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Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Oh, s**t!"

          So titled because those are usually the last words heard on the cockpit voice recorder (unless the pilot is from Mississippi, Alabama, or Georgia, in which case they're more likely to be, "Hold my beer, I'm gonna try something," but that's a whole other post).  I mentioned back on the "farewell to games" post that I was considering replacing games with a category about Mysteries and Disasters.  I've since done some serious soul searching about that.  Why?  Because my tag line is "good, clean fun," and I take that seriously; I want you to be able to count on finding those three things when you come here for a break from the workaday.  In the end, I decided to go ahead with this new category.  My rationalization:  One, it's good reporting.  Two, containing neither obscenities, nor descriptions or depictions of bloody corpses or gratuitous suffering, it's clean.  Whether or not it's fun is dependent on your judgement, but if you enjoy learning the little-known factoids of historical events, then perhaps it is indeed fun.  In any case, it's my blog, and I'm doing it; hope you like  it.  The disaster I am inaugurating the series with is the crash of an airliner in a San Diego suburb, both because this effected me personally, and it's fresh in my mind, having had a brief discussion of this with CT over at Nerd Lunch.  If you have any strong opinions about pieces like this, you like them, you don't like them, let me know.  I am responsive to the wishes of my readers.


          From 1949 to 1988, one of the most beloved San Diego institutions was Pacific Southwest Airlines, a regional carrier catering to the casual flier and the business crowd.  Kenny Friedkin founded the airline in 1949 with a $1,000-a-month leased Douglas DC-3.  That aircraft inaugurated a weekly round trip from San Diego to Oakland via Burbank. Reservations were initially taken from a World War II surplus latrine refitted as a ticket office.  Under the slogan "Catch our smile!" PSA was built into a model air carrier that was the envy of the giants with their sterile corporate feel, and the model for Southwest, USAir (who eventually bought them), and all the other regionals to follow.

          In the postwar era of surplus transports and thousands of qualified pilots, some regionals may have started up before PSA, but they showed the world how it was done, and San Diegans, myself included, took a measure of pride in those smiling jets with their psychedelic racing stripes that would have had anyone thinking we were shareholders.  It didn't hurt that Kenny had a pretty good handle on how to pack in the businessmen, either!  I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the year PSA's stews donned those uniforms just happened to be the first year in the history of commercial aviation that reservations of aisle seats outnumbered reservations of window seats...

          Everything seemed so rosy, the sky the limit, when September 25th, 1978 dawned clear and warm over San Diego, and things in Paradise would never be quite the same again.  On that awful day, a PSA jetliner with 135 passengers and crew aboard went down in a middle-class San Diego neighborhood, killing everyone aboard, seven people on the ground, and the two occupants of the Cessna they had run down from behind, destroying 22 homes in the crash.  It was unfathomable.  September 25th was a "Santa Ana" day, the hot wind blowing out of the desert to the east keeping any trace of marine air at bay; there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and visibility was virtually unlimited.  How could this have happened?  What had gone wrong?

          My personal involvement began immediately after the crash.  Bonnie and I both still worked in the same building where we had met, a warehouse approximately under the "m" in "North Island Naval Complex" down in the lower left corner of the map.  The fork lift operators had taken their vehicles into the parking lot to get fuel from the tanker that delivered to the remote sites.  One of them was a big, macho Mexican named Al, whose black moustache and swarthy complexion gave him the look of a bullfighter.  He came in the door as white as any Norwegian I've ever seen, and announced that he had just seen an airliner crash on the mesa, or plateau, behind town.  Of course, everyone went out to see, and there on the horizon was a black mushroom cloud that bore no resemblance to the gray clouds from the occasional brush fires that San Diegans know so well.  The crash site is the green arrow in the middle of the map.  The source of the smoke was rising directly in line with the El Cortez Center, a well-known landmark at 7th and Ash downtown.  I got the map from my glove box, laid my ruler to connect the warehouse with the El Cortez, and the extended line (which wasn't perfectly accurate) ran within feet of our house in University Heights.  Somewhere to the right of that line, ominously close to the smoke, was my grandmother's house (A), and in that house were not only my grandmother, but our 22-month old twins, and their 6-month old sister.  I think I set the world record for dialing a rotary phone, and grandma was there to reassure me that everyone was fine, it was farther out toward the freeway, and she could barely hear the sirens.  Relieved, we went back to work, one ear on the radio, but after we got home, we found that we were close enough so that we never got the charred meat smell out of that house, and it wasn't too long before we moved out to Casa de Oro, about two inches off the map southeast of Lemon Grove to get out from under this foolishness.  To this day, flying is at the top of my short list of things to avoid.  Like I say, this is as close as I ever want to come.

View Larger Map

          PSA Flight 182 was a popular early morning commuter flight originating from Sacramento, and terminating in San Diego, with a stop in Los Angles.  On the morning of September 25th, 182 carried a full flight crew, plus an additional qualified pilot riding in a "jump seat" in the cockpit.  The aircraft used for the flight that morning was a Boeing 727-214, registration N533PA.  The aircraft was mechanically sound and well maintained, and no problems were anticipated.  The flight from Sacramento and the Los Angeles stopover went smoothly, and the aircraft entered the San Diego approach area shortly before 9:00 AM local time.

          Roaming the area through which it had to pass was a Cessna 172 of Gibbs Flite Center, Inc., registration N7711G.  I have been unable to locate any information on the condition of this aircraft, but the crew of two were involved in training exercises, and it seems reasonable to assume that if the aircraft had been giving them problems, they would have broken off their flight for their own safety if nothing else.  The Cessna was manned by two experienced pilots with multiple ratings and certifications.  One was seeking his instrument rating, and the other, a certified instructor for that rating, was administering the training, which consisted of the trainee controlling the aircraft while wearing a hood that blocked his view of everything but the instrument panel.  The understanding is that the instructor pilot is to maintain spacial awareness around the aircraft, and assume control whenever that is warranted.  Their flight originated from Montgomery Field, east of Clairemont Mesa, and then proceeded to the area east of San Diego International Airport, and was under the control of ATC there.

          Flight 182 entered their approach route just before 9:00 AM, coming in off the ocean over Mission Bay, and making a broad, sweeping right turn over University Heights and North Park to line up a final descent over Balboa Park and the northern fringe of Metropolitan San Diego.  They were immediately warned of the presence of the Cessna:

8:59:39 - "PSA one eighty-two, additional traffic's ah, twelve o'clock, three miles (5 km) just north of the field, northeastbound, a Cessna one seventy-two climbing VFR out of one thousand four hundred."

          It takes ten seconds for 182 to acknowledge; the voice recorder caught instead the sound of the off-duty pilot relating an anecdote.  Was this a warning sign that the crew was taking this approach lightly?  I can't say.  That's outside of my pay grade.  Nonetheless, ATC gives the Cessna a vector to avoid the jetliner, and repeats the warning to 182:

8:59:57 - "Cessna seven seven one one golf, San Diego departure radar contact, maintain VFR conditions at or below three thousand five hundred, fly heading zero seven zero, vector final approach course."
9:00:15 - "PSA one eighty-two, traffic's at twelve o'clock, three miles out of one thousand seven hundred."

          Six seconds later, 182's first officer says "Got 'em."  Was he referring to a visual contact with the Cessna?  182's captain assumes that he was (maybe he pointed at them?), and reports contact to ATC:

9:00:22 - "Traffic in sight."

          182 reports they are now headed downwind, and receives yet another warning:

9:00:38 - "PSA one eighty-two, Lindbergh tower, ah, traffic twelve o'clock one mile a Cessna."

