Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Something for Thursday

American classical music written prior to, say, Gershwin tends to not be terribly familiar to audiences, as much of what was written prior to that time was deeply indebted to European musical traditions; it took time for truly American musical idioms to emerge (such as jazz) and be incorporated into classical music. But one of the finer American 19th century composers was Edward MacDowell, whose music is still heard today. Here's a solo piano piece of his, the "Scotch Poem". I actually played this piece as a high school senior.



The lyric tune in the middle is lovely, but it's also a bit clicheed, right down to the "Scotch snap" (a rhythmic device that is common to Scottish folk music). But still, an entertaining piece of music from an era of American classical music that tends to be underexplored.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Final Teevee Report

So, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, the entirety of the 2011-2012 teevee season is now in the books. How was it? It was like all teevee seasons, it turns out: a mixed bag. Here are thoughts on specific shows.

:: OK, might as well start with Castle. In general, I liked this season, although it honestly felt like they were deliberately stretching the main story out as long as possible. Here I'm referring to the ongoing investigation, such as it is, of the murder of Joanna Beckett, mother of Detective Kate Beckett. It was my firm belief going into this season that this storyline really needed to get wrapped up this year. Did it? No. And worse, the ball barely got moved. So now we drag it onto next season, when my hope will still be the same: that this tale gets closed out and done, so we can move into more interesting territory. The murder of her mother is what has defined Kate Beckett, it's the event that has motivated her life more than any other. So what will she be like when it's done? What will that mean for her? That's a fascinating question, and I hope the writers embrace the chance to find out. I'm afraid they won't, however.

The season also kept the "will they or won't they" nature of Castle and Beckett's relationship going for far too long, as I complained about in my open letter to Castle a while back. I was willing to see where they went with the season finale, on the assumption that maybe the obstacles thrown in between them would turn out to just be ways for the writers to postpone any major developments to the finale episode, because many such shows are total captives to the teevee season schedule and will only do BIG events on the final episodes of a particular sweeps period. And yet, that does seem to have been the case, as the finale ended with Castle and Beckett finally coming together. (Well, it almost ended that way. More on that in a bit.)

Anyway, yes, I'm very glad that they finally stopped playing coy and making sly references to feelings they both know the other has and all that rot. And you know what? The scenes where that happened were actually very well written and superbly acted. So why they felt the need to postpone it and put it off with all manner of goofy "I'm mad at Kate so I'm not gonna talk to her and I'm gonna play around with a flight attendant instead, neener neener neener!" stuff really does seem to have been what I called it back then: a Love Boat third act, a fake complication designed to do nothing more than drag things out. That was awful writing, but at least it resulted in a well-done outcome. Nathan Fillion's acting in the final confession was great; he made Castle's simultaneous anguish at trying to pound his way through Beckett's determination and his relief at finally ripping off this stupid Band-aid very real. And I continue to think that Stana Katic plays Beckett very well, with relentless focus. Her mindset is very much "one thing at a time", and when life does its thing of forcing her to confront more than she wants to confront, she tends to want to shut it down. This time it led to (for her) disastrous results, but it also forced her to a place where she finally had to admit what she's felt for Castle. This was all very well handled, and I hope that the preceding nonsense was just an aberration born of the rigid mindset of American teevee that you can only do Really Big Things in season finales.

As for the developments in the Joanna Beckett case, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, the tale is still out there, waiting to be resolved. On the other hand...when I really think about it, Andrew Marlowe and company actually didn't muddy the waters much more than they already have. They didn't introduce yet another element or layer to the case; they simply put a face on an old one (the sniper who nearly killed Beckett last year) and gave a tiny bit of revelation about another one that's been around a bit (the shadowy figure who's been informing Castle). So, even though nothing has been resolved, I'm at least glad that we didn't peel away another layer of this story's onion just to find yet one more layer.

My Open Letter actually got quite a bit of attention from several Castle fan forums across the Interweb, which I was interested and sometimes amused to follow along. Two forums in particular gave it quite a bit of discussion, and interestingly, I was right in the middle of the prevailing opinions of each forum! On one forum, I was "too caught up in my own idealism" to see that Castle's reaction to learning that Beckett had heard what he'd said months before, as she was bleeding in the grass, was totally realistic and respectable and consistent with who he was, as if my desire to have seen some kind of character growth over four years of storytelling was just too much to ask! But on the other forum, I was giving the writers too much credit; over there, the Castle showrunners are little better than the million monkeys at the typewriters, hoping to use their infinite time to produce the works of Shakespeare. Clearly, I was in between those extremes...although I found the former more disappointing than the latter, because the folks there struck me as being insufficiently critical. But who cares? I'm just me.

Anyway, I'm glad that Castle ended on at least some of the notes it did, and I'm not entirely annoyed that it ended on some of the other notes it did. But really, guys: wrap up the Joanna Beckett murder mystery. Trust me, it's just not that interesting anymore. They've already promised a return to the more 'fun' atmosphere of the first few seasons, so here's hoping. One thing I noticed this year that if he wasn't saying it outright once in a while, there was almost no real mention of use of the fact that Castle is a writer. I liked it back when he would have a poker game with his mystery writer buddies and bounce his theories off them about his current case. They should get back to doing that sort of thing.

:: You know what else isn't interesting? Patrick Jane's quest for Red John on The Mentalist. And to be honest, the show itself isn't that interesting anymore. This was a really down year for that show...I'd always found it entertaining, before, but this season just did not produce too many memorable episodes, and the Red John storyline is starting to get ridiculous. I read an interview the other day with the show's creator, in which he indicated that Red John has become more of a 'Moriarty' figure than an elusive serial killer, which is fine, but the show's writing staff just doesn't seem to have the chops to pull this off. It continues to be increasingly unbelievable that a violent murderer like Red John could continue to command the utter, unwavering loyalty of so many underlings. If they could explain that, then maybe it would be believable. But really, this show needs to wrap up its long mytharc, too...but we all know it's not going to. Sigh.

:: House had a fairly uneven season, I thought, but overall it was a satisfying last year, and I for one really liked the way the show ended – it was bittersweet (Wilson's cancer), but also optimistic (House finally finds a way, albeit drastic, to put all of his demons behind him).

:: The king of uneven seasons, however, was turned in by The Office. Wow, was this year a mixed bag. Sometimes it was as great as ever, but other times it was cataclysmically bad. Just...weird. I generally liked the dynamic of Andy Bernard as the boss, but the show got away from that too quickly, with goofy shit like Dwight's possibly being the father of Angela's baby, the Robert California character, and in the last third of the season, a very strange character named Nellie who took over the office despite having apparently no business acumen whatsoever. It was just a terribly odd year, and I think that's mainly because the writers have almost totally run out of ways to make the show a satire of the soul-crushing world of just-getting-the-work-of-business-done. (Plus, Dwight should never, ever, ever, get the upper hand on Jim. Any time Dwight scores a victory, it feels completely false.)

:: CSI: Miami is canceled. This disappoints me, but what are you gonna do. The other CSI shows have been off my radar for years.

:: Not too many new shows captured my interest. I followed Two Broke Girls, not terribly religiously, as it's a show with an appealing concept but whose sense of humor tended to stay in the Two and a Half Men end of the pool, and that's a show I've never been terribly warm about. I mainly like Two Broke Girls for the two leads, one of whom is Kat Dennings (otherwise known as the Newest Love Of My Life). But the show is just OK.

So, too, is The New Girl, the Zooey Deschanel vehicle that puts Her Quirkiness at the service of three bachelor dudes in an apartment. It's not a bad show. Nor is it a great one. It's rarely better than mildly amusing, and the quirky Deschanel effect is hit or miss. There were moments when I loved it – an episode where the cast all joined on the dance floor at a wedding and slow-danced the 'Chicken Dance' together to 'Groovy Kind of Love' was a nice moment – but the show rarely rises above being a vehicle for occasionally-endearing quirkiness. (The pilot was, for me, an enormous tease, showing Zooey Deschanel I decked out in a wonderful pair of overalls that, as far as I could tell, she never donned again. Aieee!)

The best new show this year at Casa Jaquandor? That would be Person of Interest, which has rapidly become a big favorite of ours. We love this show. It's exciting, its stories tend to be character driven, its characters are interesting people with pasts and histories and motivations, its humor is character driven which shows the high degree to which the creators understand the people with whom they've populated their show. Sometimes the action and intrigue is a bit hard to believe, but mostly, I'm willing to go with it, and even the show's backstories are complex in a welcome way. There isn't one central 'mystery' to the show, a la Red John or Beckett's Mom's Murderer, but instead we have several characters whose shadowy pasts are threatening to rear their ugly heads again. The finale episode gave us a cliffhanger, as expected, but I was truly excited that the cliffhanger we got wasn't even close to the one that I expected. Person of Interest is a terrific show.

