This ought to be my final word on A Game of Thrones for a bit, but it certainly warrants inclusion in my "Page One" series. So here it is: page one of A Game of Thrones.
Two robots looked down on the fires of Earth from their orbital platform. They were there to monitor the climate, but with no one left to report it to, what now?
"Do you think anyone will remember humans?" asked the younger robot, with a quivering synth-voice. Its emotion chip was state-of-the-art.
"We will," replied the older, robot. His emotion chip was first-gen, so he wasn't given to sentiment. "We know where the bodies are buried, anyway." He pointed to a screen. "Cold front in North America," he said.
"Snow in the Caucasus," said the first bot.
So I'm watching "St Elmo's Fire", which I may well have never seen in its entirety. I'm about half an hour in. My plan is to watch until I encounter a character who isn't an asshole. I'm gonna have to watch the whole movie, aren't I?
(This was answered almost immediately by two friends saying, 'Yes'. Ouch.)
Oh god...a scene with a welfare queen. This isn't a movie about actual young people in the 80s, it's about what William F. Buckley thought young people in the 80s were like.
(Few things have the ability to INSTANTLY piss me off like the whole 'Welfare Queen' stereotype, and this was it, in spades. A white woman with her five kids with her, all of different races, who keeps responding to her case worker's attempts to interest her in job training with "Just gimme my check.")
Obviously my memories of the 80s may not be entirely reliable, but I don't recall women dressing either like streetwalkers or underneath at least four layers and buttoned up to the lower lip.
(Seriously, just look at the Mare Winningham character. She dresses like an cast extra on Little House: The Ever More Chaste Edition.)
If ever there was a person who just can't wear an earring, it's Rob Lowe.
(It's an awful earring.)
Rob Lowe tries to get his hand under her (the Mare Winningham character) skirt...but he has to pull up about eight yards of fabric to get there!
(This just cracked me up. He literally has to move his hand back down like three times to get the skirt far enough up that he can get a hand under there. It's like she has to walk around on stilts, just so her skirt isn't dragging on the ground. And this is seconds after she reacts to Rob touching her breast as though he's just zapped her with a cattle prod.)
Sweaty Rob Lowe is faking the hell out of that sax solo, I tell you! I keep waiting for CJ to walk up to him and say, "Sam, get your ass back to the office. Toby's pissed at you."
(A Georgetown bar is full of people rocking out to Rob Lowe on the sax as though he's Kenny G Van Halen or something.)
This movie is dragging my lifelong crush on Ally Sheedy outside, where it plans to beat my poor crush to death with a tire iron.
(Every time Sheedy was onscreen, I was reminded of Harrison Ford's great line from Working Girl, which he says to Melanie Griffith when she shows up at a function in a gorgeous dress: "You're the first woman I've seen at one of these things who dressed like a woman, not how a woman thinks a man would dress if he were a woman.")
Ahhh, the 80s...when eyeglasses were large enough to cover the vision span of four people!
(Holy shit, this movie has the Biggest Eyeglasses EVER.)
I have to think that anybody who has ever seen, oh, any movies at all takes one look at the city block that St Elmo's Bar is on and immediately yelps out, "Hey! The Universal backlot!"
(Ayup. This really broke the illusion for me. All that location shooting, and they couldn't do a couple of establishing shots someplace real?!)
Rob gets fired from his lucrative bar gig. Probably shouldn't have attacked the guy who showed up with his wife.
But it's all good, because he lets out a massive rant outside, gets kicked to the ground, and is well on his way to make-up sex within thirty seconds! Yay, him!
(This scene made no sense.)
Clearly the place to have a heart-to-heart with your friend is at the homeless shelter where she's doing volunteer work. WHILE she's doing volunteer work.
(Another really odd scene, with Demi Moore and Ally Sheedy showing up at Mare Winningham's homeless shelter to give her life advice, which is basically, 'Give in and make love to your boyfriend.' OK then. Winningham is wearing a long skirt with a bib and shoulder straps, not unlike overalls, over a button-down shirt which is over a turtleneck. Were the entire 80s a study in layers?)
