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Every time it rains (which it didn’t) | The Bleat.

So I’m sitting in the backyard working, and hear a sound that can only be explained by a gremlin on the roof whacking the gutter with a wooden dowel. I walk up to the house, shout HEY. The sound stops. Okay, mission accomplished. Back to the chair, back to writing. The sound resumes. I walk back, grab a tree branch, and pull it up and down, so rustling ensues.

A squirrel pokes his head over the edge of the roof. He stares down at me. I stare up at him.

We go on like this for a while. You hate to lose a staredown with a squirrel.

The situation is clear: I am much, much bigger, but he is up there. The only way I can convince him to stop doing whatever the hell he is doing? Prove my ability to be up there. I grab a tennis ball the dog chewed five years ago and has been hanging around the backyard ever since, surviving snow, thaw, snow, thaw, rain, sleet, snow, and so on, and I throw it up. It hits a window and leaves a big round dirty mark. Sigh. Again: it nearly hits the squirrel, who runs off. Mission accomplished. Back to to the chair.

I mention this to my wife later, and she sits up: he was after the window boxes. She’d just replanted them the other day after the little bastiche ripped up the flowers. The sound I heard was the knocking of the planters against the rim of the window boxes. She checked, and sure enough: dirt strewn everywhere, plant-parts hurled on the roof over the porch. The look in her eyes told me that if I rigged up tripwires and claymore mines and she had to squeegee squirrel off the windows, that would be acceptable. That would be fine.

The best way to sum up the day: was part of a podcast interview with John Yoo, then went to the office and did a video interview with the paper’s music critic about Justin Beiber. The ability to speak about anything for four minutes is not a useless skill. It’s the five-minute point that gives you sweats – oh no, I’ve exhausted my ability to spin conventional wisdom and obvious talking points as softball questions or springboards for the guest to expound. Better fake a heart attack.

The day began early: Gnat had to get to the demarcation spot for camp, and we had been instructed to be there NO LATER THAN 7:30. The buses don’t rumble off until 8, but everyone has to sign in, choose a bus. We got up and out in 17 minutes, made the queue, then milled about: festival atmosphere, all the kids bouncy and happy and ready for camp, except the few weepers and the pale kids already prepared to bolt up the Cheerios due to car sickness. The doors hissed open; the kids clambered on, and we all engaged in pantomimes for five minutes, waving, making sad boo-hoo miss you faces (daughter drew lines down her cheeks with her fingers to indicate tears) then off they went for a week in the woods. I got in my car and sped to Uptown to see how long the line might be at the Apple store.

Looooooooooong. Or, in the tautological way the web puts things, Long Line is Long. Drove to Southdale. Looooonger. Decided to order online. Really, I can wait. But by now it was, oh, 8:35, and I was woozy with hunger and lack of sleep. The day stretched ahead: three interviews, one video piece, one column, five blog posts, and whatever else came up. (Something did: got a column request from the New York Post tonight, so it’s frant-o-type after this is done.) While driving home I listened to the XM old radio channel; a Phillip Marlowe, one of my favorites. It’s been long enough since I listened to the show, and I’ve forgotten most of them, so it’s time to listen again. They don’t have the carefree self-amusement of the Sam Spade shows, but Gerald Mohr is a great Marlowe, the best as far as I’m concerned. No one can ever capture the character of the books, the introspection and the reserve. Bogart came close, but he was Bogart, and that overshadows the character for modern eyes. (He also played Spade, of course – which is like the same actor playing Batman and Spiderman in the space of a few years.)

Did most of my writing outside, and took a break to look through a copy of American Home I picked up at an antique store the other day. 1965.

The last gusts of the confident post-war consumer culture are still blowing; horrible synthetics are starting to infect the decorator’s toolkit (Faux-brick vinyl flooring! The warmth of brick and the comfort of vinyl! Or vice versa) and the appliances really have nothing new to offer except different colors. It still seems grown-up, but it’s all waiting to be knocked away by Mod and Fab and Groovy and With-It. Some of the fonts gave me a brief pang of nostagia:

That somehow became a Christmas font, didn’t it? Anyway: the magazine had a big layout on a new planned community called “Reston,” which was going to change the way people lived. And it did, if people lived in Reston, I suppose. It looks grim today, what with all the raw naked poured concrete, but those were the styles that pointed to the sensible, technocratic future. I spent a year living in an enormous project designed in the brutal concrete style, and it was like a machine for grinding souls into wet paste. Planned communities work best when the visuals go backwards, not forwards.

Anyway – have to finish two pieces and maybe try to finish “Pennies from Heaven,” a spectacular misfire of a movie I saw in the theater. The audience – such as it was; word got out fast – hated it from the very moment Steve Martin opened his mouth and lipsynced a song, because this was not Wild and Crazy. I’ve seen the original BBC Dennis Potter version, and it’s remarkable, if depressing; not as good as “Singing Detective,” but good. The American version is just wrong, wrong, wrong – Steve Martin’s character is, well, a jerk, and while he’s good enough, the whole thing is dank. The soundtrack, however, is exceptional, and constituted my introduction to 1930s pop music. I can still sing the title song from start to finish, and the sad longing version is still the best.

But then . . . there’s this.

No one knew he could do that. Then there’s this:

Enough people may have recognized that shot; “Nighthawks” was a popular painting in 1981. But then there’s this:

New York Theater, Edward Hopper – painter of “Nighthawks,” of course.

The lead “visual consultant” – and the movie’s associate producer – was the great Ken Adam, who designed all the great lairs in the James Bond movies, as well as the War Room in “Strangelove.” And he was a Hopper fan? Nothing inconsistent in that. Variety, life’s spice, etc.

By the way: was the Nighthawks diner a real place? One man’s search to find it.

New today: 100 Mysteries, of course, and four cigarette ads in 30s Magazine ads. Enjoy! Have a grand weekend, and I’ll see you Monday with a small portion, and Tuesday with an enormous chunk o’stuff.

 

97 Responses to Every time it rains (which it didn’t)

  1. hpoulter says:

    I remember Pennies From Heaven. Loved the music, story was depressing and ultimately hateful (so it must have been Art). Never had any desire to see it again.

  2. crossdotcurve says:

    Wow. You interviewed the guy who shredded the constitution to give the previous administration permission to torture people.

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/kamiya/2009/03/10/john_yoo/

    History will not be kind to these contemptible people. And those who supported them. They dishonored generations of sacrifice by soldiers who fought to uphold the noblest American ideals. Disgusting.

  3. hpoulter says:

    Reston is doing OK. It was hollow for a long time in the 80s – I remember the “Town Center” being negleceted and empty, but with the growth of the DC suburbs, and the Dulles technology corridor, it is looking pretty vibrant these days. I think a lot of the more blue-sky New Urbanist idealism of the founders has been tempered by time, but it is still quite planned. The Metro will reach there in a few years, and it will become another semi-urbanized suburb, like Chevy Chase or parts of Arlington.

  4. hpoulter says:

    Knees jerking right on cue. God forbid we should listen to what Yoo had to say. No, we already know he “shredded the constitution” and “G[a]ve the previous administration permission to torture people”. After all, Salon says so. So does CrossEyedKook. Looks like another flamey day.

  5. inhocsig says:

    That is not “ruler” in the second cigarette ad. It’s a carpenter’s square, aka a builder’s or framer’s square.

  6. Sue Dunham says:

    “From Her Painted Toes To Her Plunging Neckline!”
    In times past décolleté was a film symbol for a tramp. Now the ladies show cleavage at my bank. Confusion reigns.
    By the way James, the comment box doesn’t show the cursor. Is this fixable? Cause it’s darn hard to write without one.

  7. Grebmar says:

    Well, Yoo did give the legal justification for (cough) “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

  8. MDG says:

    I’ve been listing to Phillip Marlowe, but only because I’ve gone through all of the Spades on Internet Archive. Toward the end, it gets a lot more self-referential than I’d expect–mentioning Dashiell Hammett as a writer, Effie leaving town to visit “her actress friend Lurene Tuttle.”

    I have a hard tome with Mohr’s he-man voice for Marlowe–not enough of the world-weariness I get from the books. Powell’s probably my favorite marlowe, though. Bogart’s good, but he comes across as Bogart first and Marlowe second.

  9. Grebmar says:

    Sorry, I should say also there’s nothing wrong with James, or anyone else, interviewing him. For better or worse, he was influential in the last administration.

