My 60th-birthday request

On April 27, I will turn 60 years old. I still haven’t figured out how someone kidnapped my teenage body and stuck it into the body of a middle-aged man, but there you have it.

For this solemn occasion, I’d like to promote my cause, and that cause is…me. I am not asking for monetary donations, just a great deal of sympathy. As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, my wife of 30 years died last year on March 9. (I prefer using the term “died.” She didn’t “pass on” or else I’d be able to find her on my GPS, and I didn’t “lose her” because that would imply she could be found somewhere.) Every time I think I’ve gotten over this sad event, something stupid happens and I spend most of the day crying for no reason.

I’m coping better than I thought I would, but it’s been a real up-and-down year for me and my two grown children. So I’m not asking for a birthday card or anything tangible — just good old-fashioned good wishes. Thank you.

(Of course, if you really do want to send me money, there’s always PayPal.)

Buster Keaton in COPS (1922) – “Get some cops to protect these policemen”

The following is my contribution to The Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Lea at her blog Silent-ology. Clock on the above image, and read bloggers’ essays about the career and life of silent-movie comedian Buster Keaton!

Nothing ever came easy for Buster Keaton – the person and the stone-faced persona – and Cops is nothing less than a deconstruction of The American Dream. It begins with Buster behind (symbolic) bars and ends with him preparing to get put behind the real thing. In between is a hilarious disintegration of the Horatio Alger story and – for once – a storyline that thoroughly justifies Buster’s eventually chased by the majority of L.A.’s Finest.

Naturally, the root cause of this havoc is Buster’s pining for a girl, who tells him, “I won’t marry you until you become a big businessman!” Like all good Americans, Buster expects this to be handed to him on a silver platter – and in its own skewed way, it does. Buster tries to assist a rich man getting into his car, is thoroughly rebuffed, happens upon the rich man’s wallet (accidentally dropped), and rewards his own good intentions with a wad of cash from the rich man’s wallet.

A con man sees Buster with the wad of money, notices a nearby man loading his family’s possessions into a horse-and-buggy for moving, and launches into a sob story for Buster: He has been kicked out of his house and must sell his furniture, or his family will starve. To prove he is truly a “big business man,” Buster “buys” the furniture at an immodest price (determined by the con man, who peels off the requisite amount of dollar bills he thinks Buster should pay him).

When the furniture’s actual owner comes out to finish loading the cart, Buster tries to help the man; but the man thinks Buster is only a delivery boy and is not expected to help load the cart. Buster, in turn, decides he’s quite happy to let this total stranger load his stuff up for him; he pulls up a seat and waits patiently for the man to finish.

A cynical title tells us, “Once a year, everyone in town knows where they can find a policeman.” Cut to a huge city parade with thousands of policemen on the self-promoting march. Into this milieu wanders Buster with his buggy; not realizing he’s raining on someone else’s parade, he politely and continuously tips his hat to the admiring crowd. An anarchist (played by co-director Eddie Cline) throws a lit bomb into the parade; it lands next to Buster, who unthinkingly lights a cigarette with it and then discards it.

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When things go boom for Buster, they really go boom. The ensuing chase, a marvel of endless invention and variation, contains at least two of Keaton’s most iconic images: Buster rounding a corner, eventually followed by the members of every nearby police precinct; and Buster evading the cops by casually thrusting his hand out, latching onto a passing car, and flying out of sight like a banner. (There’s also a priceless intertitle, as one officer commands another to “Get some cops to protect these policemen.”)

Miraculously, Buster pulls off his greatest dream: He gets every one of the pursuing cops locked up in their own jail and throws away the key. But when Buster’s love walks by and shuns him (she’s the mayor’s daughter and got a full view of Buster’s parade disruption), he fetches the key, opens the jail door, and falls into a sea of vengeful hands. An ominous “The End” title depicts Buster’s porkpie hat atop a tombstone.

How can one make a success of oneself, Keaton seems to be asking, in a world where con men sell you furniture you don’t own, a cigarette lighter can destroy a crowd, and policemen celebrate their lack of policing? Like the Marx Brothers’ later sound feature Duck SoupCops depicted a nightmare mirror world that has come to resemble the real world more and more with each passing year. For this and other not-so-small reasons, this movie was selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry 75 years after its making. It will continue to prove as timeless as any of Keaton’s best work.

Palm Beach Story Alert

What were you doing on Sept. 26, 1987? I was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, seeing for the first time The Palm Beach Story. (By an odd coincidence, the movie’s supporting actress, Mary Astor, had died the night before.) It was my introduction to the genius of film writer/director Preston Sturges, and I have taken it upon myself to be the movie’s cheerleader ever since.

This gift from God will next be broadcast on Turner Classic Movies on Thurs., Feb. 25 at 8:00 Eastern time. Below is a link to my YouTube review of the movie. Treat yourself to this once-in-a-lifetime movie gem. I beg of you.

ANNOUNCING: The Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

From my good online friend Lea at the blog named “Silent-ology.” If you’re a Buster Keaton buff, make this blogathon one of the highlights of your social season!

Silent-ology

IT HAS RETURNED!! (In spite of everything, I might add. *wink*) Yes, my friends, at long last this is the official announcement of the 7th Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

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When:Monday, March 22 and Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Where:Right here on Silent-ology!

