Archives for August 2013

The End of Summer & Ray Bradbury

HI 89 / LO 57, wind calm

 

“It’s not you I worry about,” said Douglas. “It’s the way God runs the world.”

Tom thought about this for a moment. “He’s all right, Doug,” said Tom. “He tries.”

from “Dandelion Wine,” by Ray Bradbury

This conversation, between two preteen brothers, occurs late in Bradbury’s novel, which is set in the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois.

The story is a bit disjointed, but still magical. Think of it as “Calvin & Hobbes” without the stability of Hobbes. (Yes, I did just write that Hobbes is the stability of that comic strip.) So what you have is Calvin—here, Douglas—experiencing the world during a single summer, with a mixture of things that might or might not be real. It is a summer of discoveries. 1) He is alive. 2) He will die. 3) “Was there, then, no strength in growing up? No solace in being an adult?”

Of course not. But that’s a big thing to discover when you’re 12. It’s a big thing to conclude that God running the world may not actually be very comforting.

“He’s all right, Doug,” said Tom. “He tries.”

School started here on Monday. Our summer? It was all right. We tried.

In the story, Douglas’s grandmother tells him, “And you don’t yell when your body makes itself over every seven years or so, old cells dead and new ones added to your fingers and your heart. You don’t mind that, do you?”

I’m 42, so I guess I’m on my sixth remaking. I didn’t notice the new cells at first, but I guess I did start noticing pain in my fingers back around spring break. Then my left heel started acting up in June. Did I mind? Now that I know it’s just part of death and life and all that, I’ll answer with Douglas.

“No’m.”

 

Why I Like Fairytales

No more mommy blogs, please

 

give me fairytales

sword fights and monsters

magic rings, magic pies

talking cats, talking pinecones

beastly children and childlike beasts

dragons in disguise

spells speared by love

please

Belle

HI 80 / LO 51, humidity 26 %

“Pop Culture Happy Hour,” a weekly podcast on all things pop culture, ends each week with a segment called What’s Making Us Happy. What’s making me happy this summer? Belle.

Before Disney realized they could market their heroines as princesses, there was Belle. Belle who loved books more than that gorgeous yellow dress. Belle, who gave up her dreams to save her father. Belle, who cheerfully made friends with silverware. Belle, who argued with the beast. Belle, who never fell for Gaston, the true monster. Belle, who looked at the newly restored prince quizzically before she kissed him.

This summer, my daughter played Belle. I am so not over it.

I still think the story’s introduction—with the stained glass—is one of the best of all time. And it struck me, since I attended all the performances, that the story opens at the lowest possible point: “He fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”

That’d be Belle.

And although I knew that the entire castle was cast under a spell because of the prince’s spoiled, selfish behavior toward the old beggar woman, I’d never thought about how unfair it was until I heard the song “Human Again,” which wasn’t in the original theatrical release. Also, in the musical version, all the enchanted household servants are gradually losing every shred of their humanity. If the beast doesn’t learn to love, they will lose the ability to talk or move or do anything other than simply be a candlestick.

If Belle hadn’t learned to love, would she have eventually been cursed, too?

Our show included two songs that are in the musical version. “If I Can’t Love Her,” sung by the beast, is a show-stopper, and “Home,” sung by Belle, which had me sobbing the first night.

Is this home?

Am I here for a day or forever?

Shut away from the world until who knows when?

Oh, but then as my life has been altered once, it can change again

Build higher walls around me, change every lock and key

Nothing lasts, nothing holds all of me

My heart’s far, far away. Home and free.

Since this was a youth production, with actors ages 5-18, there were a lot of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews in the audience. Some of those kiddos sang along. Lots of them wanted their picture taken with Belle, including one little girl who came to all three shows wearing a princess dress. Seeing her made me believe in the power of transformation, that a little girl in a certified Disney princess dress might one day be inspired to read King Arthur (that’s what Belle reads to the beast in the musical version).

After the first performance, my daughter changed out of her Belle dress into a T-shirt and shorts and met her high school friends at Denny’s for an unofficial cast party. I was feeling generous, so I gave her a $20. When she came home, she told me she’d spent it all.

“There was only one waitress and one cook and one host, and there were, like, 20 of us,” she said. “And I just felt bad for them, so I ordered pancakes and just left the rest as a tip. Is that OK?”

“Of course, my dear. Of course.”

P.S. No pics, friends. As our director, Bob Straus says, “That mouse in Orlando likes his cheese.” No cheese for you, Mickey!