In this scene, Ally Sheedy is wearing a frilly bow tie under the incredibly frilly collar of a blouse that is in turn under a jacket that has a really frilly collar. Were the 80s the frill decade?
Rob's having sex in a hot tub. Or at least he was. House owner got home early. Whoops. Hate when that happens.
(I thought that the producers had cast a Latino actor, named Mario Machado, as an Asian character. Turns out he's of Chinese and Portuguese ancestry. So I was wrong.)
Emilio Estevez apparently believes, as do all movie men, that turning up the collar of their suit jacket has the same effect as opening an umbrella.
(I never understand this.)
Stalking Andie MacDowell is creepy on two levels. Because it's stalking, and because it's Andie MacDowell.
(Cheap shot, I know, but there's just always been something about Andie MacDowell that's just a bit 'off' for me. I have a terrible time with Four Weddings and a Funeral on that basis.
Wow...as Emilio goes in to confront Andie, we get the "Person who shot JR" POV shot, complete with people stopping and staring at him! Every movie should include a shot like that.
(Here's what I'm talking about. This seemed a very odd stylistic choice for this movie.)
And for this she lets him go home with her?!
(I guess obsessive stalking wasn't deemed creepy until that guy killed Rebecca Schaefer.)
Rob is starting to realize what a loser he is. Took him half the movie. Took me thirty seconds of the movie. Yay, me!
THIS is Emilio's plan to win the heart of Andie MacDowell? Pretending to be rich?! Did we wander into a "Three's Company" episode?
(Apparently she's also stupid and will think that he's become rich overnight. Great plan, this.)
I'd forgotten how in the 80s, all men wore neckties, but the men who weren't to be taken seriously wore their ties so loose that the knot is eight inches below their collar.
(I hate neckties. They're stupid.)
Ooh, I gotta stop. This movie is terrible. Ye Gods. I'm just gonna read the WikiPedia plot summary and call it a night on this one.
I would come to learn several things about buying a butter churn on eBay:
1. Most of the churns are not actually for churning. I'd thought I was in luck when I saw dozens of listings for charming wooden churns come up on the Search Results page. That was before I realized they were all four inches high and used to hold toothpicks. It turns out that on eBay, churns are far more common as an empty signifier than as signified object, with an alarming number of churn-shaped things used to hold plants, cookies, paper towels, and toilet paper. The idea that you might actually want an old-fashioned churn to do the task for which it was named starts to seem kind of strange.
2. Newer dash churns seem to exist, but nobody wants to admit it. Apparently every dash churn is an antique, even when it's listed as 'never used'. How is this possible? Was churn hoarding a popular hobby back in the day? Maybe people received multiple churns as wedding presents and just stuck the extra in closets, the way we do today with stick blenders? It's a mystery!
3. When talking to friends about buying a dash churn, one must be careful when making hand gestures. Do not simulate holding the dash in your hands and pumping it up and down, lest it appear you are talking about hand jobs. (Let's not talk about how I learned this lesson.)
4. The cost of shipping and handling for a dash churn with two-gallon stoneware crock will surprise you. I think it was enough to pay for one of Mary's semesters at Iowa College for the Blind.
Droll thing life it – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair's breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness.
Will he or won’t he?
He thinks and chooses, “I will!”
And therefore, he did.
I haven't updated my progress on Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) in a while, so here's where things stand. In the two months since my last word count update here, I've produced an additional 21,000 words, which is a nice total. That's a bit off the pace of 500 words a day that I've been trying to maintain, but there were extenuating circumstances. (Sigh...aren't there always?)
First, of course, the last update came a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, so I had to get through the Holiday season, with all its distractions and demands on time, which all conspired to produce more days where I didn't produce a single word than I would have liked.
More demanding, however, was my realization a few weeks back that I needed to do some backtracking. I don't like to backtrack or edit as I go; it's my firm belief that "This way, madness lies". I'm the kind of person who can get totally bogged down in my own editing, and I could lose myself in trying to make fifty or a hundred pages totally perfect in favor of getting the story told. And even with this bit of revision work, I really had to discipline myself to not get sucked into too much sentence-fixing.
