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Reader’s Notebook, 6/17/20

The Border – Don Winslow
For an author, finishing a trilogy has to be difficult. Especially when you didn’t set out to write a three-book series to begin with.

This is the final entry in Winslow’s excellent Power of the Dog series, in which he unfurls the epic story of the rise and fall of a Mexican drug empire and the forces that were aligned against it.

I think authors have two choices when writing a series: you can either tie each book closely together, make it necessary to read the previous entries to understand the latest one; or you can fill later editions with plenty of hooks back to the history laid down by earlier books, while still making them readable on their own.

Winslow takes the second tack. It would surely help to have read one or both of the first two Power of the Dog books, but you can also jump right into The Border and figure things out.[1] He jumps back in time often enough, without being distracting, to either catch up or brush up the reader.

As with every Winslow book I’ve read, I really enjoyed this. The Border brings the series up to the current moment in time. After four decades of chasing the Mexican cartel leaders, Art Keller has become the head of the DEA late in the Obama administration. He entered the job with a secret: a few years earlier he had killed Adan Barrera, the head of the most powerful cartel in Mexico, in the jungles of Guatemala. That murder set off a period of chaos on Mexico as the Sinaloa cartel began to disintegrate and a host of leaders attempted to claim more territory for their organizations.

Much of the book is about the machinations of those Mexican factions. Older bosses attempt to take Barrera’s place, while a younger generation is trying to push their way into power. They enter new alliances while always seeking to push themselves ahead of their partners. Winslow has a real gift for introducing a dizzying number of characters but always coming back to them and adding depth to their stories so that none of their stories are throw-aways.

In Washington, Keller is attempting to adjust the focus of the DEA, and American drug policy as a whole. That is not always a popular idea. Especially with an election ahead.

Ah, 2016. Winslow makes that year’s election, and its aftermath, a key component of the book. While Obama appears briefly as himself, a man named John Dennison stands in for our current president. Keller takes the elements of the Russian scandal and flips it to be about Mexican drug money. A lengthy, harrowing undercover operation eventually discovers direct ties between the son-in-law and the biggest Mexican cartel, which sets off a special counsel investigation and eventual constitutional crisis. If much of the series was about the ill effects of the War on Drugs on our country, this book becomes very much about our hyper-partisan political age in general, and our most corrupt president ever in particular.

I have to admit, I struggled with the political angle. I think Winslow could have brought in American politics without shifting into an examination of our Kleptocrat in Chief. That subject is so emotional that I think it distracted a little from the bigger story. I would rather Winslow have split that off into a separate novel.

While the big moments are full of drama and excitement, where the book really excels is in telling the stories of minor characters. We get peeks into the life of Jacqui, a Long Island junkie, and how her life spirals deeper into the abyss as her addiction takes a greater hold.

The minor character that most hit with me was Nico, a 10-year-old living in the slums of Guatemala who, after being forced to join a gang, flees for America. We follow him as he literally rides on top of a train through Guatemala and Mexico, losing friends and avoiding perils along the way, and then slips into the US only to be immediately captured and eventually sent to a juvenile correctional facility. The chapter of his life in juvie is one of the most fun and yet heartbreaking in the entire book. Eventually he lands with an aunt and uncle who are living illegally in New York, and just as he begins to carve out a normal, American life, he gets sucked into the world of gangs and slinging dope.

Winslow is not a brief writer. There are no quick asides. This book checks in at over 700 pages, and they’re not Stephen King 700 pages that read twice as fast. This book requires an investment from the reader, but it pays off.


  1. I have never read the first book in the series, but did just fine reading the second cold.  ↩

This ‘n’ That

Before I get to some more notes on what’s been going down around here, a quick warning that I’m going to be doing some of my patented “jacking around with the blog” over the next few days. I’m hoping I can do it in a way that doesn’t prevent you from finding the site when you look for it. If not, my apologies and it should return soon.


Pool Troubles

After a year of pretty pain-free pool ownership, we finally ran into a hiccup. I believe the pool was closed most of last week; we may have swam on Monday but didn’t open the cover again until Friday evening. When the girls opened it up it was cloudy, beginning to turn greenish, and stinky.

