Saturday, March 31, 2007

Indonesian Steel

No silat class this week -- Guru Plinck is in Texas, teaching a seminar. Funny, when you think of pentjak silat, the idea of Texans doing it doesn't spring immediately to mind, even though I know there are practioners of the art down that way. Of course, not everybody who lives in Texas is a cowboy, that's one of those state myths like all Californians having a screw loose, or all Oregonians wearing Birkenstocks ...

(Growing up in Louisiana, I can tell you that the only difference between east Texas and west Louisiana is the Sabine River, and most of the folks down that way were just as likely to be farmers or a loggers or fishermen as cowpunchers ...)

Um. So I had to work out on my own, and me and the chalked tiga and the punching bag and the freeweights and dogs had ourselves a fine old time on the back patio, between bouts of drizzle.

Somebody asked me recently which was my favorite keris from my small collection, and I thought I'd put up a picture of it. The blade is Balinese, although the furniture -- handle and sheath -- is Javanese. The keris is probably about a hundred and fifty years old, and most likely, according to the seller, belonged to a Balinese mercenary working in Java. Typically, Balinese blades of that period are both heavier and longer than the Javanese blades. This one has five luq, or waves, and a double pamor -- buntel mayit, and wos wutah.

To translate all that for those who might not know but are interested:

The keris is an Indonesian dagger, more a symbolic talisman for the last hundred years than actually used in fighting, though, in a pinch, you can stick somebody with it. Typically, boys got these from their fathers or uncles at twelve or thirteen, part of their coming-of-age, but sometimes girls also got them, and there are female blades to be found.

The steel of the blade is a mix of things, including nickel, which gives it the distinctive pattern. This is brought out usually by applying a mix of arsenic and lemon or lime juice to the metal, which cures in the hot sun; as it does, it turns the iron black, but doesn't affect the nickel.

Not all such daggers have the waves; many are perfectly straight. One counts the waves starting at the underside of the blade closest to the handle, and there are always an odd-number of them, three, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen -- I've seen one with as many as thirty-three waves.

There is a magical component to these daggers, and this is determined by many things, including the dapur -- shape, proportion, number of waves -- and the pamor, that is, the welded pattern. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of patterns, and whole books written on what they are and what they mean. Typically, they offer protection against fire, flood, sickness, enemies, but also can be designed to bring good fortune in business or love.

Buntel mayit is "the death shroud," is considered very powerful, and is often used for warriors' or executioners' blades. It looks like twisted parallel lines, and is on the third of the blade closest to the point.

The sheath is copper-clad wood, and the widest part of the sheath, that canoe-shaped piece, is of a wood that is apparently extinct in Java, where it was made. This particular sheath is midway between a plain wooden knockabout one and the more formal and intricately-carved prowed-boat version.

The handle is the seven-plane "fever man," a very stylized representation of a man bent over with ague; since Muslims are not supposed to depict people or animals in their art, and Java has been mostly of that faith for six hundred years, that's how this came about. On Bali, which is still predominantely Buddhist and Hindu, the handles often look like people or animals.

Redressing the blade with new handles and sheathes is considered proper care and feeding of a keris, so you often see steel from one country with furniture from another.

Wos wuta, which means "spilled rice grains" or "scattered rice," is supposed to be lucky, especially in material things, though not as much as udan mas, or "golden rain," which is for making money. Wos wuta or beras wuta are "discovered" patterns, that show up during the grinding, and often the maker doesn't know exactly what they will look like until he sees 'em.

So, there's your basic introduction to the keris.

Use it wisely ...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Think You Can Sing?

Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy, the Roches. Couple million years ago, I met Maggie, via a buddy who was enamored of her when she played at the local U. Lovely girl, and she and her sisters have done some fine music. This is an old clip, but shows what you can do acappella when you put your mind to it ...

Think You're Strong?

Watch these little girls on the first part of this video. I can't tell you how impressive this is -- being able to one a one-handed press into a one-handed handstand balance on another girls upraised hand? Incredible.

Got this from Tom Furman's website:

What's in a Name?

One of the fast-food places my wife and I like is Baja Fresh. As you might have surmised from the name, if you aren't familiar with the chain, they serve Mexican food, and tasty stuff it is, too.

I used to fool myself into thinking I was eating healthy when I dropped by Baja -- there's no MSG, no lard, nothing frozen, all grilled fresh -- until I got online and checked out the fat content in the chicken Ultimo.

This baby blows the doors off the Burger King Double-Whopper with Cheese and Bacon, we are talking the heart-attack special, here, and if you feel really brave, you can get it enchilado-style, which is all of the above, but drenched in melted cheese and mole sauce ...

Well over a thousand calories, enough fat to make Richard Simmons cry.

I limit myself to one of these a month.

But fast, fat, and delicious aside, there is one thing about the place that strikes me as odd. For some reason, the girls behind the counter cannot ever seem to get my name right. I give them my order, they total it up, then ask me for my name, which they will call out when the food is ready.

"Steve," I say. I make it a point to say it very clearly.

Nearly every time, I get a puzzled look. "Steef?"

"Steve. Estevo. Short for Estaban?"

Usually, this doesn't help. It's always amusing to wait to see what name they write down -- it's printed at the top of the ticket, and I've seen "Deve," or "Teef," or "Steeb." But the most recent one is my favorite. After watching the young woman frown after I told her my name thrice, I spelled it out for her: "Steve. Spelled S-t-e-v-e."

I smiled. She smiled. Tapped in the name, handed me the ticket and my drink cup.

At the top, it said, "Ted ..."


Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Death Star Keeps on Turnin'

I just had a chance to see the proposed cover art for the book my collaborator and I are doing -- that's Star Wars: The Death Star, due out in, I think, October, '07. I can't show it until it is final and official, but it looks way cool.

I can mention that the book is about what happened on the Imperial space station from the time it got built until ... no, wait ... better not offer any spoilers, in case you might be one of the three people in the civilized world who never saw any of the movies ...

Meanwhile, here's an image I can show, from the archives ...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Technology Doesn't Always Rule

As an option for my new garage door opener -- a device for which I have never had a need before now -- I was offered a laser spotter. For those of you who don't have cars or don't park 'em in a garage if you do, spaces therein can sometimes get tight, and to avoid pulling too far into the garage and maybe crunching your bumper against the chest freezer or mangling the bicycle, it is wise to figure out where to stop short of doing those things.

The little laser device mounts on the ceiling and when you drive your car under it, kicks on and puts a little red dot onto your dashboard. You pull forward until the dot is on a pre-determined spot and voila! there you are. Twenty bucks, and a testament to how ubiquitious lasers have become. I can recall making one for a science project as a youth, and it required buying an industrial ruby, and constructing a circuit board with soldered connnections, resistors and all like that, into a device the size of a shoebox. As I recall, it ran about fifty bucks, in 1962 dollars, and you were lucky to be able to see it across the room.

But even though I have techno-toys out the wazoo -- computers, cell phone, iPod, electronic guitar tuners, electronic cameras and all like that, I opted for the low-tech solution to the parking problem. Park the car where it is supposed to be, then run a string through a tennis ball and hang it from the ceiling so that it just kisses the windshield. Probably many of you analog-people have seen this one before -- you pull into the garage and when the tennis ball touches the windshield, you set the hand brake and turn the engine off.

Cost is about seventy-five cents, given what I paid for a case of tennis balls for the dogs to chase, and six feet of string. And I don't have to worry about the power going out -- or the gadget mutating into a death ray ...

Sometimes the old ways work just fine.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Accidental Research

You see a little thread sticking out, you pull it, and you never know where it will lead ...

I was looking the McMeen music book, mentioned a posting previously, and one of the arrangements is of "Ashokan Farewell." You might remember the Ken Burn's documentary The Civil War, and if you do, you will recall this song, because it was pretty much the main theme, played over and over in many variations throughout the series.

It's a beautiful and haunting tune, and the first one I'll try to learn from the book. Perfect compliment to the slow version of "Dixie" I sometimes play.

I hadn't really thought about the song before, assuming it was a period piece, but I wanted to know more about it, so I went online to check it out.

It's not a period piece at all. It was written in 1982 by Jay Unger, as a kind of Scottish lament, in honor of a fiddle and dance camp held at Ashokan, not far from Woodstock, New York. Apparently the main part of the town now lies under a reservoir that supplies drinking water for New York City.

Ken Burns heard the album, liked it, and thus how it got to become a kind of Civil War anthem. It was the only non-period music used.

I find this kind of thing fascinating.

For more information, check out Jay Unger's FAQ on "Ashokan Farewell."

Dropped D

No, Dropped-D is not a rap singer, it's a way of tuning a guitar -- five of the strings are kept standard, and the sixth string, the bass E, is lowered a step, to D, thus the open strings are DADGBE, going from six to one.

There are all kinds of such tunings, and mostly I stay away from them because they require that you learn new chord shapes and I barely know any in the plain-vanilla standard Elvis-Ate-Dynamite-Good-By-Elvis versions. (
To give dropped-D even more of a resonant rumble, you can first lower every string a full step, to DGCFAD, then drop the D to a C -- CGCFAD ...)

However, there are some songs or tunes that a simple Dropped-D tuning will muchly improve. I am working on an arrangement by El McMeen, an acoustic guitarist of extraordinary skill and musicality, of the old standard "The Water is Wide." Lovely the way he plays it.

El has now come out with a book, from Mel Bay, full of arrangements in this tuning. If you are thinking about moving into alternate tunings, this is the easiest one to try, and you should get this book: The Art of Dropped D Guitar

You might also poke around his website and pick up some of his CD's. Guy is, no two ways about it, a terrific guitarist.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Book

Recently, I was asked if I wanted to write a short story for a new series being produced by Adventure Boys. These are pulp-style stories for YA readers (YA meaning "young adult," which translates to the ten-to-twelve year-old age bracket, and in this case aimed at boys.)

The stories are illustrated, and then put into the format of an old pulp magazine. Along with the fiction is a short section of history about the period.

The one I did, in collaboration with Mike Stackpole, was a hoot. Reminds me of the old Hardy Boys mysteries I read as a lad. Good, clean, fun -- unlike what I usually write ...

The Adventure Boys website is still being built, but you can sign up for mailings there if you want.


The little electronic sign I carry in my car to remind tailgaters not to kiss my rear bumper ...

The first message is polite. The second less so. Because I didn't want to run afoul of YouTube's decency regs, I cut the vid off before the second one finished. Probably you can guess what it says, though ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Tomorrow morning, Thursday, bright and early, a friend of mine in L.A. is going in to have half his brain rewired. (He had the first half done a couple years back, and now he'll really set off the metal detectors ...)

It's mostly probes and stuff -- head gets locked into a vise that is screwed into the skull and that is latched to a frame on a table so nobody moves. There are long needles and electrodes and all like that, but they don't have to cut away half the brain case or anything. Still, it's not a walk in the park.

If you have any spare spiritual energy laying around, I would appreciate it if you'd direct some it toward L.A. tomorrow. Prayers, pleasant thoughts, white light, all are welcome. Some for the doctors, and some for geology -- we don't want an earthquake while he's on the table.

Oh, and I have to mention this: The neurosurgeon's name? And I swear this is true, is Igor ...


What a Difference a Day Makes

Nothing like hauling a ton or two of paper, cutting fifty or sixty cardboard boxes to flats, and dragging assorted household impedimenta out to the rented dumpster to get the the old lactic acids flowing, nosiree.

From eight-thirty yesterday morning until about five yesterday afternoon, and a sandwich on the move, I tossed stuff into Mr. Bin's open maw. Another hour or two should see it topped off.

So far, the new sink isn't leaking yet -- knock on wood -- and the garage guy comes in the morning.

Gives me much respect for people who have to work for a living. A day or two are more than enough for me, thank you very much.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cleaning Frenzy in Progress

Like a shark feeding-frenzy -- cue the theme from Jaws, dah-dat, dah-dat -- a cleaning-frenzy involves a lot of thrashing about. Instead of blood in the water, there are swirls of trash -- bits of paper, cardboard boxes, broken crockery and furniture. Little things that ordinarily wouldn't get noticed suddenly appear as an impediment to life itself, and you are apt to find yourself with an old toothbrush cleaning along that crack between the stove and counter-top because you can't stand the idea of the gunk in it, even if you can't actually see it ...

What happens is that you start out slow, and then you get revved up, and you tend to haul ass in fifth gear until you run out of gas.

The Waste Management people arrived early this morning bearing the drop-box. Not huge as such bins go, a mere four yards, it is now empty.

When the cleaning frenzy is done, I expect it to be full. The only question is, how long will it take ... ?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Homeowner's Blues

The joy of owning your own house -- well, you and and the mortgage company owning it -- is large. Space between you and your neighbors, a permanent place for your stuff, a sense of belonging that bespeaks home in a way an apartment or rented house seldom, if ever, achieves.

The downside is the upkeep. Your house, you take care of it. House, yard, bushes, trees, lawn. Fortunately, I have bark-dusted enough so there isn't any lawn, but I'm still sawing up tree branches that fell during the last windstorm ...

Which is why, for the next few days, I will be doing work around the house more than on the computer.

The little things start to add up. The washerless faucet in the bathroom is dripping, and what that means is that, unlike the old kinds of valves you could take apart and just stick in a new rubber washer to fix, you now have to replace the whole thing. And because the chances of finding one that matches the rest of the still-working hardware on the sink are slim and snowball, that means the whole shebang has to be replaced.

