A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Saturday, September 24, 2016

And It’s Autumn…

I had full intentions of writing an entry earlier this week, but for one reason or another it did not happen. My wrist injury - which I am supposed to be treating with a temporary splint - makes typing on the computer keyboard difficult. If my wrist does not heal in two weeks, then the orthopedist will upgrade me to a plaster cast for 3-6 weeks. The idea that, for the first time in my life, I will need to wear a cast is not helping my currently gloomy (or gloomier than usual) mood.

Just as well. The ideas for essays have not been coming easily lately. My muses left ideas scribbled in some sort of short hand gibberish on post it notes here and there before abandoning me altogether. I don’t really know where they went. I have one theory that perhaps they have been seduced by promises of a lucrative future working in a Hawaiian shirt factory somewhere in the southwestern part of the country. Ah, I can just see them now, probably working 12-14 hour days handcuffed to a battery of old Singer sewing machines.

It would serve the bitches right!

In any event, the most disappointing, hottest summer of my life is over and autumn has arrived. The temperatures have cooled already, although the humidity is still hanging around in the atmosphere like the toxic air left behind whenever a certain nominee for President comes to town. With this in mind, we should celebrate my favorite time of year. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and many times it can be just right.

In this spirit, we present a video of one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs recorded in the rock era. This is probably the most wonderful Moody Blues song which the group never recorded. Their lead singer, Justin Hayward, was invited to sing this song as part of Jeff Wayne’s production of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. We can listen to it as a lament for someone who lost their beloved and beloved way of life to the Martian invaders. Or a dirge for those of us who are looking at the things to come beyond this election and not liking what we see one bit.

Your choice, but by all means please enjoy.

(Thank you for reading.  Okay, now my wrist aches.  I know, whine, whine, whine!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


As the old saying goes (or should go), sticks and stones may break my bones, but calling names will certainly win me popularity in presidential elections.  For my immediate future, I feel I should amend the first part of this old belief: sticks and stones and falling bodies onto macadam driveways will break my wrist!

This event happened on Labor Day.  The high humidity which has dogged us all summer finally gave way on this holiday and I felt inspired to pull weeds in our side yard.  The weeds had to be pulled; they were taller than I am, which is not too much of a stretch since I am just a hair over five feet tall.  So I pushed our wheelbarrow to the side yard and quickly filled it.  I stopped a few times for a rest inside and a lunch break. 

At one point, I needed to take a break and sit for a while on my kneeler/seat.  Now I should explain that our side yard is not on even terrain.  There is a definite slope to it and passage through it when there are smaller plants and roots present to trip over is not the smartest idea.  Given my uneven gait should have convinced me not to tempt fate.

In other words, I should have known better and guessed what would happen if I tried to walk down the slope.  In fact, I do know better, but the thought, “Oh, what the hell?” crossed my mind.

Hell indeed!

My foot must have caught on a nice decorative wood border which I had installed earlier in the season.  I tried to regain my balance, but that idea was fruitless. I tumbled out of the garden and onto our driveway.  I made contact at three different points on my body: my left ring finger, my right hand, and my face.

Initially my face ached the most and I thought that I had gashed my lip for sure.  That pain went away within an hour and no, there no was no cut or bruise or blood.  My crash into macadam did not improve my looks one way or the other.

The finger and hand achiness continued throughout the week.  I made it through the shortened work week, and even volunteered to work through the weekend. The wrist pain got particularly annoying on Friday and I figured it was time to visit the local urgent care clinic.  Warrior Queen met me there in case I would be told that my injuries precluded me from driving home.  X-rays were done and the physician on duty saw some abnormalities on my wrist (Really?  Me? Abnormal?), but he could not determine that I had a fracture.  He advised anti-inflammatories and the radiologist would review my images the next day.  I would get a phone call if the radiologist determined that I had broken something.

The call came late Saturday afternoon.  Yes, there was a small fracture in my right wrist; the nurse did not mention the left middle finger.  I’ve been left to assume that nothing is broken on that side.  I procrastinated returning to the clinic until the next day: the humidity had returned by that time on Saturday and I didn’t feel up to venturing out again that day.

After working four hours Sunday morning, I stopped at the clinic to have a soft splint applied and instructions to contact an orthopedist for follow up.  The physician assistant did not instill much confidence in her treatment.  She helpfully started to point out where my fracture was located, even though she was looking at the x-ray for my left hand.  I told her that the problem was on my right arm.  The correct image was brought up and she pointed out what looked like a bone chip sticking out perpendicular from the other bones.  Okay, now this makes sense.

So now I wait for my orthopedist appointment in two weeks; this was the earliest appointment available to me.  In the meantime I am not to do any lifting, and long time blog reader Janey has suggested that Warrior Queen see to my every need until that time.

As many of you who know or know of Warrior Queen, you can probably best surmise her reaction to this suggestion went over like a middle-aged male body hitting macadam.

(Thank you for reading.  Or a lead balloon, take your pick!)

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins

So, who was Florence Foster Jenkins anyway?

In the film based on true events of her life, she is a socialite who uses her modest inheritance (her words) to promote the art of opera in New York’s high society.  The patrons of the salons adore her for bringing the silent tableaux to them and dutifully look the other way when she is inspired to sing for them. Jenkins is joined by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, an actor who once aspired to greatness, but settled on being the devoted love of her life and loyal manager to her aspirations. 

In retrospect, the real Florence Foster Jenkins couldn’t catch a break. Her ambitions to be a pianist were ended with an arm injury.  She contracted syphilis from her first husband, which may have affected her neurologically and, hence, her vocal capabilities.  Still, you have to give the old girl credit for trying!

Meryl Streep delivers a wonderful portrayal of the bosomy, matronly elder of New York’s high society at the height of World War II.  For Jenkins and her peers, the war is a distant nuisance which provides dire headlines in their newspapers, a fervent fan base of her singing (!) among the men and women fighting that war, and a shortage of chives for the bathtub potato salad she serves at her luncheons.  (We are calling it bathtub potato salad because they create enough of this American picnic delicacy to fill an entire bathtub whenever she invites her society friends over for a meal.)  Ever the perfect hostess, Jenkins frets that she has not made enough salad, or that she has done Wagner justice as she poses as the Valkyrie for her salon audience.

She is aided, abetted, supported and whatever else by her husband/partner St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), who is eager to do anything to please her.  He arranges her performances, lines the wallets of every critic within earshot with cash bribes for their glowing reviews, and even buys up copies of any newspaper which would dare to be overly critical of his wife’s talents.  He does all this because he does love her, but only up to a point.  There are hints that they were never intimate due to her affliction, and, as Bayfield explains, he and Jenkins have an understanding.  She allows him to maintain a separate apartment in another part of New York, where he keeps a mistress.  Apparently, Jenkins is aware of the apartment, but not the girlfriend. 

Into this world she and Bayfield bring a pianist and composer with symphony hall ambitions of his own, Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg).  A slight man who compensates for his stature with a pursuit of lifting weights, he is delighted to play piano for Jenkins…at first.  His delight soon turns to trepidation when Jenkins opens her mouth and he realizes she can’t sing a note correctly to save her life.  Panic strikes him since his dreams might be dashed with his association with Jenkins.  Eventually he realizes that it is best to swallow his pride - after all he is earning $150 a week in World War II New York to be her accompanist - and become a loyal part of Jenkins’ team.

This arrangement goes well until one day when Jenkins decides she wants to sing at Carnegie Hall.  Bayfield frets that the venue is too big for her talents, but this is something that his aging wife really, really wants to do.  Blind love and loyalty win out and all around her prepare Jenkins for what turns out to be her final performance in public.

The day of the concert arrives, and nothing seems to go right.  Cosme is late to arrive, the audience is full of boisterous service people who find her recordings a welcome respite (!) from the horrors of the battlefield, yet can’t help laughing when they hear the tones that come out of her mouth, and that damned critic from The New York Post refuses to take a bribe from Bayfield.  Okay, kudos for this journalist having ethics, but really, someone should tell him that he’s only working for a tabloid.

After some initial laughter from the audience, the crowd is shamed into giving Jenkins a chance to show her talent.  All is considered to end well with the concert and Jenkins believes that the realization of her dream ambition is her greatest triumph.  One problem:  the next day dawns and, despite Bayfield's and McMoon’s efforts to shield her from the truth, Jenkins reads the damning Post review. 

There is little else for the film to show other than the affirmation of true love, respect and loyalty from those she chooses to include in her life.  Jenkins, Bayfield and McMoon never gave up on her dream, and they certainly didn’t let the truth get in the way.  This should be the lesson 2016 audiences take away as we try to make sense of the current election cycle.  This is why the ambitions of a failed singer 70 years ago should matter to us today.

The leads are all wonderful. Grant as Bayfield gets to expand beyond his usual roles as a lovable rogue and cad when he curls up next to Jenkins to reassure her that all will be fine.  The role of McMoon could be the breakout role for Helberg.  American television audiences are so used to seeing him as the oversexed engineer Howard Wallowitz in The Big Bang Theory, that the McMoon role is a welcome change of pace for him.   We still love Wallowitz, but now we’re eager to see what Helberg will do in the future.

And this brings us back to Streep.  The role of the elderly, vulnerable Jenkins is a far cry from her role in The Deerhunter, where many of us saw her for the first time.  It seems that we have really watched Streep grow up and older in front of our eyes.  We are all wiser and better for the experience. 

So go ahead and sing for us, Florence Foster Jenkins!  You may not know that your true talent lies in the enduring faith in yourself, even as the faux music and life’s other critics around you alternately praise and laugh at you.  And yes, we will have seconds of your potato salad.

(Thank you for reading.  Seriously, try the potato salad. There’s plenty for everyone!)

Saturday, September 03, 2016

But Some Call Me…Jim: Gene Wilder

We lost a true comedic icon this week with the passing of Gene Wilder at the age of 83.  True to form with our American culture, his best remembered works are being released for a short time in tribute. His most revered work in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles will appear on the big screen in select theaters this weekend, even as his best remembered role Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is still in heavy rotation on cable television.  These are both wonderful films, but there are so many other Wilder performances being overlooked and in desperate need of being rediscovered.

We needn’t worry about The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Wilder’s two other collaborations with Brooks.  It seems that these two films have never gone out of style.  Brooks even managed to recycle his take on an old backstage show business story - rumor has it that the plot for The Producers was also proposed as a story idea for the Marx Brothers’ A Night at The Opera - into Broadway gold.  The latter film is a marvelous spoof of the Hollywood horror genre photographed in - how else - wonderful black and white.

Yet there are a number of other gems in Wilder’s career that are worthy of another look.  Following The Producers, Wilder starred in the charming Quackster Fortune Has A Cousin in the Bronx (I am not making this title up), and a Norman Lear spoof on A Tale of Two Cities with obvious Brooks overtones,  Start The Revolution Without Me.   Willy Wonka followed, as did a short memorable performance as a sheep obsessed doctor in Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* *But Were Afraid to Ask.  This last film was based on a book by psychiatrist Dr. David Reuben, and its title is a testament to the fact that even as America adopted more swinging mores in the 1960s, we still felt uncomfortable shedding our Victorian era notions at that late date.

Brooks’ western spoof Blazing Saddles is, for my money, the greatest commentary on bigotry and racism ever put to celluloid (sincere apologies to the producers of To Kill a Mockingbird).  Wilder played a washed up gunfighter in this Brooksian free for all, loaded with every comedic trick from puns (a laurel…and hardy handshake) to self-conscious realism. Wilder, for his performance, played his part of Jim (“But some people call me…Jim”) straight as the lunacy cascaded around him.

A made for television movie, Thursday’s Game, paired Wilder with Bob Newhart, who in turn were supported by a number of other then current denizens of American television situation comedies at the time: Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper, Rob Reiner, and Nancy Walker among others.  The film was written by James L. Brooks, then producing the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later developed The Simpsons.   Wilder had the best luck getting to work with some of the most gifted comedy talents of the 1970s.  Of course, his agent probably had a lot to with this…

Wilder worked once more with the other Brooks on Young Frankenstein before working Brooks style out of his system with the awkwardly titled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.  I actually paid money to see this one; I don’t regret my choice, but I’m not in any hurry to see it again nearly 40 years later.

Then there is his performance which impressed me the most: The Frisco Kid.  Wilder made me totally forget his previous personas of a well-meaning nebbish with his portrayal of a Polish rabbi crossing the American West circa 1850.  The film had major star power with Harrison Ford as his co-star; the latter was still riding the crest of beginning stardom fresh from his role in Star Wars (the original).   Hey, cable tv, we need to see this one again!

Two more collaborations were on the horizon for Wilder: one with Richard Pryor and another with up and coming comedienne Gilda Radner.  His first teaming with Pryor on Silver Streak is the most memorable, being patterned after the work of Alfred Hitchcock.  The popularity of this film led to three more teamings with Pryor, and they probably would gone on forever had not Pryor’s health deteriorated as quickly as it did.

Wilder’s collaborations with Radner were fruitful even as it eventually descended into somewhat Brooks’ style silly.  They met on Hanky Panky, developed a friendship and then into marriage in real life.  A more or less straight role as a husband with a midlife crisis in Women in Red gave way to Haunted Honeymoon.  We can only speculate what would have happened next but, as with Pryor, Radner’s health also declined.   She would be gone by the end of the decade, but her memory lives on in Gilda’s Club, a series of support shelters for those afflicted with cancer around the country.  Wilder, as the grieving husband, helped found this tribute to Gilda’s legacy.

We can only hope that he has been reunited with her in whatever afterlife we care to imagine exists.  There is no denying that Wilder left us an extraordinary legacy of his own.  We have only to turn on our televisions, queue up our cds or streaming services, and enjoy as much as can.

(Thank you for reading.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Wilder.)