Hoo-ray.

About all I ever do is give it the occasional chlorine shock, so I started researching online for possible causes and solutions. While the pressure gauge on our filter was fine, I did notice that the pressure from the jets in the pool was much lower than normal. Saturday morning I backwashed the filter for about ten minutes and then the pressure seemed to kick back up to normal. I took a water sample into a pool store and everything read as fine except for the chlorine. If there was a clog in a line somewhere that reduced the pressure, that would also prevent the filter from cleaning the water properly and sending it through the chlorine tab dispenser which stabilizes everything. Throw in a week of sun and warm temps, and you have a recipe for growing a small pond in your backyard.

We dropped a case of shock in on Saturday, added more each of the past two days, along with some clarifier, and are close to normal this morning. By Sunday the water was at least blue again, if still cloudy. Monday afternoon you could finally see the drains in the deep end. This morning I would say we were at 90% of normal.

Kind of concerning but a good reminder that we still have to keep an eye on the pool on the days we’re not using it.


Trips

Our trip to Hawaii is officially off. The state extended the travel restrictions through the end of July and our resort remains closed. We’re still working to get full refunds for everything, but with flights cancelled and the hotel shut down we anticipate everything working out.

We went ahead and booked a place on Captiva Island that same week, along with flights to Ft. Myers. If travel clamps down again, we can make that drive, although I swore I would never drive that far again after our last trip to Captiva. Hopefully we won’t go 0–3 on 2020 trips.


Golf

I’ve played golf twice in the last three weeks. Both times I played like shit.

When I was playing often last fall although I still sprayed the ball around, my tendency was to hook irons and slice woods. I played 15 holes last night (it got too dark to see on 16 so I walked in) and everything was going to the right. Irons were bending right and woods were big, majestic slices. It was very frustrating, as a slice was a part of my past shitty golfing life and I thought I had left it behind. Saturday I went to the driving range and it was borderline embarrassing how poorly I was making contact.

I videoed myself taking some swings at home over the weekend and that was super humbling. You think you have a mental image of your swing and then seeing it blows that all up. My coach is out of town for a couple weeks so I’m not sure I’ll get to meet with him before my brother-in-law from Colorado, who plays between a 4 and 5 index, visits and we head out together. I warned him that he may not want to play with me.


AFL

I accidentally came across some Australian Rules Football Saturday morning. I had no idea their season had re-started or that FS1 carries their games. I saw the final minute of the Port Adelaide-Adelaide rivalry match. I checked the program guide and saw there were matches on later Saturday night and early Sunday morning. I watched probably two-thirds of the evening match. As it was in the mid–80s, when ESPN turned it into a cult sport in America, Aussie rules footy remains awesome.

Roughin’ It

It’s been a few days. A couple of you checked in – which I appreciate – and all is well. The girls and I spent a few days out in the wilderness. OK, that might be overstating it a bit, but here’s a breakdown.

We went with our old neighbors to Turkey Run state park, about two hours east of Indy, Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning for camping, hiking, and tubing. It was the two dads and five girls; moms stayed home and worked. Their family are all experienced campers. Ours? I last camped in the summer of 1984 and my girls had only camped in backyards.

We had absolutely tremendous weather. When we arrived at the campsite and began setting up, we were still on the backside of TS Cristobal, with a few occasional sprinkles, lots of heat and humidity, and very strong winds. Our campsite was protected but the wind did make it tough to sit by the fire, as the smoke whipped around.

L and I shared a tent, the other four girls shared a large tent, and Mr. P had a solo tent. We had an air mattress in ours because my old-man back can’t take sleeping on the ground. Sometime around 1:00 AM Thursday morning I heard strange noises. Near my head. We had seen a raccoon before we went to bed and apparently it brought some friends and they were scampering about our campsite. A couple were being very chatty just outside our tent. It freaked me out a little and I started hitting the side of the tent with my pillow. That scared the raccoons, who shrieked and ran away. And that pretty much ruined sleep for me as I thought every noise signaled their return and I checked that we were zippered inside for the 100th time.