So, a trip to Home Depot.

The meeting place of the driveway and the street has become mis-aligned, due to the roots of the gumball trees next to the curb. The cheapest and quickest fix is to rent a concrete grinder to smooth things. Neighborhood association won't let us take down the trees if they are healthy, aside from which, we like them. Ordinarily, I wouldn't care about the problem, since it's only the sidewalk I have to keep to city code, but the shift in tectonic plates there now causes all the water that used to run down the gutter on a rainy day to slosh over the curb and detour through my front yard. Somewhat distressing to step out the door and find yourself ankle-deep in swirling water lapping at your threshold ...

Another item to check into at Home Depot.

The newly cleaned-out garage which now hosts the new car requires a garage door opener if it is to be useful, and while these are relatively inexpensive, the chance of me being able to install one are probably not real good. Way I use tools, I'd hit the button on the garage door opener, all my toilets would flush, and I'd still be on the driveway trying to avoid drowning from the onrush of sloshed-over-the-curb rainwater.

Something else to look at whilst at Home Depot.

And the clearing of the garage resulted in a pile of junk on the side of the house. Moving Peter in order to pull Paul in out of the weather, so I have to get one of those dumpster thingees and see how much of a dent filling it up will make in the accreted household detritus. (The other joy of householding is that empty space fills up with junk. That spare, Japanese look I enjoy, has, over a few years, turned into a bargain-basement version of Hearst Castle. I wouldn't be surprised if my epitaph reflected this: Local Man Killed by Falling Debris Inside Own Home.)

Then, of course, it is time to do our income taxes ...

Never a dull moment.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Precious ...

I used to do a stand-up routine at science fiction conventions, part of which was offering that the best job security in the world would be as an optometrist in Metropolis. Because everybody is obviously in dire need of glasses -- nobody can tell a bird from a plane from Superman, which indicates really bad eyes to me. Not to mention that a pair of horn-rims on the only guy who doesn't need them turns Superman into Clark Kent and nobody can see through that one, either.

Watching some of the old episodes, I came across another good one: Clark Kent wears a pinky ring on his left hand in the early episodes. And guess what? Superman wears exactly the same ring on his left pinky, too!

Continuity, where is thy sting?

Click on the picture, from the cover of one of the DVD sets, and see.

I'm having waaay too much fun here ...

Looking for a New Toy ... ?

with which to kill yourself?

Look no farther:

Suicide Stilts (aka: PoweriZers)

These are for people who want to take their trampolines with them ...

Next time you are at YouTube, check out some of the videos.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


One of the joys of getting older is that you get to see so many things change over the course of your life. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Nickel Cokes and candy bars are gone, but so are summer fears of catching polio. Radio dramas have faded, but we have hundreds of channels of television. (The golden age of TV, by the by, was supposedly the early fifties. Some of those years are better in memory than in truth. I recently got the old Superman series with George Reeves, on DVD, and most of those episodes don't hold up very well -- done on the cheap, awful EFX, talky, badly-written, and all of the actors should have died the first season from scenery-poisoning, given how much of it they chewed ...

We sent people to the moon, cured smallpox, and defeated the Evil Empire. The buggy whips of my youth are gone (unless I want to drop round Spartacus in Portland and check out their leather) and I can still find Brown's Velvet Pineapple Sherbet, if I want to fly back to Baton Rouge, and it still tastes as good as it did when I was a boy. Of course it would, being it is almost entirely unnatural ingredients and preservatives. A few years ago on a visit, I bought a half-gallon of it, and proceeded to eat it all over the course of two days ...

Jack's Cookie Company's Brown-Edge Lemon Thins are, however, no more.

Those favorite store-boughts of my childhood are as extinct as the dinosaurs. My mother went hunting them a few years back when I asked if the company was still in business, but there were none to be had.

The wonder of the world wide web is that it is a cornucopia of oddball information, and recently I went hunting for a clue to those cookies.

Apparently Jack's was bought up in the mid-sixties by the Murray Biscuit Company, which was in turn purchased by Beatrice Foods, and in the late nineties, Keebler, all now owned by Kellog's.

No brown-edge lemon thins, alas.

Apparently I wasn't the only person who remembered these treats fondly, and in answer to other queries, Gourmet Magazine published a recipe -- almost twenty years ago -- in which the need was addressed.

And some kind soul put it on the web where I found it.

