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2 Books, 2 Authors, 2 Plum Trees

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Two books that I consider to be among the best are: A Confederacy of Dunces and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Two more books that follow the life of Lisbeth Salander followed the latter. A Confederacy of Dunces stands alone. There will be no more books by Stieg Larsson, who wrote the Salander books, nor from John Kennedy Toole, who wrote the Dunces book.
Both books met with immediate acclaim when they were published posthumously. They are, in fact, fabulous stories brilliantly told. Anyone who enjoys reading strong, earthy, beautifully written books must read these four – the three by Larsson and one by Toole.
Films were made of the Larsson trilogy, I’ve not heard of a worthy one for Toole’s book. The American versions of the Salander story, to me, are not worth the time of day. The Swedish versions, with subtitles, are brilliant. The casting, the acting, the script, every scrap of them is great.
Ignatius Jacques Reilly is the morbidly obese and endlessly pompous star of A Confederacy of Dunces. He is unique in literature, and is purely wonderful. The lead character in the Larsson books and films is Lisbeth Slander, the most fascinating and exciting hero you’ll ever read.
You might well wonder where the plum trees come into this story. I used to own a hobby farm in the mountains where I kept horses and sometimes pigs and cows. There’s an ancient apple orchard behind the house. It’s very picturesque, with the old, gnarled trunks and untrimmed limbs.
At far corners of the orchard, diagonal from each other were two, old, sterile plum trees. For years, while the apple trees were bursting with huge, antique apples, the plum trees appeared to be little more than four inch wide sticks in the ground.
Suddenly, one spring, the plum trees came to life. To super life, I want to say. Both trees burst forth with volumes of perfect, beautiful, Damson plums. Bushels of them. Sweet, firm Damson plums from trees that we thought were long dead. They produced a vast amount of wonderful nourishment, and then they died dead. Forever.
Similarly, both Stieg Larsson and John Kennedy Toole burst forth with brilliant books. They created stories and characters unparalleled in modern literature. They nourished readers’ minds with intrigue and excitement. Then they died.
Stieg Larsson died suddenly, of a heart attack at fifty. John Kennedy Toole took his own life at forty-four. I like to think that, like the plum trees, the effort to produce such a fine result was more than life could sustain. They gave their all, the plum trees and the authors. We have their books, and they are as much a blessing as were the plums.

Toole (top) – Larsson (bottom)

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We Were Observers

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

At any stage of life, my generation was interested in its surroundings. We hadn’t the distraction of television, Internet, or computers in our pockets. We read posters on light poles, and we watched people walk their dogs. We sat on park benches with friends, talking, sharing observations. A dog chased a squirrel. A bird pecked at the grass. We saw things first hand.

I see people on the street now, oblivious to all but the screens in their hands. I see friends at a café table, each looking down at their phones. We used to talk, and joke, and ridicule whoever was not with us. It was real life.

I love my computer, and the world on my WI-fi, but I never carry a phone. When I’m in the world of cyberspace, that’s where I am. When I’m out for a walk, that’s where I am. I see the trees, I hear the wind and the birds, and the distant trucks.

I hope the next generation of young people is bored with the cyber life. I hope they set aside the ever expanding technology and take refuge in reality. They’ll need both.

10. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter 10

The awkward kiss ended abruptly. Both Milton Korn and Honey Freed realized what they were doing, at the same moment.

“Sorry,” said Honey. “I guess the smoke…”

“I know. It’s my fault,” said Milt. “Can we just forget it happened?”

“We can be more careful in the future,” said Honey.

“Of course,” said Milt. “Let’s take a break to clear our lungs, and our heads.”

“Good idea,” said Honey. She rose to go to the kitchen. “I’ll make fresh coffee, okay?”

“Perfect,” said Milt. “I’m gonna get some air on the terrace, okay?”

“I’ll bring the coffee out,” she said. Honey had solid ideas about her dream farm, because she’d been thinking about it, analysing it, and planning it for years. Milt, on the other hand, had run into the plan abruptly, and needed to catch up.

Milton Korn sat at the small table on Honey Freed’s terrace and gazed blindly at the array of buildings across the city. His mind was not there. His mind was sorting through the characteristics of his life, and how dramatically they had changed. He wondered why he had been so firmly redirected by his happenstance meeting with Honey Freed.

