erik lundegaard

Monday March 04, 2024

Don Gullett (1951-2024)

Clinching the pennant, age 19.

When I was a kid I'm pretty sure I kept getting Don Gullett and Don Sutton mixed up. I was in an American League city, they were both National League pitchers, and their names weren't dissimilar: Don and then two syllables: Uht-en or Uhl-et.

Talk about opposites, though. Sutton is the quintessential longevity Hall of Famer. He led the league in Game Starts once, ERA once, and never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting; but he kept plugging away: 15-13, 14-12, 11-11. He debuted in 1966, bade farewell in 1988, and in every full season until the last he appeared in 30+ games.

Gullett was more nova. He debuted in 1970 at age 19 and was done by age 27. Twenty-seven! What a rip. But in his nine seasons he pitched six times in the postseason, and in five of those the World Series: Reds in 1970, '72, '75 and '76, and, after signing a $2 million dollar deal, with the Yankees in '77. He last pitched July 9, 1978 vs. Milwaukee. He didn't get out of the first inning. It went: flyout, single, single, walk, walk (run), flyout, double (two runs), walk, walk (run), and that was it. He last faced Buck Martinez and he was replaced by Bob Kammeyer. And that was it. There would be fingers-crossed press reports about him in the NY papers for a few years but the fingers never uncrossed.

He retired with a 109-50 mark and a 3.11 ERA. In his Gullett obit, Joe Posnanski trots out this list of the best winning percentages for pitchers who won 100 games by age 27:

  1. Roger Clemens, 116-51, .695
  2. Don Gullett, 109-60, .686
  3. Dwight Gooden, 142-66, .683
  4. Jim Palmer, 122-57, .682
  5. Pedro Martinez, 107-50, .682

Poz also mentions this:

Don Gullett was a private person. He was a farmer after he finished playing, he and Cathy had three children. He was the only major Big Red Machine player who declined to talk with me for my book The Machine. He was kind about it. He just said that he didn't really want to look back and didn't think he could add anything. “Other people remember better than I do,” he said.

When he debuted at age 19, players were agog. Willie Stargell said “He could throw a ball through a carwash without it ever getting wet.” Pete Rose said the same thing. He was on the mound, age 19, when the Reds clinched the pennant against the Pirates in 1970. He was the pitcher who set up the incredible Game 6 of the 1975 World Series by shutting down the Red Sox in Game 5—going 8 2/3 while giving up 2 in a 6-2 victory. He was the Game 7 starter, too, before Merv Rettenmund pinch-hit for him in the top of the 5th. He left, down 3-0, but—and you may have heard this—the Reds came back to win it, 4-3, for their first championship since 1940. They won again the following year. He didn't pitch well for the Yankees in the '77 postseason but he got another ring with them. Then the injuries piled up and he couldn't come back from them.

Apparently, growing up in Kentucky, he was some kind of all-around athlete. Posnanski mentions a high school football game where Gullett rushed for 410(!) yards and scored 11(!) touchdowns. In high school basketball, he averaged 22 points a game. “As a pitcher in his senior year,” Poz writes, “he struck out 120 batters in 52 innings and threw a perfect game where he struck out 20 of the 21 batters he faced.”

He died earlier this month, age 73. No cause mentioned. Private to the end.

Posted at 12:39 PM on Monday March 04, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday March 03, 2024

Clem, Continued

How much does the ending dictate the story? 

For a week I thought the story was this: a good-hearted couple doing what they could to help a newly adopted two-month-old kitten overcome dysentery and thrive and live a long life. They doubled their laundry load, put warm compresses to his backside, fed him medicines, bought him diet supplements, cooked him chicken and rice, and spent more than $3,000 on five vet visits over a eight-day period to make it right.

Now the story feels like: two dullards who missed the clues and let a small animal suffer and die.

The image I can't escape is one from his final full day. He had been eating well, and filling out a bit. But he'd already begun to leave wet spots and he was still walking slowly and creakily. Because his backside hurt, right? That's what I thought—incorrectly probably. This day, this Friday, he wanted to walk in the hallway outside our second-floor condo, as our cat Jellybean liked to do. And as with her in her final days, I accompanied him on the slow walk. But now I accompanied with a squirt gun. I'd bought the squirt guns in anticipation of teaching him bathroom protocol. He understood the litter box, but not always, but we assumed it was dysentery dicatating the mishaps, including the sudden peeing, and once he got over it, things would self-correct. But just in case, squirt guns. In the hallway, he huddled in a corner, his preferred place for peeing and pooping outside the box, and so I leveled it. In my head I was a responsible pet owner ready to teach bathroom etiquette to a kitten. In reality I was an idiot leveling a squirt gun at a kitten slowly dying from malfunctioning kidneys.

I didn't pull the trigger. But I can't get over that image.

During this messy week, many people suggested we give Clem back to Seattle Animal Shelter, where we adopted him on Feb. 13. He was too much trouble. A question in the adoption papers asked something like “What might make you return your pets?” and we wrote “Can't imagine.” Now we could. But that wasn't us. That's what I said to Patricia one of those nights: “We're not those people.” Now I'm wondering if it would've been better for Clem if we had been those people. Maybe they would've picked up on the clues in time.

