Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dangerous Work, Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle (Conclusion)


This is the continuation of Dangerous Work, Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle who is the memoir of a twenty-year-old Doyle. Following the burial at sea of Arthur Milne and the killing of 2450 seals so far, I had to take a break. Now I can continue.
Doyle is engaging in those typical activities confined sailors tinker with: stuffing birds, converting haul into useful tools and luxuries, games, boxing, and whale bone. He’s rather proud of his marksmanship and kills. With heavier ice they hope for bigger seals. Racing with other vessels to better killing fields. The slaughter is undefined and without discipline. An ugly bloody scene. There is disappointment in tone as he tells of such meager harvests. The charts of the kills by each sailor is augmented with a drawing of his kill of five bulls on a piece of ice including the red blood streaming to the water. “Captain is disappointed and rightly so” remarks, Doyle. The drawings are exquisite.
The Thursday, May 13th entry is brilliant.
I hear from the engine room that Mr McLeod, our chief engineer, has done me the honour to read my private log every morning, and make satirical comments on it at table, and among his own firemen. Now I would as soon that he read my private letters as my journal, in fact a good deal sooner, and it is just one of those things which I won’t stand for in any man. If any man meddles with my private business I know how to deal with him. I am only astonished that a man professing religious principles should act with such a want, I won’t say of gentlemanly honour, but of common honesty. If he does it after this warning he shall answer for it to me. A sensible man might be trusted, but a man who will talk about my prejudices against boiled beef &c, in the engine room must be suppressed. I hope this may meet his eye in the morning.

Four shots into a huge walrus. It seemed to smile as it swam away. Reading the ship for whaling. News from other ships yield info on good spots and bad spots. Iceland was a good spot. Doyle turns 21 600 miles from the Pole.  He is learning the art of storytelling in this diary. He uses anecdotes to illustrate a point. The anecdotes are filled with good prose. Whaling is hard work, just to try to catch up to one or four. More failures than successes. Lots of socializing as ships tend to moor near each other and use the little boats to shuttle back and forth. Sometimes when they have made a kill another predator scoops it up before the sailor can fetch his kill. Doyle is a collector of data about the zoological findings he had on the journey.
The reproduced images of the volume’s marbleized covers are glorious to see as I view the back of Vol I- II and the front of Vol III. They and other ships are shooting any thing and everything that moves up there. One day it is bears, the next it is birds. Navigating the ice fields is constant so that the ship doesn’t get frozen in or damaged. Reading Tristram Shanty. Our ships are having better luck than Hope. “Hopes not realized as usual.”  Boredom sets in as the wind dies and the are becalmed in waters without a ripple. Quiet and still.
When the wind does blow and seas get big, chasing a whale in a long boat can be very dangerous and ends with an abandonment of the chase for safer quarters back on ship. They get their first whale and have it stowed in nine hours. They are in the land of the midnight sun. Soon after this first small whale, they kill a whale five times the size of the first and thereby secure a successful trip. Once the fog sets in, the trip will end since visibility is terrible and dangerous as the ice fields begin to grow larger.
This adventure of Doyle’s provides a hint of how the character of Watson evolved. Watson is Doyle, a doctor, a companion, but most of all a chronicler. Doyle’s Hope log is a first draft for what will become the classic Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dangerous Work, Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle


Dangerous Work, Diary of an Arctic Adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle is the memoir of a twenty-year-old Doyle. Doyle, a third year medical student at Edinburgh University, is offered the position of a surgeon on a British whaler, Hope, from a fellow medical student who has the position but can’t go.  Doyle goes on what will be a most crucial adventure that will inform him about his famous characters Watson and Holmes.
Doyle has many of the characteristics of his two fictional characters. Doyle was a boxer and used it to clear his mind and stay in shape, much as Holmes is distracted by physical exercise. Doyle is also a good surgeon especially in the throes of chaos and adverse conditions like Watson’s war experiences as a surgeon.
The first part of the voyage involves seal hunting after the breeding season. Ghastly business this, though Doyle partakes in the ritual of clubbing seals to death. He also gains the nickname of “Northern Diver” because he falls into the icy water so many times and nearly dies a couple of times. They only got two whales so the trip wasn’t the best for the captain and others; it was a life changing adventure for Doyle. He declined an invitation to return the next season as the surgeon and a harpooner.
The book is comprised of three parts, the first two being the same text. The first part is Doyle’s facsimile of his diary in his hand. The second part is a typed transcript of the facsimile for easier reading. The third part consists of four writings of Doyle’s using this arctic trip as inspiration: The Glamour of the Arctic; Life on a Greenland Whaler; The Captain of the “Pole Star”; The Adventure of Black Peter the closest Holmes story to use the knowledge learned on the Hope.
The hand penned diary is fun to read. His hand is good, legible, tight, and even. It is slow reading. Reminds me of how I read student handwritten papers as compared to the digital work I received for CyberEnglish. It’s quaint, it’s reminiscent, it’s nostalgic, it’s not easy or fun to read. I referred to it while reading the easier transcript reading that follows the hand written diary.
The diary is entertaining as Doyle is having fun with the language. As the ship is navigating around the ice fields, he navigates around the details with which he makes accounts of evenings ashore, “Then went down to Mrs Brown’s and lost sight of them (his companions). Had a very hospitable reception there. Told me to make their home my home.” and then mentioning one evening he would stay aboard and start Boswell’s life of Johnson. Just as I did lots of reading I Vietnam, Doyle will do lots of reading on the Hope. The tools of communication thrill me, the mail and the quill pens. The mail arrives on a packet ship that traverses the coasts delivering and picking up mail from sailors on ships in the harbors the packets service. He is writing this diary with a quill pen and I can see it and read it, “Nothing like a quill pen for writing a journal with, but this is such a confounded bad one.” A unique feature of the transcribed part is the immersion of letters written by Doyle on the days they were written. Another layer. The letter is so very proper in providing good gossip and the odd inclusion of high brow literary allusions. He is frank and candid when he wants to be, “Lerwick is a town of crooked streets and ugly maidens & fish. A most dismal hole, with 2 hotels & I billiard table. Country road is barren & ugly.” He explains “There is an act of Parliament forbidding us to kill a seal before April 2nd, that is why we are kicking about here.”
The transcript portion of the diary has great footnotes. Quotes Boswell often and mentions Macauley’s Essays. Early in trip they are a hundred miles north of Iceland. Drawings, too, in the diary. Amongst the large ice fields bobbing around the boat portend seals. They start seeing them. At dinner there is “Talk on literature with the Captain, he thinks Dickens very small beer beside Thackery.” Okay, get this. While waiting in one of the largest collections of mammals ever, the seals before the April 2nd killing spree begins, Doyle “Saw a clever couplet today: Till Silence, like a poultice comes, To heal the blows of Sound. Holmes I think.” I used Google to confirm his attribution. The weather of course is a major concern as is a keen eye to the glass (the barometer). We are reminded that Frankenstein takes place on an arctic whaler because Mary Shelley was familiar with the industry and whaling. After first day of killing seals, “We got 760 seals today. Poor work.” The next day, he then fell into the water three times and they only got 460 seals. Next day, “Took 270 young & 58 old.” The next day was more poor work of only 133. The next only 30. Eight drawings sequencing the death of the seal appear on the page in the diary as if they are eight separate drawings overlapping each other on a table. Meanwhile a sailor, Andrew Milne is dying on board Hope. Carlyle’s Hero Worship. Andrew is buried at sea and the seal hunt continues.
I will continue this in a couple of days.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wise Men by Stuart Nadler


