Sunday, November 30, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Kaley Cuoco!

AKA Kaley Christine Cuoco.

Born November 30, 1985.

She is an American actress best known for her role as Penny on the CBS TV series The Big Bang Theory. She is not the most famous actress of her generation but she reminds me of a woman on which I once had a crush so I might as well give her some recognition. Of course, the woman in question never posed for a picture like the above photo but apart from that...

Anyway, her TV show is one of the few American sitcoms that makes me laugh on a regular basis so I have to give her (and her writers) some credit for that.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Jorge Negrete!

AKA Jorge Alberto Negrete Moreno.

Born November 30, 1911. Died December 5, 1953.

He was a very famous Mexican actor and singer who was born in my father's home state of Guanajuato. He was one of my late father's favorite movie stars and his records had a recurring role on my father's stereo. He is more well-known to my father's generation of the family than to mine but he is still remembered.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mark Twain!

AKA Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Born November 30, 1835. Died April 21, 1910.

He was a famous American writer best known for such novels as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn. He also wrote such nonfiction books like Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad. Mark Twain is also credited with not only inventing the Great American Novel but being one of the first American writers to give voice to a new American literary style that owed almost nothing to European influence, a trait which was most obvious in The Innocents Abroad.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Jonathan Swift!

Born November 30, 1667. Died October 19, 1745.

He was a famous Anglo-Irish writer best known for his novel Gulliver's Travels. Ironically, his novel is best remembered for the many wildly inaccurate movie adaptations that have been made with its title, not to mention its 1968 animated TV namesake.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pop Song of the Week: “You Belong with Me”

Taylor Swift must fight for her man against an unbelievably powerful and evil enemy -- who, of course, is played by Taylor Swift.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Busby Berkeley!

AKA William Berkeley Enos.

Born November 29, 1895. Died March 14, 1976.

He was a much-mocked and much-parodied cinematographer-turned-director who nevertheless had an enormous impact on American movie musicals. Here's hoping that today's musicals will someday be as well-remembered as Berkeley's best work is today.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Why is it people who want the truth never believe it when they hear it?
--Barbra Streisand, Yentl (1983)

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TV Quote of the Week

I can't wait till the day when understanding between everybody is such a commonplace thing that they don't have to hand out awards for it.
--Dick Van Dyke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, "Show of Hands"

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Friday, November 28, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, William Blake!

Born November 28, 1757. Died August 12, 1827.

He was one of the most famous of the English poets -- apart from Lord Byron and that Shakespeare chap, of course -- and a famous artist as well. The above portrait is one of my favorite works by Blake.

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Cuento de Mi Id

“A Day in the Glamorous Life of an Entertainer”

5:30 a.m. You wake up and start getting the kids ready for school. You ignore your ten-year-old daughter when she mumbles something under her breath about you being a whore. You take a quick shower and put on your “mom” clothes: black jeans and a sweatshirt.

6:30 a.m. Your ride arrives. You hustle your kids out the door. You make sure they’re polite to the driver. You ignore the driver’s request for a kiss but you thank him profusely for waking up so early.

7:00 a.m. You drop your kids off at school. You kiss them both and you pray that they did their homework.

Then you look for signs of your ex-husband being in the area and you sigh with relief when you don’t see him or his car. You ask the driver to take you to a doughnut shop. You ignore the calories. It’s only one doughnut and you’re going to be at work for hours.

7:30 a.m. You go home and wave goodbye to your ride. You dodge his request for a quick kiss. You go upstairs to your apartment and you crash for a few hours.

9:00 a.m. You start getting ready for work. You take a long, hot bath. You shave your legs and other body parts. You are sure to use plenty of bath lotion to give yourself that nice scent the customers like so much on the rare occasions that they notice it.

9:30 a.m. You towel off and you get dressed. You take your backpack which contains the clothes you might wear at work. You are sure to include your high heels.

10:00 a.m. Your ride arrives. He requests another kiss. You dodge it. He drives you to the club and he drops you off at the entrance. You go in and you check in with the house mom. Then you go to the dressing room where you ignore the graffiti on your locker and you start changing into your work outfit. Today it’s a blue dress that you bought last weekend. You never wear it outside the club. Only here. And you never wear it when you pick your kids up at school. Never.

10:30 a.m. The club opens. The lights come on. A few customers straggle in but most hang back until lunch time and the free buffet. You’re not particularly flattered by this, but you don’t come here for flattery. You come because you need the money and this is one of the few jobs you can get with your high school diploma that will pay you enough for you to be able to feed and clothe your kids and pay the rent on your $500 per month apartment. And even with that, you often have to use food stamps.

11:00 a.m. The lunchtime crowd starts showing up. Mainly senior citizens and a few blue-collar workers. Occasionally a well-off businessman. But the truly well-off usually don’t arrive until late afternoon. You start getting a few tips but it’s the young girls with hips the size of your forearms that get most of the tips. You mainly get the mean ones who aren’t anxious to waste their SS checks on a woman like you and the poor Mexicans who do their best to cross your “border” with their Roman fingers.

2:00 p.m. The end of the free lunchtime buffet. The crowd dissipates. The club is slow. If you’re lucky, you have made a tidy sum. But you aren’t always lucky. If you’re lucky, you’ve found time to grab a quick lunch from the buffet. But you dare not eat too much lest you lose your job for being too fat. So you play video games in between sets and hope that today your ex doesn’t discover what club you’re working in.

3:30 p.m. The first of the after-work crowd starts strolling in. You dance for a customer and talk some construction worker into letting you have a sip of his beer. You don’t really like to drink on the job but there are times when alcohol seems to be the only way to make it through the day. Even though your kids are out of school, you have no way of picking them up so you pray that they have gone to day care like you asked them to.

5:00 p.m. More after-work customers show up. A rich businessman pays you $500. You don’t get that every day. More often you end up owing the club money. Indeed, this is the first day all week that you have broken even. You hope you get another shot at him but he already has his eye on another girl. A younger, thinner girl. Some of the girls who work here are so thin you can see their ribs and you can’t help but suspect they’re on drugs. But the manager could care less what substances you take as long as you show up on time and the customers don’t complain. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to attract a large crowd of regulars, you don’t even have to show up on time. But you don’t have a large crowd of regulars. And none of the ones you do have have come in today.

5:30 p.m. You’re asked to perform in a special section that is separated from the main club by a wall and an one-way window. Hardly no one goes back here until they are with a dancer so you don’t make any money. You do see one of your co-workers making money in a way that the local vice squad would not approve of. But you say nothing and pretend you didn’t see a thing.

7:00 p.m. You are finally off work. You hurriedly change clothes so that you can leave the club when your ride arrives. Of course, you have to settle up with the management before you can leave. You didn’t make much today so you hardly have anything left when you do leave. Your ride arrives and takes you to the day care center where the lady in charge asks you for money you don’t have. You pick up your kids and once more you ignore your daughter when she calls you a whore. Ironically, you’re one of the few women at your club who isn’t a whore, but she doesn’t care. She picked up the expression from your ex, and you have yet to persuade her not to use it.

7:30 p.m. Your ride takes you to the dollar store where you buy school supplies with what little you have and then to McDonalds where you buy your kids a Happy Meal. You know McDonalds is not the best place to eat, but it’s the best you can afford, and it’s not like you’re in a mood to cook. Your ride takes you to your apartment, where he kisses you on the cheek and asks if he can come up.

You tell him no, but someday you’ll say yes. Your kids get out of the car and you can tell what your daughter is thinking by the way she looks at you. By then, you’re too tired to care anymore. You follow your kids up the stairs to your apartment and tell yourself for the umpteenth time that you’re going to quit your job next week.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

¡Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias!

