It’s not a good sign when you’re tired of snow the day after the first storm. I got all the wonder and seasonal delight out of my system on Saturday; now I want to go to Arizona. I almost slipped going down the back steps today, and if I’d fallen I would have got a sharp stone corner in the spine. Yes, it’s the season of Treacherous Gravity again. Fie on it. On the other hand, it looks very Christmas-like, and (G)Nat went outside and made snow angels, which was cute. I went out, drew one line, then another perpendicular line, and told her it was a snow angle. She didn’t get it.
Maybe it's just me, but this news story's tone was a source of bitter amusement around the breakfast table Sunday morn:
Venezuela's controversial president, Hugo Chavez, has survived strikes, bloody protests and a coup. Each time he has come out stronger than before. Chavez faces another do-or-die moment today when voters go to the polls to decide his bold bid to extend his power with a sweeping package of constitutional changes.
Bold! Like a steak sauce. He’s trying to make himself President for Life, which goes beyond bold, I think, and enters the realm of “Zesty.” Can you imagine the same tone if a US president attempted to repeal the 22nd Amendment – particularly if his term had been marked by strikes, ”bloody” protests, and an impeachment attempt? If Chavez's piquant, bold, zesty, char-seared herb-encrusted "reforms" pass, he’ll be loved no less by his US supporters, who will be so blinded by the idea of enshrining socialism in a country’s constitution they will crack every vertebrae bending backwards to justify the pepetuity of rule and abolition of dissent. Pointing out Chavez’ cozy grip-and-grins with Iran will be met with amusement: boy, I’ll bet you got your special-issue wingnut undies all wadded over the Sandinistas getting aid from the Soviets, too. Yes. So inform me to the block committee already. What's that - we don't have a political block committee? Imagine that. Well, any day now, I'm sure. Any day.
I watched “Infamous,” another movie about Truman Capote and the trials he endured to write “In Cold Blood.” Excellent cast for the most part, full of actresses I miss - Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini. On the other hand, Peter Bogdonovich played Bennett Cerf. For heaven’s sake. It’s like casting a basset hound to play a Labrador retriever. (The NYT called his performance “ebullient,” so perhaps I missed the moments were he captured the bouncy eager grinning Cerf persona; mostly he pulled wry faces. It was jarring to see him present during the execution of the killers; you expected Dorothy Kilgallen to be standing beside him.) The movie is harder on Capote than “Capote,” but having seen both I’m done with the idea that the book – and the emotions he had for one of the killers - ruined him. It’s possible he was always moving towards a long fallow period as a lazy drunk content with lunch and gossip, a bauble on a gilded tree, and money and fame made it easier to coast.
This is the fourth movie made about the case: there's the original movie, a TV remake, and two books on Capote’s experience charming the locals and losing his heart to a sociopathic gunman. I think this is enough. The book is peerless, but the end result of Capote’s fascination with Perry means that the Clutters have died four times so we can feel grudging sadness when Perry takes the drop.
Could it have something to do with who Perry killed? He killed a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter. Your basic social building block. Well, we got spares. If he’s shotgunned four Black women, would we have so much sympathy, so much abiding interest in the possibility of love between the killer and his literary confidante? No. Well, you could argue, that would be a racist act, a hate crime; killing the Clutters had no ideological component. I suppose not, although enough has been made of Perry’s own horrible family life to imagine that he might have been filled with rage at people who’d gotten it right. I'm not stupid enough to suggest that "Capote" and "Infamous" are dismissive of the Clutters because they were white and represented the social norm lib'rul Hollywood hates and wants to replace with pagan vegan polygamists - please. No. But it's possible that the usual fog that seems to surround so many tropes of the entertainment industry might have been pierced by a crime that spoke more clearly to their worldview. The ordinary nature of the victims and the lack of a subtext for their execution allowed everyone to indulge their fascinations with the criminal. That's why we know his name is Perry. And the others? The Clutters. Literally.
Ahh, maybe I'm just talking out of my hindquarters here. As with the other film, I started out enjoying the Truman character, and ended up weary and indifferent to him. For all I know, that was the intent. I have, however, read review that dwelled on the double-sided nature of Perry Smith - he draws, he plays guitar – yet he kills! How can an artistic sensibility sit side-by-side with the ability to murder?
About as easy as a can of soup and a box of nails can sit next to each other on the counter, that’s how.
Additional Gastroanomalies-related material, as part of my month-long reminder to buy the book, if you’d be so kind. This dish is called “Circle-O-Rangers.” Really. Behold the bowlegged gingerbread men who guard the chunk-moat in which the Hallowed Scrolls of Cinnamon reside:
Yes, “children will love” this anguished face of the damned! This recipe was sent in by "Mrs. Murray Sutton, Talent, Oregon." Her original name? No idea. Could have been Cornelia Sponderelli for all we know. Or Mary Sattun.
A few people emailed to ask if I was this mysterious deep-esophagus Keillor-critic. No. I’d love to know who it is, though. We could work in shifts. Nothing brings more peculiar glee than Keillor’s Sunday column.
As I said before in a review, Keillor might have a hard time getting his novels published without his name on the first page of the submission, since publishers are leery of amusing, finely-etched small-scale stories told with patient skill. Where’s the pathology? Where’s the deep hidden veins of misery and repression? Can’t you set it in Nevada in the 50s, and have someone get lynched? The converse works for the columns – without his name on the top, I wonder if editors would shovel out 12 inches of white space for these disconnected mutterings.
This week’s offering has three hints: the front-page teaser calls it “the art of the everlasting fugue,” which suggests we might hear a story about the time Uncle John put a Bach record on the Victrola and the needle got stuck and he sat there for an hour listening to it without realizing the same part was playing over and over because you didn’t get up and contradict Bach in those times and nowadays the Current Occupant says the same thing in every speech and no one gets up to lift the needle. Republicans were different in the old days and at least more honest and you could loathe them for better reasons, period, new paragraph, let's talk about casserole or perhaps hammers and why they were better 30 years ago but I don't mind because modern hammers are all right too even if people think that "If I Had A Hammer" song was for Communists, which it wasn't, but in those days anyone who picked up a guitar and sang about freedom and justice was a Communist to the sort of people who voted for Nixon and put little flag decals on their front door windown glass -
Sorry. The style, it's infectious. The title on the actual column: “In ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ the operative word is ‘pursuit.’” Followed closely, perhaps, by “happiness.” Maybe this will be a column about the wisdom of the Founders, who knew nothing was guaranteed in life, but insisted that opportunity was the property of all? Doubtful. The subhead: “Americas will chase their dreams anywhere. Who cares if they catch them?” The people who are chasing them, I suspect. Also the rest of us. I'm rooting for you, dream-chasers. Hope it's mutual.
So what’s the column about? How does it begin?
The sudden rise of Mike Huckabee in the Republican jousts is a cool plot turn, one that makes you lean forward and turn up the sound.
Keillor likes Huckabee, in a way, because Romney is phony and Rudy is mean. Huckabee is a different breed: he’s a smart conservative who doesn’t hate anybody, which sets him apart in two ways! Eventually Keillor will learn that Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution, and the accustomed ration of bile will be produced and Red staters will all be yahoos of the stripe last seen picking the Scopes trial.
The rise of Huckabee is used as evidence that Americans are restless. After some notes about how Americans move around a lot, complete with evidence from 1958, we get three random shots:
I’m an old guy so I know about change. I remember when Southerners were Democrats and the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln. I remember when you could stroll into the Capitol in Washington as if it were a county courthouse and look at the statuary in the rotunda. I remember when the hardware store was run by an old cranky guy who stood at the front counter guarding the merchandise and expected you to know the names of things. He was a bully and he went out of business and now we go to the big discount store and it’s a lot more fun.
Not exactly a tight grouping. But what is that last one supposed to mean? Who’s the We? Americans in general, or the people who used to go to the cranky old man’s store? Did it close because of the rise of the big discount store, or was that a parallel development that leapt into the breach when the cranky old man closed up? Did this man exist, or is this some imaginary archetype that’s supposed to resonate with his generation? I’ve been going to neighborhood grocery stores for years, and the staff – even the old guys, especially the old guys - are cheerful and eager to help. My favorite store always has 173 young people who know where everything is, and will take as much time as required to find you le nut juste. They have free popcorn, too. Dogs are welcome. It’s a lot more fun than the charmless hangar of a discount store.
I wonder what Mike Huckabee thinks, and I’m curious if the mean old man’s descendents flitted off to New York. Aren’t you? Because surely this is going somewhere.
Then there’s this.
We are not a timid or fearful people. My friend of 30 years came around with his new girlfriend (replacing the old girlfriend, who replaced the wife, whom I liked a lot) and she gave me a wan smile and sat patiently through some chitchat about events that preceded her, and then she put an arm around him and gave him a no-nonsense look that said, “It’s time to go.” I invested a lot in him over the years but she decided that I’m history. Goodbye, old pal. I understand, believe me. I’ve walked away from some old scenes myself and felt the exhilaration of a new start.
There’s your proof that we are not a timid or fearful people: a friend brought a new girlfriend around, and for some reason she didn’t like Mr. Keillor. Noted.
The conclusion – and remember, this started with Mike Huckabee:
An old friend decided to retire to Santa Fe, and I went to the retirement dinner and wished her well, but I was thinking, “Liz, you dope, get over it. Take a week off and get some sleep. Be real. You’re a northern prairie person. You think the Hopis are going to adopt you and teach you the mysteries of the Earth, the Wind and the Rain? No, you’re going to watch movies on cable TV in the morning and join a class for people who need an excuse to make bad art, and you’re going to develop a bad Kahlua habit.” But off she goes confidently into the future, happy to make the change, just like the rest of us.
“Them” might have been more in keeping with the tenor of the piece than “us.”
See you at buzz.mn. And if you don't mind: buy the book. Please? Thanks!