Family Interlude

Palm Trees and Snowcapped Mountains

I will be taking a few days off to go to Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley for a family get-together. In addition to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori, my niece Hilary with husband and sons; step-niece Jennifer; and step-nephew Danny will be present. Martine won’t be coming with me because she hates the Coachella Valley, having lived and worked in nearby Twentynine Palms back in the 1990s.

As I am quite sterile and prefer not to adopt, my brother’s side of the family has become increasingly important to me. In the same way, I have always maintained close relations with the children of my best friends. It’s either that or spend my declining years shouting at kids to get off my lawn.

When I get back to Los Angeles on Monday, I hope to have some good stories to tell you and pictures of my family to show you.

Indian Country

The Area Covered by the Auto Club Indian Country Map (in Orange)

This posting is about a map that I love. Ever since 1985 when I drove with my friends Peter and Gayle to the area around Flagstaff, Arizona, I have fallen in love with the Southern California Auto Club map that covers the main tourist areas of the American Southwest. It is called, simply, the Indian Country map. It covers southern Utah, Northern Arizona, southwest Colorado, and northwest New Mexico. Within its coverage area lie Acoma Sky City, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Chaco Canyon, Durango, Grand Canyon, the Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations, Lake Powell, Mesa Verde, the Petrified Forest, most of the Pueblo Indian reservations, Sandia Peak, Santa Fe, and Zion—all of which I have visited on various trips.

It is probably the most useful tourist map produced in the United States. Especially for someone like myself, who loves this part of the country above all others.

The AAA Indian Country Map

There are times when I wish I had a camper van that I could use to visit the many hundreds of tourist sights covered by this map. What with my age, I can no longer kneel on the ground to put up a tent, but I could sleep—most comfortably—in a good camper van.

If you are interested, there is an interesting article about the cartographer who produced and updates this map. You can find it by clicking here.

The Year of Noir

A Scene from the Noir Film The Big Combo (1955)

For me, 2019 has been the year of noir—both film noir, and somewhat less markedly, noir literature. I have just finished reading the New York Review edition of Elliott  Chaze’s 1953 novel Black Wings Has My Angel.

In my Goodreads.Com review of the novel, I quote this incredible passage from page 35:

After all, no matter how long you live, there aren’t too many really delicious moments along the way, since most of life is spent eating and sleeping and waiting for something to happen that never does. You can figure it out for yourself, using your own life as the scoreboard. Most of living is waiting to live. And you spend a great deal of time worrying about things that don’t matter and about people that don’t matter and all this is clear to you when you know the very day you’re going to die.

I wondered in my review why, after attaining a dominant position in the world after World War Two had crippled most everyone else, and after years of growing prosperity, the pessimism of noir became such a persistent theme in literature, film, and even art (q.v. Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”).

The best film noir productions I have seen in the last twelve months include (in the order I have seen them):

  • Joseph H. Lewis: The Big Combo (1955)
  • Byron Haskin: Too Late for Tears (1949)
  • Robert Montgomery: The Lady in the Lake (1947) – based on Raymond Chandler’s novel
  • Anthony Mann: Border Incident (1949)
  • Phil Karlson: 99 River Street (1953)
  • Norman Foster: Woman on the Run (1950)
  • Edmund Goulding: Nightmare Alley (1947) – based on William Henry Gresham’s novel
  • John Huston: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  • Samuel Fuller: Pick-Up on South Street (1953)
  • Fritz Lang: The Big Heat (1953) – probably the best of the bunch
  • John Huston: The Maltese Falcon (1941) – an early outlier
  • Fritz Lang: Clash by Night (1952)
  • Frank Tuttle: This Gun for Hire (1942) – based on Graham Greene’s novel A Gun for Sale
  • Abraham Polonsky: Force of Evil (1948)
  • Alexander Mackendrick: The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

More than half the films were viewed on the TCM channel’s excellent “Noir Alley” series hosted by movie scholar Eddie Muller.

Although I consider myself an auteurist critic, I included the directors’ names in the list because of how widespread film noir productions were, especially in the postwar period, coming from a variety of studios and many different directors. Many were produced on shoestring budgets and sneaked through even though they were opposed by many studio heads, such as Louis B. Mayer of MGM.

Later this week, I will present a list noir writers who were partly responsible for the film trend.

 

 

The Annual Stooge-a-Thon

The Original Thee Stooges: Larry Fine and Moe and Curly Howard

Today, Martine and I attended the Three Stooges 22nd Annual Big Screen Event at the Alex Theater in Glendale. I think that the two of us have attended some 16 or 17 of the annual screenings over the years, missing only those years when I we nt off to South America in November. This is probably the only Stooges event where all the films shown are 35mm prints direct from Sony Pictures, which owns the rights to the Columbia Pictures screen archives.

