Friday I woke to sun, knowing well it would fade and retreat as the weekend unfolded. There was an opportunity at noon to bask, and I took advantage of it; I’m starved for light. Went to work, did some things, filed a column and HOLY HELL the cataracts of heaven had opened and deluged the earth again in Ark Mode. It let up after ten minutes. I hit the highway to go home; traffic was moving again. Phone rings: don’t know the number. It’s from another state.
“Hi,” she said. It’s my next door neighbor. They moved away years ago, rented out the house. They return periodically to clean out between renters. Her name pops up on the list of available networks when I check the wifi settings. They’re fine folk and we wish they were neighbors all the time, but he got a job elsewhere, so.
“Is my house on fire?” I asked. Because that’s what this was going to be about, more or less.
“Noooo,” she said. Good. She was calling about something bad but it was not House On Fire, so whatever happened we could cope. I figured a tree fell and took out the roof. “But I have some bad news. A branch fell from my tree and now there’s a wire across your backyard over your metal lawn chairs and it’s draped over your metal-framed gazebo.”
“That’s the internet,” I said. Thinking: That’s my life. I said: “That’s my job!”
“I know!” she said.
I said I was on my way. Sure enough: wires down. Oddly enough: phone still worked. When the limb came down it didn’t snap the wire from the pole, but it popped the extension line put in Crom-knows-when, the line that runs to the second floor, the line that handles the internet. I toted up the damage, called the phone company, made an appointment, and went to sleep. Really. It was nap time.
Up; coffee; outside - hey, what? What? The storm, which has lasted all of seven minutes, had also blown down 18 feet of fence. I called the Fence Company and told them to send someone by, then investigated the downed limb in the neighbor’s back yard.
A limb the width of a fireplug lay on the lawn. There was already a representative of the Tree Firm there; they’d been tending this ancient oak for a long time. A tall thin young man introduced himself with a punitively firm handshake, intended no doubt to establish a good professional opinion that would lead to additional business. He said the entire tree had to go. It’s a lot of tree. In a small lot. Behind a house. On a hill.
They’re going to have to crane over the house to remove it. Video to follow, because this should be incredible.
The neighbor said we could use their wifi, and tried to remember the password. It was some variation of the dog they had when they moved in, of course.
Speaking of which, holy cripe: I remembered Jasper had a vet appointment. He needed his heartworm pills. So off we went to the vet. I texted daughter telling her to use the front door when she came home, because there was a big line down - iI knew it wasn’t a power line, but still. You want to train them to be wary of downed lines. It’s a good skill to have in your toolbox.
We got a vet I haven’t seen in a few years, fan of the column; she said she’d wondered if Jasper was still, well, you know, and was delighted to see that he wasn’t. Or rather that he still was. Poor fellow: not just bloodwork but two shots and an ear cleaning, but he bore it well. She was amazed how good he looked, and behaved; many dogs in his situation - diminished hearing and vision - get fearful and disoriented, but there’s no anxiety or confusion. I suppose it’s because the adaptation to diminishment has been so gradual. I know he still sees me. I know he still hears me when I whistle. Most of all he smells me, and that’s enough.
Off to piano; picked up the pizza; came home, and of course Jasper barked his head off in annoyance that a piece of crust was not forthcoming NOW. Wife came home in running garb, soaking wet - another squall had shouldered through. It got bright and warm and then wet and cold. Around midnight I went outside to note the arrival of another thunderstorm, and as the rain pelted down and soaked the spongy earth, pattered on the gazebo roof, splashed on the patio bricks, rolled down the roof and soaked the lawn anew, I waved goodbye to May. It began with blizzards. We never forgave it for that.
Saturday errands began with bright sun that cried June! June Anew! far and wide, but it course the afternoon weather was brought to you by Gloomius Maximus:
Three hours of errands. Then: wife had girls-night-out, daughter had friends-night-in; made spaghetti dinner for the latter, then daughter and friends ran up to the Water Tower to cavort and take pictures for Instagram and obsess over how many likes they got. They went to the grocery store for marshmallows to be roasted over a fire, because nothing says “the first of June” like roasting marshmallows over a fire, right? I overheard the kids talking about their earliest memories of Jasperwood, and smiled. Nothing you thought they'd remember; nothing you hoped.
They might remember a dog. They will probably remember me as a Dad Shape Thing. The music playing the background, the cars on the street, the innumerable quotidian details - they’ll never remember those, but might remember the faces of the other girls who were, at the time, Besties, and probably the name of their Crush.