:: I pretty much abandoned Hawaii Five Oh, or however it is they actually type it out. The show's still what it is – a reasonably entertaining cop show that takes itself too seriously – but it generally lost my interest, and I found myself with the show on but not paying any attention whatsoever. Not a good sign for a show's longevity as a going concern of mine. And its own long mytharc, why Jack Lord Jr.'s father was killed, is still unresolved as they continue to chase 'Wo Fat'. I have a goofy conspiracy theory that Wo Fat, Red John from The Mentalist, and whoever is ultimately responsible for Joanna Beckett's murder on Castle are all the same person! I think that would be funny. Weird, but funny. But anyway, the show itself just doesn't command my interest in a big way, and that's even with the addition to the cast of Terry O'Quinn, who is starting to develop a pretty depressing track record of being my favorite actor on shows I don't much care for.

:: Boy, has Bones descended into self-parody and soap opera silliness, hasn't it? Ye Gods. It's The Daughter's favorite show, so we still watch it, but it's been incredibly cheesy. That said, the season finale was actually excellent, as it dialed down the goofiness and focused instead on the mystery, which has led to Dr. Brennan having to go on the run and Agent Booth having to clear her name for a murder she didn't commit. I hope they keep to that episode's tone more next season.

:: We really enjoyed The Finder, which was a quirky and fun and entertaining. And canceled, because apparently we were the only ones watching it in its shitty Friday timeslot. I'll never understand why networks greenlight shows that they don't believe in and have no intention of supporting.

:: I finally gave up on American Idol. I couldn't take it anymore. The ship has sailed. And f*** X-Factor, while we're at it. It's time for these competition shows to go away. This season of Idol was excruciating, and the end came the night of the Final Two and their performances. I turned on the show, and The Daughter said, "Gee, Dad, what's the worst thing that happens if we don't watch this?" I thought, and then I said, "Nothing, I suppose," and turned off the teevee. Thus do I leave Idol behind. Oh well. Seacrest, out!

:: The Amazing Race was boring this last time out. The final three teams were two teams I didn't care about, and one team I hated. So the rooting interest wasn't much, there. But at least they managed to avoid what's happened in a lot of recent seasons, when one of the final three teams is basically done in by a crappy cab driver who can't find where he's supposed to go. Other reality shows? Kitchen Nightmares quickly becomes same-old, same-old; ditto Undercover Boss. I'm still annoyed with Survivor for the Boston Rob fiasco (and I remain utterly convinced that we haven't seen the last of him or Russell), and The Amazing Race's new habit of casting people from other CBS reality shows (a couple from Big Brother being the last) is incredibly irritating. Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef return soon; I'm hoping for a bit of a break from formula in the former, which has become all-too-predictable the last several seasons, to the point where I can actually predict the challenges each week. Still, I hope for fun watching from both.

We've been watching Cake Boss on Netflix, which is kind of fun, although I always wonder how people eat those cakes. (Another bonus is that, being as it takes place in a bakery, there's an occasional pie in the face, which is always nice.) There's a barbecue challenge show (whose name I don't remember) that we've watched a bit. And I really wish that Pawn Stars would get more episodes on Netflix, but that's not up to me.

:: Finally: kudos to The Big Bang Theory, which showed signs of creakiness but has managed to reinvigorate things by actually allowing its characters to grow a bit. The final episode of this season, which combined the wedding of Howard and Bernadette and Howard's space launch, was as good an example of ensemble-cast comedy as I've seen in recent memory. I still love this show!

:: So, what about summer teevee? I'm already watching Battlestar Galactica (the new one), and I need to get back into rewatching The X-Files. We also plan to watch Once Upon a Time and Grimm, now that the seasons are complete. I'm wondering if I should try out stuff like Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and The Wire, as well as some SF stuff like Farscape, and frankly, I wouldn't mind doing a Star Trek re-watch one of these years, as it's been over a decade since I've seen many, if not most, of the episodes of all the series. I am not watching Game of Thrones; re-reading the books has been trial enough for me, thank you very much.

And that's the state of teevee at Casa Jaquandor.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Your position on LOLCats: totally annoying, often hilarious, or occasionally funny but mostly overused?

(My own take is the third option here...lots of 'em are unfunny, but sometimes I see one that cracks me up. Like this one:


The look on the lioness's face just makes this all kinds of hilarious, for me.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Words are wind." (or, Please take your time, George. As much as you need.)

Oh my good Lord. I tried, folks. I really tried. I've wanted so much to love A Song of Ice and Fire as much as everybody else does. And after the fairly soul-crushing experience that was slogging my way through A Feast for Crows, I thought that A Dance with Dragons was off to a fairly decent start. But I wasn't even halfway through before that old familiar feeling started to settle in, and by the time I was two-thirds of the way through (with more than 300 pages left at that point), I had pretty firmly reached this point:




Will I finish reading the series? I suppose I will, if George RR Martin finishes writing it. But now it's a certain pig-headedness that's keeping me going, and not much else. It's that sense of "Well, I've got this far", and I have the added comforting thought that the sixth book is probably unlikely to appear any time before 2014. So I have a good, long recovery time ahead of me. Maybe reading the entire series in the space of six months or so was just too much, but rather than the wonderful immersive quality I was hoping for, I instead found myself thinking, "GAHHH get me out of here!"

After finishing Dance last week, I went and read some reviews that came out when the book did, and I'm wondering if those folks read a different book. One reviewer promised that with this book you start to see the signs of where GRRM is going with his story; others are enraptured by GRRM's amazingly poetic prose. I evidently missed the boat on both counts, because I don't yet see this overarching story that's taking shape and aside from a few passages, GRRM's prose does not thrill me nearly as much as, say, Guy Gavriel Kay's. Aside from a few good moments, and one great one, that were all too few and far between, just about all I got from this book was frustration and, eventually, irritation.

The rest of this will be spoilerish, so I'll stick it below the fold.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering (a repost)


Tomb of Unknown Soldier



Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.


-- Guy Gavriel Kay



"The Green Field of France", by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?


Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?


The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?


And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?



Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's an 'old' movie?

I find it interesting once in a while to consider what constitutes an 'old' movie. I've always thought of Casablanca, for example, as an 'old movie'. (Now, a movie's status as an 'old movie' has absolutely no bearing on how much I love it. I can name only one movie that I love more than Casablanca. No points for guessing correctly which movie that is.)

When I was born in 1971, Casablanca was 29 years old, having been released in 1942. That means that right now, movies released in 1983 are as old as Casablanca was when I was born. Here's a list of such films:

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Octopussy
Brainstorm
The Big Chill
A Christmas Story
WarGames
Terms of Endearment
The Right Stuff
Superman III
Easy Money
Flashdance
High Road to China
Krull
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life


What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that for me, the concept of a movie being 'old' gets more and more meaningless each year. It's a great thing when one gets over how long something has existed before determining one's willingness to enjoy it.

Come on get happy!

It's not the Partridge Family, but the Goose Family! This clan of geese has set up camp behind The Store, as there is plenty of grass and some woods and Cazenovia Creek that runs right by, so I suppose it's a good location for geese to raise their young'uns before taking them to Canada for their indoctrination. Or something like that. Anyway, here are some photos of the Goose Family.

The Goose family I

The Goose family II

The Goose family III

The Goose family IV

The Goose family V

Friday, May 25, 2012

When thirty-five years old you reach, look as good you still will!!!


Happy birthday Star Wars! Thirty-five years of the greatest damn movie ever. Huzzah and may the Force be with you!

Film Quote Friday


American Graffiti is a stalwart in the coming-of-age genre, setting a format that would serve the genre well for many years to come. We meet a small group of young people and follow them for a short period of time that nevertheless changes who they are, forever. Some of them go on to bigger things, some don't.

The film follows several teenagers on a single night in Modesto, CA, in the early 1960s, before Viet Nam, before...well, before everything. They still believe that their futures are bright and shining and ahead of them. For some of them, those futures are.

Anyhow, Paul Le Mat plays John Milner, the drag-race king of Modesto. Le Mat plays him with a certain weariness in the face of it all; Milner seems to know that he can't do this forever, and that sooner or later it's all going to come to an end...and not in that great a way, either. In the film he ends up in the company of a thirteen-year-old girl, Carol (played by Mackenzie Phillips), and although he's irritated that he's got this little kid with him, in the course of talking they come to understandings of sorts.

There's a scene where they go to an auto junkyard:

MILNER: Over there, that's Freddy Benson's Vette... he got his head on with some drunk. Boom! Didn't have a chance. 'S a good driver, too. Ah, that's pretty grim when a guy gets it and it's not even his own fault.