Thursday morning the heat and humidity and wind broke. It was a cool, clear, calm day, and just gorgeous for hiking. We hiked for about three hours, knocking out the toughest trails in the park. We got out before the crowds so we were able to stop and enjoy the views, which were beautiful. Everyone I’ve talked to about Turkey Run says the same thing: you can’t believe you’re in Indiana. Most of the trails are in canyons carved out by glacial melt and ancient rivers. They are filled with waterfalls and gorgeous rock collections. Even the toughest trails weren’t super technical, although we were all feeling them in our legs when we made the last couple climbs.

Back to the campground for lunch then we took a three-hour tube float down Sugar Creek. There wasn’t much current, and the wind was often against us, so it was a rather lazy float, which was a fine way to recover.

We figured everyone would conk out early that night between the lack of sleep the previous night and the day’s exertions. Most of us were still awake at 11:00 when we began to drift to our tents. I slept like a baby for about two hours until some fools a campsite or two down decided to get loud. Several of them were talking and laughing loudly. They were also chopping wood. Not cool. Most of us drifted in and out of sleep all night thanks to the noise.

We had planned on doing another hike Friday morning but the girls lacked energy so we made breakfast and returned home.

My girls did well and really enjoyed it. It helped a lot to have almost perfect weather. It also helped that we had electricity, there were bathrooms, and even showers. The showers were kind of nasty so after the first two girls made a trip over the rest of us avoided them. They enjoyed hanging out with their friends and trying something new. My friend has every piece of camping gear you would ever need, so cooking was easy and we had some terrific meals. He also knew to lock down all our coolers at night so the raccoons couldn’t get in.

Thursday C and her buddy slept in hammocks, and made it all night in them. They did forget to take the trash bag to the dumpster, though. It was hanging on the same tree that held one side of their hammocks. At some point my friend heard a noise, peaked out from his tent, and saw a raccoon on the tree digging through the trash, just a couple feet from his daughter’s head. He chucked a water bottle at it and took the trash away. Neither his daughter nor C had any clue until he told them about it in the morning.

A pretty successful couple of days outside suburbia for us. I think S would enjoy the hiking but she would not like the actual camping part of it. So if we return it will likely be dads and daughters again.

Lazy Days Already

Just a couple weeks in and we’ve already entered the lazy days of summer. Swim most days. Have some family or small group of friends over on the weekends. Hope it doesn’t rain yet complain when it’s too hot.

That happens quick when there’s no place else to go. S popped into the nearest mall one day last week to return a few things and said maybe half the stores were open. Despite everyone being sick of being cooped up, she said there were not many people there. I don’t think our girls are interested in going to the mall anyway, but it would be nice if you could go wander around for an hour or so.


We’ve also reached high anxiety time for our summer vacation. We are supposed to go to Hawaii in late July. As of the moment I’m typing this, the islands remain relatively closed to outside travelers. We could go, but we would be forced to quarantine for two weeks. Which kind of defeats the point of taking a one-week trip.

S called our resort yesterday and they cheerful told her that they anticipate re-opening in the middle of July. However, from all we’ve read, it sounds like the islands will not open up to mainland travelers first, but rather only allow in visitors from Asian and Pacific countries that have Covid under control.

We are still hoping that something changes. But I woke up today to an email from American Airlines saying our flights between the mainland to Kauai have been cancelled. I checked and there are some other flights available the same days but I don’t know if those will soon get wiped out, too.

I’ve been very torn about whether to go. It would be easy just to re-book for next summer and hope the world is in a better place then. But as of now our hotel rooms are not refundable so we’ve stuck to “If they’re open, we’re going.” I imagine we could finagle either a re-booking or cancellation given all that’s going on, but we want to push that out as long as we can.

We’ve been looking at backup plans, mainland travel that would put us on a beach where we can just post up and not have to deal with too many crowds. Those spots are not easy to find, as I’m sure many of you know. I’ve been making the joke that we will end up at the resort down in French Lick, IN. They do have a couple world-class golf courses, but I don’t think that would be viewed as a suitable replacement for Hawaii by the rest of the family.