Wise Men by Stuart Nadler is about the men in the Wise family in the 1950’s. The father, Arthur, was a lawyer and made his reputation on a plane accident. He was an ambulance chaser living poorly in New Haven. He soon moved his family closer to New York in a northern suburb as the money and reputation kept growing with more houses at fancy NYC addresses. Then he bought a second home on the Cape in Bluepoint, which came with a gardener, Lem, a black man.  This Bluepoint house was a dream come true for the mother, a retreat for the father, and with a second small house for his law partner, Robert, to live. Lem would spend his days shuttling papers between the two houses because Robert’s house was without a telephone. Lem discovered the secret and kept it safe in a jewel box that his niece, Savannah would give to Hilly during their last encounter with all their children.
The son, Hilly, would come of age here thanks to the tutelage of Lem. There is a girl, Savannah, so named cause she was born there, and her no good father, Charles, who can throw a baseball. She is Lem’s niece; her dead mom was his sister. Hilly takes her foodstuff because of her poverty and he is infatuated with her, always will be. His parents over buy and usually buy label merchandise. Hilly constantly identifies stuff bought by the brand name. By the end of Part I, chaos rules. Lem is jailed and killed in jail. His partner, Robert, beats up Hilly’s father. Hilly and Savannah are dancing around trying to avoid the adults without success.
Part II begins in the fall of 1972 with Hilton Wise, a Boston Spectator reporter of five years visiting Charles Ewing, Savannah’s dad, in Ebbington, Iowa, following a brick thrown through the window of his restaurant, which was across the street from a ball field. Hilly started by covering sports, then got bored so he moved to racial attacks in hopes of finding Savannah, in spite having a girl friend, Jenny, the past two years. Hilly decides to tap into his father’s blood money to help people. When he finally goes home to the Cape and Jenny and his dad another black man, Charles, Savannah’s father dies in an auto accident. Bluepoint is now gated.
Part III finds us in 2008. Hilly has four daughters, his mom and wife of 34 years, Jenny, are dead and the old man has been in a plane crash. He is returning to Bluepoint, where Hilly has taken up residence. It is now cantankerous Arthur, down to earth Robert, and Hilly with his girls, the older three being married. Another death, Robert’s and it all comes down to the truth as presented by a reporter doing a book on Arthur, which is all lies. It’s all about our little secrets and the boxes in which they are kept.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rituals & Routines

Instead of a book review today, I'm going to speak about rituals and routines. The routine of most days is an easy rising. During breakfast I watch the DVR'ed John Stewart and The Colbert Report. Breakfast is oatmeal with an egg or toasted raisin bread with peanut butter. I then take a bike ride anywhere from 30 miles to 100 miles. If I don't take a bike ride, I spend more time at the beach, if it is a beach day. If I don't go to the beach, lunch at about 3PM is the big meal of the day consisting of meat, fish, or chicken with three to four vegetables. If I go to the beach, I take the main meat and veggies I can grill or I premake something like pasta and pesto and eat around six. At the beach, I read magazines and journals. I don't take books to the beach. I read New York Review of Books, New Yorker, Atlantic, and Smithsonian. I fish or not depending on tide and wind. I watch the sunset. I listen to Yankee games when they are on. During night home stands, I take wood for a fire. The moon entertains me. And of course the night sky on a clear or partly cloudy evening is awesome. My favorite evenings are those around the full moon when the sun sets and then the moon rises soon thereafter and when the Yankees win.

The ritual of Book reading begins in the early hours upon rising before breakfast and at night at bedtime and haphazardly during the day. If it isn't an outdoor day, I do lots of book reading. Book reading is controlled by the weather. During the day between chores, I will stop and read a chapter or section of a book.

Time is measured in pages not minutes.