I still wonder about all those vet visits. The regimen we went with was: five days of antibiotics, and if that didn't right things, an abdominal ultrasound. He didn't last the five days; he had one dose to go. The final vet said his kidneys seemed off, wrong, but no ultrasound or radiograph was done, per the invoice, so maybe she was guessing. At this place, at the outset, they let you know how much it might cost—the high end of it, Clem's was $5,936—and you pay that before they do anything. And if they don't need to do everything, you get what they call “a refund.” We got a refund. The only new item on the final invoice was euthenasia: $203.11.

Taken together, the vet diagnoses feel like a bad joke. Does he need more extensive care? Not yet ... not yet ... not yet ... too late. 

Some of the real clues, including the sudden wet spots, didn't materialize until after the penultimate vet visit, but would we have known enough to tell them properly? You need a way to relay the facts to someone who has the knowledge to interpet the facts. We didn't have that. Clem didn't have that. Sadly, he just had us.

Posted at 09:07 AM on Sunday March 03, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Saturday March 02, 2024

Movie Review: The Bonnie Parker Story (1958)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Is there a better 1950s B-movie beginning than busty blonde Bonnie Parker (Dorothy Provine) disrobing down to her slip to a jangling rock ‘n’ roll beat? The opening credits are on the left, and we see her through a window on the right—with a swinging light above her, lockers behind her, and a bored expression on her face. Where is she? Turns out getting ready to work at a diner in Oklahoma City in 1932. Basically we’re peeping toms. B movies sell sex and boom here it already is.

I remember being surprised—about 25 years ago—when I found out there’d been another “Bonnie & Clyde” released about 10 years before the famous Beatty-Dunaway version, but the real surprise, now that I think about it, is that there was just the one. The Bonnie and Clyde story is made for exploitation. It’s got built-in sex, violence and rebellion, and the majority of it can be filmed in the hinterlands, where it’s cheap to film. Shouldn’t they have made more of them?

He's my all
The focus with this one, as the title implies, is on Bonnie. Clyde isn’t even Clyde. He’s Guy Barrow, with Jack Hogan doing a kind of Elvis Presley thing: anachronistic sideburns, Tupelo twang. If you think of him as Elvis and Provine as Jayne Mansfield, it’s an ultimate 1950s oomph matchup.

Parker is played as a bit of a sneering harridan. All the men make a play for her, and she belittles them all, calling them small-timers. She’s the force behind everything, the will, and does a lot of the killing. She’s a very, very bad person. Then, oddly, near the end, she gets religion in a way that nice guys everywhere will shake their heads over.

A nice guy named Paul (William Stevens), you see, asks to borrow her phone but doesn’t give her the once-over or get too close or sloppy. The opposite. He’s simply phoning a sick friend to let him know the reading assignments. Bonnie assumes he’ a teacher but he’s a night-school student looking to become an architect, and he explains what that is without patronizing her. He’s not just nice but down-to-earth, and the movie implies he’s the chance she blew. Later, when Guy tells her she’s lost her nerve, she responds, “I didn't lose my nerve, I know right where I left it,” and you get the feeling it’s here, talking with Paul, particularly when her dying words are “Paul … Paul…”—which the cops mishear as “Guy… Guy…” He was her potential redemption, the movie implies. Of course, by then, she’d killed nearly a dozen people, some in cold blood, but what the hey. Give a girl a chance.

The filmmakers muck with the history of course. I didn’t know, or I’d forgotten, that the real Bonnie Parker was married before—to Roy Thornton, a burglar—but here he’s named Duke Jefferson (Richard Bakalyan) and doing 175 years in federal prison for murder. The real Bonnie never saw hubby again after 1929 but this Bonnie helps Duke break out of prison—not for anything romantic, mind you, but to help them rob banks. Is it awkward, this threesome? Naw. By this point, Bonnie is cold to Guy, too. Early on, the two go at it hot and heavy but that ends abruptly. Not sure why. Other than him being small-time.

Wasn’t his brother a bigger deal in real life? Here, he’s named Chuck rather than Buck—and played by Joe Turkel, everyone’s favorite bartender in “The Shining”—but he’s barely in it. He and wifey show up at Bonnie and Guy’s ranch house, unknowingly bringing the cops along. After they shake them, the four camp out in the woods, but the cops find them there, too, and, blam, there goes Chuck. He doesn’t pull even one job with his brother.

Frank Hamer? He’s Tom Steel (Douglas Kennedy), forthright, sharp, and right on their heels from the beginning. But they slip through his clutches twice, and then he’s MIA, and then he shows up in the final reel for the big blowout. So odd. He’s supposed to be the hero but the movie makes him look rather incompetent.

Cuckoo’s nest
Other odd choices. It has them dying on June 6, 1934, rather than May 23, 1934. Didn’t writer Stanley Shpetner and director William Witney have an encyclopedia? A local library? Or were they trying to avoid a copyright lawsuit?

Even so, for what it is, a drive-in movie from American International, it’s not bad. We get a few surprising, sharp moments and some not-bad dialogue. I like the kid sticking them up. There’s a fun bit with hiking boy scouts coming across their path whose comical, portly scoutmaster seemed familiar to me. Turns out it's Sydney Lassick, good ol' Charlie Cheswick from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” making his screen debut. Nice to see you, Cheswick.

Production-wise, they don’t do a poor job of it, either. One wonders how they afforded all those 1930s cars and then you do the math: It’s just 24 years prior. It would be like us doing a movie set in 2000. That seems shocking to me. From 1934 to 1958, we extracted ourselves from the Great Depression, went through World War II, entered the atomic age and the Cold War era, and went faster than the speed of sound. We went into outer space. What’s happened since 2000? Yes, 9/11 and COVID, but both led to backbiting and/or problematic policies. Mostly our phones got smarter and we got dumber.

