Wednesday, December 25, 2013

R.I.P. 2013

During the final two decades of her life, my mother’s favorite expression was “I’m glad I’m on my way out.” She would usually utter the remark after hearing of some horrific incident on the news. If it involved cruelty to animals, the more emphatically it was stated. I don’t know how long I have left to tread upon the earth, but if I reach the current life expectancy for males, I should be out of here in another two decades. That’ll be fine with me. I dread the day when drones deliver mail and possibly descend from the sky to snatch me away because Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), now in development by the Department of Homeland Security, suspects me of having “mal-intent.”

The very worst of science fiction is now coming to pass, and I was never a fan of the best.

What’s the deal with “downloading” music? I never liked the compact disc with its cold metallic shine and miniscule covers that all but killed album art, but I could at least hold the thing in my hand. These days, the movie I’m watching in a theater is on a disc or being downloaded from a satellite in space rather than printed on film and threaded through a 35mm projector. I don’t read literature on a Nook or Kindle, but so many people do that real books with paper pages will one day be as exotic as cursive writing which today’s students are not being taught.

I don’t like smart phones.

I don’t like the Kardashian sisters.

I don’t like Molly Cyrus.

I do not like Justin Bieber.

Most of what I’d miss in this world is already gone, so now my late mama’s favorite phrase has become my own: “I’m glad I’m on my way out.”

Some people I did like made their way out this year. I don’t know how they felt about life in the 21st century, but they made their mark in the 20th and left before the drones could get them.

Nelson Mandela died in 2013, and so did Margaret Thatcher. You can read about them in the history books, but not here. I am distrustful of all politicians and of what the media tells us about them. Mandela may have been as warm and cuddly as his obits claim, and Thatcher was instrumental in ending the Cold War, but neither brought me comfort, joy, or inspiration. Political figures rarely do.

Lou Reed was another matter. His voice - flat, whiny, and possessing no range whatsoever - would have gotten him booted from the first audition for American Idol, but his imperfections worked to his advantage. He was called the Godfather of Punk and a lot of other things, but like any great artist, labels just won’t do.

Reed came to prominence as the principle creative force in The Velvet Underground whose debut album in 1967 had that now iconic cover image of a banana by Andy Warhol. I first heard it when I was 15 or so, and my ears, initially appalled by the screeching guitars and coarse sound, grew to love it.

His voice was frequently drained of all enthusiasm. When he sang, "And me, I just don't care at all" in "Men of Good Fortune" from 1973’s Berlin, you did not doubt his sincerity. As Stephen Holden wrote in Rolling Stone, "It is a voice so incapable of bullshit that it makes even an artsy arrangement work by turning the whole thing into a joyous travesty." Listen to “Sad Song,” the epic finale of Berlin, in which his cynical vocal and hard-bitten lyrics (“Somebody else would have broken both of her arms”) prevent the strings and synthesizers from turning it into the inspirational “You’ll Never Walk Alone” moment that Reed seems to be mocking.

Reed also wrote some more traditional ballads. “Perfect Day” was even covered by Susan Boyle who may not have heard that the lover who made Reed “feel like someone else, someone good” was rumored to be heroin. That sounds as credible as the hypothesis that “Mother Mary” in the Beatles’ “Let It Be” was really marijuana. I don’t believe it, but to each his own.

George Jones was described by critic Jon Pareles as “the definitive country singer of the last half century.” The late Waylon Jennings was speaking for all country singers when he said, “If we could all sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones.” To Leonard Cohen, the man nicknamed the Possum had “the best voice in America.” What accounted for such praise? Jones attributed it to “being myself and singing from the heart.”

Peter O' Toole got his break playing Lawrence of Arabia to perfection in David Lean’s 1962 epic. He never quite equaled that achievement, but who could? That illustrious credit more than compensated for What’s New, Pussycat, Man of La Mancha, and Caligula, the kind of movies he might have been anticipating in 1963 when he told Gay Talese, “Oh, it’s painful seeing it all there on the screen, solidified, embalmed.” Thankfully, there’s also The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class, The Stuntman, My Favorite Year, and a couple of well-written memoirs.

When making something called The Delinquents, Tom Laughlin was directed by Robert Altman who called him “an unbelievable pain in the ass.” He wasn’t much of an actor. He wasn’t much of a director either, but, like Altman, he was a true maverick. No survey of 1970’s cinema could ignore Billy Jack, the 1971 film he co-wrote, directed and starred in. Unhappy with the way that Warner Bros. dumped it into theaters he sued to regain control of its distribution. Re-released in 1973, it was a box-office sensation that helped propel an interest in martial arts and gave a boost to TV’s Kung Fu and all those Bruce Lee movies that filled screens in the same decade. Billy Jack was full of New Age style hippie philosophizing and characters who expressed a desire for peace, but one could argue that it did not practice what it preached. The real draw for its mostly teenaged audience were those moments when Billy Jack frowned and thoughtfully stroked his chin before exploding in a rage, his foot violently striking someone’s face or crotch. Roger Ebert felt that the film’s message was that “a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice.”

Ebert and I once exchanged a series of emails about a negative review of his Movie Home Companion that I posted at Amazon.com. It all ended amicably, and I wish I still had our correspondence. As film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, he won a Pulitzer Prize while moonlighting as the screenwriter for Russ Meyers’ bosom-heavy adult films. In the late ‘70s, he was partnered with Gene Siskel, his rival at The Chicago Tribune, to debate the current movies on a local public TV station. Once Sneak Previews moved to PBS, the pair became household names and soon moved on to the more lucrative field of syndication. They may have been discussing movies, but their debates sometimes got personal and nasty. Once Siskel passed on in 1999, the show never regained that original spark, and it struggled with a variety of co-hosts until illness forced Ebert to relinquish his seat in the balcony and limit his reviews to print.

Jean Stapleton was Edith, the heart and soul of the Bunker clan on TV’s All in the Family. When Norman Lear’s landmark sitcom premiered on CBS in January 1971, it was a bust in the ratings. By the time repeats began airing in summer, it was the talk of the country and the number one show on television. In that pre-VCR and TiVo era, some 60 million people stayed home on Saturday nights to watch Archie chomp on his cigar and clash with his liberal minded daughter and son-in-law on women, gays, guns, and, in my favorite episode, a couple of refrigerator repairmen. To Archie, his wife was a “Dingbat,” but Edith was the only member of that family who could think clearly without prejudice (Archie) or pomposity (Mike, the college educated “Meathead”). Edith’s kindness and compassion made her appear naïve, but she was wiser than both of them combined.

Dynamation, the stop-motion animation technique employed by Ray Harryhausen, reaped more impressive results than the computer generated effects of today. Those sword-brandishing skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts had real personality, often more than the flesh and blood actors that populated his films. Harryhausen jokingly agreed during a night in his honor at the Cleveland Cinematheque in 1993 where he autographed my lobby card from the film and I shook his gifted hand.

“When she’s by herself, Julie’s almost transparent, almost nonexistent,” playwright John van Druten said of Julie Harris. He might just as well have called her a ghost. In 1963’s The Haunting, Harris was surrounded by poltergeists, but you have to wonder whether the title referred to them or to the sensitive Eleanor whom Harris vividly brought to life. In addition to starring in what may be the most frightening movie ever made, Harris was a legend of the stage who reprised her first Broadway triumph, that of the lonely tomboy in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, in her 1952 film debut.

I was never a fan of Annette Funicello, but like Popeye, dungarees, and Keds, she was part of the landscape of my childhood. I remember the ads for her movies better than the actual films, only one of which I ventured into a theater to see. What I remember most about 1963’s Beach Party was Vincent Price’s brief appearance at the end to plug The Haunted Palace, one of American International’s less memorable horror movies. Two of the best, House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, were written by Richard Matheson who also passed on in 2013.

In later years, Matheson expressed disapproval of the genre for which he was best-known. “I think that when people are exposed to it, it gets in their brain and stays there,” he told William P. Simmons. “I think it roots itself in their psyches.” That was certainly true of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” Matheson’s classic Twilight Zone in which William Shatner’s nervous airline passenger has an unforgettable encounter with a gremlin. Some other Matheson stories to root themselves in the psyches of all who saw them were 1971’s Duel, the “Movie of the Week” that put Steven Spielberg on the map, and 1972’s The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin as a reporter on the trail of a vampire in modern day Las Vegas.

Elmore Leonard was the modern king of crime fiction. Before writing bestsellers like Get Shorty, Freaky Deaky, and Killshot, he penned dozens of westerns, many of them adapted to film including 3:10 to Yuma (Glenn Ford and later Russell Crowe), Hombre (Paul Newman), Hondo (John Wayne), Valdez Is Coming (Burt Lancaster), and Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood). One of Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing was to “leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” His spare style was born of practicality. “When you write to make the rent or send your kids to school,” he told NPR, “you learn how to write without a lot of nonsense.”