His mind did not dwell on the farm. Rather, he reviewed his brief acquaintanceship with Honey. Such unlikely commitments were not typical of Milt’s behaviour. Milt took his time with things, as he took his time with his paintings. The thought flashed in his mind for a millisecond that she might pose for him. He noticed her walk as she brought a tray with coffee and bagels. She swayed gracefully on long legs that brought her to the table, and Milt imagined that she’d be quite beautiful when nude.

Honey worried that the unexpected kiss might have changed the characteristics of the  partnership. They had never discussed the stimulation that might come from sharing close quarters in a remote location. They each thought about sex. Milt felt it would intrude into his life too much. Honey thought sex with Milt might be nice. Might be.

My Friends Don’t Like Me

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

We’re all old now, between 75 and 80. I just found out that when we were kids, my friends didn’t like me. I’m assuming this, because I haven’t seen any of them in about 55 years, and contacts through Facebook have my old friends rejecting me. One guy said, “Yeah, I’ve thought of you over the years, too,” and blocked me from contact.

I met Danny on the street one day, in front of the office of another old friend that was his lawyer. Danny acted as if he had ants in his pants, and feared he’d catch Ebola from me if he didn’t get away quickly. The lawyer is the only one that seemed to respect my role in our old group. I’d like to meet with him and check on what was my persona when we were pals. I can’t find him. It seems he was disbarred and cocaine addicted.

All of us dated girls from the same pool off girlfriends, and belonged to the same high-school fraternity. I don’t remember being slighted at all, but I was aware that I was different from the other guys, in several ways. For one thing, I liked to be by myself a lot, and would show up suddenly out of the darkness. It caused some mystery about me, that I liked, although that’s not why I did it.

My friends were interested in sports. They followed professional teams, and played baseball, football, hockey, and basketball when facilities were available. I did not participate in either following the professional teams, or playing personally. I might be drawing, painting, sculpting, or working on my car. My cars were part of my mystique, I know. I think I also read more than they did, although I’m the only one that did not go to college.

I can remember an occasion when friends were at a sweet sixteen party for one of the girls. We were all between 16 and 18 at the time. I arrived late, as usual. The party was in a covered, open  air dance place on a sandy beach. The waves rolled onto the shore barely 30 meters away from the dance floor. It was gorgeous at night, like a pool of radiant young people enjoying life.

I pulled up out of the darkness, into the flood of light on the sand. The car was a glistening, black Jaguar XK140 roadster. Of course there was a distraction among the party people, and I can imagine that a lot of the boys, my friends, were put off by it. Of course, now I know they were right, but at 18, I was as dense as is any teenager.

I was oblivious to the difference at the time, but my family must have been wealthier. I really saw our bunch as all equal, but apparently my father’s successes made me a figure of irritation. I wish I’d known then, and I wish I didn’t know now.

Don’t Apologize for Wealth

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

No matter if you inherit it, earn it, or win wealth, you should not have anything for which you should apologize. In some cases, oligarchs acquire wealth at the expense of others. Those people should be required to apologize, and to reward and repay where possible. All too often, amends cannot be made. Greed on the part of one person often requires that they acquire other peoples’ fair share.

It is not always financial security that is stolen from deserving people. Factories pollute in low income neighbourhoods. Innocent, working class people and their children carry illness and damage from living in the cloud of poison. The poison could be stopped, or at least diminished, but that would cut into profits. The profits are paid out to wealthy investors in dividends. The investors never see the factories, never breath the fouled air; never give a thought to the burdens they place upon others.

Some people just earn wealth. A real estate broker could spend 30 years, putting together families and homes. She might also invest in commercial properties about which she learns through her profession. At sixty years of age, she is wealthy, and has nothing for which she should apologize.

A young man growing up in a poor family that becomes wealthy need not apologize. The wealth grows while the boy grows. It is the normal flow of his life, and he doesn’t see it as any different from the lives of his high school friends. He was not aware that his friends were often pressed for money. They had to save up to take a girl out on a date. They had to hope they could borrow their father’s car, and that there was gas in the tank.

In our teens, we are largely dependent upon our parents to supplement our lives. If one person’s parent is lucky, or gifted with the ability to earn a greater amount of money, then the offspring might also be lucky. That does not mean he feels superior. He lives by the standards established by his parents. Those whose parents are not as ambitious or capable might live an average life.