          Inside the cockpit, the first signs of trouble:

09:00:42 - Captain: "Is that the one we're looking at?"     
09:00:43 -First officer: "Yeah, but I don't see him now."

          A somewhat confused exchange follows on the radio:

9:00:44 - 182: "Okay, we had it there a minute ago."
9:00:47 - ATC: "One eighty-two, roger."
9:00:50 - 182: "I think he's pass(sed) off to our right."
9:00:51 - ATC: "Yeah."

          At this point, it probably becomes legitimate for the interested observer to ask how many assumptions it is permissible for a flight crew and Air Traffic Control to make during an approach through occupied air space.  Whatever the answer is, Flight 182 seems to have exceeded it right around here, because chaos and confusion quickly begin to take over the cockpit:

9:00:52 - Captain: "He was right over here a minute ago."
9:00:53 - First Officer: "Yeah."
9:01:07 - ATC: "PSA one eighty-two, cleared to land."
9:01:08 - 182: "One eighty-two's cleared to land."
9:01:11 - First Officer: "Are we clear of that Cessna?"
9:01:13 - Flight Engineer: "Supposed to be."
9:01:14 - Captain: "I guess."

          There follows an unintelligible word from the First Officer, the sound of laughter, then:

9:01:20 - Off-duty Pilot: "I hope."
9:01:21 - Captain: "Oh yeah, before we turned downwind, I saw him at about one o'clock, probably behind us now."

          Actually, the Cessna had taken up a course twenty degrees to the right of that which he was ordered onto, and was directly in front of and below the jetliner, which was closing at over 100 knots faster than the private plane.  ATC on the ground picked up an automated conflict alert 19 seconds before the collision but did not relay this information to the aircraft, presumably because 182 had confirmed visual contact with the Cessna.

9:01:31 - First Officer: "Gear down."
9:01:34 - [Clicks and thumps consistent with gear extension.]
9:01:38 - First Officer: "There's one underneath.  I was looking at that inbound there."
9:01:42 - [Sound of thump similar to nose gear door closing.]
9:01:45 - Captain: "Whoop!"
9:01:46 - First Officer: "Arrgh!"
9:01:47 - [Sound of impact.]
9:01:47 - Off-duty pilot: "Oh, s**t!"

          PSA Flight 182 overtook the Cessna, which was directly below it, both approximately on a 090 (due east) heading. The collision occurred at approximately 2,600 feet (790 m) and broke the Cessna, and the 727's right wing and empennage, to pieces.  According to several witnesses on the ground, there was first a loud metallic "crunching" sound, then an explosion and fire that drew them to look up.

9:01:49 - Captain: "Easy baby, easy baby.  What have we got here?"
9:01:52 - First Officer: "It's bad."
9:01:52 - Captain: "Huh?"
9:01:53 - First Officer: "We're hit, man.  We are hit!"
9:01:55 - 182: "Tower, we're going down, this is PSA."
9:01:57 - ATC: "OK, we'll call the equipment for you."

          Suddenly so cool and professional.  Where was that two minutes ago?

9:01:59 - 182: "This is it, baby!"
9:02:03 - Captain (on intercom to passengers): "Brace yourselves!"

          Amid tense, confused shouting in the cockpit, the last words spoken can be clearly made out:  Ma, I love you.  Flight 182 struck the ground 4830 meters (three miles) northeast of Lindbergh Field, in a residential section of San Diego known as North Park. It impacted in a high-speed, nose-down attitude while banked 50° to the right. Seismographic readings indicated that the impact occurred at 09:02:07, about 2.5 seconds after the cockpit voice recorder lost power. The jet impacted just west of the I-805 freeway, approximately nine meters (30 feet) north of the intersection of Dwight and Nile streets, with the bulk of the debris field spreading in a northeast to southwesterly direction towards Boundary Street.

          The largest piece of the Cessna impacted about six blocks away near 32nd St. and Polk Ave.  The explosion and fire created a mushroom cloud that could be seen for miles, and first responders on the scene reported that there was nothing left but utter destruction.  In total, 144 people lost their lives in the disaster, including Flight 182's seven crew members, 30 additional PSA employees deadheading to PSA's San Diego base, the two Cessna occupants, and seven residents (five women, two male children) on the ground.  Among the victims on board PSA Flight 182 were Alan Tetelman, professor of metallurgy at UCLA and president of Failure Analysis Associates (now Exponent), who was en route to investigate a U.S. Navy helicopter crash; Charles Dunsmoor Bren, the 34-year-old son of actress Claire Trevor Bren; Richard "Ric" Horne, the 51-year-old brother of American mezzo-soprano opera singer Marilyn Horne; and Valerie Woods Kantor, the first wife of future United States Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor.  An additional nine people on the ground were injured, and 22 homes across a four-block area were destroyed or damaged.  One would-be passenger, Jack Ridout, a survivor of the Tenerife airport disaster the year before had also booked a ticket on Flight 182 from Los Angeles, but had cancelled his booking to leave for home the day before.  At the time it was the U.S.'s deadliest commercial air disaster, and it remains the worst in California's history.

          Those are the clinical facts, the second-by-second analysis of the black boxes and instrument recorders, the reassembly of the shattered remains.  As someone with an admittedly morbid fascination with these things, I seek them out on the net sometimes when I have time on my hands, to see what went wrong.  In many cases, as it seems to be here, people got careless, complacent, developed the attitude that nothing's ever gone wrong before, so it won't go wrong now.  The NTSB laid the lion's share of the blame on the PSA crew for not following established approach procedures.  There was enough left over for the Cessna for not coming to the directed course, and ATC for not demanding accurate reports from the airliner, nor compliance from the Cessna.

          What I always come back to is the human factor.  What was it like to be a passenger on that airliner?  Specifically, what was it like to have a right-side window seat, to see that little airplane being overtaken, to feel the impact as your wing tears it to pieces, to see your wing burst into flames, and dip for that final high-speed fall into the unsuspecting houses below?  I'm not generally afraid of a whole lot of things, especially movie fantasies.  It's been a long time since a young boy was frightened out of his wits by The Blob, but this stuff really happens to people, and my imagination is good enough to put myself on that airliner, and ride it all the way in.  I feel the terror, and what I want more than anything is for this to never happen again.

          So, what has changed here?  In a word, nothing.  Actually, that's not true.  It's gotten worse.  People were talking about moving the airport before this ever happened, 34 years ago.  It is still in the same place, and is now the busiest single-runway airport in the United States.  Airliners still weave between the skyscrapers and buzz cars on the freeway on their final approach, and you don't have to park at the head of the runway and watch planes for very long before you realize that the only thing between San Diego and the next Flight 182 is nothing but pure, blind luck.  As a person who, as a professional, is heavily involved in safety, this just slays me.  I'm sure there were investigators in the aftermath who called for improvements to save lives and property in the future, and were quoted the same mantra that I hear too frequently today:  "We don't have money for that!"  I hope we find some before too many more people pay for this short-sightedness with their lives...

          During the construction of this post, I've been comparing notes with Bonnie on this incredible event in our lives, and she has a few things she wants to say.  I've about covered everything I have to say, so I'm going to turn the helm over to the Hideout's first guest speaker, my sweetie!


