Friday, January 31, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Eddie Cantor!

AKA Edward Israel Iskowitz.

Born January 31, 1892. Died October 10, 1964.

He was a popular singer, actor and comedian who was one of the first major comedy stars of the 1930s. His musicals like Palmy Days and The Kid from Spain gave budding choreographer Busby Berkeley a chance to practice and perfect his craft before he achieved fame with such films as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade.

Though much of Cantor's humor is admittedly dated, he still managed to express the mentality of the early 1930s in a way that has yet to be equalled by more serious celebrities. Even his lamentable forays into blackface lacked the usual sting of such efforts, perhaps because Cantor never bothered to even attempt a stereotypical black accent when doing such work and thus basically sounded the same way that he did when he sang without cork makeup.

His work is still hard to find on DVD -- even harder to find than such dubious works as Amos 'n' Andy -- but that might change some day. If nothing else, it would be interesting to compare his type of humor to more modern examples of comedy, even if some of it is a tad politically incorrect.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Movie Quote of the Week

No, I really like to stand naked in this bush in the freezing cold.
--Daryl Hannah, Roxanne (1987)

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TV Quote of the Week

I seem to be having a slight case of nudity here.
--Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”

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Literary Quote I Like

Yes, I'm more and more convinced it's not to do with old forms or new forms, it's what someone writes not even thinking about form, but writing what flows freely from his heart.
--Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Cristina Saralegui!

AKA Cristina Maria Saralegui de Ávila.

Born January 29, 1948.

She is a Cuban-born journalist and talk show host of Spanish descent who is most famous for her Spanish-language talk show El Show de Cristina. She is also known as the "Hispanic Oprah", the "Spanish Oprah" or la Oprah Latina.

If you watched Spanish language television during the 1990s or the 2000s, you are probably very familiar with her face, even if you do not want to be. If you didn't, well, them's the breaks.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Anton Chekhov!

AKA Antón Pávlovich Chéjov and Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.

Born January 29, 1860. Died July 15, 1904.

He was a famous Russian physician, writer and playwright who was most famous for such plays as The Seagull, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. At least one of those plays has been a big influence on my life if for no other reason that it taught me how often life does imitate art even when it does not intend to.

Anyway, Chekhov's work is still worth reading even though most of his current fame seems to be derived from having inspired the name of a certain Star Trek character. Oh, well. There are worse legacies.

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Quote of the Week

Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress.
--Anton Chekhov

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Colette!

AKA Sidonie Gabrielle Colette.

Born January 28, 1873. Died August 3, 1954.

She was an internationally famous writer whose literary work was once cited by one of my college teachers as proof that the very French are very different from us in the same way that the very rich were very different from us. She is most famous for her novel Gigi -- which inspired the play and movie of the same name -- but my world literature teacher would probably prefer that I also acknowledge her two novels Cheri and The Last of Cheri.

In any event, I have always found her work to be very interesting and I wish that more people were aware of it.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mimi Rogers!

AKA Miriam Spickler.

Born January 27, 1956.

She is an American actress best known for her roles in such movies as Gung Ho, Top Gun, The Rapture and Lost in Space. She is also famous for her recurring role as Agent Diana Fowley on seven episodes of the Fox TV series The X-Files and for her recurring role as Robin Schmidt on the CBS TV series Two and a Half Men.

Of course, she is also famous for being a former spouse of actor Tom Cruise but the less said about that, the better.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pop Song of the Week: "Take a Walk"

Want to make sense of the recent economic crisis? Just follow the bouncing ball.

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Movie Song of the Week: "Lara's Theme"

If you can't post something from Doctor Zhivago during a week this cold, when can you post it?

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ana Ortiz!

Born January 25, 1971.

She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and an Irish American mother. She is also an American actress who is best known for her role as Hilda Ortiz on the ABC TV series Ugly Betty. She has also appeared on such shows as ER, Everybody Loves Raymond, Commander in Chief and Boston Legal. Her first regular role was in the 2001 NBC sitcom Kristin, opposite Kristin Chenoweth. She is currently appearing as Marisol Suarez in the otherwise dubious Lifetime TV series Devious Maids.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Whew! Kinda chilly. I wonder how the nudists stand it.
--Virginia Bruce, The Invisible Woman (1940)

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TV Quote of the Week

Before anyone passes judgment, may I remind you, we are in the Arctic.
--David Duchovny, The X-Files, “Ice”

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Friday, January 24, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Nastassja Kinski!

AKA Nastassja Aglaia Nakszynski.

Born January 24, 1961.

She is a German actress and former model who is famous for such movies as Tess -- for which she won a Golden Globe -- and Paris, Texas. She is also noted for being the daughter of actor Klaus Kinski and his wife, Ruth Brigitte Tocki.

Back in 1981, she also appeared in the above poster Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent by American fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

For that matter, she is equally famous -- or infamous -- for appearing in the 1982 remake of the classic Val Lewton film Cat People, a film that was not quite as well-regarded as the original. All in all, she has appeared in more than sixty films in both Europe and the United States, which is not bad for someone still unknown to many people nowadays.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, C. L. Moore!

AKA Catherine Lucille Moore.

Born January 24, 1911. Died April 4, 1987.

She was one of the most imaginative writers of her era, specializing mostly in fantasy and science fiction but managing to make a name for herself despite being married to famous science fiction writer Henry Kuttner, who was quite a name in his own right. She invented sword-and-sorcery heroine Jirel of Joiry and sci-fi hero Northwest Smith and possibly co-wrote half her husband's short stories for all I know.

She deserves to be better known than she is. Perhaps some day she will be.

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Jirel of Joiry

The one sword-and-sorcery book that will never be made into a movie.

The title character was a red-headed swordswoman invented by female science fiction writer C. L. Moore. Her first appearance was in the short story "Black God's Kiss", which appeared in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales.

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Northwest Smith

Long before there was Indiana Jones, there was... Northwest Smith. A sci fi hero who has yet to get his just desserts from a generation allegedly obsessed with all things sci-fi. He first appeared in the C. L. Moore short story "Shambleau", which appeared in the November 1933 issue of the magazine Weird Tales.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Édouard Manet!

Born January 23, 1832. Died April 30, 1883.

He was a famous French painter responsible for such famous works as Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. One of his paintings even managed to shock the normally unshockable Mark Twain.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

R.I.P. Dave Madden

Canadian-born American actor David Joseph "Dave" Madden, best known for his role as band manager Reuben Kincaid on the ABC series The Partridge Family, finished his last tour on January 16 at age 82.

He will be missed.

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R.I.P. Russell Johnson

American actor Russell David Johnson, best known for his role as the Professor on the CBS comedy series Gilligan's Island, finally left the island on January 16 at age 89.

He will be missed.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Edgar Allan Poe!

Born January 19, 1809. Died October 7, 1849.

He, of course, was one of the most famous writers in American history. Not much else I could add to that.

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Literary Quote I Like

It must be the business of the critic to soar that he shall see the sun, even tho' its orb be far below the horizon.
--Bernhardt J. Hurwood, My Savage Muse: The Story of My Life: Edgar Allan Poe

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pop Song of the Week: "Buy Me a Beer"

Drink up, little Suzie.

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Movie Song of the Week: "I Want to Go Back to Michigan (Down on the Farm)"

Hey, this sounds familiar...

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Robert Anton Wilson!

AKA Robert Edward Wilson* or RAW.

Born January 18, 1932. Died January 11, 2007.

He was a popular science fiction writer most famous for The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a series of three novels written by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea and published in 1975. He also went on to write a series of novels dealing with various historical conspiracies including The Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles and Masks of the Illuminati.

It is tempting to call him the thinking man's Dan Brown but I somehow doubt he would have taken that as a compliment. Besides, the humor in his literary work was usually deliberate.

* Birth name.

