Sunday came and trashed me out again


It was a quiet weekend, spent mostly writing or failing to write. (Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.) The word count is slow to increase, but I did make some progress on a short story I’ve been writing. Maybe not enough to meet the deadline I’m trying to write it against, but I’m hoping the deadline itself will light a fire under me. I’ve entertained more ridiculous hopes.

Writing at my weekly group didn’t go terrifically well, thanks at least in part to a half-assed prompt I was responsible for providing. In fairness, I delegated — “you give a subject, you give a verb, I’ll give an object” — but that probably explains the Frankenstein’s monster of the prompt we eventually wound up with, and the unsatisfying nature of my “story.” I share it partly for filler, and partly because it’s useful for me to remember the free-writing isn’t about creating finely tuned prose, or even necessarily about generating great ideas. It’s about just writing. And like I said up above, sometimes writing is indistinguishable from failing to write:

The airplane transformed the final note. They hadn’t heard it live, but in playback, with the rest of the background noise scrubbed from the track, it was obvious that the jetliner had done something strange to the sound. This wasn’t just interference, Max thought. The more he listened, the more he realized that weird background hum started early, messed with the overlay of vocals, pretty much ruined the whole song. If they couldn’t clean the recording, isolate and excise, they’d have to dump the whole thing and start over. And the talent wasn’t going to like that.

“That’s the airplane that crashed?” Ben asked. He’d flipped the volume down on the boards, but the hum was still there, ringing in Max’s ears.

“Disappeared,” he said. “They don’t know yet that if it crashed. Or at least they’re not saying.” He reached over Ben’s shoulder and shut the sound off. “But yeah, it happened later that night. But it doesn’t make sense. When we were rolling, the thing was just parked there, sitting on the tarmac.”

“And who’s idea was it to record way out there?” asked Ben.

“Who do you think?” said Max. He glanced up at the poster tacked to the studio wall. The rest of the band was visible in the background, just barely, but it was obvious who he meant. “Gustav insisted. You wouldn’t believe the hoops we had to jump through with the FAA just to get half an hour at that place.” He sighed. “But the man loves airplanes. We’d have done the video there if they’d let us truck in the lights.”

“Well,” Ben said, “I don’t know what to tell you. The sound was never going to be clean, but this… Whoever you had with you, they did an okay job rigging the mikes, but… You’re sure there weren’t a lot of planes flying overhead?”

“Just the one. It’s not a busy airport, mostly joyriders out on a sunny weekend afternoon. That’s the only reason we got the permit. I mean, we saw the guy who was heading out on the plane, but he didn’t even come out of the airport until we left.”

“Well it’s definitely mechanical,” Ben said, starting the sound back up. You can hear it most at the end, but it’s all over the track. Still, if the plane was shut down and there wasn’t any other equipment running…”

“Just the recording gear,” said Max. “The guy, I mean, he had some equipment with him, a couple of crates he was waiting to cart out to the plane. Stuff looked mechanical, maybe. He didn’t want anybody near them. I dunno, maybe there was something loaded already that was making that sound.”

“You say you didn’t hear it day-of, though.” Ben pointed at the boards. “Something big enough to pump out this, I gotta say you’d probably hear it on the ground.” He listened for a moment, as if lost in a trance. “It sound kind of rhythmic to you?”

“What?” Max asked. “No, it’s just — “ But the more he, too, listened, the more he had to admit there did seem to be some kind of rhythm to the hum, some kind of pattern, repeating, beyond the background noise. He couldn’t quite place it — hell, he hadn’t heard it at all before — but yeah, it might just be there.

“Can you pull out the rest?” he asked. “I know you said we couldn’t wipe the noise, but could we dampen everything else?”

“We could try,” Ben said. He reached for the levers, adjusting here and there, with the kind of engineering alchemy that Max had hired him for. “It won’t be pretty,” he finally said, “but here it is.”

It wasn’t pretty. It was still too high-pitched, too difficult to really decipher, too much like a hum that rattled angrily in his head. But yes, Max thought, it was something all right, something more than just noise.

It was a voice.