The cookies feature Crisco, butter, sugar, various forms of lemon -- juice, extract, and zest -- and the other bakery things that icebox cookies have, flour, vanilla, baking powder and soda and salt and like that, and I can see why they went away. Nothing the least bit healthy about them, more fat than gravy-smothered pork chops ...

But, having found the recipe, I had to try them, so I went out and got the ingredients -- no Crisco in our house -- blended them together as instructed and after chilling the dough for a couple hours, popped them into the oven.

And the results?

Well, they came out pretty good. Great taste, nice texture, good flavor.

Not the same as the commercial ones, which had that preserved-uniformity and that were already-going-stale-in-the-package when you bought 'em. Are the home-baked ones better? Yeah, I'd have to say so.

Better. But they aren't the same ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What a Waste

While it's not my intent to turn this into a look-who-died-now-blog, I have to report that stand-up comedian Richard Jeni is gone -- apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot.

The details are still hazy, but it seems he was having breakfast with his girlfriend. Got up, went into the shower, and shot himself. She called for help, and he was still alive when the police arrived, but died a few hours later in the hospital.

Reading between the lines, you can get the idea that he was depressed -- he'd cancelled some appearances, and some of the people interviewed indicated they knew he was having some problems, though they didn't say what.

It's well-known that comedians sometimes turn to humor to compensate for less-than-funny personal lives -- the act becomes therapy -- and it pays the bills.

Jeni was a regular on the Carson and Leno shows, had HBO specials, was in a few movies, even had a short-lived TV series. For my money, he was hands-down the funniest stand-up working. The one time we managed to see him in person, he had my kind-hearted, animal-loving, anti-cruelty wife laughing so hard she was crying -- and this doing a routine about orcas torturing and killing a baby seal.

You had to be there.

He was clever, his humor was sophisticated, and he was truly, deeply, genuinely funny. I never saw anybody work an audience as completely as he did. In one early routine, he hummed the first few bars of the theme for the National Geographic TV Show -- dah, dah, dah, daaah-dah! --
then held the mike out and waited as the audience filled in the rest, like a call-and-response blues singer.

What a shame. What a terrible waste of talent.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Lion Sleeps Tonight


After a year or so in a local college, my son went off to school in SoCal, in the fall of 1986. Suffering from acute half-empty-nest syndrome, my wife and I immediately went out and got a new puppy and two kittens.

The dog was a Chow-Chow, Roxanne. The kittens, gray tabbies, both male, we got from a German woman we called Helga, the Cat Nazi, and my daughter named them Spot and Stripe.

Spot was the sweet kitty who loved to sit in your lap. Stripe would rather be outside on his own.

Not six months later, Spot got into one of the garbage cans and found some moldy pizza and that was the end of him.

Stripe became an inside/outside kitty once his brother was gone, a now-and-then lap-cat, but he liked to roam and do combat with the neighborhood toms, even though he had been neutered. Got his ears tattered and some raging infections, but ruled our yard against all comers. He liked to sleep in odd places. A couple of the more interesting ones were in a frying pan on the stove, and in the bathroom sink.

We never expected him to more than last twenty years. We thought sure he'd get run over or mauled, and yet somehow, he managed to keep going.

He was blind in one eye and slowing down. He liked the new puppy, they would rub noses and he would put up with her licking his face. But he had to be near a litter box the last year or so, or he'd just go wherever he was, we couldn't let him run loose in the house. We put a bed in the garage with a heater in front of it, and that's where he spent cold days; warmer ones, he laid on a heating pad in a deck chair in the front courtyard. Now and then, he'd sit on my lap watching TV. He slept a lot.

Saturday, Stripe's belly swelled up, and while he didn't seem in any great discomfort, his appetite was off, and there was obviously something wrong. The diagnosis was that he probably had a bowel tumor, certainly some kind of blockage, but without X-rays and a battery of diagnostic tests, it was hard to be sure, and he wasn't a good candidate for surgery in any event. The prognosis was, at best, not good. Things were not going to get better.

We thought about what would be the kindest thing to do. And so we had him put down, and his ashes will join those of Cady and Scout out front. (Spot's remains, I buried out back almost twenty years ago. Regular pet cemetary, our yard ...)

Been a sad year for animals in our family. My old dog Scout and my daughter's dog Howard went on the same day a few months back; now the old cat. But, Stripe had a good run, four months shy of twenty-one, which is pretty good for an outside/inside cat.

And the big wheel keeps on turning ...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New Some New Bling?

Here's a watch for you:

Click here: Quenttin

No price on the website, but a little research, you can find out easily enough.

Given the current British pound to U.S. dollar exchange, you can pick one up for a mere $356,000, plus or minus a couple grand ...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's ...