I wish a happy Thanksgiving to all my devoted readers. May you all enjoy this blessed day and have at least one thing to be thankful about!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Movie Songs of the Week: “I've Gotta Get Up and Go to Work” and “Are You Making Any Money”

From the 1933 movie Moonlight and Pretzels, it's a two-fer. First I post one of the world's weakest Busby Berkeley imitations and then I post a song by Lillian Miles that is not half-bad. Of course, you all might argue that any song would sound good after the first number but Ms. Miles carries out her part with such enthusiasm that I do not have the heart to diss her. Granted, the bell-ringing she does during her number seems a bit eccentric but hopefully your mileage will vary in a more positive direction. I hope you all enjoy the two songs.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ben Sargent!

Born November 26, 1948.

He is an American editorial cartoonist born in Texas who is most famous for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1982. (And no, the above cartoon was not the one which won him that prize but it is one of the most memorable cartoons in his body of work.)

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Chocolate Turkeys and Cigarettes

What a splendid -- er, I mean -- dubious combination.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ricardo Montalbán!

AKA Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino.

Born November 25, 1920. Died January 14, 2009.

He was one of the most famous Mexican actors on the American small screen though the fact that his title role in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan kept getting referenced by critics last year shows that he had made no small impact on the big screen as well.

I suspect most Americans of my generation know him more for his role as Mr. Roarke on the old ABC TV series Fantasy Island than for anything not related to Star Trek. But at least he has not been forgotten.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Lope de Vega!

AKA Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio.

Born November 25, 1562. Died August 27, 1635.

He was one of the most prolific playwrights in history and his literary reputation in Spain is second only to that of author Miguel Cervantes. He was also nicknamed "The Phoenix of Wits" and "Monster of Nature" by Cervantes due to the large amount of his work. Although Lope de Vega himself is not all that well-known in the English-speaking world, his plays were presented in England as late as the 1660s.

He is said to have written some 3,000 sonnets, 3 novels, 4 novellas, 9 epic poems, and about 1,800 plays, 80 of which have been called masterpieces. He has been even envied by the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who once wished he could create such a vast body of work as Lope de Vega's.

Oddly enough, he is rarely mentioned nowadays save by hardcore Spanish literary buffs. But he made quite an impression on me in high school Spanish class and again when one of my local colleges staged one of his plays. Then again, we can't all be fans of that Shakespeare chap.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

The Munsters: “Low-Cal Munster”

Dammit, Herman! Don't bogart that turkey!

After all, there are other people in this world who would like a piece of that bird as well. Some of them in that very house that you just invaded.

So what does it say about you that you just feel free to wantonly invade some neighbor's home and devour their entire Thanksgiving dinner?

What? You say you're just rehearsing for Black Friday?

Well, why didn't you say so?

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Quote of the Week

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.
--G. K. Chesterton, Sidelights (1932)

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

The Monkees: "I Was a Teenage Monster"

As some of you might have guessed from reading my home page, my real-life last name is not Kruger but Mendoza -- a name inherited from my Mexican-born father. Like most Spanish surnames, that name does not often appear on American movies and TV shows -- a fact that can either be blamed on the scarcity of Hispanic characters on American movies and TV shows or else on the lack of imagination on the part of those few American screenwriters who see fit to include Hispanic characters in their scripts.

So imagine my surprise when I finally saw my real-life surname appear on a popular television show. Granted, it was a television show from the 1960s, but it was still a popular television show. Then imagine my dismay when I realized that the character with my last name was a mad scientist! To add insult to injury, the character in question was not even played by a Hispanic actor. Instead the makers of this episode chose to cast non-Hispanic white actor John Hoyt, who was previously best known by me for playing an industrialist in the 1951 movie When World Collide and a -- ahem -- mad scientist in the 1958 movie Attack of the Puppet People. (Which, of course, raises the question of why the writers chose to give the character a Spanish surname in the first place. I'm guessing that it was because they were starting to get bored with the usual Germanic and Slavic surnames that were usually given to mad scientists in the TV shows of the 1960s.)

Of course, it might be argued that no one in the 1960s ever watched The Monkees expecting realistic storytelling, much less realistic representations of various minority groups. After all, this was an era when white actors still routinely portrayed Asian characters in movies and TV shows and almost any dark-skinned ethnic group -- apart from African-Americans, of course -- was considered interchangeable with any other dark-skinned ethnic group -- and African-Americans were generally rewarded for their distinctiveness by having few chances to appear on popular TV shows.

Indeed, even if you bypass the ethnic angle, a lot of this particular episode comes across as mediocre, even by 1960s standards. (And judging from my memories of past Monkees episodes, that was unfortunately the norm for this series.)

Anyway, the gimmick of the episode involved the various members of the Monkees being hired by a Dr. Mendoza -- the above-mentioned mad scientist -- to teach his monster (played by Richard Kiel) how to become a rock and roll singer. No, seriously, that was the plot. For what it is worth, Richard Kiel did a good job playing the Frankensteinish monster that the Monkees were teaching -- though I must admit that as much as I liked seeing Kiel doing something different than his usual big dumb thug routine, the humor of seeing him imitate a typical rock singer of the 1960s got old really fast.

As you might guess, the Monkees had a falling-out with the mad scientist when they found out that he planned to eliminate them after their work is finished -- and as if that was not enough, the scientist's equally insane daughter (played by blonde non-Hispanic actress Bonnie Dewberry) made a couple of appearances partway through the episode with news of a future episode. (Of course, said episode never happened.) Toss in the mixture of scenes that happened while a Monkees song played in the background and you got a brief description of the entire episode. Of course, Dr. Mendoza was brought to justice at the very end and the Monkees survived to play any day.

It would be nice to say that the next few episodes were better but I have not seen those yet so you are welcome to come to your own conclusions. However, it should be noted that neither Hoyt nor Kiel ever made another appearance on this show so if you really feel the need to see the two of them together -- or for that matter, to see what Richard Kiel looked like in green makeup -- then this is the episode for you. Personally, I prefer to consider this episode a reminder of why I don't watch The Monkees more often.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Harpo Marx!

AKA Adolph "Harpo" Marx.

Born November 23, 1888. Died September 28, 1964.

He was one of the most famous of the Marx brothers. And though he never said a word on-screen, he was often the most eloquent.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Boris Karloff!

Born November 23, 1887. Died February 2, 1969.

He was one of the most famous horror movie actors who ever lived and he was not so bad when he made movies outside of the horror movie genre either. He is also one of my all-time favorite actors but then you all probably guessed that.

He was not only the first -- and most famous -- actor to play the Frankenstein Monster in a non-silent movie but he was also the host of the old black-and-white horror series Thriller. He also managed to survive meeting Abbott and Costello but that is a story for another day.

Though he has been much imitated, Boris Karloff has never been equaled. And yes, he has been missed.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Manuel de Falla!

AKA Manuel María de los Dolores Falla y Matheu.

Born November 23, 1876. Died November 14, 1946.

He was one of the most famous Spanish composers of the first half of the twentieth century. He is most famous for such compositions as Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Ritual Fire Dance. If you all are like me, you all have probably heard his work many times without realizing that it was his.

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It's the Great Turkey, Charlie Brown!

From a photo taken last year.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Movie Poster of the Week

The first Mexican talkie. And no, it is not about Santa Claus.

In this case, "Santa" is the Spanish word for "saint." It is also the first name of the movie's title character.

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Across the Border

(I first wrote this essay back in the late 1980s when my father was still alive and I was courting by mail a young woman who lives in my father's hometown. I have since revised it a bit and brushed up the grammar, but I have not changed any of the actual details concerning the things I had observed during my last two trips to Mexico. Nor did I make up any of the things that my Mexican friend told me in her letters -- although I would probably sleep better if I could pretend otherwise.)