I heard them running down from the hill screaming and laughing at dusk, bright delight in the waning hours of the first day of June. There’s no better time in life. When my daughter burst in the house and ran up the stairs and said “Dad, can we-” I wanted to say “of course,” without knowing what it was. You can and you should and you must. It’s summer.
It’s amazing what they get up to when the internet goes down.
What a country. The phone repairmen came on Sunday and fixed the line, so we're up and good. I cleaned out the Oak Island Water Feature, removed two dead bushes, and dumped out 20 bags of mulch. Twenty. My wife weeded and planted from sunup to sundown. As we worked at the bottom of the hill, to our surprise we had a visitor. He'd gone down the steps and made his way to where we toiled.
Not a review. Not a recap. Who cares about a movie I watched? It’s a look at the details, the things you’re not supposed to think about., the way they shot the films when color wasn’t an option, the tropes and cliches of the day, the things that stood out in a way we don’t quite see today. So:
That has nothing to do with the plot, and even though there's Kissing and Deathing going on, you probably gathered that from the poster.
Times Square, Christmas time:
But . .. hold on. Those cars. Kiss of Death is set in 1947; what's this? "The Love Parade," with Jeanette MacDonald? That came out in 1929. So this is the past. Audiences at the time would have gotten that right away, just as a movie that opened with a street scene full of Pacers, AMC Hornets, Vegas, and bygone names on a marquee would tell people today this was Yesterday.
It would have to be 70s cars, because I don't think a street scene full of 90s cars would have the same impact.
The interior of some New York office building - I'd give anything to know which one it was. Probably mauled beyond recognition.
Just kidding. That's the Chrysler building, 43rd street entrance. Which leads to . . .
A little piece of bygone New York: Schrafft’s. The brand remains but the company was broken up years ago. The flagship restaurant was quite an elegant joint.
Anyway, the protagonist - still a crook at this point - is shot, caught, busted , and interrogated by a kindly DA and the guy below, who's a combination of Walter Matthau and Art Carney.
That's Victor Mature on the right, of course. His sneering tough-guy act falls apart in prison when he learns the reason his wife stopped writing. The guy on the leftwas Millard Mitchell, who played a few hangdog cops but was most noted for his role as the movie exec in "Singin' in the Rain."
Newspapers were rather up-front about things in those days:
That was the protagonist's wife. Realizing the old gang hadn't taken care of her as promised - do they ever? - he goes straight, decides to help the cops, and is subsequently aided by the director, who reminds us he's suffered and is now good:
Here's something that reminds you how much New York has changed:
A station on the Third Avenue El. (I think.) Those dark forboding stations, hulking in the air like some angry robot that has paused to consider what havok it will wreak next. Besides the havok it wreaks on property values just by being there.
The real star of the movie is Richard Widmark, who made quite an impression as the first giggly nutwad killer in movies, Tommy Udo. Yes. He is creepy.
The amusing thing, at least for readers of this site who’ve enjoyed the music clips in Friday’s “Listen” section: he was the original actor for the series from which I take those clips. (To be clear, its earlier iteration, “Ethel and Albert.”) In my interview with Peg Lynch I got the distinct impression she did not care for the man at all. Humility and warmth did not exactly pour out in waves, let’s say.
He made his career with an act of shocking violence, the sort of thing a man just didn’t do: pushed an old lady in a wheelchair down the stairs. And it’s not like she even owned him money or anything. In an era when guys took a lead pill in the gut, stood there grimacing, then fell to earth in a swoon, this was rather graphic. One of those moments where they went over the line because they could - and they probably got it past the film review board because they took out a rape earlier in the movie. You can imagine that conversation. “All right, you can have the rape, but the old lady going down the stairs we get to keep.” The film board said okay, and the producers chuckled to themselves: just as they hoped it would go.
The band in a nightclub scene is uncredited, but that's J. C. Heard on the skins.
Finally, a young . . . well, you know.
It's damned odd to see a guy in an old noir you know from the television shows of your childhood. It just seems too early for him, like he didn't know he wasn't supposed to pop up on screens until the early 50s, and jumped the gun.
It’s a great little film, partly because it’s hard and shocking but only within the definitions of the standard studio film. Once the usual cliches started to get pared away - redemption, helpful nuns, upstanding civil servants, redeemable bad guys - the nihilism made them much more realistic, much more grim. Some of those movies were better. Some weren’t. But there wasn’t any turning back, any more than the old lady could climb back up the stairs.
Matchbook update! And the usual usual here and there. See you around.