And . . . Dennis Farina, the hat wearing detective on Crime Story, one of the few bright lights of 1980’s prime-time; Ed Lauter was a dependable villain in scores of movies, including Hitchcock’s last, Family Plot; Jonathan Winters inspired Robin Williams, but was funnier and never got on my nerves; David Frost was rather smarmy on the talk show he hosted in the early ‘70s, but he toughened up for his one-on-one with big, bad Richard Nixon in 1977; Eydie Gorme and her surviving husband, Steve Lawrence, were unavoidable on TV in the days when Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show; Marcia Wallace was the snippy receptionist to Bob Newhart’s befuddled psychologist on his popular ‘70’s sitcom; Steve Forrest played Elvis’ big brother in Flaming Star; Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for Hitchcock’s Suspicion, but was even better in his Rebecca; Bonnie Franklin was a sexy single mother to two teenage daughters on One Day at a Time; Conrad Bain’s biggest success was in the hideously awful Different Strokes, one of Norman Lear’s worst sitcoms, but he was also Arthur, a nemesis for Beatrice Arthur’s Maude, on one of the best; Karen Black was in a lot of movies in the ‘70s, the best of which was Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson; Dale Robertson was made for westerns like TV’s Tales of Wells Fargo; John Kerr was the sensitive youth in the movie version of Tea and Sympathy, but I’ll remember how he was nearly sliced in half in The Pit and the Pendulum; Directors Michael Winner and Hal Needham were to Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds, respectively, what John Ford and John Huston had been to John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart decades earlier; Colin Wilson wrote The Outsider, a fascinating study of art and existentialism; and Patti Page topped the charts in the pre-rock ‘n’ roll era.

I never read The Hunt for Red October or watched The Sopranos or saw those Fast and Furious movies, but adios to author Tom Clancy and actors James Gandolfini and Paul Walker.

Rest in peace, and congratulations to all. The grave got you before the drones.

Brian W. Fairbanks
December 23, 2013

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Friday, December 20, 2013

A Frank Sinatra Christmas Carol

(This is a work of humorous fiction. Will I think it's funny.)

“Oh by gosh, by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly.”

That lyric comes from the song, “Mistletoe and Holly” which was originally recorded by Ol’ Blues Eyes, the renowned Chairman of the Board himself, Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra. What few people realize is that this delightful ditty also marked Frankie baby’s debut as a composer.

In the pre-Beatle days of the 1950s, when the head Rat Packer recorded his self-penned Christmas song, it was not yet standard practice for performers to pen their own material, and Frank was no exception. Frank’s precious pipes relied upon such composers as Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for the hits with which he wowed the bobbysoxers and the mobsters who comprised his audience.

Frank also relied upon other lyricists and tunesmiths when he was hit with writer’s block when trying to write the first line. Frank’s always reliable gut told him that “Oh by” and “By golly” were absolutely essential words with which to open the song, providing as they do, a “hook” that reels in the listener, but no matter how often he scratched his head for inspiration, one word remained elusive. “Oh by (something), by golly” just wouldn’t do, so Frank, a man with much clout as a result of his standing in the entertainment world, as well as his wiliness to perform horrible acts of violence on anyone who displeased him, called in professional help.

An army of songwriters descended upon Sinatra’s Palm Springs retreat where, 72 hours, gallons and gallons of coffee, scotch, bourbon, vodka, rum, and whiskey, several thousand cigarettes, and hundreds of head scratches later, the elusive word that would complete the opening line of Frank’s Christmas carol was collared. It was, if the legend is, indeed, true, Sammy Cahn who, in the 72nd hour, woke from a vodka induced stupor and shouted out the magic word: “GOSH.”

Sinatra’s servants were notified, and the Chairman of the Board, whose only contributions to the session were some profane threats accompanied by his trademark snapping of the fingers, was awakened. The song, now complete, was forever preserved on wax in a hastily arranged post-midnight session at Capital Records in Los Angeles.

It is a tribute to Sinatra’s artistry that the drama that preceded the recording is not evident in the finished product which is as smooth as the remark Frank made to the studio security guard who, failing to recognize the legendary crooner, hesitated before letting him enter the building: “I’ll kill you, you #%@^&*%$# bastard!”

There was only one Sinatra (unless you count Frank, Jr., Nancy, Tina, and the rest of his brood), and there’s only one Sinatra penned Christmas song. So this year, loosen that bow-tie, snap those fingers, light a Lucky (or a Camel, if, like Mr. Sinatra, that is your preference), and celebrate the holidays by singing along with Frank.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 1996 Brian W. Fairbanks.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Mark, Jose, and John Lennon

It was 33 years ago this Sunday that John Lennon was gunned down outside the Dakota apartments in New York City. He was shot at 10:50 p.m., pronounced dead at 11:20, and by midnight the grim news was going forth to a shocked world. Most Americans heard the news that night from Howard Cosell who made the announcement during ABC’s Monday Night Football. I had spent most of that day in bed with the flu and had fallen asleep during a repeat of The Tonight Show. In one of those eerie moments when I was drifting between sleep and consciousness, I heard a bulletin from NBC News which said Lennon had been killed by “a local screwball.” In those pre-Internet days, my first instinct after digesting the news was to turn on the radio. A station that generally veered to the middle of the road was playing “God,” the rarely heard blasphemous centerpiece of the Plastic Ono Band album. It was then that I knew I wasn’t dreaming

The doctor on duty at Roosevelt Hospital Emergency Room that night said that though Lennon‘s killer claimed to have no previous experience with firearms, each of the bullets in his prey’s body were right on target and destroyed the arteries that carry blood to the heart. Of course, the alleged killer was easily apprehended since he made no attempt to flee, having decided to sit down and read The Catcher in the Rye while waiting for police to arrest him. Identified as Mark David Chapman, he fit the now familiar profile of the "lone assassin." That was the initial clue that he might have been a patsy, another of the CIA’s Manchurian Candidates, brainwashed into taking the fall for a killing that he may or may not have committed and which was planned by other parties.

In retrospect, it should have seemed obvious back in 1980. In Rolling Stone’s special issue memorializing Lennon, all but one player on the scene that night in December 1980 was identified.

It was Jay Hastings, an off-duty doorman, who futilely tried to fashion a tourniquet to prevent the massive bleeding after Lennon stumbled into a nearby office. Two police officers, Jim Moran and Bill Gamble, carried Lennon’s wounded body into the patrol car that took him to Roosevelt Hospital. The city’s medical examiner, Elliott Gross, was identified, as was Richard J. Nicastro, deputy chief of Manhattan detectives, Dr. Stephen Lynn, who made the official announcement that Lennon was dead, and even A. Burton, the hospital’s director of public relations.

Who was missing?

In Rolling Stone, he was identified only as “The doorman stationed outside” and “the other doorman.” He was the one who identified Chapman as the assailant. As Lennon, in his persona of Dr. Winston O’ Boogie, wrote on the back cover of his 1975 greatest hits collection, Shaved Fish, “A conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words.” The silence concerning “The doorman stationed outside” continued until 1987 when People magazine identified him as Jose Perdomo.

Who was Jose Perdomo?

In The Illuminati Zone, William Fevers reports that Jose Jacquin Sanjenis Perdomo “was a Cuban exile who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, the failed CIA operation that much of the evidence suggests was led by George H. W. Bush, former CIA director and the vice-president elect at the time of Lennon’s murder.” In Let Me Take You Down, author Jack Jones writes that Chapman frequently discussed the Bay of Pigs with Perdomo while the alleged killer was stalking his prey at the Dakota. Before embarking on his doorman career, Perdomo was on the CIA’s payroll where he worked with Frank Sturgis, the convicted Watergate burglar employed by Richard Nixon, the president who wanted Lennon deported and encouraged the FBI to harass him in the early ‘70s. Sturgis is also believed to have had a hand in the Kennedy assassination.

If Chapman had no previous experience with firearms, Perdomo almost certainly did.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Perdomo, the CIA agent and Dakota doorman, was the true assassin on the night of December 8, 1980. Perdomo said it was Chapman. The police said it was Chapman. The news media said it was Chapman. Hell, even Chapman said it was Chapman. The only ones who would say it might not have been Chapman are “conspiracy theorists,” and the same people who tell us it was Chapman would also say that “conspiracy theorists” are kooks and crazies. Let's get it straight: It was Chapman.

Say it with me:

It was Chapman.

It was Chapman.

It was Chapman.

Now go back to sleep.

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Santa the big-bellied bigot

Santa Claus is a bigot.

What else can one think when hearing him tell baby Rudolph that he’ll never make his sleigh team unless his red nose stops glowing?