The traveler who goes across the International Bridge at Laredo inevitably finds himself not just in another country; he finds himself in another world. There are beggars in the streets, hordes of outdated cars upon the highway, and gangs of youthful panhandlers swarming around each and every gas station. The road to San Luis Potosí will reveal in December a line of people by the roadside which initially seems to be part of some religious pilgrimage. Then a closer look reveals that the majority of these hardy travelers are women and children who are begging for food. Some may have goats, turkeys or even snakeskins for sale, offerings designed to sway the passing tourists into stopping. Once stopped, the tourists can expect to be surrounded by anxious faces, displaying a desperation more often associated with places like India or Ethiopia.

I must confess these images have a personal meaning to me. My paternal grandfather was a migrant worker from the state of Guanajuato who brought his family to the States while my father was still a young boy. When I was a child, I used to hear many stories about how rough it had been to live in Mexico back then. Life in the Detroit slums had not been easy for my family, but at least it beat starving to death back home in San Francisco del Rincón. I still remember one story my father told me about how he had awoken one morning while his father was still working in the United States and his sister Ofelia had had to tell him that there would be nothing to eat that day because there was no money for food. Stories like this add a perspective to the immigrant saga that can't be captured by a Neil Diamond song.

I used to regularly correspond with a friend who lived in my father's home town. Through her, I learned much more about Mexican society than I could from my brief trips to Mexico. For example, she once described an incident wherein the bus on which she was traveling was pulled over by custom officials. The passengers' luggage was confiscated and some of their contents were never returned. My friend was angry because she lost a valuable set of china that she had purchased on the way back from Mexicali; however, despite an emotional scene at the customs office, she was never able to recover it.

There are worse aspects than this to Mexican society. For example, I never realized how sheltered I had been back in the States until I was stopped by a small group of soldiers on the road between Leon and San Francisco del Rincón. It was Election Day, and the government was wary of any excessive activity. I was let go as soon as they noticed the “Turista” sticker on my car, but it was still an unsettling experience. Ironically, the soldiers were still there two days later during my trip to San Francisco del Rincón. They were no longer waiting by the roadside, but they were stationed in a side street by the main plaza, and indeed, the sight of five of them marching through the plaza itself seemed to attract little attention aside from a child's exclamation of “el militario.” I don't pretend to be able to draw any serious conclusions about Mexican politics from these incidents, but I can't help thinking that if American soldiers had turned up outside the local precincts of most American cities on Election Day, it would have made front-page news. However, in San Francisco del Rincón, it did not even cause any major comment.

One might be tempted to interpret these comments to mean that I am anti-Mexican. I am not. I love my father's homeland with a great deal more affection now than I did when it was just a mythical presence in my childhood. Many of its traditions -- the serenata, the nacimientos, the Día de los Tres Reyes -- cannot be improved upon by American society. So what if many of its traditions are borrowed from Spanish and Arabic forebears. Are we here in America not expert borrowers ourselves? And have we not borrowed from Mexico in such areas as ranching and architecture?

I am quite Americanized by Mexican-American standards, and yet for many years I had an idealized picture of my father's homeland that was quite different than the image of Mexico I got from American movies and TV shows. Only recently did I have an opportunity to reconcile that image with reality. I don't lack any less affection for Mexico because of this new viewpoint, any more than an Irish-American lacks affection for the land of his ancestors just because he has heard of the latest trouble in Belfast. But I understand it better. And although I will probably always experience more of a culture shock crossing the International Bridge at Laredo than I do the International Bridge at Detroit, I do remember one moment in Mexico whose counterpart I had never experienced in Canada. I was sitting with my father in a bar in Salinas de Hidalgo. It was late at night, the streets outside were filled with recorded mariachi music, and I was far from home. Yet, for some strange reason, I felt that I was home. The world around me seemed much more familiar than the world I had seen in Canada during any of the brief trips I had made to Windsor. I have never been able to explain this. Perhaps I should not even try.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Movie Quote of the Week

It works like this, Private. Every soldier in a war doesn't have to believe in what he's fighting for. Most of them fight just to back up the other soldiers in their squad. They try not to get them killed, they try not to get them extra duty, they try not to embarrass themselves in front of them. Why don't you start with that?
--Joe Morton, Lone Star (1996)

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TV Quote of the Week

My dad’s always a hero. And he’s always dead.
--Thomas Dekker, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, “Gnothi Seauton”

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Final Vengeance”

(This was my first attempt at writing a short story for publication. I would like to think that I have improved a bit since I first wrote this but I guess that's up to you all, the readers, to judge. Anyway, I hope you all like it.)

The moment Joe Mesey reentered the old neighborhood, he knew that his coming back was a mistake. Not for any foolish, sentimental reasons -- it’s hard to be nostalgic about growing up in a slum -- but because his return was all too easy. He had expected an all-out attack the minute he entered his old stomping grounds; instead, he was simply ignored.

As a member of mankind’s true oldest profession, a self-styled professional assassin who euphemistically referred to his calling as the “retirement business” and who commanded top dollar for a kill, this was a bit of an insult. He had expected a neighborhood crawling with cops -- or worse; instead, he found an area of deserted streets and neglected tenements -- a place seemingly as devoid of life as the dark side of the moon.

It was an eerie feeling. Had Joe been a lesser man, he might have turned the car around and searched for more populous surroundings. But he was on a mission here -- a personal mission. He had returned to this neighborhood to kill a man. A man whom he had killed a long time ago...


The room was filled with more candles than a religious shrine and their acrid scent and flickering light made Joe uneasy. He kept peering into the shadows of the old man’s living room as if expecting to see something lurking there. Nothing was there, of course, but the way the old man kept bowing his head and peering into his little grey book made Joe uneasy. And he hated being made uneasy. Especially by a little old man who was destined within a matter of minutes to meet the Maker about which he endless prattled.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the realization that the old man had said something. He looked up at the white-haired figure and smiled inwardly at the idea of this little man in the black suit and skullcap doing him bodily harm. As powerful as he may have once been, now he could not harm a flea.

“Pardon me, he said. “I didn’t hear that last question.”

“I was asking whether you had considered the consequences of your actions, Mr. Mesey,” the old man said in a voice that was stern yet moderate.

“Of course, I have. I simply waste you and then my boss gives me a lot of money. What’s to consider?”

“Hasn’t the thought of punishment ever entered your mind?”

“Not really. The cops won’t be able to prove a thing, and nothing you can do can change that.”

“I wasn’t talking about earthly justice.”

“Oh, really?”

“Doesn’t it ever bother you, Mr. Mesey -- the number of men you’ve killed?”

“Of course not. Why should it?”

“Fear of the dead is a centuries-old tradition,” said the old man. “Some say it dates back to Neanderthal man.”

“Well, that may be the case with some people, but I’m more like a surgeon. I live with death every day. It doesn’t scare me a bit.”

“If I were you, I would be scared. Murder is the supreme taboo; you have committed it not once, not twice, but times beyond counting.”

“You’re one to talk,” said Joe. “Before you retired, you were in the rackets, too. You know how it is.”

“Yes, I know how it is,” said the old man, gazing at his folded hands. “But I never killed anyone directly. And when the ghosts of those I did kill indirectly began to prey upon my conscience, I knew it was time to leave.”

The old man looked Joe in the eye. “But it’s still not too late for you. The powers that be love a repentant sinner as long as he’s sincere.”

Joe smiled. “That’s nice talk for a dying man but I intend to live a long time.”

