Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Random Afternoon Notes

Earlier today, I wasn't sure where to start once I logged on. Do I write separate entries about the truly laugh-out-loud books of Celia Rivenbark, the high priestess of Southern humor? Would a "First Lines from Books I Love" entry be valid for Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits, even though I laughed the hardest at a passage toward the end of the book? And what about all the book and DVD mail I got today, stopped up by there being no mail yesterday, hence the deluge? So it seems it would be better to handle all of this like this.

I've read Celia Rivenbark's previous three books, laughed at many, many wicked thoughts of hers, but this, in Belle Weather, about the effects of Ambien usage on others, had me doubled over laughing so hard that I was getting very close to gravity pushing me off the couch:

"I read an interview with a woman who had gained more than 100 pounds by cooking while asleep. Every morning, girlfriend was mystified by the dirty dishes and empty refrigerator.

In the South, we usually just figure that the waterbugs got especially industrious overnight. Those suckers are big. It's not a huge stretch for me to assume that, one night, they'll just walk upstairs and ask me, in waterbug-speak, "Yo, girl, where's the FryDaddy? Me and the kids is hawn-gry!"

This led to starting Rivenbark's You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning, and this story, which speaks to me because of my preference for used books, not only because they're cheaper:

"Perhaps the saddest note that I have received over the years came from Julie Ann, who married a Yankee man a few years ago.

"On Mother's Day, I got to sleep late, which means about ten 'til eight," she wrote. "While I was sleeping, just my Mother's Day luck, my husband, who never does any domestic chores whatsoever, decided to get all aim-high and decided to clean the cast-iron skillet I'd left on top of the stove."

Hons, when I read those words, I had to sit down. Because I knew what was coming.

"This was the cast-iron skillet that I got from my great-aunt Connie Jo for my wedding shower ten years ago. It has been lovingly seasoned over the past ten years, having fried enough bacon to clog the arteries of the entire state of Texas. It has made hundreds of servings of fried okra, cornbread for countless holiday meals, gravies too numerous to mention, and our daughter and I made her very first blackberry cobbler together in this pan. It was seasoned to perfection, a gleaming black bottom that I could see my reflection in."

I poured myself a glass of wine to steady my nerves as I continued reading.

"Do you know what my boneheaded Yankee husband did? He came to me, all proud, saying he 'got my old skillet clean, you know, the one with all the crap on it.'"

Julie Ann said she got a little dizzy at this point.

"You mean my cast-iron skillet? The one I got for our shower? That one?"

Her duh-hubby just grinned, stupid and proud. "That's the one! It took more than an hour, but I got it clean!"

He had assaulted her skillet with a Chore Boy scrubbing pad, stripping off nearly ten years of perfect seasoning.

Julie Ann began to cry, the great heaving sobs of a Southern woman who has married an ignoramus. He brightened and offered to buy her a new skillet.

And that sums up how Southerners view life and love, y'all. New is not better. Shiny is overrated. These are truths we hold dear in the South, where we embrace imperfection for the gift that it is. Y'all can say "amen" now."

The bold emphasis is mine. And though there have been times when I've questioned exactly how Southern I am, having been born in Plantation, Florida, in South Florida, compared to a North Carolinian like Rivenbark and others in Georgia and those states, I believe I am still Southern, just as valid, with my love of grits, growing up saying "Yes'm" and "No'm," and all-you-can eat country-fried steak nights at Po Folks that were around when I was a baby and that I took part in when I was older.

That is also how I view life. When I was 11 and found that three-book Andy Rooney compilation in that thrift store, it wasn't new. It was used. And I didn't mind at all. I just wanted Rooney's words at the time, to learn how he did his life's work, and becoming inspired myself to be a writer. Now, I love used books not only because they're cheaper, but also because they've got history, like dollar bills that pass through many states, though more meaningful with the scrawls on certain pages, notes from loved ones expressing their hope that they enjoy the book. As Anne Brancroft once said, playing Helene Hanff, one of my heroes, in the movie 84 Charing Cross Road: "I love inscriptions on flyleafs and notes in margins. I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long-gone has called my attention to."