The girls and I are going camping with our old neighbors (they are going to Hawaii with us, too) for a couple nights this week. I’ll fill you in on that after we get back, but this will be the girls’ first ever official camping outing. They’ve done some backyard camping but never at a campsite where there’s not a house to run into if it rains or they get skittish. I don’t think I’ve properly camped since about 1984, so it’s not like I’m some expert. Once today’s rain passes through it looks like it will be a gorgeous couple of days, with highs in the 70s and the humidity disappearing. We’re all looking forward to it.


The final piece of news for this post is that my tenure as kickball coordinator at St. P’s came to an end last night. Four years was enough and my successor, a friend of mine who coaches L’s class, was officially voted in. It was a pretty good four years. Not too much drama (there was that one game in the spring of 2018…), some pretty successful teams, and I made a lot of good friends in the parents who coached for me. I will help coach C’s team in the fall, assuming there is a fall season, and then officially be done with youth kickball.

Ten Influential Albums

I think I’m done with Facebook for awhile. I’m not a huge user to begin with. But over the past week I’ve been disappointed at both Mark Zuckerberg’s continued stance that FB has no role to play in reining in posts that are meant to deliberately mislead people and spread lies and with a few friends who have posted/shared things I’ve found troubling following the George Floyd murder. I’ll check in to see who has a birthday and send them a message, but I don’t see myself scrolling through my feed or posting much again for some time.

My last act on the platform, for the time being, was to post my list of 10 influential albums in my life. The rules were that you just posted an album cover, no review, no commentary, no explanation. While I respect a strict set of rules that govern a music list as much as anyone, those constraints also maddened me. How am I supposed to share these albums without saying why they were influential? How can I not share a few words explaining that while album X isn’t one of my 10 favorites ever, it influenced me more than some of those favorites?

Fortunately I have a blog, so I can break free of those constraints here!

The Official Sesame Street 2 Book-and-Record Album, 1971
Yeah, some folks laughed. But this was the first album I ever owned, and I listed to the hell out of it. I think I was listening to it more in 1973–74, because I have pretty vivid memories of it. In addition to being the first album I owned, it laid the groundwork for my love of sad songs. Grover’s powerful vocal performance on “What Do I Do When I’m Alone” caused much distress in young me. I remember hiding in a corner behind a large plant and crying when I heard it, because I didn’t want Grover to be sad. I think my mom made me stop listening to it for awhile.

The Beatles 1967–1970, aka The Blue Album, 1973
I was obviously too young to hear any of the Beatles tracks when they were first released. But my parents owned The Blue Album and listened to it a lot. And I kind of hated it. But it planted the seeds for my love of pop music, and my love of the Beatles that would blossom 30 years later.

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life, 1976
My mom listened to this album so, so much, and unlike the Beatles, I loved it.

Def Leppard – Pyromania,1983
The first cassette I ever purchased, at a Wal-Mart in Great Bend, KS while spending some time with my grandparents that summer. I didn’t own a cassette player, I had a knockoff Walkman that was AM/FM only, so I couldn’t actually listen to it until I returned home. This was the moment I stopped asking for albums for Christmas and my birthday and started purchasing music when I wanted to.

Prince and the Revolution – 1999, 1983
I had no idea what I was getting into when I ordered this from Columbia House. I knew “Little Red Corvette” and “1999”, but songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” “DMSR,” and “Lady Cab Driver” blew my mind. It was a long time before I appreciate those songs for more than just being about sex. Purple Rain is my favorite, but this is the one that opened my mind to everything Prince was offering.

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill, 1986
The first hip-hop album I ever purchased, and it helped me navigate the hallways of a new school in California where everyone seemed to know every line.

Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988
Hip-hop wasn’t just about women and beer and proving you’re better than the sucka MC’s. It could have a powerful message attached to it, and feel as ferocious as the loudest rock band. Soon after listening to this for the first time I was reading *The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and shifting my views on racial and social justice matters towards those of the most militant of the Black community.

Pearl Jam – Ten,1991
After nearly six years of listening to mostly hip-hop and R&B, this album changed my listening habits dramatically. Soon my CD rack was filled with alternative and college rock bands. With that shift came another, a new appreciation for lyrics and finding meanings beyond the most obvious.