          After viewing the collision in mid-air, the Supervisors asked Al if he needed to go home.  He was the one who saw the collision, and our Supervisors showed a rare consideration for others by asking him.  He declined, but he was shaken.  The rest of us couldn't believe it had happened and I was so thankful that Jack's grandmother verified that all was well there.  Our kids were alright and I could breathe a sigh of relief.  That night after we arrived at the house, we turned on the TV to catch any details that might be on the news.  We hadn't picked up the kids yet, taking a few minutes to unwind before we began our tasks for the evening, taking care of the kids, feeding them, bathing them and falling into bed exhausted after our 16 hour day.   The thing that struck me as the saddest, and actually had me sobbing, was a 16-year old boy who had been waiting for his Mother to come in on that flight.  He was cowering off in a cubicle of some kind, and his arms were wrapped around his knees as he curled himself up into a ball.  People were trying to talk to him, to get him to come out of hiding so they could help him.  He wouldn't budge.  He sat frozen in time and could probably not believe the worst thing imaginable had happened to his Mom.  It was heart- breaking. 


          Every single person on the plane had died.  It was so tragic.  But worse than that, there were looters all around the area, taking valuables from dismembered hands.  Rings, watches, anything they could attach themselves to.  I couldn't believe people were so callus and unfeeling.  The smell was everywhere.  I couldn't even imagine fixing dinner.  It was a smell like nothing I'd ever experienced before.  For quite a while afterwards, you could see the wavy lines in the road where the plane had crashed and burned.  It brought it all back crystal clear every time we drove by there.  It got so I had to deliberately look in the opposite direction when we were in that area.  We picked up our children a little while later and I was so thankful to hold them and love them and see that they were safe.  I've never lost anyone in a tragic accident like that.  I don't know how I'd react.  Maybe like the 16 year old.  Just holding onto something because it all seems so unreal, so tragic, so cold and final.  I'll never forget what it was like, all those people, their lives ended in a terror-filled moment that there was no escaping from.  I'm just so thankful for my family and that we are all well and all together, except for one of our sons who lives out of state.  I'm grateful every night when I lay down to rest, my loved ones are here, safe, in my arms and in my heart.


          And that's the story, our part of it, at least, of what is arguably San Diego's greatest disaster.  I look at what we've wrought here, and can't avoid the certainty that it's pretty intense.  Whether that's due to our proximity to the events I can't say; I can't view it with someone else's eyes.  Like I said, if you have any strong feelings, pro or con, about this sort of post once in a while, speak up and be heard.  I'll be waiting...


Hideout Happenings


          The first order of business is to welcome the Hideout's newest denizen, Sandy, aka Doris the Great. Her blog posts run the gamut from whimsical to profound, and I highly recommend that everyone pay her a visit in the near future. You'll find her on the link list at Aging Disgracefully, a caustically charming name that I wish I'd thought of.  I hope you enjoy what you find here, Sandy, and visit us frequently.  Visit my friends while you're here, too.  Hopefully, you'll find them as, uh, charming... Yeah, that's it!  As charming as I do.  Also added to my link list is the Books Anonymous site, although Kaz hasn't decided to join us yet.  I'm hoping we'll grow on her...

          The grrls have been cleaning out a long-neglected store room, and they are finding old things of mine that I've forgotten.  One of them is an opened and sorted, but unplayed copy of Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame.  If you would like this game as my gift to you, sort of a reward for hangin' out, mention in my comments section that you want it.  I have rolled a die and recorded the number.  The person (3rd, 5th, or whatever) corresponding to that die roll gets it.  The only possible drawback:  You will have to give me an address to send it to.

          I'll close with an appeal.  I have three good friends who, despite repeated attempts to contact, I have not heard from in many weeks.  People get busy, people encounter problems they have to deal with, things happen.  People also get tired of where they are, and move on, and sometimes they leave behind friends to wonder what they did wrong.  So, here's the appeal:  Chops of The Irish Navy; Arabella of The Genteel Arsenal; and "T" of Beyond the Rails, if you're still out there reading this, and I still have a place on your dance card, take a moment and let me know.  If you don't have ten seconds to type "We're still good," and hit send, then I can only guess that we're not still good...

In the meantime, Get out there and live life like you mean it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fun Between the Covers

          Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends...  Oh, sorry, you caught me singing to myself; never a pretty sight.  As promised last time, this post is going to be about "Books and Literature."  Take note of the title, as it's catchy enough to be used a lot.  I shall begin with my review of one of the most delightful books it has ever been my pleasure to stumble across, and you'll be pleased and surprised, I think, to find that no elves, dwarves, orcs, or halflings reside therein.

          The book is Pirate's Passage (2006, Trumpeter Books) by William Gilkerson.  Mr. Gilkerson is a sailor, painter, journalist, historian, and adventurer.  Oh, and a rollicking good writer, author of the novel Ultimate Voyage, as well as ten non-fiction books on nautical topics, and his paintings are internationally acclaimed as among the finest of contemporary maritime art.  He did the simple yet elegant pen-and-ink drawings that are scattered throughout this book, and they add significant immediacy to the tale while neither becoming a distraction, nor giving away bits of the action.  He lives on the shore of Nova Scotia, where much of the book's action is set, and goes sailing aboard the Elly, his ancient cutter.  This book, Pirate's Passage, won the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature (Canada), and the New York Library Association "Book of the Season" Award (US).  The Canada Council for the Arts describes this as "a challenging children's novel with a dangerous edge."  I couldn't improve on that with any amount of effort, though I place its target audience closer to the adolescent market, probably 12-16.  Whatever you do, don't let that rob you of one of the most delightful reading experiences you'll ever have.  There is a bibliophile at work who I frequently exchange books with.  He typically keeps one for a couple of weeks, and then I find it back on my desk.  This one was back in two days.  "Didn't you like it?" I asked.  "Finished it," he replied.  "I couldn't put it down!"

          The story purports to be the memoir of an old man, Jim Hawkins, which he admits is an alias, lifted directly from Treasure Island.  He tells of the winter of 1952, when he was a miserable twelve-year old growing up in the tiny fishing town of Grey Rocks Harbour, Nova Scotia.  His widowed mother runs the town's historic inn, and struggles to make ends meet.  She is in debt to the local fatcat, who has his eye on the inn, and would like nothing better than to foreclose.  The fatcat has sons and daughters.  The daughters ridicule and humiliate young Jim every chance they get; the sons bully him daily.  Their family has a large mongrel dog who runs loose, and believes that young Jim is a delicacy on his personal menu.  His mother employs a waitress, Meg, a sassy teen who Jim secretly adores; she openly scorns him.  Every adult who survived the age of twelve will tell you, "That was my life!"
          Into this rocky port, from the teeth of a winter storm, sails a small, dishevelled boat, the Merry Adventure.  The boat, despite being beaten down to a near hulk, by some combination of skill and luck makes a perfect landing, and disgorges an ancient mariner who introduces himself as Captain Charles Johnson.  Jim's life will never be the same.  The Captain knows things that no one could know.  He knows where to find a long-forgotten treasure in the sea caves under the point.  He knows how to make the Moener Brothers turn their limited wits to things other than harassing young Jim.  He knows how to deal with surly dogs.  He preaches evasion (Never fight a battle you don't have to win?), but when all the options are exhausted, he knows how to unerringly attack an opponent's weakest point.

          But Captain Johnson's true talent is spinning a yarn.  He talks of pirates, admirals, kings and queens in a way that makes it sound like he knew them personally.  When he describes the tense pirate crew hiding below decks, waiting for the right moment to ambush a Royal Navy boarding party, it isn't just a tale.  Young Master Hawkins, and you, the reader, are right there, watching through the gratings, hand clutched painfully tight on the hilt of your cutlass, smelling the rum-soaked breath of the man next to you.  When the fight starts, and the Captain describes the blow you take on the head from a hardwood belaying pin, you feel it; you lie on the deck amid the swirling feet of desperate men struggling for their lives; you bleed.  Is it all just the spell of a skilled storyteller, or has he somehow transported Jim (and you) back two hundred years to sail with Blackbeard's crew?