  10. Bob Lipton says:

    You’d just rather they were asking him questions while waterboarding him.

    Bob

  11. Reston is hardly a study in poured-concrete brutalism. Not my cup of tea–a little too homogeneous. Nicely laid out, nonetheless. No endless parade of fast food/gas stations/strip malls, and lots of walking paths and parks scattered throughout.

  12. DerKase says:

    Yes, crossdotcurve, Chimpy McBushitler is an evil little gnome. Thank you for our weekly reminder apropos of nothing. It’s been a couple days since Zero the Blessed (may he rule forever) blamed him for something and we had forgotten.

    Now let’s discuss the real evil: squirrels. I am completely of a mind with Mrs. L. Squirrels have invaded my house’s eaves and I can’t get at them to evict them. Shotgun traps and poison gas have been whirling in my mind. I can hear them gnawing at the rafters and it’s driving me nuts, nuts, nuts!

  13. Brerarnold says:

    Wow, that Christopher Walken can dance. There’s the Fatboy Slim video, of course, so we already knew this. Too bad he did not have his career in a time when he might have danced a whole lot more — 30s through the early 60s.

  14. I wish posters would leave their political POVs (or should that be PsOV?) at the door.

  15. jay-dubya says:

    @crossdotcurve – You won! Your guy is in charge and, as all evidence shows, doing a bang-up job…

    Just keep harping on McChimpyHitlerBurton, it makes you look so… avant-garde.

  16. I love your blog, so this is more of a compliment actually, but what is it with you and dowels?
    were they a true staple of life in the sixties?
    monkey dowel, karate dowel, ersatz choco-dowel…

    Only Lileks can turn the modest and useful dowel into comedy gold :)

  17. wiredog says:

    Reston is one of the few suburbs in NoVa that is actually walkable. Trails everywhere. Little shopping centers scattered about. And the big Reston Towne Center. Mall of America moved outdoors.

    In other news, you’ve probably seen these, 11 things Back To The future Got Right, and Wrong.

    http://www.11points.com/Movies/11_Predictions_That_Back_to_the_Future_Part_II_Got_Right

    http://www.11points.com/Movies/11_Predictions_That_Back_to_the_Future_Part_II_Got_Wrong

  18. browniejr says:

    @jay-dubya- you forgot to mention how The Won has continued to implement many of the previous administration’s policies in the War On Terror, and even expanded them… [cough] no Miranda Rights for anyone killed by an unmanned drone [cough]. I guess it must be nice, crossdotnerve, to sit in an ivory tower expounding on the way the world should be run, when actual reality never has to intrude.

    On to more interesting matters- today’s Star Trek connection includes one of Dr. McCoy’s best lines evar.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpBkw4tTsuY (fast forward to around 4:00…)

  19. Jay Eckert says:

    I went to see “Pennies from Heaven” for the Edward Hopper sets. I tried to like it but couldn’t. Perhaps it would work as an opera. Found this info on Martin: “The iconic paintings and artistic impact of Edward Hopper (1882–1967) are the subject of a new documentary film that accompanies the exhibition Edward Hopper on its national tour. Narrated by the award-winning actor, writer, and Hopper art collector Steve Martin….”

  20. GardenStater says:

    “Pennies from Heaven” is one of my all-time favorite movies. This makes me want to watch it again.

  21. Hal says:

    Worked in Reston VA recently (2004 – 2008) at the now discredited Fannie-Mae. The city center has a nice vibe and it’s a fun little place on a Friday night. It must have mellowed since you were there.
    Summer-Camp: I have fond memories of spending a week (later two) in the mountains at summer camp. I wanted to give our girl that experience too but at the time we were living in New Zealand and I couldn’t find anything like the summer camps I knew. The closest we got was a 4 day “camp” in the hills above Wellington with the Girl Guides. Some things you just can’t get outside the good old USA.

  22. Jennifer says:

    Those scenes in Pennies always take my breath away–a beautifully composed shot may not make a movie, but it does make for a lovely moment in time.

    I agree it’s a shame we couldn’t see more of Christopher Walken dancing–he was (is) really talented.

    Roosevelt Island in NYC is fun to visit. Mostly developed for residency in the ’70′s (I believe) and it shows. Lot’s of poured concrete. Plus, you can ride over on a tram!

  23. GardenStater says:

    @Brerarnold: “Wow, that Christopher Walken can dance.” No kidding.

    I didn’t really have much of an opinion on Walken until I saw him onstage at the Public Theatre in NYC. Man, oh man. What an amazing actor that guy is. I far prefer him to Pacino, DeNiro, or any of that crowd that makes more money and gets better billing. (FWIW, I saw Pacino play Marc Antony at the Public, in one of the worst productions of Julius Caesar ever done. He was awful.)

  24. erp says:

    The Nighthawks diner is right across the street from a href=”http://www.artchive.com/viewer/z.html”>this.

  25. Moishe3rd says:

    Reston was Richard E. Simon Town, the first “planned” community in the US. The concrete thing was the style when it was built. As a planned community with just the “right mix” of parks and houses and businesses and, indeed, rich and… less rich (poor) housing, it worked. My brother was mayor there for a year or so. back in the 90′s. When we visited him, it looked like an okay place to live.

    Squirrels.
    Our cat died a couple years ago. She was an outdoor cat who regularly beheaded (ate) the bunnies, the chipmunks, and the occasional squirrel.
    Whereas she apparently didn’t care much for the taste of squirrel, her daily beheadings of the other small creatures made the squirrels keep their distance.
    It was not until after she died that they resumed their scampering about my roof and gutters.
    (There was also an explosion of the bunny population for a mile around as they apparently were now free to multiply like rabbits…)

  26. Jennifer says:

    @erp: that looks like Greenwich Avenue (which–if you followed the link to Vanishing New York) would fit with the general location of the diner.

  27. HunkyBobTX says:

    The video of Walken dancing needs more cowbell.

  28. I enjoyed Pennies From Heaven. For enjoyment’s sake, not a as glittering example of fine motion picture art, just entertainment. However, Martin’s turns as Sgt. Bilko, or Inspector Clouseau? Unforgivable.

    Then again, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the work of Bernadette Peters. My favorite being her turn in Into The Woods. If you’ve never seen it, give it a chance. It still tours in many local productions, and it is always charming, regardless of the scale of the production. Again, just entertainment.

    As far as Yoo and the controversy stemming therein, I’ve come to embrace the old Orwell quote:

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

    I will never, ever forget, or forgive, that sad September day. As far as I am concerned: Whatever it takes. I prefer to hold onto my rage concerning that particular event. I let it fester and grow. Like a dog and bone, friend. To use a truism from today’s 100 Mysteries Star Trek connection: Nice meme, Herbert.

    Cigarette ads, as delightful as they always are, just remind me of The Simpsons: Smooth Smoking Laramies. Do you think they offer cigarette lighters in this year’s Canyonero?

  29. chris says:

    Does anyone remember when James posted that album (or 2) of grocery store music? I know it sounds weird, but I NEED to find it! :) And by “need” I mean “want.”

    chris@ktwb.com

  30. I’m conflicted about even responding to the seagull that deposits its droppings here during his/its overflights. They never engage, they just dump and run. Come on, get in the game, engage in some dialog. Your lack of courage to do more than leave a flaming bag of excreta on the porch and retreat into the darkness says way more about you than any of your specious and poorly thought out utterances.

    Now for a real adversary, squirrels. I advise an air rifle. Do it now while MS. Natalie is in camp for a week. Be prepared however, for a change of heart by your dearly beloved if you do actually perforate a squirrel. She may object in principle to these hairy tailed rats, but seeing or hearing abut one getting damaged may not redound to your benefit. Hmm, perhaps this might work with some other annoyances around here too.

  31. I always thought Walken was going to only be remembered for being on the boat when Natalie Wood drown. Funny how some people are demonized and others are forgiven.

  32. I guess we are lucky to have all the nice skwerls in our neighborhood. They are happy just to raid the bird feeder, strip the walnut tree once a year, and drink from out water features.

    We do live in a semi-rural part of the county so I guess the skwerls have plenty of places to live with out encroaching on human dwellings.

    The wood rats and dusky footed mice are another thing.

    Stupid cat is on notice.

  33. Peter says:

    “Let’s Misbehave”, the theme song to “Everything you always wanted to know about sex* *but were afraid to ask”, sung by Annie Hall’s crazy brother, Duane!

    I’m pretty sure that Woody Allen even used the same recording.