Happy birthday Caitlin.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a book within a book. Henry, a young shortstop has learned about baseball from reading The Art of Fielding and it is the only book he owns. He is a machine at short and when asked by his mom after each game, “How many errors did you make?” He slaps his mitt and shouts, “Zero” which also happens to be the name of his mitt. No one touches his mitt and no one brings it out to him if he is left on the bases. He is not good at the plate. He is discovered by a student at Westish College and gets a full ride. How all this comes about is curious. There is a The Natural feel about this story.
He doesn’t look like an athlete, let alone lime a baseball player, so when coaches put him in right or at second he just goes to short and waits to prove that is his position. After each game his coaches would hit balls to him and he was perfect, flawless, other worldly. He is mythical like Roy Hobbs.
This isn’t a book about baseball per se. It is about Henry; Owen, his gay college roommate and baseball teammate; Schwartz, his upper lass mentor; Affenlight, Westish’s president; and his daughter Pella. It is about scholarship. It is about sex as a comfort, mistake, and accident. It is about how we need to practice practice practice, so that the result seems seamless and natural. It is about those dark places in our lives we try to keep hidden and behind us. It is about fear, the fear of failure when so much is hoped and expected. It is about money.
On one occasion President Affenlight is walking through the halls of Phumber Hall, the freshperson dorm, as comes upon one of the ubiquitous dry erase boards that hang on the doors of each room. “On one, a stick figure man faced a stick figure woman. An arrow pointed to his shoulder–high tumescence –THESIS, it read. Another pointed to the blacked-in hair between her legs – ANTITHESIS. Well thought Affenlight, that about covers it.”
I’m not sure what the main plot is and which are the minor plots. The interactions are interesting and in some cases rather surprising bordering on not believable. One thing is constant is the attention to Henry and “his wing.” Fear of success is certainly a main theme in this novel.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Land of Unlikeness by Jim Harrison

Heading off to tend to his ailing eighty-five year old mother, Clive, driving the familiar roads of Michigan, is a sad sack sixty-one year old once artist now art professor, divorced, and out of a job because he was attacked is whom we meet in The Land of Unlikeness by Jim Harrison. He misses turns, he drives slowly, and he stops to delay his arrival to the house in which he grew up. He is spelling his sister, Margaret, who is taking her first trip to Europe. He examines the paintings, which were hung by his sister, of his youth, where he learned to paint. He examines them with a more critical eye and remembers his youth. He wonders about the time he was an artist and how that changed so that now he was an art professor. Clive ventures out into the thicket to get away and to walk. He naps and dreams of his childhood sweetheart, Laurette. He wakes and is lost as he always was and remembers the time he went fishing with his dad and had to go back for the forgotten worms in the truck. Margaret is blowing a dog whistle cause she knows he is lost and he ambles home, scratched and worn out. Mother, Margaret, and Clive spend the last evening together with a mediocre meal, lacking spices and flavor. Margaret is ready two hours before departure the next day. She can’t wait to get on the road. Clive is left with mom and Margaret has told him his old sweetheart has ought the family home, which is next door. 

While washing his mom’s car, Laurette shows up, invites him for drinks at six and drives off. His mom warns him not to go, but he does. He meets Laurette’s female lover, Lydia, who treats Clive badly. After two drinks he stumbles home and his mom pours a pitcher of water on him as he has fallen on the front lawn. And here Clive is supposed to be taking care of his eighty-five year old mom. Slowly he missed NYC less. He looked forward to getting to his canvas each morning. “The Great Debate began to arise, something that had been with him most poignantly for six decades or so, philosophically and politically: the conviction that mayhem rules and nothing solidly constructive can be done about it.” I concur as I reflect on my own habit of watching the DVR’d Daily Show and The Colbert Report every morning with my breakfast before a bike ride or yard chores. I, too, found the move here had its moments of regret about the need for NYC, but that soon abated and now trips to NYC are not needed but done to see people and then escape to this, my first love. I’m reading now with such joy and no encumbrances like work. His mom reflects on Clive’s painting again. “But I’m glad you’re painting again. Way back when you were an artist you were happier. You’d come out for the summer visit with Tessa and Sabrina and we’d have picnics and we drove up to Mackinac Island and stayed in a fancy hotel. Remember? When you became a big shot professor you always acted like you were at a funeral.” Clive has come full circle back to his first love. He has sublet the NYC apartment for six months and will use the other six as a wandering painter. 
I can relate to how we get to our second life and appreciate the now as my hummingbirds scurry about the feeder and the sound of early morning chatter, the monotonous waves pounding continually even when I’m not there, and the road racing along under my handlebars. And then I find myself relaxed with my first love, a book.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker


Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker is a hauntingly beautiful novel that resides in the naturalistic rural country mind. What have happened to three of the geese? She has taken up residence in an abandoned farm. She is following a scholarly path via the Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson. She is returning to her roots and is going native. She is in a rented house far from anyone and without curtains, though she thinks she needs them. The fireplace works well and she takes naps on boulders. One day a badger bit her as she was sleeping nude on a boulder. Sheep and other livestock visit her house. She is tending to the landscape and gardens, but doesn’t know what things are what. Why is she here? Is it refuge from a failed marriage and teaching job?
She has a symbiotic relationship to Emily Dickenson. She lives alone in this rustic abandoned farm doing chores around the farm to accommodate the geese and garden. It is her sanctuary just as Emily had the attic of her dad’s house in Amherst. She abandoned her mobile phone on the ferry over to UK and thereby abandoned all electronics and going old school.
Rhys Jones, a local farmer/shepherd fills her in on Mrs Evans, the former tenant of the farm. The geese are hers and she gets a lamb in the spring in exchange for grazing rights. He has a key to the place, which he turns over to her. She has had her Collected Works of Emily Dickenson for a decade and never noticed in the TOC that the LOVE section was short, whereas the TIME & ETERNITY section was long. She cried.
Each day bring one less goose. She is getting less lost on her walks and drives. She is seeing Emily in her garden Her husband, father and mother have no idea where she is.  The husband gets a foot injury as does his wife, Emilie, from the badger. His was from a box of books, her books he was storing away, that fell on his foot. While at the doctor, he discovered something medical about her. We learn her name when a walking traveler, Bradwen Jones, and his dog, Sam, stop by her house.
Everyone doesn’t believe she was bitten in the middle of the day by a badger. They are nocturnal and shy. Everyone thinks she is German when she speaks. She is Dutch. She thinks everyone named Jones is related. She can’t seem to get rid of Bradwen and Sam. He does things around the house and Emilie wonders about how Emily could live as she did. Is there envy?
She has admired Emily all her life and unlike Emily she has allowed the men in her life call the shots. She admires Emily and wants to be Emily Dickenson.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd


What will cause a born pacifist, a man raised as a Quaker, one who lived consciously in a neutral country to suddenly enlist in an army to fight is how Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd begins. The cause is the tragic death of his mother and fiancée during a sneak attack by a German submarine in the harbor on the Portugal island of Madeira on 3 December 1916. Four years later during early summer of 1920, Billings, of Scotland Yard, hears of a dead man who has washed up on the coast of Sussex, England. Upon examination he discovers it is not the man is looking for. Late summer 1920, a body is discovered on a dark street in London soon after the body on the coast. It has apparently been struck by a motorcar and dragged some; however there are no signs of dragging and no blood found in the street. In addition, the constable on duty found the body at half past and didn’t see it during his last pass while the coroner states he has been dead for hours. When interviewing a resident, Mr Belford, Ian Rutledge, the senior Scotland Yard detective on the scene is told by Belford that the body must have been killed elsewhere and dumped here as he excuses himself and returns home. The only way to identify the dead man is through his watch, which gets us back to Lisbon. Rutledge believes the dead man is Lewis French because of the watch. But there were two watches and maybe an illegitimate child.
Rutledge served in WWI. He had to execute Hamish MacLeod for failing to obey an order. It was under his dead body after the execution that Rutledge was found alive following a vicious bomb attack by the Germans. Every so often when Rutledge is in deep thought, he has conversations with Hamish, sometimes out loud. “Hamish said, ‘Aye, It smacks of failure.’ And for the rest of the journey Hamish seemed to hover just behind his shoulder, commenting on everything that Rutledge preferred to set aside.” Rutledge is trying to find the identity of the dead man and is spending lots of time in Essex, the country home of Lewis French. He’s learning a lot about Lewis, but still no Lewis.
Finally they find the car in Surrey and suddenly many clues from the past lead to Surrey. The past is rearing its ugly head in the present and creating chaos for the French family and confounding Rutledge. There is a fancy ladies handkerchief found in the found car and Rutledge is wondering where it will lead. Desdemona and her lost handkerchief come to mind. Things are going slowly, maybe a bit too slowly. The investigation is so circuitous as well, as they follow any lead. Then the other partner Traynor has gone missing and it is Hamish who offers the soundest advice. “Twa men, partners in the same firm, missing. It’s no’ likely to be coincidence.”
Hamish thinks Rutledge is ‘supping with the devil’ as the latter has brought Belford into the case and coerced the French, French, and Traynor lawyers to do some legwork for him as well. Rutledge is stumped and is ‘supping with the devil’ to solve this case. Trying to force the killer’s hand Ian sets himself as bait “the goat to the tiger” and has made an arrest to further confuse the situation.
I love how the English are so into their gardens.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Two Time by Chris Knopf