Arcade Fire – Funeral, 2004
Another shift. I had just become a father, music was beginning to be consumed online more than through physical formats. I honestly don’t know how to define the difference between the alt-rock era of the 90s and the indie rock era that followed, but this was the transition point for me. Also the first album I ever bought on the iTunes Music Store.

Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight, 2008
No album has grabbed and held my attention as much as this one did since perhaps Ten.

Friday Playlist

Another week in the books that was a little worse than the week before. I don’t know what the end point is, when things will start getting better, but I fear where the next worst week will take us.

For this week’s playlist, some songs that both sum up what’s happening and how I feel about it. Not the most uplifting playlist, I admit, but there are some damn good songs in here.

“What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye
“Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil
“We Got to Have Peace” – Curtis Mayfield
“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” – Sly & The Family Stone
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” – Stevie Wonder
“Free Your Mind” – En Vogue
“Fuck Tha Police” – N.W.A.
“Racist Friend” – The Specials
“Prophets of Rage” – Public Enemy
“Stop the Violence” – Boogie Down Productions
“Nazi Punks Fuck Off” – Dead Kennedys
“This Land” – Gary Clark, Jr.
“Heroes” – David Bowie
“Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” – James Brown
“A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

What I’m Watching, May 2020

My goal for May was to knock a bunch of movies off my To Watch list. At first glance it will look like I did exactly that. But I must admit I watched eight of these movies in that last nine days of the month. That was solid work!


The Last Dance

Well, shit, I never got around to writing about this. I guess it’s because I’ve talked about it so much to so many people I never felt the need to share more here. So I’ll try to sum up quick.

I loved it. It brought back a ton of memories. I understand that the control Michael Jordan had over the series was problematic, but that’s true no matter who makes a film. And if giving him control was the cost of getting him to talk, it was worth it. I’ve fallen a little out of love with MJ in his retirement as we’ve seen just how pathological his need to win is and how he’s struggled to shut it off. But putting it back in context of his playing days made me overlook the troublesome aspects of that drive. I thought the most powerful moment of the series was the final scene of episode seven or eight, when he was explaining the cost of his personality. In general I don’t think MJ has regrets or shame or pain for anything he’s done. But in that moment, he showed that there is a price. He may have “boys” from his playing days, but does he truly have friends, when his goal was always to dominate everyone, even the players he was close to?

This was great and I’m equal parts craving and dreading the next attempt to do a series like this. I’m not sure it will work for other athletes the way it worked for MJ’s story.

A


Lunar
A cool little short that recreates the Apollo moon landings with pictures taken on the Apollo missions.

A


A Parks and Recreation Special – Full Special – YouTube
Who better than the P&R cast to give us a moment of happiness in the midst of this horrible time? Except for that Jerry. God, Jerry!

A


The Irishman
I have no excuse for putting this off so long. Goodfellas is one of my very favorite movies ever. I also loved Casino. Another Martin Scorsese mafia epic with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci would seem like a no-doubter, right? Especially when you throw in Al Pacino’s addition to the gang.

I put it off from months for one reason or another but finally – FINALLY! – started it on Friday, May 8, and watched about an hour. The next evening I pulled it up on my laptop with earbuds, thinking I would watch a half hour or so until the kids started to head upstairs and I finish on a TV. Next thing I knew it was two hours later and I had watched the entire movie.

So, worth the wait? Absolutely. A fantastic third chapter to Scorsese’s mob trilogy. It is a compelling, wonderfully shot, entertaining movie. Al Pacino is especially fantastic, adjusting his typical manner to fit Jimmy Hoffa’s upper midwest accent. That said, it was weird hearing a bunch of New York/New Jersey Italians attempt to speak like Philly Italians, Irish, and Detroit Germans.[1]

What stuck out to me was the tone of the movie. It felt like a long, bittersweet good bye. It is hard to imagine Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci doing another three-hour mafia movie together. This was their valedictory lap, and for all the goodness, there was that hint of sadness knowing that this is the closure of one of the great chapters in American film.