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Greek Words

1. agape -- spiritual love.
2. anatole -- East.
3. anemos -- wind.
4. Artemision -- Temple of Artemis.
5. astrape -- lightning.
6. biblion -- book.
7. bios -- life.
8. bronte -- thunder.
9. Cheimerioi -- men of Winterland.
10. cheimon -- winter.
11. chersonesos -- peninsula.
12. chersos -- dry land.
13. chion -- snow.
14. despoina -- domina; mistress; word reserved for the wives of kings.
15. echthroi -- literally, "enemies"; The Enemy.
16. eiar -- spring.
17. eos -- dawn.
18. eros -- physical love.
19. gamos -- marriage.
20. gymnos -- naked.
21. gyne -- woman.
22. haima -- blood.
23. hetaira -- female sophisticated companion; courtesan.
24. hieros gamos -- holy marriage.
25. iatros -- physician.
26. kore -- maiden.
27. mantis -- prophet.
28. mixobarbaroi -- semi-/mixed/half barbarians; people living on the edge of the oikoumene.
29. moros -- fool.
30. morosophia -- foolish wisdom.
31. naos -- temple.
32. neoi -- youths.
33. neoplutoi -- new rich.
34. nesoi -- islands.
35. nesos -- island.
36. oikoumene -- literally, "the inhabited world"; the known part of the Greek world.
37. onar -- a dream; a sleep-dream.
38. parthenia -- virginity.
39. parthenos -- virgin.
40. philia -- mental love; friendship or affectionate regard.
41. phobos -- fear.
42. phthinoporon -- autumn.
43. pistis -- faith.
44. pleonexia -- greed.
45. polemos -- war.
46. pornai -- harlots; prostitutes on the bottom of the social scale.
47. Potnia -- mistress; lady.
48. psyche -- soul.
49. soma -- body.
50. sophia -- knowledge; wisdom.
51. storge -- natural affection (especially for family members); mere acceptance.
52. thalassa -- sea.
53. thanatos -- death.
54. theros -- summer.
55. tribades -- lesbians.
56. xanthos -- fair.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Calderon de la Barca!

AKA Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Pedro Calderón de la Barca y Barreda González de Henao Ruiz de Blasco y Riaño.

Born January 17, 1600. Died May 25, 1681.

He was a famous writer, poet and playwright of the Spanish Golden Age, best known for his 1635 play La Vida Es Sueño (aka Life Is a Dream). He was not as prolific as Spanish playwright Lope de Vega but was famous enough to be still remembered in Spanish literary circles. And of course, he is much remembered on this site -- for what little that is worth.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Katy Jurado!

AKA María Cristina Estela Claudia Soledad Katherina Lucía Marcela Jurado García.

Born January 16, 1924. Died July 5, 2002.

She was a Mexican actress who had a successful film career on both sides of the border. Ms. Jurado was the first Latin American actress to be nominated for an Oscar -- as Best Supporting Actress for the 1954 film Broken Lance -- and the first Latin American actress to win a Golden Globe Award.

She is most famous for her supporting role as Helen Ramírez in the 1952 film High Noon, for which she won the above mentioned Golden Globe. She also played opposite Mexican actor Pedro Infante in the 1948 film Nosotros los Pobres. All in all, she made seventy-one films during her life, with her biggest variety of roles being in the films that she made in her native Mexico. In most of her American roles, she was typecast in ethnic roles but it said something about her talent that she managed to make an impact in this country anyway.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?
--Vincent D'Onofrio, Ed Wood (1994)

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TV Quote of the Week

There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn't that kind of the point?
--Jenna Fischer, The Office (US), "Finale"

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Faye Dunaway!

AKA Dorothy Faye Dunaway.

Born January 14, 1941.

She is one of my all-time favorite actresses. Best known for her roles in Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network, she is unfortunately best known to the current generation as the woman who played the thankless role of Joan Crawford in the 1981 movie Mommie Dearest.

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Spanish Winter Words

1. aguanieve -- sleet.
2. ángel de nieve -- snow angel.
3. bola de nieve -- snowball.
4. carámbano -- icicle.
5. congelado -- frozen.
6. copo -- snowflake.
7. copo de nieve -- snowflake.
8. diciembre -- December.
9. enero -- January.
10. escarcha -- frost.
11. febrero -- February.
12. frío -- cold.
13. glaciar -- glacier.
14. globo de nieve -- snow globe.
15. granizada -- hailstorm.
16. helada -- frost.
17. hielo -- ice.
18. hombre de nieve -- snowman.
19. invierno -- winter.
20. motonieve -- snowmobile.
21. muñeco de nieve -- snowman.
22. nevada -- snowfall; amount of snow that has fallen over a period of time without interruption.
23. nieve -- snow.
24. pala de nieve -- snow shovel.
25. quitanieve -- snowplow.
26. tormenta de nieve -- snowstorm.
27. vestisca -- blizzard.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

R.I.P. Carmen Zapata

American actress Carmen Margarita Zapata, best known for such movies as Sister Act and Point of No Return as well as her role as Doña Luz in the bilingual PBS TV series Villa Alegre, uttered her last tilde on January 5 at age 86.

She will be missed.

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R.I.P. Juanita Moore

American actress Juanita Moore -- best known for her role as Annie Johnson in the 1959 movie Imitation of Life, which made her the third African-American to be nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar -- took her last bow on January 1 at age 99.

She will be missed.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Jack London!

AKA John Griffin Chaney* and John Griffin London.

Born January 12, 1876. Died November 22, 1916.

He was an American writer, most famous for such novels as The Call of the Wild and such short stories as "Building a Fire." He was one of the first fiction writers to earn worldwide fame and riches from his fiction alone. He was also a dedicated Socialist who ironically became a rich man before he died.

I could spend all day detailing the many paradoxes of his life. For example, though London has been accused of being a racist due to his obsession with the "yellow peril," he has also been praised for his sympathetic portrayal of Mexican, Hawaiian and Japanese characters. Though his novel Martin Eden contains one of the harshest anti-Semitic tirades I ever encountered in a novel, it also contains one of the most sympathetic -- and realistic -- portrayals of the traditional starving artist/writer that I have ever read. London has even gone on record as having praised black boxer Jack Johnson over his white opponent Jim Jeffries at a time when white American writers rarely had anything good to say about black athletes.

I have no interest in defending London's prejudices. But I also have little interest in pretending that London's work is not worth reading despite them. As always, I leave it to my readers to read London's work for themselves and then decide. After all, if a writer's own words can't convince you all that he or she has merit, there is little that even the most eloquent critic can do to convince you all otherwise.

* Birth name.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Pop Song of the Week: "For the Good Times"

In honor of the late Ray Price, a song which he did not write but which he sang in such a way that he might as well have wrote it as far as the average music lover was concerned.

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Movie Song of the Week: "Detroit Man"

From the 1976 movie Moving Violation, it is a song written and performed by the late Phil Everly. Why none of my relatives ever told me about this song, I will never know. Hopefully, they just forgot.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories...
--Deborah Kerr, An Affair to Remember (1957)

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TV Quote of the Week

It's a comfort to have a machine do our thinking for us.
--Carolyn Jones, The Addams Family, "The Addams Family Splurges"

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Trying to Believe the Unbelievable Truth

No one made me believe in the power of the nuclear disarmament movement more than Audry Hugo, the lead character of director Hal Hartley's 1989 movie The Unbelievable Truth. For Ms. Hugo was not just content to echo the latest propaganda about the threat of a nuclear war. She was obsessed with it the way fundamentalist Christians are obsessed with the Rapture. Indeed, given the way she was always hearing bombs that no one else seemed to hear and reciting nightmarish scenarios of post-nuclear destruction the way some girls recite nursery rhymes, she made the average Christian who was obsessed with the End Times seem like a mere slacker.

And yet Audry was believable in a way that most characters in anti-bomb movies were not. For example, I do not remember being particularly moved by the Ally Sheedy character in WarGames or nor by any of the characters in The Day After. I did not wish them ill but I do not remember feeling especially concerned about their fate, especially since they were so obviously walking propaganda devices.

However, I do remember being moved by the character of Audry Hugo -- perhaps, because, unlike most such characters, Ms. Hugo was not just mechanically reciting lines from a Hollywood script designed to make us fear the latest right-wing evil. She was actually living her emotions from the moment she got up to the moment she went to bed. And because Ms. Hugo believed what she was saying so passionately, so did I.

Of course, there was much more to The Unbelievable Truth than just Ms. Hugo. There were also a mysterious Man in Black, an obnoxious photographer, a small town mechanic (Audry's father, natch) who was obsessed with money, and a waitress named Pearl who knew far more than she let on. Nor was the movie just about nuclear war. Indeed, Hartley aimed at a number of subjects including small town life and the fashion industry. At times Hartley seemed to be deliberately defying his audience to stick with the movie by including such cinematic gimmicks as having his lead actress Adrienne Shelly (the woman who played Ms. Hugo) deliver her lines in a potentially annoying deadpan style. And yet despite such gimmicks, I found the movie to be very watchable and at times, visually interesting.

For example, one of the more pleasant scenes in this movie happened after Audry and Pearl left a local birthday party to take a night time ride on Audry's bike. The two women chatted with each other but no sounds were heard. Instead we just saw Audry and Pearl smiling and the whole scene was shot in a way that indicated something special was happening. Yet by the standards of most movies, that bike ride was just an ordinary event. Of course, by the next day, Audry and Pearl were still hanging out together until the inevitable happened and Audry started thinking about bombs again. But nothing more dramatic than conversation actually happened within the scene itself and any melodrama to be found would occur within later scenes. Anyway, I rarely see scenes like that bike ride in movies nowadays and it is especially rare to see them in a self-proclaimed social satire like The Unbelievable Truth, where characters like Audry and Pearl are more often treated like objects of ridicule than actual people.

Then again, it seemed obvious to me that director Hal Hartley was not interested in making fun of Pearl and Audry but in helping us in the audience to understand and appreciate them. I also saw a lot of religious symbolism in The Unbelievable Truth starting from the above-mentioned man in black to a backyard swimming pool that could easily have doubled as an outdoor baptismal font. There was even a brief speech on the nature of truth that could have been pretentious but was not.

If The Unbelievable Truth had one flaw, it was that its conclusion was not quite as imaginative as its beginning, and you could be forgiven if you wished that Hartley had found a more original way to wrap things up. Indeed, if you are looking for an especially suspenseful climax, you might want to watch another movie.

Then again The Unbelievable Truth has lingered on in my memory long after more popular films had passed out of it, so I would like to think that there is something good to say about it. Besides, I always thought that it said something good about Hartley that he was not content to end the movie with the traditional happy ending, but rather a more ambiguous finale that hinted that Ms. Hugo was always going to be hearing bombs, no matter how many problems got resolved in her personal life. And indeed, if Ms. Hugo existed in real life, she might be still hearing bombs today.

But let's not think about that right now. Let's just lie here -- and not think about that.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Pat Benatar!

AKA Patricia Mae Andrzejewski.

Born January 10, 1953.

She is the daughter of a Polish father and an Irish mother. She is also one of the most popular female rock singers of my youth. She is still a big favorite of mine today.

Without her to help pave the way, there would have been no Madonna.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Jim Croce!

AKA James Joseph "Jim" Croce.

Born January 10, 1943. Died September 20, 1973.

He was one of my all-time favorite singers back when I was young. Come to think of it, he still is today. He could sing everything from ballads to brags and yet he never seemed to have been much appreciated by the music critics of my youth, to which I say, "Their loss."

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Cuento de Mi Id

“The Eyes of a Revolutionary”

Never trust a revolutionary, my father used to say. You have only to look into their eyes to see what they really are. For their eyes aren't normal eyes. And they look right through you as if you weren't really human. Which readily explains the things they say. And the things they do.

I never laughed at my father when he said this. I could tell by the expression in his own eyes that he was serious about this. He would joke about a lot of things but never this subject. He never told me how he knew all this. Did he read from a book somewhere or did he learn it from someone who had lived through the last revolution in his homeland? He never said. But each time he told it to me, he had the air of someone revealing a great truth.

And, of course, he never told me in front of anyone else. Not even my mother.


Five years into the War and my mother and I were staying at her mother's house. The news was always on and my mother was tired of always having to work two jobs. We had not seen my father in ages but my mother still jumped when the phone rang. Her mother always scolded us whenever we got home late but my mother ignored her. And tried to ignore the black sedan parked outside across the street...


My father used to tell me about the old woman he knew back in his hometown. How contemptuous she had been of the last batch of revolutionaries to ride through that town and how much she liked to compare them to the men in uniform that she had known in her youth.

“The French, you see, now they knew something about uniforms. But today's bunch... They're little more than barbarians. How awful!”

My father was home early because the boss had decided to let him go. He had been working at the office six months -- longer than some of his Anglo co-workers -- but in the end, they let him go.

My mother asked him in whispers what he will do next.

“Don't worry, mi amor,” he said. "I'll find something.”

“But if you don't...”

“If I don't, we'll move.”

“And if you still don't find something...”

“Then we'll move again.”

Five years later, my father took us both aside and said that the two of us were going back to Detroit to live with my mother's mother. My father would follow but not for a long time. In the meantime we were not to mention his name or speculate where he might be. He made us both swear that we would never tell anyone about him.

“If anyone asks about me,” he said, “You don't know. If anyone claims to know something about me, you don't know. As far as you know, I went away one day and did not come back. Believe me, mijo, as much as I would like to pretend otherwise, it's better this way.”

He hugged both of us quite strongly and then left. I have not seen him in the flesh since then.


My grandmother was talking about the news again but my mother would not listen. “Shut it off, mother,” she said. “It's almost time to eat.”

“Why do they do it?" my grandmother asked. “Why do they act like such ingrates? Don't those people understand the concept of loyalty?”

My mother seemed on the verge of saying something but instead she cleared her throat and said, “Loyalty is a two-way street, mother.” Then she fell silent as if she had accidentally confessed something.

Outside across the street, a black sedan was still waiting. Every so often, it drove off, only to be replaced almost immediately by a vehicle of a similar color. What the men in the car were waiting for, my mother would not say. As far as she was concerned, the sedan did not even exist.


When my father was still living with us, he used to teach me English using flash cards. He would write down English words and sentences and then teach me to say them over and over again until l could say them in my sleep. He was never prouder till the day came when I no longer spoke with an accent.

He used to go to old book stores throughout the city and buy books about the last revolution in his homeland. He often said that he preferred the books that were written by Americans because the books written by people of his homeland tended to be more personality-oriented. Americans were not always as objective about the revolution as my father would like, but at least they tended to focus more on what actually happened as opposed to what so-and-so did or said. “Of course, the way things are going in this country,” he would sometimes joke, “American history books will someday be the same way. But hopefully neither you nor I will be around when that happens.”


Last night there was a knock on the door.

A man in a black raincoat said we would have to leave. There had been an incident at the local nuclear plant and the entire neighborhood was being evacuated.

“I just knew they should have dealt with those people while they had the chance,” said my grandmother.

My mother just held her breath and fingered her rosary.

As we packed up to leave, I noticed that the black sedan was no longer across the street. Nor was there any car in its place. I finished packing my suitcase and took it out to my grandparents' car.

My grandmother was looking worriedly toward the north -- in the direction of the fallen power plant.

My mother as always looked in all directions.

Then she got into the back seat beside me and hugged me.

She said something in Spanish but her voice was so low that I could not hear her.

The next day, after we entered the relocation camp, my grandparents bought a newspaper. On the cover was a sketch of a man who looked like my father. But it could not have been my father for my father's eyes were brown and the man in the sketch had black irises. More to the point, the eyes in the newspaper sketch seemed to look right through me. Just like the eyes that my father had once described. The eyes of a revolutionary.