CAROL: Needs a paint job, that's for sure.

MILNER: See that over there, that '41? That used to be, believe it or not, the fastest car in the valley. I never got a chance to race Earl, though. He got his, 1955, in about the hairiest crash we ever had here. Jesus, you shoulda seen it. Eight kids killed, and both drivers. Board of Education was real impressed, see, so they come up, and film the whole thing, and now they show it in Driver's Education class. You'll probably see it, if you get lucky. [beat] 'Course, it's pretty tough when they take somebody with 'em.

CAROL: You've never had an accident, though. You told me.

MILNER: Yeah, well, I come mighty close. Almost rolled it a coupla times. But, I've been just quick enough to stay out of this graveyard.

CAROL: Bet you're the fastest.

MILNER: Never been beat. Lotta guys tried. 'Course to me, there's more guys lately than there's ever been.

American Graffiti would kick off a nostalgia craze for, I suppose, a more innocent time, before all the wars and assassinations and riots and unrest. Teevee shows like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were direct descendents of American Graffiti, which is a film I love. It's not just the 'coming of age' genre that appeals to me, but just a story that's nothing more than a camera dropping in on someone's life, staying there for a while, and then leaving, while the life that was already going on before the camera got there keeps right on going on after the camera leaves.

The themes are pretty universal, though: a legend realizing that the glory can't last forever; a kid who is out of his depth with a girl; another who is terrified of change...and who discovers that his hero, the outlaw of the airwaves, is just some guy in a little broadcast booth in some crappy little radio station, munching on popsicles as he works his own bit of magic.

The whole film is on YouTube. Just don't watch the ill-advised sequel, More American Graffiti.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cosplay Love!

Cal regularly posts photos of people engaged in cosplay, a hobby that I find very interesting when done well (and very interesting, in other ways, when done not so well). From his latest such post, I saw this one, which just strikes me as terribly sweet.


Something for Thursday

In honor of the passing of Robin Gibb, here are the Bee Gees with "More Than a Woman".


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Every building's sacred....

So they want to tear down this building:


That's the old Bethlehem Steel headquarters building in Buffalo. It's quite an attractive structure. The problem is that it's been unoccupied for more than thirty years. And what's more, it's not exactly in a great location.



That's the building,  way up in the upper right hand corner. Note that it's not surrounded by a larger business district or neighborhood; no, this building basically sits on an enormous brownfield that takes up a huge portion of the Buffalo and Lackawanna waterfronts. Bethlehem Steel closed up shop here more than three decades ago, and this building has been empty, unused, and unmaintained in all that time. Now, the city of Lackwanna wants to demolish it.

Enter...as always...the Preservationists.

Here in Buffalo-Niagara, we have a large and vocal contingent of people who are awfully well-meaning, but their main goal seems to be to mobilize anew each time some old building is 'threatened'. The refrain always comes: Save the building, it's a part of our heritage, re-use it, et cetera. The odd thing is that this 'mobilize for the newly threatened building' approach seems to be the main way of operating; you don't hear much about pursuing public policies that might make preservation preferable to demolition.

The main problem is that all this preserving ends up contributing to the already uphill battle this region tends to face every time it courts a new business or entertains the growth of an old one, and for me, it's come to the point where the mobilization of the preservationists just makes me wince every single time. The last few years, my family and I have taken brief trips to other cities in the spring, and it's always eye-popping to me to see the degree to which other cities are rebuilding and reenergizing and reinventing, even in this economy. But not us. Not Buffalo. Here, we treat every building as though it's the very place in which George Washington took the oath of office while baptizing Abraham Lincoln and punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw. So much of the 'historical significance' seems to often boil down to 'A successful business stood here for a long time before it either died or went away and nobody since then has had enough money to do something with this building so here it sits, beloved for simply existing.'

Here's a good example of the foolishness that the preservation instinct around here can lead to. This is the Blue Cross/Blue Shield building in downtown Buffalo. It was erected just a few years ago.



See that odd-looking stone facade at the front of the building? For many years, this entire lot was completely vacant, except for that facade. That was it. Just the facade, no building behind it: a stone facade and a big empty lot, right at downtown's front door. So when local health insurance company Blue Cross-Blue Shield bought the lot and built their building there, they for some unfathomable reason incorporated that facade into their building in a way that doesn't 'incorporate' at all -- it just basically duct-tapes the facade to the building. Every time I drive by there, I think, "That is one of the dumbest looking buildings anywhere."

Are there great old buildings worth keeping in Buffalo? Sure...but I'm sick of the way we go about it. Just as I'm generally sick of the way Buffalo goes about everything. While other cities rebuild and grow and keep a little bit of heritage while they move into the century we're living in, Buffalo remains the cruddy hovel in a Monty Python sketch.

Which brings me to this. It's to be sung to the tune of...well, any Monty Python fan ought to be able to figure it out.

We’ve got tons of old buildings in Buffalo,
Brick buildings, stone buildings and more;
And almost all of those buildings were
built back in days of yore!

Yup, we got lots of old places,
they’ve been empty since before you were born,
but we still think that they’re pretty awesome,
like empty towers once full of corn!

It might bug you that they are crumbling,
and you might want to build something new,
but don’t even think about demo,
‘cause if you try it we’ll sue!

Be-cause....

Every brick is sacred,
Every building’s grand;
We’ll fight to keep them standing,
‘Til they turn to sand!

We love old Greek ruins,
crumbling on fields brown;
And we want that look for
our aging, rusting town!

Let Milwaukee build things;
Pittsburgh, itself renew;
We’ll stick with closed fact’ries,
And warehouses too.

Shuttered buildings thrill us,
new ones make us mad!
Though they're forever empty,
the old ones make us glad!

So stop the demolitions;
our plan, we must endorse!
Though soon, no one will live here,
And things will take their course.

Every building’s sacred,
and hist’ry makes them great;
And if you try to wreck one,
we’ll all be quite irate!
(Apologies to Cleese, Chapman, Gillian, Jones, Palin, and Idle.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Very Public Service Message

I won't be doing a Sentential Links post because I want to finish reading A Dance with Dragons tonight and watch the series finale of House.

We'll return next week!

God help me, I kinda want to see this movie

Stolen from Tumblr:


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!!!

Oddities and Awesome abound!!!

:: We all know that Aaron Sorkin's scripts are basically the same script with the names and settings filed off and replaced with new ones, so it stands to reason that his commencement speeches should be like that, too. Aaron Sorkin is the James Horner of the written word.

:: Apparently Russian teenagers like to climb things, so they can take pictures of...themselves climbing things.



This is a new fad over there called 'Skywalking' (!), and it involves teenagers with cameras. And no safety gear. You're probably thinking, "Well, this is obviously going to wind up with some kid plummeting to his death", and I wouldn't bet against you on that score. I'll say this: it does end up producing some very nifty photos...


...and some white-knuckle inducing video.



I have very little fear of heights, myself, and I would cheerfully climb just about anything I needed to...but with a harness and ropes and chains rated for 1000 pounds.

That's all for now...more next week! Stay weird, Internet!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Film Quote Friday

Time for a new regular feature that I can sporadically forget to post, huzzah!


King Henry II has his sons -- Richard, Geoffrey, and John -- locked in a cellar. They believe they are to be executed. They hear a door open and someone enter the cellar:

RICHARD: He is here. [beat] He'll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn't going to see me beg.

GEOFFREY: Why you chivalric fool, as if the way one fell down mattered.

RICHARD: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

Fine, fine movie, with some of the richest dialogue I've ever heard, and an amazing cast (featuring early turns by Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton).

Last Dance



Donna Summer was my Whitney Houston.

I never realized that, until earlier today, when I went outside toward the end of my work day for a last brief break. I pulled out my phone, and before I even realized I was doing it, brought up "Last Dance" on it. And then I stood there, listening to that great disco song, for all eight minutes of its long version. It was a gorgeously sunny day, and there in the cool shade I listened to a song that I've loved since I was seven or eight years old, over the tiny speakers on my phone. The sound wasn't very good, of course. The phone's not designed for that. It sounds nice as a portable music player over earphones, but the speakers on the phone don't produce any bass to speak of. It did not do Ms. Summer justice.

And she still sounded utterly, utterly astounding.

Because of my unusual relationship with pop music, I never owned a recording of Donna Summer's, aside from "Last Dance", until only just in the last few years. I rarely listened to rock or pop as a kid, preferring to stick with film music and, later on, classical. In fact, I didn't really start to engage with pop music until I was already actively engaging with classical music. Interesting that both interests blossomed right around the same time...but just because I wasn't buying pop and rock records or tapes until I was 14 doesn't mean that I had zero idea of what was going on, mainly because of my sister, who listened to a lot of pop and rock (in addition to classical herself). The soundtrack of my world back then had that music in it, and I keenly remember hearing a lot of Donna Summer for a few years.



But she'd first come to my attention cinematically, through her acting debut in the disco movie Thank God It's Friday (which I may well watch again this weekend in her memory). In the movie Ms. Summer plays Nicole Sims, an aspiring disco singer who is trying to get her big break by getting the deejay at the disco in the movie to let her sing. He refuses, and refuses, and refuses; he tries to kick her out of the disco and she keeps getting back in. Of course, there's no doubt in our minds that she's going to get her shot, but Summer plays her ably as a kid with some skill and just enough confidence to stick with it but also a bit of fear that once her shot is done, that's it. Finally, the deejay realizes with horror that he has to kill a few minutes of airtime until the Commodores show up, and he's got nothing to fill it with...so Nicole takes over and starts singing. What's she singing? "Last Dance". And of course, after a rough start, she comes into it, and it becomes a performance that has the entire disco dancing and cheering and so on.

Yeah, it's predictable as hell. But Donna Summer is so beautiful and vulnerable and cocky and confident and willing to stake her life on this one opportunity that doesn't so much present itself as make itself available to be stolen, that the moment totally works.

And it helps, of course, that "Last Dance" is such a great, great, great song.

Yes, it is. It really is.

Look, it's fun to laugh at disco, and for a whole lot of reasons. It was music of excess and rhythm-above-all, music that seemingly existed for no reason other than to trumpet a very casual approach to sex that would seem not just quaint but downright dangerous just a few years later. The music, the clothes, the discos with their glowing lights in the darkness, all of it. But there's never been anything, not one thing, that no matter how fierce the backlash against it, didn't produce at least something worthwhile. And that was Donna Summer.

"Last Dance" has been a favorite song of mine ever since I saw that bad-but-fun movie (that a seven-year-old kid probably shouldn't have been watching, but thank God for liberal parents). It sounds like typical overlong disco, with its throbbing beat. But it has real melody behind it, and its master stroke lies in its slow introduction, where Ms. Summer imbues the lyrics with more than a touch of sadness.




Last dance
Last dance for love
Yes, it's my last chance
For romance tonight

I need you by me
Beside me, to guide me
To hold me, to scold me
'Cause when I'm bad
I'm so, so bad....


The way Ms. Summer sings this, it's not a woman trying to be seductive. It's a woman feeling desperate. She is being seductive, but she's also pleading. How many others have there been this night? It doesn't matter; this is the last one. She needs you, but not because of anything special about you...it's just the fact that the place is closing and they're playing the last song of the night. This is it -- last call, the last dance.

The beat starts now, and the dance part of the song begins.


So let's dance the last dance
Let's dance the last dance
Let's dance this last dance tonight


The lyrics repeat, now over the thumping disco beat and the synths and the strings and the brass. This all plays out like a dance on the floor, quick and thumping and seductive, but then there's a very brief B section where Ms. Summer sings this:


I can't be sure
That you're the one for me
But all that I ask
Is that you dance with me....


That bit right there, that brief, brief moment, elevates the song to something more than just a "Hey let's dance and then go screw" kind of song. (And the fact that the short version that you hear on the radio omits that part is a major reason why that short version should never be listened to by anybody.) The song takes on a secondary melody, with a break of several seconds in the singing between the second and third lines. What Ms. Summer is saying here is: "I'm looking for someone, I'm looking for the one...and I don't know if you're the one and for right now, I'm not asking you to be." The dance is all there is...the dance on the floor, and maybe the dance to come, the one in bed.

That tiny B section is so blunt in its desperation, and Ms. Summer sounds so vulnerable as she sings it, that "Last Dance" rises, right there, above its genre and its poor reputation that lingers to this day.

The song includes a second slow section, which repeats the lyrics of the opening. It's an interesting structural shift, and I wonder if it's not partially meant to depict that second dance, the one that the singer hopes the last dance is leading to. As the song shifts back yet again to the faster tempo, Ms. Summer delivers one of the most amazing high notes I've ever heard from a singer (at about the 6:20 mark in the song). It's the perfect, glorious, vocal climax of a wonderful song.

Donna Summer's voice was an absolute miracle, as was the complete and utter command she had of that instrument when she was at the peak of her powers. Here's how good she was, just three years ago, performing "Last Dance" live:




And here she is performing The Star-spangled Banner before a Red Sox game. I didn't know this performance existed until just tonight.







Donna Summer was a beautiful, transcendently wonderful singer and artist. I truly, deeply hate that she's gone from this world, and it's people like her that make me wish so hard that there's a next one.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Something for Thursday



This was the song The Wife and I chose for our first dance at our wedding reception, fifteen years ago today.

The weather that day was crappy -- cold, rainy, and windy; days before, the Buffalo News had run a story indicating that the average temperatures to that point that May were on par with an average November's. Oh, and I was hung over. Yeah, I hate to admit it, but I had indulged too much wine the night before. Oh well. There were parts of the ceremony where I really was thinking, "Wow, I wish I had a water bottle up here right now."

We had our reception at a tiny Community Hall way up in the hills above Allegany, NY, in a community referred to by the locals as "Chipmunk", even though that's not any kind of official designation. Don't look for Chipmunk on any map; you won't find it. It's a very rural road, with a cluster of houses and its own community center. But that was part of its charm. The food was catered by the people who ran our favorite local restaurant down there; they still run that restaurant, actually, but as we don't live in that town anymore, we haven't been there in many moons.

It turned out that our church organist, who would eventually play for our wedding, was a guy who came into the Pizza Hut where I worked at the time regularly with his family. It's always weird when someone you know from one aspect of your life enters another aspect of it. Our pastor was the father of two guys I went to high school with and had known eight years prior. Again, funny how life circles back on itself.

For dinner, we had chicken. Which is fine. I like chicken. Having to stop every third bite to kiss the new Wife after some putz started the 'tapping the wineglass with their fork' thing got a bit old, I must admit. I don't recall much else from the meal. The cake was good; we got it from a local supermarket. I like when local supermarkets do wedding cakes. No, we didn't do that annoying cake-smashing thing. It may be surprising to hear that from a committed fan of the pie in the face, but I've never liked the wedding cake smashing thing. (We were married seven years before I'd finally get my first pie from her. Why so long? That's a long story....)

The thing that made The Wife happiest, I think, was the cans and stuff tied to the back of my car. She loved the sound of that stuff rattling behind us, and I think she was disappointed when it all broke off fairly quickly. We spent our first night together at a local bed-and-breakfast...or maybe it was a hotel of some sort. Called the Century Manor, it's a restaurant with a few rooms upstairs, in a very old building. When we went to take our respective showers, we had trouble figuring out the plumbing. There were pipes with handles going everywhere in that shower. By some trial and error I got water flowing. I have no idea how.

My new sister-in-law caught the bouquet, and my uncle Jerry caught the garter. After I had to throw it twice, because the first time, all the guys just stood there, hands in pockets, letting it fall to the ground. Heckuva job, guys.

There was no 'family drama' at my wedding...none whatsoever. There is some dysfunction in our extended clan (or rather, there was; most of those parties have now gone into the good night), but none of them attended, and thus our wedding was just what a wedding should be: a party out in the boonies with a bunch of smiling people, good food and beer inside, a bonfire outside, a DJ who did a pretty good job on the music, and two young people starting their lives together.

What has come since has been up and down; longtime readers and friends know that. We've been tested in ways that nobody should be tested, and yet, some people are. Did we pass the test? I'm not sure what 'passing' even means, in this metaphor, but I have this: we're still together and I see zero chance of that changing. We both have regrets...but then, who doesn't?

I wouldn't trade a minute of these fifteen years for...well, that's not entirely true. There are a few minutes we've had that I wouldn't object to trading away for something better. But if I had to face those moments...I'm glad I faced them with her. Because I'm not sure I would have got through them otherwise. And the good moments? Well, those ones are pretty sweet.

Happy birthday to my beautiful wife


Oh, and the day after our wedding? Mid-sixties and sunny. Bite me, weather gods!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What human-made object would you really like to someday see in person?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"What Happened to the Huntsman?" (A fiction repost)



Here's a story I wrote way back in 2003 (yikes!), and posted to the blog in 2006. I offer this because this year we have a couple of "Alternate Takes on Snow White" coming to movie theaters, and I always rather liked how this one turned out. It does assume a bit of familiarity with the Disney movie, but even if you haven't seen that movie in a long time, I think you'll get the gist.


"What Happened to the Huntsman?"


"You are clear on what you are to do, then?" asked the Queen, as she leaned forward on her throne.

"Yes, Your Majesty," the Huntsman replied.

"Say it."

"The girl's heart," the Huntsman said. "In here." He held up the box in his hand.

"Good," said the Queen. "Then go." She rose and vanished through the doorway behind the throne. The Huntsman shuddered. Sometimes he had nightmares about where that door led.

He looked down at the box. Such a lovely thing -- red cherry wood, impeccably carved and fitted together, with polished brass hinges and a clasp in the shape of...a heart. Her Majesty had been keeping this little trinket for years.

One of the guards cleared his throat, and the Huntsman turned to leave. In the anteroom, he stopped to check his reflection in the mirror.

"She's going mad," the Huntsman said softly, so the other guards would not hear.

"'Tis true, I'm sad to say," the mirror replied, its ghostly face appearing in the center of the glass. "But she's our Queen, come what may."

"She is our Queen," the Huntsman agreed. "But killing girls and keeping their hearts? This is dark madness. Far worse than usual."

"On this matter you seem conflicted," the mirror observed. "With what doubts are you afflicted?"

The Huntsman considered the box again. He also considered the gold the Queen paid him for each item he brought her, usually for a deer or boar, though. Being the Queen's Huntsman was a good job, no question about that. It was certainly better than being one of the Prince's guards. What a bunch of dullards they were....

"None, really," said the Huntsman. "I'm sure the girl's blood runs as red as a stag's."

"Skin of white and blood of red," said the mirror. "No matter, though -- she'll soon be dead."

The Huntsman stared at the mirror. "Why in God's name are you speaking in rhymes?"

The mirror sighed, an odd sound for a mirror to make. "The Queen requires it. She thinks it makes me sound more mystical. But it's not easy, rhyming everything, so I was practicing. But to return to the subject, you should do what is right."

"Does not the Queen decide what is right?"

"Her power rises," the mirror said. "But the Fates are beyond her. Wickedness shall fail." Suddenly the mirror's face brightened. "Did you like that? It is called a haiku."

"It was wonderful," the Huntsman replied. The mirror is mad as well, he thought. And then: But I'm the one talking to a pane of polished glass. Who's mad here?

"Fare you well," said the mirror.

"Thank you," the Huntsman said, and he took his leave. On his way outside, he passed by a window overlooking the courtyard. The girl was down there, singing away. She was always singing, just like that fool Prince. But not for long, he thought as he glanced yet again at the box.



***


"Oh, look!" The girl beamed. "Those look like roses!" And just like that she bounded across the field to a bush beside a path that wound into the deep of the woods. The Huntsman knew that path well. There were beasts down there which would make short work of a girl.

"The day grows short," he said. "We should go back."

"Now, my good Huntsman, not without berries for the pie I want to bake. It will only take a moment!" She turned her attention to the blueberry bush. Six songbirds kept fluttering around her head. She was always surrounded by songbirds.

He glanced at his horse, tethered back at the tree. He thought of the wooden box in his saddlepouch. He really needed to be on with it.

"Do you like blueberries, Huntsman?" asked the girl, her back to him as she picked.

"Umm...yes," he said. In truth he hated them, but lying wasn't quite as bad a sin as the little duty he was about to perform for the Queen. Get on with it, he told himself. He drew his trusty hunting knife.

"Oh, they're so ripe!" The girl babbled on. "The pie will be so good. And I'll have so many berries...maybe I can make a cobbler too!"

The Huntsman moved forward, holding up the knife. The blade, freshly sharpened, gleamed in the late afternoon sun. He was very particular about his knife.

"And pancakes too, light and fluffy..."

He crept up behind her. Why are you being so quiet? It's not like she's a skittish doe who can outrun you if she takes your scent--

The songbirds, damn them, started shrieking.

Do it now! You're close enough! One stroke and it's done!

The girl, alerted by the songbirds, turned then. She saw the knife and screamed.

No matter! She'll be dead! Do it, you coward!

He lowered his arm and dropped the knife.



***


For a while, after she had run into the woods, the Huntsman sat on his horse, gazing at the box with the heart-shaped clasp. He wondered if he'd done the girl any favors, letting her escape into those woods. There were dark things down there, and if she got far enough she might wander into the mining country. If she got that far, she'd better pray she found nice miners to take her in, because the nasty ones were a lot worse, and there were a lot more of them. But that was all out of his hands. What to do about the Queen and her precious box?

He had no idea.

So he rode, taking the longest way home he could. Actually, he didn't even care if he got home that night. The Queen could wait until morning. He rode into the river valley; as long as he was out, he might as well get a deer...

A deer...

What were the chances that the Queen would know a deer's heart from a young maiden's? She was no Huntress; that's why she paid him. Surely she wouldn't know. He'd get her a heart, then. It just wouldn't be the girl's. He rubbed his hands together and wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. So it was that the Huntsman wandered through the woods, looking to execute his plan.

And so it was that he found…absolutely nothing.

No track, no spoor, no trace of a deer, anywhere. That was very strange; but it didn't bother him too much. Deer fed at night, after all, so if he found a decent tree he could wait in its limbs for a deer to come. Still easy, and he was still feeling quite confident as he tied his horse and went to hide in a nearby tree.

He was not feeling so confident when the hours went by and nary a deer came, the whole night -- until he fell asleep and woke up in the morning, still in the tree and with the stiffest neck and back of his life.

There were no deer. And what was more, there were no birds singing, no squirrels, no rabbits -- where were all the animals? The Huntsman swore as he climbed down, repeating every unpleasant word he knew, in the three languages he knew them in. (Huntsmen, it is little known, swear more than sailors. They merely do it alone and very quietly.) He got his horse and rode off, wondering where he'd get a heart now.

I wish that whelp Prince would stop wandering around like a damned troubadour and depose the old witch, he thought as he rubbed his throbbing back. The Huntsman was in a bad mood. He was hungry, he ached all over from sleeping in a tree, and he had no heart for that damned box. And his horse kept trying to turn in the direction of the woodlands and the Mine Country, as if the beast smelled or heard something that way. Maybe that was where all the animals had gone, but then, the Huntsman couldn't imagine why they'd all be down there. All the animals in the forest, in a single place? It didn't figure.

He rode half the day without seeing so much as a field mouse. Actually, he did see a field mouse, but there was no way the Queen was going to fall for the heart of a field mouse. The Huntsman despaired of ever find a heart for the box. He'd failed, and the Queen would send him to the gaoler. "The Huntsman has failed, it must be said," the mirror would tell her. "So vile is he, that you must take off his head!" The Huntsman shuddered--

And that is when he heard the squealing of a pig.

He spun about and saw a small farmstead in the distance, near the side of the wood. There were two fields, a tiny barn, and a tiny cottage. And near the barn was a pen, inside which stood a fat sow.

The Huntsman couldn't believe his good fortune. He guided his horse over to the fence of the pen, dismounted, and tied his horse. Then he climbed over the fence, into the pen. He stood there for a minute, studying the pig and trying to decide if its heart was the same size. Surely it would be...and the big, dumb sow just looked at him, staring. The Huntsman felt at least one pang of guilt as he drew his dagger. He always felt guilty when the animals made it easy.

It took a few minutes, but he worked as quickly as he could. A few minutes, and the pig's heart was in his hand. He took the slimy, wet, bloody muscle back to his horse and cursed then, because he realized he'd forgotten to get the box out beforehand. He had no choice but to get blood all over his saddle and pouches and the box itself while he dug it out, but finally he got the heart inside. He was putting the box away when he heard the scream.

The Widow who lived here had found her dead pig.

The Huntsman yanked out his dagger. "Stand back, in the name of the Queen!" he shouted.

"You stand back, murderer and thief!" she flung back, her initial shock having given way almost instantly to rage. And where he had a hunting dagger, she had a giant scythe.

Ohhhhh nooooo, he thought. This woman was big and strong, large but not fat, older but not old. Her eyes were fiery, her sand-colored hair was long and tied back haphazardly, her ample bosom heaving--

She's got a scythe, you idiot! Get out of here!

And that is what he did: he jumped onto his horse and rode away, off toward the castle. He rode through the castle gates just as the sun was setting, and was still thinking about that widow as he dismounted and only now realized that he had completely forgotten to stop at a stream to wash the pig's blood from his hands.



***


"A pig?" The mirror was indredulous. "You put a lot of thought into this, didn't you?"

"That was all I could find," the Huntsman replied. "Will she discover it?"

"Not as long as she doesn't ask me," the mirror said. "If she does, I have to tell her the truth. But until she does, she'll never know. She won't use it in any of her spells, that much I can promise. That heart is too important to her -- or, whose she thinks it is. But there are other ways."

"What do you mean?"

"Surely you've noticed the Queen's vanity," the mirror said. "She's always asking me to name 'the fairest of them all', 'the fairest in the land', and the like. It was when I reported to her that the girl had overtaken her own beauty that the Queen sent for you. Do you understand?"

The Huntsman did not. "The girl?" he mused. "With that complexion?"

"Eye of the beholder, you brute!" The mirror distorted the Huntsman's reflection, its way of showing exasperation. "And you're missing the important part. If she asks who is the 'fairest in the land', you may have a problem."

"I see," the Huntsman said. "As long as the girl remains beyond the borders, you can tell the Queen what she wants to hear."

"Yes. But there's more. The girl is now dwelling with seven miners -- don't worry, they are honorable, if a tad short -- whose home lies very near the border. So near, in fact, that the border actually intersects their potato patch."

The Huntsman winced. "So if she's picking potatoes at the exact moment that the Queen asks...."

"He understands!" The mirror flashed its edges, and the Huntsman scowled.

"Well, I will have to take my chances," he said. Then he leaned forward and studied his reflection. "Do you think my hair needs a trim?"

"Of course," the mirror replied. "And you could do with a bath. Why?"

"Oh, no reason," said the Huntsman.



***


He stopped on the crest of the hill and swallowed four times, forcing himself to face forward instead of turning back. Why am I so nervous? thought the Huntsman. I have faced wild bears with nothing more than a hunting knife to turn them aside. This, though, was far more terrifying. This was no angry bear. This was a woman.

And there she was, in her small field, working a plow behind an ox. He could hear her shouting at the animal from here; it kept trying to turn toward the forest, the same way his horse had all day. What on earth was in that forest, anyway?

The Huntsman looked at her, in the distance, and his heart sped up. He rode in closer, as slowly as he could without fully giving in to the impulse to turn away and forget it. Finally he arrived at the field and stopped at the very end of the row she was currently plowing. My God, she's beautiful, he thought as he watched her guiding that plow, head down. Finally she was close enough, and he spoke.

"Greetings," he said, and then he cleared his throat and said it again so that she might actually hear it.

The Widow looked up, recognized him at once, and dropped the plow. Then she drew the knife she wore at her waist. "Have you come for my ox's liver now? You'll have to fight me to get it! Off with you!"

The Huntsman gave the only reply that came to mind, that is, none at all. He could only stare at her, with her dirty britches and torn shirt and haphazard long hair and blazing eyes and sweating, freckled skin and…and then the clump of earth she'd thrown struck him in the forehead.

"Gahhh!" he cried out. "No, please!" And even as he threw up his hands to shield his head from the other clumps she was already lobbing in his direction, he winced at his complete lack of words.

"Begone!" she shouted. "You'll find no more hearts or stomachs or spleens or tongues here!"

"Please!" he shouted. "My Lady, please!"

That worked, if only because she was momentarily baffled by actually being addressed as "My Lady". She lowered her arm to a ready stance, still holding a rock. Good thing she stopped now, the Huntsman realized. With that aim and with that rock, she'd unhorse me. "I didn't come to hurt any more of your livestock." He held up one hand in a calming gesture, while with the other he calmed his horse.

"Then what do you want?" she demanded.

Her voice was deep for a woman's, deep and sultry…he cleared his throat again. "To make amends, My Lady," he said.

Her eyes narrowed. "Amends? How?"

The Huntsman reached into his pocket and drew out a small drawstring sack. "Gold, My Lady. Enough to buy three piglets when next you go to market. And...here is a gem, as well. A garnet set in a silver pendant, for your neck."

"And when would I have occasion for such a bauble?" she said. "I don't remember the last time I was invited to one of the Queen's masques."

"Well--" the Huntsman began, but stopped. He couldn't think of anything to say to that, except to point out that the Queen never hosted any masques, which he decided was not the right thing to say at all.

"Never mind," said the Widow. "I suppose your meaning is nice enough. And three piglets, for the heart of a sow seems fair. I would have asked for two. But I would also like to know just why you did it."

The Huntsman sighed. "That is a long story, My Lady," he said.

She chuckled. "Do I look like the Queen? Stop calling me that!"

Now he laughed. "No, you do not look like the Queen. In fact, the Queen is how I came to…do what I did. You see, I am her Huntsman -- or at least I was."

"You fell out of her favor?" The Widow whistled. "Now, that is a story I should like to hear. But now that I know you are a Huntsman, I can stop thinking of you as 'Murderer-of-Pigs'." She sighed. "And if you have lost her favor, then you are without home. You may stay in my barn, if I can trust you not to harvest my milch-cow for leather."

He winced.

"And if you would be kind enough to fetch water and pick some berries from the bushes down yonder, that would go a long way to helping me be less angry with you. The raspberries, mind you. I don't like blueberries."

She doesn't like blueberries either! "Yes, My…I'm sorry, but how should I call you?"

She told him her name, and it seemed to him that it was the loveliest name in the world. He reciprocated by giving his name, which seemed...less so, in his ears. As he rode away from her, he could hear her singing behind him: "Ho-heigh, ho-heigh, I'm plowing all the day...."

The Huntsman couldn't help smiling.



***


The Widow leaned back in her wooden chair and folded her hands around her stoneware mug of tea. "So, you use my pig's heart to fool the Queen into thinking that the Princess is dead?"

The Huntsman nodded. "I looked everywhere for some other beast to use, but they're all gone."

"I know," she replied. "My cow keeps trying to go to the woods. I've had to tie her. Very strange. Why does the Queen so hate the Princess?"

The Huntsman shrugged. "Queens always hate their Princesses. It's that way in all the stories."

"And when the Queen discovers this, she will be angry."

The Huntsman nodded. That, actually, was putting it quite mildly.

"And won't she be missing you? You are her Huntsman."

"I come and go from her castle as I please, bringing her bounty as I find it."

"That's a good arrangement."

"It was."

She stretched and yawned. "Well, I'd best be getting to sleep. Tomorrow's an early start, if I'm to get three good pigs at market. If I'm too late, all that will remain will be the runts."

The Huntsman bid the Widow good night, and then he headed off to the barn to bed down with the cow, which eyed him suspiciously as he smoothed out a sleeping-spot on a straw pallet. He thought of this beautiful, strong woman, living alone on her farm…and now in some danger, if the Queen were to find out what he'd done.

As he dropped off to sleep, he imagined he could hear the voice of a girl, singing, somewhere off in the distance...a song about her prince coming, someday....



***


Along the way to market the next day, the Widow told him of losing her husband two seasons before, and of her life alone on the tiny farmstead; and he told her of his life as a Huntsman: of tracking a deer in the forest, of finding its trail, of different kinds of tracks and how to tell which were fresh, and of wintering alone in a cabin deep in the heart of the wood. He enjoyed telling her of his life, and was surprised to find that he had so much to tell, but what he enjoyed more was listening to her telling him.

At the market, she traded with various vendors for provisions with a shrewd eye and a keen sense for barter. She also managed to get the three finest piglets from a litter, for a bit less than the price the man had insisted was his lowest offer. And while she was doing this, the Huntsman slipped away and perused the jewels and gold for sale. One pair of miners -- two dwarves, one who kept grinning like a fool and another who apparently was a fool -- had a particularly nice selection of rubies and emeralds. He would have to come back sometime with some fresh kill to barter a gem away from these two, something that would be lovely around the Widow's neck. He blushed with the thought.

They stayed for the Singing Contest that night, which was won by the Prince, who was a surprise entry and was still the biggest singing fool the Huntsman had ever seen. After that they rode home.

"The Prince has the finest voice I have ever heard," the Widow said. "His voice is the fairest in the land."

The Huntsman only nodded. The Fairest in the land, the Fairest one of all....



***


A month went by, and then two, with the Huntsman living in the Widow's barn and helping her run her farm. He occasionally desired to go to the woods and get a bear or elk, but mostly he was fascinated with the effort of coaxing a crop from the earth. Actually, he didn't like the work itself. But he was fascinated with her.

After one day of particularly hard work, he went down to the stream just inside the woods to wash before dinner. There was a deep, clear pool shielded by some rocks that was perfect for bathing, and with anticipation he leaned over the water, looked down, and saw reflected back a face that was not his own.

"There you are!" said the mirror. "I've been looking all over for you!"

"GAH!" the Huntsman eloquently replied, leaping back. Then, catching himself, he leaned forward again. "Don't do that! And what are you doing here? Since when can you appear in anything other than glass?"

"I can appear anywhere a reflection is available," the mirror replied. "But in a surface like this, I can't do it for long. Whatever you do, don't drop a rock in the water!"

"So why are you here now?"

"Do you remember what I told you about the miners and their potato patch?"

The color drained from the Huntsman's face.

"I see you do," said the mirror. "The Queen asked, and the girl was picking potatoes. I cannot lie to the Queen."

"You can tell the truth in a way that misleads her," the Huntsman said. "Something she would take the wrong way--"

The mirror looked aghast. "You mean, deceive her intentionally?"

"That's what I've been doing all along, you miserable excuse for a looking glass!"

"No reason to get insulting," the mirror said. "I came to warn you, didn't I? She asked about the heart--"

But the Huntsman was already gone, running for the farmhouse.

On the way he passed an old crone, who was hobbling along the road carrying a basket of apples. "Good day to you, Huntsman!" the crone called out. He ignored her. He had to get home and he had to get the Widow out of there, to his old hunting lodge. She'd be safe there. The Queen didn't know where it was -- or at least, so he prayed.

"Dear!" he shouted as he burst in the front door. "Dear!"

She came up from the root cellar. "What is it?" she asked.

"We have to leave. The Queen knows."

She instantly knew what he was talking about, and sighed. "Let me get a few things," she said.

"Hurry. She will be looking for me."

"I know," she replied. "I will be with you. But we'll have food -- look at these beautiful apples! A peddler-woman was here just a while ago, selling these. They're the biggest, reddest apples I've ever seen. I bought one for each of us--"

The peddler-woman with the apples...the crone who had called out to him, "Good day to you, Huntsman?"

He'd been wearing no bow or hunting cloak, and his clothes were dirty from working in the field. How could she have known he was a Huntsman--

The Widow lifted an apple to her mouth.

"NNNOOOOOO!" The Huntsman sprang forward, reaching for her wrist, but she had already bitten the fruit.



***


The Huntsman was placing the last stones upon her barrow when the Herald came riding up.

"By Royal Decree of His Highness the Prince, I am bid tell you, the Queen is dead. From this day on, the Prince rules the land." Judging by his tone, this was at least the fiftieth time today he'd recited his spiel, and he turned to go before he even finished speaking. Doubtless he had a lot of other farmsteads to get to.

The Huntsman learned the details two days later when he went to town. Somehow the Queen had been engaging in some trickery with her appearance, but had been pursued up a mountain where she'd first fallen off, then been buried under fallen rocks, and then picked apart by buzzards. A fitting demise, at least, but the Huntsman took little pleasure in it.

And the Princess had turned up, living in the woods with seven miners, just as the Huntsman had known all along. But she was now dead as well, and had been placed in a coffin of glass, deep in the woods.

I let her go, and she is still as dead as if I had cut her heart out myself. The Huntsman tried drinking himself into a stupor at a tavern, but the taste of the ale no longer appealed to him, and he finally decided to go home. To the empty farmstead, whose mistress he had brought to ruin through his own attempts at deceit.

He remained there the rest of the season, bringing in the harvest as best he could even though he hated the work and knew little of its proper execution. Lifelessly, monotonously, he did her work, in the shadow of her barrow. Then, in autumn, he traded for provisions -- selling the three pigs and the milch-cow and the ox as well -- and moved to his hunting lodge in the forest for the winter. At least he had never brought her there; the memories would not be so strong.

But they were, all winter long.



***


The winter was long and cold, but the Huntsman survived it all right, as much out of habit as by design. His lodge was well-stocked, and to give up simply was not in his nature. But he found no pleasure in it at all, for the wound in his heart refused to heal in the smallest measure.

But winter finally gave way to spring, as it always did, and when the roads and passes were at last open the Huntsman rode to market with some of his fresh kill, hoping to trade for more provisions. He also had to decide whether he wanted to return to the farmstead, or remain a Huntsman. The choice weighed heavily on him, and for each moment when he was certain of what he wanted to do, there was another when he was equally certain that he wanted to do the other thing.

It all changed when he asked a simple question of the first trader he met: "What news?"

The Prince, it seemed, was to marry. And the girl was to be his bride. The one the Queen had killed. The Princess.

"What an amazing story!" said some old gaffer. "The Prince undid the Queen's witchery by kissing the girl!"

"Kissing?" someone asked.

"That's how he did it, mark my words. The Prince finally heard about the beautiful dead girl in her coffin of glass -- those miners knew what they were doing, surely enough -- and at length he came to her side and kissed her. And she returned to life then, and now she will marry him!"

"He kissed her?" the Huntsman said. Absurd. This wasn't one of the old stories.

"Yes."

"The Prince."

"Yes!"

"And she came back to life."

"Just so."

"So," put in the trader, "what happened to those miners? Seems to me they should get a reward."

"Oh, indeed," said the gaffer. "They were given joint ownership of the mine, and...."

The Huntsman ignored everything said after that. His mind was too busy evolving a plan to listen to further gossip. He took the coins in his pocket from the trading he'd already done and, instead of buying new provisions, went to the silversmith to buy a mirror. This he took into a secluded alley.

"Mirror, mirror in my hand," he said, "your presence here is my demand!"

Almost immediately, his own face in the mirror was replaced by that other, stranger one which looked vaguely disheveled.

"I come as com--" The mirror peered at the Huntsman. "You! How do you know those words of summoning?"

"I'm not just some brute who shows up every few weeks with a dead deer on my shoulders," the Huntsman replied. "I see things."

"Quite," said the mirror. "Well, I must say, things are much better since the Queen took that spill of the cliff. No more required rhyming! I've been able to study other forms of poesy. Did you know there is a thing called 'blank verse'? Apparently a playwright in England is doing a lot of fine things with it, and--"

"Mirror!" the Huntsman cut in. "I summoned you for a reason."

The mirror sighed. "Yes, I figured so. What do you desire?"

"I need to know if the Prince ever leaves the Castle."

"Well, of course the Prince leaves the Castle! What kind of question is that? Why, later this month…just what do you have in mind?"

"Never mind that," the Huntsman snapped. "What about later this month?"



***


He should have known. It was a singing contest.

The Prince was not to compete, but he still planned on attending, presiding, judging, even performing -- in general he was to add an air of royalty to the proceedings. It was to be the grandest of singing contests, with the rivalry of two of the greatest singers in the land to be at last decided and one of them to assume the position of head of the Singing Guild, or some such nonsense. The Huntsman cared about none of that. He only wanted the Prince.

The contest took place in the greatest City in the Kingdom, a day's ride from the Castle. (The Huntsman had often wondered why the City and the Castle should not be in the same place, but even the mirror could offer nothing on this point.) The Huntsman arrived at the City a week before the contest, after making the necessary preparations at the farmstead, and managed to bribe his way onto the City Guard. He would be able to get fairly close to the Prince, then, without looking out of place. All he had to do was wait. Of course, the City was so alive with song that the Huntsman soon wanted to drive his knife through his own ears, but there was nothing to do about that.

On the third full day of the festival, the Prince arrived in the City and came to the Keep, where a full ceremony was held. The Huntsman took his place in the phalanx of guards who would escort him inside -- and he nearly choked when he saw that the Prince had brought the Princess with him.

I almost killed her! She'll recognize me! He looked around for a way out, but there was none. He had no choice but to stand there and do his duty, while the Prince and Princess greeted the courtiers. Here she came, garbed in much nicer finery than the last time he'd seen her, but otherwise looking much the same: innocent and ridiculously pale. "Fairest in the land?" he muttered as she came near…and then passed by. She hadn't recognized him after all. He realized that he looked quite different now than he had back then. He'd shaved and trimmed his hair.

Then the Prince came by, and the Huntsman easily slipped the folded sheet of parchment into the Prince's pocket. It was an invitation to the Secret Festival of Song, where only the greatest musicians could gather in a sort of "elite of the elite". The Huntsman knew that the Prince wouldn't be able to turn such a thing down. He also knew that it was false, because he'd made it up. But the Prince would believe it, and that was what mattered.



***


"Where is he now?" the Huntsman asked the mirror. They were in the garden, near the oak-and-iron door in the wall that led outside the grounds.

"How would I know?" the mirror said. "I'm not all-knowing."

"You're not all-helpful, either."

"I could return to the castle, if I'm not wanted," the mirror sulked.

"I'm sorry," the Huntsman said. Apologizing to a mirror, kidnapping a Prince....

A pebble landed nearby, giving the Huntsman a start. But then there was another, and one more. Of course: his letter had instructed the Prince to signal his coming by throwing three pebbles, and then...

"Diddly-heigh, diddly-ho! I am not a drunkard, no, no, no!"

...singing that.

"You are a cruel man," said the mirror.

"Shhhh."

The Prince came around the corner. He was dressed, as instructed, for riding. The Huntsman shook his head. I hope he surrounds himself with good advisers.

"You're one of the guards!" said the Prince.

"More than that, actually," the Huntsman said.

"I must confess," said the Prince, "that I am a bit confused by this 'secret Guild'. How can I not have heard of it, when I have done more for song in this realm than anyone?"

"Yes, well, that's complicated," said the Huntsman. "I will explain it on the way there."

The Prince folded his arms. "You will explain it now, Huntsman."

The Huntsman winced. Maybe he had underestimated this man, all these years…

"Yes, I recognized you," said the Prince. "My wife did not, but I did. She told me about what you did for her, so I owe you some gratitude; but now, I would know why you are trying to trick me into coming with you to the meeting of a secret Guild that does not exist."

"Ummmm...." The Huntsman's mind raced. He had not considered this possibility, not for one moment. "You did come alone, didn't you?"

"Of course not!" snapped the Prince. "If people take me for a singing fool, it is because I wish them too. My personal guards are watching even now, and I have told them who you are. Now, I ask one last time before I call them forward and have them throw you in the dungeon: why am I here?"

The Huntsman swallowed. "Well, Your Highness, it's like this." He stepped forward, and lowered his voice. "I don't want everyone to hear this, but I have a problem that only you can help me with. You see--" and here his fist flashed out, striking the Prince on the chin and sending him into unconsciousness. I may have misjudged your wits, Prince, but not your jaw.

"Are you mad?" the mirror yelled from inside the Huntsman's pocket.

"Shut up," the Huntsman growled as he dragged the Prince to the door. He opened it -- as a City Guardsman, he'd been given the key -- and then closed it behind him, after he'd dragged the Prince into the alleyway beyond. Already he could hear shouts from inside, but he had time to drop the bar (strange that the door could be barred from the outside, but the Huntsman didn't question such things), and, for good measure, shove a stick into the keyhole to jam the lock.

"Well, now what?" the mirror asked. The door was rattling behind them.

"I'm thinking," the Huntsman said.

"You might have given that a try before now," the mirror said. "Thinking tends to produce better results the sooner one does it."

"Glass breaks, you know," the Huntsman growled. All the ruckus behind him -- they'd break that door down soon -- and the revelry of the singing festival in the town square, which was just down the alley….

Then he had it. The Huntsman tore off the Prince's jacket and every badge of office he could find on the Prince's person. Then he grabbed some dirt from the ground and rubbed it over the Prince's clothes, and he was lucky enough to have a rain puddle nearby, so he splashed some of that on the Prince, too: the dirtier, the better. He mussed up the Prince's royal hair and tossed his fine cap aside.

"Someone will recognize him!" the mirror yelped.

"Will you shut up!"

The guards inside were banging against the door with something big and metallic, and the hinges were straining. The Huntsman inverted his City Guard cloak, and then he heaved the unconscious Prince up and slung the man over his shoulders, as he had many a dead deer. Then he tossed the inverted cloak over the Prince and made his way toward all that revelry.

For once, luck was with him. He was taken for just another reveler carrying home a friend who had taken too much wine, ale and song. By the time the guards had the door down and were searching the square, the Huntsman had made it to the livery where he'd stabled his horse. And by the time the City Guard shut the city gates, the Huntsman was already through them and riding for the farmstead.



***


"I'll have your head!" the Prince yelled when he awoke. Nevertheless he took the cold cloth the Huntsman offered and pressed it to his swollen jaw. "How dare you kidnap me! You'll not blackmail me into attacking Guilder--"

"I'm not holding you," the Huntsman said. "You'll be free to go quite soon, actually. I'm sorry I had to hurt you. I didn't think you'd come if I asked."

The Prince blinked. "I'm free to go? What is this?"

"You're almost free," the Huntsman said. "I'll even give you a horse to get back on. There is one thing I'd like you to do, though, before you go, however."

"Of course," the Prince said. "You're an agent of Guilder, then, and you want me to sign that treaty. As I've told your King--"

"I am not interested in Guilder!" the Huntsman cut in. "I'm not interested in any of that. Only one small thing interests me, and it will only take you a moment. Come."

He rose, and escorted the Prince outside. They went past the barn, past the fields, to the edge of the woods where the Huntsman had smoothed out a small clearing for a special purpose. The Prince gasped when he saw what that purpose was.

"I bought it from those miners," the Huntsman said, almost whispering.

There, in the clearing, stood the glass coffin, and inside it lay the Widow. She might have only been sleeping -- except she was not.

The Prince swallowed. "You...you mean for me to...."

"I heard your tale," the Huntsman said. "All I ask, before you take your leave of me, is for you to work once more whatever magic resides in those princely lips of yours."

"The Queen was here, too? Then this was her punishment for you, to take that which you loved." The Prince sighed. "Vile woman! I will try."

And try he did. But it did not work. The Widow did not stir, even when kissed by the handsome Prince.

"I am sorry," the Prince said.

"Go," the Huntsman said, his voice as dead as she. "The way back to town is clear, and the horse is in the barn. I will be here, when your men come to arrest me."

"Arrest you?"

"I struck the Prince a blow."

"Ah," said the Prince. "Quite so." He stood there a minute more, but finding nothing else to say, he left. At least he didn't sing as he went.



***


For a week the Huntsman tended the farm. He trimmed the flowers by the coffin, and he repaired the fences as best he could. He couldn't think of anything else to do while he waited for the soldiers to come for him, which they finally did on the seventh day.

There were four of them, all wearing the nicest finery: uniforms of white with blue and gold trim, Florian leather boots, and feathered caps. The Huntsman thought it strange that the Prince would send so nice-looking a troop to take him into custody, but there it was. He rose to surrender.

"Hail, Huntsman!" the man in front said. "I am ordered thusly by His Highness the Prince of this Kingdom!" Here he produced a parchment and unfolded it. The Huntsman sighed. Formal charges, of course. "Deliver unto the Huntsman the message below, and then escort them back to the castle for reception. The message is this: 'You heard the tale incompletely. The magic is in love's first kiss.'" The man wrinkled his nose. "Now what can that mean? Ah well, no matter. Prepare to leave, please. You may bring whatever you need--"

But the Huntsman had already risen and was running to the clearing where she lay. For the Prince had not brought the Princess back by virtue of being the Prince. He had done so by virtue of being her love.

The Huntsman wasn't aware of anything. He wasn't aware of running through the fields. He wasn't aware of when he stumbled and fell, nor was he aware of when he picked himself up. All of it was a blur. The only thing he was aware of, as he came to the side of the glass coffin, was the pounding of his own heart. He lifted the lid as soon as he could reach it, bent over her, and whispered "My love" before pressing his lips to hers.

And after the longest moment he could ever remember -- she drew breath. Finally her eyes opened, and he took her into his arms.

"Where am I?" she asked, and her voice was suddenly the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. But all the Huntsman could say was, "Oh my love." He just held her there, trembling, until those soldiers arrived and their stuffed-shirt leader cleared his throat.

"Excuse me, sir...my orders, you know...."

And the Huntsman broke into laughter. "Escort them back", the man had said when he'd read his orders aloud. Escort them back. The Prince had known.

No singing fool, he.



***


"This collar is ridiculous," the Huntsman said as he tugged at the dress collar of the uniform he'd been given.

"Well, get used to it," the mirror said from its familiar perch on the wall in the throne room's antechamber. "Your old clothes have been burned, and good riddance to them."

The Huntsman sighed. He was waiting for his Wife -- now a Widow no more -- to arrive, when they would then be escorted to audience before the Prince and the Princess. They were to be officially made a Lord and Lady and granted the requisite lands. Of course, the tale of the Huntsman who had defied the Queen and spared the Princess was already sweeping the land in the form of a song. And not a bad one either, the Huntsman had to concede.

At last she came, with two attendants with her. He caught his breath to behold her, so wondrous was her gown and so beautiful was she in it; but no matter what gown she wore or what gems from the mines it was decorated with, she would never appear more beautiful to him than she had on that first day, when her hands and face had been dirty and his had been drenched in the blood of a pig.

"Are you nervous, my love?" he asked.

"No," she said. "Not as long as you stand beside me."

"I'll always be beside you," he replied.

She smiled. "A husband for a pig," she mused. "What a strange price to pay!"

They kissed, and then the doors were opened, revealing the throne room beyond, with the throngs of nobles filling it and the Prince and Princess on the far dais. Their names were called by the Herald, and they stepped forward. But then the Huntsman stopped. "Just a moment," he said as he ducked back into the anteroom, leaving his bride on the threshold.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall," he said, "who is the fairest one of all?"

"This I can say is true," the mirror replied. "The fairest stands before you."

The Huntsman glanced through the door. Through the portal he could see both his love and, in the distance, the Princess. He laughed.

"I've been practicing your advice," the mirror said.

"So you have," the Huntsman said. "So you have."

And he went forward to take his love's hand in his, walking toward the "ever after" that is, in the end, not reserved exclusively for Princes and Princesses.



---finis---

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