Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ask Aunt Tillie: Do Amish Celebrate Christmas?

Blogger's Note: Since this blog is somewhat Amishcentric, I get questions from time to time from readers about Amish life and culture, which I refer to my Aunt Tillie, an opinionated, but humble Amish woman. Here is a recent question and answer. Please leave a comment or email me if you have questions you want me to refer to her in the future.

Dear Aunt Tillie:

The readers of your nephew's blog haven't read much about you lately, and I was just wondering how you're doing? Did you have a Merry Christmas? Do Amish even celebrate Christmas?

(signed) A Friend

Dear Friend:

I had a very nice Christmas; thanks for asking. All 14 of the children and 57 of the grandchildren were at our house for dinner on Christmas Day. I would say we "observe" Christmas more than "celebrate" it. From what I've read and heard from neighbors, our Christmas observances are quite a bit different from the way the English celebrate Christmas.
For one thing, we don't have Christmas lights, since we don't have electricity and it wouldn't make much sense to string lights around that don't light up. Actually, we don't put up Christmas decorations at all and we don't have Christmas trees and don't try to fool our children into believing they get presents from Santa Claus. When I hear people talk about having an "old-fashioned" Christmas, I have to laugh because in the olden days even the English didn't put as much time and trouble into celebrating Christmas as they do now days.
But we are not too Scrooge-like. We give presents to the younger children, although the idea of children making lists and demanding that we give them what's on the lists is unheard of among our people. We don't give presents to our married children, but when we had children at home, we might give the boys each a pair of gloves and the girls a scarf or something pretty, like a scriptural saying to hang on their wall. Abner will usually give a half dollar to each of the grandchildren, although the way inflation is going, I keep telling him he should get silver dollars to hand out. (I don't know if you can even get silver dollars anymore, that tells you how often I get to town.)
From what I've read, Christmas really doesn't have much to do with Jesus's birth, which no one even knows when it happened. Christmas started as a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, which the Catholics appropriated into a Christian celebration. It has pretty much returned to its pagan roots, from what I hear, with just a big buying and charging binge that the stores have promoted in order to sell more. I hear there are people on television and radio trying to get people stirred up about the "assault on Christmas," claiming that the ACLU is trying to ruin this country by making it illegal to say, "Merry Christmas." I like Christmas but I don't get too pushed out of shape about what someone might be trying to do or not do about saying "Merry Christmas." I figure that Christians who want to celebrate Jesus's birth are going to be able to do it without worrying too much about whether someone at the store said, "Merry Christmas," to them.
I hope, Friend, that you have a Happy New Year, and before you ask, no, I'm not planning on staying up until midnight; I don't have a television so I won't be watching the big ball come down at Times Square and I won't be drinking any champagne. If our throats feel scratchy, (or might be getting ready to feel scratchy,) Abner and I might just have a little nip of Kentucky bourbon before we go off to bed on New Year's Eve, but one nip is it. You don't want to be in bed with a drunken Amishman at my age, believe you me!

(Signed) Aunt Tillie

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Crockhead Extravaganza

We're about to head for Gatlinburg, TN where all the Crockheads are getting together for four days in a big seven-room cabin that sleeps 30 people. We will have 27. You can see pictures here. We plan to have a Crockhead Film Festival and Argument. If there is internet access and time, I will blog during the festivities. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Testosterone Anyone?

The secretaries in our office got together and bought gift certificates for the partners. I was happy with mine, which was to Walnut Street Tea Company, where I like to go to buy teas. That is until I found out my partner's gift certificate is for Hooter's! Now I'm afraid I was insulted and didn't know it. Today, for the first time in history I wore jeans to work on jeans Friday. By God, I'm nothin' if not manly. Just because I drink tea instead of coffee don't mean nothin'. (I'm going to start droppin' my g's like George Bush. That helped him get over the stigma of being a cheerleader instead of a football player in college.) The secretaries promised to get me a gift certificate for Lowe's next year. I'll buy me a big drill or somethin'. Either that or find me a country to invade.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Final Report from Philadelphia

After the incomparable Dishkin Brothers finished their set, there was a short intermission so they could gather up their pieces of wood and amplifiers. Then came the performance for which we had traveled to Purgatory and back, Jason Calloway and Christopher Otto. They first did a Xenakis piece written in 1996 for the Lincoln Center Festival called "Huuem-Iduhey," which is Yehudi Menuhim spelled backwards (sort of.) (If you don't know who Yehudi Menuhim is, you wouldn't like this piece.) They then did an original composition by someone whose name I didn't catch and finished up with Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello. Calloway quoted Ravel as saying about this piece that it "dispenses with the charm of trite-sounding harmonies." It does indeed, but it has its own charm.

At this point there used to be a video snippet of the Ravel piece. Chris has requested that I remove it, so I have.

The last set was by David Gross and Rhob Rainey and was called "Faces of Death," which is described in the poster as a "reductionist death match between two experimental saxophonists, complete with boxing style managers and high drama." One would think, reading the description, that the "reductionist death match" was between the two experimental saxophonists. It turned out it was between the saxophonists and the audience, many of whom literally had to cover their ears for protection against the assaults. I am told that Gross and Rainey are highly accomplished musicians and that this piece was intended as a parody. The problem was they had five minutes of parody, loosely packed into 30 minutes of our time.

Afterwards, we went out for some drinks, got to bed about midnight and were up again by 5:00 to fly out of Philadelphia, back to the good old conventional Midwest with its trite-sounding harmonies.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And Back to Purgatory

Cows must be sacred in Pennsylvania. For some reason, no one eats beef chili. We had gelatinous chicken chili for lunch at Ruby Tuesdays (described below) and turkey chili for dinner at Lauren's Dream Kitchen. I'm told the airport cafeteria was offering goose chili for breakfast, but we left too early to try that or duck chili, cornish rock hen chili or pigeon chili, the specialty in the city's Belgian restaurants. Lauren's turkey chili was not only a different species of poultry chili than the gelatinous chicken chili we had at Ruby Tuesday's, but on an altogether higher plane of taste. It was excellent, as was the apple pie pictured in the post below.

After a very fine meal and interesting conversation with the denizens of Dream Kitchen, we headed for downtown Philadelphia in my sister, Louise's van, along with her husband Al, sons, Jason and Andrew and Jason's girlfriend, Angie. I declined the invitation to sit in the front seat with the map to navigate for Al, the driver, figuring that with time running short and none of us knowing where we were going, only a spouse would have the courage to shout, "Why didn't you turn back there?" as we whizzed by an exit. Unfortunately, Sister Louise was too soft spoken (or maybe the map was too confusing) and we wound up completely missing the exit to get downtown, and not realizing the mistake until we were several miles north of Philadelphia and rapidly approaching Camden, New Jersey. I was stuck in the middle seat next to a spouse who kept chanting in a not-so-undertone, "We're going to be late. We should have left earlier."

We finally did find the concert at Nexxus, an art gallery (without any art)located in a trendy part of town (meaning formerly run down but rapidly becoming gentrified) and although we were a few minutes late, the concert hadn't started yet.

First up were the incomparable Fishkin Brothers, Daniel and David, playing the saxophone and daxophone duet. Yes, there is such a thing. A daxophone is an amplified piece of wood which Daniel plays with a bow and another piece of wood. He makes his daxophones out of scraps because of environmental concerns about cutting down the rain forest. It sounds pretty much like you think a piece of wood with a microphone attached to it would sound when it is scraped with a violin bow. Fishkin will sell you a daxophone if you are interested, but since you probably won't be able to find a daxophone CD at your local big box store, you might want to hear an excerpt before you invest in one. Here is a snippet of one of the Fishkin pieces, very dark but the best I could do with a digital camera. At least you can hear what it sounds like. (Visually, this video is terrible; the sound has fidelity, if nothing else.)(Okay, so maybe it would benefit from a little less fidelity, but here it is.)
A sample of the Fishkin Brothers' Sax and Dax duet at the Nexxus Gallery in Philadelphia on December 16, 2006.

I have to go to work now. Next up will be a report on the Calloway/Otto duet, along with a video snippet. Please, please don't go away permanently.