Some of that — too much, probably, in fact — owes itself (in a roundabout way) to my having watched the second episode of The Strain earlier that morning (while I tried and failed to do the Sunday crossword). It remains, two episodes in, not a very good show, although there also remain elements that work quite well, just obscured by all the stuff that doesn’t work at all. The stuff that doesn’t work, like the creepy vampire designs and the conspiratorial machinations of that storyline, make me want to keep giving it a chance. But man, there are a lot of characters I really don’t care about at all in the show, and most of them are supposed to be our heroes.

Last night, I watched 1947’s Black Narcissus, which maybe looks a little better than it actually is. It was a pioneering film in the use of Technicolor, and it (probably deservedly) won an Oscar for Best Cinematography, but I’m not convinced the story was as impressive as the visuals. It also takes a slightly weird turn near the end, becoming almost a horror movie, and while Deborah Kerr and David Farrar are both good, Kathleen Byron may lay on the Sister Crazy Eyes act a little too thick.

Then this afternoon, after the writing group, we went to see Lucy. Did you know, as humans, we make use of only 10% of our ridiculous plot-driven magical powers? It’s true! The movie was a little dumb, but interesting, probably neither as smart as it thought it was nor as silly and entertaining as it might have been. (Like the AV Club’s insightful review says: “Calling the whole thing dumb would be a disservice, but not because there’s anything especially smart going on under the movie’s surface.”) It wasn’t brilliant, but I enjoyed it. Scarlett Johansson is in a surprisingly interesting phase of her career, and if you’re going to get somebody to lend a certain gravitas to dopey pseudoscience, you could do a lot worse than Morgan Freeman.

Anyway, that was about it as far as my weekend goes.


I took another long weekend starting this Thursday. I didn’t do a whole lot with it, didn’t go anywhere more exciting than the dry cleaners, but it was nice to have a few days of just hanging out. I watched several episodes of Comedy Bang Bang, which is funny and weird and which my only sporadic listening to the podcast version hadn’t really prepared me for. I also watched a few episodes of Columbo, which, maybe surprisingly, still really holds up.

I also watched Julia, starring Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jason Robards. All three of them were nominated for Oscars for the movie, and it seems a little strange that Fonda is the only one of them who lost. Robards and Redgrave are both good, but they’re each only in the film for a small handful of scenes, and for my money Fonda’s a lot better. (Meryl Streep also pops up; it’s her first film role.) That said, I can’t really claim to have enjoyed it, and it’s a strange duck of a movie, not least of all because it’s quite possibly all untrue.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to the airport to pick up my parents. They’d been away for a couple of weeks on vacation in France — ah, the joys of retirement — and came back bearing gifts of Belgian chocolates and T-shirts.

Last night, I watched The Last Picture Show, which I’ve had out from Netflix for way too long. Wikipedia informs me, coincidentally enough, that “Julia was the first film to win both supporting actor categories since The Last Picture Show six years earlier in 1971.” (I hadn’t planned my movie-watching that way.) The winners for Last Picture Show were Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, and they’re both really good. Not a lot to say, but I really liked the movie.

No movies today — I passed up a chance to go see the new Transformers movie, which seemed like the smart play. Instead, I finished putting together the newest issue of Kaleidotrope. I’m really pleased with it, not least of all because of the (triumphant?) return of the horoscopes and fake advice column. There’s also some really great short stories and poems and a cartoon. I hope you’ll check it out.

And with my weekly writing group, I wrote this:

We were supposed to meet Franklin at the mouth of the cave, sometime around noon, but by the time we finally got there at half past, he was already gone. We could see that he’d been there, from the fresh ashes in a nearby circle of stones and the tin coffee cup tossed atop them, but of Franklin himself there was no other sign or note. Still, we weren’t worried — or at least I wasn’t.

“He probably just got impatient and decided go on ahead of us,” I told Sarah. “You know how your brother is.”

“That’s actually the only reason I’m here at all,” she said. “Because I know how my brother is.”

When Franklin had called us a week ago, it had been a surprise, the first time in maybe half a year that we’d heard from him. There’d been semi-regular reports from his doctors, whether or not his progress was any good, and presumably his and Sarah’s mother was still visiting him, if she could ever pull herself from the bottom of a bottle. But we hadn’t spoken to the kid since January, and hadn’t actually been in the same room with him since before Christmas, when he’d started having what had seemed like the worst of the attacks. When he asked us to meet him back at the cave — “you remember, don’t you, Mark?” he asked me — it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that we were hesitant.

“You’re out, Frank?” Sarah asked him. “How can you be out?”

I was on the other phone in the den, and I remember thinking we had a bad connection, because they both sounded so distant, like voices in another room, and I could hardly hear her brother talk. I could hardly hear him at all when he said, “We have to go back to the cave.”

“You’re not calling from the hospital?” Sarah asked. “Does Mom know you’re out?”

“I’m going to be there tomorrow,” Franklin said, like that answered anything. “At noon? I need you guys to be there too.”

And with that, he was gone. I let the click echo for a minute, wondering if Sarah was still there, and then I said, “Honey, I’m coming upstairs.”

Now we were here, back where it had started. This was where I’d met them both, six years earlier, and it had been shortly after that that we’d started seeing signs of Franklin’s illness. How long had he been trapped down there in the dark of the cave? It couldn’t have been more than an hour, but the doctors had called it a “precipitating factor,” or something like that. I knew for a fact they wouldn’t have allowed him to come back here.

Not entirely sure what to make of it, and it doesn’t really connect with the prompt I supplied (except maybe in my head), but it’s something at least.

Back to work tomorrow, and back to the office. Though I usually work from home on Mondays, we’re closed on Friday for the holiday, and we don’t get to take the Mondays when that happens.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome

Third time really is the charm.

After unexpected snowfall in January, then unexpected illness last week, I finally went to see a Broadway musical last night.

I actually don’t go to the theater all that often, despite this being the third attempt in almost as many months — and the second in less than a week — but my parents had for whatever reason purchased tickets to see Cabaret, starring Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams. So they trekked into the city and I met them a couple of blocks from my office for dinner.

My father still isn’t always feeling well, so he unfortunately opted to head home before the show, walking over with us to the theater but then taking the subway and train back. It’s a shame, too, since he was feeling better not long after — I called him at intermission — and the show was really very good.

I had only a passing familiarity with the show, and then only with Joel Grey’s lead performance in the original. Cumming’s quite different in the role, less elfin and more dirty, and the musical definitely has a very risque edge. But Cumming and Williams were both terrific, as was all of the supporting cast, and I had a great time.

The rest of the week — is it really Thursday already? How? — has passed by very busily at work. I do a little bit of writing every day, even if yesterday proved the exception, and I watch a large amount of The Good Wife on streaming video. (Cumming’s in that, too, as it happens, but playing a very different character.) A night out at the theater notwithstanding, I lead a rather boring life.

How I Met Your Wednesday

Last night, I decided to marathon my way through the last nine episodes of How I Met Your Mother‘s final season. I first discovered the show on DVD, and I’ve often felt, particularly in the last couple of not-quite-as-good seasons, that the show holds up a lot better, at least for me, in larger block viewing. There’s a certain momentum to watching it like that, and while it can sometimes throw a harsher than usual light on the show’s flaws — like, for instance, that this last season had surprisingly very little momentum of its own — it can also underline the show’s strengths and build up my investment in the characters. I’d watched most of this last season already, but I’d decided some two-thirds of the way through to take a break and let the remaining episodes pile up for one long, final watch.

And then I started hearing over Twitter about terrible the series finale was.

I should probably say that this post is going to contain some spoilers. Also, that the Twitter chatter was right. It was a very disappointing way for the show to end.

Todd VanDerWerff, who is one of my favorite TV critics, wrote a long post about the show, and the episode, and he sums it up I think nicely:

The ultimate takeaway from the final season is that series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were at once too good and not good enough to tell the story they ultimately wanted to tell.

The problem for me was this: for the show’s creators, the title was apparently just a misdirect, another joke nested within all the others. And yet for those of us watching, those of us who cared about these characters, it was the driving force behind the show. We wanted the love story, wanted that genuine — and moreover earned — happy ending, and, yes, we wanted to know how Ted met his future children’s mother.