After watching I looked up Frank Sheeran to learn more about him. I came across this article which pokes a lot of holes in the biggest assertions made about Sheeran’s activities. Reading it makes me think of this movie more like JFK. JFK was a brilliant movie, but it was also full of shit. From a historical perspective, I think The Irishman has to go into the same bucket as JFK.[2] And it is a reminder even if Goodfellas and Casino were based on journalistic accounts of mob life, there was also plenty of Hollywood polish put on those stories, too.

A


Beastie Boys Story
We have Apple TV+, or whatever it’s called, free for a year thanks to buying a new Apple device.[3] That gave me the chance to watch this, an ATV+ exclusive. All I knew about it going in was “Spike Jones Beasties documentary.” Which was enough for me. So I was a little surprised by its format: a live, on-stage show by Ad Rock and Mike D in which they basically ran through the same subjects the wrote about in Beastie Boys Book. It was fun, funny, touching, and perfect for a Gen Xer that grew up on the band.

A


Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
Seinfeld stand up, what’s not to like? It felt like he left his fastball behind, but it was still a decent watch.

B


John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
This was some funny shit. My stomach hurt from laughing through the first 40 minutes, and then he got to Trump stuff and I had to pause a few times to catch my breath.

A


The Crying Game
I don’t know that I had ever seen this all the way through, back in the day. Actor Stephen Rea, who plays Fergus, was married to Dolours Price, a key member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the 70s and 80s, and a main focus of the book Say Nothing. With the references to the movie in that book, I figured it was worth a watch.

For those not old enough to remember, this was a very controversial movie when it came out. There was a big twist, about halfway through, that Miramax asked audiences not to reveal after they saw it. The secret got out quick, but it was still shocking when you saw it. Hell, it’s kind of shocking now, 30 years later, but that’s more because of what kind of nudity we do and do not allow in our cinema even today.

What this really made me think about was a college roommate, who one night after a few too many beers and some late night, reality TV, asked how we would all react if we brought a “lady” home and found out she was not, in fact, a lady. This roommate and I butted heads often, and I wasn’t having his theoretical exercise. “I would know right away and never make it that far,” was my response. This instigated like a 90-minute, drunken argument that several other roommates zinged in and out of. He thought I was dismissing a legitimate question. I thought he was spending too much time worrying about a situation that was highly unlikely to happen.

The film? It felt very dated production wise. There were some elements I thought were strange: the tone shifted from light to very heavy randomly, for example. But it deserves credit for tackling a huge issue in a very honest way and in setting the stage for all the other noir-ish, arty films that would come in the ‘90s.

B+


Some Westerns

I keep a long list of movies I want to watch, but only knock off a couple each year. I just always keep movies after books, music, sports, and TV sports when dividing up my media time.

I noticed last month that several of the movies on my list had a common theme or genre. I’ve never been a big Western guy, but several movies on my list could either be classified as modern Westerns, or were influenced heavily by the classic genre. So about a week ago I decided to dive in and knock a bunch out. Along the way I added some more, so I have a long list to still get to. Below is an accounting of that week-plus of viewing.

There Will Be Blood
This has been on my list for years. Years I tell you. What a performance by Daniel Day Lewis. What a great story. How wonderfully photographed. A nearly perfect movie.

A


Django Unchained
It’s Tarantino, so you kind of know what you’re getting. A dazzling story with plenty of problematic moments. Lots of violence, often almost cartoonish in its gore. Homages to great films and film genres of the past. Sharp writing. A+ acting performances. Thus, nothing about the movie really surprises. But I really enjoyed Tarantino’s take on the classic Western. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz were fantastic as the two lead characters.

A


Hell or High Water
I had never heard of this movie before, yet it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. That just shows how out of it I generally am with movies.

Thus it was a great surprise. This feels like the ideal modern western: it has nothing to do with cowboys and Indians, or life on the range. But its bank robbing theme and gorgeous cinematography draw clear lines to the classics. The lead characters were all wonderfully filled by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham. The movie makes you root for both the cops and robbers, and sometimes against both. A nicely ambiguous ending.