Posted at 07:44 AM on Saturday March 02, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1950s   |   Permalink  

Friday March 01, 2024

Trolling Thunder

They released the Hunter Biden transcript on Thursday, and amid the bloviating there's some expert trolling of Donald Trump and the monstrously hypocritical Republican party by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA). Warmed my heart.

SWALWELL: Any time your father was in government, prior to the Presidency or before, did he ever operate a hotel?

BIDEN: No, he has never operated a hotel.

SWALWELL: So he's never operated a hotel where foreign nationals spent millions at that hotel while he was in office?

BIDEN: No, he has not.

SWALWELL: Did your father ever employ in the Oval Office any direct family member to also work in the Oval Office?

BIDEN: My father has never employed any direct family members, to my knowledge.

SWALWELL: While your father was President, did anyone in the family receive 41 trademarks from China?

BIDEN: No.

SWALWELL: As President and the leader of the party, has your father ever tried to install as the chairperson of the party a daughter-in-law or anyone else in the family?

BIDEN: No. And I don't think that anyone in my family would be crazy enough to want to be the chairperson of the DNC.

SWALWELL: Has your father ever in his time as an adult been fined $355 million by any State that he worked in?

BIDEN: No, he has not, thank God.

SWALWELL: Anyone in your family ever strike a multibillion dollar deal with the Saudi Government while your father was in office?

BIDEN: No.

SWALWELL: That's all I've got.

Encore. 

Posted at 09:17 PM on Friday March 01, 2024 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday February 28, 2024

Clemente ‘Clem’ Bradbury-Lundegaard (2023-2024)

Day 8

We didn’t even have him 11 days. 

The day before Valentine’s Day, my wife saw a photo of two cats on the website of Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS), where she’s a volunteer dog walker, and gave me a look like a kid in a Lassie movie. Can we keep ‘em? Can we? He was a tabby with big, cute ears; his sister was a tortoiseshell. After our cat Jellybean died last December, we talked about how, next time, we’d get two cats, so they could keep each other company when we were away; so we wouldn’t worry they were lonely. These were those two, Patricia was saying. They were from the same litter, bonded, and sleeping together. Somebody had left them in a box on the doorstep of an animal shelter, and that shelter transferred them to SAS on Feb. 7. They were just two months old.

Though they were recovering from neuter surgery, SAS let us take them home that afternoon. They were tiny things—as light as dust bunnies, I thought—but the boy didn’t seem worse for wear. He left the cat carrier with a tough-guy walk and explored the joint like he owned it. He was mouthy, and if he wanted your attention, and your back was turned, he’d scramble up your body like Spider-Man, then perch on your shoulder, meowing. 

“Right now it’s endearing,” Patricia said with a laugh that first night. 

For those first few days, I was a little out of it. As we sat at SAS filling out the paperwork, what was initially sniffles got worse. I’m guessing it was just a bad cold—all my COVID tests were negative—but I missed some of what was going on.

Patricia floated the idea of naming the girl Daphne, and I was an immediate no. “Why?” she asked. Overhearing, the SAS woman taking our information said, “And you can name the other one Fred!”

“That’s why,” I said. “‘Scooby Doo.’”

Eventually Patricia landed on Maisie for the girl. I forget what other names she’d floated for the boy but I kept shooting them down and she kept pestering me for a replacement. One morning, she asked while I was at my computer, and I had the Baseball Reference page up, with its revolving photos of ballplayers in the upper left hand corner.

“What about Clemente?” I said.

“Clem!” she said. “I love it!”

“Clemente.”

Clem.”

At this point I was more worried about the girl. Clemente had his tough-guy walk and seemed more athletic. He was able to jump onto the bed, for example, while she had to find a foothold and do it in stages. The bed thing didn’t last long anyway. Though they understood the litterbox idea, one of them wound up pooping on the bed the first night. Worse, it was a little loose, a little runny. And it kept happening. The second or third night, Patricia thought that if she slept on the floor, next to their cat bed, they’d be that much closer to the litterbox in the bathroom and use it. Nope. In the morning, Maisie jumped onto the bed and peed near my pillow. That was that. We became a closed bedroom door family, and they would sleep in the heated cat bed out in the living room. Once we got the diarrhea problem under control, we thought, we’d work on bathroom protocols.

That was a common refrain: Once we solve this, then that. We didn’t know we would never solve this; we didn’t know we’d never get to that.

* * *

On the first Wednesday, Patricia bought a pumpkin supplement from Mud Bay, and a day later picked up cat food and a probiotic from SAS, all to help with the diarrhea problem. But whose problem was it? We had just the one litter box and didn’t know whose stools were getting firmer and whose weren’t. But we had our guess. Maisie was filling out, Clem wasn’t.

“Is he not eating?” I asked.

“He is,” Patricia said. “Just as not as much as she, I guess.”

SAS told us to have them checked out by a vet within a week but they didn’t tell us how to get the vet appointment. Our old vet, Four Paws, wasn’t taking new customers—new animal customers—so Patricia asked around and went with Jet City Animal Clinic, which was nearby, but the earliest appointment she could get was Monday, February 26—two weeks from when we got them. And with the way Clem was going, that seemed too far in the future. He needed help now. So on Friday Patricia made an appointment for the following Monday. By Saturday morning, he was so thin that the following Monday seemed too far in the future. So she took Clem to Urban Animal on Capitol Hill, which was open on weekends, and where subcutaneous fluids were given, and blood and fecal tests taken.

