Tuesday, December 28, 2010
There's nothing like seeing a Chaplin film with a large audience, to share the laughter.
As an added attraction, my novel will be available for sale in the lobby. It's not as funny.
The dates are Wed. 12/29
and Thurs. 12/30, at 7:30 pm.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
We got to the bluffs abut 2:00, and gave the dogs their burgers. Hannah moves a little more slowly now, but what the hell. At 84 you can't expect someone to leap and dash and do back-flips anymore. She still sits and shakes. Her paw, not her body. The view from the bluffs is quite relaxing. You can almost hear Lewis and Clark urging their men up the river, singing their songs of exploration, slapping at the millions of mosquitoes and gnats that came to feast, telling mean jokes about Tom Jefferson.
But enough history. Oh, wait. One more tidbit. Weldon Spring was first settled by a frontiersman named John Weldon from North Carolina. That's it.
One more fact: A MacDonald's Doubleburger stays hot in a styrofoam container placed inside a backpack for 45 minutes. We didn't get fries with that. Not good for dogs.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Now I'm not financial whiz, and don't understand how the markets work, but I do know that hiding stuff from the Feds if you're a chief exec is not a good idea. Unless you already have your ticket to Costa Rica.
So they dragged poor Brucie in and administered proper punishment. He must pay a $1,000,000 fine. Do the math: that's a $5,000,000 profit. And now comes the hard time: Ol' Brucie was sentenced to serve 8 months of detention - at home. "Home" in this case is a 24-room mansion in Bell Air, California. That's one of the better 'hoods in LA.
My personal opinion? I think the law could have taken a tougher stance. They should have restricted him to the use of only one bathroom. Kept him from spending more than 1 hour a day in the billiards room. Put the entire East Wing off limits, except on holidays. Made him vacuum his swimming pool once a week. And forced him to eat all his meals alone, at the long dining room table in the spacious dining room, then do his own dishes.
Bruce, however, takes a positive view of the situation. "I won't get over to the links for a little while, but I can keep my swing in shape on my private driving range." Maybe the Feds should've taken away his clubs, at least his driver. But that would be deemed "cruel and unusual punishment."
Sunday, November 7, 2010
A line from one of his poem still resonates with me:
"But no matter where or how I seek, I never hope to find
Music that will thrill me like what echoes in my mind."
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
|Available at www.stlbooks.com|
The conference was incredible, with participants from Italy, Japan, England, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Canada, and Finland. Plus from universities around the U.S. And two guys from St. Louis, me and Joe Delmore. For 13 or 14 hours a day, we saw films, restorations, presentations, discussions, on almost every aspect of Charlie's life and career. I even got to hold his derby and cane.
|Me and Joe|
Back to the novel: it's available now, through Amazon, B&N online, or - preferably - www.stlbooks.com
Monday, October 25, 2010
Then George comes up with the thought that dazzled me. I quote: "Suppose Mantle had signed with his boyhood favorites, the Cardinals, and played for a fatherly manager like Eddie Dyer or Johnny Keane, alongside his temperate hero, Stan Musial, instead of being scolded by Stengel and ignored by Joe DiMaggio and indulged by the open city of New York? We will never know."
I can almost see Mantle in a Red Bird uniform and a couple of more pennants flying over Sportsman's Park.
Here's a link to the article. In Rangers’ Hamilton, Shades of Mantle, but Brighter Outlook - NYTimes.com
Sunday, October 24, 2010
A hundred different paths now brought us back to the large room of a micro-brewery and restaurant in the heart of Kirkwood - paths that had taken many of us to distant reaches of the country, moved some of us just a few blocks, to new jobs, different careers, or nothing more challenging than a round of golf or a flower bed. Now some of us spoke of our children's achievements or our grandchildren's talents. Most of us talked about faded campaigns, unforgettable clients, celebrations and disappointments, theme lines that once bristled with energy and originality and still called forth a spark of pride.
In each other's eyes, we were still young, unafraid of any assignment, willing to deal with tough clients, able to prove that we were the best damned ad agency anywhere in the world. But we wore name tags, just in case that name or that face was slightly out of reach. And so few were.