“Maybe not as long as you think.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I have taken the liberty of making certain arrangements in case my little talk with you should fail.”

“Oh, I see. Like a sealed letter to the D.A. left in the hands of your attorney?”

“Nothing so crude, I assure you,” said the old man. “Besides, I’m sure a man in your profession has sufficient connections to get such a letter swiftly discredited. No, my arrangements are of a more final and irrevocable nature.”

Joe laughed. “If that’s meant to scare me, it didn’t work.”

“It wasn’t meant to scare you -- now.”

“Listen, old man,” said Joe, pulling out his gun. “I’ve had about enough of this Jewish superstition nonsense you’ve been giving me.”

“Jewish? Who said it was Jewish?” The old man’s voice took on a sepulchral tone. “The faith I follow is older than Judaism.”

That’s when Joe’s gun went off. The first bullet hit the old man in the chest; the two followup shots hit him in the belly and the groin. Joe never knew whether his shots were the result of anger or blind panic, but the results were the same. One dead Jew (or so-called Jew, if his last words were correct) who had time to do little more than glare and mumble an inaudible curse before succumbing to the permanent paralysis of death. Hardly the formidable adversary he had anticipated.

“I hoe you prepared well for the afterlife, old man,” Joe said as he stood up. “Because you’re going to have all eternity to enjoy it.”

He left the house quietly, but not before giving some thought to the arrangements the old man had mentioned. However, search as he did, he could find no trace of any hidden cameras or tape recorders in the old man’s residence...


The old apartment house where he used to live was boarded up now -- a victim of urban renewal. Gazing at the crumbling exterior brought back many memories for Joe. Memories of living with his old man -- an embittered widower with five children to raise. A man who had sought refuge in a whiskey bottle and who used his youngest child -- Joe -- as a punching bag until the day Joe fought back and caved in his father’s skull with a tire iron. Yes, the place did bring back a lot of old memories -- none of them good.

He smiled grimly and attacked the boards on the front door with a tire iron. As the ancient nails reluctantly began to yield, he once more looked around the neighborhood, expecting any minute to see a cop -- or something -- appear around the corner to question him about his activity. But none appeared. Joe seemed to be the only person around in what should have been a crowded slum neighborhood. It was as if he was in the land of the dead.

Joe shuddered. He was normally not an imaginative person -- in his line of business, you couldn’t afford to be -- yet something about that last phrase -- and the way it popped into his mind, unsummoned -- made him uneasy. Especially when he looked back upon certain recent events...


The first clue Joe had that the old man‘s arrangements were not just talk occurred in Chicago. He had heard the old line about being able to meet almost anyone in the world by standing on State Street, but he never expected to see Vinny McCloskey there. And for a very good reason -- Vinny had died six months ago.

When he first confronted Vinny with this information, Vinny seemed as shocked as Joe. His eyes went blank; he appeared to be remembering something.

Then he remembered.

“You!” he screamed. “You’re the one who killed me.”

Within an instant, Vinny’s hands were around Joe’s neck, choking him with the strength of the violently insane and the insanely violent. Vinny was a big man; his hands were the size of steam irons. Killing Joe should have been as easy a task for him as cleaning fish. But it did not work out that way. Joe had been around too long not to be prepared for the unexpected; he freed himself with a blow to the groin -- then pulled his newly-purchased revolver and fired a bullet meant for a prominent state witness into Vinny’s chest.

At this point, Vinny smiled -- the vacant smile customarily associated with the hopelessly insane -- and then he collapsed. For a moment, Joe was aghast. After all, even the most blasé hitman does not meet dead people on the street every day. Then he took Vinny’s pulse. The bullet wound Vinny had just received was not necessarily a mortal one, yet he was already dead.

Needless to say, the witness job was blown. No one had witnessed the confrontation between Joe and Vinny, but that didn’t mean the cops would not be interested if they ever caught wind of it.

And what of the body? Although Joe managed to safely dispose of it without being seen, that still did not account for its presence. Surely he had not just killed the real Vinny; after all, the real Vinny was supposed to be feeding the worms in a South Side cemetery. That meant the man he had killed was an imposter, no doubt made up to look like Vinny with the help of a clever plastic surgeon. But an imposter with Vinny’s height and build? Possible, Joe thought, but not probable. Which meant...


The last board came off with an angry screech. Now the door was open and he could seek shelter from the open street. Yet Joe was not satisfied.

If he was right, the man he came to kill would be lurking inside, safe from the summer heat. It unnerved him to realize how matter-of-fact he was handling the whole situation. Had his own boss told him a similar story, he would not have believed him -- even if his life depended upon it. Yet here he was, standing outside his old apartment house, treating his long-dead father as a potential adversary…

He pushed the door open with his foot, holding the tire iron ready in case of attack. None came. Inside the entrance hall was nothing but dust and silence.

As Joe stepped inside, he again held the tire iron ready to ward off a sudden attack. But -- again -- none came.

Perhaps I only dreamed the first incident, he thought. Perhaps I was wrong and the old man’s curse was only a figment of my imagination.

Then Joe thought again and shook his head. For he remembered Frank Lupesco...


It had happened at a men’s room in the Miami Airport. Joe was combing his hair before boarding a flight to San Juan when he felt himself being seized from behind. Without warning, he was whirled around and thrown against the opposite wall. Before he could recover, a knife was at his throat, and on the nape of his neck, he could feel the hot breath of the man standing directly behind him.

That’s when Joe moved. Stomping down hard where he guessed his assailant’s left foot to be, he reached up at the same time and grabbed the knife-bearing hand. Its skin felt cold and clammy -- like a dead frog -- but he did not let that prevent him from bending the hand back against the waist until the knife dropped. And the bones broke.

Joe’s assailant was curiously silent for a man who should have screaming in agony.

Instead, the only thing Joe heard was “It’s not that easy, kid.”

The voice was familiar, but not the face. When Joe turned around, he found himself staring into a bleached parody of a human face, the type of scarred and tattered face you’d expect to see on a man who had spent the last seven months on the bottom of the Hudson River, not on a living person.

Then the man smiled -- if you could call what he did smiling -- and Joe recognized the familiar lop-sided grin of his former mentor, Frank Lupesco. It had been Lupesco who had gotten Joe his first job in the “retirement business.” Frank had taught Joe everything he knew. Taught him so well that when Frank retired and decided to turn state’s evidence, Joe was the one chosen to bring him down. And he did. Seven months ago.

And here Frank was, standing before him, smiling as if his broken wrist was a mere scratch.

“This one’s for you, kid.”

With frightening suddenness, Frank lunged forward and grabbed Joe by the throat with his other hand. Pressing his other forearm against Joe’s throat as well, he pinned Joe against the wall and started to squeeze. Joe’s face began to turn blue; he was running out of time. In desperation, he punched his opponent in the stomach. His fist went all the way through.

As Frank let go, Joe was too relieved to do anything but stand and watch Frank’s body collapse in upon itself like a punctured balloon. Too late he thought of questioning him; by then, his body was merely a pile of decaying flesh awaiting disposal.

That’s when Joe realized that the plot against him was more than simply an elaborate scheme of vengeance. Even the best plastic surgeon could not have instilled such qualities into a Frank Lupesco lookalike. The man who did had to be a person who had experience dealing with the supernatural. A man who not only had such experience but who also possessed a grudge against him. Somebody like -- like -- the old man!

By then, the old man’s name had faded away from Joe’s memory, but he still remembered that scene in the room full of candles, and he also remembered the old man’s ominous last words.

At first, it seemed ridiculous -- an old-fashioned curse at work in the twentieth century. And yet it was the only explanation which made sense. If only there was some way to break the curse...

