something about the shoulders –

But damn! A hundred bucks for something I can’t possibly ever wear? I don’t know.

If it’s still there, it should be up to $200 by now.


C is a pretty bright guy, but when he drinks, he turns into a total redneck. And not just any redneck: a redneck with liberal kneejerk biases. Thus, instead of the usual All Muslims are scum! from C, you get, All Republicans are scum!

“And the bastards are trying to shut down Poughkeepsie’s bus system!” C growled.

He had started slurring his words.

One of the big local issues hereabouts is that Dutchess County is finally wresting control of the city of Poughkeepsie’s flailing bus system. Really, the City of Poughkeepsie should not be running anything. The City of Poughkeepsie can barely keep its streets plowed in the winter: I still remember Adventures in Grocery Shopping between the months of December and March when I was living in Poughkeepsie and I did not have a car. They involved hopping from ice floe to ice floe kind of like Eliza fleeing the hounds.

Lois Lane does not have a car and is completely dependent on the public transportation system, so I get weekly updates on just how awful the City of Poughkeepsie’s administration of its bus system is.

Public transportation, in fact, is one of those few areas where economies of scale make perfect sense.

So, it was kind of a ridiculous argument to be having, plus I have a deep sense of C’s underlying tragedy – I can hardly look at him without flashing on the beautiful young artist wife who went mad and the beautiful young artist daughter who went mad: How do you survive tragedies like that without hating yourself, without thinking, It was something I did, I drove them mad?

Nonetheless, I continued having it – fueled, no doubt, by my deep contempt for Joel Tyner whom C kept citing as some kind of an authority. Joel Tyner is the flamingly left-wing county legislator from Rhinebeck, a weasely attention ‘ho of a type that’s very common in Berkeley – I used to date his clones regularly, which no doubt accounts for my deep, irremedial hatred for him. Talking about Joel Tyner in front of me is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Anyway, at some point, I realized I had an incredibly well-behaved guest sitting to my left who had not made a peep but who no doubt was bored to tears by this conversation, so I made C shake hands with me – See? We’re still buds! We can still discuss the finer points of cinematography in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”! – and toddled off to the Patrizia-torium where I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

What a ridiculous movie, and how Hitchcock must have suffered when Selznick and the Hayes Code board forced him to tack on that awful ending.
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Once again, the goats are back at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

And once again, I did absolutely nothing of any substance all weekend long.

Oh, to live in a world inhabited solely by sentient goats, cats, dogs, bunnies and elephants!

(My father was an alcoholic child molester, which kinda puts a damper on Father’s Day celebrations, no?)

BB, stumbling across Internet access from somewhere along the Appalachian Trail, posted that he had hiked 15.5 miles that day in 95-degree heat, which fuckin’ shamed me (‘cause I have a hard time stumbling out of the house when the temp is much above 82.)

The last man I was kinda, sorta, maybe attracted to (at least on alternate Thursdays) apparently quoted me at length somewhere and then sent me a long flattering email apologizing. A quote from his email: It's a completely unrelated sentiment by you that just happens to support everything I am doing professionally. I am too lazy to track down the actual quote.

Jeanna called to say that she was getting married and that she was buying another house so that I could come live with her. I gathered all this from her phone message. I haven’t yet called her back. I don't actually want to call her back. Although, naturally, I must.

If she gives me a month lead-in time, of course I’ll come to her wedding. Even though it sounds like a hideous ordeal.


Max is second chairing his first trial.

“Wait!” I said. “You’re only a second year law student.”


“And they let you…?”

“In Alaska and Colorado, yes.”

“Oh, is that why you wanted to do an internship in Alaska?””


Max likes trials.

Max is very good at trials.

Max has always been a very compelling speaker and a relentless arguer.

I’m inclined to think this is a rare talent even among those who are attracted to practicing law. He is winning awards at UCB Law School for his oracular proficiency, too, which makes me think he doesn’t need to be in the top 10% of his class to snag a career that will be fulfilling for him.

We spent half an hour or so on the phone batting around the particulars of the Michelle Carter case.

“Is it likely to set precedent?” I asked.

“In a juvenile court? Do you mean a precedent that could apply to principals who are over the age of 21?”


“Doubtful that it could be an authoritative precedent. Maybe if it goes to appeal.”

We talked for a while about the case’s implications for assisted suicide.

I doubt very much that the authors of any of the assisted suicide measures currently working their ways through state legislatures ever envisioned the facts of a case like Carter/Roy when they were formulating their statutes, but in a very literal sense, this is an assisted suicide case.

And one of the reasons why I personally have never been a fan of assisted suicide legislation.

Assisted suicide is a very slippery slope to my way of thinking.


Else? I watched a very strange film called Personal Shopper from the same director who made Clouds of Sils Maria.

I regretted I did not have the opportunity to watch it in a theater – Personal Shopper is filled with caesuras, prolonged intervals during which absolutely nothing happens except that Kristen Stewart progressively grows more freaked. These types of scenes often work in theaters where audiences understand that their job is to channel the protagonist, but they seldom if ever work on a home screen where the tendency – when nothing is happening on the screen – is to check your phone and think, Huh! Maybe I should fast-forward to the scene where Kristen Steward masturbates –

Stewart is an intriguing screen presence. Absolutely beautiful and, at the same time, a complete and total physical mess. The film, which is ostensibly about her character’s search for the ghost of a dead twin brother, seems more to me to be about the character’s obsession with social media. The character is completely oblivious to the physical world she inhabits.

