A Tribute, Sort Of

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Sometimes I think that David Foster Wallace was the type of writer I should have decided to dislike. Even though I have not ventured into his fiction masterpiece, Infinite Jest, I find myself so liking his essays and speeches that I am consciously rationing his work as if it were a delicacy that was doomed to disappear. Doomed like its author, who after years of depression and unhappiness hanged himself from one of the rafters of his house at the age of 46.

Just because much of his life was a horror story does not invalidated his brilliance or his humor, even though it could not save him.

I have just finished reading his book of essays entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. The title essay runs for about a hundred pages and contains some 137 footnotes which are priceless about 7NC (7 Night Caribbean) passenger cruises and the people who taken them, as well as the people who conduct them. Many of DFW’s pieces are footnoted, though I suspect the magazines in which the essays originally appeared probably excised them with editorial exasperation.

My favorites of the seven essays were about tennis, the films of David Lynch, the Illinois State Fair, and, of course, the Caribbean cruises. I have also read his later collection, Consider the Lobster, which I also loved.

Over the next several months, god willing, I will tackle his fiction.

 

 

Beauty and Brains

Actress and Inventor Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

One of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear on the silver screen was also a brilliant inventor whose work—for which she did not receive a dime—is used by most Americans on a daily basis.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, better known as Hedy Lamarr, was an Austrian actress from a Jewish family that fled to the United States on the brink of World War Two. She was slightly notorious for having appeared in the nude in Gustav Machaty’s Czech film Ecstasy (1933). Not only was she unclothed, but was photographed in a tight facial shot simulating an orgasm. As a result, the sanctimonious studio boss of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, put her in films, but never in the big productions.

Poster for Ecstasy (1933)

Still, Hedy did her best, starring in many films, but also making a unique contribution to the war effort. Working with music composer George Antheil, she developed an invention for producing an unjammable system for communicating with a torpedo that has been released. The method involved hopping across a broad spectrum of frequencies. In 1942, her invention was granted a patent, but never used during the war because the Navy thought they knew better. But by the time the patent expired in 1957, it was being used and is used today in Bluetooth technology and on legacy versions of WiFi.

Because Miss Lamarr did not renew the patent, she did not receive any remuneration for her invention. I just saw a thoughtful documentary by Alexandra Dean entitled Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017). Perhaps, in the end, Hedy was too smart for Hollywood—and Hollywood did not tend to reward actresses for their brains. She drifted through several marriages and several bouts of plastic surgery. But looks were never her problem. This woman had a brain, and that was unforgivable.

 

 

A Light Goes Out

Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s ALPHAVILLE (1965). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures

I keep returning to a transitional point in my life that followed my pituitary tumor operation and my moving to Los Angeles at the tail end of 1966 to begin the rest of my life. My hero during that period was French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who was married to the lovely Anna Karina. In all, she acted in seven of Godard’s features, most notably Pierrot le Fou and Alphaville (both 1965).

The latter film, one of my favorites, could only be described as Science Fiction Film Noir. In it, she plays Natacha von Braun, daughter of the notorious Leonard Nosferatu (alias Professor von Braun), chief administrator of Alpha 60, the all-powerful computer that rules the city of Alphaville.

On December 14, the Danish/French film actress died of cancer in a Paris hospital. It was hard to see an actress whose loveliness I revered when I was young come to an end.

Jean-Paul Belmondo Kisses Karina in Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965)

I have several of the Godard/Karina films on DVD and will probably be viewing them again in the weeks to come. Somewhere, in those almond eyes, my own past is looking back at me. The most apt expression? The lines Karina says in Alphaville:: “Joli sphinx.”

It would be nice if all the people we have loved from near or afar can continue on with us as if in a cloud around our persons. But it is not to be.

 

His 455th Birthday

Portrait of William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Today is the 455th anniversary of the birth of dramatist William Shakespeare. To honor his birthday, I picked up my old Penguin edition of Hamlet and started to re-read it for the nth time. It has been a couple of decades since my last reading. I was shocked to the extent that the Bard’s language had become so familiar to me that I almost regarded it as my own. From Act I alone, I had adopted into my own language such expressions as:

Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes. (I,i,56-58)

A little more than kin, and less than kind! (I,ii,65)

’A was a ma, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again. (I,ii,187-188)

In the dead waste and middle of the night. II,ii,198)

I do not set my life at a pin’s fee (I,iv,65)

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (I,iv,90)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (I,v,166-167)

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite
That ever was I born to set it right! (I,v,188-189)

If these short quotes are familiar to you, it is because they have become a part of our language. Shakespeare actually changed the way we think about things. Within the next day or so, I want to write about how Hamlet changed forever the straightforward revenge tragedy that was such a part of Elizabethan and Jacobean dramaturgy.

 

Farewell to Icon

On His Last Full Day

On Sunday, I drove to Altadena to visit Bill and Kathy Korn. Also to see Icon on his last full day in this life. Icon was Kathy Korn’s seeing-eye dog, who, in his thirteenth year,had developed a serious shortage of red-blood cells. He had trouble digesting food, and his breathing was alarmingly shallow.

Although I have had no pets since my elementary school days in Cleveland in the 1950s, I have always developed friendly relationships with my friends’ pets. I can have no animals in my apartment because (1) it would be a violation of my lease and (2) I am allergic—sometimes more, sometimes less.

Whenever I visited the Korns, I looked forward to Icon’s onslaught, in which recently he has been joined by Duchess, Kathy’s current seeing-eye dog. (Icon has been retired for upwards of a year.)

Icon’s “Diploma” from the Seeing-Eye Dog Program


I got a little teary-eyed as I petted Icon for the last time on Sunday evening. I mentioned that we would see each other again in the next life. Who knows?

The Danger of Denying the Existence of Dragons

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Here is the complete quote: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”

Ursula K. Le Guin died in January of this year, leaving me bereft of her elfin wisdom. Not entirely, because there are all those books and stories of hers, which I am still plodding my way through. Today, I finished A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994), which contained three short stories that are to my mind the best stories ever written about space travel. They include “The Shobies’ Story,” “Dancing to Ganam,” and “Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea.”

That middle initial in her name, the “K,” comes from her father, Anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. What elevates Ursula from the technoid school of science fiction is her interest in exotic, invented cultures. These are best seen in her Hainish stories, which are my favorites among her works.  There is no end to the writing of fantasy stories, but somehow Ursula’s were special. They might be set in the distant future and on distant planets, but they involve real feelings among real beings. As she once said ,“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”  Well, she wrote those kind of books. In spades.

The Edition of A Fisherman of the Inland Sea That I Read

In the three stories I have mentioned from A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, there are two methods of space travel:

  • NAFAL, short for Nearly As Fast As Light. To the space travelers, the time expended in travel does not seem so long, but for those who have been left behind, years or even centuries pass.
  • Churten Theory, in which the travel is instantaneous. One could travel to Antares and be back for lunch. Travel via a Churten drive can be highly problematical, however, especially if the people traveling don’t get their stories straight or are incompatible in odd ways. “Wrinkles” in Churten travel can lead to strange results.

I look forward to reading (and maybe re-reading) several more of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work this year.

 

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

I’m Going to Miss Her

My two favorite contemporary women authors are Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula K. Le Guin. Both of them are deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but now Ursula won’t be able to show up to collect. She died last night at her home in Portland, Oregon.

I keep trying to find new women writers I like. In fact, I’ve made a concerted effort this month—and I’ve found some good ones, but they’re all European.

Born of a famous anthropologist (the K. of her middle initial stands for Kroeber, as in Alfred Louis Kroeber), Ursula always brought something extra to her novels and stories. There was a bit of the anthropologist in her, too, and it made her best-known novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), the Earthsea Novels, and the Hainish novels more wise and penetrating than many of her contemporaries. When the New York Times referred to her as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” she retorted that she preferred to be known simply as an “American novelist.”

