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.

 

The Gifts of Phineas Banning

Phineas Banning (1830-1885)

The growth of Los Angeles was by no means a sure thing. In the mid-1830s, Richard Henry Dana described the area when the ship he was on landed near San Pedro for a cargo of animal hides. The description comes from Dana’s classic Two Years Before the Mast:

What brought us into such a place, we could not conceive. No sooner had we come to anchor, than the slip-rope, and the other preparations for southeasters, were got ready; and there was reason enough for it, for we lay exposed to every wind that could blow, except the northerly winds, and they came over a flat country with a rake of more than a league of water. As soon as everything was snug on board, the boat was lowered, and we pulled ashore, our new officer, who had been several times in the port before, taking the place of steersman. As we drew in, we found the tide low, and the rocks and stones, covered with kelp and seaweed, lying bare for the distance of nearly an eighth of a mile. Leaving the boat, and picking our way barefooted over these, we came to what is called the landing-place, at high-water mark. The soil was, at it appeared at first, loose and clayey, and, except the stalks of the mustard plant, there was no vegetation. Just in front of the landing, and immediately over it, was a small hill, which, from its being not more than thirty or forty feet high, we had not perceived from our anchorage. Over this hill we saw three men coming down, dressed partly like sailors and partly like Californians; one of them having on a pair of untanned leather trousers and a red baize shirt. When they reached us, we found that they were Englishmen. They told us that they had belonged to a small Mexican brig which had been driven ashore here in a southeaster, and now lived in a small house just over the hill. Going up this hill with them, we saw, close behind it, a small, low building, with one room, containing a fireplace, cooking-apparatus, &c., and the rest of it unfinished, and used as a place to store hides and goods. This, they told us, was built by some traders in the Pueblo (a town about thirty miles in the interior, to which this was the port), and used by them as a storehouse, and also as a lodging-place when they came down to trade with the vessels. These three men were employed by them to keep the house in order, and to look out for the things stored in it. They said that they had been there nearly a year; had nothing to do most of the time, living upon beef, hard bread, and fríjoles, a peculiar kind of bean, very abundant in California. The nearest house, they told us, was a Rancho, or cattle-farm, about three miles off; and one of them went there, at the request of our officer, to order a horse to be sent down, with which the agent, who was on board, might go up to the Pueblo.

Even then, the Pueblo of Los Angeles was the center of the hide trade, but it lay more than a day’s journey from the port of San Pedro. Dana adds:

I also learned, to my surprise, that the desolate-looking place we were in furnished more hides than any port on the coast. It was the only port for a distance of eighty miles, and about thirty miles in the interior was a fine plane country, filled with herds of cattle, in the centre of which was the Pueblo de los Angeles,— the largest town in California,— and several of the wealthiest missions; to all of which San Pedro was the seaport.

 

Phineas Banning’s House in Wilmington

Fortunately for Southern California, there was a recent settler from Wilmington, Delaware, named Phineas Banning who ran a stage line and had definite ideas for turning Los Angeles in a port city. His house in Wilmington, California, was during the 1860s right up against a gigantic marsh. Banning decided to have the marsh filled in and a breakwater constructed off San Pedro so that vessels can load and unload at San Pedro in relative safety. In addition, he arranged for the railroad to come down to Los Angeles and San Pedro.

Ironically, it was a transportation accident that snuffed out the life of the transportation genius who made L.A. into a major city: He was run over by a horse and carriage in the street and died soon after of the injuries sustained in the accident.

Today, Banning’s house is a fascinating museum of life in 19th century Southern California. Martine and I visited it on Saturday for the first time in several years.

A Winter Poem

Wood Thrush

I have always thought that Thomas Hardy was vastly underrated as a poet. Try this poem on for size and imagine that the time is the end of the day at the end of the year and (even) the end of the century:

The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

 

 

Second Thoughts

I Helped to Create a Monster

In 2016, I voted YES on California Proposition 64 which legalized the sale of marijuana. When I was a young man, I used marijuana perhaps a total of a dozen times.

At some point in the 1970s, I had a bunch of hash brownies in the freezer. When my mother came to visit, she decided to defrost the freezer. In the process she ate all my brownies. She called me at work telling me not to worry about her getting wet in the rain, because she wasn’t planning on going outside. This didn’t sound much like Mom, so I asked about what she was doing. She mentioned that she defrosted the fridge, found some brownies and ate them. They were, she said, delicious. When I told her what was in those brownies, she just laughed.

My experience with cannabis has been benign and intermittent over a long period, so I thought that younger generations should have a similar experience without having to worry about spending time in the clink.

What I didn’t take into account was that some people were going to be smoking weed at all hours, such as the millennial who lives in the apartment below mine. (And this in a city which outlaws any smoking in public places.) Many a time, the smell of weed wafts up through the ceiling and invests us with second-hand smoke. Today, as I walked around Pershing Square downtown I smelled grass for several hundred feet coming from a group of bums lying on the lawn.

I seem to have forgotten that Americans are not very good about rationing their vices. It’s like driving: If you see someone crash a red light or cut off a motorist in one block, you will see similar transgressions from the same motorist a few hundred feet ahead.