Advertising was a different business back then. For many of us, it was the only one we knew. For others, the younger ones there who still had plenty of hair and a youthful glow, it was still the same game, only the rules and tools had changed. In fact, the world had changed in the less than 100 years of D'Arcy. With roots that had their beginnings in 1906, the agency no longer exists except in the history books and occasional columns, where tales of Mad Men and Women are told with a flair reminiscent of great battles, heroic deeds, and wondrous achievements.
And D'Arcy still lives in one other dimension: in the hearts and memories of those of us who once worked there, and - on this one day - came together in the warmth of the love we once shared.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
In case you have a few minutes and feel like reading something new, here is the first chapter (or the first part of it anyway) of my novel. The book is due from the printer next week, and then I head for a Chaplin conference in Ohio end of the week. I hope you enjoy this.
An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.
- J. D. Salinger
Creativity takes courage.
- Henri Matisse
“You like Charlie Chaplin?”
The guy in the next seat obviously had noticed the book I was reading. From the tone of his voice, I knew he wasn’t a Chaplin fan.
“Yeah, I think he’s pretty funny.” I wasn’t really interested in getting into a conversation with him, not with a four-hour flight ahead of me.
“You look like an intelligent guy. Let me ask you a question.” He rolled up his Sports Illustrated and jammed it into the magazine pocket. “How can you find running around in circles and poking people with a cane and throwing pies funny?”
I kept my book open. “Chaplin did more than that. He wasn’t big with pies either. Other comics did pies.” I couldn’t believe we were discussing pies at thirty-thousand feet. I felt trapped in my seat, there wasn’t enough leg room, my sneakers looked dumb.
“Anything in that book about him being a Commie?” he said.
The captain’s voice interrupted with information about altitude, cruising
speed, and the approximate time we’d be landing in LA Even though I didn’t want to go any further with this guy, the Commie remark bothered me.
“That actually was never a fair accusation,” I said. “He wasn’t a Communist. Maybe if you’d read a little about him, you’d know what that was all about.”
“I know they kicked him out of this country. I don’t have to read more than that. And what about all those little girls he was messing around with? You saying that didn’t happen?” With each accusation, his voice grew louder.
I didn’t answer. Confrontation makes me uneasy. Given a different situation I might have launched into a stout defense of Chaplin and his personal life. Like when you stick up for a friend who’s not there. Not this time, though. I just wanted to be left alone, read my book, prepare for the opportunity ahead in Los Angeles.
“I guess there’re some people who don’t like him,” I said. “I just think he’s funny, that’s all.”
I missed Lauren. I still felt the need to reach over and hold her hand on takeoffs and landings. That’s when I get nervous. Lauren was always there, reassuring me with her warmth and strength. But Costa Rica had ended that. I hadn’t flown since then, nor gone bike riding, our favorite sport.
“Now Bob Hope...he was funny,” he said and returned to his Sports Illustrated.
I picked up my laptop, briefcase and book, and moved to an empty seat further back. I was still trying to get a handle on my interview tomorrow. Their consideration of hiring a freelancer from Columbus, Ohio, to write a documentary about Charlie Chaplin, still baffled me. Sure, I had good credentials on Chaplin, and writing for film had been my goal for the last several years. My shelves were stacked with scripts, treatments, and concepts, none of which had aroused much interest. Sometimes luck follows persistence. Still, why me?
The rest of the flight was smooth. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last smooth period in my life for awhile.
The following day in LA shaped up as relatively predictable. I’d grab breakfast in the coffee shop at nine, spend a couple of hours in my room reviewing notes, take a walk to put my thoughts in order, eat a light lunch, then be at the production house a little before one for the interview. By late afternoon I’d be on a plane headed back to Columbus, either to continue my gradual decay there or pack for the return trip to LA That was the only part I couldn’t predict. Or so I thought.
The phone rang after breakfast.
“Mr. Thiery, this is the front desk. We have a package for you.”
“A package? For me?”
“Yes, sir. A large manila envelope. Shall I send it up, or would you prefer to fetch it?” The clerk with a British accent seemed to be the hotel’s attempt to add some class to a pleasant but otherwise undistinguished Hollywood establishment.
“I’ll come down.” I hadn’t expected a package, not even mail or messages. I was here for only the one day. Maybe it had something to do with my pending interview. I “fetched” the envelope, opened it on the elevator and a book slid out, one that was appropriate for the day’s events: David Robinson’s acclaimed biography, Chaplin: His Life and Art. I flipped through it and saw no note, no explanation for its presence, no name or address. I already owned the book, had read it more than once, referred to it dozens of times. This was, in my opinion, one of the best books ever written about Chaplin. My copy was sitting on a shelf back home, along with another hundred or so books about him.