Monday, December 18, 2006

From Purgatory to Heaven

I am hopeful that despite my own skepticism, our Roman Catholic son will be able to pray me into heaven upon my demise, and things are looking good so far. Airport purgatory in Philadelphia Saturday only lasted several hours, whereupon we were transported to heaven my means of my Acura-driving friend, John, with the help of his son, Will. I don't have time right now to describe heaven in any detail or to tell you about the concert Saturday night, but that will come soon, I promise. In the meantime, if you have ever wondered what heaven looks like, I have returned with a picture. I don't know if I would say that this is apple pie to die for, but if you're going to be dead anyhow, this is apple pie you might want to eat for a couple of millenia. Certainly, it's a more appealing prospect than the idea of walking around on golden streets singing hymns eternally.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Airport Purgatory

I think it was W.C. Fields who it was reputed said that he wanted on his tombstone the legend, "On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia." I don't know how severely Fields expected to be punished after his death, but the Philadelphia we've seen so far isn't much of an improvement over any place I can imagine. We're in the Four Points Sheraton, located next to the Philadelphia airport. I don't know if airports the world over use the same malevolent architects, or if it's impossible to design an attractive airport, but the ones I have seen, ranging from Seoul to Paris; from Seattle to Philadelphia, all have a dreary similarity. Granted, one wouldn't want an airport surrounded by mountains or high rise buildings, and I guess I can see the functionality of having parking lots and rental car agencies nearby, but is it absolutely essential to erase any vestiges of local color and to banish all decent restaurants from the environs?
We got off to a good start this morning. I was up at 2:30 and out of the bathroom in time for my wife to do her ablutions and be ready to walk out the door at 3:40, precisely the time I had calculated we needed to leave. There was no traffic out at that time of the morning and getting to Bloomington to the airport and clearing security was like the good old days of flying.
We had a layover of a couple of hours in Chicago, and while waiting next to the gate for a plane taking vacationers to the Caribbean, we were reminded of what kind of torture the airline industry puts us in all too often these days. We heard the gate agent next door, in a most cheerful voice inform the waiting throng that the plane was at the gate and she was just waiting for the maintenance crew to finish cleaning the plane before letting them board. She repeated this news cheerfully several times over about an hour interval, and then finally 'fessed up as to what was really going on. It seems the cleaning crew had found a cockroach. One cockroach. But as any cockroach expert will tell you, there can't be just one cockroach; where there is one, there are more. Since the plane was flying into a foreign country, it could not take off with the possibility of any animals, including cockroaches, being on board. So, she said, they were trying to decide whether to fumigate the plane or to get another plane for the trip. The problem with fumigating the plane is that it would need to air out after the fumigation for many hours to avoid making the patients as sick as the cockroaches,so it might not be able to leave for a day or so. The problem with putting another plane in service is that it had to be equipped to fly over water, and she didn't know if they could locate an available plane with the right equipment. So, the poor vacationers, eager to hit the beaches of Martinque were left stewing at O'Hare. (And this was United, which is a relatively benign airline. Don't get me started about that lying Northwestern Airlines.)
But our plane left on time and got us to Philadelphia on time. Our only problem is that we got here too quickly and our hotel couldn't let us check in. No problem, I said, it's noon, we'll just duck into your restaurant and have some lunch.
"Sorry," the desk clerk said, "Our restaurant has closed and won't reopen until 5:00 p.m."
After determining that the nearest open restaurant was a Ruby Tuesday, several miles away, but that the airport shuttle would take us there and pick us up, we went off to kill a couple of hours. I had never been in a Ruby Tuesdays, but was under the vague impression that it was similar to Appleby's, TGI Fridays, and that genre of restaurants, i.e. "pricy tacky." My bowl of chicken chili was a white gelatinous mess with recognizable (by sight; not taste) strips of chicken. I didn't locate anything in the bowl that I would have identified as chili. I also had a salad from a salad bar and by the time I covered the limp iceberg with all the salad bar accoutrements, it was edible, although not $9 worth of edible.
I am looking forward to our trip later this afternoon to Dream Kitchen where I am sure we will have food about as good as we have back in Illinois, if not better.
It's about 3:30 now; the concert is at 8:00 p.m. and I will report further on our adventures as I have a chance.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Badass Poster

Here is the poster advertising son,Chris's concert in Philadelphia tomorrow night.

I don't know how clearly the print shows up, so here is what it says under Jason Calloway///Chris Otto: "perform badass compositions for cello and violin including Xenakis, Ravel, and a bunch of premiers!!!"
My wife and I are flying out tomorrow morning at some ungodly hour (5:40 a.m., which means we have to be at the airport, 50 miles away, at 4:40 a.m., which means we have to leave here at 3:40 a.m., which means we have to get up at 3:00 a.m.) We're getting into Philadelphia about noon, will have a dreamy dinner with Lauren, John, Jack and Will, as well as several members of my sister, Louise's family from Virginia at Dream Kitchen and will attend the concert at 8:00. Sunday morning we fly back to Champaign at some ungodly hour with Chris in tow for the holidays. It will have been the first that we've seen him since last Christmas, so we're excited.
Son Jeremy is in Japan with Bomina this week, having finally gotten there yesterday after a trip from hell,no thanks to the liars at Northwestern Airlines, who cancelled his flight Tuesday morning because of "fog," when there was no fog in either Champaign or Detroit.
If I can get to a computer, I may blog about the Philadelphia concert. I may not.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Book Report: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

I couldn't find any reviews that were anything less than adulatory of this month's book for the Third Day Book Club, a novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone. (I haven't read fellow bloggers' reviews, which aren't up until December 3rd; maybe some of them are critical.) (Not that I'm going to be all that critical, I'm just not feeling adulatory.) (But then I rarely feel adulatory.) (Unless I'm reading my heroine, Patry Francis's, prose.)

The book is set in the Missouri Ozark mountains, but the world they depict is a long way, culturally, if not geographically, from the world depicted in the last book I reported on, Houseboating in the Ozarks. Forrester's Ozarks are a scenic vacation waterland, where nature is unpredictably dangerous at times, but people are unfailingly helpful and polite. Woodrell's Ozarks are scenic, but are inhabited by poor white trash in danger of starving if their lethal relatives don't first kill them for violating a thieves' code of honor.

The book's narrator is a 16-year-old girl named "Ree Dolly." Yes, "Ree" is her first name and "Dolly" is her last name. (For some reason, many of the people who populate the hollows of the Ozarks depicted in this book tend to have last names that sound as if they should be first names. Besides the Dollys, there are the Miltons, the Arthurs, the Haslams and the Jessups, among others, crooks and outlaws, every one. Maybe it's the author's way of showing how unWASPish these hillbillies are; they even invert the WASPish practice of using last names as first names.)

I would call Woodrell a "flashy writer." His way with words made me stop and say, "Wow," at times, but then I realized that the story would have been better served if my attention had not been diverted to the words. He starts out by describing Ree's little hollow like this: "Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone."

His description of Ree a little later is: "Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellow dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again. She stood tall in combat boots, scarce at the waist but plenty through the arms and shoulders, a body made for loping after needs."

It's hard to argue that Woodrell should have used "dilapidated" instead of "halt haggard" to describe falling-down houses or that "her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again" isn't a good turn of phrase, but "abrupt green eyes?" What are those? And, "a body made for loping after needs?" What exactly is he saying? There is a difference between seasoning that makes the prose taste "just right," and dumping every spice in the cabinet into the pot. I began longing for a little bland before I had digested much of this book.

The plot of the book is fairly implausible. Ree's father, a gourmet meth chef, has disappeared after putting up the family home, such as it is, to secure his bond. Unless Ree finds him, she, her two younger brothers and her crazy mother, will be put out of house and home into the cold Ozark winter. She starts asking around and persists after being threatened, and beaten up (losing her teeth in the process.) Finally, the worst guys (it is misleading to call anyone the "bad guys," they're all "bad") relent and take Ree to see her father. With the help of a chainsaw, she secures the evidence she needs to save the house, getting enough extra money in the process to take care of her siblings so that she can realize her dream of joining the Army (although how she will pass the physical without teeth is not explained. Maybe they don't need teeth to eat K-rations.)

Many of the reviewers compare Woodrell to Cormac McCarthy, which is probably why I am not enamored with this book. I don't like McCarthy's work either. Not to say it isn't good writing; smarter people than me like this kind of stuff. I gave this book three stars out of five.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Fact and Fiction

I didn't do a very good job reporting on Gary Forrester's Houseboating in the Ozarks. (See post below.) I struggled long and mightily with writing a worthy report, and then, saved by a synopsis, dumped it onto my blog and breathed a sigh of relief that I finally can check that off my "To Write" list.

One of the many interesting things about which I could, and should, have written more is the blurring of fact (which is not the same as "truth") and fiction. When a book labeled "fiction" comes out, which like Forrester's, contains so many obvious parallels with the author's own life, it is only natural for readers to try to figure out how much of what they're reading is a voyeuristic glimpse into the author's private moments and how much is a product of imagination. Much as we try to pretend otherwise, we're all voyeurs, to some extent, and enjoy those private glimpses. I believe that is why books like James Frey's A Million Little Pieces about which I wrote in January was promoted as autobiography, rather than the fiction that it was. It is one reason (besides a basic lack of talent) why I do not think I will ever write fiction; I don't want people speculating about how much of the characters' private lives and thoughts are my own.

The protagonist in Houseboating, Christian Hooker, is not a very likable person. He is a lying, scheming, self-centered jerk. Since I have gotten to know Gary Forrester, I have to say that I like him and do not regard him as a "lying, scheming, self-centered jerk," but I think Forrester would admit that there are aspects of his personality that rub some people the wrong way. (I repeat, Gary, if you're reading this, "NOT ME." There are aspects of my personality that rub people the wrong way.)

The editor of the Illinois State Bar Journal wrote a nice review of Houseboating several months ago in which he stated that if you knew a real lawyer who acted like Hooker acted in the book, you'd have to turn him in to the dreaded Attorneys' Registration and Disciplinary Committee (ARDC) which rides herd on attorneys' conduct.

I asked Forrester about this when our reading group met with him by telephone a month or so ago. His reply was that the book is "fiction." He said that he took real incidents and exaggerated them; made them more interesting. That sounds rather commonplace for such a mysterious (to me) process.

There is an interesting article in the October 9, 2006 issue of The New Yorker by Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist, titled What is a Novelist? in which he talks about Marcel Proust and Proust's character, Albertine, a young woman with whom Proust's protagonist is in love. Much later, Kundera found out about Proust's biography and learned that it was said that the character, Albertine, was inspired by a man with whom Proust was in love. Kundera goes on to say, "No matter who inspired her, man or woman, Albertine is Albertine, and that's that! A novel is the product of an alchemy that turns a woman into a man, a man into a woman, sludge into gold, an anecdote into drama! That divine alchemy is what makes for the power of a novelist, the secret, the splendor of his art!"

Kundera is excited by his insight, splashing exclamations around like ink from a leaky pen, but he has a right to be. He goes on then as follows:
"In In Search of Lost Time, Proust is absolutely clear: 'In this novel . . . there is not one incident that is not fictional . . . not one character a clef.' However, tightly bound to the life of its author, Proust's novel stands, without question, at the opposite pole from autobiography: there is in it no autobiographical intention; he wrote it not in order to talk about his life but to show his readers their own lives. 'Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth.' Those lines of Proust's define not only the meaning of the Proustian novel; they define the meaning of the very art of the novel.

When I said in my previous post that Forrester's book is turned from the "good" to the "extraordinary," by the religious element, what I was really saying is that the spiritual aspects of the book gave me new insights into myself. That insight is what made me say, "Ah, ha, this book is "true," regardless of how much of it is factual. It follows, then, since all of us are different, and, particularly, religious experience is far from universal, that there will be some people who will read the book and not receive any insights into themselves and accordingly, will not have the "ah ha, this book is true," moment. But it's worth giving this book a try. Needless to say, I gave it five stars on my one to five scale.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book Report; "Houseboating in the Ozarks"

I first got to know Gary Forrester as the fictional character, "Skidmore" in Philip Deaver's wonderful collection of short stories, Silent Retreats, (winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for short fiction.) I got interested in Deaver's collection of stories (which came out in 1988) because he grew up in Tuscola, just seven miles up the road from the little town, Arcola, in which I grew up in central Illinois. Although Forrester, Deaver and I all graduated from high school in 1964, I didn't know them until recently. It was my loss. (More about Deaver in a couple of months when he comes to my house to meet with our reading group to discuss his new book of poetry, How Men Pray, and a short story, Lowell and the Rolling Thunder Review, recently published in The Kenyon Review.)

We (I'm not trying to be presumptious here, putting myself in the same category as Forrester and Deaver, but I have to tell you why these books interest me) all left central Illinois soon after high school. I returned here 15 years later, and here I still am; living a rather dull life. Deaver lives in Florida where he teaches English at a small college and writes fiction and poetry, for which he has won acclaim. It is hard to describe Forrester; for one thing because I do not know him all that well, despite having read about him (as Skidmore) 15 years ago, and having gotten to know him personally in the last year.

What I do know about Forrester is that he has lived an adventurous life and he is enormously talented. Since he left the 'cola's some 40 years ago, he has lived in South America (to avoid the draft in the Vietnam era;) on an American Indian reservation where he worked in a legal aid clinic, became an expert on Indian law and wrote a treatise on Indian law; lived in Australia for many years, where he taught aboriginal law, worked in a legal aid clinic, and was involved in a long-running libel lawsuit that eventually brought down the government; wrote music and played in a bluegrass band that won awards in Australia and the United States; managed an organic farm in the middle of the Wombat Forest; taught at the University of Illinois law school; practiced law in a plaintiff-oriented class-action law firm and lived a colorful personal life (the details of which I will not try to recite because I am not sure how much of what I believe I know is fact and how much is fiction and even if I told the parts I am pretty sure are factual, you would think they are fictional)

Forrester's latest exploit is writing a book, Houseboating in the Ozarks, a book of fiction, although readers will be forgiven for believing that there are some hard facts behind the veneer of make-believe. In mid-October, our reading group read the book and then discussed it with Forrester participating by speaker phone from Wellington, New Zealand, to which he has recently emmigrated, to again work in a legal clinic.

The book is an extraordinary book, in my opinion. Not "extraordinary" as a first book or "extraordinary" as a book set in the Midwest, but "extraordinary" as in "unusual merit." It would be a good book,well written and interesting to read without the spiritual aspects, but what makes it extraordinary is the religious element. The book is as hard to describe as its author. So, I'm going to take the easy way and simply quote from a synopsis Forrester wrote for his agent (a copy of which he recently sent me to share with my reading group):

General comment: Houseboating in the Ozarks (“Houseboat”) is in a “framed” format, with the main story sandwiched between a fictional editor’s foreword and afterword. The body of the novel is told in third-person limited. It is the story of a nine-day circular journey through the heart of the American Midwest. Its theme is nicely stated in the words of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

First Chapter: We learn that the protagonist is one Christian Leonard Hooker, 57 years of age, and that his existential musings are a commingling of the sacred and the profane. The table is set with characters we will see again from time to time. Chris & family travel from central Illinois to Chicago, where Chris’s wife Kazzie and her daughter board a plane for Australia. Chris tries to connect with his perceptive son Sean, but it becomes clear that they are talking to each other from parallel universes. Through flashbacks (triggered by a horrible car crash that Chris passes along the way), we are introduced to Chris’s out-of-wedlock daughter Jishel, her new-age mother Miriam, and Chris’s old pal from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, Cheeto High Bear.

Following a Wizard-of-Oz walking spree along Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Loop, where Chris introduces his nine-year-old twins (Razor and Sharon) to his shoplifting skills, he and the twins spend the night at his youngest sister Carol’s place in a wealthy Chicago suburb. An ancient photo of his now-ancient parents haunts him as he drifts off to sleep.

In this first chapter, we have established several common denominators that will link the various stages of the journey – weird car crashes; indigenous spirituality; alienation from conventional religion; an obsession with the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball team; failures to communicate; bluegrass music; and nostalgia for times that cannot be clearly recalled and for people who were never what they seemed.

Second Chapter: After breakfast, Chris and the twins head back home for the start of their real journey. Along the way, they stop at the scene of yesterday’s crash and pick up a fellow traveler – a “Dopey the Dwarf” doll that will take on a role similar to that of “Wilson” the soccer ball in the Tom Hanks movie Castaway.

Before departing on the main journey, Chris takes Razor and Sharon to church, where he indulges his preaching fantasy, Walter Mitty-style. Chris then purloins a few dvd’s from the local Blockbuster (for the car’s dvd-player), and they are on their way. The table is set with some family history as Chris and the kids roll along the “hillbilly highway” of Chris’s ancestry – but the kids aren’t very interested in this old stuff. Still, it gets in Chris’s head, and through the third-person limited narrator, we see the basis for Chris’s childhood pain and existential angst.

Not surprisingly, there is another car crash, and although Chris acquits himself somewhat better this time (helping to rescue the victims), it is becoming clear that he is not armed with a normal capacity for feeling what others are feeling. They pass the Cahokia Indian Mounds outside St. Louis, which leads to a flashback to Italy, where Chris behaved like an idiot not that long ago. Francis of Assisi is introduced into the story – he will play a bigger role later as Chris’s faux epiphany unfolds.

They set up camp for the night near the Meramac Caverns. For some reason, Chris is deliriously happy. He tells Razor & Sharon a long night-time story about his crazy parents’ visit to Australia, years ago, when Chris & Kazzie & kids lived back-to-nature in a remote eucalypt forest.

Third Chapter: In the morning of the third day, Chris & the kids go through the Meramac Caverns, somewhat in the style of Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Razor and Sharon annoy the hell out of everybody, to Chris’s delight.

After packing up tent & sleeping bags, they see an Australian hitch-hiker and pick him up. He’s o.k., but when they finally drop him off in Rolla, Missouri, he shows them a gun that gets Chris all shook up. He flashes back to his last hitch-hiker, a Lakota woman from South Dakota named Brenda Which Woman, who also had a weapon with her. This aside about Brenda Which Woman, danger, and sex bridges Chris’s remembrances of Miriam (in Chapter One) and Chris’s Aboriginal lover Yolanda Possum (who has already made a cameo appearance and who figures more prominently later).