Then it came to him. The curse was operating in a pattern: confront Joe with all his previous victims, in the order of their deaths, and have the attacks increase in intensity. Considering the number of people Joe had killed in his lifetime, such a pattern could easily wear him down before it ended. And sooner or later one of the victims was bound to get lucky and kill him.

But suppose he short-circuited the curse. Instead of waiting for the victims to go after him, he would go after the victims. And the most obvious one to pursue would be the first one -- his father. The only one he had killed for free...


The sun was going down now, and there was still no sign of his old man. He smiled at the irony -- the old man had intended to avenge his own death by using Joe’s own old man to kill him. Perhaps he had been counting on the power of nostalgia to prevent Joe from delivering the fatal blow. Well, it won’t work, Joe thought. There was no love lost between him and his father. He killed him before and he could kill him again.

Then it occurred to him -- what if this was exactly what the old man had wanted? For Joe to come up here to New York and face the ultimate challenge? Joe had not been attacked since that day in Miami. The trip up here had been way too easy -- almost as if he was being set up.

He scoffed at this thought. There was nothing to fear. He had a loaded revolver in the highest caliber and absolutely no reason not to use it. Everything he had experienced so far told him that the old man’s walking cadavers were still vulnerable to gunshots. There was nothing to fear.

And then he heard it. A quiet, scraping sound like dead leaves rustling across the sidewalk. No footsteps -- just a quiet, rustling sound. Then the doorknob turned. Joe slowly drew out his revolver and aimed it at the front door. This is going to be easier than I had anticipated, he thought. Then the door opened...

Joe’s first thought was that it was all a trick. That the old man had anticipated his actions and sent a stranger to take him by surprise. After all, Joe might not remember every single man he killed, but he certainly would have remembering icing a woman. Then he looked beyond the woman’s black dress and veil -- recognized a face which he had seen only once before, in a wedding portrait kept by his father because it was the last picture taken of her before she died in childbirth. And suddenly he knew why the old man was so certain that Joe would not be able to kill her.

He had time to say only one word before the first of many blows fell: “Mother.”

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

R.I.P. Mike Nichols

American film director and comedian Mike Nichols -- best known for such movies as The Graduate and Primary Colors -- cried "Cut!" for the last time on November 19 at age 83.

He will be missed.

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R.I.P. Jimmy Ruffin

American soul singer Jimmy Ruffin -- best known for singing such songs as "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" and "Hold on (to My Love)" -- finished his last solo number on November 17 at age 78.

He will be missed.

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R.I.P. Glen A. Larson

American television producer and writer Glen A. Larson -- best known for creating such TV shows as the original Battlestar: Galactica and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries -- finished his last script on November 14 at age 77.

He will be missed.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Pedro Infante!

AKA Pedro Infante Cruz.

Born November 18, 1917. Died April 15, 1957.

He was one of my late father's favorite actors and he has been described by my father as the Mexican equivalent of Clark Gable. (Only this version was as famous for his singing as he was for his acting).

He is best known for the 1948 Mexican movie Nosotros los Pobres but he has been in many other movies as well. Unfortunately, he is not that famous north of the border but then I doubt he ever worried too much about that during his lifetime. I know my late father never did.

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Veronica Mars: Heroine Addict

Critics have written so much about all the fan service in the 2014 Veronica Mars movie that it will undoubtedly come to a shock to those few Veronica Mars fans who have yet to see the movie that it has absolutely no scenes like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or even this:

Of course, those who have complained about the fan service in the Veronica Mars movie usually don't mean this kind of fan service. What they really mean is that the movie is mainly aimed at fans of the Veronica Mars TV series. And being such a fan, it would be dishonest of me to pretend that the movie was not aimed at people like me.

Then again so what? James Bond films are usually aimed at fans of James Bond, Harry Potter movies are usually aimed at fans of Harry Potter and of course, the last three Star Wars movies were aimed at fans of the first three Star Wars movies. Such aim does not necessarily mean that the cinematic result will make for a bad movie. Then again it does not necessarily make for a good movie, either. As always, you have to judge by the final result.

As for the matter of fan bias, well, I have seen quite enough bad movies aimed at various fan groups that I can readily understand why people might be hesitant to see yet another movie that indulges in "fan service." Then again it is not unusual for the same people who object to one type of fan service to have little or no problems with other types of fan service. For example, a lot of critics of the Veronica Mars movie had no trouble with the last Star Wars trilogy -- which had their share of fan service -- and vice versa. And as much as I would like to think the best of such critics, I would be a lot more comfortable with doing so if such critics were honest enough to admit if their real problem with the Veronica Mars movie was that it was not made primarily with them in mind. Then again I see many movies that are not necessarily made for me in mind so I may be a tad biased on this subject. Indeed, as a Hispanic Catholic half-breed living in a predominantly White non-Hispanic Protestant society, I would be very surprised if most of the movies available for viewing in the U.S. were made for the likes of me. But that is a subject for another day.

Anyway, it is not as if the movie is likely to be that hard to understand if you have never seen the TV series upon which it is based. I must admit that it has been quite a few years since I saw the last episode of the series and since then, I have not bothered to memorize every minor character just in case I had the opportunity to see a new episode. Then again, it did not seem very hard for me to imagine any non-fan seeing the scene in which a snobbish woman acts mean to Ms. Mars at her high school reunion and not concluding that the snob in question was a former nemesis of Ms. Mars during the original series. (After all, I did not remember that particular character's name and yet I was able to figure out who she was.) Indeed, most complaints about the movie's fan service seemed to have little if any confidence in the intelligence of would-be moviegoers. (Though I guess director Rob Thomas should be flattered by the implication that his movie was just too smart to be understood by non-fans.) And it didn't help the case of the movie's detractors that their complaints seemed to echo similar complaints that were made about the 2005 movie Serenity -- a movie that was quite popular with many people who had never seen Firefly (the TV series upon which it was based).

In any event, if I had to pick the most bothersome aspect of the Veronica Mars movie, it would not be the "fan service" or the limited screen time enjoyed by actress Jamie Lee Curtis but rather the way the movie finds it necessary to give a reason why Veronica Mars does the things that she does. Apparently, it is not enough for her to want to do the right thing or help her friends; she has to have a "problem" which makes her do all her heroic deeds. Indeed, Hollywood has gotten so used to presenting its audiences with dysfunctional characters that it seems difficult to present a genuine heroine on the big screen nowadays; instead, it is more fashionable to present a dysfunctional character who just happens to do heroic things. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of a society that has been given many reasons to become cynical due to the Iraqi War and the recent economic crisis. Then again you can find reasons to be cynical in almost any period of history so it seems odd to witness this recent cultural war against heroism. And especially odd to see it take its toll on a character as likable as Veronica Mars.

Then again a part of me is glad that the Veronica Mars movie proved to be as good as it was. After all, I used to be a big fan of the Harry Potter movies -- but I gave up on the series after I found myself hating the movies more and more -- so much so that I did not even bother to see the last film in the series. For that matter, I also used to love the Star Wars movies -- but I found myself rolling my eyes more and more at some of the excuses film critics would make for the second trilogy and if it were not for the fact that my late sister's children like those three movies so much, I would be a lot more vocal on this site about my dislike for them.

Anyway, like most moviegoers, I don't go to the movies hoping to have a bad time. But I don't like the idea of pretending I did not see a bad movie just because other people than me seem to like it. So while I am not likely to be the most objective critic of the 2014 Veronica Mars movie, I would like to think that I am among the most honest. At least I hope so.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Daisy Fuentes!

Born November 17, 1966.

She is the Cuban-born daughter of a Cuban father and a Spanish mother. She is best known as a model, actress and television personality but she is also famous for being MTV's first Latina VJ and Revlon's first Latina spokesperson to be signed to a worldwide contract. She was also a co-host of the TV show America's Funniest Home Videos from 1998 to 1999 and has appeared on such TV shows as Dream On and Cybill.

However, she has changed a bit over the years as the above two photos will show. (The top one was taken in 2009; the other was taken in 2013. Of course, the one at the very top of this post was taken in 1997.)

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Quote of the Week

If you believe the stress of an office or a production line can cause ulcers, migraines, hives -- think about spending six months in a bunker waiting for somebody faceless to kill you.
--David Drake, Introduction to The Military Dimension: Mark II

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Joanna Pettet!

AKA Joanna Jane Salmon.

Born November 16, 1942.

She is an English actress best known for her guest roles on such TV shows as Banacek and Night Gallery. The one role for which I most remember her is that of Elaine Latimer in the old Night Gallery episode "The House", which is, of course, the source of the above image.

Needless to say, it still haunts my dreams.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Bartolomé de las Casas!

Born November 16, 1484(?). Died July 18, 1566.

He was a Dominican friar and Spanish historian who went on to speak out against the many atrocities being committed by his fellow Spaniards against the native residents of the New World. He was the first person to be officially designated as "Protector of the Indians" and unfortunately, one of the first people of his time to suggest a shamefully imperfect alternative to the enslavement of Native Americans. (In his case, it was the enslavement of Africans in place of Native Americans.)

Regardless of that, he was still a part of Spanish history and ironically he symbolizes both the best and worst impulses of his time. At the very least, he deserves credit for arguing for the humanity of the native Americans at a time when that was a very unpopular viewpoint in the Spanish Empire.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Poster of the Week

Watching me? Well, good luck with that. I hope they brought a good book.

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Reflections on the Revolution in Brazil

George Orwell has been referenced by both sides of the Anglo-American political fence so often that if he had never lived, he probably would have been invented. I have always found it especially interesting how often both sides ignore that side of Orwell which is most politically inconvenient. For example, conservatives don't like to remember that Orwell was often as stern a critic of capitalism as he was a critic of communism while the liberals don't like to remember that the incident that ultimately turned Orwell against communism was the destruction of Orwell's Socialist kindred spirits in Spain by Stalinists who were supposedly on the same side of the Spanish Civil War as Orwell and his comrades.

Needless to say, you don't see that side of Orwell depicted in many popular movies. Indeed, most movie adaptations of Orwell's work tend to focus around his classic novel 1984, which is about a futuristic dictatorship whose control over its subjects is so complete that not even death can free them.

Unfortunately, 1984 is so familiar to most Anglo-American moviegoers due to its having been taught in so many high school and college literature courses that it would be hard to make a movie adaptation of it that most adults would not find predictable. Indeed, when I had the chance to watch the 1984 film version of 1984, I remember finding its first few minutes so predictable that I turned it off right away -- and it did not help that the movie itself came across as a thinly disguised campaign ad for 1984 U.S. Presidential candidate Walter Mondale.

Fortunately, Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie Brazil was not so predictable. Indeed, I could argue that its plot owed as much to author James Thurber as it did to George Orwell because its protagonist -- Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce) -- spends so much time having the type of fantasies that Thurber describes in his short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." In fact, it is tempting to argue that Brazil takes the usual Walter Mitty story to its darkest conclusion because so many characters -- including Sam Lowry -- suffer such dire consequences as a result of Lowry's attempts to act out his fantasies. That is not exactly the type of conclusion I expected to find in a movie made so close to the "don't dream it, be it" era of the 1970s, much less in an era when it was popular for filmmakers to wax nostalgic about the various dreams of the 1960s.

Nor was its Aesopian moral as predictable as I expected. It took me quite a few viewings of the movie to catch on to the fact that Gilliam was not content to promote the same old "fight the power" clichés we have seen in so many bad science fiction movies. Instead, his political message was more complicated. On one hand, he obviously did not expect his audience to approve of the dictatorship for which Lowry worked. Nor did he expect us to approve of Lowry's politically neutral attitude. Yet when Lowry became romantically obsessed with a female lorry driver named Jill Layton (played by Kim Griest) and tried to help her by joining in "the revolution," it was not entirely a coincidence that Lowry's actions not only led to the death of an innocent man but ultimately made things worse for Jill, one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie. Indeed, I have long suspected that the true reason for Lowry's breakdown toward the end of the movie was not so much fear of torture but the suspicion that his actions throughout the movie not only failed to prevent the tragic fate of a woman he loved but actually hastened it.

Of course, it might have been easy for Gilliam to give Lowry a more crowd-pleasing story arc but that was not the type of tale he wanted to tell. And in an age which has seen all too many revolutionaries succeed in making things worse for the people they were supposedly fighting for, I don't know that it is a bad thing to remind people who would fight against the powers that be to be careful what they wish for lest they end up like Sam Lowry.

Of course, Brazil is noteworthy for other things besides its political commentary. For example, it is difficult today to watch the various scenes in which Lowry's co-workers watch old movies on their computers and not be reminded of how often modern office workers use the Internet for similar purposes. Indeed, their use of computers as just another source of entertainment always seemed more realistic -- even in the days before the Internet became so popular -- than the usual "evil computer" movie that was so popular back in the 1980s.

For that matter, I loved how the director threw in a visual reference to an old Marx Brothers movie by having it show on the TV set that Jill was watching while she was taking a bath. Given the frequency with which Brazil is referenced by both liberals and conservatives, I can't help but wonder how much of a coincidence it was that he had the most likable character in the movie watch a movie starring the guy who took pride in not wanting to be a member of any club that would have him for a member.

Gilliam used so many visual details to make the world of Brazil believable that it seems depressing that it was not more of a hit at the box office. But then the most popular movies are not always the most deserving movies and it could be that Brazil hit too much of a nerve to be popular with all but the most serious of moviegoers. Then again many potential fans could have been scared away by its length. After all, not everyone likes long movies. And of course, some of the moviegoers who were less than impressed with it could have been like the blonde art student I met at a local book store in the late 1980s who -- despite looking like a long-lost twin of Kim Greist -- admitted that she fell asleep during the movie. It could be that Brazil -- like most very long movies -- works better on DVD or VHS because the viewer always has the option to turn it off at a certain point and then return to it at a later time the same way one would return to a beloved novel that one just can't finish reading in one sitting. But that could just be wishful thinking on my part.

In any event, I find it amusing to note how much the movie seemed to have anticipated the recent War on Terror and the propaganda that accompanied that. Indeed, the opening sequence in which a government spokesman accuses the masterminds behind the latest terrorist incident of displaying bad sportsmanship was much on my mind during many of the months after the 9/11 attack in New York City -- especially whenever I spent too much time watching the Fox News Channel.

However, I don't find it so amusing to note how little most people in power seem to have learned from it. Then again the lessons it has to teach are not the type of lessons that are likely to appeal to a person in power. Indeed, like most great satires, Gilliam's Brazil seems destined to be deliberately misunderstood by those who most need to learn from it. But then such lessons are never easily taught so it is just as well that the movie exists to reach those few who will learn from it. And perhaps those few will be enough to make a difference for future generations.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Quote of the Week

I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trama from postoperative shock, who do you think they're praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you're looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn't like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.
--Alec Baldwin, Malice (1993)

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TV Quote of the Week

My dear girl, I am a doctor. When I peek, it's in the line of duty.
--DeForest Kelley, Star Trek, "Shore Leave"

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Cuento de Mi Id

“Love Among the Runes”

“But I love you,” Kenneth said, tugging at her coat.