Untitled Poem

If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

 

So, I’ve decided to cut off my right ring finger.

It doesn’t have a ring on it. Not terribly useful

since I’ve given up playing piano.

 

It’s not that big. Not that strong. Terribly infected.

It got nicked with an arrow, one of those remarks

carelessly thrown over the shoulder as someone walks away.

 

I noticed the black streaks first, knew the poison

of those words was seeping to the bone.

Soon it will reach the bloodstream

 

and I don’t want to lose my whole hand over this

certainly not consign my whole body to hell.

So. One swift blow. Pass the whiskey.

Lonesome Dove, part 9. Gus & Call: No Greater Love Hath Man Than This

No Greater Love Hath Man Than This: Gus & Call

Regardless of the negative things I have said about both of these men, their friendship is the heart of the book. You don’t have Gus without Call and you don’t have Call without Gus. They’re Frodo and Samwise. They’re David and Jonathan.

There are not enough stories in this world about friendship, especially friendship between men. Too often, it gets sexualized, like the popular term “bromance,” which doesn’t mean two men in a romantic relationship; it means two guys who care about each other but can’t express it. (See “Superbad.”) But friendship is its own kind of love. Men need friends.

The problem is that too often, women don’t recognize male friendship for what it is. It’s usually not warm and fuzzy. It might include a lot of arguments. It’s probably anything but friendly. So, change your criteria. Here’s what a friend is — a friend is someone you can count on to haul your corpse back to Texas.

“To Texas?” [Call] repeated.

“Yes, that’s my favor to you,” Augustus said. “It’s the kind of job you was made for, that nobody else could do or even try.”

Nobody else would do such a thing. Most people would have paid the undertaker in Miles City to bury Gus. A few would have hauled him to Clara’s in Ogallala. But no one other than Captain Call would drag his friend back to Texas. And no one but Gus would ask such a crazy thing. If you try to make sense of it, you can’t. But the fact that Call honors Gus’s request, well, that’s the whole point.

“Before he reached Kansas, word had filtered ahead of him that a man was carrying a body home to Texas. The plain was filled with herds, for it was full summer. Cowboys spread the word, soldiers spread it. Several times he met trappers, coming east from the Rockies, or buffalo hunters who were finding no buffalo. The Indians heard — Pawnee and Arapahoe and Ogallala Sioux. Sometimes he would ride past parties of braves, their horses fat on spring grass, come to watch his journey. Some were curious enough to approach him, even to question him. Why did he not bury the compañero? Was he a holy man whose spirit must have a special place?

No, Call answered. Not a holy man. Beyond that he couldn’t explain.

No one can explain friendship. But you know it when you see it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it better than in “Lonesome Dove.”

“This would make a story if there was anybody to tell it,” Call said.

Thank goodness Larry McMurtry did.

 

Thus ends my series. I’d like to thank my Kindle, for enabling me to search words and mark passages, which made most of these ramblings possible. I’d like to thank Larry McMurtry for writing this epic. It came into my life just when I needed it, when it was the only thing making any sense.

Operation Poetry Dare: Poetry Buddy

HI 90 / LO 57, dew point 57

 

Did you know I have a top-secret job as a poetry buddy? The truth is over at Tweetspeak.

Lonesome Dove, part 8. Gus: Love’s a Curious Thing

HI 80 / LO 55

Love’s a Curious Thing: Gus McCrae

No one names their kid Augustus anymore (although we do have a few older gentlemen by that name here in Fredericksburg). I’m not sure I’d want to name my child after Gus. But he sure gets all the best lines:

“But yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.”

And, “The earth is mostly just a boneyard. ‘But pretty in the sunlight,’ he added.

And, “I’m sure partial to the evening,” Augustus said. “The evening and the morning. If we just didn’t have to have the rest of the dern day I’d be a lot happier.”

He reads the Good Book from time to time: “I only read it in the morning and the evening, when I can be reminded of the glory of the Lord. The rest of the day I’m just reminded of what a miserable stink hole we stuck ourselves in.”

And later, “What got you on the Bible?” Call asked. “Boredom,” Augustus said.

Robert Duvall was the perfect choice to play Gus in the miniseries. He’s half scoundrel, half scamp, all style.

“Your goddamn style is your downfall, and it’s a wonder if didn’t come sooner.” Truer words were never spoken by Call. Except maybe this one, spoken in the same scene: “You always was careless.”

The other person who sees Gus clearly is Clara (it’s always Clara). She calls him “a rake and a rambler” — twice. She’s right.

