This may knock you right back on your heels, but I got some mulch on Sunday. I believe that's five consecutive weekends. Still not done. Need ten more bags. I asked my wife if it seemed we were overmulched this season; usually it's three trips at the most. But those were years in which we only mulched portions of the grounds; this year everything got a fresh layer. When I tweet about this people say "you should buy it in bulk." Yes and no. While it might have been cheaper to buy it in bulk, the annoyance of transferring it from a great huge pile to the various locations is more difficult, and if it involves a wheelbarrow that means the thing tipping over as I go up the hill, without the pleasure of hearing a mocking "waa-waa-waa-waaaaaa" sound after I've finished toppling to the bottom, landing with the wheelbarrow over my head and a series of stars and birds circling my noggin.

Hiring some strapping lads, whom cannot be counted upon these days to supply their own straps, is also expensive. Plus there's an intangible element any husband would udnerstand: as long as I am out getting mulch, I am technically doing something and cannot be called upon to do something else. For the moment.

But oy, those bags. Fifteen of them today, up the steps, along with a new power pack for the lights; it weighed as much as a hog fed nothing but spoonfuls of neutron-star material. Remember the tale of the old power packs that didn't work anymore? Or only had one useful circuit? There were two out front, one of whom was at 50% capability, the other of which lost its ability to come on when the sun set, and ran the lights all day. So I got a new 600 watt power pack, buried the cords, and attached a new light that shines up into the trees. The effect is spectacular.

Here's the thing: everything's been a bit shabby the last two years. The mulch was old. The lights worked sporadically, and I forgot about them until I realized the backyard beyond the gazebo was as dark as a Grimms' fairy tale woods. But this is the year of total re-spiffication for the house. After which a dozen new goals will present themselves. The reason I have the lights shining up into the trees is because the old lights left by the previous owner relied on buried cable that decided not to work any more. Perhaps it was chewed by voles.

I don't know if there are voles about. The dog would know, but he doesn't get into details.

Saturday was, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, a day of new corn. (This is a reference to an interview I had with man in the Algonquin in New York in the late 80s, when he had left St. Paul because people were bugging him, and went to New York where he would still be noticed in public but now celebrated as the Writer, who Wrote for the New Yorker. I had asked him about his early experience in Gotham, and he described a childhood trip, beginning with the phrase “it was a time of hot weather,” delivered in that trademark guarded baritone. While it was very Keilloresque, I suppose, it struck me as the sort of thing Hemingway would hear, get up, cross the room, and knock a man down flat with one blow, standing over the dazed body shouting “IT WAS HOT. THAT’S WHAT YOU MEAN.”)

So it was a time of new corn, but the corn was small that year. It was corn from a faraway place, from fabled California perhaps, and they were having a time of drought. When the Minnesota corn starts to hit the market it’s going to be the size of small artillery shells. Daughter wanted to pose with an ear, because her newly-done nails looked like kernels:

I cannot skewer the corn without thinking I’m going to plunge the sharp forks into my hand. I must have done that as a kid. We had the same kind - little plastic ersatz cobs in official corn colors. Odd what you recall. You don’t remember the conversations around the dinner table, but you remember the implements. I remember the glasses in which dessert was served - short and round at the bottom, no doubt intended for drinking but pressed into service as vessels for sweets both vile (peaches in syrup) or sublime (that airy pudding that went by the style “chiffon,” I believe.) Anyway. The hamburgers were perfect, the corn was laid along a block of Walgreen’s butter - and when I noted to my wife that Walgreens butter is a sign of a desperate holiday last-minute grocery-store run, she couldn’t remember why we had it. (It doesn’t say Walgreens, but has the name of their house brand: NICE!) Neither could I. Never bought butter there. She didn’t. Yet there it was.

I can name the origin of everything else in the cupboard and fridge, but the butter’s journey is a mystery. Interloper butter, explain yourself. No clue.

Made a rainy-day trip with daughter, and found the usual assortment of fascinating old items. If they're not interesting in themselves, the juxtaposition often is.

Who would buy that? Millions did, once. Houses used to have little ceramic statuary for Class, and nothign was Classier than old European figures being European, carrying books and thinking "Prithee." Or "privy," more likely. This fellow seems to come from a period when small aristocratic boys had their heads flattened in their formative years, for fashion's sake. You hear about the Roundheads, but never the Flatheads.




We think New York hit the skids in the Seventies, but the decline was a long time coming. If this film is to be believed, it was a rotten from the inside in 1967. All its myriad problems were summed up in . . .

We begin with two punks. Creeps. Thugs.

No romance about these guys, no rebels outside the square rules of society, man.

They’re the sort of people you hope the movie will punish, but it’s black and white and loose, and you fear we’re going to be required to understand them. Listen to a soliloquy about how they had it rough. I mean, we’re going to follow these guys around for two hours?

No: soon we meet someone else, and the movie leaves them behind, and heads here.

Eventually we meet some other folks . . .

Hi-yo! The moment we see two of the disparate groups end up on a subway train, we suspect that’s the common thread. The train will roll along picking up people after we’ve been introduced and laid out their problems.

Jack Gifford is incensed his son - the boy who he sweated night and day to feed and clothe - won’t give him money for the dentist.

His wife - Thelma Ritter - defends the boy. And so they fight. Everyone fights. Switch to a Manhattan cocktail party, full of grotesques:

One couple ends up on the subway platform, arguing.

That shot! It's a widescreen movie, by the way; I've made squares of the images to prevent tiny wide shots. The composition on everything is excellent and always revealing - do you think the fellow above might be a bit overmatched by the power and strength of his wife? Perhaps?

Here's a man who isn’t drinking anymore calls home to say he isn’t drinking any more, but is still Gary Merrill.

There are young lovers - the guy’s a creep - and two servicemen on leave, one of whom’s wounded. An Angry Black Man and his Wife. A strange repressed guy who may be a homersexual. It’s almost 3 o’clock in the morning. And then the punks come on the train.

The punks terrorize all the passengers in turn, and fear rules and soaks every single second. It’s just excruciating, and you feel abandoned by the movie: you’re as helpless as the passengers. You know the movie isn’t going to give you justice. It’s a ride you have to endure.

And there's our Star Trek Connection! Admiral Cartwright. (Also Sisko's dad).

Tell you this: by the time the punks go for a little girl, everyone in the audience was Bernie Goetz.

That's it for today! See you tomorrow.


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