I heard it myself during the re-broadcast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

In 1964, the year this Rankin-Bass Christmas special premiered, the only viewers who might have noticed Santa’s bigotry were African-Americans who at that time were still called Negroes. Now, however, there are many people who can see themselves in Rudolph, discriminated against because they’re different from the majority.

Would Santa allow a transgender reindeer help pull his sleigh?

Would a fat reindeer be shunned even though Santa is fat?

Rudolph’s difference proves to be his strength in the end, but we have to endure 40 minutes of watching the poor animal subjected to abuse and ridicule before Rudolph’s bright nose saves Christmas for Santa. Sure, Santa learns tolerance, but only because it serves his selfish needs.

Is that really the lesson we want children to learn? I should think not.

It’s rather shocking that this show is still airing, in network prime-time, no less. This was the show’s 50th telecast on CBS.

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963 . . . and beyond

It’s the 50th anniversary of three notable deaths. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, is often overlooked on the date of his passing because his fame is not as widespread as that of C. S. Lewis, the Christian apologist whose Chronicles of Narnia is read in classrooms. On November 22, 1963, the news that Huxley and Lewis would no longer put pen to paper was put on hold as television, radio, and newspapers (no one used the word “media” much back then) placed all of their focus on John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States who was assassinated in Dallas, Texas early in the afternoon.

I was six-years-old, a first grader at a parochial school where the principal announced the tragedy over the PA system. We stood next to our desks, said a prayer, probably a “Hail Mary” or something equally meaningless, and were dismissed early. Once home, I didn’t really grasp the reason for my mother’s tears. I knew JFK as an image on the black-and-white TV screen, someone not unlike Ben Casey, the doctor played by Vince Edwards on a series popular at the time. There were soon clues that Kennedy was more important than a TV doctor.

Once the news broke, there was no other news. Television covered the story around the clock for four days. There was the news of the assassination attempt, the confirmation that Kennedy was dead, interviews with tearful Americans, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, then Oswald's death at the hands of Jack Ruby, all culminating in Kennedy's funeral on Monday November 25 followed by burial in Arlington Cemetery. Kennedy's body was laid to rest, but his ghost has haunted the country ever since.

There are questions, not only about the possibility of a conspiracy in his death, but about his life and legacy. Was Kennedy a great president comparable to Lincoln and FDR? Or was he simply a great cultural icon, a political Elvis? One thing is certain: He was an inspirational figure to millions of people, including many who were not born in 1963.

Shortly after his father’s death, John Kennedy Jr was asked if he remembered him and where was he now?

"Heaven,” the little boy said.

In November 22, 1963: Reflections on the Life, Assassination, and Legacy of John F. Kennedy by Dean R. Owen, the author quotes Reverend Billy Graham who recalled visiting Kennedy only four days before his inauguration as president in January 1961. Kennedy asked Graham about the Bible and where he believed history was heading. Graham told the newly elected president that history would come to a dramatic end with the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Kennedy said, “I’m interested in that.”

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lying Bastard Johnson

In summer 1964 during one of my family’s visits to Euclid Beach, an amusement park in Cleveland, Ohio, cotton candy and roller coasters had to compete with politics for the attention of the patrons. Senator Edward Kennedy was present to do his democratic duty by supporting Lyndon Johnson in that year’s presidential race. The uncouth Texan inherited the presidency the previous November after Edward’s brother, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. On that day at Euclid Beach, Kennedy scribbled his indecipherable autograph for me, and I also got a white Stetson made of hard plastic with an LBJ campaign button attached to the headband. Setting the button aside, I often wore the hat in the years ahead, but I would imagine myself as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood when playing cowboy, not LBJ. Who would want to be him? Wayne and Eastwood did their own shooting even if they only used blanks on a movie set. LBJ used real bullets, but let others pull the trigger for him, not only in Vietnam, but, if a new book is to be believed, much closer to home.

“Lyndon and I both wanted to be president,” a tipsy Richard Nixon told political consultant Roger Stone, “but only he was willing to kill for it.” And he did kill for it, at least according to Stone whose book, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ, was discussed one recent night on Coast to Coast with weekend host John B. Wells.

“Oh boy,” Wells repeatedly said as Stone shared one awful anecdote after another concerning the vile, despicable man who succeeded JFK as president. Johnson owed his political career to bribes, blackmail, threats, and murder, reaching the highest office in the land by engineering the assassination of the man he reluctantly served as vice president. You’ve seen the photo of LBJ being solemnly sworn in next to a shaken Jacqueline Kennedy. But have you seen the other picture, snapped seconds later, when a grinning LBJ winks conspiratorially at a friend in the rear, as if to say, “We pulled it off”?

Sure, he probably did more than any president in promoting civil rights, but, as Stone reports, Johnson was a nasty bully who abused his family, his friends, his associates, and even his dogs. A photo of LBJ picking his beagle off the ground by its ears made the rounds in the ‘60s and still alarms animal lovers. This is the man who painted his republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a right wing maniac itching to press the nuclear button while portraying himself as a man of peace who would bring the troops home from Vietnam. After his landslide victory in November 1964, Johnson continued and even accelerated the war.

Johnson and his policies were responsible for much of the violence that tore the country apart in 1968, including the riots that disrupted that summer’s democratic convention. By then, he was so despised even by his own party that he didn’t have a prayer at the ballot box. Rather than risk a humiliating defeat, he went on TV to announce he would not seek or accept his party’s nomination. You could say we have Johnson to thank for Richard Nixon.

It’s certainly no surprise to think that Johnson had a role in JFK’s assassination. Until Stone, however, few regarded him as the key figure that set the plot in motion with his Texas cronies. It was Johnson who insisted that JFK visit Dallas, a trip that Kennedy was dreading. And it was Johnson’s equally devious pal, Texas Governor John Connally, who insisted that JFK take the route he did. The assassins were lying in wait, and another Johnson chum, Jack Ruby, was waiting to silence the alleged assassin, the “patsy,” as Lee Harvey Oswald described himself, two days later.

You won’t hear any of this on television during the week leading up to the 50th anniversary of that awful day in Dallas. Television is doing its part to drown out all conspiracy theories and to continue promoting the lie. On Nova, George Clooney lovingly narrated an account of television’s coverage of the tragedy, even depicting Walter Cronkite as some kind of hero. Bill O’ Reilly, the chinless twit of Fox News, has already done his part for the cover-up by putting his name on Killing Kennedy, a book that is the basis for a movie on the National Geographic channel that resurrects the long discredited lone gunman theory. All the other familiar talking heads will also serve their corporate masters by concealing and even mocking the truth. We’ll hear the standard line trotted out to address and quickly dismiss the conspiracy theories: “People just can’t accept that a nobody like Oswald could change the course of history and take out a president, especially one as glamorous as Kennedy.”

No, people just can’t accept a story that is contradicted, and quite dramatically at that, by the evidence. The Zapruder film, unseen by the public until 12 years after the fact, completely demolishes the lone assassin story. To accept the Warren Commission Report as the truth requires even more imagination than I had when pretending to be a cowboy in that stupid LBJ hat.

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The name's Friday

Who needs cable when there’s This, Me TV, and Antenna TV, all of them providing old movies and classics from TV’s golden age?

One of the classics currently airing on Me TV is Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. The influential and much parodied series which Webb both created and produced began on radio in 1949. In 1951, the TV version premiered on NBC and would run until 1959. Other than I Love Lucy, Jack Webb's baby was just about the most popular program on television during the era and even inspired a 1954 theatrical film that was among the year's ten biggest grossing movies. The original black-and-white episodes are rarely seen on television these days, but are available on DVD. The version airing on Me TV is the revival that began airing in January 1967 and ran for three and a half seasons before Webb voluntarily turned in Joe Friday's badge to focus more on producing. His Mark VII Limited productions was busier than ever in the 1970s, flooding the airwaves with such hits as Adam 12, Hec Ramsey, and Emergency, as well as such misfires as O’ Hara, United States Treasury (with David Janssen) and The D. A. (starring Robert Conrad).

A Dragnet episode that I caught recently took Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday into the home of his partner, Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan), and was characterized by the kind of matter-of-fact dialogue that was one of the show’s trademarks.

Friday was spending several days at Gannon’s home while the latter’s wife is away. A couple of neighbors come by to play cards, one of whom is a Systems Analyst.

“What does a Systems Analyst do?” Friday asks.

“Analyze systems” was the reply.

The Systems Analyst looked familiar. Only when the credits rolled did I realize it was Jack Sheldon, the trumpet player in the band on Merv Griffin’s TV show who sang the title song in The Long Goodbye, and did a little acting on the side. That makes sense. Jack Webb was a jazz aficionado who made Pete Kelly’s Blues and cast his ex-wife, singer Julie London, and her next husband, musician Bobby Troup (who wrote “Route 66”), in Emergency, the last great success that Webb enjoyed before his death one day before Christmas Eve 1982.