The Stooges shorts are much more fun to watch with a large, enthusiastic audience—and attendance filled about 95% of the seats this afternoon. (We usually attend only the matinee performances.) Shown, in order, were the following Stooges shorts, all produced by Columbia:

  • “Pardon My Scotch” (1935)
  • “Saved by the Belle” (1939) directed by Charley Chase
  • “So Long Mr. Chumps” (1941)
  • “Studio Stoops” (1950) with Shemp Howard
  • “Three Pests in a Mess” (1945)
  • “Dizzy Pilots” (1943)

Between the two of us, Martine is the big Stooge fan. I was surprised to see that up to 40% of the audience consisted of women, who appeared to be as enthusiastic as the men.

For Martine, it was an opportunity to have some great chicken. For lunch, we went to Sevan Rotisserie Chicken on Glenoaks and, for dinner, Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant on Glendale Boulevard.

 

 

Enough of Billionaires Already!

Scrooge McDuck Enjoying His Wealth

I cannot for the life of me imagine that being controlled by billionaires is somehow good for America and its people. Billionaires are essentially people who are interested only in looking after their own interests: If they can find profit in selling their grandmothers to be rendered at a glue factory, why then they will  be sorely tempted.

Why do voters admire billionaires? Do they honestly think that somehow their own financial situations will be magically improved? After all, they just as often job destroyers as job creators. You can see this in action when there is a corporate merger, followed by a round of lay-offs. Are coal miners from West Virginia or ranchers from Wyoming welcome at Mar-a-Lago? Yes, but only if they themselves are billionaires.

That is why I am not particularly excited about Michael Bloomberg becoming the Democratic candidate for President. He may have been a better mayor of New York City than Rudolph Giuliani, but I suspect he still thinks like a billionaire.

 

 

Serendipity: Henry Clarendon IV

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

It was the last of Raymond Chandler’s seven novels. The fact of the matter is that Playback (1958) is not up to the other six. But that’s all right, because I like the character of Private Detective Philip Marlowe so much that even so-so Chandler makes for fine reading—and this was the third time I read it. In this reading, one thing stood out from the rest, sort of like a sudden Buddhist burst of contemplation. It was an old man named Henry Clarendon IV sitting in a hotel lobby as Marlowe tries frantically to find a man named Larry Mitchell whose whereabouts are important for solving a case.

“Don’t bother with that one [Mitchell],” he said. “He’s a pimp. I have spent many many years in lobbies, in lounges and bars, on porches, terraces and ornate gardens in hotels all over the world. I have outlived everyone in my family. I shall go on being useless and inquisitive until the day comes when the stretcher carries me off to some nice airy corner room in a hospital. The starched white dragons will minister to me. The bed will be wound up, wound down. Trays will come with that awful loveless hospital food. My pulse and temperature will be taken at frequent intervals and invariably when I am dropping off to sleep. I shall lie there and hear the rustle of the starched skirts, the slurring sound of the rubber shoe soles on the aseptic floor, and see the silent horror of the doctor’s smile. After a while they will put the oxygen tent over me and draw the screens around the little white bed and I shall, without even knowing it, do the one thing in the world no man ever has to do twice.”

He turned his head slowly and looked at me. “Obviously, I talk too much. Your name, sir?”

“Philip Marlowe.”

“I am Henry Clarendon IV. I belong to what used to be called the upper classes. Groton, Harvard, Heidelberg, the Sorbonne. I even spent a year at Uppsala. I cannot clearly remember why. To fit me for a life of leisure, no doubt. So you are a private detective. I do eventually get around to speaking of something other than myself, you see.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should have come to me for information. But of course you couldn’t know that.”

I shook my head. I lit a cigarette, first offering one to Mr. Henry Clarendon IV. He refused it with a vague nod.

“However, Mr. Marlowe, it is something you should have certainly learned. In every luxury hotel in the world there will be half a dozen elderly idlers of both sexes who sit around and stare like owls. They watch, they listen, they compare notes, they learn everything about everyone. They have nothing else to do, because hotel life is the most deadly of all forms of boredom. And no doubt I’m boring you equally.”

 

I Give Thanks

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Branch in Torrance, CA

One day last month, I took a closer look at my driver’s license and was surprised to find that it expires on my birthday in January 2020, just two years after it was issued. It seems that my advanced age requires another official look at my driving ability. Now the Department of Motor Vehicles is under siege at this time by drivers who are trying to get the so-called Real ID which will be required for all domestic flights beginning October 1, 2020. (You will be able to use your passport instead, but a diminishing number of Americans have one of those.)

In order to qualify for a California driver’s license with Real ID privileges, applicants must provide a bewildering array of documents proving their identity, their address, and their Social Security Number. If I didn’t have easy access to the Internet, it would probably take me several trips to the DMV before I got approved.

So I immediately tried to get an appointment at the DMV at my local office in Santa Monica. No go: The first appointment was over a month after the current license expired. The same problem occurred with the Culver City office. I kept checking other branches and found that the Torrance office could handle me at 3 pm this afternoon. I expected a major disaster.

What I found was a pleasant surprise. I showed up an hour early for my appointment and was out the door in about an hour. Contrary to past experiences, the DMV employees were pleasant and helpful. My choice of documents for the Real ID application was approved. The employee taking my photograph actually tried to get a good picture of me (that didn’t make me look like a walrus). And the written exam went quickly and smoothly. Fortunately, an actual driving test was not required.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, I am already starting to be thankful.