“But I don’t love you,” said Katherine. “That’s just the point.” She pulled her coat out of Kenneth’s grasp and continued on her way.

“Why?” asked Kenneth. “Why don’t you love me?”

“I don’t know ‘why’ I don’t love you,” said Katherine. “I just don’t. It’s not something you can make happen just like that.” She snapped her fingers for effect.

Kenneth just shook his head. “I don’t get it. I love you. Why don’t you love me?”

Because true love is not like exchanging gifts at the office Christmas party, she wanted to say. But she didn’t say it. Somehow she couldn’t bear to hurt him by being that harsh with him, even though he deserved it. Perhaps she really did love him, after all.

Don’t be ridiculous, she thought. Just because I don’t want to hurt his feelings doesn’t mean I love him, and even if it did, I certainly don’t love him in the sense that he means. In any event, love isn’t something you receive upon demand. How did that song go? “Lose your love when you say the word ‘mine’”? Or was that “you can’t hurry love”? It didn’t matter. The fact still remained that you can’t force someone to love you. Yet Kenneth was determined to violate that basic law of nature.

He clutched at her coat one more time. “Won’t you please reconsider?”

Katherine forcibly pulled the coat fabric out of his hands. “I have reconsidered,” she said. “And the answer’s still no.”

Kenneth started to step toward her again, then reconsidered and stepped back. Good, thought Katherine. He’s learning.

Kenneth’s mouth opened as if he was starting to say something but he apparently thought better of that, too, and closed it. “I hope you never fall in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, Katherine,” he finally said.

“I’m sure I won’t,” she replied.

Kenneth couldn’t resist trying one last time. “I really do love you, you know.”

“Oh, please,” Katherine muttered under her breath. She turned on her heel and stalked off toward the parking lot. If Kenneth wanted to play the role of the tragic lover, that was his business. But Katherine had no interest in sticking around to play the cold-hearted love interest. She had her own life to lead.

Halfway to her way, a cold November breeze induced her to put her hands in her pockets. As she did so, she discovered a small piece of paper in her left coat pocket. Kenneth’s handiwork, obviously. He must have slipped it into her pocket while she was taking to him. No wonder he had been tugging at her coat so much.

She pulled out the piece of paper and unfolded it. She might as well have left it in her pocket for all the good it did her; the note itself was obviously written in a foreign tongue, in letters so strange Katherine could not even recognize what language it was written in. Nice going, Kenneth, she thought. You go to all this trouble to slip your favorite lady a love letter, and you don’t even bother to write it in English. Very impressive.

She crumbled up the note and tossed it away. Within seconds, the wind had caught it, and the note was blown halfway across the parking lot. Perfect ending to a perfect day, she thought. Then she reached into her purse for her car keys…

By the time she got home, there was a blinking red light on her answering machine. No way I’m answering that, she thought. You don’t have to be the Amazing Kreskin to guess who that was.

She hurriedly undressed and took a quick shower. While she was in the shower, she heard the phone ring yet again, but she ignored it. The phone rang yet a third time after she got out of the shower.

She let the machine get it again.

“Katherine,” said the voice on the machine. ”You must call me back as soon as possible. My number’s 972-435-9075. It’s a matter of great importance. Please call me back.”

Katherine sighed. Everything was a matter of great importance to Kenneth. Didn’t he have a life of his own? He probably did, she realized upon reflection. The problem was that at least half of it revolved around dreams of her. As if she was supposed to be flattered that Kenneth picked her to be his dream girl. Face it, Kenneth. You’re no Brad Pitt. And anyway, I don’t want a man who loves only me. I’m not sure what I want, but it’s definitely not you.

She thought about the party she would be attending tomorrow night. The odds were that the men she met there would be no improvement over Kenneth, but there was always a chance. And besides, where is it written that you had to “settle” for second-best? Katherine was always having to “settle” for things. Well, no more. This time she would take control of her life.

The phone rang again. This time she picked it up.

It was Kenneth. “Thank God you’re home. They’ve been watching us, you see, and they must have slipped something in your coat pocket--”

“What’s with this ‘they’, Kenneth?” she interrupted. “Is this another scheme of yours to get me to go out with you? Because if it is--”

“No, it isn’t,” Kenneth replied. “I swear. It’s just that they’ve been following me for the last two days, and just tonight, I noticed that they’re starting to follow you, and--”

“Who’s ‘they,’ Kenneth? Some schoolboy chum of yours?”

“No, they’re this -- Well, you won’t believe me when I tell you this, but I used to belong to this group, see, and they were really into mythology, see--”

“Is this going to take long?” Katherine asked.

“No, it’s not. You see, they’re after you now because they’ve seen us together, and they must think we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Anyway, I saw one of them hanging around the coatroom today and --”

“And then you conveniently remembered that in time to give you an excuse to come over to my house,” said Katherine. “Thanks, Kenneth, but no thanks. I’m not going out with you no matter what silly story you conjure up. And stop flattering yourself. Your friends must be the least observant people on Earth if they think we’re boyfriend and girlfriend because at no time did I ever give you or any third party any reason to think that we were. Now leave me alone before I call the police.”

“But what about the not--?” Katherine hung up on him.

Great, she thought. Now Kenneth was inventing conspiracy theories to get close to her. If this kept up, she might have to seriously consider changing jobs. Surely her current paycheck wasn’t worth this hassle.

The doorbell rang. Katherine checked the peephole. No one on the front porch. Probably high school kids pulling another prank. If she ever got her hands on that Kenneth…

The phone rang again. It was Kenneth, of course, mumbling something about a note in her pocket. If he was so sure someone else had slipped a note into her pocket, why didn’t he tell her about it earlier? He must have seen her throw it away. That’s why he was so upset. Well, he should start getting used to rejection, thought Katherine. She certainly had.

She turned the TV on and sorted her mail by the light of a Cheers rerun. Just bills and junk mail again. She sighed.

At least the sound of canned laughter drowned out Kenneth’s voice. Maybe she’ll get lucky, and he’ll run out of quarters.

The doorbell rang again. Those darn kids again. Or maybe it was Kenneth. Maybe she should get her mace... No, she could handle him.

She peered out the peephole again. The porch was empty. It was kids, she thought. Or was it? Maybe she should start taking Kenneth’s bizarre story seriously. No, that’s exactly what he was expecting her to do. Perhaps he had set this whole thing up as part of some sadistic prank. You never could tell. Sure, Kenneth looked like a nice guy on the surface, but underneath? Who could tell? Remember Jodie Foster? Forget it. If Kenneth thought sadistic pranks were going to drive her into his arms, he had a long wait coming. If he kept it up, she‘d just call the cops on him. She wasn‘t born yesterday, you know.

The phone rang again. She turned the sound up on the TV. There. That showed him.

Then the doorbell rang again. Katherine got her mace. Next time it rings, she thought, I‘ll be ready.

She glanced out the front window. She thought she saw a white-faced figure dressed in black, but it turned out to be a piece of paper stuck on a bush. Then the wind blew, and the paper vanished.

The phone rang. This time she picked it up.

“If you don‘t stop harassing me--” she started.

“Katherine,” Kenneth interrupted, “you must get out of that house. They know where you live.”

“I‘m warning you, Kenneth--”

“No, I‘m warning you. There‘s still a chance if you still have that note. Just give it to me and I can--”

“I threw it away.”

“What?”” Kenneth sounded stunned.

“I threw it away. And I must say that I‘m getting sick and tired of all these pranks you keep pulling, Kenneth. I know you feel rejected, but I thought that you would be a better man than that.”