On Sunday, while Patricia was away, I googled his symptoms and wondered if it wasn’t worms or parasites. I was texting her my theories, while Clem lay on a heating pad in the window seat in my office. Then he went over to the sleeping bag in the corner. Was he squatting? Peeing?

He was shitting. Almost liquid.

“No no no no no no,” I said, picking him up, and holding my free hand under him as I ran to the bathroom and the litterbox.

“The pumpkin is doing nothing,” I texted Patricia.

To friends I began quoting Kurt Vonnegut’s brother, Bernard, who, after he became a father for the first time, wrote to Kurt: “Here I am, cleaning shit off of everything.” We were in the laundry room a lot. We began to use a separate bag for shit-stained items.

The fecal test came back negative for parasites, while the blood tests were a bunch of numbers—we didn’t know what they meant. But the vet at Jet City—our Monday appointment—took one look at them and said: “He needs an IV.” He recommended a couple of places. BluePearl was within walking distance from our condo.

And the vet there said, no, Clem didn’t need an IV.

Patricia exploded. Patricia never explodes. But this was her third vet trip in three days and we weren’t getting any closer to a solution.

At least they gave us a gameplan. The diarrhea might be viral-related, the vet said, and recommended a regimen of oral liquid antibiotics. She showed us how to administer them: hold the cat firmly, cheeks back, then edge the syringe toward the side of their mouth until it opened. I got fairly adept at it.

In a follow-up email explaining the blood numbers, Saturday’s Urban Animal vet seemed to agree with the BluePearl vet:

For the most part, this bloodwork is normal for a kitten of this age. The SDMA result is difficult to interpret since this kitten is so young and there is no accurate reference range. 

The potassium is mildly high and can be seen with kidney disease, but in Clem's case the kidney values are normal. In some cases parasites can cause an elevated potassium. The significance and the cause of the mild elevation in potassium is not readily seen from the bloodwork and fecal at this time.  

If Clem Fails to gain weight, I would consider other diagnostics such as abdominal ultrasound.  

By Wednesday, Clem’s stools were getting bloody. When I patted his butt with toilet paper after he pooped—a necessity with the diarrhea—it came away with less poop and more blood. And his anus was … was it supposed to look like that? Patricia called it distended. When the BluePearl vet gave us a follow-up call, and we mentioned all of this, she recommended a return visit.

Again, the IV route was discussed, and again it was rejected. A normal PCV or Packed Cell Volume, was 30-35, she said. His was 38: elevated but not dangerous. If it was above 42 she would recommend hospitalization. All his other labs were within the normal range, too. She gave us prescriptions for two anti-diarrhea meds, both orals, meaning by Thursday poor Clem was taking seven different oral doses a day. We also switched his diet. Both the vet, and a friend, had recommended chicken + rice for animals with diarrhea. And holy crap did he like it. He attacked it. He ate like a champ. It warmed Patricia’s heart.

And for a day and a half he filled out. His stools were still slightly soft, with blood snaking through them, and his butt still sore, but he seemed to be getting better. Didn’t he? Per the vet’s instructions, I also began putting a warm compress on his backside for about a minute or so. He didn’t seem to mind this. Maybe it felt OK. Maybe it was because we were doing it in the bathroom sink, and he had a fascination with sinks. Most of his feedings now took place on the kitchen counter—to keep his food separate from Maisie’s—and afterwards he’d stroll over to the sink, where I might be washing dishes, and just stare, fascinated. When the water was turned off, he'd climb down and nose around.

But this was him at his most curious. After a meal he would normally crouch at the edge of the counter and stare down. To Maisie, the world was a toy. She zipped, batted things, chased sparkle balls. He wasn’t doing any of this. And his tough guy walk had become a stiff-legged gait—we assumed because of the distended backside. Once he got past it, we thought, he’ll be OK.

Once that, then this.

He was in my thoughts all the time. All of this happened during the Seattle International Film Festival’s Noir Festival, to which, several weeks earlier, I’d bought a pass. But between my sickness and Clem’s, I didn’t use it much. I went Tuesday night (“Black Tuesday” with Edward G. Robinson) and then again Thursday night (“La Bete Humaine” with Jean Gabin), and I was thinking of staying for the second and final feature. But I was too tired and I wanted to see how Clem was doing. A drink maybe? No, I was too tired and I wanted to see Clem.

When I called my father and step-mom during a late Friday afternoon walk, I went through the trials and tribulations of our week. What a shame, they said, that we couldn’t enjoy the fun and kittenish moments. “I don’t know,” I said. “When we first got them, and our friends came over to coo, etc., I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t until all this happened that he really entered my heart.”

Besides, I said, we were on the upswing. We were beginning to get past it.

* * *

When I got home, he was laying on the window seat in my office. I kept an eye out so he didn’t poop again but missed it when he left a big wet stain near the window. The night before he’d driven Patricia batty by suddenly peeing in the pantry. “What are you doing?” she’d admonished. But that pee didn’t smell like pee. Neither did this.

“Doesn’t he seem thin again?” Patricia said. “Yesterday, he was eating a lot and his tail was up. Now…”

“And we’re down to one antibiotic dose.”

That night he stopped eating. He stopped drinking. He didn’t look comfortable and couldn’t get comfortable. He’d stay in my lap a few seconds but would move off, and crouch nearby. In the kitchen I watched as he bent over his water dish, put his mouth close, and just stared.

“Maybe we need to go to the vet again?” I said.

“I don’t know,” Patricia said.

Another vet trip so soon seemed like a lot for him. I thought I might be overreacting. “Let’s see how he is in the morning.”

I woke up at 4 AM with a panicked thought: What if the wet spots that didn’t smell of urine weren’t urine? What if something inside him had broken? I found him, not in his bed, but sitting in the dining room, like he’d never gone to sleep, like he couldn’t get comfortable enough to go to sleep. BluePearl, it turned out, was closed weekends, but there was a clinic in Shoreline—the place that had diagnosed Jellybean’s cancer last September. I phoned, and they picked up right away. Patricia joined me in the kitchen as I explained to the clinic what was going on. We left shortly after 5 AM.

“Am I overreacting?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Patricia said.

At the vet they took Clem in his cat carrier and told us to wait in the lobby. We waited. And waited. And then, in a separate room, the vet, Dr. A., told us they’d run a test and didn’t like the looks of Clem’s kidney. She said we had two paths. One involved stabilizing Clem and then running a battery of tests.

And the other? I asked. She paused, and looked delicately at us.

“First option,” I said.

After another half hour or so in the lobby, the nurse came out with an update. Did they know what the problem was?

No. They couldn’t even stabilize him. They were losing him. They recommended we say goodbye.

Like that.

We found him in the back room lying on a table, an IV tube in his little leg. We could see his belly going up and down rapidly. Dr. A. tried to explain how euthanasia worked—the first shot to relax him and put him to sleep, and the second shot to…

We know, we said. We’d just been through it.

* * *

Our apartment at 9 AM felt eerily empty and calm, and we both tried to deal with it however we could. I went into my office to write it all out; Patricia went into the kitchen and began throwing away leftover medicines and syringes. She did the laundry with the pooped-stained towels. She was cleaning it all out but there was no cleaning it all out or writing it all out. It just kept hurting. 

I don’t know how it felt to Maisie. I don’t know how she misses her brother. We just know she hasn’t slept in their bed since. The point of the two cats was to make sure they wouldn’t be lonely when we were away, but I wonder if we made sure a part of her would always be lonely.

I now assume it was acute kidney failure: the lethargy, the stiff gait, the sudden peeing that didn’t smell like pee, all are indications—I read that day—of kidney malfunction. But why didn’t it register in the tests? Did he arrive with it and it got worse? Was it a consequence of the week-long dysentery and dehydration? Or did the infection that caused the dysentery—if an infection caused the dysentery—travel to his kidneys?

We don’t know. I just know he got a raw deal. Everybody let him down—starting with SAS. They were bad partners. Both kittens were neutered the day we picked them up, and they were supposed to come with cones, and didn’t. Nobody even mentioned it. It wasn’t until Maisie’s stomach became distended that Patricia brought her back and demanded to see a vet. That was on the same day Clem returned to BluePearl for his penultimate vet visit. Because the cat carrier was at SAS, for Maisie’s re-surgery, I had to take Clem there in a tote bag. And then I had to take him home in a cardboard cat carrier they provided. He’d already beshat it and himself when they handed him over. He was such a mess we had to wash him in the bathroom sink at home. Another indignity. 

Mostly I think of those oral meds I gave him—particularly the anti-diarrhea one he hated—all of which did nothing. “Sorry, buddy,” I’d say, “but this’ll help you get better.” The last dose I gave him was around 6 PM Friday. Afterwards he gave me such an exhausted look, it nearly broke my heart.

“Sorry, buddy,” I said. “But we’re almost done with it.”

We had him fewer than 11 days. He had fewer than 11 weeks.

Xoxo

Day 1

Posted at 10:42 AM on Wednesday February 28, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Friday February 23, 2024

Movie Review: Safety Last! (1923)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Last month my wife and I went to see Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last!” at the Paramount Theater with its famed Wurlitzer Organ. Silent Movie Monday used to be about once or twice a month and now it’s just four times a year, but the place was packed. Maybe they need to do more of these?

Oddly, I think I’ve only seen “Safety Last!” on a big screen. The first time was in 2006 with my friend Jessica Thompson, at, I believe, the Heights Theater in Minneapolis—a renovated old-timey theater near a renovated old-timey Dairy Queen. I love that area.

I’m going to say something sacrilege here, and apologies in advance: I’m not a huge Harold Lloyd fan. I realized that watching this a second time.

Apologies
Lloyd is usually listed as the third great player in the great silent film comedy triumverate—after Chaplin and Keaton. And, yes, he’s not at the same level as the other two, but for me it’s more. They make me laugh, he doesn’t. Much. And I like the Tramp. I like the Buster character. I identify with those guys. I don’t really like the Harold character. I like his haplessness and stunts. But I don’t like the way he strives.

Who is the Harold character? In “Safety Last!” he’s a kid from South Bend, Indiana, who goes to the big city while promising the girl back home, AKA The Girl (Mildred Davis), that they’ll get married when he makes his fortune. She responds “You’d better not fail!” and he gets a worried look on his face. That’s fun, but for the rest of the movie he pretends he’s something he’s not, and that’s less fun. He puffs himself up. In doing so, he screws over friends. Sometimes he screws over friends for no reason whatsoever.

