Monday, December 27, 2010

Sweet memories of profiteering

Every year on this day, I hope to recreate an exciting event of the past. When it fails to materialize, I accept that and move on, but Hope springs eternal. Every year on this day....

I go to the Barnes and Noble site and beeline for the end-of-the-year clearance sale. But every year, I'm disappointed. Because The Big Bible Blowout happened only once and will never happen again.

I'm surprised that it happened at all, and I strongly suspect that somebody got way fired for it. But 4 years ago, an enormous load of super-expensive Bibles got listed in the sale books for five dollars each.

I mean, expensive editions. Not just King James, not just those cheapie "gift" Bibles with stiff paper and cramped print. Big ones, leather ones, study Bibles, modern translations. 50, 60, 80-dollar Bibles. Very very resellable.

I'm a bookseller. I have a Pavlovian drool-response to great book deals.

4 years later I can still feel the adrenaline rush. Copies of the choicest items were selling as fast as I could click "add to cart" but despite a few "sorry- sold out!" notices, I managed to score two shipping boxes of assorted editions.

Then I proceeded to sell them for tidy profits. Every one of them.

This is the kind of crass, Scrooge-like person I am. I felt just a little bad about it, but, as even some of my most Christian friends pointed out, I paid what the seller asked, I stocked what our customers wanted, and I sold it to our buyers at a price that was nice for them as well as for our book business.

Ever since, I check B&N late in the day on Dec 26th or early the 27th. The instant I see the lovely "end of year clearance" banner, I'm on that "Shop now!" button like a duck on a junebug, but never again have they made such an error.

I kind of feel sorry for whoever put premium Bibles in the clearance sale back in aught-six. Not easy to get a job reference after that debacle.

But in my declining years, as I reminisce over the good times, I'll remember the sweet profit I made on Bibles when Opportunity knocked.

I keep telling yall, I am not a nice person.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed Christmas!

May wonderful things come your way now and through the coming year.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

One hundred Christmases

My great grandmother, Iola, age 8, got this from her oldest sister, Bell, who was 17.

There were 3 sisters. Bell, Iola (the giver and recipient of the first book, above), and Jessamine, who as a small child got nicknamed "Precious" and was called Precious all her life. Iola named her own firstborn -- my grandmother -- Jessamine, and she, aged 7, got this from her namesake aunt.

Again to my grandmother, now age 10, from her own mother.

And another to my grandmother, now age 12, from her mother.

And now we come to my mother, age 1, receiving a gift from Iola who's now a grandmother. Someone in each generation gets the Jessamine nomer. My niece is the 5th generation to have it.

Again to my mom from her grandmother, Iola, whose name has now become "Granny," and is the name I knew her by as well. She's holding a newborn me in this photo, and I do remember her.

To me when I was 9, from my dear godmother.

To me from my mom. Signed by her, on behalf of my beloved stuffed animal menagerie. You'll notice that I was 29 years old. I never outgrew my love for the stuffies, though Hurricane Hugo took most of them.

Books. Best Christmas gift there is.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quit being so subtle

I think we're all supposed to get with the program and hop on board with....with some kind of name for today. What was that again?

Wait! I'll think of it. Just give me a minute.....

Bread and Peace

Universal Prayer
Alexander Pope, 1738

Father of All! In every Age,
In every Clime adored,
By Saint, by Savage, and by Sage,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!

Thou Great First Cause, least understood:
Who all my Sense confined
To know but this, that Thou art Good,
And that myself am blind;

Yet gave me, in this dark Estate,
To see the Good from Ill;
And binding Nature fast in Fate,
Left free the Human Will.

What Conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This, teach me more than Hell to shun,
That, more than Heaven pursue.

What Blessings thy free Bounty gives,
Let me not cast away;
For God is paid when Man receives,
T'enjoy is to obey.

Yet not to Earth's contracted Span
Thy Goodness let me bound,
Or think Thee Lord alone of Man,
When thousand Worlds are round:

Let not this weak, unknowing hand
Presume thy bolts to throw,
And deal damnation round the land,
On each I judge thy Foe.

If I am right, thy grace impart,
Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
To find that better way.

Save me alike from foolish Pride,
Or impious Discontent,
At aught thy Wisdom has denied,
Or aught thy Goodness lent.

Teach me to feel another's Woe,
To hide the Fault I see;
That Mercy I to others show,
That Mercy show to me.

Mean though I am, not wholly so,
Since quickened by thy Breath;
Oh lead me wheresoe'er I go,
Through this day's Life or Death.

This day, be Bread and Peace my Lot;
All else beneath the Sun,
Thou knowst if best bestowed or not,
And let Thy Will be done.

To thee whose Temple is all Space,
Whose Altar Earth, Sea, Skies!
One Chorus let all Being raise!
All Nature's Incense rise!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Please excuse ... a Spatula Gross-Out

This is sort of a public service announcement, because I never, ever, thought to pop the head of a kitchen spatula off its stem -- I mean, it's tightly on, so I never thought it was supposed to be dismantled for cleaning.

So I tend to assume everybody is like me, and needs to know about this. If, however, you regularly think to clean the post and head of your spatula(s?) (spatulae?), then disregard this notice.