  34. hpoulter says:

    I wish the little skwerly rats would stay out of my peach trees – they pull down the green ones and run off with them. Fortunately, I can watch from my office window, and chase them off. Gives me something to do.

  35. swschrad says:

    goldang squirrels. first year we had the Honeycrisp apple tree in, we had two apples from the blossoms it grew at Bachmann’s. freaky little buggers stole ‘em both.

    told the cat he could have all the squirrels he wanted, no repercussions. alas, forgot the code, he now assumes they are gods to be watched from afar.

    Evil Killergeorge McHitlerbush: now, folks, chill. thought we had a go-round on this very site about a year ago and since then have all been genteel about flaming politics that MAKE ME WANT TO RIP YOUR TONGUE OUT AND BEAT YOU TO DEATH WITH IT !!!!! so let’s save that for another site, eh?

    the American Heart Association and the EMT Stretcher-Bearers’ Union local 666 thank you.

    cross-silos: making deals with the Devil over the cracked iPhone? no app for that, use the browser.

  36. When we had a peach tree, the day the peaches were ripe you could count on the neighborhood raccoons to make an appearance and raid the tree.

    The raccoons like the apples too but, can’t eat them all.

  37. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Chris –

    The Kresge store music was in the post from 23 March. James’s link was to
    this site.

  38. GardenStater says:

    @juanito/John Davey: I agree with you 100 percent, on every point you made.

    And I saw Ms. Peters in “ITW” a few days after it opened. Loved the first act; not crazy about Act II.

  39. Kev says:

    Planned communities work best when the visuals go backwards, not forwards.

    Which explains the “classic” look of most of the New Urbanist centers being constructed nowadays.

    The one in my part of greater Dallas has a nice, subtle architectural touch: The center of the development is designed as if built in the ’20s or ’30s, and as it spreads out, the styles assume those of progressively later decades, making it look as if the town “grew up” over time.

  40. GardenStater says:

    As to squirrels: My dog Fido (part Australian Cattle Dog, part Blue Heeler, and who knows what else) is a natural-born killer.

    Last week I looked out the back door, and he was trotting up to the deck with a gift: a freshly-killed squirrel, dangling from his mouth. He dispatches them with lightning speed, so I don’t feel bad.

    He’s also killed birds, rabbits, and a young opposum.

    Good dog, Fido.

  41. Pencilpal says:

    Perhaps Mr. L could hire Christopher Walken to get rid of the squirrels – he created the most calmly crazed exterminator ever in the movie Mouse Hunt – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LdXS7WFqlY. I’d love to see him tackle squirrels.

  42. Do her witchy charms work on the hero?

    heck I would support an Manchurian candidate for Angela Lansbury.

  43. re: Hopper images, interesting that TCM is also using re-created Hopper images but, they are original and not from Pennies from Heaven.

  44. RickRick says:

    Freakin’ Christopher Walken… the guy’s a hoot. I read in an article that he fights for the opportunity to dance – somewhere, entirely appropos or not – in every one of his movies.

  45. Brisko says:

    One of the houses I lived in while growing up had that faux-brick vinyl flooring in the kitchen. It fascinated me as a child; it looks like brick! But it’s not! But it LOOKS like brick! But it’s not.

    You know, Angela Lansbury was a striking woman in her youth, but I just don’t find her attractive. Not so with the other great beauties of that age, even those I’ve seen as old women as well. I think it’s “Murder, She Wrote” that did it. My mental impression of Angela Lansbury is just locked into her as an old woman and nothing will budge it. Apparently.

  46. For me, it is in “Gaslight” and “Picture of Dorian Gray” where Angela uses a more native accent, I am just a sucker for that. Even a little older in “Bead Knobs and Broomsticks” I find her appealing.

    In “Murder She Wrote”, she seems like a favorite aunt or veteran teacher.

  47. Marjorie J Birch says:

    I will watch any movie with Christopher Walken in it, just for the chance that he will suddenly start dancing. (My only excuse for watching “King of New York”.)

    I think he started out as a child actor on Broadway — if I correctly recall the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” program.

    Camp — when is James going to send Gnat to Typeface Re-education Camp, hee, hee, hee.

    Funny how Angela Lansbury got put into those malignant middle-aged women stereotype-roles at a relatively early age. I think it was her jawline.

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