A police drama isn’t a police drama without a crime, so the episode gives us a girl selling door-to-door magazine subscriptions. That’s not against the law, but telling potential customers that you’re paying your way through a non-existent college is. To the slammer she goes.

Watching Webb’s sometimes awkward manner and hearing his monotone speaking voice, I kept wondering who he reminded me of. Suddenly, it hit me. Charlie Brown! Listen to that voice, then listen to the voice of Peter Robbins who voiced Charles Schulz’s hapless hero in the earliest Peanuts TV specials. Joe Friday is Charlie Brown, all grown up. It makes sense. Charlie Brown was an honest, decent kid surrounded by often dishonest and frequently nasty children like Lucy Van Pelt. Joe Friday was an honest, decent man who kept the streets safe from drug dealers, thieves, and killers.

Dragnet is airing Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. (EST) on Me TV.

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween: The Devil's Holiday

Thursday is Halloween. Unlike Christmas and Easter, both of which are now accepted as Christian holidays despite their pagan origins, Halloween has no defense. There is nothing “Christian” about it. With the full approval of their parents, children dress up as ghosts, goblins, and monsters. The parents then allow their kids to knock on the doors of strangers who fill their bags with candy sometimes hiding a razor blade.

According to The New American Desk Encyclopedia, Halloween started as a Celtic festival “to mark the new year, welcoming the spirits of the dead and assuaging supernatural powers.” When Halloween crossed over from Europe to America, brought here by the Irish and Scots, it was draped in Christian disguise by church leaders who promoted it as All Hallows Eve, the night preceding All Saints Day on November 1 which Pope Gregory III (731-741) instituted as a day to celebrate Christian saints. But whether it’s called Halloween or All Hallows Eve, it’s a day devoted to death.

In Holidays and Holy Days, a booklet published by the United Church of God, on Halloween “the souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about.”

The practices associated with Halloween are all rooted in the occult. Bobbing for apples is a form of fortune telling, also called divination, an attempt to predict the future. “The first person to bite an apple was predicted to be the first to marry in the coming year.” The jack-o-lantern, the name for the pumpkin with eyes, nose, and mouth carved out and illuminated by candles or flashlights “represent(ed) a watchman on Halloween night or a man caught between earth and the supernatural world.”

Unlike Christmas and Easter whose Christian trappings have tended to obscure their Pagan beginnings, Halloween is associated entirely with the forces of darkness, with witches and bogeymen. It is Satanic.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Devoted: A book to make your heart grow larger

Angels exist, but they’re less likely to flap their wings than wag their tails.

Dogs are angels. They are the best companions and the most loyal friends. They are our protectors and often our inspiration. Dogs give us more than we could ever hope to give them. If you’re unconvinced, ask yourself this: How many books have dogs written in praise of humans? Now, how many books have humans written about dogs?

Devoted: 38 Extraordinary Tales of Love, Loyalty, and Life with Dogs by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh and published by the National Geographic Society, is one of the finest books by a human to express love and admiration for man’s (and woman’s) best friend.

Keep the tissues handy as you read about dogs that comfort the terminally ill and the abused, perform heroic feats in service to mankind, even rescue their owners from suicide with little more than a look or a brush of a wet nose.

You’ll meet Rosie, a golden retriever “who can’t stand for a kid to be sad, and will go to them to comfort them.” Rosie made history in 2011 when she became the first dog to take the witness stand where she gave support as her teenage owner testified against a rapist. And Effie, a mixed-breed, whose habit of sticking her nose into her owner’s breast was the clue that a large carcinoma, rarely detectable in mammograms, was growing there. K’os, a Neapolitan mastiff, had a nightly habit of visiting the bedroom of a boy whose epilepsy was only diagnosed after the dog’s barking saved him during a seizure.

There are dogs that serve as eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf, and provide friendship to the lonely and brokenhearted.

At other times, the tears may come from laughter as you read about dogs that surf and skydive. Walsh provides informative sidebars throughout explaining the differences between various breeds of dogs, how to care for your dog, as well as dog trivia.

Devoted is a beautiful book on all counts: beautiful stories beautifully written, with beautiful photographs on quality paper. It’s as lovely to look at as it is to read.

“Dogs make our hearts grow larger,” Ascher-Walsh writes. So will this book.

(A modified version of this review was originally published at Amazon.com)

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jerome Corsi asks: Who Really Killed Kennedy?

Jerome R. Corsi's Who Really Killed Kennedy? kept me reading over three consecutive nights, but for a die-hard conspiracy theorist who has already explored alternative histories of the 1963 assassination, it offers few revelations and fails to acknowledge what may have been the most significant factor in the 35th U.S. president’s death: John F. Kennedy’s decision in June 1963 to issue currency through the United States Treasury, as the Constitution requires, a fearless or foolhardy move that threatened the Federal Reserve’s stranglehold on the economy. Kennedy bravely took on the Mafia and the CIA, swearing to smash the latter into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind, but that may have been child’s play compared to challenging the banking establishment that likely controls both.

Despite that omission, Corsi’s book is a valuable crash course on the Kennedy assassination, gathering evidence from a variety of sources to summarize what is now known or plausibly suspected concerning the shocking events in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The characters already familiar to us from Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, and dozens of other documentaries and books (the best of which remains The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease) reappear in Corsi’s pages. They include such now infamous figures as Lee Harvey Oswald who did not act alone and may not have acted at all in pulling the trigger, and Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner with Mafia ties, who did pull the trigger on Oswald, not in a fit of psychotic patriotism, as the white-washed version claims, but on orders from people that both men knew and likely worked with. Allen Dulles, the CIA director, fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, is the chief culprit in Corsi’s view, an amoral son of privilege who had solicited help from Nazis in forming the agency and joined forces with organized crime and foreign assassins to eliminate the president. Also slithering about, certainly involved at least on the periphery, are three future presidents: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush.

Few people today accept the official Warren Commission report, a tall tale that is sure to receive heavy rotation in the mainstream media this year, the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death. In a way, I almost envy those naïve dreamers who continue to believe it. The story of a lone assassin and his magic bullet is a comforting fantasy, far less frightening than the truth. Since the lies are still so aggressively promoted, it’s clear that the Kennedy assassination was about much more than the elimination of one man, and the powerful forces behind it are still in power today.

Jerome Corsi sees the big picture, and connects the assassination to the New World Order, that utopia for corporate and banking interests that will be a prison or death sentence for the rest of us. Read Who Killed Kennedy? Read it and weep - for Kennedy, for your country, and for yourself.

Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

JFK: Liberal or Conservative?

In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy, who at age 43 was the second youngest man elected to the U.S. presidency, spoke of the torch being passed to a new generation of Americans. Nearly three decades later, when 46-year-old William J. Clinton took the oath of office, we had all seen the black-and-white photo of a teenaged Clinton shaking hands with JFK. To democrats, it seemed symbolic of further torch passing. In reality, it was a handshake and nothing more.

History is written by the victors. Sadly, JFK’s assassination prevented him from joining that club. With his death, the historians took over, distorting the man and his legacy. When the handsome Irishman isn’t portrayed as a lecherous bed-hopper who turned the White House into a brothel, he is held up as the embodiment of modern liberalism.

In JFK, Conservative, Ira Stoll makes the case that the 35th president’s true heir was not the democrats that followed him as commander-in-chief (Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Clinton, and Barack Obama), but Ronald Reagan who, like Kennedy, opposed oppressive government regulations, favored tax cuts to boost an ailing economy, stood firm against Communism, and held a deep religious faith.

In his lifetime, Kennedy rejected the “liberal” label. As a newly elected Senator in 1953, he told The Saturday Evening Post that he was “not a liberal at all,” adding “I’m not comfortable with those people.” A friend, Washington columnist Joseph Alsop, remembered Kennedy as regarding “those people” with “Genuine contempt. He really was – contemptuous is the right word for it.” Nor did liberals think highly of him. In 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt told a TV reporter that she would do all she could to prevent a “conservative” like Kennedy from winning the democratic presidential nomination.

Kennedy did win the nomination, and went on to face his republican opponent, vice president Richard Nixon, in a series of televised debates. Unfortunately, the debates are remembered less for what the candidates said than for how they looked.

“I don’t believe in big government,” Kennedy told the American television audience. The democrat and supposed liberal who, in producer Don Hewitt’s view, “looked like a young Adonis,” also took a hard line against Communism, warned of criminal control of labor unions, and vowed to prevent Red China from gaining admittance to the United Nations. Nixon, plagued by five o’ clock shadow and a pool of perspiration on his lower lip, promised higher salaries for government employees, expressed a need for more taxes, and warned that Kennedy’s support for the opponents of Fidel Castro was “dangerously irresponsible.” As Nixon related in his memoirs, “Kennedy conveyed the image – to 60 million people – that he was tougher on Castro and communism than I was.”