Larry and I were making Thanksgiving pumpkin pie for the family bash tomorrow and thankfully (no pun intended) he did think to pull off the top.

Gross. Me. Out.

This has led to :
(a) using a different one that is all formed in one piece, and
(b) dismantling and cleaning several spatula(s?) (spatulae?).

Hoping that I have not ruined your Thanksgiving,
I remain,
grateful for so many things,
including my interesting and delightful online friends,


Sunday, November 21, 2010

As video rental stores sink slowly in the west...

There's kind of a downside to having a home-based business.

Not that I'm real big on social conversing -- it's low on my list of enjoyable activities, below washing dishes. Honest. But when you work at home, you really don't want to use the 'net for everything. It's nice to see a human being on occasion, in, you know, actual stores. It's nice to know our shopkeepers and have them know us, and it's nice to have a town of active businesses, instead of a town of empty storefronts and jobless locals.

So we make our weekly rounds. We've become friends with the people who work at the post office. They know us at the grocery store, and do nice things like honoring my discount coupon, good only on an order of $75 or more, even though my total came up $1.73 short of eligibility. And they know us at the diner and bring me a diet cola as soon as they see me come through the door. Yes, at breakfast.

And we rent videos the prehistoric way. We've been regulars at the nearest walk-in stores.

That's "stores," plural, because they keep folding. We make video rentals part of our regular errand run, and the store closes. I mean, with no notice; we show up and it's an empty room with several dvds lying under the return slot on carpeting imprinted with vanished fixtures, a Chik-Fil-A cup abandoned on an empty shelf, and a Dear John letter on the door.

So we feed our dvds into the return slot to join the forlorn pile on the floor, drive to the next nearest place and become regulars there. Then that one tanks. We're on our third one.

It's weird to get nostalgic about a company like Blockbuster, but we've enjoyed it. I like the staff, and get some good ideas and suggestions from them, and yak with them about our cats and their car trouble and so on.

Blockbuster used to give us one-week rentals. That was nice. Then they cut it to 5 days. That's a pain, but basically still means a once-a-week trip, so we adjusted.

Today, we got there to discover that they've switched to 3-day rentals.

Not that 8 miles is an arduous drive, or that much of a fuel economy burden. But we NEVER go that route for any other reason, and there are a bunch of [%$@#!]ing traffic lights to wait at, and that just tore it. The new 99-cent rentals are swell for somebody, but little in that category appealed to us, and engineering our own 5-day rental period by incurring dollar-a-day "late fees" means a [%$@#!]ing automated "reminder" phone call each day, and adds up too fast if you take home more than one.

So. It looks like I'll be following the rest of the human herd to Netflix. I wrote BB to tell them so. Their stores are "competing" with the convenience of the internet/mail order providers by making store use as INconvenient as possible, which makes no sense. I told them that, too. Likely, they want to stop serving through stores and ferry us all into their own net service, but why keep spending money to make the stores less competitive??

Anyway, I guess my BB card will now join my collection of defunct cards.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Link by link, and yard by yard

There are 9 ribbon-chains, so far. One is sort of displayed along the back of the couch, the others are in heaps. Each is about 12 feet long. That's a guess. I'm about 5 foot 2, so a doubled-over length my height would be around 10 feet. But I keep adding links until I hold it up with my arm extended ceiling-ward and the doubled-over chain touches the floor.

It's very pleasant work, in anticipation of a Christmas that I'm pretty sure will not go down as being the Best Ever.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bookmending - repair that repair!

Another book-repair post, largely information that my regular readers have run into here before, or knew anyway. It may be new to passers-by.

This is a case where I took a book apart because the bad repair job someone did on it was driving me nuts.

I try not to let people who repair books badly annoy me so much, but years as a librarian, facing well-meaning ladies who would put stripes of Scotch™ tape across the pages on each side of a binding break, and hand it to me with a beatific smile and an "I helped you by fixing this poor book" -- while I tried not to dive across the desk and conk them with it -- depleted my stock of patience. Which was never high.

Tape on pages doesn't hold a book together, it only pulls on the pages it's attached to, crumples and rips them, it makes a mess, why do they think it will help??

But anyway, this is different, and I ought to have a little more tolerance for people who glue the text block into the spine. It's wrong, but I grudgingly admit that it seems logical to them.

To any readers who don't know this :

The actual spine of a hardbound book is, 99% of the time, not supposed to adhere to anything.

This seems counterintuitive but it's true. The text block has a backing that extends onto the book cover, and attaches there only. Then the attached part gets covered up by the endpages.

Yes, really, trust me. Pull down any hardcover book and peer down inside its spine. You can. You can even hide notes and paper money in there if you want to. That's because it's unattached, OK?

Allow me to illustrate with a 2174-page 1935 Lincoln Library, which is huge enough for its structure to show clearly in a photo :

Back to the problem book I worked on: someone, many years ago, glued it back together by gluing the text block to the spine, and not only that, but didn't even place the text block correctly inside the cover. He/she slud (past tense of slide - implies sloppiness, as opposed the too-neat word "slid") it down to the bottom edge.