I called the front desk. “Where did this package come from?”
“A gentleman left it here, Mr. Thiery, just minutes before I called you.”
“What did he look like?”
“Rather short, looked to be in his fifties, white hair. Steel-rimmed glasses, I believe.”
“Did he leave a name? Or a message?”
“No, sir. All he said was, ‘I think Mr. Thiery needs this.’ Something like that. He was a cheerful sort, pleasant smile. Is there anything wrong, sir?”
I told him no and hung up. The book was obviously used, the dust-jacket well worn, the black and white cover photo of Chaplin slightly faded, the edges of the pages stained. My sense of order began to unravel as I looked through the book. Notes had been written in the margins, words and phrases underlined or circled, large “X’s” scrawled, seemingly at random, with comments such as “rubbish” and “not so” and “Yes.” Not an abundance of comments, but enough to hold my interest. The previous owner, it seemed, had either possessed a keen insight into Chaplin or a willingness to question the author. Why it had been passed on to me, and who had delivered it, puzzled me. I worked my way through the book, paying closer attention to the markings, balancing them with my knowledge of Chaplin’s life. I didn’t know if the comments were accurate. They were, however, within the realm of possibility, with some intriguing speculation about his life and art.
I forgot about my walk, about lunch, and spent the rest of the time engrossed in the book. If I got the job, I would spend my next three months focused on my favorite personality of all time, attempting to define the line between an artist’s work and his private life. One other line would become significant, a line that would test my sense of reality, a line that I had previously believed to be impossible to cross.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
The road runs from Hannibal, Missouri, to St. Louis. It offers a lot for the eyes. Lush, green hills; stands of oak, elm and cedar; occasional glimpses of the Big Muddy, just as Tom and Huck might have seen it.
I had spent the night in Hannibal at a quaint B&B (aren’t they all “quaint”?), attempting to conjure up the spirit of Sam Clemens. I had questions for him about how to write humor. He never showed.
The second “B” at the B&B was excellent: scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and onions, wheat toast, homemade strawberry preserves, and a thick slice of country ham. As I took a long walk in the woods that border the B&B, seeking a little exercise before driving back home, my thoughts were on eggs. “The” eggs. The ones that were being recalled, millions, maybe billions of them, all originating in Iowa, just a stone’s throw from Indian Joe’s Cave. I was little prepared for the encounter that awaited me on my walk.
I left the main path, worked my way through elder bushes and low-hanging pines. (I’m not sure what an elder bush looks like, but it sounds good.), and stepped into a clearing, still in morning shadows.
And there she stood. Or, rather, huddled. A chicken. Brown and russet, rather thin, scraggly feathers, eyes wide with fear. She didn’t move. I approached her, walking slowly, a smile on my face, thinking loving, positive thoughts
She looked me right in the eye.
“Hello, chicken,” I said. “What are you doing here?” I spoke as though to a child.
I expected silence, maybe a slight squawk. Instead she said, “You’re not with them, are you?”
“Excuse me?” I’m not sure what surprised me more, the sound or the suspicion.
“I asked if you’re with them.” She looked behind me, checking for others.
“Who is ‘them’?”
“The guards. The keepers. The gatherers.”
“I don’t under - “
“Don’t interrupt.” Her voice became more strident. “The crooks, the handlers, the egg Nazis.”
Suddenly it made sense. “You must be from - “
“Iowa. Wright County. The Factory.” She spit out the words, scratched the ground like a bull about to charge.
I sat down next to her. She backed away. “No, I’m not one of them.” I introduced myself. “I’m Gerry. With a ‘G’.”
“Phrances. With a ‘Ph’.”
“Did I make fun of your ‘G’?”
“Well said.” I held out my hand.
She gave me a weak high five. Actually a high four. She hadn’t eaten in days. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a slice of wheat toast, lightly buttered. She grabbed it and quickly tore it apart with her beak. “Thanks,” she said. ‘It’s not cracked corn, but it’ll do.” The toast disappeared in seconds.
“So...Phrances...tell me about it,” I said.
She sat in silence, gathering her thoughts. I waited as the sun edged into the shade.