After dropping off the Australian hitch-hiker, Chris and the twins travel on to the Ozarks. Their first stop is Branson, a real hell-hole of American schmaltz. They get out of Branson asap and go to the houseboat rental office.

Their first evening on the houseboat goes well – family singing, a barbecue on the back of the boat, a dvd. But after going to sleep, Chris wakes up in the middle of the night to pee and discovers that hurricane-force winds are pounding the lake around him. To make matters worse, the boat has become untied from the shore. Chris is scared shitless in the lightning and thunder around him.

After calming down Sharon, who woke during the storm, he tries to figure his way out of this predicament. Eventually, he climbs naked into the turbulent water, suffers an injury, but finally succeeds in re-tying the boat to the shore. The boat starts to rock like a cradle; Chris thinks sadly about his mother and father, years ago, and drops off to sleep.

Fourth Chapter: The morning is peaceful. They get breakfast and a newspaper at a nearby marina, and learn that the storm had been truly hellacious. This perturbs Razor, who slept through it all, and he pouts magnificently.

They spend the rest of the day having a Huck Finn-style adventure on Table Rock Lake. As the kids operate the houseboat, Chris tends to his sore back on the couch. He reminisces about two of his older children, far away in Australia, and that memory segues to a truly horrific episode in Chris’s Australian life, where a married lover of his was murdered by her husband. At the end of these bundle-of-joy flashbacks, Chris counts on one finger the number of friends he has in the world, and even that friend (a Florida novelist who has modeled his most successful character – a rakish sociopath – on Chris) is more fantasy than fact. Maybe Chris’s remoteness from normal human feeling is a protective device that he’s developed over the years to deal with harsh realities.

Still, there are the twins. He clearly loves them to death. They find a tiny island, and continue Huck Finning. When the stars come out, one by one, they lie down on the island and try to imagine how small they are. For all three of the Hookers – Christian, Razor, and Sharon – the wonderful “great mystery” (Wakan Tanka) of existence is profoundly felt, even if not understood.

The kids go off to sleep in their sleeping-bags on the island, and Chris wades out to the houseboat to work pro bono on a legal brief for his old Aboriginal lover, Yolanda Possum, whose estranged son Cuffy is on death row in Florida. Chris writes down the pros and cons of Cuffy’s defense on a yellow legal pad, and recalls his time with Yolanda, first in the outback, later in Melbourne. Chris and Yolanda had nearly brought down an entire government as a result of Chris’s semi-ethical legal representation of her in a sexual harassment case.

When Chris finishes working on the brief, he watches the old Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep movie, Bridges of Madison County, and gets annoyed by the phoniness of it all. It has become clear through these first four chapters that Chris is, in some ways, more at home in movies than he is in real life.

Fifth Chapter: More calm after the storm. More Huck Finning. Chris gets lost briefly in the middle of the lake, but works it out and they head back to the marina to return the houseboat. Chris and the twins rejoin Dopey in the Windstar and head for Independence, Missouri. They stop for lunch at Smith’s Restaurant in Collins, Missouri, where Chris catches up on the Cardinals’ scores. He phones Sean back in Illinois to check on the pets, and all are fine. Chris drifts off into memories of Sean and pets generally – Chris has not been a good custodian of family animals over the years.

The main story in this flashback is concerned with zebra finches, and in particular a female who, for a time, occupied a miner’s canary niche in Chris’s consciousness as a “main squeeze” between human lovers. This tale-within-a-tale about the zebra finch is as close as Houseboating in the Ozarks gets to overt eroticism. For the most part, a lot of sex has obviously taken place off-stage, but it doesn’t make it to the main story.

When Chris and the kids get to his sister’s home in Independence (a different sister, Lauren), his aging mother Alma Ruth is there too. She is suffering from Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. Still, something in Chris’s weird chemistry keeps him from showing any warmth. She has brought with her a stack of family photograph albums, her most prized possessions that she will leave to her adult children. But Chris disappoints by not being very interested.

What he is interested in is an old scrapbook, somewhere in the mix, that shows him on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with his old pal Cheeto High Bear. It turns out that Cheeto had died under mysterious circumstances involving a Lakota spirit, known as the Buffalo Calf Woman, and the sacred pipe of the tribe. As Chris is showing these old photos of Cheeto to the twins, he comes as close as we have seen him to genuine sadness for another. It was Cheeto, he tells Razor & Sharon, who taught him to play bluegrass.

Lauren is furious with Chris because of his remoteness from their mother. But Chris is unmoved, or at least appears to be. Before going to bed, he phones Kazzie in Australia. He catches up on her stories about his old Australian friends and his older kids who are still living there. The world seems huge and alien. In the words of the Bob Dylan song, “everything is broken.”

Sixth Chapter: Chris goes for a walk in Independence, and gets into a one-on-one basketball game with a local high-school player. Chris wins the game by throwing his weight around, and can’t resist bragging about it to Lauren over breakfast. Naturally, she becomes even more pissed off with him. She gives him tickets to an amusement park known as “Oceans of Fun,” just to get rid of him and the kids for the day. Chris and the kids have a great time there, and it’s becoming clearer that Chris’s true comfort zone is at the emotional-maturity level of a nine-year-old.

That night, Lauren’s husband tries to engage Chris in some heavy-duty discussion about existentialism and mysticism, but Chris won’t bite. He does, however, look through some more of Alma Ruth’s photo albums, and gets a little sad as he goes through his baseball card collection from the 1950s. So long ago.

Seventh Chapter: Chris sneaks out of Independence, with the kids, in the morning. They are now headed back across Missouri towards Illinois. They stop for lunch at a rat-hole known as New Florence, Missouri, which gets Chris flashing back again to Italy and the real Florence. He was at his anti-intellectual worst in Florence, pouting because of the endless throngs of American tourists, while Kazzie & the kids went the Uffizi, the Duomo, the Galleria dell’Accademia, etc.

After lunch, they move along the highway to St. Louis, Chris solipsistically listening to his own recordings on the car’s stereo as the kids watch a dvd, What About Bob?, that reminds them of their dad. When they get to their St. Louis hotel, they can’t get in for a while because a woman is standing on the top floor waiting to jump to her death. After that crisis is over, they check in. Chris is at his worst, parking in a disabled spot, then laying the foundation for a lawsuit against the hotel when Razor gets a speck of window glass in his foot (left-over glass from the suicide attempt).

The big event of this seventh day of the trip is taking in a St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball game. Razor & Sharon aren’t thrilled with this, but they are nice and indulge Chris’s neurosis. Before the game, they have dinner at a TGI Friday’s, and while they are waiting for their food, Chris demonstrates an amazing prowess at drawing pirate ships on the paper table cloth. Razor and Sharon are amazed, because they didn’t think Chris could draw anything, and these pirate ships are truly magnificent. Chris pontificates about Jackson Pollack and Philip Guston.

The Cardinals lose the game in the surreal lights of Busch Stadium, as Chris glows in the crowd and re-lives childhood moments for a couple of hours. Razor and Sharon busy themselves collecting plastic souvenir cups that fans are discarding.

Back in the hotel room after the game, the kids go to sleep and Chris mixes the sacred and profane in dramatic fashion by first reading the Gideons Bible, then turning on the television for some soft porn. He doesn’t get worked up, however, and looks at the porn as if he were a high school scientist dissecting a frog. He falls asleep obsessing about death – his, his kids’, Cheeto High Bear’s – mumbling some Dylan Thomas to try to make some sense of it all.

Eighth Chapter: Next morning, a Saturday, Chris takes the kids to the zoo. The St. Louis Zoo has been a Hooker staple for generations, and Alma Ruth’s scrapbook was filled with photos going back as far as 1904, when Alma Ruth’s grandparents posed for a photo with Geronimo at the World’s Fair (now the site of the Zoo). Chris and the kids visit puffins and penguins and scrawny kangaroos – the kangaroos are depressing, and totally unlike the robust specimens that used to roam freely around them in their eucalypt forest. They mate shamelessly in front of Chris and the twins, and for a moment Chris is back in his frog lab – the kangaroos might as well be the same actors Chris watched the night before in his hotel room.

They have to get to their campground at Pere Marquette (across the border in Illinois) before nightfall. Chris had been to Pere Marquette as a young boy, fifty years ago, and he tries to walk around with Razor & Sharon to show them his old stomping grounds, but absolutely everything he remembered is gone, replaced by new stone buildings and fancy facilities. After setting up their tent, they drive back along the Mississippi to the strange little town of Elsah, a Christian Scientist haven, which connects dots back to Chris’s “hillbilly highway” where Christian Scientists played a big role in the Hookers’ ancestral history. Chris’s recollection includes a few hints about Quincy, Illinois, which is up-river tomorrow (Sunday). Something big is going to happen there, so the stage is set for that moment.