It’s one of those films that would benefit from being seen twice.

But I have no intention of watching it again.
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I did absolutely nothing of any substance all weekend, I mean ab-zo-loot-leee nada! And felt very guilty about it, too, which detracted considerably from the mindless pleasure of nada.

I watched all 10 episodes of The Good Fight and liked them.

I watched a heartwarming movie about a woman and her bomb-sniffing dog, Megan Leavey. And cried. And thought about Milo.

I played The Sims for hours. I’m currently fleshing out the backstory of an autistic genius, so that’s taking up a lot of time.

I read two (count ‘em) biographies of Jerry Garcia and mused for a long time about what an altogether unpleasant little man he was albeit an extremely fine guitar player.

Really, one of the most fascinating things about Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead is that so many of us started out like that – going for adventures in painted buses, dropping vast quantities of acid, cramming together in rat-infested Victorians in the Haight. While a tiny fraction managed to turn that backstory into iconography, the vast majority turned it into failure.

Of course, “failure” is one of those words with no hard definition. I’m alive and in relatively good health two full decades after Jerry Garcia’s expiration date.

But I don’t have the money to plan a spree trip to Cuba let alone to maintain an aggressive heroin habit.

Isn’t that failure?

Can I mention here how much I loathe Jack Kerouac? And Ken Kesey? How I think On the Road and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are two of the most over-rated books in the 20th century bibliotheca? Badly written and misogynistic.

Meanwhile, it’s summertime in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley. I have to get out of the house by 8am if I want to go running since by 9am, it’s 80 degrees.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon sitting on a grassy bluff high above the river, occasionally looking up from my books to take a sip of water and take in this view:

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Somewhere near the end of the documentary Weiner, the film’s director asks the candidate why the press has been so hard on him.

“I lied to them,” says Weiner. Then he makes a face. “And I have a funny name.”

It’s this unusual combination of cluelessness and self-awareness that makes this exercise in cinema verité so fascinating to watch.

Anthony Weiner is the former seven-term Congressperson from Queens’ own Kew Gardens nabe who rather famously one night in 2011 sexted a picture of his, uh, weiner to the wrong person thereby giving the headline writers at the New York Post a field day that went on and on and on for weeks: Weiner’s Rise and Fall! Tip of the Weiner! Weiner Pulls Out! Etc.

There’s a lot of evidence that Weiner was, in fact, set up by conservative factions associated with Andrew Breitbart in the same way that pedophile stings are set up by the FBI. I mean, yes, they capitalized on Weiner’s overweening (or should that be overweining) narcissism, but the “women” he was sexting to were, in fact, operatives.

There’s also the fact that some huge percentage of the American public itself sexts regularly. Sexting has become a routine part of American courtship behaviors. Every technology, after all, from the printing press on has been fueled by the very human desire to promulgate pornography. (Well, okay. Maybe not the cotton gin.) And after Bill Clinton and JFK, why should it come as any revelation that some politicians like anonymous sex? Does that fact have anything to do with their talent as politicians? At a time when Kris Jenner launched a commercial and cultural takeover of the world’s media outlets by releasing a sex tape starring her own daughter, how can anybody get bent out of shape by a remarkably tame photo of a pair of boxer shorts with a bulge?


The documentary charts the rise and fall of Weiner’s 2013 New York City mayoral campaign.

I have no idea whether Weiner would have been a good mayor or a bad mayor, but certainly DiBlasio has been a disaster, and until the second scandal broke, Weiner was running considerably ahead of DiBlasio in the polls.

In the year between Weiner’s resignation from Congress and his run for Congress, Weiner had sexted with a lot of women. (I’m thinking maybe he should find another hobby.) And one of the women he’d sexted with – improbably named Sydney Leathers – decided to leverage her connection with him to launch a career as a porn star.

When this story broke, Weiner was toast – although again, I had to wonder why exactly? It wasn’t like he was texting while campaigning.

The film then becomes a fascinating montage of damage control, optics manipulation, confrontations the candidate allows himself to get baited into, and glimpses into the domestic life Weiner shares with his wife and his son. Weiner refuses to drop out of the mayoral primary but ends up getting less than 5% of the total vote.

I dunno. I would probably have voted for him if I’d been registered as a Democrat and lived in New York. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s brash, has singularly poor impulse control. But I kinda liked him. And I couldn’t help thinking that if hadn’t had such a remarkably Dickensian name that turned everything into a bad pun, he might have been able to – uh – rise above all the tsuris.


I’ve often thought that the best gift any parent can give a child is the name “John Smith,” regardless of that child’s gender.

In this age of relentless spying and tracking, ironically, the only way you can have any kind of privacy is by becoming absolutely ubiquitous and transparent.

The documentary Weiner begins with a simple epigram from Marshall MacLuhan: The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.

If Anthony Weiner had not been named Anthony Weiner, could he have saved his career? That lens the media focused on him would have been so much less intense.