A


No Country for Old Men
I read this book sometime around when the movie came out and, as per my usual style, never got around to watching the flick. So the details were fuzzy but I remembered the basics. And the Cohen brothers nicely added their own twists while remaining faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s original story.

A


The Rover
Here we divert a hair for a movie that in most ways is not a Western at all, but pulls in so many references to that genre that it can safely be called a modern Western.

This one takes place in the Australian Outback ten years after an economic collapse has caused massive upheaval. The almost always amazing Guy Pearce has his car stolen and spends the next hour and forty-five minutes trying to get it back. Along the way there is much violence, most from Pearce’s gun. At the end, after he recovers his car, we see why it was so important to him. At first glance, it seems utterly ridiculous that so many died for this cause. But, considering the world he lives in, you realize despite his acceptance of brutality and death, he maintains a strong connection to the past and that he isn’t the cold, emotionless killer he seems to be. This is one of the bleakest movies I can remember watching.

B


True Grit
Hey, two Cohen Bros Westerns in one month! And this one is a legit Western, a remake of a John Wayne movie that takes place in the late 19th century. This had a few more quirks than No Country For Old Men, which made it feel more like a Cohen movie. Jeff Bridges with another fine performance, and I absolutely loved Haile Steinfeld

A-


Marriage Story
To wrap up the month, S and I watched this together Sunday night. I think we had very different views of the film. She found it depressing. I was, honestly, laughing out loud at some scenes. I felt like it was really playing up the ridiculousness of the process of getting a divorce.

But I also found it to be very powerful. I was a child of divorce, and while my parents’ divorce was not heated in any way, it was still hard, and I was sympathetic to that angle. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were excellent. And there’s that scene, that one scene, which if you’ve seen this, I’m sure also left you breathless. My first thought following that scene, once I was able to breath again, was how many takes did that require and how wrecked were Johansson and Driver after? Oh, and the scene when Charlie walks in on Henry reading the letter Nicole wrote to take to their initial mediation? Yeah that really go to me.

A



  1. By the way, I had no idea Jimmy Hoffa was of German heritage. With his mob ties and a last name ending with a vowel, I always assumed he was Italian. My bad.  ↩
  2. Speaking of JFK, loved how David Ferrie – played by Pesci in the Oliver Stone film – made a brief appearance as Frank Sheeran was picking up arms to be delivered to the Bay of Pigs invaders.  ↩
  3. C, S, and I have all purchased new phones in the last month.  ↩

Heartbreaking Times

It is hard to know what to write today. We are in day four of an absolutely glorious run of weather. We got to see a few friends this weekend. The SpaceX launch was very cool. There’s a new wave of openings here in Indianapolis today which is making life feel a little more normal.

But all that is offset by what is going on in our country right now.

Last night Indianapolis was under a 10-hour curfew. We live far from where the violence and destruction was on Friday and Saturday nights, but it was still eerie to have all the restaurants and stores around the corner from our house close early to allow everyone to get home before 8:00. There was some traffic after 8:00, but it was certainly much lighter even compared to the reduced traffic of the past two months.

Indy got off light. There were a couple downtown banks and shops busted open, a few small fires. Minor compared to many other cities around the country.

It was very difficult not to follow the demonstrations around the country and not get emotional about it. Violence, destruction, looting is never the correct path. And I realize it is often two very distinct groups who are doing the peaceful protesting and the more violent acts. But I understand the motivation.

The George Floyd murder was just the latest and most egregious example of law enforcement using unreasonable and deadly force when dealing with Black men in this country. We’ve been seeing the videos for years, and before everyone had a phone in their hand we heard the stories for decades. But far too many white people wrote those stories off as exaggerations or outright lies. Others assumed that there had to be an act before the cameras started recording that justified the police’s acts. I think it’s this third group that bothers me the most. That view supports the idea that police can take any actions they want against a perceived criminal, even if those actions aren’t in proportion to the alleged crime. “Well, he had a criminal past and he was running, what do you expect?”