Here, I'm gently separating the spine from the text-block (the text-block is the complete bundle of actual pages). It's worth a very careful try, though in most cases, they won't separate and you need to leave it as is. In this case, the repair job was so old that the glue had become nice and brittle, and released the spine intact :

Fixed now. As well as I can fix it. The spine is now free from the pages, shown by the inserted dollar. It's more obvious in the Lincoln Library photo, further above. I can only make the book so neat after what it's been through, but handling it doesn't drive me nuts anymore.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sigh of relief

OK! So. I might be tempting fate by saying this, but it looks like another hurricane season has let us off the hook. The season isn't over until November ends, but it's quite a bit past its peak now, and we're -- knock wood -- starting to relax.

The worst part of hurricane season for me has always been worrying about my mom. The idea of her home getting swept away was particularly awful for her, and she was the first to admit it. It dated back to 1937, when her own mother was seriously ill and my mom, age 10, was sent out of state to live with relatives for a year.

Mom was an only child in a very close and loving 3-person family and the brief loss of her home, without knowing whether her mother would recover, was traumatic. The possible loss of "home" was a hard prospect for her ever after. (My grandmother, by the way, recovered nicely and lived to 86. Wish the doctors and her family could have known it then!)

In 1989 Hurricane Hugo took everything in their downstairs storage, but the house and most contents came through fine. But as we prepped in 2008 for what looked like 3 serious storm threats, when she was older and very sick with (alleged) pneumonia, I was very worried about what the loss of her home, if that happened, would do to her.

And I'm not worried about it anymore. She never had to face that and I am more grateful for such a mercy than I can express.

We're getting good at storm prep. I know where everything I want to save is, and won't forget some of the most important things -- quilts, blankets, afghans, all with special associations and all of which would make recovery from a major home loss easier. Things that connect me with loved ones are great to hold, but even better when I can wrap them around me :

The beautiful afghans my mother-in-law crocheted for Larry and for me;

Another lovely afghan made by my great-grandmother in the 1940s or '50s;

A quilt my mom bought for me, here in Myrtle Beach on a trip 30 or so years ago;

My blue plaid blanket that went to camp and to college with me;

Sheets and Pooh blanket from the kids' childhood;

A throw, gift from the kids to their dad.

Lots more. Some of which will go with us, and some of which we'll seal into plastic bins (in plastic bags, bins taped shut; make them as impermeable as we can) and wedge into a closet that we think will come through intact enough for the boxes to remain. Rained on or not.

And if we can get enough of this stuff out, or protected ---- some part of me is weary and fed up and thinks, "Who cares what we come back to!"

Only a part of me. If it really happened, I'd care a whole lot, I know. It's the weariness speaking. I don't really need a great cleansing flood. I do need a vacation though.

Monday, October 18, 2010

If you get a hairdo, you can be Episcopalian too!

Our church directory photos, around 1970. Both taken at the same time, so why we're not all in one photo, I don't know. I thought there was one of the 3 of us (my father's work schedule not allowing him to make the assigned appointment. Yeah, right.), but I can't find it.

Really makes you wanna rush to your nearest Episcopal Church and sign right up, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Marsh shadows

Shadows lengthen over the Murrells Inlet marsh, as the sun nears day's end. Tide's coming in, too.

Series of photos taken between 4:00 PM and 6:30 PM EDT,
on October 8th, 2010.

This is the view from my folks' yard, looking over toward Huntington Beach State Park.

To see it bigger, here's the link to the flickr file!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Squirrel, interrupted

Saturday, September 04, 2010

My unillustrated "I LOVE The History Channel" post

Wish I could provide a picture for you. You'll have to settle for my description.

So, at lunchtime, a few minutes before noon, we turn on the TV and surf around till we stumble on The History Channel.

HC's morning program was almost over, so we watched its last few minutes. According to HC's online schedule, the show was "Countdown to Armageddon," about the end of the world, including the Book of Revelation and all the weird symbolism in it. As most of these channels do, History Channel ran promos at the screen bottom for other shows.

One interviewee -- we tuned in too late to catch his name -- described the Antichrist and the infamous "666" mark: "He will require that everyone have The Mark of The Beast on either his right hand or his forehead. Without this mark, no one will be able to buy or sell."

As he spoke, a promo for "Pawn Stars Marathon" appeared at screen bottom.

I just love The History Channel.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Books and ribbons

We went to Books-A-Million the other day, like we need more than the umpteen thousand books we already have, but sometimes a little retail therapy is nice. I usually have no interest in the self-help section, but this time I wandered over to it. After lots of scowling at the offerings, I found a book on grieving that looked fairly helpful and intelligent.

Then I put it back. I've found or been given 2 books and a website already. Is there really any reason to get another book? I think that in some way I pictured grief as kind of an assembly-line process, where 4 workers could build a car 4 times as fast as, say, one doing it alone, so 4 sources would make me feel better much faster! Nah, probably not.

I bought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, instead. I'm impressed! It's good.

Last year I discovered the mental health benefit of making chains out of shiny, colorful Christmas ribbon. It started as a way to use up tangled messes of old ribbon, but became so much fun that when I ran out, I began scouring gift-wrap displays to buy more. By January, the good colors were gone from local stores, and I began searching online for metallic ribbon dealers. That's where I finally happened on Mystic Alley. I bookmarked the site, but the year was going in other directions and I didn't get around to picking my colors and ordering.