But with a last name like “Weiner” and a sex scandal, there’s not a whole lot of damage control you can do.


c23de5ea56af432dbed30b40c71a8668 The movie is also interesting because it gives us so many unguarded glimpses of Mrs. Weiner a/k/a Huma Abedin, the soon-to-be-Presidentially-anointed Hillary Clinton’s top political aide.

Abedin is a remarkably beautiful woman with an amazing talent for holding her own counsel and exquisite taste in clothes. I would die for this dress.

The most unlikely people always seem to end up together, which is why analyzing couples is so much fun. On the surface, a relationship between the funny, cocky, self-effacing and ill-advised former Congressperson and the guarded, stealthy, protocol-conscious aide-de-camp seems very improbable.

But I have a theory about that.

I think the deepest partnerships occur between people who can say No for one another. In other words, you love the person who can say No to the people, things and situations that for one reason or another, you’re incapable of saying No to yourself.

Thus Huma is Anthony’s way of saying No to wayward frat-boy behavior and Anthony is Huma’s way of saying No to total repression.

The marriage will last.

Why wouldn’t it?
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My revenue generation has fallen short of my goals but may still be sufficient unto my little gray mouse needs.

Here’s hoping.

It really is not possible to live out in the country without a car.

I’m still thinking brakes don’t suddenly go down to metal without warning, and that therefore the grating sound I heard driving back through the Catskills is somehow connected to the exhaust system, which should still be under labor warranty, but who fucking knows?

I’m still operating under the Big Black Cloud that descended upon me – ulp! – eight years ago when I lost my business, my house, my everything.

It has occurred to me, though, that I’m now past whatever dark stains blotched my credit report since credit reports, like skin cells, magically regenerate every seven years.

If I applied for a credit card, I’d probably get it.

And I probably should. Credit cards were made for putting the costs of car repairs on.


In other news, I watched the Anderson Cooper/Gloria Vanderbilt documentary Nothing Left Unsaid.

I was prepared to hate it. Gloria Fucking Vanderbilt! The name that crammed a million fat asses into overly tight designer jeans back in my salad days!

But, in fact, I liked it a lot.

She quotes Mary Gordon: A fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe.

[Waving hand wildly] That would be me!

Although wealth beyond the wildest dreams of avarice and life that turns into a mythology practically the moment it's lived is not me.

I really liked the fact that Vanderbilt’s son, Anderson Cooper, was the person who was interviewing her.

My own kids are utterly uninterested in my life. They love me! Of that, I have no doubt, and Max, at least, is very conscientious about staying in contact with me. We have interesting conversations. But they’re never about my life.

Recently, Max was applying for some sort of… something.

You may consider discussing how your background, life or work experiences, culture, and perspectives would contribute to the diversity of the entering class. You may also describe any adversity that you have overcome, including discrimination, linguistic barriers, or a personal or family history of educational or socioeconomic disadvantage.

“So! Should I go for Deep Springs, growing up in a divorced home, or my relationship with Fletcher*** ?” Max asked me.

*** The privileged bosom pal of Max’s youth who fell into oxycontin abuse, deceit, and ruin, despite the many expensive rehabs his parents were able to place him in.

“You should write about none of those things,” I said. “I’m pretty sure Deep Springs these days is viewed as a bastion of male privilege, and lots of kids grow up in divorced homes. And though Fletcher was your close friend for a long time, ultimately, he passed out of your life.

“I think you should write about what you talked about a couple of weeks ago with your therapist – what we talked about on the phone. That there’s a history of undiagnosed mental illness on my side of the family, and the effects it had on me and subsequently on you. Intergenerational PTSD. That this legacy drew you to social work and ultimately into law school when you realized you wanted more agency.”

He liked the idea, so I emailed him about 20 pages from my journal – keyword: Mother.

But I doubt very much that he’s going to read them.

In fact, I doubt very much that either of my kids is ever going to read my journal, even after I’m dead.

Which makes me start wondering what I should do with my journal. For after I’m dead. Whether I should make any plans for it. I have been keeping it for more than 50 years. Maybe it has some kind of value as a historical document.
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My attention span has shrunk to the size of a gnat. Toiling at the Scut Factory will do that. I’m also only up to about half of what I’d set out to earn: There’s a kind of refractory period associated with toiling at the Scut Factory, and try as I might, I can’t do anything about that. I mean, I could – but it would require access to pharmaceuticals.

Three more days in this earning cycle.

I’ll be happy when this week is through.


The BBC did a very bad remake of The Go-Between, which is one of my favorite all-time novels and one of my two absolute favorite all-time films. (The other is Fellini’s La Strada.)

The bad remake did inspire me to revisit the source materials.


One remembers things at different levels, writes L.P. Hartley in The Go-Between. The novel, which is about the unreliability of memory, takes the form of an almost prosaic Bildungsroman. It's a series of Chinese boxes fitted so tightly into one another that only Hartley’s amazing adeptness with subtextual symbolism allows you to unpack them. Think a much-easier-to-read James Joyce or a less self-reflexive Marcel Proust.

Thus, the red cardboard box itself, filled with old trinkets like the two rusty magnets “which had almost lost their magnetism,” in which Leo Colston, now a man of 65, stumbles across the old diary chronicling his 12th year. Thus, the poisonous Atropa belladonna growing in Brandham Hall’s ancient kitchen garden, which is also Marian Maudsley, the rich young beauty who impels Ted Burgess’s suicide. Lord Trimingham, half of whose face has been blown off in the Boer War, is Janus, the two-faced gatekeeper who looks both into the past and future. Mercury is both the winged messenger of the gods – the conduit between the living and the dead – and the rising mercury in the thermometer marking the hottest English summer in memory.

Hartley wrote the novel very quickly; reportedly, in just five months. It begins with what is perhaps the most perfect opening line in all of English literature: The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.

The prose throughout is marvelous. Deceptively simple, but filled with the most marvelous, sensual details: …the heat was a medium which made this change of outlook possible. As a liberating power with its own laws, it was outside my experience. In the heat, the commonest objects changed their nature. Walls, trees, the very ground one trod on, instead of being cool were warm to the touch: and the sense of touch is the most transfiguring of all the senses.


The 1971 film, on the other hand, was not simple at all. It was really difficult to understand. Deliberately so.

The credits roll over a window splashed with rain.

And yet the opening scene is of two boys in a carriage drawn by horses through a sunny and riotously vertiginous English spring. One of the boys, very blond, is wearing the Eton uniform of the upper classes – straw boater, blue jacket and tie – and looks careless; the other boy, who is dressed in a kind of heavy brown worsted with the wrong kind of hat and a bow tie, is trying but not quite succeeding in looking careless. He is Leo Colston who is about to embark upon a summertime adventure that will cripple him emotionally for life.

The rainy windows, we discover in a series of quick, confusing flash forwards, are the windows of the train on which Leo, now a shriveled, unappealing man in his 60s, is traveling on some sort of errand.

The boys are on their way to Brandham Hall, which belongs to the family of the careless boy, Marcus. The time is the summer of 1900. Quick series of Big House place setters – lots and lots and lots of staircases, uniformed housemaids, ancestral portraits, Ming vases in places where they could easily get smashed, a dining room set out with a king’s ransom of solid silver chafers.

Marcus does not like Leo very much but requires amusement over the school holiday. “This is Tritoast,” he announces to Leo, introducing his spaniel.

“Hello, Tritoast,” Leo says uncertainly.

As the boys tussle on one of the many balconies, Leo espies a woman lying in a hammock. And is stopped dead in his tracks.

The woman is being read to. By someone with an insufferably plummy drone. “The rank and fortune of the lady, her pretensions to beauty as well as talent…”

Then the boys run off to the ancient kitchen garden where the belladonna runs rampant.

“My sister is very beautiful,” Marcus announces.

“Yes,” says Leo, convinced.


The scriptwriter here is the remarkable Harold Pinter whose ability to spin ordinary language with its pauses and stutters and repetitions into brilliant dialog is unparalleled and unrivaled even now.

Film was directed by Joseph Losey, an unrepentant Commie who was blacklisted by the House on Un-American Activities.

The very beautiful sister is Julie Christie, whom I personally think was the most appealing of all the celebrated late 20th century screen beauties. A great actress, too.


The brilliance of the film is the way it actualizes Leo’s own ignorance of the implications of his role as Mercury, carrying messages between the beautiful Lady Marian and her low class lover, the farmer Ted Burgess. It’s an immensely difficult feat to pull off because, of course, any viewer brings his or her own level of knowledge to the events and can quickly connect the dots. Leo remains quite innocent, however, up until the very end, and we are so firmly rooted in Leo’s point-of-view that we remain innocent, too.

So that the final revelation – on Leo’s 13th birthday when the mad Mrs. Maudsley forces Leo to “show” her the lovers’ assignation place, the hut in the old kitchen garden (which, of course, she already knows about) – comes as a horrible, horrible shock.

In the novel, Leo describes it thus:

Not a sound came from the forlorn row of huts, only the rain pattering on their battered roofs. I could not bear to aid her in her search and shrank back, crying. “No, you shall come,” she said, and seized my hand, and it was then that we saw them, together on the ground, the Virgin and the Water-Carrier, two bodies moving like one. I think I was more mystified than horrified; it was Mrs. Maudsley’s repeated screams that frightened me, and a shadow on the wall that opened and closed like an umbrella.

We get it all in the film, from the unraveling of Mrs. Maudsley – another brilliant performance, this time from the elegant Margaret Leighton – to the ominous detail of the umbrella-like shadow.

And we’re as traumatized as Leo.


The flash forwards, it turns out, pertain to a summons Leo has received out of the blue from the still-imperious Marian. She's an old woman living in genteel poverty in a few rooms of Branson Hall, most of which, drafty and leaking, has been cordoned off. She wants Leo to intercede on her behalf with her grandson – quite obviously a scion of the dead Ted Burgess and not Lord Trimingham who Marian eventually wedded. It was a beautiful love story, she informs Leo. And you were lucky to be part of it.

More-or-less what the upper classes have been telling the lower classes in the U.K. and elsewhere for several millennia, no?


I would love to write more about The Go-Between, but the Scut Factory is calling my name.
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Jim Harrison died Saturday. One of my favorite writers.

He was old; he was not immortal.



The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.

Yesterday was Easter. My least favorite Jesus Day. Christmas doesn’t alienate me, but Easter almost always does. I kept wanting to dress Rutger up in a tiny yamaka and phylacteries, but one of the few downsides of cats is that they really don’t like costumes.

Instead, Rutger, the Meezer, and I all huddled up in bed together and watched Ben Hur. In his autobiography, Gore Vidal writes delightedly how he and the other writers involved with the film grafted a strong homoerotic subtext on to the pseudo-Biblical parable to which Charlton Heston remained utterly oblivious, and indeed, Ben Hur is one long gay fetish fest. So that was entertaining.

There wasn’t any work over the weekend, so now I’m waaaaaaay behind on my revenue-generating goals.

On the plus side, I got quite a bit of fiction-writing done, and I figured out the tricky transition to Chapter 3.

12 Monkeys

Dec. 17th, 2014 11:27 am
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My own all-time favorite Christmas movie is 12 Monkeys, a dystopian fantasy about the end of civilization as we know it and an attempt to rectify the mistakes that led up to that end. Bruce Willis plays a convict given the chance to redeem himself by traveling into the past to investigate the origins of a plague that’s wiped out most of mankind, forcing the few survivors to huddle underground.

Never been a big Terry Gilliam fan. Brazil? Clunky. The Fisher King? Maudlin. The Monty Python ouevre? Spotty.

Problem with most of Gilliam’s work for me is that you’re always being fed two separate streams of information, the visual and the narrative, and Gilliam often seems to be struggling to find synergy or syncretism between the two. In 12 Monkeys, though, possibly because Gilliam is working from someone else’s script or possibly because one of the film's underlying themes is the unreliability of all remembered information, this approach works. Even the irrelevant becomes relevant.

The movie never changes, Cole tells Kathryn. It can’t change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you’re different. You see different things.

The film’s climactic scene takes place during the Philadelphia Christmas shopping rush in 1996. The holiday might seem incidental to the perceptual puzzle, except that nothing is incidental in this movie. The viewer has to pay close attention at all times, which is almost impossible to do in a single viewing. 12 Monkeys has to be seen at least twice to appreciate the world-building that went into it. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, and it still amazes me.

One of the key strengths of 12 Monkeys is Bruce Willis’s performance. He plays Cole, the convict, as a simple, poignant Everyman, shyness and brutality in conflict, and it’s the acting highlight of his career. He is just superb. Madeleine Stowe is also excellent in the role of a kidnap victim called upon to be terrified but also magnetized in some essential way that disputes the core tenets of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Without these two performances, 12 Monkeys would be a less entertaining, standard issue Luc Besson movie about the colorful -- or colorless – future.

Throughout 12 Monkeys, Cole faces the paradox of his own death – a philosophical conundrum apparently inspired by a short French film called La Jetée. His death is revealed to him in a series of memories, which he thinks are a bizarre, reoccurring dream. He sees his older self die as a 10-year-old boy in an airport, watching the police gun down a crazy psychotic – who, unbeknownst, is the older version of himself, a philosophical DO-loop, an existential perpetual motion machine from which there can never be any escape. He doesn’t recognize his older self, he can’t recognize his older self, but the Madeleine Stowe character, who knows about the dream, recognizes him and there passes between them a moment that’s so complex and passionate and moving that it makes me shiver every time I see the movie.

I watched 12 Monkeys again last night. I’m still in hyperspace. Just very teary and – here comes my buzz word again – porous.

I’m writing a time travel story, so possibly this material is even more poignant for me than usual. Dunno. Sometimes I just feel like life is so fragile, and the most beautiful flowers grow in junkyards where no one ever thinks to look.

In other news, life continues to be good. On Sunday, I met up with A to see the Matisse cutouts at MOMA – they were interesting, but did make me ponder the whole function of art as a non-fungible commodity. I could make these cutouts! In fact, I have made these cutouts. I couldn’t, on the other hand, make One: Number 31, 1950, which actually has an extraordinary amount of composition behind its chaos.

Then I sat through the last two classes of tax training. Studying federal and New York State tax codes is a lot like studying Torah or the Qur’an. Or possibly the Upanishads. Just a huge amount of arcane information that makes no logical sense whatsoever but illuminates the bizarreness of the culture that cobbled them together. The codes dealing with the implementation of Obamacare are particularly arcane, and I predict a lot of crash-and-burn around the Affordable Care Act come next April 15th.

Gone Girl

Oct. 7th, 2014 10:37 am
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Gillian Flynn worked at Entertainment Weekly when I was doing a lot of freelancing there, so, of course, I had to see Gone Girl.

Gone Girl is a baaaaaaaaad movie.

Although take away the pretentious hipster music, and you might have had a first-rate farce.

I enjoyed the novel. It wasn’t Great Literature, but then my tastes run to the banal. It had some really witty riffs. The stupidly complicated plot was actually its weak point.

Alas! Few of the witty riffs and all of the stupid plot made it on to the screen.