          A historical digression:  There was indeed a Captain Charles Johnson, or someone who used that name, who in 1724 published a book entitled A General History of the Pyrates, which remains to this day the cornerstone of all our knowledge of these colorful characters from that time in history.  Remarkable, as Charles Johnson is clearly a pseudonym, and no one to this day knows who he was.  A line of research in the 1960s seemed to suggest that the author of this tome was Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame, but that has since been discredited.  Nonetheless, the book has seldom, if ever, been out of print in close to three centuries.

          The seductive, teasing suggestion made in the book is that the Captain Johnson who climbed off the Merry Adventure to change the life of twelve-year old Jim Hawkins forever is actually the same Captain Johnson who wrote the book on pirates 227 years previous.  Of course, that would be impossible, wouldn't it?  Because nobody lives that long, do they?  The genius of this work is that Gilkerson doesn't overtly announce that magic is at work, nor does he explicitly announce that this is or isn't the case; he weaves a tightly crafted narrative spanning 362 pages, and after you have "examined the evidence," as it were, you are invited to draw your own conclusions.  This is truly a book in which the outcome will reflect the outlook and experiences of the reader, and as a wanna-be author myself, I cannot imagine a greater achievement.  The book is readily available, and inexpensive to boot, on line and in stores.  It is truly a delightful experience, a magnificent escape, and dare I say, too good for just kids!  Buy it.  Read it.  You can thank me later...

          My other book for this post is a complete change of pace, and it is my honor, and my pleasure to be able to review a book by my good friend Kristine.  In this age of blogs, tweets, and Facebook pages, there is a tendency to grossly overuse the word "friend," and in fact, I have questioned on these pages whether someone you know through a random photograph and a dozen lines of text is deserving of that particular term.  Now, Kristine and I live on opposite sides of the Pacific Rim, and as of this moment, the only way we are ever likely to meet is if a tsunami washes one of us up on the other's favorite beach.  Nonetheless...  Kristine and I have recently had our relationship tested by the antics of an arrogant horse's ass who probably lacks the grace to wash his hands after he uses the bathroom; we have emerged from that particular unpleasantness with our relationship closer and stronger than it was before, so I'm sticking with "friend."

          Kristine Ong Muslim's new book is We Bury the Landscape (2012, Queen's Ferry Press), subtitled An Exhibition-Collection.  It is an apt description.  I have never encountered anything quite like it; in all fairness, I have the reading tastes of a twelve-year old boy, but nonetheless, I do have some awareness of things beyond my nose, and this is so unique that you'd think I would have heard of it if it was out there.  What the lady has done is to study, examine, get a feel for a painting, some famous, some new, or by new artists, and once she has wrapped her head around what it says to her, she has then written a flash story, or prose-poem about it.  The story has nothing to do with the life of the painter, or what the painting is meant to represent, or how it was painted, or any of the things typically found in a book about paintings.  It is visceral, compelling, possibly a bit controversial (though controversy, as always, resides with the reader), and invites you, the reader, to step into the art and examine what it says to you.  There are 100 of these little essays contained between the very colorful covers of her book.  The paintings are not included, which is not a problem if you have a computer (which you do if you're reading this); just Google them, and there they are.  I am in the process of savoring one essay each day.  Sometimes I look at the painting first, and try to imagine what a mind of the opposite gender from another culture might make of it.  Other times, I read the essay first, then look at the painting.  I think I prefer this latter method.  I always seem to get the added benefit of a belly-laugh or a sharp gasp of surprise when I do it this way.  The stories run from a few lines to slightly over a page in length.  None of them are challenging reads, but they will burden your mind with challenging ideas; I like that.  I'm going to reproduce one of the shortest essays here, along with the painting, to whet your appetite for this work, because I lack the words to fully describe what I'm so deeply enjoying, and you should have a complete understanding of what this is, because you need this book on your short list.  It is unthinkable that anyone who likes a good read should miss this!

          Allow me to present, then, Startled Emu, after John Olsen's Startled Emus:

          "The hunter crouched in the bushes.  A cramp was starting to form in his left leg.  When the shot rang out, the emu assumed it was the target.  Being the center of attention meant being the first to die.  It was the hereditary conditioning of prey.  Panic caused its lopsidedness, a dainty stick figure with no ambition.  It sprinted.  It would never look back, would never, even for a second, turn to discover which of its companions lagged behind."


          There are 99 more stories waiting to be savored in this delightful little work, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.  There is something here for every taste, and I'm certain that no one who takes on this very interesting read will be disappointed.

          It might be natural to assume that, given the relationship I so proudly described with the author, that I'm gilding the lily in this review.  Don't.  I don't review things that I don't like, and if I tried, I wouldn't have the skill to hide it from you.  The fact that Kristine is a charming wit who apparently shares her tropical home with some very territorial ghosts only adds to the fun.  Kristine Ong Muslim works in various short forms, chapbooks, short stories, and poetry, and has literally hundreds of pieces published in collections and magazines all over the world.  She has won too many awards to list here, and garnered many more prestigious nominations and honorable mentions.  She is also a cherished denizen of the Hideout, and I carry a permanent link to her website in the sidebar @ Kristine Ong Muslim; I'm not trying to hide her!

          It has been a not-so-secret ambition of my adult life to be a published author, and I always thought that if I ever met one, I would be consumed with jealousy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This young lady is delightful!  Do yourself a favor and pay her a visit.  She'll pique your interest, make you think, or tickle your funny bone, but you won't come away unchanged, and you won't be sorry...  You have my word on it!

Hideout Happenings

          Heard on the BBC:  A firm in England is working on a pair of glasses that contains a head-up display on the lens to give you information about the world around you.  Ultimately, the individual user will be able to tailor them to his or her own needs, from running a guided tour of a strange city to highlighting the nearest repair shop when your car breaks down.  GPS, a breeze.  Restaurant reviews printed on your lens on demand.  Where can a diabetic purchase a supply of insulin in an emergency?  They'll tell you.  The other edge of that sword, as you might expect, is marketing.  See, at the other end of the transceiver is a piece of software that will track everywhere this pair of glasses goes, everything the wearer's eye lingered over, and what you were looking at when your pupils dilated!  Think tailored ads on your computer screen are annoying?  Tekkies are going to love this!  Privacy advocates, maybe not so much.

          Blog surfing Monday night, ran across a site taking the position that blogs are a dying breed, in the process of being replaced by Facebook.  To put up a blog post, the premise goes, takes time, preparation, dedication, and some degree of intelligence.  Facebook doesn't.  That, at least, is true.  I know I spend hours preparing this stuff you see here.  I'm generally proud of my content, and thrilled when somebody takes the time to read, and if I'm really lucky, comment on my work.  Facebook works well for those who think that a coat of paint represents depth.  Seriously, ten hours doing research and preparation for a blog post, or ten seconds to post a snapshot of what you had for breakfast, with an in-depth commentary like "Eggs were greasy - Coffee to die for!"  The difference is, Facebookers, nobody really gives a $#!+ what you had for breakfast.  I go around the blogosphere, and find blog after blog whose most recent entry is three years ago, and I realize now that these are people who lacked enough substance to bring anything meaningful to the table; they moved on to Facebook because they found it to be just their speed.  The ones who are still around are the ones whose minds need more than "OMG just saw cutest shoes - must return payday, LOL!"  So, I'll be around for the foreseeable future, mining the blogs in search of the next Nerd Lunch, the next Raising a Revolutionary, the next Back to the Keep.  They're out there, and one by one, I'm finding them.  I just want to say thanks to all of you for keeping up your sites.  I'm not always into the subject matter, but the level of effort that went into it pretty much always compares to a Facebook post like an H-bomb compares to a kitchen match.  I'll know when human intelligence has bottomed out; there won't be any blogs left.  Then it will be time for me to go.