Back in their tent, Chris and the kids draw and listen to jazz on a St. Louis station, especially John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. (Chris, naturally, draws pirate ships, the same one over and over again.) After the kids go to sleep, Chris recollects an Australian courtroom scene where he lost custody of his oldest children, making a fool of himself by appearing pro se against a brilliant barrister. The turning point in the case was the production of his Florida friend’s novel, Groin Damage, in which the Hooker-based character is a womanizing rogue who would not be a good candidate for single-fatherhood. Chris recalls how humiliated he was – but he deserved it.

Ninth Chapter: After breakfast at Pere Marquette, Chris and the kids climb a hill along the Mississippi River, which prompts a friendly debate. The kids think the hill and the surrounding forest are reminiscent of their home in the Australian eucalypts; Chris thinks it’s more like Cinque Terre in Italy, where Chris wandered alone in the hills as Kazzie and kids swam in Monterosso al Mare.

Then they head to Hannibal, through Illinois backwaters, and sure enough there is another car crash, this one resulting in an animal fatality. Chris borrows a shovel and buries the dog, complete with a dramatic Franciscan homily to his captive audience.

In Hannibal, they pay homage to the Huck Finn tourist traps, and also to the home of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, a Hannibal native. Sharon starts wailing away with the theme song from “Titanic,” to Chris’s amusement. Then it’s on to Quincy, Illinois, one of Chris’s childhood homes. First, he discovers that he does not have a Franciscan connection after all, because his old grade school was named for a different St. Francis. His whole Italian fantasy is dismantled.

Then they decide to take in a mid-day Mass at the old chapel of his youth, and Chris has the long-anticipated epiphany as he walks under a gigantic gothic mural of the face of Jesus, the monstrous image that was etched into his nine-year-old soul.
As with most of Chris’s big-time moments, he quickly settles down. Chris is a frustrating protagonist – just when he is on the verge of discovering something important, he withdraws, over and over again. He almost wills that his big moments pass him by.

Epilogue: After completing the circular journey to home, Chris goes to Chicago once again to pick up Kazzie and his step-daughter, who have returned from Australia. Everything is lovey-dovey on the way downstate, but sure enough, there is another car crash, this one the weirdest of all, involving a cocaine-induced suicide in a corn-field by one of the drivers. Kazzie shields the twins’ eyes from the horrible scene.

Life settles back down, and one day Chris strolls across the street for pre-Mass confession. At first he wonders what the hell he’s doing in the confessional, but the priest talks him into staying, and Chris manages to think up a sin worth confessing. It is the death of the woman he’d had the affair with back in Australia, the woman whose husband killed her. He knows that he was responsible for that, even though he didn’t pull the trigger, and he says so. The priest forgives him and imposes an unusual penance – just to stare at the large crucifix behind the altar. Chris does so, and he sees there a mystical connection with everything and everyone in his life. All of the characters who have appeared in this novel come together in the outstretched icon, and Chris finds himself strangely at peace. But the final paragraphs of the novel suggest that, as always, this peace will only last for a short time. Moments later, Chris is unimpressed with the reading from the gospel, that Jesus was tested like the rest of us in every way, except sin. “Some test,” says Christian Leonard Hooker. “Some test.”

To which I can only say, "Some insight!"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Reading Group Report: Our Guest Wins a Big Award

I'm in a reading group that usually meets every three to four weeks at our house. A little more than a year ago, we read a book by Richard Powers, called
The Time of Our Singing, a brilliant novel about race relations in America, music and a lot more.

I had gotten turned on to Powers about 20 years ago with his first book, Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance, solely because I had picked up the book from a display about local authors in one of our local bookstores. (It is not really fair to call Powers a "local" author because he has reached international acclaim, but he does live a few blocks from my brothers, at least part of the time.) In any event, one of our reading group members is a friend of Powers and invited him to attend our meeting when we discussed his book. He was very gracious; spending more than an hour with us, eating and drinking our usual reading group refreshments, popcorn and cider.

Powers has an intensity and a seriousness that is almost scary. He treated each question and comment as if it was coming from a renowned literary scholar instead of some local yokel, and gave careful replies with a consideration that honored us beyond what we deserved. One of the questions, naturally, was about what he was working on next and he mentioned a book that is set in the Platte River country of Nebraska and explores the limits of human intelligence. Well, the book is out now, and this week it was announced that The Echo Maker has won the National Book Award for fiction, one of the highest, if not the highest, prizes given in the United States for fiction (I don't know the arguments about whether the Pulitzer ranks higher or lower than the National Book Award.)

I am trying to get some other authors to make personal appearances for our reading group, and we have one scheduled for January 7th, about which I will tell more later. My pitch is that every author who has ever personally appeared for our group has won The National Book Award. I'm hoping that Patry Francis, who regularly checks by and has her first book coming out in March is reading this and lets some of our luck rub off on her.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Son Report: Metamorphosis II

I apologize for having two posts in a row about my youngest son, the violinist/composer, but that seems to be how the stars are aligned right now. I do not intend to turn this blog into a p.r. vehicle for Chris, but I write about what interests me and right now there are interesting things going on with him. Google has this handy feature that constantly prowls the internet and sends me an email if it finds anything relating to either of my two sons. (This is how I found out that my oldest son is a prolific song parodist and that he writes poetry.)

In any event, Google this morning directed me to composer, Jeff Myers' website, on which he has posted descriptions of various pieces he has written and excerpts of some of their performances, one of which is by a quartet in which Chris was one of the violinists. This is very listenable, even for ears not yet attuned to new music. The description is from the website:

"Metamorphosis II for string quartet (2002) 23’

"Metamorphosis II, a string quartet in one movement, is a tour-de force, traversing quiet sonorities, amorphous textures, driving rhythms, and lyrical outpourings. Most of the musical motives and melodies are remotely derived from the R&B tune California Soul. Although this tune is never heard, elements of it pervade the piece is various guises. Metamorphosis II was written on a commissioning grant from the Fromm Foundation and premiered at the Eastman School of Music by Christopher Otto, Yuki Numata, Kirsten Swanson, and Kevin McFarland in February of 2003.

Metamorphosis II (premiere performance)
excerpt from beginning
excerpt from middle
excerpt from near end

Monday, November 06, 2006

Son Report: "Faces of Death," "Sharks with Wings" and "Jason and Chris"

Those of you who have been long-time friends or readers of this blog since its beginning (about a year ago) know that I have a son, who is a violinist and of whom I am quite proud. He did a concert on November 1 in Encinitas, CA with composer/pianist,
Richard Carrick, and now I find out that he is playing under the auspices of an organization called Bowerbird in Philadelphia on December 16th at LAVA(Lancaster Avenue Autonomous Space.) I take it from its website that LAVA is a place where various radicals and anarchists hang out, just the kind of venue that would appeal to Chris.

Chris will be performing with Cellist Jason Calloway. They will be doing works by Ravel, Xenakis, Pintscher, Hurt and Wilson, as well as the world premiere of a new work by Chris, as yet untitled (as a father, I sure hope as yet not unwritten!)

Also on the program that night will be a sax duo called "Faces of Death," with David Gross and Bhob Rainey, and an electronics trio called Sharks With Wings, "an experimental noise collective." This is not music for the squeamish. After seeing the names of the other groups who will be playing that night, I'm somewhat relieved that Chris's group has the innocuous name of "Colloway/Otto Duo."

In any event, my wife and I will be flying into Philly in the early afternoon of the 16th, taking in the concert and flying out early Sunday morning, but if there are any blog readers in the area who would like to get together to help brace us up with some liquid refreshments (or to recover afterwards)
let me know. My email address is: I will, of course, make a full report in this space.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Book Report: "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Today is November 3rd, time for members of Patry Francis's Third Day Book Club to blog about Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The book is an extraordinary book in many ways. It is set in the late 1960s when a part of southeastern Nigeria tried to secede to form its own country, the state of Biafra. The rebellion was crushed by January, 1970, but not before millions of people died, mostly because of illnesses and starvation.

Biafra was more than a name of some place far away to me in the late 1960s because our small college, which had a robust international student presence, had several Biafran women studying there. I believe the student newspaper, on which I worked, even had an article about Biafra. But this book is another example of fiction being able to convey a better sense of the "truth," than a mere recitation of the facts. Reading the "fact" that millions of people died of starvation in Biafra does not convey the horror of what happened like reading a book in which you, the reader, become intimately acquainted with an upper middle class, educated, family that goes over the course of several years, from having Western-style dinner parties to watching helplessly as the stomach of their little child becomes distended from malnutrition.

The story is essentially about twin sisters, Olanna, and Kainene, whose father is a corrupt businessman and who go from a life of privilege to a life in which they are fighting for their very survival. The horror of the story, for people like me and most readers of blogs, is in realizing that this could happen to us. How long after a terrorist attack that shut down the electrical grid in the United States before we would be fighting for fried lizards?