I don’t really get why David Fincher is considered a Great Director since the only movie of his I’ve ever liked was Fight Club, which is based on such a brilliant novel that it would have been impossible to fuck up. Unless they turned it into a musical comedy:

(Tyler Durdin to the tune of What Kind of Fool Am I?: You’re not your job! You’re not how much money you have in the bank…)

And that’s why David Fincher right this very moment is sipping champagne and getting a blowjob from an expensive hooker while I’m sitting here in my unspeakably filthy flannel nightie, drinking weak coffee and typing this.

But I digress.

Anyway, what might have saved the movie – what could have been teased out of the book although it was no where implicit in the novel – is some sort of exploration of the great disconnect between Williamsburg and flyoverland, the contrast between NYC and North Carthage, in other words. I thought maybe the movie was flipping in that direction for the first 10 minutes or so -- shots of shuttered storefronts along Main Street, the dilapidated casino, the murky river. The image of the abandoned mall -- I came across quite a few of those in my Traveling-America-with-the-Circus days. But Fincher is really too much of a California boy to go there. He doesn't get Middle America so he can't really play it for pathos. And pathos is the only thing that could have redeemed the singularly unlikeable Affleck character.

If you can’t root for the Affleck character, the whole movie collapses.

Went out for sushi before the movie. For 20 bucks, I got this:

One of the nicest things about living in the Hudson River Valley is that since the Culinary Institute is (literally!) right up the street, you have all these CIA graduates opening restaurants here. The fare is fabulous, and so-o reasonably priced!

Life is good.


Sep. 13th, 2014 10:06 am
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Calvary may be the most perfect movie I’ve ever seen.

I’ll have to see it again to be sure.

Somehow I’d thought it was going to be the liturgical equivalent of High Noon: Woo-woo! Priests with guns!

And, in a way, it was.

The film is about seven days in the life of an Irish priest. It opens with a quote, St. Augustine’s exegesis on the two thieves who were crucified alongside of Christ: Despair not, one of the thieves was spared; presume not, one of the thieves was not.

A man comes into Father James’ confessional booth and describes – in graphic detail – his many years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a pedophile priest: I first tasted semen when I was seven years old…

In retribution, the man tells Father James, he’s decided to kill a priest. The priest who sodomized him is long since dead, so he’s decided to kill Father James. The fact that Father James is an entirely good priest will only make Father James’ death more affecting.

The man will give Father James a week to tidy up his affairs.

Despite this opening, the film is a comedy. A very black comedy, to be sure. But utterly, corrosively, hilarious.

Father James recognizes the voice of the parishioner but decides nonetheless to go about his weekly routine, tending to his flock as it were, a motley ensemble of strange, defective humans all of whom hold him in absolute contempt. There is the billionaire who urinates on a priceless Holbein canvas; the chief of police and his rent boy; the butcher and his unfaithful wife who’s having an affair with the African auto mechanic; the atheist MD who puts out his cigarette in a pile of autopsied brains (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones); the dying expatriate American writer. Also Father James’s own daughter – since he came to the priesthood late in life after becoming a widower – who has recently tried to commit suicide.

I know, I know. It doesn’t sound funny. But trust me, it is.

Also, really profound. An immensely layered film that works on at least three levels – as a narrative of the characters in the film, as an allegory of the Fall of the Catholic Church, and as a parable about Christ himself who did, in fact, lose his faith (although not during his Calvary stroll, I suppose, if you want to be absolutely true to the Biblical source.) Probably other levels of meaning and symbolism as well that I didn’t catch on first viewing.

The film’s visual tone was somewhere between Bergman and Fellini – I know, I know, two filmmakers who could hardly be more dissimilar.

Cinematography is superb – beautiful doomed Ireland! Those flat-topped mountains! Those black basalt cliffs!

I walked out of the film dazed, utterly dazed.

Twelve hours later, I’m still dazed.


In the middle of the night, I had a bizarre, intense dream, but then I fell back asleep and lost most of the details.

What I remember:

Suzanne and I had found each other again. We were rapturously In Luv; I was in a kind of sexual frenzy, could hardly wait to get her alone and naked. We were driving in a car, and its brakes gave out, so I had to maneuver the car into a huge mound of sand, lesser of the many accidents that would make it stop. I fractured my right leg. Horrible, horrible pain.

A tan 1950s-style Mercedes drove up to us and did a complicated maneuver, kind of like the automotive equivalent of a wheelie. Inside sat Erica… and her… minions... I knew instantly looking at Erica that something was horribly wrong. Her pupils were… longitudinal… She confirmed: She’d been toying with black magic, she’d become a sorceress, and as I limped painfully around the bleak, grey city where we all lived now, I kept running across people who were in thrall to Erica, who treated me with superstitious reverence because I was Erica’s friend…

Fox and Stone…

Diana Ruston was the woman I most loved, but my love for her was the ardent love of a very young seneschal for Queen Guinevere. Suzanne and Erica were the two women I was most involved with.
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Just. Watched. The. Most. Depressing. Movie. EVER.

Down to the Bone, which is the first feature film by Debra Granik, who went on to make Winter’s Bone, and is in the process of developing a treatment for the Russell Banks novel Rule of the Bone.

(No. Really. She is. Do we sense a naming convention?)

The film is ostensibly about junkies and coke addicts in Ulster County, right across the river from me.