Free trade and tax cuts took precedence over liberalism’s pet issues during the Kennedy administration while the later presidency of “conservative” Richard Nixon was characterized by wage and price controls, the first presidential visit to Moscow, and the opening of relations between the U.S. and Red China.

Kennedy’s politics were influenced, Stoll believes, by his spiritual beliefs. The author argues that religion played a bigger role in Kennedy’s life than we’ve been led to believe. In his inaugural address, Kennedy said “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” Two of Kennedy’s aides, Kenneth O’ Donnell and David Powers, remember that “Kennedy was a more deeply religious man than he appeared to be or wanted to appear to be.” If he did not always live a Christian life away from the prying eyes of the media, he did something else when no photographers were present: he prayed and attended church services.

“The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense,” he once said. Kennedy also quoted Alexis de Tocqueville: “Where there is no respect for God, can there be much for man?”

There’s little question that the definition of “liberalism” has changed in the five decades since JFK was in the oval office. It could be argued that liberalism once meant protecting the minority from the majority and letting the individual flourish. Now, the respect for man that de Tocqueville spoke of has been replaced by respect for mankind which, for today's leftists, is a collectivist stance that ignores the individual and defines everyone according to race, gender, economic class, and sexual orientation. Everyone is now part of a separate group that eyes with suspicion the group to which they don’t belong. And each group wants to know what their country can do for them, not what they can do for their country.

That is not the America that JFK, Conservative, or even JFK, the liberal of an earlier era, bravely led for too short a time.


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Friday, September 20, 2013

Chief Executive of Death

Nat Hentoff, the liberal journalist who was let go from The Village Voice several years ago, generally avoids hyperbole, but he told an interviewer that Barack Obama is the most dangerous president in history. Even George W. Bush, he says, wasn’t particularly evil. He was led along by nefarious forces in his administration. Obama IS the nefarious force. For many, “Obamacare,” officially known as the Affordable Health Care Act, is the equivalent of a lethal injection. If you’re too old or too ill to contribute (financially) to society, your life is not considered valuable enough to save. Hentoff, now 88, believes that Obamacare could hasten his death.

For the moment, Obamacare is on hold. The House of Representatives voted to “defund” the program last week, but even its most ferocious opponents acknowledge that this “train wreck,” as majority leader John Boehner calls it, won’t be derailed for long. It’s here to stay, like it or not.

I don’t like it.

The Senate wrapped Obama’s present to the American people on Christmas Eve 2009. The humongous health care package is one that the country cannot afford, does not want, and will benefit insurance companies and politicians much more than those in need of medical care. The decision to pass Obamacare on the morning of Christmas Eve is intriguing. It was December 22, three days before Christmas, in 1913, that a weary Congress, eager to break for the holidays, passed the Federal Reserve Act. This unconstitutional act gave control of the American economy to the bankers who can manipulate the country’s fortunes as they see fit, creating inflation or deflation, and plunging the U.S. into a depression if they choose. As Congressman Charles A Lindberg, Sr., the father of the legendary aviator, said, “From now on, depressions will be scientifically created.”

And so they have been.

How will Obamacare affect the country?

Millions of Americans presently uninsured will now be covered, or so Obama and his minions tell us, whether they wish to be or not. Enrollment in the program is mandatory. Those who refuse to enroll will be fined and possibly jailed. The elderly and those with the most serious health conditions will suffer because younger people, those who supposedly “contribute” to society, will receive treatment first.

Worst of all, Obamacare gives the government one more area of our lives to control. This is a dictatorship in the making, and most people are too clueless to see the signs. They will still fail to see the signs even as they are microchipped, which few people are aware is an eventual requirement of Obama’s program. When told that this could very well be the mark of the beast warned of in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, they’ll just chuckle and dismiss those who worry about such a thing as kooks, weirdos, conspiracy theorists, and religious fanatics. They’ll laugh, and laugh, and laugh - all the way to Hell.

Once Obamacare takes effect, Hell may be right here in the United States of America.


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Friday, August 30, 2013

Bob Dylan paints Another Self Portrait

Another Self Portrait, volume 10 in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, focuses on one of the less celebrated periods in the man’s fabled history, the years 1969-1971 when he released Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, New Morning, and a two-disc Greatest Hits collection padded out with newly recorded versions of previously unreleased material. The countrified Nashville Skyline came in for its share of criticism. What was the deal with that mellifluous voice, so unlike the scratchy sound for which Dylan was famous? And what gives with a song as simple as “Country Pie” (“Oh me, oh my, I love that country pie?”) from a songwriter who later took the credit for killing Tin Pan Alley with personal and sometimes mind-boggling adventures in the surreal like “From a Buick 6” (“I need a steam shovel, mama, to keep away the dead”)?

It was Self Portrait, however, that stood out like a bloated stomach in Dylan’s discography, especially in 1970 when we were unaware that Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove were still to come. Like 1966’s Blonde on Blonde, it was a two-record set. Unlike that indisputably brilliant album, the one with “Visions of Johanna,” “I Want You,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Rainy Day Women #12 &35,” and whose final side was devoted to one song, the 11 minute, 20 second “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” Self Portrait was . . . strange.

Self Portrait wasn’t strange in the same sense that Blonde on Blonde was, with its title that seemed to have been arrived at in a moment of possibly drug-induced whimsy (as were song titles like “Temporary Like Achilles”), but . . . strange.

The man who killed Tin Pan Alley was resurrecting it by singing “Blue Moon,” the Rodgers and Hart standard. There were other covers, too, the first Dylan album since his 1962 debut to feature songs he had not written himself. Some were even more surprising than “Blue Moon” – commercial songs (the horror!) that had already been hits for the Everly Brothers (“Take a Message to Mary,” “Let It Be Me”) and even Simon and Garfunkel (a version of “The Boxer” done up as a wacky duet between scratchy-voiced Dylan and Nashville Skyline Dylan).

Some tracks had the kind of syrupy strings that might have sounded right on an album by Jim Nabors (TV’s Gomer Pyle was one of Dylan’s label mates at Columbia Records) or the Johnny Mann Singers, but not one by the man who gave us “Like a Rolling Stone” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”

And the whole shebang opened with a Dylan original called “All the Tired Horses” whose only lyrics (“All the tired horses in the sun, how am I supposed to get any ridin’ done?”) were sung by a female chorus.

Released in June 1970, Self Portrait was greeted with surprisingly good sales (reaching #4 on Billboard), but contempt from the critics. Just about every Dylan fan knows the opening line of Greil Marcus’ review in Rolling Stone, so there’s no need to repeat it here. I’ll repeat it, anyway: “What is this shit?”

Dylan answered that question several times through the years. His most detailed and probably most honest response was given to the same magazine’s Kurt Loder in 1984. Simply put, he hoped to alienate his more fanatical fans and turn their sometimes parasitic admiration elsewhere. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a musical artist with the kind of following that Dylan attracted at his peak. His most obsessive fans were not content to listen to his records, hang his poster on the wall, or throw their undergarments on stage during one of his then infrequent concert appearances. His fans included the likes of J. Weberman, a self-styled “garbologist” who picked through his trash and harassed him in the press, demanding he get with the counterculture’s program (speaking out against Vietnam, writing more anthems for the “Movement,” etc).

Unlike Mick Jagger and even unlike the Beatles, with the possible exception of John Lennon, Dylan was not just a songwriter, musician or singer (his voice was too unconventional for that title, anyway). He certainly wasn’t anything as common as an “entertainer.” He was a seer possessing forbidden knowledge, a prophet with a clear view of what was ahead, and a judge who saw through all the world’s hypocrisies. In short, he was a man who had good reason to want to run and hide, or, to paraphrase one of Nashville’s Skyline’s best songs, to throw it all away.

Those were strange days, indeed, a period of such confusion, of so many upheavals in culture and society, that it was hoped that somebody somewhere had the answer and could sort it all out. To many, that somebody could only be Dylan. His every new 33 and a third record was greeted like a stone tablet delivered from on high, but where was the message, the mantra, the guideposts to wisdom in the seemingly haphazard collection of odds and oddities that was Self Portrait?

Coming to the original Self Portrait now, it’s doubtful that anyone would ask “What is this shit?” It’s a Dylan album, one of 40 or so that he’s released in a career that now spans half a century. Why, there’s even a Bob Dylan Christmas album with his somewhat gargle-voiced takes on “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells.” Self Portrait isn’t Bringing It All Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks, but it wasn’t meant to be either. It’s Self Portrait. I happen to love it. This latest addition to The Bootleg Series is Another Self Portrait. Except for the cover painting of a guy who looks more to me like actor Chad Lowe than Bob Dylan, I love this one, too.