Last time we saw Sam Acquillo, Burton, his good buddy, was about to bring his estranged daughter into see him. What happens in the second installment of Sam’s life in Two Time by Chris Knopf is a stunning car explosion on a dock during a magnificent sunset killing five and injuring Sam and his lawyer Jackie Swaitkowski. Joe Sullivan puts Sam on the case, off the record, after three weeks of nothing happening the State and Federal officials turned it over to the local guys. Joe wants Sam to do the heavy lifting with the very weird widow and then turn over what he gets to Joe for follow up. Ross, Joe’s boss, ain’t to get wind of this. Ross doesn’t like Sam and will fire or dock Joe in half a New York minute.
Sam has a good way with people. He was able to put the widow at ease and to even open up. His car radio is tuned to the LIU jazz station. He thinks about how he is going to attack a carpentry job he is working on at home while driving or just reflecting on the scenery. He’s good to his friend Jackie. Continuing on in his usual way he begins to upset people causing the near death of his cop friend, Joe. Now Ross is on it. He has made up with Amanda and Eddie his dog, is getting proper attention. The investigation is opening cans of worms and Sam knows he is in over his head, but not sure yet, how far. He will find out soon.
Sam communicates with his daughter, Allison, in haiku like fashioned email. He still maintains his boxing skills at the local gym and source for some info from a former cop. It’s good he keeps up these skills as they come in handy when he runs into minor trouble. His engineering skills are always useful as he is building an addition to his shack, doing finish work for a local contractor, of hobnobbing with the artsy crowd and discussing large environmental projects. Butch, the brother of the dead man and local performance artist, created a performance where his crew changed the oil and balanced the wheels on Sam’s ’67 Grand Prix. Sam offers an idea based on his engineering knowledge for a large project Butch and his crew are considering. Sam is a renaissance man.
Sam discovers the truth about the case from a trip to NYC and back as well as about life. “..but the greater salve was being back in the company of my home, back from those places that weren’t livable for me anymore.” This is exactly how I feel when I’m returning from my trips back to NYC, which are less frequent now. His social engineering skills are magnificent. For a man with out a cell and an answering service, he sure can talk his way into anyplace to talk to anyone; and when talk doesn’t help, he can always use a sledgehammer and pry bar. Sam is a resourceful man with influential friends and associates.
Now as for Amanda.


Friday, June 7, 2013

The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison


The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison reminds me of so many things, John Cheever’s The Swimmer and the movie with Burt Lancaster; my daughter who spent one summer swimming back and forth in Colgate Lake in Copake, NY; my dog who loved to swim he Delaware River instead of being in the canoe with me during my three to five day sojourns on that river in my youth. I’m not a swimmer anymore, but I can stay in the ocean, river, or lake for hours healing. Thad is such a young swimmer. His family tree is complicated and he apparently retreated to the only refuge he had, the local river, for solace and to get away from all the madness around him. Thad lives up on the UP near Ludington on Lake Michigan and to escape the wrath of a father whose daughter fancies Thad and spends time with Thad at his camp on an island in a river that feeds the big Lake, he decides tom swim to Chicago. During his trip he spends the night with some fisherman and one reflects, “I fished ninety days in a row. Not a dime for a shrink. I am like the kid here. It’s water that heals a man!” Oh I so concur. I have to be near water myself. The main reason I’m here is Assateague and the ocean, which is my playground and refuge. He meets a young lady, Emily, with whom he has sex and meets later in Chicago, where his dad will give him a job. Upon arriving in Chicago he rests on the cement pier of the Meigs Field Airport and is taken to a rooming house of the sister of the cop who has come to tell him he can’t be on this cement pier. I love the implausibility of all of this already.
Back home, Thad is tending to family and the garden with his new friends, Emily and her dad. Laurie’s dad is still the problem. His favorite book was The Rivers of the World. He read it and reread it and dreamed of swimming in as many as he could. If swimming gave him life, of course, it could take life, too. Thad knew this and experienced all of this as he swam and swam and swam. It was his nature.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shakespeare in the Park: Comedy of Errors


