Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Family Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving our family, let's say, goes back to the original premise - we share a meal with savages. Oh, we have guests also. It is the family member responsibility to warn their guests about the "issues d'jour" of our blessed bunch ie who is not speaking to whom, which members are certified bat shit crazy and should be avoided at all cost, and who are curtailed by restraining orders. Other than that, the holiday is most enjoyable and the food is scrumptious, Well there was 1972 when Cousin Sal went missing (we haven't heard from him since). That year we had a big BBQ instead of turkey - a little odd I thought, but I digress,

Chances are someone is going to forget some major item. There is an aunt and uncle who are always late. Last year I wanted to vote them off the island, but the group, in the benevolence of the holidays, decided we would just start without them. It was agreed this year we would tell them the meal was being served at 11:30 in hopes that surely they would make it to the table by 1pm, the time everyone else was told we were eating. 

There is the family "bride". We have long lost count of the number weddings, divorces, and annulments she has had. We just assume if she shows up with a young man on her arm, chances an invitation will soon arrive and he will not be around next year.

There is the older aunt who brings food that is never completely cooked and everyone has to "try" some so as not to hurt her feelings. And the cousin who insists on bringing a dessert each year even though you know she cannot boil water. Often she doesn't even hide the grocery store box. Everyone is expected to bring the same item - change is not good. One year I took loaves of homemade French bread instead of my "assigned" homemade dinner rolls. Dinner was delayed simply by the confusion in the buffet line over something different. 

One would think that as the older generations have died, replaced by the newer ones that most of the insanity, the hard feelings, arguments over things the parties cannot even recall, and other ridiculousness, that cool heads and sanity would prevail. But no! Apparently there are still bats in the belfries and skeletons in the closets. 

Ah, families - we don't get to pick them but we  are lucky to have one. I am thankful as we all gather around the table that our family tree branches and the gene pool is deep. I also count heads and make sure we are not having BBQ this year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Movie Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

When we last left her . . . Yes, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is back in the third part of the Hunger Games Trilogy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1. The Capitol is bearing down even more to stop the rebellion brought about from the end of the Quarter Quell games. Survivors of District Twelve (which has now been destroyed) are now living in District Thirteen. Wait - Thirteen was annihilated prior to the first movie, right? Ah, not so fast grasshopper. 

Julieanne Moore as President Alma Coin (of District 13) with her grey hair, drab jump suit, and calm tone is a measured leader ready to use Katniss as the symbol of the revolution - the Mockingjay - against the Capitol. However Katniss is more distracted with Peeta being held prisoner by President Snow. Throughout the movie you sense a conflict there, although Katniss is dedicated to the people of Panem, it is Peeta you feel she is truly fighting for. 

Over all, I found the movie not as exciting as the first two.  This last part of the trilogy has been divided into two parts. The action is moving along, you are following the story, and wham! the director's name comes up and you realize the story will be continued in Part 2.

We are reminded of the great loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman who was making this film when he died. In fact I spent more time during the first 20 minutes of the film paying attention to Hoffman and mourning our loss than watching the story. 

I was disappointed, but I'll give "The Games" a second chance when Part II comes out. Hopefully the holiday movies will be better than the past few have been lately. I am beginning to sound like a bitter New York Times critic  just without the talent, the experience, the elan, or the credit.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Historian, A Best Selling Author and I walk into an Arts Center

My first experience signing books did not make me feel like Patricia Cornwell. It also did not make me feel like giving up my day job. Wait what day job? I digress.

I was invited by the Arts Center in another town where my photography is sold to sign my books during their holiday open house. When they learned about my two books they were excited and said their audience could relate to them and they would be popular. I called a month or so ago to find out how many I should bring. 

"Well," Alex, the director, said, "Ken Burger [a very accomplished writer] sold over 60 last time he did a signing. But then again he has had three best sellers."

"Yes, but realistically, give me an idea."

After some hem and hawing, Alex suggested maybe 10-15 of each and then I could leave what was left at the center to be sold. I thought some and decided that the last thing I wanted was to completely humiliate myself by showing up with a stack of books and after an evening of a very well attended open house, leave with a stack of books.

So last night I walked in with a small bag containing a 7 copies of each - my idea of a happy medium. Full disclosure I had a large box of more in the car. Those were copies I planned to use as gifts and put in my gallery in town. 

When Alex showed me where to sit my stomach cramped when I saw I was stationed next to Ken Burger, the accomplished best selling author. (His book Baptised by Sweet Tea is a delightful read.) Great, talk about insult to injury. On the other side of Ken was a nice gentleman with his collection of guides and histories of local revolutionary battle grounds. What a group. Ken was most accommodating, of course what did he have to lose.

As soon as the doors opened the crowds poured in, which surprised me. This was a small southern town. But, then again there was free food and wine. Because of everyone's southern upbringing, they were forced to speak to me simply because I was sitting next to the hometown star, whom they all paid homage to. I was quick to stand, offer my hand, and introduce myself. The more polite ones asked about my books. The interested ones were actually engaged and asked questions.

One or two bought books and asked me to sign them. Then one lady walked up. "I need three sets and would you please sign one set each to Susan, Roseanne, and Skippy. That's S-K-I-P-P-Y." 

Whoa, I thought that's 8 out of 14 books. Meanwhile I felt for the history author. Everyone was very polite and spoke to him about everything but his books. Everyone who came in knew Ken. And overall he sold several books. Suddenly I realized I was down to 2 books and this nice lady was asking for two of my wedding books. I politely asked her to give me a second. I quickly went to the front of the center where my books were displayed and yanked a bunch of copies off the shelf.

The evening went on and the stack in front of me continued to slowly decrease. One lady came up, introduced herself as an English Lit professor at the local college. Then she said, "I have read your book. I like the way you write. The book is well done. I would like to buy one." I thanked she as she picked the book up. 

Another lady and her daughter approached the table and picked up the wedding book. "I'm a little late for this one. We just had her [referring to her daughter standing next to her] wedding." She looked at the title. "And I wore a blue dress." I quickly explained, as humorously as I could, the story of the blue dress. She chatted for a moment and put the book down. I wished her Happy Holidays and she and her daughter walked off. 

Later on I saw the mother and daughter in the book section of the center looking through the wedding book. And next thing I knew she was back at the table asking me to sign a book for her. I happily signed it and  thanked her for buying it.

It wasn't long before I found myself making my way to my car to fetch more copies. When all was said and done, I had books left over that the Arts Center could keep but I had none to take home. In the big scheme of things this was not much, but I was very surprised. I was so busy talking about my book I never saw if anyone purchased my photography, although several people commented about it. 

Everyone needs an evening like that to boost their moral. At least I did not humiliate myself sitting next to a best selling author. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review - Night Crawler

There are few characters that show little (or no) empathy for their fellow man. Even Hannibal Lector had a heart, albeit demented. Lou Bloom (played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal) in Night Crawler  is another. In fact half way through the movie you begin to wonder if Bloom is missing not part, but all of that portion of the human brain that makes one feel for a fellow human. He comes across as calm and polite, but is really ruthless and psychotic. The story line is that Bloom is minor criminal looking for legitimate work. He stumbles upon a job as an independent photo journalist. And once he starts, nothing or no one will stop him from getting the story. He gets so involves he becomes part of the crime to get the story.

I cannot imagine the role being played by anyone any better than it is by Gyllenhaal. Rick Garcia does an excellent job playing his young side kick (also named Rick Garcia) who, unlike Bloom, has a conscious but finds himself involved in more than he signed up for.  But after that the casting falters. One of the other main characters, the news director of the TV station Nina is played by Rene Russo. In my humble opinion this was one of the weak spots in the film. This was a role of a professional woman forced to make a decision over her dignity or her career. Had a different actor played the role I think it would have improved the film.

All that said, that may not have saved the film. Night Crawler crawls. The story is interesting. Bloom's character is engaging. But I kept waiting for more, for a twist that never came, for a revelation that changed the story, for the ah ha moment. As we sped (literally) through the movie, chased the story, viewed blood and gore, witnessed shoot outs, and car crashes, I tired of the action and the drama and yearned for more story. 

The film had so much potential. It got rave reviews. After hearing the hype, I went in excited and anticipating a good movie. I came out tired and questioning what I missed. If there is a sequel, and the end left plenty of room for one, I'll save my $10.50. So close but no banana.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Movie Review - Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I was an English major in college and if there is one thing an English major can do it is recognize symbolism and literation. Stay with me here. Often when we read a book or see a film it is the back story, the symbolism, the underlying meaning that is the true story. All that said, Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was just noise to me. 

The plot (as IMDB describes it) is "A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory." The washed up actor, Riggan, played by Michael Keaton, seems to be possessed with (or actually more aptly by) some super natural powers. Emma Stone is almost unrecognizable in her role as Riggan's daughter, Sam. Other cast members include Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Jeremy Shamos, and Edward Norton which makes this all the more frustrating.

I found the first 35 minutes of the film just poor dialogue among a group of cast members trying to put on a Broadway play. It was frantic and dramatic - symbolizing nothing (to misquote Macbeth). And the genre of the movie is "comedy"? I missed the humor. I missed the plot. I never knew who the characters were because they were never introduced. It was if I had missed the first several key scenes or I was watching the second of a three part series without having had seen the first one. There were enough vague references, snarky comments, and loud exchanges to clue me in that there was some past history among the characters. 

The young man selling popcorn said it was the best movie he had seen this year. That led me to one of two conclusions: either he had only seen one movie or he and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to movies.

Bottom line - the movie sucks. Two regrets: that I wasted my time seeing it and that I wasted your time with the review of this worthless film.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Patient Pedestrian Postal Patrons

There is something about my walking into the post office that brings about a certain dynamic. It never fails. Yesterday I was in line several patrons behind an older lady buying money orders who had to go through her large purse to find the random piece of paper with the name and address she needed. Then once all that was done, the postal employee completed the transaction and told her how much it would cost. Then she acted totally surprised and had to, once again, go through her purse searching for money.

Next in line was a gentleman wanting stamps, not just any stamp but a certain type.  He kept making the postal employee retrieve additional sheets of stamps from the back until he finally was satisfied with a design.

By this time, a young lady (a diva no less) had approached the desk - ignoring the long line waiting to be served. As soon as the finicky stamp customer had been served she quickly approached the postal employee and sent him to the back on some mission. A minute or two a small letter was brought forth and given to the young lady, who turned on her heels, gave the rest of us pedestrian patrons patiently waiting in line a haughty glance and left.

Luckily the next two customers called to the desk moved through fairly quickly. Then came the little gray haired lady who did not comprehend the "security and restricted" question the postal employee is required to ask. (You know,'Does your package contain any nonmailable or undeclared hazardous materials such as: Aerosols, Lithium Batteries, Nail Polish, Perfumes containing alcohol, Pool Chemicals, Paints, Matches, Certain Glues, Live Animals, and Cremated Remains?')

"Well if you mean 'glue'? Then yes, I am afraid there is glue on the box. You see I am sending some of my homemade cookies to my granddaughter Mary Lou. She just loves my Snicker Drops. And I always make a special box for the cookies and of course I have to use glue on the box."

The postal worker assured her that no, that type of glue was not a problem and asked her how she wanted to send the box.

"Oh in the mail of course."

"Yes mamm, I understand that, but what service, First Class, Priority, Priority Over-night?"

"Oh they need to go overnight so they will be fresh when they arrive."

The employee measured the box, weighed it, and declared, "OK, that will cost you $32.42. Do you want the package insured?"

"$32? Why oh my? That seems a lot. I remember when a psotage stamp was 5 cents."

"Yes mamm, I understand. You know you could use one of our Flat Rate Boxes. I think the medium size box would work and that would only cost you $12.95. But you would have to use this box [she showed her the Flat Rate box] instead of the one you have now."

"How much is the box?"

"The $12.95 includes the cost of the box."

"Oh deary that will be nice." And she immediately started opening her box to transfer the contents. Before the employee could explain that the customer needed to do that on another counter so as not to hold up the line, she noticed a bottle of nail polish.

"Mamm, you cannot send that bottle of nail polish," the employee said pointing to the bottle.

"Oh, that is finger nail paint. And it is Rose Pink, it will look so good on Mary Lou. She has the prettiest rosy pink cheeks."

"Yes, mamm but that is on the list of restricted items."

That digressed into a "discussion" of the difference between finger nail paint and nail polish. I truly felt for the young postal employee, who by his response, I was pretty sure had never heard of 'finger nail paint'.

The young man behind of me asked, "Please tell me you don't collect stamps or are trying to slip restricted goods into a package. And for God's sake if you want a postal order please have the name and address ready," he laughed.

The lady behind him added, "And, remember don't be surprised if they asked you pay for your postage."

I just laughed and replied, "Trust me, I am prepared. My goal is to set a record once I get to the desk."

Another lady behind me laughed," My goal is to get to the desk."

[As a postscript, what I needed done I could not do on Trust me, I do not go to the post office for kicks and giggles.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Colorful Decorations

In thinking about decorating the house this year, I thought it would nice to be more traditional and homie instead of trying to be so cosmopolitan and sophisticated. OK, my feeble attempts at those last two schemes have been laughable at best. 

Most homes' decorations "develop" over the decades. A few ornaments are added each year. Then after the kids get old enough, the mother decides she wants a "designer" tree, then all the popsicle ornaments are left in the attic along with the "Baby's First Christmas" and every other homemade ornament. The family room officially enters the "chic" years. