I Just Finished (2)…

…for the third time (not counting the Classic Comic), Moby Dick. The first time was at camp the summer the movie came out, and all I remember is thinking a lot of time was spent on blubber. (I already knew how the story came out, which, at the time, seemed the point of books, after all.) The second time was in the 1970s, and I have no idea what I thought then. This time I was struck — and surprised — by how funny it was. Walking down the street, at the Spouter Inn, bunking with Queequeg, enjoying Mrs. Hussey’s chowder, meeting the Captains Peleg and Bildad… It’sa lotta laffs.

He’s one interesting narrator, Ishmael, if that’s even his name, “Call me…” not exactly being the same as “I am…” (And by “interesting” I don’t even mean his ability to report conversations he could not have overheard or thoughts to which he could not have had access.) Since the Pequod was the first whaler he shipped on, his account of its voyage reflects knowledge gained from so many others, he could not be spinning this tale until some decades later. And in between trips, he must have spent a lot of time ashore in libraries and museums. He studs his narrative with references to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Cartheginians. He name drops Pythagorus, Euroclydan, Elephanta, and Mungo Park. He is well versed in the history of whaling, whale anatomy, the whale in literature and art, and the symbolic import of “whiteness.” And this is revealed by a brief skim of the first couple hundred pages.

But to me, the most noteworthy thing remains that humor. It is not unrelenting. As he nears his calamitous end, Ishmael’s tone and rhythms become suitably biblical and Shakespearean in their solemnity and power. Still, the presence of humor, while telling a story that he knows will end in the destruction of an entire company of men with whom he has been in service, including one who’s become his closest friend, seems instructive.

Maybe the lesson is that, after experiencing a multitude of decades and all that surviving them brings, the ability to reflect upon them without having been entirely stripped of good humor may be a valuable thing.

p.s.
Anybody got a good biography of Melville to recommend?

We interrupt this program…

The blog I was planning for today has been temporarily (at least) postponed due to my realizing, if I added 110 words, it might fetch cash money. So what to do instead…?

Do people want to actually hear about ordinary days? From what I understand of Facebook and Instagram, could be… So…

The Wrench (not its real name) Cafe was so crowded this morning, I had to sit outside for a while. Then when I’d scored a table, a later-arriving regular asked to join me. It is a courtesy of the Wrench that people ask and no one refuses. When another table opens, the visitor usually departs. If you are working, the visitor is usually maintains silence. If you wish to chat, that usually becomes available too. We went with silence, signaled by my keeping Pandoa on (tuned to Bill Evans, after opening with Dave Alvin) and a yellow pad in front of me.

Last night, my brother Larry, the best selling author in the family (“Oogy: A Dog Only a Family Could Love”) was interviewed for 30 minutes on an internet radio show whose purpose seems to be the refurbishing of the public image of pit bulls. If anyone is interested and the show maintains its archive, I can provide a link.

I think that’s about it. See what happens when these entries aren’t planned in advance?

The Grannie

In 1937, when Leo McCarey won the Oscar for Best Director for the comedy “The Awful Truth,” he said, “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.” McCarey preferred “Make Way For Tommorow,” for which he had also been nominated. It has been called “the most depressing movie ever made,” but I had never heard of it until alerted by The Amazing Milo’s indispensible monthly guide to TCM’s showings http://www.milogeorge.com/tcmdvrjuly2014/

Good film. Tears await. But my first YOICKS! moment came when the ill-fated Beulah Bondi, as the sweet, frail, white-haired, tottering grandmother who has lost her home, says, “Well, I’m 70…” Seventy! I thought — and I’m 72!!!

Bondi was always playing grandmothers. She played Bobby Driscoll’s a decade later in “So Dear to My Heart,” one of my favorites before I was ten and started going to moview on my own. (“The Monty Stratton Story” was its only rival. Boy, I must have been a sucker for lumpy throats.)

Before MWFT had gone much further, I’d Wikipedia-ed her. Bondi was forty-eight in 1937. She lived another 44 years, making films most of the way and, no doubt, never getting cast much younger. She never married; no soignificant others are noted; and one hopes the archtype she was selected to represent for America amused her slightly.

For Your Consideration

July 25 marks the 73rd birthday of S. Clay Wilson, one of the most influential visual artists of the second half of the 20th century. Among the first wave of underground cartoonists — later branching out into illustration and gallery art — his virtually unrestrained rampages with sex and violence — but humerously, always humerously — won him praise from R. Crumb and Robert Hughes, William Burroughs and Sir Kenneth Clark. He was compared to Hogarth and exhibited with Bosch.

On November 1, 2008, under still mysterious circumstances, Wilson sustained frontal lobe damage and a broken neck. He survived but remains unable to care for himself. He and his wife Lorraine, herself disabled, live in a small apartment, dependent on Social Security and contributions to The S. Clay Wilson Special Needs Trust. If you can spare a check — or just a card, for Wilson enjoys having mail read to him, the address is POB 14854, San Francsico 94114.

For a taste of Wilson, my interview of him, which I believe is the last he gave, is on-line at http://www.tcj.com/the-s-clay-wilson-interview/

My Back Pages

My old blogs from my pre theboblevin days are available at Archive.org, should scholars or the FBI be interested. But from time-to-time, I will re-air one here. Here’s one from 2011, then called AT&T:

It’s been months since the demons of 21st century life have driven a blog from me. But they’ve struck, goddamnit, again.
Because I am phasing out of my law practice, I called AT&T to (a) reduce my services (and, hopefully, my bill) and (b) arrange installation of an extension with my office number in my home. I negotiated smoothly through the phone tree (“To insure customer satisfaction, your call may be recorded,” “If you… push 1,” “If you…push 2″) and reached a human being who helped me, lickety-split, with (a) but, initially, didn’t give me a snow ball’s shot at (b). “Is your home in the same zip code?” she inquired further. “No.” “How far away is it?” “A mile or two.” “That may work,” she said. “I’ll have a technical expert call you.”
The next day, a woman called from Houston to declare the extension impossible per se. “We do not place home extensions in offices,” she said. “Cool,” I said. “But I want an office extension in my home.” “Our records show 510-848-3818 is a home,” she said. “That very well may be,” I said, “but that is not my number; and if the woman who gave it to you made the changes in services I requested upon it, you may have two dissatisfied customers complaining to the FCC, not one.” I gave her my correct number. “Oh, that’s a business listing,” she said. “Your extension can be arranged. Let me connect you with a technician.” After two rings, I was back in the phone tree, being warned about recordings, being provided numbers to choose. This time I ended up out on a limb with a young man who had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. When I explained, he expressed doubt that I could have my extension. “Never mind,” I said. “I’ll call this woman I just spoke to.” I dialed the number she had provided – and was back barking up the same sycamore. This time I reached “Melissa.” “I really hope this call is being recorded,” I said, “so just how dissatisfied I am can be appreciated.” I then recounted what I’d been through, letting dissatisfaction seep venomously into every syllable. When I had concluded, she said, “That extension should be no problem. I’ll put you on hold for just one minute.” After having waited through inexorable semi-classic semi-music for eleven, I hung up and went home.
At this point, I know I am expected to express the life lesson to be drawn from this experience. I am at a loss as to what that might be, except: Swear a lot; slam down your receiver frequently; threaten congressional action. And never forget, they may not be worth fuckall as a phone company, but they run a hellova ballpark, with terrific garlic fries.

I Just Finished…

…A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin, an excellent book, delivering the inspirational message, if I may partially para-phrase, It took Western Europe 1500 years to get its shit together after the fall of the Roman Empire, so what can you expect in a region “where there is no sense of legitamacy — no agreement on the rules of the game — and no belief universally shared…, that within whatever boundaries, the entities that call themselves countries or men who claim to be rulers are entitled to recognition as such.”

It also strenghtened my growing belief that nations may not have been such a good idea in the first place. In a sense, they boil down to tribes squabbling over patches of dirt, and until we recognize that we are one tribe (people) on one patch of dirt (Earth), we may not make it till next Tuesday, let alone that millenium-and-a-half
Fromkin is pointing toward.

LSD in the water supply may be the remedy of choice.

[And a tip of Jimmy Hatlo's hat to S. Friedman for recommending this book -- and to Adele who, back when we were courting, caused my jaw to drop when she declared during one Olympics, "I don't believe in nations.]

Legacy

At Wh.ole Foods, I got into a discussion with a woman who had almost run over my foot with her grocery cart while I was getting the almond butter. I don’t how she made the transition but her announcement “I went to high school with Wilt Chamberlain” commanded my attention. Once we had established I was from West Philly and she was from Wynnefield, I decided to impress her with my knowledge of ’50s high school basketball, “Let’s see,” I said, “Wilt played with Johnny Sample and…” “He didn’t play,” she said. “He dropped the ball. That;s not playing. We stoipped going to the games. Who wanted to see him drop the ball? And then he wrote that terrible book that everyone in Philadelphia hated.”

She was a feisty, zesty seventy-seven-year-old, and everyone is entitled to write their own history, is how i figure.

Today’s Lesson

At the conclusion of yesterday’s episode, your narrator was about to leave for his cafe wondering which of the several regulars who received the announcement of the launching of this very web site would be the first to comment. Immediately upon his entry a woman — lovely in every respect — said, “Thank you for your e-mail. He — well, I — expected to hear words on the order of “Gee, you’ve certainly published a lot.” But instead she said, “My husband and I know many of the same people as you.” That was it for the next hour and a half.
Which reminds me again that being a writer is a good way to regularly enhance one’s sense of humility.

Thank You

The responses I’ve received to the announcement of this launching have been deeply gratifying. I only didn’t recognize one person (she’d changed her name) and no one claimed ignorance of me. All the pockets of my life I drew from were instructive and interesting. There were two guys I knew from my neighborhood, and people from high school and college and VISTA and my law career (but no clients) and guys I played basketball with but no one from law school (I only wrote two and one came back “Undeliverable”) or the cafe I go to every morning (but maybe someone will say something when i walk in) and only one (of seven) relatives.) One fellow sent me notice of his new book and a neighbor, who writes children’s books, offered to link to my site at her’s, which is sweet, though I wonder how our audiences will overlap. Two of you suggested site refinements that are being looked into and my guru, the novle Milo, and I are open to more.
So it’s been fun and educational. What more can you ask of 24 hours?

Lost No More

My pal — and web site designer — Milo George spotted this for me:.It is a bit disconcerting that it’s been two years without fame beating a path to my door, but maybe, other evidence to the contrary, it beats slower these days.