Last week, I realized it would be a happy activity to get back into, so I ordered a box of ribbon. A very big box. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Mystic Alley is great to deal with, by the way, fast, accurate, and service-oriented.

That's a standard 12-inch LP album, which I put in the box only for size-reference. It was not obvious how big the box and the contents are, so I used the album to show the size of the ribbon reels. Only then did a cat come helpfully along to pose with the box and make it unnecessary. She couldn't do that before I went to the trouble to hunt through our albums and find it. Certainly not.

It takes as long as it takes, but we're all doing OK.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grief, briefly observed

It's not going to become a grieving blog. Grieving is a major part of my life right now, and if I've learned anything at all, I've learned that "the only way out is through." I wouldn't try to bury the feelings and Soldier On like everything's swell, but I haven't got much in the way of words or insights so this is a one-timer.

One thing is that my feelings change so often. I could write about Sad, or Lethargic, or Life is a Joyful Gift, or Irritability, or the peaceful feeling that Mom's life was complete and fulfilled, or the frustrated, angry feeling that she got cheated out of some years. Pick any one, and by the time I get it written up and reviewed and spellchecked, it isn't even the way I feel anymore and I've shifted into one of the others.

Maybe the one unusual thing about my experience is that I got such a long, long, deferment from grieving. I've never really experienced this before. They say that all major losses -- job loss, divorce, etc -- are types of grieving, accepting a loss and remaking your life. I did that during my life-implosion in 1994 when my job and my brief marriage tanked all at once. But this is different. That earlier sorrow was one of grieving my own illusions, facing the reality that people I'd trusted were not who I thought they were. But this is the loss of one of the best people I'll ever know. There's no "something better" out there.

And it's odd that grieving feels so new, because I dearly loved my grandparents. We were close. They were my advocates and supporters. My grandmother sent me to graduate school. Funded the whole thing. I could do so little for her in return except visit her in the nursing home, write them funny letters, give her university souvenirs and, when I was done, my diploma.

But the era of great trips to see them on their farm, of all the good times, was so long over by then. By the time I lost them, they'd had years of illness and it felt more that the "real life" of having them had been gradually going away for awhile.

Mom was born in 1927. This cherished little girl made it through a decade before antibiotics were available. I remember my grandmother telling me how parents worried about getting their babies to live through their "second summer." The second summer was a precarious time, I guess because when breastfeeding ended, its immunity benefit ended too, and they seemed to have a somewhat higher death rate.

This baby lived to be over 80, flew in jets, owned a computer, had children and grandchildren, yet I feel like she was entitled to more years, and I guess I'm still at the grief-stage of looking back, thinking, Why didn't TWO doctors find the infection years ago? She'd be here. She still seems so close. 6 weeks ago, she stood in their kitchen scrambling an egg, and I feel like she's barely moved out of reach.

Most of my readers, unlike me, have been through grieving long before this, through deaths timely and untimely. I feel guilty about finding Mom's death a few weeks short of her 83rd birthday "untimely," but there I am.

But on her last day in the hospital, my Mom said to me, with a smile, "Don't worry about all this. It's just ridiculous." I didn't know what she meant, but she either knew, or had decided, that life was ending, and wanted us all to feel that this was right. I guess she deserves to be taken at her word on that, so I will get there. Eventually.

Meanwhile, here's a flickr photo set of my beautiful, dear, funny mom. One of the smartest people I ever knew, and what stands out about her to me was her complete lack of bullshit. She could see through, and cut through bullshit in a heartbeat. I think that's what I treasure most about her, but there's plenty more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two oddities

If i have any literary ability or culture at all, it's due to my mom. She took me to plays and musicals, locally, and in New York and London. We rifled old bookstores and junk shops together. She introduced me to Brookgreen Gardens when I was 11 years old. I haven't been able to go to Brookgreen in the last couple weeks, though it's usually my favorite de-stress place, but things are progressing and I'll get back there soon.

She also took me to The Big Library: the downtown Charlotte Main Branch library. Going "downtown" was an expedition and a special treat. One subject among many that I got into while browsing the Big Library was English history. I was the usual romantic teenaged girl -- I read all the library's books about the abdication of Edward VIII, which fascinated me even as it became quickly clear that romance was the least important part of that story.

One book that they had on the subject was this rather vitriolic thing called Gone with the Windsors. The author, who had spent his journalistic career writing food and hospitality books until then, was so outraged by the Duke of Windsor's sentimental and sometimes self-contradictory autobiography, A King's Story, that he felt compelled to write his own book about the events of 1936, in which he took the couple apart piece by piece. Some justified criticism and some serious over-the-top snark.

Awhile back, someone offered the book, now a library discard, on eBay. She's a Charlotte seller who gets a lot of the library's discards, and I'm pretty sure it's the same copy I checked out when I was about 14, since it came from the main library, not a branch, and they only had one copy.

It's one of the thousand things I've thought about in the last two weeks. "Mom would get a kick out of knowing that I now own the same copy! I never thought to tell her! Now I can't."