“I’d smother Bob for you and send Lorie to perdition.” [Gus joked]

Clara sighed, and her anger wore out with the sigh.

That’s the effect Gus has on people. They sigh and get angry at him (even when he’s joking), and the anger goes out with the sigh and then they go and do extravagant things for him. Like Clara taking in Lorie. Or Call carrying Gus 3,000 miles back to Texas to bury him.

Gus is the true man of vision, not Call. He certainly has better actual eyesight, a point made many times when it comes to spotting Indians. But more importantly, he knows his friend better than his friend knows himself.

Ultimately, we love Gus because he’s human, which means he’s the opposite of Call (“I’m told I don’t have a human nature,” Call said.”) Gus is a warts-and-all kind of guy. He knows he’s flawed, so he doesn’t judge flaws in others unless they refuse to admit them.

“Though you’re human, and you did need one [woman] once — but you don’t want to need nothing you can’t get for yourself.”

Yep, that one’s for Call. Gus says some things to his friend that hit the bullseye as surely as if Gus were shooting his gun. His words and his bullets have pinpoint accuracy.

The best thing he ever said, though, in my opinion, he said to Lorie, who was worried about meeting a fine lady like Clara.

“She may know what I am, though,” Lorena said.

“Yes, she’ll know you’re a human being,” Augustus said.

Lonesome Dove, part 7. Captain Woodrow F. Call: Lover of the Light

HI 86 / LO 53, sunrise 6:22 a.m.

Lover of the Light: Captain Woodrow F. Call

I know two people who named their boys after the Captain. When I started the book, I thought this was a great honor. After all, we’re talking about the character played by Tommy Lee Jones!

I liked this man who liked to get off by himself every night and “let the country talk. The country talked quiet; one human voice could drown it out.” Like Call, I “discovered early on that [my] instincts needed privacy in which to operate.” My favorite sentence of Call’s is this one: “‘We’ll take good care of them,’ Call said, wasting words.” To Call, six words is too many.

But as the story wore on, my opinion of Call changed. His passion for work covers his blue spells:“The blue spells never came at a time of real crisis. Call thrived on crisis.” What better setting for crisis than a cattle drive to Montana? After all, the whole thing is Call’s idea.

But he’s a man of integrity, you’ll argue. He’ll hang a horsethief even if he’s a friend. Well, he’s not a man of integrity to Maggie or to his own son, Newt.

“But Captain,” the boy said. “They say you were the most famous Ranger. They say you’ve carried Captain McCrae three thousand miles just to bury him. They say you started the first ranch in Montana. My boss will fire me if I don’t talk to you. They say you’re a man of vision.”

“Yes, a hell of a vision,” Call said.

This exchange between a young newspaperman and Call occurs as the last words at the end of the miniseries (which is excellently done with an all-star cast, accurate scenery and costumes, and the kind of music you’d expect in a sweeping Western epic). I kind of like ending the story there. But in the book, that exchange happens in New Mexico, following Blue Duck’s death.

The book ends with a one-legged man who only appeared briefly in the beginning (now an omage to Gus, who died with only one leg) telling Call what happened to the old saloon. He explains that Wanz burned the place down when Lorie — “that whore” — left, just he told her he would.

“Who?” Call asked, looking at the ashes.

In this moment, Call becomes Jake—Jake, of all people! Jake, who did not recognize Lorie’s name at the end of his life. At the end of the book, Call doesn’t recognize her either, even when she’s just referred to as “that whore” or “the woman.” But that’s how he referred to her through the whole story. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“If it’s Lorie, it wouldn’t kill you to use her name.” [Gus said]

“I don’t see that it matters,” Call said.

It does matter, Call.

Lorie’s name meant so much to her that when she receives the letter written by Gus on his deathbed, she doesn’t even mind that she can’t read the contents.

“He put my name on it. I can read that. I’ll just keep it.”

She didn’t want Clara to see the letter. It was hers from Gus. What the words were didn’t matter.

But somewhere, somewhere deep, Call knows words matter. He wrote the epitaph for Deets, and he puts together the grave marker for Gus. He uses the plank with the words, “Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium,” words which Gus wrote himself and wanted on his grave. He fastens that plank to a mesquite stick, forming a cross. Then the next day, he realizes no one will ever know Gus was buried there since his name wasn’t on the grave. So, Call climbs back up the hill and scratches Gus’s initials, “A.M.” on the other side of the board.

He wouldn’t call Maggie by name or Lorie. He never gave Newt his name. But he made sure Gus’s name — at least his initials — are written on his makeshift tombstone.