But really, the film’s about poor people who live in Ulster County, right across the river from me. Many of whom use drugs because their only other option would be to blow their brains out. Especially in the wintertime.

The film’s protagonist is Irene. She’s a checkout clerk in a small, low-rent supermarket.

Most films, of course, ignore their characters’ economic lives, which I’ve always thought was bizarre given the fact that the job, getting ready to go to the job, transporting oneself to the job etc easily takes up 50 to 60 percent of most people’s lives. Even the most earnest, true-to-life movies that ignore this important aspect of its characters’ lives must perforce be classified as an escapist fantasy. Television actually does a much better job than movies in this important regard.

“Do you have an Advantage card?” we hear Irene asking over and over. Her eyes are vacant.

Often her customers pull out huge wads of coupons and she’s forced to go through them.

Once a manager reprimands her: “Irene, you used the code for yams when the item was a sweet potato –“

Her coke habit is actually the thing that allows her to maintain at her job, but she checks herself into rehab anyway after she tries to barter the birthday check her in-laws send her eldest son for an eight-ball.

After she kicks her habit, she’s no longer very good at her job. Her productivity slows. She’s rude to customers.

One day a young mother is in her line, who says, “Can you tell me the total as you ring it up? I’m not sure I have enough money to cover all this –“

“You know what? That’s fine,” Irene says. “Just take it.”

Instantly we here Irene being paged over the store’s loudspeaker: Please report to the manager’s office.

Aha, she’s gonna be fired for giving away groceries, the audience thinks. (The audience is relieved because we’re back in familiar territory here: Irene! The cokehead with the heart of gold.)

But, in fact, just coincidently, it’s time for a performance review. The managers have noticed how slow she’s become at the register and ask her if there are any circumstances in her life that might permit them to make allowances for her –

“All right,” says Irene. “You really wanna know what’s happening? I used to be high all the time, and that made me really fast. But now I’m clean and I’m slow.”

“Irene, you know our policy here about drug use,” the manager says. And he fires her.

After that she starts cleaning houses. It's a better job, actually, though I think we're supposed to believe that she's come down in the world.

A lot of other stuff happens too. Irene falls in love with a smack chippy and keeps on falling. She falls and falls and falls. She’s still falling at the end of the movie; we’re really not sure whether she’s hit bottom.
But the job stuff is what spoke to me.

The job stuff and the scenes of the brutal rural New York winter. Those incidental flash-by shots of snow mounds crusted with black, littered with broken plastic Santa Clauses and faded American flags. Snow mounds in the parking lots of churches and community buildings where the film’s various characters struggle through 12 step meetings.

Winter’s Bone covered some of the same territory but at a safer remove: I mean, people are supposed to be poor in the Ozarks, right? It’s part of the fairy tale. Winter’s Bone also had that great mythical quest structure and a happy ending – Jennifer Lawrence saves the homestead!

I don’t know what the takeaway is supposed to be from a movie like this. That drugs are bad? I suspect the reason it'shard to find the takeaway is because Granik actually thinks drugs are value-neutral. It’s what you have to do to get those drugs that's bad. A saner world would understand that heroin is just another brand of Prozac. A saner world might even try to find meaningful employments for its residents.

Sadly, there's nothing you can do about New York winters.
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Up until the wee hours watching The Paperboy, the movie Winter's Bone would have been if it had been scripted by Tennessee Williams and directed by John Waters. I LUVED it unabashedly! Southern Gothic at its most brilliant and over the top.

Word of caution: This is not a movie for everyone. People who don't get it are gonna hate it a lot.

I see by the liner notes that the movie is adapted from a novel by Pete Dexter, which just has me reeling! I always think of Dexter as such a spare, elegiac writer. Though I suppose Hillary van Wetter is a demonic bad guy in the classic tradition of Paris Trout.

The action takes place in the late 1960s in the town of Lately (!), Florida. Ward Jansen, a newspaper reporter who blew the town as quickly as possible after growing up there, returns – with a black sidekick named Yardley Acheman and a mission: to prove Hillary van Wetter, denizen of the local swamps, was unjustly framed for the murder of a sheriff that took place a decade before.

Ward is the son of the local newspaper owner. Ward's brother Jack – the titular "paperboy" – is an 18 year old who's just been kicked out of college and spends his time stalking around the house in his underwear and being chastised by Anita, the family's black maid, who also serves as the Omniscient Narrator. Ward enlists Jack's aid to drive him to and from the prison where Hillary van Wetter is incarcerated.

Matthew McConaughey plays Ward Jansen. I must say, I'd pay $15 for a first run movie ticket just to hear Matthew McConaughey drawl in that strange indefinable Southern accent of his, slippery as okra. Fortunately, thanks to Ben's Netflix account, I don't have to! Zac Effren plays Jack Jansen. He pouts a lot and out-Marky Mark's Mark Wahlberg's original Calvin Klein underwear ads, making The Paperboy perfect aversion therapy for anyone who's still fixated on High School Musical. Macy Gray is very good as Anita. Who knew she could act?

Ward, Yardley and Jack are joined by Charlotte Bless, a woman who has been corresponding with Hillary van Wetter in prison and is determined to marry him.