Yesterday, I arrived at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park at 9 AM to stand in line for the free Shakespeare in the Park production of Comedy of Errors. I was closer to the beginning of the line then ever before when I usually arrive at 6 AM or earlier. It is the fourth show and the reviews haven’t come out yet. It is a Tuesday and people work. Lots of college kids in the line. I always had to go on a weekend, because I was working during the weekdays.
The show started at 8:30 PM and lasted 90 minutes without an intermission. The evening was clear and cool which was a relief after the last four hot muggy evenings at Yankee Stadium. The set was colorful with three structures on stage that served as the various settings of the play and revolved to change. The time was the roaring ‘20’s. On stage were three pairs of dancers dancing to swing jazz on the jukebox. They were dressed accordingly.
Comedy of Errors is a comedy I go to when I need to belly laugh. It is a very very funny play and even funnier when produced well, and this production hit all the marks well and was done magnificently.  The dancers were the crew who did the set changes as they danced while removing and adding furniture. In this production the same actors played Antipholus and Dromio. For the conclusion a second pair were used, with their backs to the audience. I’ve seen the play done at Hofstra in the late 80’s with twins in these roles and again recently in Stratford with the same actor for each twin like this production.
The key to this very jazzy production was the music, the dancers between scenes, and the physical gymnastics on stage by the entire cast. The movement was ballet/Broadway without the singing, except from the Courtesan. It was a very fast paced, tightly choreographed laugh a minute romp with a neat twist on the character of the Duke played as a stereotype gangster and the nuns as gun toting molls.
What a delightful treat.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Double Feature by Owen King