So why the revision? As I noted at the time, I came to realize that a part of my backstory wasn't as solid as it could have been, which meant that there were times when certain characters' actions felt forced and contrived instead of something a person might actually do in that particular circumstance. So I had to suspend "forward progress" and retreat a bit into the narrative, doing some fixing work and strengthening some things and removing others.
Now, there are things that I know will have to be changed when I go back and do the real editing, and in most cases I just make a notation in a file I helpfully call "Notations for editing", to which I will refer when I go back to fix things. In a lot of cases I can just set the changes in my mind and write from a certain point as if the changes are in effect. But this time, the changes were too involved to do that. I had to backtrack.
And now I'm done backtracking, with the helpful side effect that this work has helped the rest of the story crystallize in my brain a bit. That's a very welcome development!
So at this point, I'm just about ready to start the final third of the book. Allegiances are revealed! Traitors are unmasked! Loves are declared! Spaceships are flown! Princesses are rescued and do some rescuing! And the Universe will never be the same! Until next time...Excelsior!!!
(So, how was my Stan Lee impersonation?)
Some of you might be tempted to dismiss the new Rob Schneider sitcom as total crap that appeals to the lowest denominator. Some of you might just assume, without watching it, that it's a typically awful sitcom with cookie-cutter plots, ethnic stereotypes substituted for wit, and shrill characters who think that you overcome an awful punchline by shouting it. Some of you might assume these things...and you'd all be right!
At about six p.m. On New Year's Day of 1967, only two lights on the fourth floor were burning – mine and Mike Royko's. It was too early for the graveyard shift to come in. Royko walked over to the Sun-Times to see who else was working. A historic snowstorm was beginning. He asked me how I was getting home. I said I'd take the train. He said he had his old man's Checker car and would drop me at the L station. He had to make a stop at a twenty-four hour drug store right where the L crossed North Avenue.
Royko at thirty-five was already the city's most famous newspaperman, known for compelx emoitons evoked with unadorned prose in short paragraphs. Growing up as the son of a saloon keeper, he knew how the city worked from the precinct level up, and had first attracted attention while covering city hall. He was ten years older than me and had started at the old City News Bureau, the copperative supported by all the dailies that provided front-line coverage of the police and fire departments. Underpaid and overworked kids worked under the hand of its editor, Arnold Dornfeld, who sat beneath a sign reading: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. When I met him he'd been writing his Daily News column for two years. It was his writing about Mayor Richard J. Daley that took the city hall word clout and made it national. He chainsmoked Pall Malls and spoke in a gravelly poker player's voice. He drank too much, which to me was an accomplishment.
That snowy night the all-night drugstore was crowded. "Come on, kid," he said. "Let's have a drink at the eye-opener place." He told me what an eye-opener was. "This place opens early. The working guys around here, they stop in for a quick shot on their way to the L." It was a bar under the tracks so tiny that the bartender could serve everyone without leaving his stool. "Two blackberry brandies and short beers," he said. He told me, "Blackberry brandy is good for hangovers. You never get charged for a beer chaser." I sipped the brandy, and a warm glow filled my stomach. It may have been the first straight shot of anything I'd ever tasted. I'd been in Chicago four months and I was sitting under the L tracks with Mike Royko in the eye-opener place. I was a newspaperman. A blackhawks game was playing on WGN radio. The team scored, and again, and again. This at last was life.
"Jeez, they're scoring like crazy!" I said, after the third goal in less than a minute.
"Where you from, kid?"
"Urbana," I said.
"Ever seen a hockey game?"
"That's what I thought, you asshole. Those are the game highlights."
Chaz [Ebert's wife] and I have lived for twenty years in a commodious Chicago town house. This house is not empty. Chaz and I have added, I dunno, maybe three or four thousand books, untold numbers of movies and albums, lots of art, rows of photographs, rooms full of comfortable furniture, a Buddha from Thailand, exercise equipment, carved elephants from India, African chairs and statues, and who knows what else. Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions, including more or less every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn. I still have all the Penrod books, and every time I look at them, I'm reminded of Tarkington's inventory of Penrod's pants pockets. After reading it a third time, as a boy, I jammed my pockets with a pocketknife, a Yo-Yo, marbles, a compass, a stapler, an oddly-shaped rock, a hardball, a ball of rubber bands, and three jawbreakers. These, in an ostensible search for a nickel, I emptied out on the counter of Henry Rusk's grocery, so that Harry Rusk could see that I was a Real Boy.
My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs, and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may nee to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill's history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, forty-seven novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed. That 1957 bestseller by James Gould Cozzens was eviscerated in a famous essay by Dwight Macdonald, who read through that year's list of fiction bestsellers and surface with a scowl. I remember reading the novel late into the night when I was fourteen, stirring restlessly with the desire to be possessed by love.
I cannot throw out these books. Some are enchanted because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word. They're shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most were used, and I remember where I found every one. The set of Kipling at the Book Nook on Green Street in Champaign. The scandalous The English Governess in a shady bookstore on the Left Bank in 1965 (two dollars, today ninety-one). The Shaw plays from Cranford's on Long Street in Cape Twon, where Irving Freeman claimed he had half a million books. Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used bookstore. Other books I can't throw away because, well, they're books, and you can't throw away a book. Not even a cookbook from which we have prepared only a single recipe, for it is a meal preserved, in printed form. The very sight of Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking by Kenneth H.C. Lo quickens my pulse. Its pages are stained by broth, sherry, soy sauce, and chicken fat, and so thoroughly did I master it that I once sought out Ken Lo's Memories of China on Ebury Street in London and laid eyes on the great man himself, dining alone in a little room near the entrance. A book like that, you're not gonna throw away.
I sense from the first that Chaz was the woman I would marry, and I know after twenty years that my feelings were true. She had been with me in sickness and in health, certainly far more sickness than we could have anticipated. I will be with her, strengthened by her example. She continues to make my life possible, and her presence fills me with love and a deep security. That's what a marriage is for. Now I know.
One of the things I miss about Gene Siskel is that he's not around to make jokes about my current condition. He would instinctively know that at this point I wouldn't be sensitive, having accepted and grown comfortable with my maimed appearance. He wouldn't have started joking too soon. His jokes would have the saving grace of being funny. Here's one I'm pretty sure he would have come up with: "Well, there's one good thing about Roger's surgery. At least he no longer needs a bookmark to find his chin."
I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind. There is no such thing as an old film. There is a sense in which old movies are cut free from time. I look at silent movies sometimes and do not feel I am looking at old films; I feel I am looking at a Now that has been captured. Time in a bottle. When I first looked at silent films, the performers seemed quaint and dated. Now they seem more contemporary. The main thing wrong with a movie that is ten years old is that it isn't thirty years old. After the hairstyles and the costumes stop being dated and start being history, we can tell if the movie itself is timeless.
What kinds of movies do I like the best? If I had to make a generalization, I would say that many of my favorite movies are about Good People. It doesn't matter if the ending is happy or sad. It doesn't matter if the characters win or lose. The only true ending is death. Any other movie ending is arbitrary. If a movie ends with a kiss, we're supposed to be happy. But then if a piano falls on the kissing couple, or a taxi mows them down, we're supposed to be sad. What difference does it make? The best movies aren't about what happens to the characters. They're about the example that they set.
Casablanca is about people who do the right thing. The Third Man is about two people who do the right thing and can never speak to each other as a result. The secret of The Silence of the Lambs is buried so deeply that you may have to give this some thought, but its secret is that Hannibal Lecter is a Good Person. He is the helpless victim of his unspeakable depravities, yes, but to the limited degree that he can act independently of them, he tries to do the right thing.
What I miss, though, is the wonder. People my age can remember walking into a movie palace where the ceiling was far overhead, and balconies and mezzanines reached away into the shadows. We remember the sound of a thousand people laughing all at once. And screens the size of billboards, so every seat in the house was a good seat. "I lost it at the movies," Pauline Kael said, and we all knew just what she meant.
When you go to the movies every day, it sometimes seems as if the movies are more mediocre than ever, more craven and cowardly, more skilfully manufactured to pander to the lowest tastes instead of educating them. Then you see something absolutely miraculous, and on your way out you look distracted, as if you had just experienced some kind of a vision.