I can't tell her things anymore. This will keep happening a lot for awhile, and on occasion for the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, last week Dad asked Larry and me to walk around the yard and make notes of things that needed to be done to the landscaping. I pulled a pad of paper out of my mass of junk on my desk shelf, and this photo fell out.

Mom and my dear dog Sparky, around (?) 1971.

They both live on in my heart, but that doesn't cut it for me. Whatever comes next, we apparently are on a Need To Know basis about, and the Higher Power doesn't seem to think that we Need to Know, so all I can do is hope that the photo tumbling out for me was a little message that she's there with loved ones, and with all her favorite animals, and that she's as delighted and joyful as she looks in this picture.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


They say that everything happens for a reason and it could be true or it could be bull that we use to comfort us in loss, I'm not equipped to determine that, at least not right now. I do think some things can be turned to a purpose. I also think I have a need to do that right now, whether it matters or not, so put up with it while I share a little, possibly useless, wisdom I've gained just in the past couple weeks.

If you're diagnosed with pneumonia, and it's not the first time, make sure it really is pneumonia. Whatever your age, though the elderly usually are less strong for the fight.

There are some bad bacteria out there. Tuberculosis is one but it's not the only one. Another, biologically related to TB, is called MAC and acts much the same, and needs pretty much the same treatment.

MAC is different from TB in that we all get exposed to it all the time -- it's a common bacterium in the environment, we get little bouts of it and our systems knock it out quickly.

But if you've got a vulnerable zone, as my mom had in her left lung since a bad bout with pneumonia in 1965, MAC can settle in and become chronic. Ordinary courses of antibiotics, for secondary bronchitis/pneumonia things, won't kill it.

Several chest X-rays, which revealed the colony of bacteria over the past 2-3 years, all were diagnosed as individual bouts with pneumonia. The same shadow appeared, over years' time, in the same place on the x-ray. And I guess it wasn't totally illogical to mistakenly think that she'd repeatedly get pneumonia in the same vulnerable location. But it was a pouch of MAC, and settled in over, the doc guesses, 5 years or so.

If .... if. The "if onlys" may be a very natural reaction, and I'm not inclined to either diss myself for having it, or to dwell on it and let it fester. My mom's doctors tried. We got her to better ones, but it needed to happen years ago.

She was ready, even happy, to stop the fight. It had been a harder, longer fight than any of us realized, circa 5 years of it sapping her. She'd had enough. None of us feel that, things being what they were, there was another outcome.

So maybe things have a purpose and maybe some that don't can, still, be turned to a purpose. Don't live with an infection like this for years. It's not necessary.

Friday, July 30, 2010


My dear mom died night before last. We'll be, not offline at all, but very occupied for the next while, regrouping and helping my father who is staggered by this.

Peace out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I honestly don't know

I have no time to pay attention to ANYthing going on in the world right now. OK, yeah, if I can write a blog entry, I could instead spend my time googling the mosque-at-G-Zero controversy and look at all sides.

I'd rather rant so here's what I think. I have no idea whether this mosque would be a shady attempt to slyly install something with radical Islamist ties there, or whether it's just your basic mosque of your basic Muslim faith.

Instead I'll spin off on what I'd like.

I'd like a mosque, a cathedral, a synagogue, a Buddhist temple, and a scientific foundation to be built at G-zero. All 5, in a circle. And in the center of the circle, a school of tolerance, sanity and, duh, knowledge, administered jointly by all 5.

I really have nihil patience right now with all this endless shit. I want all parties to call a halt to violence, put-down rhetoric, kinder-and-gentler "for your own good" urgings. I want a world of "This is who we are. If you want to know more, we'll answer your questions."

GOD I am SICK of all this SHIT. So much time, so many resources and lives wasted on it. All I wonder is, will the world grow up before it ends?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's back.

Our gold medallion, for Top-Rated Seller status.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor's children devoured by wolves.

- Waldo Lydecker

You can say, and I'm not arguing, that Laura is sentimental melodrama.

Yes, it's full of 1940's social protocol and silly hats. Yes, as all my Twelve-Step Group friends have said many times, the love story is based on disaster bonding, the Lady and the Cop have little else in common, it isn't True Love.

But as filmmaking it's so well-crafted that it mends some of those plausibility seams, and if you don't buy that, it's still sumptuous to watch. The one Oscar it won, out of 5 nominations, was for cinematography, but the art direction was nominated too and the two work together. I don't think there's a single object, moment, or shadow in the movie that wasn't chosen to be there, and chosen well.

I find new things in it every time, which is why yall are being subjected to More Than You Wanna Know about why I love this movie. Complete with not-great screen shots in which I sometimes concealed the dvd-player controls and sometimes forgot.

Here in this flashback, Waldo Lydecker tells the detective how he used his newspaper column to mock the talent of Laura's painter boyfriend. Laura, still unaware that Waldo wasn't just her caring mentor but her stalker, found the column witty and insightful, and dumped the boyfriend.

The screenwriters could have written this scene various ways. Waldo is telling the story, but viewers could have seen Laura delighting in the nasty column all by herself - she'd certainly have told Waldo how great she found it. Or he could have come over to her place to observe her reaction, but sat with her at a breakfast table, with Laura fully dressed.

Instead they brilliantly, creepily, place Waldo there in her bedroom, while she, in negligee, is served breakfast in bed.