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Joan Baez!

AKA Joan Chandos Báez.

Born January 9, 1941.

She is the daughter of a Mexican-born father and a Scottish-born mother and she is best known for being one of the most famous folk singers of her generation. She is also known in pop music circles for her cover of the Band's song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

She has participated in the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War Peace Movement, and anti-death penalty protests. Unlike some of her radicals, she has criticized human rights violations in both left-wing and right-wing political regimes including those in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, and Vietnam. She has also protested against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and on behalf of the American Gay Rights Movement.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

R.I.P. Phil Everly

American country/rock singer Philip "Phil" Everly, half of the famous Everly Brothers singing duo, sang his last note on January 3 at age 74.

He will be missed.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Charles Addams!

AKA Charles Samuel "Chas" Addams.

Born January 7, 1912. Died September 29, 1988.

He was a famous cartoonist for The New Yorker whose darkly humorous cartoons eventually inspired the creation of the TV series The Addams Family, the most famous of said cartoons being this:

He is also famous for designing the opening credits of director William Castle's 1963 film The Old Dark House but he also deserves to be remembered for his other work as well. I have always found something intriguing about his less famous cartoons where he is constantly pointing out the possibility of something odd or creepy that is just around the corner, something inevitably fated to be ignored by most people who pass it by -- but only if said people are very lucky. If nothing else, his cartoons give the average reader a chance to play "What's Wrong with This Picture?" -- with the odds being that whatever is wrong with said picture is very wrong indeed.

For example:

Then again, Mr. Addams was not above more conventional jokes.

Like this:

Anyway, I would like to think that his cartoons are still inspiring creative people today because they definitely have inspired me more than a few times -- in a nice way, of course.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

¡Feliz Día de los Reyes!

Happy Day of the Kings! Or as they say in other countries, Happy Three Kings Day!

This day is the twelfth day of Christmas, also known as Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany in some countries. According to tradition, this day marks the anniversary of the visit of the three kings -- aka the three wise men -- to the birthplace of the Baby Jesus. In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, these three kings also come this night bearing gifts for the good little boys and girls of the Hispanic world. Why this tradition has not replaced Santa in the eyes of all those Anglo-Americans who are always proclaiming that "Jesus is the reason for the season" is one of those mysteries even the saints themselves cannot solve. Personally, I blame that silly War on Christmas...

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Florence King!

Born January 5, 1936.

She is that rarity of rarities: a conservative bisexual writer who is well aware of the contradictions built into that description yet does not seem to give a damn. Ms. King has been officially retired since 2002, only to start a column in The National Review after her "retirement."

She first became famous writing about her beloved South and its various contradictions and since then she has gone on to write about almost anything she pleases. Ms. King ended her National Review "Bent Pin" column in 2012, which supposedly marked the end of her political writing career yet she still writes book reviews for the same publication. She will probably keep writing until she dies. If we are lucky, that will be a long time from now.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Movie Quote of the Week

Sometimes in order to see the light you have to risk the dark.
--Lois Smith, Minority Report (2002)

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TV Quote of the Week

This is the darkest, most terrible timeline.
Danny Pudi, Community, "Remedial Chaos Theory"

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Friday, January 03, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Living”

They were talking again. Talking about the damned story. Morales knew he should say something, but he was tired. He had been working extra shifts at Great Lake Steel again and he really did not have the patience to sit here and listen to silly chatter while his whole body cried out for sleep. It was a quarter to nine and already he was hoping that the class would end early so that he could go home and catch a few moments of slumber before he had to start the graveyard shift. His mother would probably still be up when he got home; she usually was, no matter how late he came home. But with luck, he would be able to catch a quick nap, regardless.

And yet the voices kept yammering.

Morales felt the need to scream but he knew that if he gave in, he would never hear the end of it from his guidance counselor. Besides, if he said something, he might get into trouble, and he already had enough problems at home without seeking them here at school as well.

So instead he forced himself to listen.