And yet, despite the horrors depicted in the book, this is not, overall, a depressing book that is hard to read. The characters maintain a humanity, even when some of them, like Ugwu, the houseboy, commit unspeakable crimes. And there is a basic sense of optimism in the future that is conveyed throughout the book. Although much of the optimism is misguided because even intelligent people believe their leaders' propaganda that they are winning the war, even when they are losing, the overall tone of the book is upbeat, not bleak, like for example, George Orwell's 1984, or Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, both of which were books I wish I had not read. And this is not because everything turns out fine for all of the main characters in the end. They do not.

On the dust jacket, Joyce Carol Oates compares this book and its author, Adichie, to Chinua Achebe, another Nigerian writer, and his book, Things Fall Apart, which is sometimes called the "seminal African novel in English." The time depicted by Achebe is the immediate post-colonial era while Half of a Yellow Sun takes place 20 years later after Nigeria has had some experience governing itself. Half of a Yellow Sun is a logical successor to Achebe's book in that it certainly depicts how things have fallen apart. And yet, there is a sense of hope in Adiche's book that I did not get in Achebe's.

My main criticism of the book is that the writing is not always smooth. Perhaps I got spoiled after recently reading Jeffrey Euginedes tour de force, Middlesex. Euginedes writes seamlessly, shifting time and perspective clearly, while I found myself getting confused at times by Adiche, going on for a number of pages before I finally figured out that we were in a retrospective.

Although the writing style leaves something to be desired, the shortcomings of Half of a Yellow Sun, are more than compensated for by the story, which, after all, is why we read fiction. I gave the book four out of five stars.

For other perspectives on this book, follow the link to Simply Wait, which will have links to about 20 bloggers who have read this book and are reviewing it today.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Movie Report: "The Departed"

I'm tempted to trash Martin Scorsese's latest movie, The Departed, just to be perverse. Scorses is one of those directors that professional critics love to love. At Metacritic, a website that compiles reviews and gives composite scores to movies, The Departed comes in at 85 (out of 100) points, the highest-rated movie currently playing. As usual, I think the professional critics are rating The Departed based on its director's previous works more than the intrinsic merits of the movie itself.

Granted, Scorsese has an impressive body of work. He has proven that he knows how to make good movies with Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, and The Aviator. But, as cruel as it sounds to say it, that was then. What have you done for us lately, Mr. Scorsese?

Warning: Plot Spoiler Ahead!

In the first place, there is nothing exciting or innovative about the story. The movie is a remake of a Chinese movie, Mou gaan dou (English title, Infernal Affairs). If you like lots of blood and gore with your cup of green tea, nobody brews that concoction like Hong Kong film makers. The story, basically, is about two young men in the Massachusetts State Police, Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, who comes from a long line of Irish cops, and Costigan, played by Leonardo DeCaprio, who comes from a family of outlaws and ne'r-do-wells. One of them is a mole infilitrating the mob; the other is a mole infiltrating the police. Guess which is which. Ho, hum, how many times have we read and seen that story?

DeCaprio, particularly, does a great job in his role. He proved to me in The Aviator that he is an actor, not just a pretty face, but, nevertheless, I was surprised at how good he was. I thought Damon, also, did an excellent job, but the rest of the all-star cast turn in forgettable performances. I was particularly irritated at seeing Jack Nicholson, once again playing the arched-eyebrow devil with the familiar sneer and mannerisms, when About Schmidt proved to me that he is capable of so much more. The cast also includes Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and other familiar names, none of whom gave particularly noteworthy performances.

Despite the temptation to trash the movie out of irritation, I am not going to do it. This is an average Hollywood movie, the one the suits come up with when they want to make sure the movie makes money and sells pop and popcorn. Take a time-worn formula, insert big name actors and directors and serve. A lot worse movies have been made and are out there in the multiplexes right now. I rated it three stars out of five, which is average.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hello Friends

Hello to all my friends and faithful readers who keep checking back to see if I have posted anything new. Thanks for all the emails wondering if I'm okay and encouraging me to get back to writing. I've been working on a major life-changing project since May 11, which I have officially now completed. Although it did not keep me from writing, most of my psychic energy went to reaching that goal. I'm not ready to announce what it is yet, but someday I might.

My new goal is to write something on my blog at least every two days. I'm working on a book report on local author Gary Forrester's new book, Houseboating in the Ozarks. Our reading group met last night and discussed the book with Gary, who was with us by telephone from New Zealand. I'm also working on a report on the new Martin Scorsese movie, The Departed. At least one of those reports should be up by tomorrow. I've committed to fellow blogger, Patry Francis, that I will put up a report of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on November 3rd as part of the Third Day Book Club that Patry has started.

For those of you who know my son, Chris, the violinist, when I last reported on these pages, he was about to go to Lucerne, Switzerland, with his quartet, Jack, and to play as concertmaster of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra under the renowned conductor, Pierre Boulez. Chris had a successful trip, and his quartet has been asked to return next year as one of the featured quartets. They have also been asked to play at other places in Europe and a New York debut may be in the offing. Meanwhile, Chris is performing with pianist/composer, Richard Carrick, in Encinitas, CA on Nov. 1. Carrick has a very impressive bio here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Happy Anniversary

Oops, in my summer lassitude, I missed remarking on the anniversary of this blog. It was August 26,2005, when I made my first, somewhat tentative post. We were about to go to Lucerne, Switzerland, to see and hear our son, Chris, play with his string quartet, Jack, and the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. (Chris just left yesterday for his third trip to Lucerne. Jack is playing again and Chris will be concertmaster of the orchestra, directed by Pierre Boulez again. We're not going this year because of our expected Korean trip next spring.) On previous trips abroad, I had inflicted my friends with mass emails describing the experience, and I thought a blog would allow those who wanted to read about the trip do so without bothering those who considered my emails spam.

It has been way more fun than I ever expected, even as the focus has shifted over the last year from a travelogue to observations about books, movies, politics and life. My dream had long been by this stage in my life to have retired to the southwestern United States, have purchased a small weekly newspaper and be writing outrageous editorials to stir up the locals. A blog is better. I can stay in a semi-metropolitan area that has an art theater, concerts and plays to entertain me, can still write outrageous pieces and don't have to worry about advertisers pulling their business. (Nevertheless, the Southwest maintains its romantic appeal to my imagination.) I have made many new friends, none of whom I have met in the flesh, but who drop by and leave comments and whose blog sites I keep track of. Many old friends have been kind enough to read my ramblings and leave comments, on the blog or by private emails. Thanks to all of you. Your feedback is what makes this effort worthwhile for me.

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on a couple of other recent significant anniversary mileposts. On August 12 and 13, about 130 of us gathered in Flint, MI to celebrate and renew acquaintances with people who had been there 40 years ago for one reason or another. For me and about 20 others, we had been there to do our public service in hospitals and Goodwill Industries as conscientious objectors. There were others who had just lived in the area and there were a significant number of girls who were there because there were a lot of single boys there. Flint in those days was a much more vibrant place than it is now, with a population about twice what it is now. (See Michael Moore's movie, Roger and Me for details, although things have gotten even worse since that movie was made in 1989.) I had not seen any of the people, except my three friends with whom I get together every October, and their spouses and another friend and his spouse in 40 years. This was a grass roots reunion, the idea for which my friends and I hatched up last October while drinking beer on a back porch outside Atlanta. We started out with hardly any contact information, put together what we had on a spread sheet and then started circulating the spread sheet to everyone who might know someone and gradually the names and addresses got filled in. We had a pig roast on Saturday evening, a concert by our friends, the Whitfords, who are also Flint alumni, and lots of visiting.

The Flint weekend was also the occasion to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. Our wedding was a small affair, in the back yard with only immediate family present. I think my wife has always missed the hoopla of a big wedding with legions of attendants. So, I decided to do hoopla for the anniversary and rented the biggest limousine I have ever seen to take our friends and us to dinner and dancing afterwards. These are our friends, Milt, Mary, Carlene, Marv, Donna and Earl. The men were all in Flint 40 years ago and stayed loosely in touch, but not as a group until two years ago when we started having annual get togethers. All of the men, except Earl, started out life as little Amish boys. At the reunion we sang a song called "Amish Country Blues," a parody of Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash. The parody was originally done by The Electric Amish, a band which used to be on the Bob and Tom radio show out of Indianapolis. I added a couple of verses. Here is the text of the song and then I will conclude this too long post.

I hear that buggy coming,
It’s rolling round the bend.
And I ain’t seen a TV,
Since; I don’t know when.

I’m stuck in Amish country,
And time keeps draggin’ on.
And I won’t ever have call waiting,
I got no telephone.

When I was just a baby,
my Momma told me “Son,
Don’t ever use der engine
To make your buggy run.”
But I drove a car in Goshen
Just to watch it go.
If the preacher hadn’t caught me,
I’d be in Kokomo.