The camera pans away from Waldo quickly and focuses on a medium close-up of Laura giggling at the column. Possibly to make trimming out Waldo easy, to allow censoring if the Hays Office balked.

  But Waldo is definitely there and that adds an icky intimacy to their relationship. It's filmed to demonstrate both how un-platonic his feeling for her was, and how clueless she was about that fact. It's wonderful detail that adds dimension to the characters and a quiet clue to the murder motive that the viewers might or might not catch.

Everything in this movie is about detail. Starting with something little, look at Gene Tierney's outfit in the flashback scenes depicting the fateful day Laura Hunt introduced herself to famous critic Waldo Lydecker.

The costume designer has to outfit Laura for a major character development that takes place within a few hours.

This is a just-out-of-high-school Laura Hunt. Pre-success. Pre-sophistication. But smart, tasteful and ambitious, which is why she wants a celebrity to endorse a product and get her ad campaign noticed. In the restaurant scene, where she's vulnerable and naive, she wears a tasteful but unsophisticated suit with a boxy jacket. The jacket has a demure white collar and cuffs, country girl dressing professional.

 Shot down by the acid-tongued Lydecker, she returns to the steno pool at her ad agency.

But he has seen something exceptional in her - or sees a predatory opportunity. Take your pick. I choose both. Anyway, the repentant Lydecker comes to see her that same afternoon, to apologize and give her the product endorsement she wanted. But their roles have flipped. Now he's the uncomfortable one, on her turf, and wanting her approval. Laura has taken off the jacket and her outfit now looks, still unsophisticated and demure, but sleeker, showing innate good taste on a budget, and self-esteem.

More great costuming -- as the plot thickens, we need to suspect several people, including the weak, passive Shelby.  How to make this dork seem menacing...??

The coat. If he just stood there in his business suit with that gun, he'd look goofy, but with the coat over his shoulders like a villain's cape, he looks potentially evil.

The sets .... Oh my. There are three New York apartments shown, all belonging to well-off artsy folks. Each is unique, each reflects the owner. Waldo Lydecker, famous columnist and radio personality, has it all, including a leopard-skin chair in his bathroom, and a collection of masks on the wall that includes, as Detective Mark McPherson notices, one scary one given a central spot.

Laura's aunt is also well-off, but her taste is a little more classic and even staid. Hers is the home of an older woman with money, who wants acceptance by high society but can't entirely extinguish her showgirl origins (That, by the way is in the book - the movie doesn't bother to explain her) or lose her taste for superficial pretty boys who love her money.

Laura, now 5 years into being mentored by Lydecker, has been influenced by his tastes, but still likes sentimental music. And ruffles. The first few times I watched Laura, I thought those ruffled lampshades were just 1940's kitsch, but the sets are dressed with a lot more character insight than that. Laura Hunt is a self-made woman, with sophistication modifying her sentimental tastes, but not eradicating them.

My dvd of the movie has features including commentary by a film professor who mentions something I too noticed, but I think the professor misses the meaning in it. That's the importance of Bessie, the maid.

The film professor says that this, in which Detective Mark McPherson meets Bessie, is an unimportant little scene, but it's not. Bessie is a vital force in the movie and it's a key scene.

The movie is famous for its theme of the detective falling for the dead woman whose murder he's investigating. He doesn't fall for her portrait, whatever other observers say about it. The portrait that the people who loved her draw with words does it.  The painting itself is merely a tangible object he can focus on ,and possibly own.  Bessie loves her employer deeply and blisters Mark's ears with a tirade about Miss Hunt's virtues as a kind, giving, wonderful, true lady, and this is the testimony that tips the scales for McPherson.

Bessie is the method by which the script makes a case for these two possibly having a reality-based love story. Bessie is a hard-knocks Irish woman who hates cops: "I was raised to spit when I saw one." She destroyed evidence to help her beloved Laura keep a good reputation even in death, and she's proud of it.

And McPherson is smart enough to admire Bessie, to let the evidence problem slide, and to see the value of having her as an ally. In that one short scene she drops her cop-hating ways and becomes his biggest fan. Watch her through her few scenes in the rest of the movie. She looks at him as though he made Laura rise from the dead.

Bessie sees that both Mark and Laura are exceptional people, each transcending the world he or she comes from, and it's her devotion to both that symbolizes a solid and reliable bridge between Laura's and Mark's worlds.

The film professor also mentions that Bessie wears the same outfit two days in a row. "It's a one-outfit role" she laughs. I don't think that's it.

Same dress, different day

For a maid who's been presented as uneducated, rather superstitious, and as having a black-and-white view of people, that is a very classy, tasteful dress. Especially for her to come do housekeeping tasks in.

She has actually just come directly from the funeral, according to the book, and apparently they wrote a funeral scene for the film but ditched it. That could explain her nice dress in the first scene, but not the fact that she's wearing it the next day, too.

Nothing says this, but the attention to detail in this movie is so good that I'm pretty dern sure we're meant to see Laura's kind and close relationship with Bessie in that dress. I think Laura gave Bessie the dress, either new or as a cast-off, and that's why Bessie wants to keep wearing it.  Strictly my opinion.