Roughly half of the cuts here are alternate takes, demos, or unreleased songs from the sessions that produced the original Self Portrait and its follow-up, New Morning. The 1969 Isle of Wight concert is represented with versions of “Highway 61 Revisited” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” performed with The Band. George Harrison turns up a couple of times, once to add his guitar to the unreleased “Working on a Guru.”

Surprisingly, an unreleased take of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” is the only acknowledgement that there once was an album titled Dylan, a hodgepodge of covers and outtakes assembled from Self Portrait and New Morning rejects that Columbia issued in 1973 after Dylan briefly left the label for Asylum Records. Never released in the U.S. on compact disc, it’s really not bad, and I thought that someone, perhaps Dylan himself, might have wanted to start rehabilitating its reputation here.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Elmore Leonard's Rules: "Avoid Detailed Descriptions of Characters"

One of the late Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is to “Avoid Detailed Descriptions of Characters.” As an example of how to describe a character without getting bogged down in details, he quotes Hemingway: “She had taken off her hat and put it on the bed.”

That’s it. That’s sufficient, too, at least for me.

Whenever an author starts describing a character in detail, he usually does so in a passage resembling what Leonard calls “thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”

Sometimes detailed descriptions serve a purpose, as in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep where Philip Marlowe describes his attire when making his first visit to General Sternwood:

"I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them."

This was Chandler’s way of letting the reader know that his private detective hero was paying more attention than usual to his dress when visiting a wealthy client (“I was calling on four million dollars”). In describing the “dark blue clocks” on his socks, Marlowe was almost mocking the care he was taking to make a good impression.

Chandler doesn’t go on and on and on, however, the way some authors are prone to do.

There may be readers who find detailed descriptions helpful in visualizing a character, but I find it dictatorial, an attempt to make me see the exact image that the author sees which is not really possible no matter how vivid the description. Since my introduction to Marlowe came through movies, I always see Humphrey Bogart, the Marlowe of the 1946 film version of The Big Sleep, when reading Chandler. Sometimes, it’s even Elliott Gould from 1973’s The Long Goodbye. These images did not originate with Chandler or in my own imagination, but from Warner Bros., Howard Hawks, and, in Gould’s case, Robert Altman.

When reading fiction, I usually have an image of how a character looks from the moment he is introduced. When I read, I enter what is almost comparable to a dream state. My subconscious mind takes over and sometimes produces a mental picture whose origin I cannot trace. Maybe I’ve taken the nose or chin of someone I once saw, and a forehead from someone else, and constructed a collage that becomes a person who did not previously exist. More often, I’ll cast an actor already familiar to me from movies or television in the role. This can sometimes be a problem.

When I read Ayn Rand’s Altas Shrugged in 1979, I saw Lindsey Wagner, then the star of TV’s Bionic Woman, as Dagny Taggart, the heroine. She seemed right for the part. She was beautiful and looked smart. As Hank Rearden, however, I got an image in mind of actor Paul Benedict who played a supporting role on The Jeffersons, a popular sitcom of the time. I didn’t consider him right for the role at all, but he came to mind for some unknown reason and it was an image that I couldn’t shake. I had him locked in as Rand’s steel magnate throughout the book's 1,168 pages. I guess that I didn’t have the heart to fire him.

An author who describes his characters in too much detail violates another of Leonard’s rules, to be invisible, to get out of the way of the story and its characters, and conceal the fact that a writer is writing: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Not every writer wants to be invisible, though. “If you have a felicity for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you’re after, and you can skip the rules.”

That kind of writer is likely fond of what Leonard quotes John Steinbeck as calling “hooptedoodle,” stuff that shows off a writer’s skill with words, but may intrude on a story.

There is no “hooptedoodle” in 10 Rules of Writing. To call it lean is an understatement. It’s not really a book, but an essay, a short one, spread out over 92 pages with illustrations by Joe Ciardiello. Its total length is roughly equal to the “First Forward,” “Second Foreword,” and “Third Foreword” in Stephen King’s On Writing, a book that violates Leonard’s second rule, to “Avoid Prologues: They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword.”

King can be excused. His book appeared in 2000, a year before Leonard’s essay was first published in The New York Times.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Living Life The Introvert's Way

The other night, bloated and tired from an all-you-can-eat fish fry at a local tavern, but still not ready for sleep, I sat down to read The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling. It was a good read, but the author devotes far too many pages to parties and the introvert’s extreme discomfort with mingling and small talk. Since I avoid parties (no one invites me to them, anyway - Thank God!), I don’t need to be reminded why I hate them.

So, what is an introvert?

Sigmund Freud considered it a form of neurosis. Introverts “can’t face reality and think they’ll never have sex” is Dembling’s summation of Freud’s diagnosis. Carl G. Jung, credited with popularizing the introvert/extrovert model, held a different view. Jung suggested that for the introvert, “energy flows inward, while for extroverts, energy flows outward.”

There is, it seems, a difference in the construction of an introvert’s brain that indicates it is not a “condition” that one can change. Even if introverts are not outnumbered by extroverts (it’s a roughly 50/50 split), we aren’t as noisy and, therefore, more likely to be defined inaccurately by those who can’t shut up. If they don’t consider us shy, we are “cold, taciturn, compliant, sedentary, dull, and grumpy.”

I plead guilty to being taciturn and sometimes grumpy. Both are defense mechanisms to shield myself from the pushy chatterbox who wants to converse, but does not really want to communicate. This is the extrovert’s failing; at least it’s a failing to the introvert who does not enjoy and derives no benefit from talk for its own sake. I would rather sit quietly and think than talk. Psychologist Marti Laney proposes that introverts are “Deep thinkers. Creative. Self-reflective. Flexible. Responsible.”

There is confusion on this matter, though, with psychologist Elaine Aron’s concept of the “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP) also being tossed in as a way to define the introvert. “HSP’s are easily overwhelmed by too much fuss and bother, are sensitive to other people’s moods, hyperaware of what’s going on around them,” Dembling writes.

Then there’s shyness which isn’t really introversion at all though there are shy introverts just as there are shy extroverts. “The unhappiest combination is extroverted and shy. Those sad souls want to socialize, but fear it.” I have often been mistaken as shy by extroverts (who are unlikely to read a book like The Introvert’s Way, preferring to simply hold onto to their stereotyped ideas about those quiet types). Indeed, I am often shy in social situations, but that’s because I don’t want to be there and am too polite to say so.

Introverts are often accused of being “too intense.” We don’t go around with a silly smile permanently plastered on our faces, and are sometimes regarded as being “too serious,” as if approaching life as something other than a party is a fault to be corrected. I maintain that life is serious. It ends in death which is often preceded by terrible suffering, by painful and debilitating disease. And, if you believe the Bible, death is followed by judgment.

Such a serious approach to life is typical of deep thinkers, of those who ruminate, as introverts tend to do. Our “awareness of subtleties and deep processing of information” means that we “may take news stories of gloom, doom, and disaster too much to heart,” according to psychologist Aron. “And, she says, because we’re so sensitive ourselves to harsh comments, and because criticism can wound us deeply, we couch things in terms so gentle when speaking to others, they might not take us seriously.”

It is believed, certainly by introverts, that introverts are not only deeper and more creative than extroverts, but more spiritual. Dembling doesn’t ask it, but I will: How many extroverts would consider a life in the monastery? Life as a monk wouldn’t appeal to me (too much loud chanting), but an introvert is likely to experience life more fully, more intensely than an extrovert. We are certainly more imaginative.

“We may have,” Aron suggests, “a thin boundary between our conscious and unconscious minds, living with one foot in the real world and one in the world inside our heads.” (I would argue that the world inside my head is no less real than the one outside, and may even be more authentic, but I won’t go into all that here.)

Dembling says, “I love my active imagination; it means I am rarely bored and that given time and psychic space, my creative output can be prolific.”

It is the extrovert who, sitting home alone and bored, picks up the phone to call someone. If the extrovert calls an introvert, the extrovert’s boredom has been relieved, but the introvert’s boredom is just beginning as he listens, or pretends to listen (which is more often than not the case), as the extrovert rattles on. . . and on . . . and on, usually about nothing of substance. The introvert was also sitting home alone, but, until the phone call interrupted his solitude, almost certainly not bored. There are thoughts to think, books to read, maybe books to write, music to listen to, and listened to without distraction, preferably with headphones to block out competing sounds.

I really can’t help but conclude that an introvert’s life is, indeed, richer, deeper, and more meaningful. Based on the extroverts that I know, I think they could travel the globe and experience less than I could staring at a crack in the ceiling. Extroverts can have their chatter, their parties, and social functions, and all the advantages that usually come with being “outgoing,” or, as I cynically call it, an ass kisser. Extroverts tend to advance more rapidly in their careers, but then an introvert may be less interested in a traditional career, anyway, what with all the annoying extroverts he would encounter among bosses, co-workers, subordinates, clients, and the like.