There’s lots of funky people,
Out there a driving cars,
Probably playing CD’s
And watching VCR’s.
But I guess I’m glad I’m Amish,
I got no bills to pay.
Still I wish I had a tractor,
To help me haul this hay.

When I turned 18,
My draft board told me “Son,
You’re gonna give me 2 years
No more having fun.”
But I got a job in Flint,
And soon the time went by,
And then I was a wondring,
Where did it fly.

Well I sold my horse and buggy,
And bought me a big screen TV,
I sat in my Lay–Z-Boy,
And watched MTV.
And I gained 50 pounds,
And had a heart attack.
If I had just stayed Amish,
I wouldn’t have to go back.

Oh, one last thing and then I'll go, I promise. Last week was the occasion of yet another anniversary, the anniversary of my birth, 60 years ago. I was born exactly nine months after my parents' wedding date. Please, don't anyone wish me a "Happy Birthday." I'm too old to enjoy the idea of yet another birthday having snuck up on me.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Traditional Korean Wedding

One of my readers, gnightgirl, (if you haven't read her blog, This Just In you absolutely need to go there and scroll down to read about how she got rid of an overly-friendly drunk in downtown Champaign last week) wonders if my wife and I are going to Korea for our son's traditional Korean wedding next spring. Absolutely! We're even going to rent traditional Korean wedding costumes for the occasion, and I'm going to memorize the traditional Korean blessing recited by the groom's father. I'm not sure what the parents' costumes look like, but Bomina sent us a picture of how the bride and groom dress (photo left). I'm sure our costumes will be along the same lines, except that I will look distinguished, not goofy. One can always hope. Or wish.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Drug-Taking Mennonite Gets Busted

It was big news in Amish and Mennonite communities a few weeks ago when beer-drinking Floyd Landis appeared to have won the Tour de France. Even Landis's devout parents who wouldn't miss church to watch the race on their neighbors' television and who festooned their lawn with "Give God the glory," signs were not immune to the hype. Although God was to be given the glory, they had one sign proclaiming "Floyd's the man."

Now it turns out God wasn't responsible for the glory after all; it was synthetic testosterone that gave Landis the strength for his super-human effort in the race. I'm curious what the signs on the Landis lawn say now: "Don't blame God?" (I must say God has worked his gig pretty well. He gets the credit whenever anything good happens; whenever anything bad happens somebody else gets blamed. I see why George Bush decided to get religion.)

If I sound bitter, I am.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jeremy and Bomina

Our oldest son, Jeremy, came back from South Korea this week after teaching English over there for four years. We were glad to get him back, particularly after reading the day before he left about the North and South Korean armies trading shots again over the demilitarized zone. He was treated very well by his employer, BCM Educational Group, but he is ready to get on with the next phase of his life, which includes getting his computer network certification at our local community college and then bringing Bomina here to the States to join him. Jeremy and Bomina have been dating for nearly two years and their plans had been for him to go back to Korea next May or June and to get married in a traditional Korean wedding. They decided it would be easier for Bomina to get her visa if they were married now, so they got married in a civil ceremony a few weeks ago, but will still do the traditional wedding next spring. Meanwhile, poor children, they will have to be apart for 10 months, although hopefully, Bomina will be able to come here or Jeremy visit Korea around Christmas time. Bomina is a sweet girl and I think they will be very happy.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Beer-Drinking Mennonite Wins Tour de France

Like most Americans, I don't really follow bicycle racing. But I have been following this year's Tour de France with a little more interest since Floyd Landis, the beer-drinking Mennonite from Lancaster, PA has been in the headlines. It's nice to see that an ultra-religious background and a fondness for beer and pizza are not insurmountable handicaps to getting to the top of at least one profession.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Questions Are

Here is a list of the searches that brought readers to my blog over the last four days. A few might have found what they were looking for. In many cases, I imagine they were disappointed. If any wander back here, I would love to hear from them.

* two and one-half men cast
* footnotes for Silas Marner
* 27s not me whom
* discipline in a student life wikkipedia
* david bordwell
* mrs henderson presents barber
* amish
* joi hofsommer
* ruth irene garrett
* oprah winfrey sold Kirby vacuum cleaners
* classic book reviews jane austen
* the grapes of wrath john steinbeck 600 pages
* silas marner tape
* swartzendruber amish
* meadowbrook park garden plots
* worst analogies
* crockhead abroad
* review guy debord revolution in the service of poetry
* tillie carrier deck

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ask Aunt Tillie: Do Amish cuss?

Dear Aunt Tillie:

My son, a high school senior, has a job this summer working on an Amish construction crew. I was excited about the job because I thought he would pick up wholesome habits from his Amish co-workers. Instead, I find out that he is learning new curse words. Do you think these are really Amish boys that he is working with or are they just masquerading as Amish? Amish don't use curse words, do they?

Concerned Mother.

Dear Concerned Mother,

I guess you have never taken a hammer in hand and hit the wrong nail. No, theoretically, Amish do not cuss. The preachers in our churches do not tell us, "Go ahead and cuss when you have to; it's okay." On the other hand, most Amish work with their hands. When you work with your hands all day, they will, occasionally, be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What do you say when you're slicing a loaf of bread and nick your thumb, or pinch your finger in a drawer?

I have often wondered whether Jesus actually worked as a carpenter, as we are led to believe, or whether maybe he was the guy in charge of making estimates, drawing plans, ordering materials, etc. I don't see how he could have remained sinless if he was actually out there in the hot sun swinging a hammer and sawing a 2x4. Even the Son of God would have said "Son of a $%#&! if his hammer had hit his thumb instead of the nail. Actually, I guess they didn't have nails 2,000 years ago, he would have been hammering on a wooden peg. A peg is a lot bigger than a nail, so maybe he never missed his mark. That must be it; he was perfect, after all. It's a good thing he was born then and not now; he would never have kept perfection going for 30 years.

Aunt Tillie

Sunday, July 16, 2006

World's Worst Analogies

Okay, so this isn't exactly original, but the tank still hasn't filled up yet. An anonymous friend sent me these analogies, which are floating around the internet. They are attributed to The Washington Post Style section, but I don't know if they actually came from there. They did make me laugh like a chicken would laugh if it had a sense of humor.

Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their
collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school
essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers
across the country. Here are last year's winners.....

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides
gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

14. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

15. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

16. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

17. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

18. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

19. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

20. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

21. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

22. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

23. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

24. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Dry Tank

This is from Ron Powers' biography, A Life: Mark Twain regarding Twain's promise to his publisher to write night and day and send 200 pages of manuscript a week on the book he was struggling with, which eventually came out as Roughing It:
He was kidding himself. He was in no shape to write night and day. His creative interest in the book had stalled, a recurring affliction that Mark Twain eventually came to understand metaphorically as his "tank" running dry. He also came to understand -- later-- how to deal with the "dry tank": put the manuscript aside and wait, for months or years, until the tank filled up again.

Some people have been asking what has happened to my blog; am I okay? I'm okay. My "tank" will fill up again when it fills up. I just hope it isn't months or years.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Movie Report: Look Both Ways

I can't think of another movie that deals with the inevitable end of us all with the frankness and grace of Look Both Ways. The movie, written and directed by an Australian woman, Sarah Watts, is about the way five people deal with death during one weekend in Australia.

The main characters are as follows: Meryl is an illustrator for a greeting card company and an artist, who, on the way home from her father's funeral, witnesses a man hit by a train while trying to save his dog. Nick is a news photographer, who, right after finding out that he has testicular cancer which has metastasized to his lungs, brains and other parts of his body, is sent out to the accident scene to take pictures. Andy is a depressed reporter for the newspaper and is convinced that many deaths that appear to be accidents are actually suicides. Anna is the widow of the man killed in the train accident. And Phil is the engineer of the train that struck the man.

The movie illustrates what a difficult subject death is, when dealt with honestly. No one, in the movie or real life, wants to seriously consider their own demise. I will always remember, 30 years ago, a week before my father died, a fervent Christian convinced that he would go to heaven, a place of unimaginable bliss, talking about his estate, "in case something would happen to me." I was thinking, but, of course, didn't say, "What are you talking about, 'in case,' Dad? You're on your death bed." What I didn't know, and will never know, is whether he was actually thinking "in case," or was using euphemisms to spare my feelings. When I received my own diagnosis of paranasal sinus cancer about three and a half years ago, while waiting to find out my prognosis, I was determined to be forthright and unflinching. It was much easier not to flinch after I learned that my tumor had been caught at a very early stage, surgery would make me better than new and there was a very low probability of the tumor returning.

I thought the movie was exceptionally well made. We see what Meryl is thinking and fearing through the device of animated scenes in the style of the paintings she makes. We see what Nick is thinking and fearing through the device of photographs. Although the movie deals frankly about death, none of the characters really wants to think about it. Although the subject of the movie is morbid, the movie manages to avoid being overly-sentimental and mawkish.

The end of the movie, an epilogue, really, without being labelled as such, consists of a series of photographs that appear to say what happened next, but, as some reviewers have noted, may only be what Nick envisioned happening next. In any event, the end is a little more concession to commercial considerations than to reality for my tastes, but it doesn't spoil the movie.

I don't know if the subject matter will keep people from watching this movie, but it ought not. If the public was willing to watch something maudlin like Love Story which was nominated for Best Picture, then it certainly shouldn't be bothered by Look Both Ways. Although about a difficult subject, this movie is never depressing or sentimental.

My main problem with this movie, as with so many British and Australian movies, is that some of the accents were so thick as to be virtually undecipherable, although this was not true for most of the main characters. I found myself wishing at times that the movie was in a foreign language, so that it would have subtitles and I would know what the actors were saying. But that was a relatively minor complaint and I gave the movie four and one-half stars, shy of the full five stars because of the difficulty in understanding at some parts and the feel good epilogue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Movie Report: A Prairie Home Companion

I thought A Prairie Home Companion was a good movie, better than the average Hollywood movie, but not a great movie, and gave it four stars.

This will draw the wrath of the self-appointed police of movie criticism who can bear no deviance from the New York literati orthodoxy. Robert Altman is a great director, goes the literati's auteur analysis. Great directors make great movies (or "films" as the literati like to say.) Robert Altman made A Prairie Home Companion. Ergo, A Prairie Home Companion is a great movie. On the converse side, Ron Howard played Opie on the television series, Happy Days. Happy Days was a popular and therefore, insubstantial, series (as would be any television series with the word "Happy" in it.) Ergo, Ron Howard is a bad movie director. Ergo, any movie made by Ron Howard, such as A Beautiful Mind, must be a bad movie.

These "movie police" enforce the ordinances and statutes of The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and The Village Voice. Frank Rich is their chief. When Rich makes a pronouncement, his minions bow three times and go forth to do likewise.

I hold no brief against Robert Altman. I loved Nashville and Short Cuts. I like to listen to Garrison Keillor and his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, if I remember and am not otherwise engaged. The highpoints of the radio show are Keillor's monologue, a long, rambling account of happenings in the fictional "Lake Wobegon" and the goofy radio dramas with characters; Guy Noir, Lefty and Dusty, the cowboys. Keillor is a genius at what he does; no other radio program comes close to duplicating his schtick.

The problem with Keillor is when he goes outside the entertainment genre in which he excels. I have read several of his novels and he is not a great novelist. Nor is he a great movie writer. The plot of the movie, A Prairie Home Companion is so thin as to be virtually non-existent. The movie is supposedly the last broadcast of the radio show, brought to an end because a rapacious Texan has bought the Fitzgerald Theater, home of the show when it is in St. Paul, and plans to tear it down. But that makes no sense because the show is frequently on the road; there is nothing unique about the Fitzgerald that would put an end to the show if it couldn't have the theater as its home base.

Then there is the problem of Guy Noir, a fictional detective played by Keillor on the radio program, who suddenly is a real person, the head of security for the show, played by Kevin Kline, in the movie. A mysterious woman dressed in white glides around the stage and dressing rooms in the movie, but it is never clear exactly what she is doing. The consensus seems to be that she represents death, as a character dies in her presence, but then she returns, and no one knows for what or whom.

Keillor plays himself, but doesn't do the famous monologue, the strongest part of the radio show. Although several of the fake commercials are shown in the movie, there are no dramas; Lefty and Dusty becoming strictly singers, who don't sing all that well. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep appear as an aging pair of singing sisters, and they are always a delight to watch. They do their own singing in the movie and do an amazingly good job. Then there is a teenager who writes suicidal poetry played by Lindsay Lohan, apparently a television star, but whom I have never seen nor heard of. The movie criticism police applaud her performance, apparently contrasting the character she plays in this movie with whatever she plays in other movies, but, like the direction, I think it should stand on its own. If one has to evaluate a performance by comparing it with other things that director or actor has done, then it doesn't seem like much of a noteworthy performance to me.

The major problem with the movie is that by its very nature it destroys the very thing that makes the radio show great, i.e. the fact that what is going on is NOT seen; it happens largely in your imagination. Radio sound effects lose their effect when you can see that the sound of horses galloping is not coming from actual horses galloping but a guy banging together some blocks of wood.

So, with all my criticisms, why am I giving this movie four stars instead of three? Well, it is not a typical Hollywood movie. There are no gun battles, car chases or sex scenes. It is a sleepy film about a sleepy radio show. It gives a nice, although probably fictional, view of the behind-the-scenes of a radio show that I like -- somewhat. On the other hand, if you've ever seen one of the televised broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion on public television, then you're probably been entertained as much as you would be by seeing this movie.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Movie Review: The Sting

My friend and Chief Critic, pg, is constantly berating my "movie reports" as uninformed, superficial and not worthy of the time it takes to write and read them. Other than that, pg likes my writing. Friday night, I went to see the grand old movie, The Sting, a movie classic, which was shown in our classic theater,The Virginia Theater. To satisfy, pg, I have decided to do a real movie review, worthy of the name and the time. So read and enjoy, pg. The rest of you might want to come back some other time for something a little more readable.

The Sting is a movie about an elaborate con game, but at a deeper level the movie itself is an elaborate con of the audience. It was made in 1937 (you can tell by looking at the automobiles) but held by the studio, Sony Pictures, for nearly 40 years until the time was ripe for its release. More remarkably, the lead actors, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman, were only one year and 12 years old, respectively, when the movie was made. They were made to look 25 and 37 years old, respectively, through an extraordinary makeup job by the great Henry Bumstead, no relation to the famous Dagwood Bumstead of Blondie comic book fame. In a little-known fact, a stunt man, John Scarne, doubled for Paul Newman's hands during the famous card shark scenes because Newman was actually pretty clumsy at cards. Even more amazingly, the famous stunt man, Mickey Gilbert, (no relation to the famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse) did all of Redford's walking scenes, as Redford, at the time the movie was made, was still getting around by crawling. Redford didn't need a stand-in for his standing scenes, having just mastered the art of standing two weeks before shooting started. (The practice of using "stand-ins" for actors too young to do their own standing dates from the earliest days of film.)

But what makes the movie great is its innovative use of the French theorist,Guy Debord's concept of the "society of spectacle." Debord was only six years old when The Sting was made but became acquainted with its director, George Roy Hill, when he was four, attending a day care in the Sixth Arondissement in Paris, run by Hill's parents. Debord was a leader of the "Situationist Movement," and even wrote a book and made a film about situationism, although neither was nearly as successful as the prime example of situationist movie-making, The Sting. Debord's first book, Memoires, written when he was in kindergarten, was bound with a sandpaper cover so that it would destroy other books placed next to it.

For Debord, spectacle unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. As he said in a much-quoted passage, "The opposition that must now be united against this ideological decomposition must not get caught up in criticizing the buffooneries appearing in outmoded forms like poems or novels. We have to criticize activities that are important for the future, activities that we need to make use of. One of the most serious signs of the present ideological decomposition is that the functionalist theory of architecture is now based on the most reactionary conceptions of society and morality. That is, the temporarily and partially valid contributions of the original Bauhaus or of the school of Le Corbusier have been distorted so as to reinforce an excessively backward notion of life and of the framework of life."

The noted film critic, Kevin Sweeney, however, criticizes the Debord approach to film making as exemplified in The Sting. In an epoch-making epistle, he said, "In recent years, film theory has seen the emergence of a cognitive theory of narrative comprehension and interpretation. The theory arose from a dissatisfaction with poststructuralist theories of narrative that emphasize the film viewer's unconscious or ideologically coded responses to screened images. Rejecting this Lacanian-Althusserian model of film narration and viewer response, cognitivists such as David Bordwell, Edward Branigan and Noel Carroll analyze cinematic comprehension in terms of active viewers' ordinary psychological processes and strategies of problem solving. Narrative film viewing, they claim, consists of the same sorts of top-down (conceptualizing and inferring) and bottom-up (sensory, data-driven, automatic) psychological processes that perceivers use to understand events in the world around them." Sweeney refers to this general theory as "cinematic cognitivism."

I personally think that Sweeney is too quick to reject the Lacanian-Althusserian model of film narration and viewer response. As shown by the opening shots, in The Sting of a spiffy pair of shoes walking through depression-era Chicago streets, there is still life in the Lacanian-Althusserian model. The switch of the money in Redford's pants, when he is still a street grifter, is another example of Lacanian-Althusserian cinematography at its finest. (Another little known fact is that the paper in the bag is actually Redford's shredded diaper.)

So, PG, you're not the only person who can write intellectual movie reviews. I rest my case. I hope you're satisfied.