George Reeves

My father was an electrical engineer, and enamored of all things electronic. Thus we bought our first television set so that he could play with it. He changed tubes, souped it up, motorized the antenna so it could be turned from inside, and managed to bring in -- albeit somewhat snowy and fuzzy at times -- the only two stations on the air within range of our house -- WAFB in Baton Rouge, and WDSU, in New Orleans.

The year was 1953, and the very first program that graced that little black and white screen in our house in Brookstown was The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves. Presented by Kellog's, that program, with what are now extremely cheesy special effects and awful scripts, guaranteed that I'd be glued to the screen when it aired. As a reader even then of Superman comic books, I was presold. Until then, we listened to the radio. After that, television ruled -- well, after books, for me.

I think they were already shooting in color the second season, even though there weren't any color TV sets to speak of. In black-and-white, it had a very noir look, epecially the first season.

(My father, who hunts down antique radio and TV tubes and restores old sets for collectors as a hobby, still has that old unit in his family room. Big, blonde wood cabinet, little screen. Last time I looked, it still worked.)

I can still recite the opening narration for the Superman show word-for-word. And for those men of my age, George Reeves is the only Superman, just as Sean Connery is the only real James Bond ...

Last fall, there was a movie in theaters, Hollywoodland, which is the story of George Reeves's mysterious death in 1959.

I remember that still, the shock. Suicide? What, did he use a kryptonite bullet ... ?

I meant to see the movie when it came out, but life got in the way and I didn't. It's on DVD and Pay-per-view now, so I finally caught it.

Hollywoodland -- which for those who don't know, is what the world-famous Hollywood real estate sign said before part of it blew down -- stars Ben Affleck as Reeves; Diane Lane as his married girlfriend -- amusing the name, hey? -- and Adrien Brody as the seedy private eye who snoops around after the cops close the case as an obvious suicide. Affleck is perfect as an actor that everybody knows will never be a star except himself; Lane, as his older mistress and wife of a mob-connected studio boss, plays the just-over-the-hill fading rose dead on. Brody's turn as the sleazo hard-drinking L.A. private detective is -- speaking as somebody who used to be one -- done right. Bob Hoskins plays the hard-as-nails studio boss, Mannix, and trots out his letter-perfect American accent once again.

Not a clunker in the cast.

There are glorious bits: Hoskins, Lane, Affleck and Ayumi Iizuka, who plays Hopkin's Japanese mistress, all have dinner together, the height of a civilized open-marriage. Lane's Toni Mannix wants to buy a house. "A good investment," her husband says when she asks him for it. He looks at Reeves. "Don't you think?" He knows who she's buying it for, and he doesn't care that she's sleeping with Reeves. When Reeves ventures a comment to Mannix's mistress, he said, "Don't talk to her." A beat, and then, "She doesn't speak English."

Later, Robin Tunney's Lenore Lemmon, Reeves's eventual fiance, says to a girlfriend when meeting Reeves in New York, "Superman wants to get laid." and then promptly does just that.

There's a scene where a small boy in a cowboy suit, supposedly based on a real event, approaches Reeves at a personal appearance with a real revolver and wants to shoot him to see the bullet bounce off, and Affleck shows Reeves's real fear as he tells the boy that the richochet might hurt somebody and they wouldn't want that ...

The movie explores the theory that Reeves didn't kill himself, and that one of a couple people had reason to off him. I thought it was well-done and balanced, even though it took a few liberties, it also had a lot of well-researched material in it. People looking for an answer to the question, murder or suicide? won't come away with an answer, but it made some good points about Reeves, as a man and as an actor, and for those of us who were kids when he ruled the skies over Metropolis -- with the L.A. Municipal Building standing in for the Daily Planet -- it's a fascinating movie.

Everything I have read indicates that Reeves did himself in. On the night he died, he was drunk, on pain medications, depressed, and there was a family history of suicide. He had money -- the residuals on the show were enough to pay the rent and then some, and he had a job lined up as a director on a movie. He was also about to start another season of Superman, which had been cancelled in 1958, but which had such a demand it had been picked up again to start filming in 1960. But he hated the role and thought it was beneath him, and he had to know his chances of working in front of the camera in anything else were slim. His role in From Here to Eternity was mostly cut, after preview audiences laughed when he appeared on screen: Look, it's Superman!

If you were ever a fan of the TV series, you'll probably enjoy seeing Hollywoodland.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Key is Smarter than I am ...