          As it is now.  Hope all my Christian friends had a Happy Easter.  I don't have much in the way of happenings because of the short turnaround on this issue, so I'll just cut to the chase:

Get out there and live life like you mean it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Minutes of a Recent GA Meeting

JT:  Hello.  My name is Jack, and I'm a gamer.

[Audience]:  Hello, Jack.

Moderator [Mod]:  Why don't you tell us your story, Jack?

JT:  [Nods] It all started innocently enough.

Audience Member [AM]:  It always does!


JT:  Right.  In my case, I was three years old when my great-grandma bought me a game called Hickety-Pickety.  As you might imagine, there wasn't much substance there, but it was my first taste of competitive problem solving.  I was hooked.

AM:  Tell it, brother!

JT:  It almost wasn't a game at all, just a color-learning exercise for toddlers about hens collecting their scattered eggs from around the barnyard, but by six, I was wheeling and dealing houses over a Monopoly board, and at eight, I discovered the diabolically dark liqueur of Chess.

AM:  [A few cries of "No!" and "You poor man!"]

JT:  I was amazed at how easy it was.  Six pieces making seven different moves.  It wasn't for a while that I realized that the subtlety in Chess is in how you utilize those seven different moves.  The next five years are a muddled blur of studying strategies, replaying classic matches from the Sunday paper, and constantly trying to find that one tiny variation that would make me invincible.  [Heads nod in sympathy]  But then, at thirteen, the unthinkable happened.  [Everyone leans forward in anticipation]  One of the neighborhood kids turned me on to wargaming!

AM:  [Collective gasp, a man moans, a woman shrieks, and another faints dead away.]

JT: Yes, the most insidious, addicting, mind-controlling format in the entire wretched spectrum of depravity sank its fangs into me at the dawn of my teenage years.

AM:  [Various disbelieving cries.]

MOD:  Let's try to calm down, people, and let the man speak.  There's a message here for all of us.  Go on, Jack.

JT:  Thank you.  For those who lack the personal experience, wargames have a creeping quality, in that what you have is never quite enough.  Take the Western Front in the Second World War as an example.  The gateway product was a simple operational-level game called D-Day.  The trouble was, D-Day quickly became too easy for experienced gamers, who soon had to upgrade to the similar, but far more complex, Fortress Europa.  Where D-Day took a day to play, Fortress Europa needed a weekend...  Sometimes, a long weekend!

AM:  [Sounds of disbelief.]

JT:  And that was nothing but the tip of the iceberg!  Probably not all of you have ever heard of a game called The Longest Day.  This monstrous creation depicted the six week campaign for Normandy following the landings.  It would not even fit on a standard dining room table, had twenty-five hundred counters in play at any given time, and could barely be completed by two dedicated gamers in a season!  Recognizing their error of alienating the majority of gamers with this monstrosity, the company followed it with Breakout Normandy, basically the same subject, but at a manageable size in which units controlled geographical areas rather than individual hexagons.  But on top of that, the same actions were covered at the company level in Panzer Leader, and the squad level in Squad Leader and its upgrade, Advanced Squad Leader, even in a tactical card game, Up Front.  In the other direction, scale-wise, the invasion was a possible event during the whole war in Europe, played on a map depicting the entire European continent plus North Africa, called The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.  Naturally, after we had all bought that game, it was "updated" with a sequel, Advanced Third Reich.

So, there are ten games about the same subject, each with a little different focus, and it is worth noting that once they had their hooks into you, the prices never stopped going up.  And this is just one company, an outfit called Avalon Hill, producing all these products.

AM:  [More gasps, and shouts of outrage.]

JT:  Simulations Publications, Inc, Game Designers Workshop, and World Wide Wargamers, not to mention a couple of dozen enthusiasts with rudimentary facilities in their garages, were publishing competing products, and if you wanted to call yourself a serious gamer, you had to have all of them.  And this was only one subject.  Gettysburg, the Battle of the Bulge, Waterloo, the North African campaign, and hundreds of other battles had to be represented.  It never relented.  It never improved.  I filed bankruptcy in 1981.

AM:  [Impossible!...  It can't be!...  Oh, the evil!... etc.]

JT:  Not impossible, my friends, not impossible at all.  We began having children in 1976.  By 1981, the twins were ready to begin kindergarten.  My lovely wife, Bonnie, asked me one day when I wanted to attend to signing the twins up for school.  My reply?  "What twins?"

AM:  Dear God!

JT:  If only God had been present!  Once made aware of the presence of these children, I took a considerable interest in the course of their lives from that point forward.  I hooked them!

AM:  [A collective gasp that sucks the air from the room...  Two more people faint.]

JT:  That's right, my own children!  The bankruptcy had freed up some disposable income, and I wasted no time climbing onto the approaching juggernaut that was video gaming.  Video gaming.  The Atari 2600 was the wave of the future.  Pong had been a waste of TV screens, but this new device was nothing short of miraculous!  What simple board game could hold a candle to the flashing screen and electronic beeps of Space Invaders or Centipedes?  Oh, little did I know!  For, coming in on its heels was the wonder of wonders, the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Oh, my God!  Games were now played as movies in which you, the player, controlled the action!  Super Mario Brothers, Ninja Gaiden, Joust, and the greatest game ever released on a game-hungry public, Link: The Legend of Zelda.  And these were merely the start, my friends.  Title followed title, every cartridge pricey, every program with its own perks and quirks, and each one irresistible, a gem in its own right.  It was simply understood that the human mind could not possibly evolve anything that surpassed the diversion to be found on the NES.

But surpass they did.  Sega came along to challenge the NES, setting off a technology war.  Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast...  PlayStation!  There was PlayStation's direct competitor, Nintendo 64.  PlayStation 2 was released, followed shortly by XBox.  XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 were supposed to release almost simultaneously, though Sony chose to delay for many months after Microsoft put the 360 on coffee tables across America.  The pundits thought it was a strategy for suicide, though hindsight shows it has worked well for them.  We had them all, though PlayStation 3 was left for my younger son to buy after he left California.  Each one was a graphic improvement over the system that preceded it, until what we see today is nearly of photographic quality, and exponentially more addictive than those primitive offerings that we thought would never be equalled back in the 1980s.  Two of my children remain addicted to this day, thanks to me, and through them all seven of my grandchildren.

AM:  Unbelievable!...  It can't be!...  Some obscenities are called out.

JT:  It is believable, my friends, and it is more common than you might believe.  And I want you to note here that I haven't even touched on the phenomena of Role-Playing Games and the Personal Computer.  I felt that boardgames and the consoles were enough for you to take in at one session.  The number of hours we as a family have squandered on this useless pursuit cannot be calculated, and we would be at it yet, but for the direct intervention of the Almighty.

AM:  Jesus be praised!

JT:  Call it Jesus, call it fate, call it what you will, the simple fact is this:  All three of our game consoles went belly-up within two weeks.

AM:  Hallelujah!...  Amen!

JT:  In the absence of those time-leeches, we discovered a whole world of books, music, travel, and dare I say it, conversation!  I challenge you, friends, unplug your mice, put down your dice, ditch that controller, and join the life of your times.  You just may have the time of your life.

