An anomalous weekend, just like last week. That can be good; that can be bad. If you are a creature of habit, like me, different is challenging. But I usually do this at this time on this day! You’re a Marvel superhero, drawn by Kirby, struggling against a gale force of necroplasma and asteroids, grimacing with determination: must - adapt - to - houseguests - forcing - rearrangement - of - nap - time

As it turns out, I napped when I wished, because they were all out on a bike ride. It was another perfect fall weekend. Surely this was the last. I keep saying that. It never comes true. But it will.

Wife’s sister and husband came to stay. They were the proud parents of the nephew whose marriage we attended in Chicago last weekend, and they’d driven around Michigan and Wisconsin for a week before settling here. This meant two nights of feasting at the house - the first instance being Pizza, because it was Friday, and I don’t care if the Pope shows up and says he’s gluten intolerant and lactose intolerant and gets gas from pepperoni, I’m having pizza and I will make His Holiness a nice salad.

I had the worst pizza phone-order taker you can imagine.

New on the job, which is okay; everyone was new on the job at some point. But he didn’t know how to do anything. Everything was a challenge. He sounded stoned.

Hello . . . Davannis?

Yes. I’d like to order two pizzas to be delivered.

That’s the opening statement that frames the conversation. There will be TWO pizzas. They will be DELIVERED. I understand if you ask about the second matter again, because God knows there’s going to be a flurry of confusion about toppings and crusts and the rest and it might just drive the DELIVERY factor out of your mind, but let’s continue.

Okay . . . (heavy mouth breathing into the receiver) What’s your first name? (heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)


James . . . (heavy mouth breathing into the receiver) Okay, and . . . what do you want?

The first pizza is a large, thin, pepperoni and sausage, and extra sauce.

(heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)

(heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)

(Muffled hand over the receiver, distant voice of him calling for the manager)

(Patient but overtaxed manager giving instructions)

Sorry (heavy mouth breathing into the receiver) Is that it?

No. The second is a large, traditional crust. Half mushrooms and green onions. (Pause.) Half Canadian bacon and pineapple.

(heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)

(heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)

(Muffled hand over the receiver, distant voice of him calling for the manager; he says IT WON’T LET ME)

(Patient but overtaxed manager giving instructions)

Okay. Name?


(heavy mouth breathing into the receiver)

It was like using a tin-can-and-string set-up to talk a toddler through a bomb defusing. But the pizza showed up and everyone ate and we sat outside and burned through a third of a tank of propane using the fire-pit table. Wonderful night.

Saturday we had Dinner with the rest of the family that’s in town - all three sisters together, Realtor Uncle Gary (who sounds exactly like William Macy in “Fargo” - I mean, I’m used to people up here sounding like they’re from up here, but he is so gosh-oh-jeez-you-betcha I wish he ran the tourist bureau, because visitors would be amazed: IT’S ALL TRUE THEY DO TALK LIKE THAT and he’d sell them a house, too) and Former Flight Attendant Auntie Jill who plied the skies for Northwest for years, and their daughter and her two kids - plus a small wiry dog Scout knows well. I think his company has started to bore him, though; Pippa can’t fight, and while it’s fun to chase and run, he can’t fight.

Scout is confused by small children. He doesn’t understand what they are. He growled: this is wrong. They are improperly scaled. But he got used to them eventually, and cast them into the realm of irrelevancy: there’s nothing they can do for me in terms of food or play, and they’re bad at scratching the good parts. Pippa and I have an interesting relationship, because long ago I put the hammer down on her jumping-up by imposing Strict Discipline: hand on the scruff, pressure to the floor, eye contact, heavy breathing. This was when she was just crazy and listened to no one. I tempered this with affection and now we get along just fine, and sis-in-law was pleased to see me hold the Pipper in my lap and give her some love.

“Give her a kiss.”

Okay. Hey, it’s family.

Mother-in-law in Arizona on the phone sitting in the middle of the dining room table, conversation flying through the ether. Tried to call Steven, who’s in Vietnam, but he didn’t pick up. Wish he had; he’s a brilliant young man. Last week at this exact time we were talking on the deck by the river in Chicago, and he said when he was in high school his teacher had handed out an essay to read and critique, and when he got to the end he realized it was by me, and he said hey, you know what? This is my uncle. I was stunned - and no, he didn’t remember what it was about, and the conversation broke up because someone from the Other Side of the Wedding came over and said she wanted to introduce me to that guy I said I wanted to meet.

He was, and is, an emeritus WLS Channel 7 feature reporter, and we had a hilarious chat about doing stand-ups. I asked him how he felt about the walk-and-talk, because I’ve always liked doing the walk-and-talk. I believe in motion in the frame, and like to walk to the subject I’m going to interview. Hell, I’ve walked backwards in a walk-and-talk.

You know how I feel about that? he said. Think of your favorite movie line.

“We’ll always have Paris,” I said, and I did a jumping jack. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I said, and juked back and forth like a running back. “Someone’s always moving!”

He gave me look you could have filled with pastrami and kraut. Yeah, no.

Okay, I’d had a Manhattan. I usually don’t have Manhattans, but the night before after the reception dinner they’d been serving up small glasses of fizzy Manhattans and I had decided I now wanted to be a mixologist. Realtor Uncle Gary had put me on to them, although he'd requested a serious Manhattan the size of his fist, and had been duly rewarded.

Anyway, we couldn’t get Steven in Vietnam. But it was a grand night. I come from a small, quiet family. My wife’s family is large, and half-Italian half-Swede, and full of extraordinary capable and accomplished people. The house was alive and noisy with dogs and toddlers, there was steak and wine, and this, you know, this -

Is what it’s all about.



Our final week of Hollywood Halloween Cheesecake. Wonder how long that kooky pumpkin sat in the prop department's warehouse.

Can you recognize her?

Paulette Goddard. If you don't love her in "Modern Times" you have no taste. Interesting choice in husbands: first Chaplin, from 1932 to 1942 - they were married in secret in China, which sounds like something out of a 30s movie; she was married to Burgess Meredith for five years FOR SOME REASON, and hten married Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote "All Quiet on the Western Front."

He was twelve years older. The marriage lasted 12 years.





William Castle's movies are held in high esteem today by people who enjoythe work of a good huckster, someone who could do something spooky on the cheap. He fancied himself something of a poor man's Hitch, perhaps; in this movie he appears in the move before anything else, talking to us like an old friend.

This bit was inspired, perhaps, by the radio shows of the previous era - a jovial host said macabre things, and this was supposedly fun and ghoulish. There's no reason for the introduction, but what the hey.

I knew nothing about Castle when I saw this movie as a kid.

All I knew was that it was the worst thing I had ever seen, and it gave me nightmares, and the very mention of the name would make me feel queasy. I would see it in the TV Guide and say no no no nope.

It would be years before I saw what scared me so much as a kid.

The movie has Oskar Holmolka, the poor guy. Always the agitated Slavic guy who has to insist on attention of respect.

Our hero, a doctor, gets a letter from an old girlfriend, and she wants him to come to her distant mittle-Europa country and meet her husband, Baron Sardonicus. Naturally he goes, because that's what jilted guys whose girlfriend married rich noblemen do.

Never ever go to a place like this in a black and white movie:

And double uh-oh, Oskar Homolka arrives to take him to the castle. It's all fog and dead trees on the way up.

Inside the castle:

Of course there's a woman in the vestibule covered with leeches by the door. And a locked door to which only The Master has the key. Our hero - a doctor, remember - takes off the leeches, while Oskar looks on and shrugs. "It is the way of our people to treat illnesses." Later the girl comes to his door and thanks him and says "perhaps now the experiments will stop."

"Experiments? What experiments?"

"I can say no more! This is only the first act!" and she runs away. Then we meet the Baron.

You know, he does have this Lyle Lovett vibe going on.

Any kid watching this is creeped out, becausea mask means horrible disfigurement. Which we are doomed to see at some point; it's only a matter of when they pull the Lon Cheney moment.

Well, 44 minutes in, we have a flashback where Mr. Sardonicus unearths his father to get a lottery ticket, and he finds the corpse all nasty with its lips decayed. Turns out this shocks him so bad he - well.


The trailer, with more Castle.



If you're 11, this stuff is irresistable. And lethal.

There's not much else to say; the face of the Baron never loses its power to shock, and the rest of the story is told with brisk flair. It may not be the finest horror movie in history, but can you think of something else you saw when you were 11, and it never lost its power to horrify?


So begins the week! Wish I could say exciting and different things are coming, but this is one of those rote weeks that has exactly what you expect it'll have, content wise. Is that bad? Not when the matchbooks are as cool as they are today. Have a look; see you around.


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