How:To join in, please leave me a comment on this post and let me know which Buster film or Buster-related topic you want to cover! (Or feel free tosend me a message). Please help spread the word about the event by adding one of my vintage poster-inspired banners to your blog (aren’t those illustrations fun?). During the blogathon itself, when you publish your post leave me a comment with the post’s link (or again, you can send me a message). Please mention my blog and the name of the event too (such as “This post is part of Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted…

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Christmas Carol Curmudgeon

By this point in the year, I’m already pretty sick of Christmas songs as it is. (One our of local radio stations actually starts their all-Christmas format in October.) But I now work at a convenience store where they play 18 different cover versions of the same 12 Christmas songs ad nauseum. If you were trying to think of the best way to torture me, you couldn’t do much better than making me stand in the same spot for eight hours and listen to Christmas music incessantly.

By hearing the same songs over and over, though, I find that some of them have very mixed messages, which I think are worth addressing here.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – I already wrote a detailed blog about this song years ago (which you can read here). I actually adore this song — but only when it is sung by Judy Garland, who seemed to be the only singer who understood the song’s inherently downbeat message. (In the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, she’s trying to lift the spirits of her downhearted younger sister, but you can tell that Garland isn’t very convinced of the song’s encouraging words herself.) Unfortunately, once Frank Sinatra got hold of the song, he used his clout to screw around with a couple of the lyrics in order to make the song more upbeat, thus killing its original point. After that, nobody sang it right. Ella Fitzgerald sings the original lyrics which a wrongheaded jazzy spin, and every other cover version is so saccharine as to be nauseating. Just leave the song alone and let Judy sing it.

“Winter Wonderland” – Ever since I was a kid, I’ve questioned the ambiguity of this song’s lyrics. The premise is that the singer and his or her Significant Other build a snowman in the woods and pretend that the snowman is a parson who can marry them later. Then the song continues, “Later on, we’ll conspire/As we dream by the fire/To face unafraid the plans that we made…” Conspire? Face unafraid? Such hostile words have an inherently male tone, which make me think that the man in the story is getting lured into a shotgun wedding. “Now, c’mon, baby, you know we was just talkin’ to a snowman, right?”

“Snowfall” – I’d never heard this song in my life until just a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded ghastly to me. I did some Internet surfing and discovered that the song is actually a Tony Bennett standard, and Bennett sings the song pretty well. Unfortunately, the cover version I heard is sung by Johnny Mathis, who overdid it the way he overdoes everything; the opening instrumental sounds like the soundtrack to a seance. (You should hear Mathis blast out the already overwrought hit “We Need a Little Christmas.”) If you’re not Tony Bennett, don’t sing this song.

“All I Want for Christmas” – My late wife and my daughter loved this song. Personally, I’m not a fan of Mariah Carey’s vocal gymnastics; every time she sings a song, she feels as though she has to try and hit every note in the vocal register. Compound with the umpteen cover versions of this song, and you end up thinking, “All I want for Christmas is for you to shut up.”

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – I demand two minutes for a rebuttal.

“Last Christmas” – Whenever I hear “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart,” I envision some naive woman on a blind date with Hannibal Lecter.

“Santa Baby” – I know I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t think Eartha Kitt is nearly as sexy as she thinks she is. Ditto Madonna’s cover version.

“White Christmas” – Generally, I like this song. But our store plays a cover version by some unknown woman who thinks she’s Frank Sinatra, singing, “…to hear sleigh bells in the snow, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh.” Then she adds her own lyric to the song: “I’m dreaming of a white snowman,” etc., etc. It takes some brass balls to think you can improve upon Irving Berlin.

And no list of dreaded Christmas songs is complete without:

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Years ago, the humor website Cracked.com did a superb deconstruction of this song (actually of the TV special, but it still fits), pointing out how condescending everyone (including Santa Claus) was to Rudolph just because he had a unique nose. I can’t state my case any better than Cracked.com did, so read their blog about it here.

Oh, and…Merry Christmas, everybody!

Time for a rant

It’s time for a rant, so get ready. I’m not presumptuous enough to think that I’m the only person in America who has suffered gravely this year. But I’m widowed and have nobody to vent to, so here you are.

In May of last year, I lost the best job I ever had — best in terms of money, respect, and allowing me to write and create — just so that the company could tell its shareholders that they were beheading the employees who had the most tenure and salaries.

Months of job-hunting led to, at best, a few “pre-interviews” that went nowhere. Then my wife started the year by going into the hospital one more time for the many maladies she suffered.

We thought it would be just another of her inconvenient hospital stays. She remained in the hospital for two months and then died, just two days prior to our 31st wedding anniversary. She left behind a small business that my daughter has had to maintain, and little else.

Job-wise, the best I could do since then was my current job, as a cashier at a local convenience store. A monkey could do my job. Yesterday, my daughter tested positive for COVID-19. I just had a test done myself today, and it was “indeterminate.”

That means I should be safe rather than sorry and, at the very least, not leave the house for two days before I get another test. I am sick and tired of this effin’ year.

I have always despised politicians who use their office to hoard more power and money, rather than helping their constituents. You can imagine how I feel in this, the year of Trump & McConnell.

Yes, I know I sound like a self-pitying Job. But for the past year-and-a-half, I’ve done everything I can to keep things going, only to be kicked further down the hill like the proverbial can. I DESERVE AN EFFIN’ BREAK.