“The ending,” said the blonde girl ahead of him. “It was so sad.”

“Yeah,” said a red-headed guy across from her. “Just think about it. That poor boy just singing in the snow. Just dying for want of love.”

You think that's sad, Morales thought, try listening to some of the real-life stories I could tell you. The father who died of a heart attack when his youngest son turned thirteen. The older brother who died of appendicitis because there was no money to take him to a doctor until it was too late. The other older brother whose first wife and son died of tuberculosis while he was at work.

But the people in the classroom didn't want to hear stories like that. They wanted to hear happy stories about people just like them. People who had no real problems save philosophical ones. Sad, rich people who had a hundred servants to do their bidding and yet wept quite frequently because they lived in such a sad, sad world.

He knew he was being unfair now. He knew that some of his fellow students were on scholarships too, and probably came from families just as poor as his.

But he was too tired to be fair. He just wanted to go home so that he could grab a few hours of sleep.

The teacher was talking now. Talking about the difference between dying young and not dying young. As if that issue really required a lot of thought.

To deliberately die young like the boy did in the story was stupid. A smart person avoids it if he can and he is certainly not dumb enough to go out and seek it on purpose.

Only the well-off glamorize death, he thought. Only the rich could afford to cry crocodile tears over cute young Irish lads who die way before their time because they're too stupid to come in out of the snow. Only the rich could afford to spit on those who are not dumb enough to die young and who prefer to show their love by staying healthy and sharing their good fortune with their beloved for many years instead of offering one brief and stupid romantic gesture for the sum of one night.

Such folk were never appreciated by the rich because the rich do not want to appreciate such folk. They hate being reminded of what it's like to be poor -- actually poor -- and while they will weep forever over some imaginary person's troubles, they generally could be counted on to do damned little to help out a real person.

But then they have no real idea what it is like to be not rich. To not have money. To have to work so hard and to earn so little and to never have enough of anything.

He thought of his widowed mother who was waiting at home this very moment and the many times she had reminded him and his siblings about the life she had known before she had been dispossessed by the Revolution. Whenever one of them would bring home a bottle of wine to celebrate a birthday, their mother would say, “When I was a little girl, we used to celebrate with champagne, not wine.” And then she would say nothing else.

Somehow he got the feeling that she would have liked the story the class was talking about.

But he never would.

The yammering was continuing and he tried to ignore it by telling himself that it was just a story. No more important than the stories his co-workers would tell on lunch break or even the stories his mother would tell of her own girlhood. He did not have to agree with the others about it. In fact, he was better off ignoring it.

Then he noticed the silence.

“Anything to add, Mr. Morales?” the teacher asked.

Morales blinked. The class was looking at him and the teacher kept staring at him as if expecting something. Morales knew he should say something neutral but instead he said, “This story is stupid.”

He relished the shocked look on his classmates' faces as they cried “What?” in unison and then he continued.

“The woman in the story -- she spent all those years in love with this dead guy she didn't even like at first and yet she had no love for the spouse who had worked for years to put food on her table and a roof over her head. In my mind, that's a stupid story.”

The teacher just smiled. “I'm sorry you have so little appreciation for great literature, Mr. Morales. Perhaps when you're older and you know more about life, you will appreciate it more.”

There was so much more Morales could have said at that moment yet he stayed silent. Somehow he didn't see himself having the words to make either the teacher or the class understand. Perhaps no one had such words. But especially not him.

Instead he just waited silently for the dismissal bell to ring. When it did, he quietly gathered up his books and walked out into the winter cold.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

R.I.P. James Avery

African-American actor James Avery, best known for his role as lawyer-turned-judge Phil Banks on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, pounded his gavel for the last time on December 31 at age 68.

He will be missed.

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

¡Bienvenidos, 2014!

Ms. Reyes is undoubtedly dressed all wrong for the current weather in Dallas but I would like to think that she is still the ideal candidate to welcome in the new year.

May the new year be more enjoyable for my readers -- and Ms. Reyes -- than the old year.

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