Early on, he sends The Girl a lavalier. He can’t afford it, but he hocks the phonograph without telling his roommate and pal “Limpy” Bill (Bill Strother). Is the phonograph Limpy’s? Is it theirs? Maybe it’s the landlord’s, to whom they owe money, and from whom they hide behind hung jackets? (That’s an early, clever bit.) We never know. But he does it without consulting anyone. 

At one point, he meets a friend, a cop, then brags to Limpy that he’s got such an “in” with the police that he can knock over that cop over there. Go ahead, he tells his friend. I’ll get on all fours behind him, and you push him over. Of course, by the time they do this, it’s no longer his friend but a cop Harold doesn’t know (Noah Young). And that cop spends the rest of the movie in pursuit of poor “Limpy” Bill.

All this time, too, Harold's been lying in letters to The Girl back home. He tells her he’s doing great at De Vore Dept. Store—that he’s a general manager or some such—when he’s bottom rung. He's a sales clerk. He lies so well, in fact, and starves himself and screws over his friend so much, in order to send the jewelry, that The Girl’s mother urges her to visit before she loses such a prize catch. When she shows up, he works overtime pretending he is what he isn’t.

Then we get the scheme that makes the movie famous. He overhears the general manager say he’ll give a $1,000 bonus to anyone who can concoct a scheme to get people into the department store. At that point he remembers “Limpy” Bill scaling the outside of a building to escape the enraged cop, and he makes a deal with Bill, 50-50, for Bill to do the same at De Vore. That’ll draw a crowd! And it does. Harold will start it out, then swap places with Bill on the second floor. Except the cop hears about the stunt, suspects it’s Bill, shows up, and chases poor Bill around. So it’s no go on the second floor, and then on the third a bunch of secretaries are watching. Etc. Harold winds up scaling all … is it 12 stories? … despite pigeons, a dog, a mouse, construction guys, and an errant rope.

And he gets The Girl.

Here's a question that doesn't need askng but I can't help myself: Do any of the gawkers actually go into the store?

All along the clocktower
Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock is of one of cinema’s most indelible images, inspiring homages from the likes of Jackie Chan and Martin Scorsese. It’s also an apt metaphor for life. We’re all just hanging from a clock tower. And every moment, we’re slipping, slipping.

I like The Girl. Mildred Davis, who became Lloyd’s real-life wife, looks amazingly modern. You put her, sans cloche hat, into the 2020s, nobody would blink.

I also liked the fact that there are several Black extras, including a woman with a baby, and it doesn’t get embarassingly racist.

I just wish I liked the Harold character more.

Posted at 07:10 AM on Friday February 23, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - Silent   |   Permalink  

Thursday February 22, 2024

Schindler's Gist

The Hollywood Reporter has posted an oral history on the making of “Schindler's List,” which is both fun and sobering. Here's a sobering quote from Ralph Fiennes:

FIENNES I was getting ready to do a scene. I was standing, not shooting, but I had my SS uniform and coat on, and a little Polish lady came up and said something, smiling. I had at that time befriended a lady called Batia [Grafka], who was the head of props and was Polish. This woman said something, and Batia's face clouded over. I said, “What did she say?” Batia said, “She said, 'The Germans weren't such bad people.'”

And here's one that's touches the heart. Steven Spielberg talking about his friend Robin Williams:

SPIELBERG Robin knew how hard it was for me on the movie, and once a week, every Friday, he’d call me on the phone and do comedy for me. Whether it was after 10 minutes or 20 minutes, when he heard me give the biggest laugh, he’d hang up on me.

The Williams one reminds me of this great story about Mel Brooks. The Fiennes one reminds me of Faulkner's line: The past isn't dead; it isn't even past. 

Posted at 01:21 PM on Thursday February 22, 2024 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Tuesday February 20, 2024

Movie Review: Maestro (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

I didn’t like them. Sorry. I thought they were affected and annoying. Or he was affected and she was annoying. I came away thinking they were monumentally privileged people making bad decisions. It felt like watching a couple air decades-long resentments at a dinner party, and that’s not my idea of a party.

“Maestro” focuses on the great heterosexual relationship of a great homosexual, which … sure? It feels like there’s a story there, and I guess this is it, but shouldn’t we have focused more on the music? Or felt the music? The genius of it?

Maybe I’m just tone deaf.

Peanuts
Elliptical is the word that kept coming to mind as I watched. Then I looked up its definition to make sure I was using it correctly. 

  1. : of, relating to, or marked by extreme economy of speech or writing
  2. : of or relating to deliberate obscurity

I was thinking of the second definition but the first applies, too. There’s extreme economy in scenes—we zip past years and decades, and from black-and-white to color—while there’s deliberate obscurity within the longer set pieces. Or writer-director Bradley Cooper is the first, and actor Bradley Cooper is the second. Characters talk around matters. Do we ever hear the word gay or homosexual? Instead, it’s “You’re getting sloppy.” It’s “Don’t you dare tell her the truth!” Which, yes, is the way people talked about homosexuality back then. It’s also the way couples today and forever talk about the most important things in their relationship. Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre (Cooper and Carey Mulligan) have their shorthand like the rest of us. They have their deliberate obscurity for fear of looking too deeply into the thing.

The movie ends with Bernstein asking an interviewer “Any questions?” and here’s mine: Why does she air her resentments when she does? He announces to the family that he’s finally finished his mass, “Mass: XVII. Pax: Communion,” so why does she jump in the pool, fully clothed, and sit at its bottom like Benjamin Braddock? Shouldn’t the moment be celebrated?