The Library of America has been publishing volumes of her work which I am adding to my reference shelf. After I finish reading her work, I want to start all over again. She’s that good.

 

No More Goodstuff

Allen Reinertsen of Bangkok, Thailand

I am greatly saddened by the recent death of one of my oldest Internet friends, Allen Reinertsen aka GOODSTUFF. Although I have never met him face to face, we have known each other for some ten years—back when we were both blogging on Yahoo 360. Then when we both migrated to WordPress and FaceBook, we re-established contact. I loved his long postings featuring cheesecake from the past, science fiction, and political ideas which, although the opposite of mine, did not arouse my ire.

After all, my dear father voted for George C. Wallace of the American Independent Party several times; and Martine’s political beliefs, also, are considerably to the right of mine. That’s all over and done with now.

Memorial from Reinertsen’s Memorial Service

Reinertsen is survived by his wife Srisuda, and possibly by one or more children, though I am not sure of this. He looks to be in his fifties, which is way too young to die. I would like to have known him, because, based on his posts, he was both gentle and funny. I can only hope that he is in the heaven of large-breasted women and ice cold beers.

It is always sad to see a friend’s passing. May the gods be kind to him and the people who loved him in this life, among whom I number myself.

And remember:

The Ultimate Good Advice from GOODSTUFF

 

 

Death of a Bookseller

Bob Klein and Friend

Time passes, and so do we. I had not been to my favorite used bookstore—Sam Johnson’s in Culver City—for many months. One of the two partners who owned the store, Larry Myers, was seated at the desk. When I casually asked him how his partner Bob Klein was, I was told that he died in June. I was appalled. For over three decades, I have looked forward to my conversations with Bob. Even though his politics were diametrically opposite to mine, we had always got along.

In addition to being a bookseller of some repute, Bob had taught English at Santa Monica College for decades. There was frequently a steady parade of students who regarded his bookstore as an extension of his office.

He was also an author who has written three books under the name R. E. Klein:

  • Mrs. Rahlo’s Closet and Other Mad Tales (New York: Time Warner, 1988)
  • The History of Our World Beyond the Wave: A Fantasy (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998)
  • The Way to Mt. Lowe: A Southern California Tale (Los Angeles: Sam Johnson’s Publishing, 2005)

I have the read the last two of these and loved them. I always hoped to see Bob write more books. In fact, I always wanted to interview him as an educator, writer, and bookseller and write a series of blog posts about this singularly talented man who was also my friend. But the opportunity was lost.

Sam Johnson’s Bookshop on Venice Boulevard

The bookstore was not always at this location. I got to know it when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard, near where I was working at Urban Decision Systems. My lunchtime visits to the store led to my discovery of G. K. Chesterton, who has become one of my favorite authors.

With the passing of Bob Klein, Los Angeles has lost a civilizing influence; and I have lost a friend.

 

A Death in Tax Season

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

My Late Friend Don K. Yamagishi

I would give anything not to have to write this, but today I lost a friend and co-worker. Don Kiyomi Yamagishi was an accountant and an attorney, and one of the most friendly and approachable people with whom I have ever worked. Although the above photo is twelve years old, Don did not look very different in this, the last year of his life. When we learned the news late this afternoon, there was not a dry eye in the company.

Don served as the tax manager of the accounting firm for which I work. He was a real scholar, a man of knowledge and consummate professionalism. He also served as the accountant for the Union Church of Los Angeles in Little Tokyo and as a volunteer working at a summer camp for disabled children.

Most of all, though, he was a friend whom I will miss deeply. Some people, when they leave us, leave many holes in our lives. Such was Don. May God have mercy on his soul and reward him for just being himself. Which is the best I could say for anyone.