I've seen inscriptions and notes in the used books that have passed through here, that I haven't kept because I didn't feel that they could be part of my permanent collection. But I've never felt that desire to do it. I believe people can do anything they want with books, and certainly the same can be said of mine, but I know what my favorite parts are and where they are in a novel such as This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes. I don't mark up my books because I want those parts to remain part of the entire book. I look forward to them, but they are only one or a few parts of the book. They contribute to something whole. To point them out by pen mark is to lessen the spotlight on everything else in a favorite book.

I would be tempted to do such a thing with Buried in Books: A Reader's Anthology by Julie Rugg, which I received in the mail today. Rugg quotes from various and varied authors on such subjects as "Degrees of bibliomania," "Books' lives," and "'An early taste for reading'." Quotes from books, excerpts, all about the love for reading and the eccentricities that grow from it. To me, happy ones at that.

I will undoubtedly find other books I want to read through these quotes and excerpts, perhaps even quotes to use for the "Quote a Day" part at the top of the freelance writing job newsletter I compile every Sunday through Thursday evening for the following day. But last year, before What If They Lived? was published and I was thinking about what my second book should be, I bought from Staples a pack of legal notepads. I decided to use legal paper because it's what my maternal grandfather used in his practice as a lawyer. Plus, he used a legal pad to write a letter to me when I was a baby and it's one of my most prized posessions (Included in that list is a manual for a United Airlines Boeing 747-100 that one of my campmates gave to me during a weeklong aviation summer camp in 1998 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach). My grandfather, who I never knew a great deal (I was very young), was an admirable man and I want to follow many of his traits. This is one of them.

So when I read Buried in Books, I'll use a legal notepad to jot down titles to look up on Amazon, and page numbers for quotes to reference, to put into a file I keep of quotes to use for that newsletter. I think it's easier that way.

Today's mail was also a combination of books I really want to read, books that are part of the preliminary research I'm doing for my 1930s movie history book, and DVDs I've been anticipating, one well above the others that came.

There was From This Moment On, Shania Twain's autobiography (She's beginning a Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace in December 2012, and Meridith and I want to see her, being that she was a big part of '90s music for us), and The Supreme Court by William H. Rehnquist. Rehnquist explains the history of the Court and its proceedings, which probably haven't changed since 2001, save for Chief Justice John G. Roberts wearing a plain black robe like his colleagues (First among equals, but one vote like the rest of them), whereas Rehnquist wore a robe with four gold bars on each arm.

I also received Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman for the purpose of seeing how MGM is covered here, what details there are. I plan to use The Hollywood Studio System by Douglas Gomery as a reference book for my project since he covers all the studios in the time of the Hollywood Studio System, 1930-1949, and writes about the business side of them as well, though I'm obviously not sure yet how much detail Gomery gives about the inner workings of the studios, the day-to-day business, the activity on the lots. This one stays with me, though.

In DVDs, Travels with My Aunt came!!! And now that leaves Barfly and The Glass Menagerie, directed by Paul Newman, as the only other two movies I want on DVD so badly. In the case of Barfly, a Criterion Collection release, since Warner Bros. released it on DVD in 2002 with a commentary by director Barbet Schroeder, but a few years later it went out of print and prices for available copies were jacked up to $50 and then $100, and I'm hoping this total silence means that there will be a Criterion release one of these days.

As soon as I pulled Travels with My Aunt out of its packaging, I rewound the VHS tape I had bought of it and then put it in its case and into the Goodwill box. I'm thinking of buying the VHS tape of The Glass Menagerie off Amazon so that maybe it'll come to DVD soon. Then I'll have the convenience of not having to rewind a great deal to watch my favorite parts over and over, as it will be when I watch Travels with My Aunt again. And what made me the happiest fan of the movie is that Warner Archive remastered it. I saw a clip on the website and it looked pristine, and I know that will hold true for the entire thing.