When I was a boy I loved going to the movies on the odd Saturday afternoon for the double features first with some friends then with my favorite girl. So often one was a musical or even an Elvis Presley movie.   Double Feature by Owen King is from the other side of the camera. A father, Booth, and a son, Sam, wake in Sam’s godfather’s house, Tom Ritts. Ritts has gone to work and left a fresh pot of coffee for the late sleepers. Booth a former B movie actor whose career is dead has read Sam’s screenplay, Who Are We, (oh the angst) and is criticizing it too early in the morning and definitely before that important first cup of morning joe. A great father son riff, especially when the son refers to his dad by his first name, Booth. And an interesting point Sam says to Booth, “Do you listen to anything I say, Booth? Because I have the impression that, to you, my voice in on the same frequency as a dog whistle.”
Sam hustles friends and others for the money to film in the fields at his college in upstate New York. He hustles a named actor to appear at scale. He makes regular sex phone calls to Polly in Florida. He keeps getting a bill from a man who made a nose with a mole on it for his father, who has no cell phone; lack of payment and Sam is expected to pay a debt incurred by his father. The sins of the father and all that jazz. In spite of nature’s inconsistency, a three-day hospital stay, the movie gets made, but not as planned. Someone mentioned he should have had Booth, his father, in the movie. Sam said “Yeah, should have but never thought about it.” Then he falls into the place of remembrance about Booth and his time with him when he was a boy with his mom and dad, Booth. He can’t rely on Booth now that his assistant director, Brook, and moneybags have altered his work. Time to regroup, Sam’s been hustled.
Fade out Sam, 2003, Zoom in Booth 1969. Booth at twenty-nine, is an old time carnie huckster, a talker, a flim flam man, a con man a la Prof Harold Hill. I see Christoph Waltz playing him or Booth playing Waltz. He assembles a crew of unsuspecting people, including, Allie, Sam’s mom to make an improbable movie, New Roman Empire without a budget etc etc. It is the classic Mickey Rooney Judy Garland quip of “Let’s make a movie.” Well as fate would step in, a New Yorker critic is stranded in a one-theater town for the night and she happens to see it. It is so bad it is camp and instantly the movie develops a cult following of critics who liken it to Orson Welles, Booths’ hero and muse. But this is Booth we have learned, and perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His defense of Allie’s honor against her music professor is so Groucho Marx. Booth is so movie oriented it is as if he stepped out of the movie and into real life, as in The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Fade out Booth, 1971, Zoom in Sam weddingographer, 2011. Weddingographer? What happened? He lives I Brooklyn now with an acrophobic roommate, Wesley.  The DVD of Who We Are that he thought he threw away in 2003 has reemerged and is a cult film in bars and on college campuses across the country. Sam was able to get his name deleted from the film. Commercials have to be silenced so he doesn’t hear the voices of Polly’s husband and Booth’s. He is even skipping out bathroom windows to avoid women. Sam and his half sister, Mina, join forces as life gets crazier and more insane and Booth is ill, Sandra is committed, and a vagrant wields a sword.
Flashback to 1991 and career day when Booth goes to Sam’s class for some ‘interesting’ interaction between father and son. His learning begins with Allie and Tom as they answers Sam’s question about why they like Booth, his dad. A classmate, Gloria, just hopes Booth won’t be boring. He isn’t. Father and son see lots of movies together. Booth’s secret to acting is in his suitcase of fake noses. But Sam hates Booth because he knows Sandra, Booth’s mistress who constantly calls the house and hangs up when Allie answers the phone and is hung up on by Sam.  “Tom Ritts gave him (Sam) a VHS camcorder for his twelfth birthday. ‘From your dad,’ Tom said, the sole instance that Sam could recall of his god-father having told him a lie.”
Returning to 2011. Booth is dying according to Mina. It’s a lie, just a guise tom get Sam and Booth together. Sam spends time getting closer to his father. This is Act IV and the falling action is collecting it all together for the denouement. My favorite word ‘succubus’ comes up. It is defined incorrectly by Booth. No matter. I always used that word to test dictionaries. It’s a great word. It happens to me all the time in my dreams. When Sam is talking to his godfather, Tom, about Booth, Sam recalls, “Tom said that wasn’t the kind of thing they talked about, he and Booth. ‘We’re a different generation, buddy. We’re not open about our feelings. We’re old school.’” This brought me back nearly forty years. Greg, my best friend, best man at my first wedding, and godfather to my first child died tragically at twenty-five in a motorcycle accident. I was devastated. I had known Greg all my life; we were inseparable.  What I always remembered and loved about our relationship was the fact that we didn’t have to talk. He’d come over, come in, sit down, and we’d just sit in the room looking out the window at the ocean or sit I front of a fire or sit at a table drinking coffee or a beer or he’d thumb through a magazine mindlessly. After an hour or more, sometimes without saying a word the whole time, he’d get up and say on his way out, ”Thanks, see ya later.” We didn’t have to have conversations, but when we did they could be deep. We were best friends and when he died part of me died too. I don’t know if I ever recovered. I even stopped going to Nantucket after that. So when I read this account by Tom about his relationship with Booth, I got it and realized what it would have been like for Greg and me today. I still have a framed photo I took of his mom clearing a piece of cake with her hand from his chin at my daughter’s his goddaughter’s fourth birthday party a month before he died hanging in a prominent spot in my house. It’s amazing what books do to us. Everything and everyone comes together as a GTO ends up in a maple tree and Sam doesn’t give a Jurassic Park reference.
I can’t help but think of my own son. I really enjoyed the movie references throughout the novel and how appropriate they were to the action and served as great allusions at the time. You gotta love the magic hour.