Finally she began her story:
“It was a nightmare. Impossible demands. Despicable living conditions. A complete lack of sanitary considerations. And don’t get me started on the manure piled in there.” I shuddered at the thought. She continued. “No exercise, no socializing, no background music.” She stopped, stared at the ground. I thought that was the end of her story. There was more.
“I’m a good layer. I know I don’t look like much now. That’s what six days on the run will do to you. But I dropped a lot of eggs, Gerry. Even got a Happy Egger award last month. But you think they care?? Not one wit. You drop three today, they want four tomorrow.”
“My lord,” I said, unable to help myself. I reached over and scratched her head.
“Gerry, you can’t imagine the conditions there. I saw rats. They ran along the walls, scurried amongst the cages. I still have nightmares where I see their beady red eyes and wet twitching noses, probing between the bars. And the rain. There were holes in the roof. Besides the lightning and thunder, water dripped on us. Not on me. I was caged in a dry spot. but so many of the others...” She stopped, engulfed by memories of lost friends, most likely.
“You don’t have to go on,” I said.
“Do you have anything to drink?”
I pulled the half-full Evian bottle from my pocket. “There. As much as you want.” I tilted the bottle so it dropped into her open mouth. She smacked her beak. “You don’t have any coffee by chance, do you?”
“Coffee?” She had to be kidding.
“They gave us coffee. Black. Full strength. To keep us awake, increase production. I’m kind of addicted to it now. I get these headaches...”
I laughed. “I’ll take you to Starbuck’s.”
“Never mind. Go on with your story, Phrances.
She took a deep breath and ruffled her frayed feathers. “We had one guard, a sadistic sonofabitch. Skinny, pock marks, tiny black eyes like a rat. He’d walk up and down the aisle, bang on our cages with a baseball bat. Shout ‘Drop ‘em, ladies, drop ‘em’ in a high-pitched voice. He got off on scaring us, hearing all the racket we’d make. You can imagine what thousands of chickens sound like when they’re frightened.”
“Thousands! How big - ?”
“Tens of thousands, mon ami. This camp was huge. Thousands and thousands of us, squashed side by side, as far as the eye could see.”
The day had grown cold inside me. The story became clear as she talked. Over a half billion eggs from two Iowa farms recalled. More than a thousand cases of salmonella poisoning across the entire country. An egg operation involving as many as half a million chickens. Each cage holding 4 or 5 birds in an area no larger than an 8x10 sheet of paper. But the cruelest deception had yet to be spoken.
“You know, the name of this place I was at is the Wright County Egg Company. It’s run by a ruthless profiteer named DeCoster. He’s had run-ins with health officials before, but he keeps on doing business. And here’s the ball buster, Gerry.” She stopped and looked around. I could tell our time together was growing short. “Listen to this. You know how they sold their eggs? Not as Wright County. Oh, no, that’s too corporate. They packaged their eggs under names like Mountain Dairy. Hillandale. Shoreland. Sunshine. And, my personal favorite, Dutch Farms. Seriously, if eggs, or any kind of food, comes from Dutch Farms, you just know it’s gotta be healthy. Right? Talk about massive deception.”
“I never knew,” I said.
“Who knew? You go into Ralph’s or Albertson or Schnucks, you expect an honest egg. If they had been honest, the cartons would’ve been named Alcatraz Eggs, Sing Sing, Attica. Even Abu Ghraib. You like that? ‘Mr. Grocer, could I have a dozen Abu Ghraib eggs?’ Not in your lifetime, that’s for sure.”
“Look, is there anything I can do for you?”
She drew herself up, shook off the dust, trying her best to regain her former beauty. “Yes, Gerry with a G, yes there is. Tell people what went on. Let them know what we chickens have been through, just how evil those people are. Above all else, don’t let us be forgotten.”
I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye, a lump in my throat. I reached out and stroked her lovingly under her beak. “I promise.” I held my hand there. “But what about you?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I have relatives in Defiance. They live on a farm. Nobody cares how may eggs they lay, as long as the owners have their beer and wine. And they don’t like fried chicken either.” She let out a loud cackle, possibly a laugh, and began to walk towards the woods. “It’s paradise, Gerry. Just remember your promise.”
“Safe travel, Phrances,” I shouted, as she disappeared into the undergrowth of elder bush. “I’ll keep my promise.”
And she was gone.