Because of the way my introverted brain is wired, I don’t have a choice in the matter, but, if I did, I would choose The Introvert’s Way.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Am Spartacus!: Kirk Douglas Remembers

I’m not a fan of audio books. They strike me as appealing to talkative types that shun, and possibly even fear, silence. If reading is essentially an activity for introverts, audio books are for extroverts who dislike solitude and need to hear another voice to remind them that they’re not alone, adrift in a hostile world. Furthermore, you can’t just flip through the pages of an audio book in search of a passage you want to re-read. You have to fast forward or hit reverse.

I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist by Kirk Douglas wasn’t available in print at my local library, but they did have the unabridged five disc audio book (5 hours, 20 minutes), so I checked it out.

Douglas begins with a brief summary of his early career, ground already covered by The Ragman’s Son, his excellent memoir from two-and-a-half decades ago. He arrived in Hollywood in 1946 believing he would make his film debut as the male lead in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Only when reporting for work did he learn that Van Heflin would be Barbara Stanwyck's leading man with Douglas in a supporting role. Although Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) was the credited director, Douglas informs us that Milestone was frequently “out to lunch,” attending meetings related to a writer’s strike in progress at the time. It was Douglas' introduction to Hollywood politics.

Politics casts as dark a shadow over the production of Spartacus as it does in the film’s story of a slave revolt against Rome. The book upon which the film was based had to be self-published because author Howard Fast had been blacklisted despite rejecting Communism and telling his fellow travelers to “go to hell.” Dalton Trumbo, whom Fast despised, was blacklisted for his Communist ties, but the screenwriter known for his ability to write fast kept turning out scripts which were “fronted” for him under other names.

Trumbo’s speed at script writing helped Douglas’ Bryna Productions, which was making Spartacus in collaboration with Universal, beat United Artists to the punch. UA had a competing Spartacus project in the works with Yul Brynner in the lead. Armed with Trumbo’s first draft, credited to producer Edward Lewis, Douglas secured commitments from Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, and Charles Laughton, and the UA film was soon shelved. All Douglas needed now was a director.

Douglas meets Stanley Kubrick after being impressed by The Killing, the director’s third film, and requesting an introduction.

“Stanley’s demeanor was always calm, impassive,” Douglas writes, but despite those big, sleepy eyes, Kubrick was “always awake, always thinking.”

With Kubrick, Douglas makes 1957’s Paths of Glory, still acclaimed as one of the most potent of all anti-war films, but Universal decides that Anthony Mann should direct Spartacus, and Douglas reluctantly accepts their choice. “Mann was a technician,” he said, “not an artist.” Two weeks into production, Mann, whom Douglas describes as “overwhelmed” and letting Ustinov “run wild,” was fired and replaced by Kubrick who had just been relieved of his duties on One Eyed Jacks, a western that producer-star Marlon Brando opted to direct himself.

Kubrick, then a mere lad of 30, was not beloved by his crew. He told Russell Metty, the director of photography, to “sit down and shut up.” Kubrick also reported to work everyday in the same khaki pants and black sweater, leading the crew to complain that he did not care what they thought of him.

“I don’t,” Kubrick defiantly told Douglas.

“I do,” Douglas shot back then ordered his director to buy new clothes.

Kubrick also refused to film the memorable scene that gives this book its title until Douglas angrily ordered him to do so.

Douglas believes that Kubrick lacked empathy, never more so than when Kubrick suggested that Trumbo’s screenplay be credited to him after co-producer Lewis refused to continue posing as the scribe to help conceal the involvement of a blacklisted writer. The American Legion, gossip queen Hedda Hopper, and other self-styled patriots, already aware that Trumbo was the script's true author, were threatening to protest the film which by then had a price tag of $12 million, a half million more than the MCA talent agency had paid to acquire the entire Universal lot while Spartacus was in production. Douglas’ anger at Kubrick had more to do with his decision to give Trumbo full screen credit than any desire to take a moral stand against the blacklist.

Spartacus was a hit with both critics and audiences upon its release in October 1960. Kubrick went on to Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, films that established him as the leading auteur among directors. Trumbo continued to write scripts but was now free to use his own name, as were other writers for whom the blacklist was now history. And Douglas continued to act and produce, as well as watch his son, Michael, successfully follow in his footsteps.

His voice weakened by a stroke, Kirk Douglas lets Michael read his story. The younger Douglas sounds enough like his father that it wasn’t necessary to attempt an imitation, but he seems to speak at times through his father’s clenched teeth, overemphasizing certain words at the end of sentences. Otherwise, he reads in a clear, strong voice that maintains the listener’s interest, even one like me who would prefer to read rather than listen to a book.

Today, a lot of younger moviegoers think of Kirk Douglas as Michael’s father. Shame on them. The younger Douglas has won two Academy Awards, one for acting (1987's Wall Street) and one for producing (1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), while his father, one of the first actor-producers, had to content himself with an honorary Oscar in his sunset years. It could also be argued that Michael was a bigger box-office draw than his father was in his prime, thanks to such blockbusters as Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. But Michael Douglas never played Vincent Van Gogh, or Ulysses, or Doc Holliday to Burt Lancaster’s Wyatt Earp (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral). He did not appear in three of the best film noirs (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Out of the Past, and Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole). He did not work twice with Kubrick. Nor can he say, as his father can, that “I Am Spartacus.”

Fans of Kirk Douglas and of the film that gave him his most iconic role should enjoy this memoir, available on compact disc from Brilliance Audio.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii. . . And The Grave

Thirty-six years ago today, Elvis Presley got out of bed and retreated to a bathroom in his Graceland home to read a book about Jesus while his live-in girlfriend slept. When she awoke, she found the King slumped on the floor, his face purple and buried in the carpet. His tongue, clenched between his capped teeth, had nearly been severed. Imagine if the paramedics who arrived soon after had managed to revive him. Would the voice that had, by that time, sold 400 million records, been silenced even if Elvis had lived?

It’s mere speculation, because Elvis, the man, could not be revived. The career, however, has thrived ever since.

As part of the hoopla that always accompanies the anniversary of Presley’s death, PBS is repeating Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii this month. Sent out to a worldwide audience via satellite on January 14, 1973, the special spawned a two-disc soundtrack (released by RCA in quadraphonic sound) that would be the last of his albums to reach number one on the Billboard chart during his lifetime.

Other than those flared trousers, Elvis looked splendid back in January 1973, the month of his 38th birthday. The voice is a little thin at first, but gains strength as the show goes on.

The Elvis of Aloha from Hawaii is not the rock ‘n’ roll rebel who defied moral conventions, the role that he played from 1955-1958 before the Army tamed his wild spirit. This later Elvis is the one who had met with Richard Nixon, who admired J. Edgar Hoover, and thought that The Beatles, who had idolized him, were a bad influence on the nation’s youth.

The Elvis of the 1970s was an American icon who had more in common with John Wayne than John Lennon. The musical highlight was not “Hound Dog” or even “Burning Love,” but “An American Trilogy,” a patriotic blending of “Dixie,” “All My Trials,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that now served as his anthem.

There’s been plenty of hype through the years about the size of the audience when Aloha from Hawaii first aired. Some claim that the special was seen by more people than actually populated the earth at the time, but it was a huge hit by any standard, and represented Presley’s final triumph.

The concert didn’t air in the U.S. until April, pre-empting the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie and topping the Nielsen ratings for the week. Back then, and, perhaps, even now, Elvis was the only musical icon whose appeal was broad enough for the mass audience of television. Each of his three television specials (the first in December ‘68, and the last, aired posthumously in October ’77) topped the Nielsen ratings the week they aired. Not even Frank Sinatra could boast of such wide appeal. The Chairman of the Board was more active in television than Elvis, but of his many specials the only one to hit number one was in 1960 when his special guest, newly discharged from the Army, was . . . Elvis Presley!

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Thirst

Having had a small bowl of corn flakes for breakfast and no lunch, I was hungry on the way home one recent afternoon. The small bag of barbecue potato sticks I bought satisfied my hunger, but then I was thirsty.

My thirst brought to mind the rich man from whose table Lazarus hoped to eat the crumbs, a parable told by Jesus and recorded in Luke 16. In life, the rich man had every comfort while Lazarus was malnourished, covered in sores, and reduced to begging. Then they died.

Lazarus was content in the bosom of Abraham, otherwise known as Paradise. The rich man was in Hell, suffering greatly. Able to peer into the pleasant environment which Lazarus now called home, the rich man begged the beggar who once ate his crumbs to dip his finger in water and relieve his parched tongue. I wasn’t quite that thirsty, but I imagined what it might be like to thirst for all eternity and have no hope of ever tasting a drop of water again.