Well, it’s the boy, obviously, Tommy (Gideon Glick). Meeting him at a party at their home in the Dakota, Leonard pats his hair, and kisses him in the hallway outside, where they’re caught by Felicia; then he still him to their summer home. He holds hands with him during the premiere of the Mass. But he’s had his flings before, and she knew who he was when they married. Why is this different?

Because Tommy is less fling than muse. She thought the boys were the sex and she was the love, but they were the love, too. Or at least Tommy is. From an earlier conversation:

Leonard: “Summer sang in me a little while, it sings in me no more.” Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Felicia: If the summer doesn’t sing in you, then nothing sings in you. And if nothing sings in you, then you can’t make music.

And he can’t. He’s a great conductor, a great educator, who’s produced a few great works, but not many, and everyone, particularly him, is wondering where it all is. And then the boy shows up and he finds it. He finds summer. That’s why she dunks herself in the pool and leaves his things in the hallway outside. All the time she thought she’d been helping and then she begins to wonder if it was the opposite. Or maybe she began to wonder, with the women’s movement, “What about me?”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? The second half of the movie is a clash of people who denied what they were, only to be allowed it late in life by worldwide movements—women’s and gay. It comes a bit late for her. The parade passes her by.

Throughout I had questions about his place in American culture. How did his involvement with “Omnibus” happen? How was it received? One assumes well. He educated the populace. The movie gives us Snoopy, small and large, but not the “Peanuts” of it all. Bernstein was there, early on, beloved by Charles Schulz:

I was born in 1963 and LEONARD BERNSTEIN was a name I always heard but didn’t know why. Probably because he did so many things: conductor, composer, activist. Probably because most of what he did was above me. Is. The movie helps with this but not enough. What did he do differently as a conductor? Why did he stand out? The movie feels like it was made for people who know what conductors actually do and that’s not me. It’s not many of us. It’s like we need someone to educate us on it. 

Pillows
My favorite scene was after Felicia admonishes—demands—that Lenny not to tell their daughter, Jamie (Maya Hawke), the truth about the rumors she’s heard. So they talk. Father and daughter. It’s the most extended scene with one of his children. Generally he doesn’t seem too immersed in their lives. They’re there, in the background, as he moves through whatever the story is, but here the kid is finally part of the story. So they walk and sit and talk in the usual elliptical manner. And he tells that her people are just jealous.

Jamie: So those rumors aren’t true.
[Pause]
Leonard: No, darling.
Jamie: Thank you … for coming to talk to me. I’m relieved.

And you get this absolute sadness in his eyes. His daughter is relieved he’s not who he really is. It’s heartbreaking. For a moment, it looks like he’s about to come clean, but no. He doesn’t come clean until Felicia bates him to do it. He follows her lead.

I liked a lot of Cooper's directorial touches: how, in the beginning, the long curtains of his bedroom look like the curtains of a stage about to rise; how the note from his daughter floats down to him through the Dakota’s stairwell. I liked the doctor who tells her she has cancer—the way he sits on the stool and holds her hand and breaks the news without bullshit. God, I love this guy, whoever he is. And the scene where Leonard screams into a pillow because she's dying. I’ve been there a lot lately. The pain our pillows have felt.

“Maestro” tries to take in the immensity of the century as it relates to art and culture and politics and sex, and maybe that’s too much for a two hour movie. There’s a lot of talent in the room trying to depict all the talent that used to be in the room, and Lord knows I appreciate the attempt. But the movie gets a lot less interesting to me when she arrives. Then it becomes about them. And I just didn’t care about them.

Posted at 07:50 AM on Tuesday February 20, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Monday February 19, 2024

Brant Alyea (1940-2024)

I remember his card more than him. He came to the Minnesota Twins in my first baseball heyday, 1970-71, and had a good first season and a great first month, but he didn't break through the Killebrew-Oliva-Carew-Tovar-Cardenas collective for me. But I was happy to get his card. He was a Twin. 

Alyea, it turns out, was a big bopper in the minors who first played in the Majors for the Washington Senators (II). On Sept. 12, 1965, in his Major League hitting debut, he pinchhit for Don Blasingame with one out and two on in the 7th and the Senators ahead of the Angels 3-0. And he went deep off Rudy May. On the first Major League pitch he saw. How do you like them apples? 

Apparently the Senators didn't. Or they saw a weakness in his game. Or they were just dumb. Because after that not-bad cup of coffee (.231/.286/.692 in eight games), he didn't make the squad again until July 1968. And in late March 1970 he was traded to the AL West champion Minnesota Twins for Joe Grzenda and Charlie Walters—two other Twins I don't recall much about.

Alyea must've felt freed from Senatorial shackles because with the Twins he had an April for the ages: .415/.483/.774, including 5 homeruns and 23 RBIs in 17 games. He became the talk of the Twin Cities and made the cover of Sporting News in early May. And then, well, a little regression to the mean. But a nice 1970 season: .291/.366/.531. He drove in 61 and hit 16 homers in 94 games. I guess he and Jim Holt platooned in left. But by then he was already 30, and he either aged fast, got injured, or the league figured him out, because the next year his line was not good: .177/.282/.241. His power was gone: 28 hits and just six for extra bases. 

