Lone berry, front yard

No ringing bells, no crapulous innards, no hot needles piercing my eyeballs. My guest did not arrive, in other words. Turns out that there are other people attempting to leave the East coast by plane this time of year – go figure – so he’s driving, and should roll up to Jasperwood Wednesday night. Which means we will have an Aussie for Thanksgiving. Gnat is quite excited to meet someone from Australia; I think she expects him to hop in like a kangaroo.

Just as well; I don’t want to go out. I want to stay in. Get things done. Last night I finished work around 1 AM, and had enough juice left to finish “Rome.” Spoiler: Caesar gets knifed. Didn’t see that coming, but neither did he. Care to know how good this show was? You expect the et tu Brute, because if there’s anyone who could give an absolutely novel twist on the line, it’s this crew. So they don’t give it to you, except that they do: with nothing but Caesar’s eyes. You supply the line. It was an exceptional production, and when it comes out on DVD I advise you watch it. Usual caveats apply; lots of blood and rutting.

An Amazon box arrived today; contained a few books on 30s and 40s cinema set design. Really. The “deco” world we imagine was just that, imagined; little in the world looked like it did the movies. When you look at some of the sets, in fact, you wonder if there’s ever been a bigger disconnect between the world in which people live and the ones they saw on screen. Having no access to the clubs and homes and offices of the elite, did everyone just assume the overclass world was stark and geometric and monochromatic, or did they accept that this was just a fantasy? The latter, I suspect. It’s just a movie, after all.

Huh: for some reason my iPod is set on “dystopia,” as it just kicked up, in a row, “The Omega Man” theme, the theme from “Them!” and the theme from “12 Monkeys.” That last one gives me the willies. Always. The Omega Man theme, which I have just so I can luxiriate in its sheer decade-defining awfulness, is more or less “Love is Blue” for a depopulated zombie planet run by Charlton Heston and an albino TV newscaster.

Wow: ancient vinyl, encoded back in 2000, finally surfaces to the top in shuffle play. Horslips. Good Lord, Horslips. Thirty-year old quasi-Tull Celtic prog. Better than Tull, actually. Tull makes me itch nowadays.

Anyway. Two movies in the box: the Wizard of Oz set, and Batman Begins. I enjoyed the latter, and of course love the former, but not in the worshipful sense that many have. It’s a fun movie and an Important Part of this Balanced Childhood but you will not catch me dressing up like the Tin Man for a convention. It still has the same power it did as a kid, though – of all the elemental terrors I remember, there were none as bad as the twister. You could shoot down a flying monkey. You could take a bat to his head. No, it was Nature, indifferent and lethal. And it was Time, as represented by that horrible hourglass. No getting around that one, either. The movie is full of fear and loss and trauma; kids should see it often. Keep in mind that there was little else for the juvie demo back then, so the annual appearance of this movie was a portal into another world. I wonder how many kids grew up enamored of the Moderne look because of the Emerald City; count me in their number, perhaps.

The Wizard of Oz is fraught with darkness, but cheery in mood and resolution; Batman Begins is soaked in decline, brave and determined without joy or defining triumph. Which ones came from a culture just getting over ten years of miserable economic performance, facing a world bristling with hostile collectivized militarism? I mean, for God’s sake, why, at the height of our civilization’s powers, can’t we make clear movies about good and evil and the triumph of civilized virtues?

Besides nine hours of the Lord of the Rings and six Star Wars movies and the Harry Potter stuff and also everything by Pixar.

I went through my office stacks tonight, sorting things to be opened, someday, filing bills, consigning ephemera to the bins, sorting manuals (will I need the Tropico expansion pack manual any time soon? No? Fine.) The worst part: Culling books. It’s hard work, and you feel a sense of shame when you find a good old book that once meant much; not only don’t you remember what it was about – I mean really about, not just jacket-copy blurb meaning – you’re consigning it to the storage room, a crypt from which it will never return. For decades I’ve had a book of Anthony Burgess’ book reviews on my shelf. I opened to the prologue, which has this entry about the reviewer’s inclination to go easy on his captives:

“Book-writing is hard on the brain and excruciating to the body; it engenders tobacco-addiction, an over-reliance on caffeine and Dexedrine, piles, dyspepsia, chronic anxiety, sexual impotence. Behind the new bad book one is asked to review lie untold misery and very little hope. One’s heart, stomach and anal tract go out to the doomed aspirant.”

-- Anthony Burgess, “Urgent Copy.”

Of course, I always assume the opposite, which is why I cannot read reviews. I apologize to reviewers, and beg their pity. I broke down a few weeks ago and noted a review in a rather prominent journal, written by a marvelous writer I have long admired, and while it was all quite flattering I took away one sentence that made me feel as if I have been on a great, steep, flaming, public decline for the last half decade. I do not think this was the author’s intention. But: it’s better for an author to be motivated by hunger than satiation; it’s the difference between, say, “Garp” and “Hotel New Hampshire.” I am satisfied with life, more or less, but that is neither boon nor debit. I still think my best book is ten years off. Between now and then I have no idea what I will do, but I know that between now and the first of next year I have absolutely nothing to worry about. The next book proposal is in, and I can chip away at silly little side projects for the hell of it.

But of course:
Like this one. Didn't work out quite like I wanted - the source material is just too damn lame - but it's a seven-page lark, a look into the comics of the 1940s.

Public service: Chris Matthews got banged around in the blogs for remarks he made about the need to understand terrorists. He replied, at length, on the Dennis Prager show Tuesday. His show is not archived online, so I am taking the liberty of posting the exchange here, for one day. (This link does not work in the archived version of this post.) Matthews labors to make a point which seems both obvious and irrelevant, but matters a great deal to him. In any case, I don’t “hate” the other side; I just find their ideas inconsistent with the basic themes of Western Civ, and hence I oppose them. It’s interesting to note how Matthews makes a point of using US support of the Shah as a grave mistake, given the horrible consequences that followed from his boss’ removal of support from the Peacock throne. But you can judge for yourself. See you tomorrow, with bells on.