According to Dr. Charles Swindoll’s reading of Scripture, billions of people who have passed from this life to the next are experiencing such torment now and billions more will join them in the future. It’s an unbearable thought, but one that many Bible believing Christians accept, some more gleefully than others. I’m on the fence on this matter and may remain there until that moment when my time on this earth runs out.

Is this the God of love who created the sun and moon, the cool breeze on a summer’s night, and the warmth from the blanket on bone-chilling winter days, who gave us warm food to eat and cold water to drink, and who sent his only Son to die for the sins of the world?

Would this God condemn anyone because they questioned the accuracy of a thousand-year-old document that says you must believe in Jesus or spend eternity in hellfire? Our works, our good deeds, our compassion and kindness are “filthy rags,” but why should a mass-murderer who repents and calls upon Jesus’ name be saved and someone who lives a comparatively exemplary life be damned, and for all eternity at that?

Who has misread the Bible?

Those who have accepted Jesus in their hearts and threaten those who have not with eternal; damnation, or those who, whether they believe in Jesus or not, cannot fathom a creator who would deny Paradise to anyone who lives by the Golden Rule but isn’t sure whose rule it is?

I need a cool drink of water.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Life Is Simple

Above the desk in my apartment, I have two printouts taped to the wall, both containing inspirational words meant to motivate me and keep me on task.

The first is from Ecclesiastes 9:10:

“Whatever thy handeth findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”

The grave – it always beckons, from the moment we draw breath. If eternal life awaits us on the other side, we still have to die to receive it. A hole in the ground, six feet deep, is the image that comes to mind more than angels strumming harps on a cloud that may have been produced by chemtrails, anyway. The image does not inspire me to act, but to feel that all action is futile. “. . . (T)he grave, whither thou goest,” indeed.

The other words of wisdom come from something I found online called “The Holster Manifesto” credited to Dave, Mike, and Fabian. Among its pearls are such phrases as “This Is Your Life” and “Life Is Short.” The rest is inspirational greeting card-style pap:

“It you don’t like something, change it.”

“If you don’t like your job, quit.”

“Stop over-analyzing. Life is simple.”

Yes, life is simple. As Ecclesiastes says, “. . . to the grave, whither thou goest.”

Inhale.

Exhale.

Repeat until you can’t.

Simple.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Diamond Jim

There was a police car in front of a bar that I passed on my way home one recent night. There was also a police officer standing outside. As I walked past, he asked me where I was coming from.

“The library and the store,” I said.

I had two bags from the latter in my left hand, and I gently waved them as proof of my previous whereabouts. The officer seemed to find that satisfactory and he asked no further questions. I continued on my way, but wondered what motive he had for quizzing me. Had he received a report about suspicious behavior in the area? Had someone been assaulted or robbed in the bar?

It makes me a little nervous to be questioned by a police officer, no matter how pleasant his demeanor. This cop was agreeable enough, but what if my answer had not satisfied him? What if he needed one more arrest to meet his quota for the night? What if a drunken whore, having failed to incite the sexual interest of a male patron at the bar, wanted revenge against the entire male species and had falsely accused me of fondling whatever she wanted to have fondled?

I was falsely accused before.

It was the summer of 1971, and as I and two companions returned from downtown Cleveland on foot by way of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, we noticed two teenagers running in the opposite direction. We paid them no mind until we reached the center of the bridge, where a well-dressed man who reminded me of actor Harold J. Stone was loitering, smoking a fat cigar. I don’t remember if the police were already present or if they arrived later, but the man who would identify himself as Diamond Jim, the proprietor of a nightclub by that name in the Flats, soon accused me of having thrown a muffler over the bridge on to his Cadillac parked below. Of course, I didn’t do it, and neither did my two companions. Suddenly, I realized why those two kids we saw earlier had been running. One or both of them had done the dirty deed.

Diamond Jim didn’t care. His fancy car had been vandalized and he wanted to blame somebody – anybody – and I was the most convenient victim. I was a redhead. My two companions had dark hair and both wore glasses as I did not. I was the easiest to identify. I recall being quite passionate in my defense, but also a smart ass. When the police grilled me, my responses were tainted with anger. There was a question about my mother:

“Is she your real mother?”

“No,” I said, “she’s fake.”

As any viewer of Dragnet, NYPD Blue, or any dozen or so crime shows is aware, the police do not appreciate a smart-ass, especially if he’s only 14-years-old, and I was driven home in a patrol car. My bravado failed me once I got home. I burst into tears the minute I entered my house where my brother was the only one present at the time.

Nothing more came of the incident. The police did not follow up by investigating me further. Years later, however, fate, God, or something caught up with Diamond Jim.
I have to admit I’m a vindictive sort and I remember feeling a certain gratification when reading about Diamond Jim’s death in the newspaper. In 1985, he was remodeling his restaurant before the revitalization that briefly made the Flats, an area of Cleveland previously dominated by steel mills, into a center of nightlife. One day, someone entered Diamond Jim’s shuttered nightclub and forced him to lie down on the bathroom floor. He was then shot, point-blank, in the back of the head. A handyman was also murdered.

And just like that, no more cigars for Diamond Jim, and no more Cadillacs, and no more bearing false witness.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Getting Rid of a Roommate

The spider that’s been making its home in my apartment for several weeks was crawling along the floor the other night. I tried to avoid killing it in the past, and made quite an effort to preserve its life when it scurried from behind the TV to the corners of the floor near my reclining chair. I placed a small wooden beam on the floor to block its path and hopefully encourage it to backtrack into whatever corner it had been hiding in. It stopped, but wouldn’t move back in the direction from which it came. I rolled up a sheet of paper and sort of brushed it against the spider, hoping the creature would crawl into the funnel I had fashioned so I could deposit the critter outside through the window. It refused to cooperate and soon made its way under my chair.

Shit!

I had visions of it growing into a large, hairy creature that would one day crawl on my shoulder while I slept, then scare me to death when its legs tickled my flesh.

I moved the chair and the spider crawled out, but now it threatened to hide in the books and papers lying on the floor. Now I was using a broom to bring him out, but he must have found a hiding place secure enough to avoid facing my fury which was beginning to overrule my patience. I turned on the light in the hallway leading to the bedroom to see better, and when I stepped into the bathroom for a second I got a brief fright upon seeing one of those damn centipedes clinging to the wall. Whatever compassion I feel toward spiders does not apply to those other creepy insects and I smacked it with a newspaper. After throwing the centipede's remains in the toilet, I saw the spider attempting to crawl to safety on the other side of the room.

I’d had enough.

“You’re pissing me off!” I said, and I stomped it to death with my foot.

I wiped the spider’s gooey remains from the floor with a piece of tissue and flushed it down the toilet. And that ends my adventure with the spider that I first glimpsed a week ago clinging to the wall beside my bed. It makes me feel a little sad. I didn’t want to kill it, but I didn’t want it crawling on me either which it might have done had I let it wander freely about. I gave it a chance, but it wouldn’t cooperate in my attempt to let it live. Besides, I pay the rent on this place. The spider doesn’t.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Absorbing the Atmosphere


Thursday is garbage collection day on my street, and, preoccupied with my thoughts about deeper matters, I forgot to haul my trash to the curb on Wednesday night. Before going to bed at around 3 a. m., I tied up the several plastic bags in which I’ve been throwing my refuse for the past week, slipped my battered sneakers on my feet, stuffed a pack of Camel Wides and my Zippo lighter in my pocket then walked downstairs through the outside door and inhaled the post-midnight air.

It rained rather heavily earlier, and it continued to rain, though the precipitation had now been reduced to a trickle. After setting those bags on the curb, I lit a cigarette then silently absorbed the atmosphere. A huge puddle near the curb spilled over to the sidewalk and the flashing traffic light was reflected in the water. I gazed at it for a little while then walked over to the main street, looking at that traffic light surrounded by a thin fog, and peered down the street to see more lights beaming against the night sky.

Other than the driver of a truck that pulled onto my street to fill a newspaper vending machine across the way, there was nobody in sight. Good for me. People would ruin the experience. Someone might approach me, notice my almost trance-like state, and ask, “What are you doing?”

The answer is simple: “I’m absorbing the atmosphere.”

The answer may be simple, but still too complex for the kind of person who would interrupt such a peaceful, solitary moment.

Exactly what could I mean by “atmosphere”?

And how does one absorb it?

The kind of person who would intrude on this experience wouldn't know. He understands chit-chat, but not silent contemplation. He reads a book only for the “story” and watches a movie for the same reason. I pity such a person. He can only respond to life's surface and never experiences its depths.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks

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