VanDerWerff writes:

Bays and Thomas simply looked like shitty long-term planners, unable to understand that getting the audience so invested in the Barney and Robin coupling or in Tracy as a character would make it all the harder when the series finale abruptly dissolved the former and treated the latter’s death as an aside in the narration. That the show never seemed to suggest Ted mourned her feels like a vital betrayal of his character.

So they were telling a different story than they seemed to be, and the evidence suggests that they’d been doing so all along. (A scene at the end with the kids was clearly filmed very early in the show’s run, if not in the very first season.) But it’s the story they seemed to be telling that I cared about, and this other story, the one in which “How I Met Your Mother” is just a joke, was terribly disappointing. I don’t think it’s a story that could have worked when introduced like this, and after nine years with these characters.

So I don’t know if I hated the episode, but I did kind of hate where it ended the show, and what it decided to break in its attempt to get there.

The last three days

Friday was pretty uneventful, and even yesterday wasn’t terribly exciting by any real standard. It was warmer, certainly, to the point where you could wander outside in short sleeves and not feel uncomfortable — a far cry from the past few weeks we’ve had. There’s a chance of snow again in next week’s forecast, but hopefully it won’t impede my work trip to Stony Brook, which thanks to illness and weather I’ve already had to reschedule twice. And it also won’t impede my grumbling about how my parents managed to escape the worst of winter, leaving it all to me to enjoy.

Last night, I watched the 1977 horror movie The Sentinel, which is probably most notorious for casting genuinely deformed people as denizens of hell. That — spoiler warning — comes late in the film, and it’s just the one long scene, but however effective it might have been it’s also in very questionable taste. As for the rest of the movie…well, I call it a horror movie, since that seems like the obvious choice, but by the end of it I wasn’t entirely sure what it was I watching. There are parts that are ridiculously campy, some terrible acting — sadly, much of it from the film’s lead — and yet there are also parts that are really fairly creepy. Burgess Meredith is rather good in it, and Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken show up as a pair of detectives. But it’s such a weird movie, with such a strangely varied cast, even beyond Meredith, Wallach, and Walken. The trailer doesn’t really do it justice, and while I do think it was a terrible movie, I’m not entirely sure I didn’t enjoy it.

Then today I went to my writing group, and I penned/keyboarded this:

They found her outside the cabin, what was left of the old Wilson place out on the end of North Hadley Road, just half a mile from the edge of the woods and the county line. She had been left there overnight; the ME wouldn’t commit to a time of death, but preliminary tests suggested sometime between nine and ten the night before. That explained the rigor, Stock thought, and more importantly the dress. It had turned cold overnight, an unexpected frost that still hung in the morning air, but the girl was dressed for summer, her clothes a flimsy, gauzy white. Like an angel, Stock thought, and then quashed the thought down to the back of his mind. It wouldn’t help him any to start thinking like that again.

She had been strangled. Meyers thought they might get prints, but Stock wasn’t too hopeful. The body was too well staged, too precise, to expect that the perp had been that sloppy. The girl looked almost peaceful, if you ignored the bruises around her neck where the air had been cut off, ignored the too complete stillness of her body propped up against the oak tree. There was no sign of a struggle beyond all that, which suggested that she’d been killed somewhere else and moved, despite there being no other tracks but their own leading up this way. Meyers already had the sherrif’s men cordoning off a wider area, bagging anything that might look like evidence. Stock had just shrugged when the other man asked him if he’d had any theories.

The cabin was abandoned, half burned down in ’91, and nobody, least of all Red Wilson, had lived out here since then. Stock didn’t even know if Wilson still owned the property, which had stretched all the way to Potter County when he, Stock, had been a boy. But if he did, it wasn’t doing him much good these days, half-senile and bed-ridden like the man was reportedly supposed to be. Stock knew there were places that fall into disuse because nobody wants them, wants to be reminded of what happened there; there are places where darkness sets in, makes itself comfortable, sets up shop. The Wilson place had been well on its way to becoming one of those places even before the fire. The dead girl just made it clear the transformation was now complete.

“You recognize her?” Meyers asked, and Stock looked up.

“What?” he said. He tried keeping the surprise off his face. “Nah, why’d you ask that?”

“Dunno,” the other man said. “You just had one of your looks, is all.”

Can you tell I also watched a couple of True Detective episodes today as well?

That, more or less, was my weekend.