Don’t hate him because he’s wealthy. He took nothing from you or from anyone else. He was given wealth, and that merely meant he lived in a larger house and drove a nicer car. But when a group of friends are playing ball, or drinking coffee in a Tim Horton’s, it’s just a group of friends. The individual, personal burdens of each friend is private, and the rich kid has his share, too. There is a price to pay for enjoying wealth.

Later in life, the boy would be in the same position as any of his friends: he had to get a job, earn a living, make car and mortgage payments, keep ahead of the utilities bills, and try to keep some aside for pleasure and hobbies. It all evens out in the end.

Too Damn Lucky

May 23, 2017 1 comment

The birth of a new person creates a considerable disturbance in the lives of the parent(s) and other people. Some newborns have the misfortune to be born into a dysfunctional family, or an impoverished family, or to a drug-addicted hooker. Those people come into society already in a deep hole, out of which they must climb. They must, to rise within their environment until they can escape it. It’s a forbidding quest.

Some people, myself for instance, are born into poor families that intend to not stay poor. We lived above a corner ‘smoke shop’, my parents, my grandparents, my uncle and me. I was surrounded with love and protection, and had no idea I was poor. I was comfortable and well fed.

My father was smart and ambitious, and by the time I was four, we lived in a lovely little house, outside of downtown. It had a front lawn, a back yard, a concrete driveway and a cute garage. My mother had roses growing up the sides of the garage, and a blossoming cherry tree in the middle of the yard.

My father had been partners with his brother in a small, downtown lunch counter. After a year or so, The Second World War came along. My father took a job in a scrap yard. After he learned the ropes, he bought a classy suit and a pickup truck. Mornings, he would put on the suit, look great, and go out to manufacturers to buy their scrap metal. At midday, he returned home, ate lunch, put on work coveralls, and returned with the pickup truck to fetch the metals he’d bought. He then sold the load at a profit, to an established scrap yard. Soon he had a scrap yard of his own, with cranes and trucks and railway sidings. Stuff was happening.

Then came a large home, cars for my father (Buick), my mother (Pontiac), and me (Corvette). Also, a lakefront cottage, and several boats. We had rowboats, speedboats, sailboats, and my father’s large cruiser. I don’t know how dad did it, but I was certainly a beneficiary.

After a while, he sold his scrap business and started a lumber business. He was a restless man, always seeking new, unlikely challenges. After the lumber business, he became founding president of a new department store chain. I didn’t benefit so much from that plateau, because I was grown up, out of the house, and getting my own life going.

All my life, I’ve been too damned lucky.

The Easier Life of Good Looking People

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

If you’ve been looking at the coverage of the presidential madness in the USA, you might have noticed that almost all the reporters are good looking. I noticed that all the men wear dark suits and white shirts with tasteful ties. The women, on the other hand, wear simple, tasteful, form-fitting dresses in warm, basic colours. The forms of the women to which the dresses cling are slender and shapely.

It’s doubtful that there were no plain women applying for jobs of that kind. Obviously, the employers chose applicants with equal qualifications and better physical appearance. Are they really wrong? It’s a visual medium, so the picture should be as attractive and inviting as possible.

When we watch small, local television stations, we often see attractive, young people working their way up toward network jobs. Sometimes, there is an older person that  did not make the grade, or preferred the easier life in the smaller market. Perhaps people that are less good looking make careers in radio or journalism. Perhaps they had made it into a major market when young, and then cut back when older and not as good looking.

Jacketman

I admit that I was a good looking person when I was young, and I know how comparatively  easy was my life. I remember when times of dances, parties, and proms came along, several friends would be concerned about getting dates. Most of the boys liked to go ‘steady’ with one girl. It saved them from the trauma associated with social interaction in the teen community.

When I made calls in large offices, the receptionists always seemed happy to see me. They enjoyed telling me about the current situation in the office. That meant I could go into my meeting, knowing who was having a good day, who had a fight with a staff member, who liked donuts and who liked croissants. It all helps to put clients in the right mood for your pitch of whatever you’re pitching.

Women regularly use their physical attractiveness to get things. The butcher offers a better cut for the regular price. The grocer puts an extra pomegranate into the basket. The boss lets her have a long weekend. Maybe someday, she’d marry the boss.

Maybe the good looking young man in the parking lot will enjoy a relationship with a lady who is a lawyer, or a judge, or a doctor. In any case, if you are good looking, there are still some problems, but life is easier.