AM:  Sing it, brother!

JT:  To complete this story, my oldest grandson, Brian Jr., brought me his old PlayStation 2, so my daughter Nine and I have a few games to indulge in socially.  I've been game-free for three days, and that's about how often we get together for a couple of hours of nostalgic enjoyment; we have spent about three weeks on Spiderman: Friend or Foe, a game that a month ago we would have put down in a single ten-hour session.  At the end of the day, I have to acknowledge that I'm still a gamer, but what I'm doing now is more like sipping a glass of wine than chugging a quart of tequila.  It's a much more pleasant experience, and doesn't leave you with a headache the next day, either.  A month ago, we would have spent Saturday in a sunup-to-midnight game session.  This Saturday, we're going to a blues harp fest at a local park.  I'm taking my wonderful wife who stood by me all those years when I didn't know there was anything for her to endure.  Just one example, but I think you can see the difference.

AM:  Amen, brother!

JT:  So, Microsoft, Sony, you had a good run, but your hooks have been removed.  There will be no more sixty dollar game cartridges, no more replacements of controllers and memory cards that are designed to fail, requiring endless rounds of replacement, no more fancy accessories, "custom" controllers with a picture of the Master Chief, for example, for $75.00.  No more anything.  I hope you got enough, 'cause you'll get no more from me.  I guess the message is moderation, people, moderation in all things.  Most of you know that I'm a Taoist.  I don't believe in a God with a name and a personality, but when my game systems all crashed, I began to think that there must be one, and that he had it in for me personally.  A month later, I have money in my pockets and time on my hands, and I feel like I've been let out of jail.  That's what I've come here to say to you.  If you have an albatross around your neck, and you don't know how to get out of its clutches, cast it off!  It only takes one moment of strength-

AM:  Amen!...  That's right!...  Hallelujah!

JT:  It only takes one moment of strength to make that trip to the trash can, and once the influence is removed, you will be amazed at what awaits you.  Life!  New vistas!  New experiences!  New friends!  They're out there waiting, people.  All you have to do is make room for them.  Well, that's all I've got for you.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a story to write.

AM:  [Lengthy applause]

MOD:  Thank you, Jack.  Sage words from a former addict.  All right, our next guest is a man whose PC addiction was so bad that he had a laptop sewn onto his...


Hideout Happenings

          First, it is with sadness that I have taken down my link to The Irish Navy, the site run by my good friend Chops.  It has now been over a year since he has posted there, and that is my definition of a site that has gone either dormant or extinct.  There is no functional difference for the purposes of my link list, but I will monitor this every few days, and if it lights up again, it will be my extreme pleasure to reinstate it.

          Another thing that has gone the way of the dinosaur is the poll for what I should write about next time.  As a rule, only one person votes, and it's always the same person.  Now, I value his opinion (Bob), but if he's the only one speaking up (and he is), I might as well give him the password, and let him run the blog.  So next post, I will honor the last poll, calling for "books and literature," and after that, well, me and my 1D6 are perfectly capable of making those decisions...


          Monday, April 2nd, I had to take the puddle-jumper out to one of the Channel Islands and back (work related, so, poo!).  Even before the TSA molestation program began, I enjoyed flying about as much as you enjoy wrestling boa constrictors, but San Diego is just so freakin' beautiful, it's almost worth it.  The little air taxi only makes a 20 minute trip, and flies at 4000-5000 feet, so I was able to file away some nice vistas that I hope will show up in descriptions of flying if (when!) I get Beyond the Rails back on track.  Oh, sorry, bad pun, that...  A fairly stiff breeze in the morning provided a ride akin to driving a pickup truck down a dirt road.  I've ridden a minesweeper through two hurricanes, and I'm pretty sure that killed my motion sickness gene once and for all, but that still doesn't mean I don't halfway expect a wing to fall off the plane at some point.  Coming back that afternoon was much smoother, and the view of Point Loma as we came in over the bay was just breathtaking.  The gray whales are headed north with their calves right now, and there was a great view of them, too.  Now, if I could just shed this fear of flying...  Well, technically, I'm fine with the flying; it's the fear of crashing that kills the buzz for me!

          And there you are.  This is sort of my "farewell to games" post.  I'm looking at replacing it with a "Mysteries and Disaters" category, bringing in everything from the Titanic to the Mary Celeste.   I'd like to thank everyone who participated in the rash of comments that were offered on the last post, even though some were not in the warm fuzzy category I strive for here; the post is my forum, the comment section is yours, and let's be fair, Kristine definitely had right on her side!  I just hope I hear from her again some sunny day...  Maybe that's the approach you'd like to see (based on all those comments), just a long, rambling dissertation every week that wanders all over the landscape without ever coming to a coherent point.  That's not the blog I want to keep, but I always say, and I mean it, the chief enjoyment I derive from this is hearing your views, and having these conversations with you, however brief.  If that's the blog you'd rather see, speak up.  I'll try anything once!  Meanwhile, until we meet again,

Get out there and live life like you mean it!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Movie Night at the Hideout (#3)

          In the summer of 1959, George Reeves, the man who had played Superman in the live-action TV show from 1952 to 1958, shot himself in the head with a 9mm Luger.  Or at least, that was the official finding.  At the age of 10, and having been a huge fan of the show, the first thing I remember being told by one of my peers was that he had, in the delusional belief that he really was Superman, leaped out the window of a skyscraper.  Even at 10, this had an inferior feel to it as a scandal; I didn't want to think my hero was actually that stupid.  Of course, in the end, you could make the case that he was actually stupider than that, allowing himself to become the kept man of a married woman eight years his senior, the wife of MGM's general manager and reputed hatchet man with mob connections, Eddie Mannix.  Then, to pile stupid on top of stupid, having been accepted by Mannix as his wife's "boy toy," (and that is apparently what she called him, her Boy) he dumped her for a younger woman as she aged.  Yeah.  Stupid has many faces.

          The jumping out the window story aside (and in all honesty, that didn't last long), there was some controversy associated with his death, as I suppose there always is with figures in the public eye.  The king of this has to be President Kennedy.  Assassinated in 1963, you still can't swing a cat by the tail without hitting half a dozen people who don't believe that Lee Harvey Oswald had a thing to do with it.  Did Hitler really die in Berlin in 1945?  Was it really Osama bin Laden that was buried at sea?  And The King?  You still meet people who believe that Elvis is working at a Burger King in Minnesota.  The list goes on, but I didn't realize there was enough controversy concerning the death of George Reeves to power a speculative movie 45 years after the fact.  Yet that is exactly what we have in Hollywoodland, (2006) starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Ben Affleck.