Judith Anderson.  I LOVE Judith Anderson.  You just have to listen as she delivers lines nobody else could speak without sounding like they had a mouthful of graham crackers:

"He knows I know he is just what he is. He also knows that I don't care."

I love Vincent Price, too. Watch him clench his jaw when he's nervous. Watch him always try to make himself look good, so that when he really is telling the truth, and when he's not, he's hard to sort out.

Clifton Webb. Sarcasm at its finest. "Haven't you heard of science's newest triumph; the doorbell?"

This is one case in which the movie is an improvement over the book. The book has a point-of-view problem that filmmaking sort of renders moot. In the novel, several characters narrate, but in each one's segment, the author is forced to tell us things that the current narrator couldn't know, so it kind of shifts into a vague omniscient narrator. I've been told that this is called "author intrusion." They dropped the narrator idea in the film. The camera simply takes us through the investigation.

Just watch it, or watch it again, in a good print. It's a lot of fun.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Me and Melanie Wilkes

I just finished a Live Chat with a rep to voice my concerns about problems with our online business. (I'm avoiding searchable keywords in this post.)

I wasn't expecting to get our highest-rated seller status back, but wanted to protest the policy, show what it's like on this end, explain the need for some kind of dispute/appeals process, and, basically Bitch Nicely.

Larry does more business work than I do, especially lately, but he told me "You need to contact them because I will turn into a New Yorker if I do it." I, on the other hand, will turn on the Southern Cream and Sugar.

Which I did, quite calculatingly. I was raised southern, raised to Work It and know how, but I also grew up in a different era from the one in which the people who taught me Southern Lady Behavior grew up.

I grew up in a revolutionary era; protests, feminism, skirts that did NOT cover our knees. One grandmother really had trouble with that. But not with short skirts (short within reason) when one was standing or walking. In particular, it was when sitting that a lady's skirt always covered her knees, and that was often achievable even with a mid-thigh skirt, if it wasn't a tight one. Ever after, I could feel very comfortable on my feet in a short skirt, but always spread it over my knees when sitting, or felt, if not guilty, at least aware of it when the style didn't allow knee coverage.

See what yall who weren't raised Southern missed? There are odd rules you don't even know about.

Anyway I was a grouchy anti-authority child in an era that encouraged that, and most of those proper southern behaviors became things I could do but not things that were a real deep-seated, autopilot part of me.

So with the online representative, I was partly calculating and partly not. Honest, there wasn't total cynicism in my niceness because I used to work for a county government, and got it in the face when someone was displeased with rules made way above my head. I hated the fact that hardly anybody grasps the obvious, which was that *I* had no power to change a rule for them. I know well that these reps are in the same boat. I've been on the receiving end, do NOT want to dish it out.

But I also knew that turning on the charm would make him/her (it was a her) more likely to listen. Nice, even vaguely witty words were more likely to get read, even if i repeated the complaints (A whole technique of its own -- rewording, to make it less of a dead-horse-flogging, and more like a clarification, or a refinement of the original thought), and my suggestions passed upwards (about requiring the customer to tell them what upset them, even if they don't tell us, thereby allowing appeal). Couple of repetitions of it being about power to dispute for us, couple of repetitions of how there really ARE nutjobs out there, who shouldn't have unquestioned power to hurt us financially. Blah blah.

And when I was done I felt wrung out.

So, Melanie Wilkes.

(This clip is completely unnecessary for this post, and both hilarious and annoyingly hyped up, but the part where Carol Burnett tells Dinah Shore to go stick her head in the punchbowl starts at about 1:45. It kinda goes with my point.)

Melanie in Gone With the Wind, typifies a woman who's physically fragile but mentally/emotionally strong. Much more adaptable to change than is her poor lost husband Ashley. Quite approving when Scarlett shoots the marauder, lies magnificently when the family out in the field starts to run home at the sound of the shooting, and has no compunctions about hiding the body.

But nice. Sweet. Self-sacrificing. And fragile.

It's supposed to show that physical fragility and mental strength can coexist, but as I look back on all the times I've gone into gear to Charm The Bleep out of someone, it tires me awfully. Not just now, not just stress or advancing age. Always did.

I don't think Melanie faded away at the end because "she never had any strength, all she had was heart." I think niceness sucked the strength out of her. Niceness Kills! That punchbowl can drown you. You know, just a thought.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm going away on a train

Not literally. It's something I say.

There's a wonderful 1950 movie called So Young, So Bad, about girl juvenile delinquents. A very very young Rita Moreno (she's billed as Rosita Moreno) plays a shy, sensitive girl who got left holding the bag for some crime (a robbery? Can't remember) committed by her creepo boyfriend. She's too emotionally delicate, cannot endure the rough life in the reformatory, and constantly says that the creepo boyfriend is surely going to come and break her out. I mean, he's so-o-o grateful that he got away and so-o-o sorry she got caught, and he lo-o-oves her with A Love That's True, so he'd never leave her in this awful place!

As the movie nears its end, young Rosita is driven over the edge of insanity. Clearly Creepo isn't coming but she dissociates and babbles: "I'm going away! I'm going away on a train! He's coming for me and we're going away! We're going away on a train!"

I've used it as an expression of Mental Breakdown, ever since.

