In From the Cold?

On Richard Burton

He fascinates me, this Welshman. In interviews later in his life, after he was confronted by the destructive nature of his behavior, not the least of which was his dependence on alcohol, he mentioned that he hated being an actor. He didn’t want to be an actor, but he was an actor. The biographical documentary referenced in the title of this post included interviews from those who were close to him; Mike Nichols, the director of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, said that Burton struggled, as a man who was an actor who didn’t want to be an actor, with a life of “seeming” versus a life of “being.”

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Come On Pilgrim was a pass that hit me in mid-stride when I was sixteen years old, and I ran with it all the way to…

Well, that’s the problem: it’s the occasion of my forty-first birthday, and I, like many men approaching middle age, find it to be an occasion made for nostalgia, of what I wanted to be and could have been and am not. I remarked to myself, upon waking up to the depression of another milestone on the way to that cold, open, worm-filled hole, “I’m so disappointed: I figured the world would be fixed by now, and that I would have played a notable part in fixing it.”

Alas, not. We were in high school, training away to win the big game (and I did and did not), to hit the high note in the big finale (and I did, sorta kinda, when I held my arms out just so), and training to pass the big exam (I won the big scholarship by means of which, life’s Raison d’être). And then: Pixies, a screaming rage. A song about caribou? It was exactly right.

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Notes on A Study in Scarlet

Or, more properly, Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., Late of the Army Medical Department. I think this is telling: a medical doctor giving an account of a miracle worker. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes is introduced to us, not so much as a study of an extraordinary character (the product of Doyle’s extraordinary Late Victorian Era imagination), but as a study of a sclerotic, injured, convalescing defender of the Queen’s Empire.

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A Riddle That Blossoms

It’s a poem I wrote, belonging to a couple of warriors in my book. They’ve just survived something horrible, and the anger and hatred which drove them to survive it–those emotions are giving way to a secondary primal emotion (if you will allow). The older warrior recalls a poem he learned as a younger man, introducing it to the younger with this sentence:

“It starts as a riddle, and then,” he paused for a moment, “it blossoms.”

I think it scans well. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Rise and Fall of Momentary Barbarism

Nachmu made his way to the February 8 Buffalo Sabres game against Mordor’s Boston Bruins, bringing Nachmu the Lesser along. We had great seats, six rows up from the ice across from the benches.

I think within the first ten minutes of the game we had two goals and two fights. During the second fight, I felt barbarity rise in my heart as I stood and shouted for violent restitution for evil unavenged from last November. When the fight was over, satisfied I took my seat (by the way, I am never sitting in the 300s again. The extra few bucks buys exponential value), and I heard a clarion voice beside me, which made the barbarity settle and find its hidden recess.

She said, “I guess there are going to be many fights tonight.” “Yes,” I replied, “there’s a little energy in the building tonight.”

“I don’t like the fights,” she said, “I guess that makes me the anti-hockey fan.” I took my eyes off the ice and looked her. She was a lithe young lady, a young mother, with very light brown eyes to complement untreated long blonde hair and a visage reminiscent of a young and more petite Meryl Streep (I find Meryl Streep less beautiful than Audrey Hepburn and Mrs. Nachmu). “My children are so into the fights,” she added, “but I’m not. I think it’s unnecessarily violent.”

I pondered for a moment, and I said, “Really?”

“Yes, really,” she said, and turned away from me.

At the beginning of the second period, the crowd began booing some of the villains on Mordor’s team, and I took the opportunity to sound more civilized: “You may not like the fighting, but I don’t like the booing. Booing is low class. Fighting is acceptable behavior, but booing is downright rude.”

“At least you’re laughing,” she said, because I was.

“I thought you’d appreciate irony,” I said, feeling very clever.

“Indeed,” she said, “there is a level of politeness at a hockey game not at other games, no swearing and cursing.”

“Ah!” I exclaimed, prepared to relate my favorite hockey story, “The very same boys who, when skateboarding and playing roller blade hockey in the park behind our house during the summer, swear and curse with unfettered mouths, utter no such filth when they skate on the pond in the same place during the winter, playing hockey.”

“They do not desire to disrespect the game,” she said.

“It’s a strange game, hockey,” I said.

This time she laughed, saying, “Yet they’ll beat each other’s brains out as a necessary part of the game.”

The 12th Annual Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts

Indeed, it was the 12th Annual Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts this weekend.  It’s a blowout affair in mid-town Buffalo, the Elmwood village area.  Every year the Nachmu family treks down there from our fortress in Tonawanda, mainly so that the Nachmu Boys may participate in the Buffalo Suzuki Strings concert, but also so that we might expose ourselves to the freaks, weirdos, and ne’er-do-wells who pretend to be haute couture.  It’s fun.As with every Arts Festival, the Elmwood Avenue Festival is long on contrivance and short on arts.  That’s not to say that the contrived isn’t good; in fact, it’s spectacular.  That is to say, however, that the arts community in Western New York isn’t particularly idiosyncratic.  This is Nachmu at his most arrogant, I admit; a most severe critic, indeed, but a weary consumer of the arts.

This is just the Kidsfest area.

Nevertheless, I feel that of the 170 or so vendors, a dozen or so did distinguish themselves.  In addition, the organizers of the festival have succeeded in creating an environment that borders on avant garde, but remains within the comfort zone of the intellectually curious family. In addition, they have balanced the displays, activities, music, and performances to give the festival a feel of constant motion and excitement without a sense that one is missing something.  In short, the place was packed until after closing time on Sunday. I honestly don’t know how they emptied the place of patrons and party-seekers.

What follows is my limited perspective on the festival, highlighting what I liked and the one piece I did buy. Continue reading

Annoyed By Anarchy

Or: Soaps for Generation X

It’s time for us to face the music: we have our soap operas, our evening dramas, and we’ve hidden behind anarchy.  We want to see our sordid stories, extrapolating some sort of meaningfulness from television serials into our own boredom, except with cool tattoos, seedy New Jersey streets, martinis in Manhattan, guns, and sex.  Lots of sex.

Nachmu has just gotten around to Sons of Anarchy, and I’m captivated by the characters and plot.  Echoing in my head, though, when the growl of the acoustic guitar over the steady bass line brings in the first stanza of the theme song, “Ride into this world,” is the clarion call of my own childhood, of Dad throwing us all out of the living room when that trumpet began to sound.  That’s right, “Ride into this world” makes me hear the theme for Dallas.  “Dad is watching his stories; don’t bother him.”

Some people have tried to write about the deeper meanings and significances of The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, and what is surely to become a host of facsimiles, duplicates, and imitations, but there isn’t any deeper meaning.  It’s just not there, and cultural commentators writing about these shows are like miners mining for gold where only pyrite can be found.

Indeed, dear Nachmu, why the sanctimony?  Why the lecture? Continue reading