“But I‘m not -- Oh, I see. They‘re doing it.”

“Who‘s ‘they,’ Kenneth?”

”The guys I told you about. The ones who are into black mag--”

Katherine hung up on him.

The doorbell rang again. This time Katherine strode right up to the door and pulled it open in time to catch a miniature figure kneeling on the doormat.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

The kid looked up. “That man down the street told me to do this.” The kid pointed down the block.

Katherine walked out onto the porch and caught a glimpse of a solitary figure standing beneath a distant streetlamp. Kenneth, no doubt.

“Go away,” she said to the kid.

She locked the door behind her and ran to the phone. That was it for Kenneth, she thought. Now she was going to sic the police on him.

The doorbell rang.

She ignored it.

Someone tapped on her window. She ignored that, too.

An operator answered and put her on hold. Just like a Tonight Show joke, she thought.

The tapping grew louder.

She turned and saw Kenneth at the front window.

The operator came back on the line.

“Come quick,” she said. “There’s a man outside and he’s trying to break into the house.”

She hurriedly gave the operator her name and address and then hung up. Kenneth was gone from the front window. But he could still be outside, she thought.

The doorbell rang again.

“Go away!” she shouted.

Something thin and white emerged from beneath the front door. It was a note. “Get out of the house,” it said.

She crumbled it up and threw it away.

Then the phone rang. She ignored it. She thought about the back door. She rushed back to check on it.

When she got back to the living room, the doorbell was ringing again. She peered through the peephole. There was a cop on the front porch, peering into the bushes.

“Thank God,” she muttered.

She hurriedly unlocked the door. “You wouldn’t believe what has been going on here tonig--” she started to say.

Then the cop turned toward her. The first thing she saw was a face that looked like a crumbled sheet of paper.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Grace Kelly!

AKA Grace Patricia Kelly.

Born November 12, 1929. Died September 14, 1982.

She was one of my favorite actresses -- and a fellow Catholic to boot. She is best known for such movies as High Noon and Rear Window. She also married someone famous, I hear, but that is a subject for another day.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz!

AKA Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana.

Born November 12, 1651. Died April 17, 1695.

She was one of the the most famous writers, playwrights and poets in the history of Mexican literature as well as a key contributor to the Spanish Golden Age. She was once referred to as Mexico's tenth muse. She was also a self-taught scholar.

Unfortunately, she died after caring for fellow nuns who had been stricken by a plague.

She has been missed.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

¡Feliz Día de los Veteranos!

In honor of all the people who have served in the American armed forces -- including two of my uncles -- I hope you all have a pleasant Veteran's Day.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Quote of the Week

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.
--Dorothy Day

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Pop Song of the Week: "Two of Hearts"

I have been thinking of this tune ever since I watched the last episode of Doctor Who. I guess that means I'm evil.

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Movie Song of the Week: "Night on Disco Mountain"

From the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever, I post an old David Shire tune that might sound a bit familiar to some classical music fans. Apparently, disco music was once a gateway to classical music. Who knew?

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Dorothy Day!

Born November 8, 1897. Died November 29, 1980.

She was an American journalist and social activist who was a devout Catholic convert. Due to her good works on behalf of the poor and the homeless, she has been nominated for canonization but as yet, never got further than the title of Servant of God. If more Catholics were like her, the Church would have a better image.

The woman herself was a little more sympathetic towards the Communists of her day (no pun intended) than I, the son of a woman who lit candles in support of the Polish Solidarity movement, would prefer, but given recent events involving the Church, there are many far worse failings a fellow Catholic could have.

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Fantasy Quote of the Week

"Enough talk of nakedness," said Lovecraft. "We have far more important matters upon which to concentrate our attentions."
--David Barbour and Richard Raleigh, Shadows Bend: A Novel of the Fantastic and Unspeakable

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Science Fiction Quote of the Week

In matching, they adopt a plan which appears to us very extravagant, yet is constantly observed among them and accounted very wise. Before marriage, a grave matron presenteth the bride (be she virgin or widow) naked, to the bridegroom; and after that, some grave man presenteth the bridegroom naked to the bride. We laughed at this, and condemned it as very indecent. They, on the other hand, wondered at the folly of mankind in all other countries; who, if they buy but an inferior horse, examine him all over and take off his trappings; yet a wife, on whom dependeth the happiness of the remainder of life, they take upon trust, regarding only her face, and leaving the rest of her body covered, where contagious and loathsome disorders may lie concealed. All men are not so wise as to choose a woman only for her good qualities; and even the wise consider the body as adding not a little to the mind. It is certain the clothes may conceal some deformity which may alienate a man from his wife when it is too late to part with her. If such a thing be discovered after marriage, he hath no remedy but patience. They therefore think it reasonable, that good care should be taken to guard against such mischievous deception.
--Thomas More, Utopia

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Movie Poster of the Week

But enough about the mortgage business.

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Cuento de Mi Id

“The November Country”

by Ramón Bradamante

It was the November Country...

That country where prosperity was always around the corner... The country where the bottoms were always foggy and the promises always broken; where votes go quickly and taxes linger, and debts stay. That country composed in the main of smoky rooms, grassy knolls, no-tell motels, credibility gaps and future monuments. That country where people are election people, forever chasing dreams and the occasional chad. Where people perpetually pay for the future while living in the past and hoping for the present -- if not a present.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Rebecca Romijn!

AKA Rebecca Alie Romijn.

Born November 6, 1972.

She is a celebrated model and actress best known for her role as Mystique in the X-Men movies and for her recurring role on the Ugly Betty series. She is also famous for her photos for Sports Illustrated.

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Movie Quote of the Week

But go ahead. Read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes.
--Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black (1997)

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TV Quote of the Week

You can't judge a book by its cover. But you can by its first four chapters, and certainly by its last.
--James Spader, The Blacklist, "Anslo Garrick"

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Random Thoughts

Wow! The majority political party in a country much beset by high unemployment got voted out of power in an election year! Who in his or her right mind would have seen that coming?

I am so glad that none of my friends in the nursing community worked at the local hospital that messed up so badly with the Thomas Eric Duncan case.

If you dislike welfare recipients so much, why don't you hire one? If you're not in a position to make decisions about hiring because you're not the boss of your workplace, why not encourage your boss to hire a welfare recipient? It should go without saying that not everyone on welfare wants to be there. So why not help reduce the welfare state by helping someone seek employment?

The same bank employee who is eager to help you set up your account will generally not be so eager to help you if you ask for a job application.

How come you hear so much about people writing short stories but never about anyone writing a long story?

It is usually a lot easier to talk about how enlightened you are than to actually show it through your actions.

Actions not only speak louder than words but they also tend to drown them out.

A lot of the people who support the welfare system with their taxes are not much richer than the richest person on welfare. However, a lot of people tend to forget that.

One of the worst criminals in the world is the one who wear a badge.

It takes little courage to diss poor people and even less if you do so while working at a job that does not require the support of poor people.

Last time I checked, it was not illegal immigrants or welfare recipients that caused the recent economic crisis but that did not stop people from criticizing them.

Funny how the people who continually brag about how much they care about poor people never seem to show up when one of my poorer neighbors needs help.

The same person who will badmouth someone to your face today will be badmouthing you behind your back tomorrow.

Some people in my condominium complex find it much more convenient to buy a pack of cigarettes from their neighbor than to walk across the street and buy one from the local convenience store. For that matter, some of my neighbors find it more convenient to pay someone to drive them somewhere than to take the bus -- even though my complex is located on a DART route. I guess all of this is good news for those who would like to think that American capitalism is not doomed but it is not likely to make supporters of public transportation feel happy.

I hate myself for loving Who.

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