A month ago ebay quintupled its fees to list a book for sale in stores. From 3 cents to 20 cents each. Making it nearly impossible to leave listings on for months until their buyer appears.

Only we got a break. We paid less. We got this break for being a Top-Rated Seller with outstandingly good ratings from buyers.

Today, we lost that rating, based on getting a 3rd poor mark for "Communication".

These marks are simple "click-the stars to rate." Anonymously. There is no way for us to know what we did or to whom we did it.

A week ago, a buyer wrote us a very frustrated email saying: "This is my THIRD attempt to get you to answer my question! I will leave appropriate ratings for this!"

Only we had never received the two previous emails. Everybody says that, but the messages, swear-on-the-Bible, never came. I checked every place a note or message could be left. I told her that, and she was nicely mollified, said "I understand, these things happen." I'm pretty sure the bad communication rating didn't come from her.

But that means that a lost message might have happened to someone else. Someone who did not try again. Who just decided we didn't give a rat's...

Or maybe not. Maybe it was something else. We aren't allowed to know, and can't dispute the particulars. It will -- or, it would -- cost us literally hundreds of dollars in higher fees and there is no appeal. Yes, I will contact them to dispute it, but if we get a break, it will be strictly because they took our word. That's because the system creates no details or evidence whatsoever.

I, The Buyer, can do this to a seller because they said something rude, or because they said, "I'm really sorry but we can't send you a diamond watch with your book for a dollar" or because they gave me a kind caring answer and perfect satisfaction, but closed the email with "Have a nice day!" and the phrase annoyed me. Or for no reason at all, OR by clicking the wrong star by freakin mistake.

Anonymous ratings are clicked by the buyer with the following instructions: "These are anonymous so don't be afraid to rate honestly!"

There's no reason to give anyone, ever, complete unfettered freedom to give unfair, unwarranted or erroneous ratings that will never be questioned. Sellers can only leave them positive feedback now.

There's also no reason why ebay can't require the buyer to give reason or details to them, to the ebay Powers ... and then simply keep the identifying info from us, so we can at least ask ebay to look at it again.

But there's no information, no appeal, and we can be accused without any method of defense. And it can cost us reams of money.

It will not cost us all that extra money, because we're dumping listings. Each would cost us if we let it renew. Those 20 centses would be a mountain of dimes in no time.

Instead, we'll have to constantly add and delete active listings. It will become time intensive. Meanwhile, we live here to act as my parents' assisted living, and recent health issues -- fortunately things that allow at least partial recovery -- are causing them to need a lot of our help these days. We were just on the brink of configuring our work, writing, and family activities into some kind of manageable routine, but that, because of losing our seller status, has now gone up in smoke.

The display on my camera is burning out.

Out-of-town guests are coming.

Just for today, I will not drink.

I'm online so much anyway that it won't really change my online presence, except that I will not be fine-tuning blog posts. Blogging is a great escape, swell way to vent, and general line to the world, so I really can't see giving it up. I may post a little less but it actually may not be noticeable. What's more likely to be noticeable is that I'll post off the top of my head. I'll sound more scattered, less thoughtful, and somewhat weirder. Thought I'd issue my disclaimer now.

Though I may be so strange already that that won't be perceptible either.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Very Tiny Mantis

This little guy(?), who is hanging around upside down on the underside of our front rail, is the tiniest praying mantis I ever saw! He must have just hatched. That's a dime on the rail, for reference.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It really exists. Honest.

I won't try to pin the slowness of my completing this novel (which everybody's probably sick of my talking about, and which I'm sicker of than anybody) on all the real-life things that take a lot of my time. Some do, but I'd write at a snail's pace anyway.

It's not really a mystery story. A fairly attentive reader could figure out what the deal is very early, and that's the way I wanted it. But it's a plot with mystery elements, where events have to hide the true nature of what's going on, and to mislead some of the characters, and, honest, I'm probably too ADD to write stuff like this. There's too much to keep track of.

Every time I polish off another draft, I truly think it's done. I print up a copy and plan to read through it for typos and minor problems, sure that they'll be quick fixes and that I'll be hitting the "Make it public" button very soon. The picture shows 4 different drafts, going back a couple years.

This print-up is both a self-indulgence -- seeing it as a real book is like a reward, and I need that reinforcement -- and useful, because it's a lot easier to edit. I can catch typos much better in this format.

But then I find, not only typos, but true plot holes. Really really bad things, like an event.... followed by a chapter describing changes caused by that event that develop over a week's time.... only I kinda forgot that I wrote the chapter to take place only a day later.

It's not that these goofs are hard to fix. They're pretty easy. The problem is that I find them after so many re-readings that I fear other screwups/anachronisms/etc., will be lurking there even when I think I've caught and fixed them all. Readers will catch them right away and say, "That's ridiculous." The New Yorker magazine will feature me in one of their "Our Forgetful Authors" dingbats....

That's a joke. Twenty people might read this book if I get really lucky.

Anyway, I thought I'd show yall, right here, the true, actual, verified existence of the thing! See? There it is! It's real. Lousy, but real. And I'm certain that this next read-through and cleanup will be the final one......

I hope. Because I can't "system restore" this miserable, soundless, freeze-and-crash computer till it's done.