Nicole Kidman plays Charlotte, and she is fucking brilliant. As an aside, I've never really warmed to Nicole Kidman – even a decade after The Divorce, she's still got major Tom Cruise cooties. (People who make the mistake of supposing that actors are human beings will not understand this aversion, I suppose. We know better, don't we?) One arched eyebrow more and Kidman would have tottered over into Mickey Spillane paperback cover territory, but she was note perfect playing Charlotte, the backwoods slut who sets her cap for the man behind the bars.

My boyfriend John Cusack plays Hillary van Wetter. From a boyfriend point of view, I prefer John when he is making puppy eyes at Ione Skye or bashing Dan Ackroyd over the head with a TV. He is genuinely menacing in this, again a finely nuanced performance because one wrong note and the whole thing would lurch into high comedy.

Indeed, the film is extremely funny because of the clever ways it uses various movie clichés. But you're laughing because you're in on an extremely sophisticated, multi-layer joke.

Practically every scene in this is a small well–thought out gem, but two scenes in particular stand out.

The first is the scene When Charlotte Meets Hillary in the prison waiting room… So over the top, your mouth literally falls open. Take this, you coy Basic Instinct pervs, the director seems to be saying. The scene is mesmerizing, disturbing, exhilerating and also very, very funny.

Then there's that other scene when Scott Glenn is, uh, interacting with an alligator while he's casually chatting with Ward and Jack.

Anyway, I totally loved The Paperboy. I want to send Lee Daniels a bouquet of orange blossoms. Or something. I will note in passing that there are holes in the plot large enough to drive your Daddy's badass Dodge Ram through, but then plot is not the point of this film.
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I saw Shame last night, which was brilliant, mesmerizing, thought provoking and utterly pornographic, a movie I wouldn’t recommend to anyone and I wouldn’t see again in a thousand years.

Before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as privacy. People lived, ate, defecated and copulated in concert. When they were done, depending on their social class, they either lurched out into the fields to harvest hops for the liege or set forth to redeem Jerusalem from the Infidel.

The Industrial Revolution compartmentalized labor and in doing so, gave rise to the notion of privacy. Americans seem to believe that “privacy” is such a basic concept, so analogous to “life” and “liberty,” that it’s actually entombed somewhere in the Constitution. That’s simply not true. The Founding Fathers had a notion of modesty, but not of privacy, and the idea that the Constitution defends the modern notion of privacy is simply laughable.

Pornography is privacy’s fetish.

On the surface, Shame is about sex addiction. The film is so amazingly well done that we follow Brandon, its sexually addicted protagonist, without so much as a snicker through the sordid sortées that comprise his life – masturbating 10 times a day, hooker visits, online playmates, encounters with random strangers in bars. Michael Fassbender not only goes full frontal, he actually urinates on screen! I call that brave acting. Nonetheless, my boyfriend George Clooney is a lock on this year’s Oscar, Mick.

In the middle of all this, Brandon’s sister appears out of nowhere. One senses she’s as damaged as Brandon – very wisely, writer/director Steve McQueen chooses not to tell us why or how the siblings became so damaged; in that sense Shame is more of a cinematic short story than a novel. Sissy uncovers Brandon’s sex addiction. (My avoidance of the verb “discover” here is deliberate: One senses that she knows everything there is to know going in.) The cars pile up on the highway.

The film has two incredibly great moments.

The first is Sissy singing New York, New York in a nightclub. She is a horrible singer, but at the same time a brilliant singer, managing to turn the upbeat promotional jingle into a dirge of such profound pathos and pain that the hairs on my neck literally stood up.

The second scene is a moment when Brandon hits bottom. This is not a bottom in the Friends of Bill sense of the word: The audience senses that Brandon hits “bottom” many, many times over the course of, say, a week and like a little red rubber ball whose core has been gnawed by rats keeps right on bouncing back up.

He’s spent the first part of the evening fingering a Staten Island girl in a low-rent bar. Does he go down on you? I love eating pussy. I want to taste you. I want to taste inside of you. The interesting thing about Brandon here is that he’s a complete nonentity most of the time, projecting absolutely nothing, but in the grips of his sexual addiction he sprouts this Mephistophelean appeal that is riveting. (Note to Academy: Sirs, maybe you really should reconsider that Clooney lock!) Staten Island girl’s boyfriend beats the shit out of Brandon and he ends standing in line up in front of a club. Across the street, a muscular black guy leans against the empty window of an abandoned department store. Drug dealer? Male hooker? We just don’t know. “Not tonight,” the bouncer tells Brandon, and as those words are uttered, the mysterious black guy opens the door to the empty building and vanishes. Brandon follows him inside to what is surely one of the circles of hell. Every kind of male-on-male sexual activity you could possibly imagine taking place in this awful, awful place filled with commercial refuse, capitalism’s graveyard. As the black guy sinks in front of Brandon, we see Brandon snarling. Orgasm is no release, just another form of self-abuse – for which read self destruction

As I say, brilliant but the very opposite of a – heh-heh – feel good movie. Not for the faint of heart!

In other exciting news, my pipes unfroze. I can do my dishes again in the kitchen sink.


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Every Day Above Ground

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