Plenty of white people sympathized, but none of us did enough to counter the racists, overt or covert, who twisted these incidents into opportunities to give the police more weapons rather than the public more protections. Or the politicians who look at the violence that came after the act and view it as the real problem, not the actions that caused the violence. Or the Thin Blue Line fanatics who forget that in a free society the police do not serve as judge, jury, and executioner out on the streets.

I don’t know what the answer is. It really feels like this country is broken, has been for some time, and we just keep getting worse. Plus we have a president who will use this as a gigantic wedge to anger the people he thinks will get him reelected, who will punish those who need help, who will reward those who took lives, who will somehow place blame on people who have zero responsibility but have the nerve to speak against him. Hell, it’s already starting. We can only hope that it backfires and is yet another epic failure in his presidency that will bring it to a resounding end next January.

As much as I want to believe a new president will change things, I don’t think it will make a huge difference. New elected officials may take over and implement new policies, but you can’t force people to be empathetic, and, as I’ve said before, I think empathy is on its last legs in this country.

It seems impossible for people to look at someone different than them and understand what their lives are like. White people and people of color. Men and women. Citizens and immigrants. Republicans and Democrats. Mask wearers and non-mask wearers. Someone with a different perspective is meant to be marginalized until they have no voice or power. We see it in everything from our legislatures to social media to youth league sports to the line at your grocery store. Everyone seems pissed off at everyone else, and if we can quickly identify a difference between us, we immediately turn it into a racial/political/gender fight.

We’ve told our girls over-and-over that it’s fine not to like people, it’s fine to be upset with someone else’s behavior, it’s ok to think someone is a jerk. But that’s all they are, a jerk. They aren’t a Black jerk or a gay jerk or a Mexican jerk.

I’m a cynic by nature, but I also often believe in a hopeful future. The arc of history bending toward social justice and such. That belief has fueled me through other tense moments in our nation’s history.

I’m not sure we are capable of overcoming all this hate, especially when so many elements of our society seem focused on glorifying our divisions to generate clicks, likes, favs, views, and votes.

I would love to be proven wrong. I would love it if I never see another video of police, or random strangers, killing Black men for no reason. I would love it if politicians realize it is better for our country to find areas of common ground rather than using scorched earth techniques that are focused more on destroying their opponents than governing. I would love it if social media companies didn’t hide behind the false flag of neutrality and took some responsibility for what is posted on their platforms. I would be fucking thrilled if white people in power didn’t think it was bad for business or would cost them votes to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

Maybe the summer of 2020, which is off to a horrible start, will shake something loose and we’ll find a way to start getting along again.

Sadly, I think things are going to keep getting worse.

Stats

May 2020

  • Beastie Boys – 43
  • Neil Finn – 32
  • The Sheila Divine – 31
  • Pearl Jam – 26
  • Jess Williamson – 24

Complete stats available at my Last.fm page.

Friday Playlist

It’s been a slow music week for me, so I’ll stick to some older tunes for today’s offerings.

“Great Expectations” – The Gaslight Anthem
One of the great Side One, Track Ones of the digital era. The kids today don’t even know what a Side One, Track One is.

“Test Transmission” – Kasabian
Kasabian had their moment right when I was transitioning to actually buying digital tracks instead of finding them on some “sharing” service. They had about three or four really good songs. Good enough to remain in my digital library today.

“If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” – Manic Street Preachers
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a fresh look at my Favorite Songs of All-Time list. I rarely listen to this anymore, so I wonder if it would stick were I to update it. I heard it the other night for the first time in ages and immediately listened to it two more times, so I think it might find a way to remain.

“Battleflag” – Lo Fidelity Allstars featuring Pigeonhead
Speaking of songs I used to love, man, this one was a BEAST and the soundtrack to one of the greatest scenes ever on ER. The Spotify machine was spitting out some gems from my musical past this week!

“Street Fighting Man” – The Rolling Stones
This song was bumping through my head one day this week, as it often does when summer rolls around. Given what is going on in Minneapolis right now it may seem a little insensitive or inappropriate to keep it in here. I’ll go ahead an include it with the disclaimer that doing so has nothing to do with those tragic events.

“Summer Breeze” – Las Kellies
Not the “Summer Breeze” you were expecting, right?

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