Despite being a former film critic, I still have some pull with some DVD labels due to my affiliation with Film Threat, which I don't use that often, only when I really, really want a certain DVD, and ever since I got back to books, that hasn't hit as much anymore. Recently it did, when I found that the Microcinema label was releasing a film of a one-man show starring John Maxwell called "Oh, Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write?" Maxwell plays William Faulkner, and I just had to see this, just like with Give 'Em Hell, Harry starring James Whitmore, which I bought from the Goodwill center in Stevenson Ranch for $3 on VHS. For that one, it was also because of my passion for the American presidency, but I'm always fascinated by one-man shows, that one actor stands up on that stage and plays one personality for 90 minutes or so. Laurence Fishburne has done it with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Christopher Plummer has a one-man movie coming out called Barrymore, in which he plays John Barrymore, and the thinking is that since Whitmore got an Oscar nomination for that filmed stage performance as Harry Truman, there might be an attempt to try that with this one. It works for me since I want to write plays, and have thought about the one-man show a few times, and have seen two of them, one with Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx, and the other with Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, both at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center over these years, two of the only worthwhile experiences I've had in Santa Clarita.

And late last week, I found out that Acorn Media was releasing all of their On the Road with Charles Kuralt sets in a package called the Americana Collection, and it was delivered to my front door today. Kuralt is one of my heroes because I have the same curiosity toward life that he has, finding what looks interesting and talking about it. As is said in the copy on the back cover of Set 1 about Kuralt's program: "No topic was too small, no person too insignificant." And I can't wait to watch all of these because in the copy on the back cover of Set 2, it mentions "...the 87-year-old college professor turned janitor who proclaimed, "No honest work is undignified." It ties right into the way I live life, that no one is above me and no one is below me.

I've taken on an unusual small hobby. I Google hotels that my parents and I, or just my parents, have stayed at, such as America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas, next to Hooters Casino Hotel, and Fiesta Henderson, where my parents stayed for two nights on their latest business trip to Vegas (The business being a job interview for my dad which didn't pan out because they weren't factoring in the decades of experience he had when offering a salary), which they hated because the toilet never stopped (And only on their last night there before moving over to Hampton Inn & Suites also in Henderson did someone come to fix it), and they had a bad digestive experience at the Denny's there. I also look up the Hacienda Hotel and Casino near Boulder City (home to a rock ledge that you can walk on, and in front of you is the most stunning view of the vast desert, an ocean of sand that seems to ripple in almost the same way) and I read the reviews of all these places. I'm not necessarily looking for insight into how good or bad they are, but I like looking for the stories, ascertaining the personalities of the people who wrote the reviews, based on their words.

From that sprung another desire. I get no use out of The Signal in Santa Clarita. I worked for them once, I did my five weeks as interim editor of their weekend Escape section, and I liked putting together a section of a newspaper on my own, but not the stress of it. Since I don't connect to this valley at all, there's no reason for me to read it. So, in anticipation of moving one of these days to Henderson, why not connect to The Henderson Press? When Mom and Dad came home from the most recent trip, they brought me a copy of The Henderson Press, the latest issue then, since they publish every week (at the start, they published every two weeks).

I went to the website last night and found that they have every issue on the website in .pdf files. I've decided that I want to read all 37 issues, even the one that was brought home to me since I remember a few things from it, but not all. I want to learn as much as I can about my future hometown through its newspaper, which is written far better than The Signal. Even some clumsy wording found at the start of an interview in the first issue was no big deal to me because it was genuine. There was no posing as there is here. These writers clearly love their city and that's all that matters to me. I want to feel like I belong somewhere already, and this is a good start. And once we get there, I'll know everything there is to know about Henderson and there won't be a need for any adjustment beyond a physical one. Plus, it'll make the inevitable exploration a lot more fun.