So the new car comes with what they call a "smart key." A rectangular bar with a worm-track machined in it, and three buttons on the plastic part. Locks doors and trunk, unlocks them, rolls windows up and down, and can be programmed to do other things, like put the top down while I'm not in it, like that.

Got two of them. Don't lose 'em, they said, because it costs a hundred and fifty bucks to replace one, and has to be shipped from England ...

But here's the part that really told me it had been a while since I got a new car: I asked the guy, so how do you get it open to change the battery? No screws visible. And the answer is, you don't need to. The battery is a rechargeable -- and the car charges it when it is in the ignition. Should last ten years, at least ...

Man. Here we are, living in the future!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

All Things Must Pass

For almost three decades, I owned and drove two cars: a 1978 Volvo, seventeen years; and a 1995 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) for twelve years.

Starting the next car-driving decade, and moving up to a somewhat larger car than the Miata, behold our new Mini-Cooper. Probably you've seen them around, though they aren't common. There's one dealer in Oregon, and one in Washington, and if you want next year's model, you have to put your name on a list and wait. About three months, and no wiggle room on the sticker price. (Rent "The Italian Job" and watch what they do with these cars. The remake. Although the Michael Caine version in the old Mini is probably better ...)

No longer will slackwit drivers irritate me by tailgating my little red convertible.

Now, they'll irritate me by tailgating my little blue convertible.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Busy Days

In the natural cycle of my life, there are times when things roll along at a nice pace, other times when they get slow, and still other times when they start moving like a house afire.

Of late, the times is suddenly busy ...

Work -- never rains but it pours, all of a moment I have galleys, outlines, short stories, novels, all needing to be written right now. With family stuff, there are the kids, grandkids, my wife has a bad cold and just got back from Louisiana. We are setting up a memorial service for my mother-in-law, and selecting a gravesite. We have major housecleaning to do, a lot of junk that just has to go away. We are looking at buying a new car. There are things like silat, dogs, guitar, working out, and other time-fillers, and not enough time in the day to get to them all.

The wheel will turn again, given my experience, but until it does, I'm going to be hopping ...

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Because I used to write a fair amount of animation for television, I was able to join the Writers Guild of America, West, the organization that takes care of movie and TV writers. As a junior member -- read: without full membership or benefits -- of what is called The Animation Caucus.

The Guild is essentially a union, and Hollywood, if you work for the major studios, is a closed shop. If you write movies and you aren't a member -- actually, I think it's two movies -- you are required to join. It costs a nice chunk of change, but there are mucho benefits -- health insurance, minimum payments for work, and the Guild has enough clout to arbitrate arguments and, if need be, call a strike against the studios. On balance, this is a great organization and if you work in the biz, will pay for itself in a hurry.

I wasn't aware than any of the animation I wrote was subject to the perks that live-action writers get, one of which is residual payment for work beyond what you were paid for the original airing, or if it is aired overseas.

So I get this little check in the mail yesterday. Well, the check is normal-sized, just the amount is little, for foreign copyright royalties on a bunch of old episodes of Batman, Gargoyles, Ghostbusters, and Godzilla. These run like seventy cents, twenty-three cents, three dollars and ninety-one cents, etc. There are a lot of 'em, but totaled, they don't amount to much.

Still, it's free money, and I'm happy to get it ...

Old Hippie Flashback

Like many of my generation, my memories of the 60's are somewhat less than, um, perfect. The time is framed by a Peter Max psychedelic rainbow -- green microdot, orange sunshine, purple haze, all viewed through a distorted windowpane ...

Now and then, however, something roils the old memory pond, stirs the sludge and bottom muck, and some long-lost recollection rises and bobs to the surface.

Had one of those yesterday. I saw a bumper sticker, the match of which I haven't seen for forty years. That antique one was probably on the back of a beat-up VW bus. The new one was on the back of a new Volvo station wagon:

Gas, cash, or ass -- nobody rides for free ...

Lord, Lord. Like the Henley song about a Dead Head Sticker on the back of a Cadillac. Who could have seen that coming?

The Age of Aquarius tripped and fell on its way here, and once again we have a stupid war spending lives and money. Things have changed so much -- and then again, not at all ...

Peace: Wouldn't that be great?

Friday, March 02, 2007

We Can Stop at the Magic Store ...

Long-time couples, married or not, develop personal shorthand in their dialogs. Shared experiences that become staples. During a conversation, these make sense to them, but not to anybody outside the relationship -- unless they stop to explain.

When I was a young man living in L.A., my best buddy was a fairly serious amateur magician. He had gotten into it as a teenager, when we'd both lived in Baton Rouge, and had a pretty good collection of standard stage tricks -- linking rings, Chinese rice bowls, cabinets for making things vanish and appear, a cane that turned into a handkerchief, card tricks, even a full-dress suit, white tie and tails. It was from him that I learned old saw about how to do a stage performance: Don't think of yourself as a magician, think of yourself as an actor portraying a magician. Makes it easier to get that grand, scenery-chewing persona ...

Um. Anyway. During those years, Joe Berg had a magic shop on Hollywood Blvd. and this was the place for serious magicians to buy stuff and hang out, so sometimes we'd go there. I could do a few coin sleights, enough so they didn't kick me out. (Once, my friend and I managed to con our way into the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which was a club for professional magicians, and in those days, invitation-only. That might have been our best trick ever ...)

Our wives liked to get out now and again, but some of the places they wanted to go didn't interest us much, so we tended to drag our feet on those occasions. At some point, in a wonderfully transparent psychological ploy, my wife said to us, "Come on, go. We could stop at the magic store on the way ..."

I laughed then, and it's still funny now. It became our privatespeak for any attempt to fool each other that we caught. Uh huh. Right. And can we stop at the magic store on the way ... ?

No real point here. I just remembered it when I was fooling around with posting that coin vid. Figured I better put it down before I forgot it, in case I ever wanted to use it. This is how a writer's mind sometimes works. Odd connections that form unexpectedly.

Which, long as I am here, reminds me of another how-a-writer's-mind-works scene, from Bob Fosse's movie, All that Jazz. Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider, is a very thinly-disguised Fosse. He is cheating on his girlfriend, Kate, played by Ann Reinking. Who had been in real life, Fosse's girlfriend, and whom he cheated on. Talk about complicated. Reinking was gorgeous, a talented dancer, and later won a Tony for her choreography on Broadway. And she's aged very well, too -- but I am wandering. Back to the story:

Kate comes home unexpectedly and catches Joe in bed with the other woman.

During a following sequence later, they argue, with Vivaldi's Four Seasons playing in the b.g., and at one point, Joe tries to defend himself with a lame comment about giving her all he can, to which Kate's character tearfully says, "I just wish you weren't so generous with your cock!"

The look on Scheider/Gideon's face is priceless. You can see the wheels turning in his brain as he does a slow take: "That's ... good. Maybe I can use that sometime." Whereupon he stands, puts a cigarette between his lips and walks into the other room to shut off the music.

"It's show time, folks!"

Kate is essentially kicking his ass for being a scumbag boyfriend, and while trying to appear contrite, he's more delighted at the little phrase she's handed him than regretful. That's how writers are. And I'm betting that Fosse heard it directed at him and did use it when he wrote the script.

Any writer who saw that scene resonated with that line. Stuff pops up and the light goes on and you think, Wow, someday, I'm gonna find a place to use that ...

Listen for that little voice. You never know when one of those gems will just appear.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


So at silat class last night, we went back over some basic stuff we haven't done in a while, meat-and-potatoes moves -- sapu, kenjit, ankat (sweep, scissors-takedown, throws off an unweighted leg, for those of you who could care about Bahasa Indonesian terms.)

And one more time, I found myself nodding over the notion that learning for me is often like a slight upward spiral. As I climb, I continually circle, and find myself passing the same spot over and over. But each pass, I'm a little higher, so the angle of view is not quite indentical, even though I might be looking at the same scene. I see things I missed last time. And if I make it around again, I expect I'll see stuff I missed this time, too.

To quote Mr. Spock: Fascinating ...

Radioactive ...

For about a year, I've been wearing a Traser watch. I spend a fair amount of time -- ho, ho -- in the dark, up and about, and the phosphorescent dials on my watches, be they wrist or pocket models, glow for about thirty seconds after they are exposed to a bright light, then fade enough so as to be unreadable.

So I did some research into tritium, -- I used to have a tritium nightsight on a handgun that was very nice -- and I found there were watches, designed for the military originally, that use the technology. You can't quite read by the glow, but in pitch black or even partial darkness, you can't miss it. If I were skulking around in the night and trying to stay hidden, I'd wear long-sleeves, or stick this one in my pocket. It is really bright.

Tritium decays slowly, and after ten or twelve years won't glow any more, so I'll have to replace it.

My camera doesn't have the ability to get a good picture of what the watch face looks like in total darkness, but I found this little animated .GIF online that does, and I wanted to see if it would work in a posting. I can do still pictures and now links to vids, so what-the-heck, might as well try animated .GIFs. Great to be living here in the future ...