That November he was a Rule 5 acquisition by the Oakland A's, who traded him to the Cardinals in May 1972, and then this line on Baseball Reference: “Brant Alyea returned to original team on July 23, 1972.” What does that mean? “Here, have him back”? Less than two years after he made the cover of Sporting News, he was out of baseball. Apparently he went on to run crap tables at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. Shame he didn't last a little longer. With all those vowels in his name, he could've become a New York Times crossword staple. He died at home on Feb. 4.

Posted at 08:02 PM on Monday February 19, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Sunday February 18, 2024

I've Seen the Future and It's Stupid

This thread from George Conway III made me laugh:

Yep.

Posted at 11:05 AM on Sunday February 18, 2024 in category Culture   |   Permalink  

Tuesday February 13, 2024

Movie Review: The Zone of Interest (2023)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In case you’re wondering: Yes, Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz for much of the war, responsible, in his own telling, for gassing and incinerating 2 ½ million human beings. And yes, he did have that awful haircut.

And in case you need the comeuppance the movie doesn’t give you: In March 1946, he was captured by British soldiers in Schleswig-Holstein. He insisted he was a simple gardener but the soldiers removed an expensive ring he was wearing with his name on the inside band, and there went that. In April, he testified in the Nuremberg trials, then was put on trial in Poland in March 1947. Found guilty on April 2, he was hanged on April 16. At Auschwitz. He was killed near the crematorium where he helped kill 2 ½ million Jews.

Sadly, his wife Hedwig remarried, moved to the U.S., and lived to be 90.

Life is beautiful
As soon as I heard the movie’s concept—what was life like for the family of the commandant at Auschwitz?—I was intrigued. I mostly wondered if it was mere character study or if writer-director Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”), working from a novel by Martin Amis, focused on a kind of insular drama. They’re living next to the great horror of the 20th century, but they think the story is this—the little drama they’re going through. 

It’s a little of both. The movie opens with the family having a picnic near a river, and at one point we see Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) taking it all in, breathing in deeply, and appreciating all he has. Then, damn, back to work. He holds meetings. Efficiencies are suggested. While one furnace is cooling, he’s told, another can be ready. It can be around-the-clock. That makes sense to him. He approves. 

At home we see Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) tending her garden. There are chores (mostly done by servants), and getting the kids off to school (ditto), but somebody has to organize all that, and that’s her. New clothes arrive. Or new-old clothes. They’re dumped on the dining room table. Some are kids clothes. Do we want any of them? Hedwig tries on a fur coat and admires herself in a full-length mirror. She has tea with neighbor ladies who talk and gossip. You see this diamond? one says. I found it in some toothpaste. They’re sneaky that way.

That’s the character study. The little drama arrives when Höss finds out he’s been promoted to deputy inspector of all concentration camps and the family will be relocated to Oranienburg, near Berlin. Isn’t that good news? No. He doesn’t want to leave. And Hedwig, when she finds out, really doesn’t want to leave. She puts her foot down. He can go back to Germany, she says. Why should they go, too? They’ve built this beautiful life here, amidst the lebensraum Herr Hitler promised (and delivered!), and she’s the envy of everyone who visits. Her mother is envious. It’s theirs. Why should they go? No, they won’t go. Life is too beautiful at Auschwitz.

The movie, or at least this mini-conflict within the movie, is reminiscent of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” isn’t it? But instead of the much talked-about 1904 World’s Fair, there’s the barely talked-about horror next door. 

How does this horror manifest itself? In small ways—like in the above ladies-who-lunch dialogue and sorting through kids clothes. There are thrumping nightmares from a sleepwalking child and disturbing closeups of flora. During a weekend excursion in the river, Rudolf steps on human remains. Hedwig’s mother leaves abruptly, apparently horrified by the smokestacks working in the distance, and afterwards a disgruntled Hedwig threatens the housekeeper—reminding her that her husband could turn her into ash. In Rudolf’s office, he schtups a female prisoner, then washes his genitalia in a basement sink. They are being warped by it all, if they didn’t arrive that way.

The great horror
Another question I had going in: Does the movie isolate the Germans, make them an aberration in history, or does it make us wonder what horrors we’re ignoring as we putter around our own (real or metaphoric) gardens? Thankfully, I think it leans toward the latter. At the least, the mood of the movie seeps in. Driving home, my wife commented on how pretty the lights at Denny Park looked, and it sounded like a horrific Hedwig line to me. It sounded wrong—the banality of it. And yes, it’s not the same but it’s enough the same. At the least, we’re all ignoring the great horror just to get through the day.

Höss, although we don’t see his comeuppance, does suffer a bit. After another round of meetings, descending an echoing staircase by himself, he begins to retch. Turns out he’s retching nothing; nothing is coming up. Then we flash forward to present-day Auschwitz: workers silently, methodically, preparing for the arrival of another batch, another trainload—but tourists now, witnesses to the evil we don't see in this movie. Then we flash back to Höss on the staircase. Was this a vision for him? Is that what led to the retching? 

See “Zone of Interest” in a movie theater. It’s worth it, but caveat: conversations could be stilted afterwards.

Posted at 07:08 AM on Tuesday February 13, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Sunday February 11, 2024

The Great Astonishments

“In the public mind and in the consciousness of many of its students the motion picture seems a magic thing, born yesterday and of full growth this morning. But magic and miracles always fade in the light of information. It is the vastness of what we do not know that creates the great astonishments.”

-- Terry Ramsaye, “A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925,” p. xxxvii

Posted at 02:34 PM on Sunday February 11, 2024 in category Books   |   Permalink  
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