I'M GOING TO PUT A SPOILER ALERT HERE, ALTHOUGH BOTH THE FACTS OF THIS CASE, AND THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES, ARE KNOWN QUANTITIES, AND ARE PRESENTED AS ALTERNATIVE POSSIBILITIES.  I DON'T PLAN TO GIVE ANYTHING VITAL AWAY, BUT PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Adrien Brody
          The movie begins with the Los Angeles Police entering a home to investigate a shooting.  Of course, it turns out to be George Reeves.  A parallel story begins shortly afterward with Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, a down-and-out private eye working out of a fleabag motel because he can't afford an office.  He is involved in the usual cheap P.I. stuff, following a man's wife to prove she is (or isn't) having an affair, and not putting too much effort into it.  He used to be part of a prestigious firm that investigated white collar crime, but wanted to branch out into more exciting adventures.  Now, his life is crap, except on rare occasions when his former firm gets hold of something they don't really want to be associated with, whereupon they throw him that bone.  One such bone proves to be the Reeves suicide.  His mother has come to Los Angeles to contest the finding of suicide, and the prestigious firm, not wanting to be involved in what is sure to be a scandal, sends Simo to see her.
George Reeves as Clark Kent
Ben Affleck as Clark Kent
          As he begins his investigation, things that he discovers are told in flashbacks, which almost takes the form of a parallel movie starring Ben Affleck as George Reeves.  Affleck appeared on a late night talk show when the movie was new, talking about the work he put into the role, and it is repeated and elaborated in the DVD extras.  He studied Reeves, screened every appearance he could find, including all his movies, and every Superman episode, learning his mannerisms, his speech patterns, body language, the way he carried himself, and even wore a false nose for the part.  Here are pictures of George Reeves and Ben Affleck made up as Clark Kent.  Obviously, it isn't like looking at the same person, but the level of effort he invested in getting it right is apparent.

          Eddie Mannix was a Vice President at MGM Studios during the period portrayed in the film.  A lot has been written about Mannix, and little of it flattering.  He arrived at a time when studios owned their actors, directors, crews, and staffs as surely as any antebellum plantation owner owned his slaves.  Studio executives went so far as to tell public figures, the actors, who they could date and marry, and if these stars wanted to remain stars, they obeyed.  In the 1950s, this system was beginning to be dismantled by guilds and unions, by new, independent production companies, and by the new medium, television, eager for stars of its own.  Mannix was brought in to deal with these "distractions," and not gently.  He was rumored to have mob connections, and was rumored to have murdered his first wife (or had her murdered), as well as producer Paul Bern, and, in the conspiracy theories, at least, George Reeves.  He had a completely open relationship with his second wife, Toni, in the sense that they both dated and bedded anyone they found attractive.  Toni found Reeves attractive, and they had a public relationship for a decade, during which he was almost completely dependent on her financially, meaning, of course, in every way.  Diane Lane plays a freewheeling Toni Mannix, and Bob Hoskins, famous for playing the lead opposite a cartoon in the odd but acclaimed Who Framed Roger Rabbit played the sinister Eddie Mannix so convincingly that I never connected him to his best-known comedic role.
Bob Hoskins
Diane Lane


         




          The movie plays up the notion that Reeves felt trapped by his Superman role in the same way that Adam West was taken over and ultimately destroyed by Batman, that he couldn't get "serious" work, and he was constantly despondent because of it.  There is a scene in the movie in which he has gotten a serious role in From Here to Eternity, that of Sgt. Maylon Stark, and at the preview screening, the audience begins to laugh at him, and quote from the Superman intro things like, "Faster than a speeding bullet!" and so on, and the movie Fred Zinnemann, the director, signals one of his minions to cut the scene.  Zinnemann later stated that, not only were Reeves' scenes never cut from any version of the film, but there was never even a preview screening.  Semi-documentaries often take liberties with the facts under the guise of artistic license, but I have to wonder, if they were willing to change this piece of history concerning a movie that won Best Picture, and seven other Academy Awards, and was nominated for five more, what else was completely skewed to fit the conclusions the filmmakers were trying to reach?

Robin Tunney
          Anyway, time passes.  Toni starts to show her age, and Reeves is unable to find any work with a decent paycheck.  As an aside, Superman never did pay that well, despite the fact that it was beloved by 30,000,000 American children, and presumably at least some of their parents.  Much of the problem from the actors' point of view came from the fact that the show was syndicated in each market, and the lion's share of the money went to the executives.  Anyway, Reeves decides to form a production company and be a producer/director.  To do this, he has to attend a series of meetings in New York, where he stays for two weeks.  While there, he meets Leonore Lemmon, a "socialite," or what we would call today a groupie.  Lemmon was the daughter of Broadway ticket broker Arthur Lemmon, and was well known and liked in the New York night club scene, where she gained fame as the only woman ever ejected from the Stork Club, a notorious haunt of the wealthy and powerful, for fist-fighting.  Lemmon sleeps with him while he is there (what they are portrayed doing in the movie is a long way from sleeping, those ten seconds accounting for most of the movie's R rating), and he returns to Hollywood to tell Toni that he is in love with this wild younger woman, and it's over between them.  Leonore, played by Robin Tunney with a perfect combination of grit and grace, moves to Los Angeles, only to find that the big star of a very popular series is virtually broke, and she begins to regret her decision to join him, and seldom fails to let him know about it.  There is much foot-dragging with his contacts to establish a production company, and he actually considers entering the ranks of professional wrestling, whereupon Lemmon asks him, "Why don't you just join the God damned circus?"  At this point, they are engaged, but her disposition isn't improved any when he calls that off.

          As Simo, loosely based on real life private eye Milo Speriglio, who later falsely claimed to be the lead investigator, keeps digging into the case, each answer produces more questions, and angers more people, most of them involved in the movie business, and not amused by any scandalous speculation that might harm ticket sales.  He is warned off, offered bribes, threatened by crooked cops, and at one point given a savage beating, administered with boots and a heavy chain.  Everything colors his view of events.  Who has motive?  Reeves himself, depressed over the fading of a career that was never all he thought it should be.  Toni, having been dumped for a younger woman.  The younger woman herself, having moved to LA to be with her fiance, only to be told the wedding was off.  Who had the grit to actually do the job?  Eddie, certainly, though his motive is weaker than the two women.  Leonore the more likely of the two, although when a woman invests ten years in a man only to be tossed aside when she can't cover the wrinkles any more, it becomes harder to make informed guesses about what she will or won't do.

          So Simo keeps visiting the house, wandering through the rooms, and playing different scenarios in his head.  The facts are that Reeves owned the Luger P'08 that killed him, and he kept it in the drawer of his nightstand.  Two bullets were fired into the floor, presumably at an earlier time, since only one casing was found.  There was no gunpowder stippling around the wound, a fact that was explained by the police as unusual but not impossible.  There were no fingerprints on the gun as it was too heavily oiled to hold them.  Reeves' hands were not screened for gunpowder residue, as that test was not routinely performed in that era.  Finally, the house guests didn't summon the police for 45 minutes after the shooting, all the time they needed to cook up a story.  The story was that they had been socializing late into the evening, he excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom, and a short time later, there was a shot, after which he was found dead with the spent casing under his body.  Plenty of material for conspiracy theorists to go wild with, and they have.  Simo considers that Leonore shot him accidentally in a drunken rage as they wrestled for the gun after she had already put two rounds into the floor.  He then considers that Reeves went upstairs to be ambushed and shot by a hit man hired by one of the Mannixes.  Simo leans toward it being Eddie, based on the beating he received earlier at the hands of Eddie's thugs.  Finally, having obtained a final piece of information from Reeves' agent, Art Wiessman (Jeffrey deMunn), he gives full consideration to the suicide theory.  This seems to be the one he accepts, as all three scenarios are filmed as he imagines them, and the suicide is given the most detailed treatment, with him standing in the corner of the bedroom, and actually making eye contact with the broken Reeves before he reaches for the gun.

          Written by Paul Bernbaum and directed by Allen Coulter, this film works on many levels.  It lays out the chronologies of the various controversial theories of how this almost-successful, though beloved by children, actor met his untimely end.  It works as a detective story as "our" investigator, Louis Simo, pursues various lines of enquiry, and games them out in his head.  It works as a period piece, catching the end of the glamour era of old Hollywood, and finally, it is a wonderful piece of modern noir, with a lot of sinister characters none of whom are quite what they seem.  While I'm no fan of Affleck (for reasons that aren't germane to this discussion; I'll decline to be a Daredevil in this post), I have to say, the man went the extra mile, and really, seriously nailed his subject.  Similar effort was put forth by Diane Lane, who wore the right wigs, and clothes, and learned Toni Mannix's affected East Coast accent, and the other roles were similarly well drawn, which is what happens when interested actors combine with a serious director, all motivated by the desire to create a quality product.  This movie is a prime example of the perfect storm of talent, dedication, and belief in subject matter coming together on the screen.  In the end, it doesn't attempt to provide the definitive answers; it merely asks all the right questions to leave an unfinished, yet oddly satisfying taste in the mouth afterward.  I may not have been drawn to this subject had I not been a huge Superman fan as a small child, but having bought it, watched it, and hung on every scene, I would not hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone interested in Hollywood history, conspiracy theories, detective movies, film noir, or anything remotely related to any of these subjects.  This is the way movies were made before flash replaced glamor, and the big explosion replaced big talent.  Get this.  Savor it.  Then wonder why, given that this was made in 2006, nobody is willing to put in the effort to make a movie like this anymore; now that's a conspiracy worth unravelling...

Hideout Happenings

          As reported elsewhere, my next post, probably at the end of the month, will concern itself with some aspect of gaming; don't want to give away too much.  I have put up a poll now for you to vote on what you'd like to see covered (if you have any preference) in the post following.
          Okay, that's all I've got.  See you in a week or so.  Til then, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interlude (#2)

Hideout Happenings

          March 11:  Fool, thy name is Jack!  I have a night shift tonight, wherein I leave for work at 5:00 PM, get off at 2:30 AM, and my pointy little head will be hitting the pillow about an hour after that.  I customarily stay up as late as I can the night before, so as to sleep in.  I'm 63 years old, so how did I celebrate the inauguration of Daylight Savings Time?  Well, since you ask, I set the clocks ahead, made love to a crazy nymphomaniac, got up after five hours of sleep, ate breakfast (which due to my insane schedule, goes down at about 11:00 AM around these parts), after which I will load "Back Alley Sally," my '99 Ranger (and the other crazy nymphomaniac in my life), with old TVs, computer components, my rebellious game consoles, and go sit parked in line at the local Home Depot to get rid of these things at a Free Electronic Recycling event.  After that, I'll swing by my favored Arco station on the way home to treat Sally to about 12 gallons of unleaded regular @ around $4.35 per, jump in the shower, and, time willing, try to sneak in a nap before I roll out to do my part toward keeping the Navy safe for sailors.  Anyone want to start a pool on which freeway I'll be zipping along when my eyes finally close, and I drive Sally up a tree?
          By the way, do you know why they don't have Daylight Savings Time in Arizona?  They have Apaches there, instead.  The story goes that the politicians were all gathered in the State House, debating the pros and cons of DST when an old Apache medicine man quietly approached the podium and requested permission to speak.  The politicians all rolled their eyes at each other, then one of them said, "Sure, old timer.  What's on your mind?"
          "I would just like to point out that only a dishonest white man would try to convince anyone that you can cut the top off a blanket and sew it onto the bottom, and somehow have a bigger blanket!"
          Arizona's politicians may not be any wiser than anyone else's, but they can recognize a truth when it's pointed out to them.  Arizona has never considered going on Daylight Savings Time again.

          March 12:  Yesterday's lament had a happy ending.  I only needed nine gallons of gas, it was only $4.30 per gallon, I was able to get an hour's nap, and best of all, I'm home safe!
          The polls closed at midnight with a tie between Games and Movies.  Games was up first, so I'll do a post on Games, and follow it with one on Movies.  Along with the Movie post will be the next poll.  I've been a gamer for 60 of my 63 years, so get ready for a ride...

          March 13:  Part of my job last night required me to sit in the dark in my pickup truck and wait for something to happen.  Jazz 88 wasn't to my liking, so I killed the radio and spent an hour and a half listening to the wind blow through the cavern between my ears, and as so often happens under that sort of condition, I had an epipheny:  I'm not smart enough to do the things that I'm trying to do here.  First of all, I have identified what it is that I like about this; it's the conversations after the posts go up.  Getting the posts up is another matter entirely.  I am not a skilled critic, not of books, movies, TV, music, art, food, or restaurants; I am not a historian, a scientist, a minister, a psychologist, a conneseur, a photographer, an author (not a real one), nor a graduate of any institution of learning higher than a Navy technical school.  I struggle with the preparation of these posts for days and days, trying to keep the site fresh, agile, and current, not because I have any great knowledge or deep insight to share, but in the hope that, once they go up on the blog, there will be comment and conversation, a chance to exchange pleasantries and opinions with other people, and gain some fresh insights.  Sadly, that rarely happens, and when it does...  Well, publicity shots of Gena Lee Nolin in her Sheena outfit tend to bring in some visitors.
          All I have to do, as I sit here banging my head on the desk, trying to shake the next post out, is to flick my eyes up to the bookshelves across the room to see my abandoned game collection.  Right next to these are my "how to write books" books, and all are beckoning me home to where the great memories live. Oh, and right here on the desk is the professional grade Hohner Blues Harp I was given for Christmas.  That has been taking a back seat as well.  It might be time to reorder my priorities.
          I don't want to alarm anyone.  This is a stream-of-consciousness that I'm sharing so that if I take a radical turn down the road, it won't be as wrenching as my sudden cyber-demise, coming with no warning.  No decisions have been made, and doing these posts, difficult as they are, and having contact with my regular friends has its attractions, too.  I don't know what will win in the end, but I assign myself deadlines to get these up.  They wouldn't get done otherwise, and I find that I view their approach with the same sense of dread that accompanied the run-up to my recent colonoscopy.  To paraphrase MacArthur:  Old bloggers never quit.  They just fade away.  Perhaps I shall join them.  This is my hobby; it's supposed to be fun...
          In other news, Nine has a birthday coming up, and as part of the festivities, Bonnie and I are taking her to the Judy Wexler concert at the Saville Theater tonight.  There's a post in there somewhere, but I will let either Bonnie (Squeakings of a Housemouse) or Nine herself (The Spinster Aunt) do the honors.  I'm tired.  I'm coming off the night shift, didn't get enough sleep,  and breakfast is about to hit the table; 11:00 AM, remember?  Right after breakfast sounds like a great time for a nap...

          March 14:  Thanks for the reminder, Axeman (see comment below).  I maintain relationships here, as I do in real life, for the enjoyment of the camaraderie of good friends.  I don't abandon my flesh and blood friends because the rest of the world sucks, and I shouldn't treat my cyber-friends with any less loyalty.  I have made a lot of good friends here, the nerds, the book-lovers, the gamers, the nostalgia buffs; I hope that covers everyone.  Anyway, I'm going to suck it up and hang on with this.  I will reduce the frequency, because I do want time for those other things in my life, but you people are important to me, and I flatter myself that you keep coming back because you find me interesting; I will be here.  Sometimes life crowds in, and it's easy to start shedding things that look unimportant.  It helps to be reminded from time to time that my friends are not expendable, so at those times that this sort of talk crops up in the future, somebody copy this section and paste it into a comment by way of answer.  That ought to do it...
          So, continuing along, I'm going to make the next post about a movie, and the one following that about games.  I'm not prepared to do a comprehensive game post right at this moment, and I don't want to half-ass it.  There is a movie I've had my eye on, and have recently acquired, and that will be the next subject, sometime next week, I expect.  So, we good?  Good!

Happy Birthday, Nine!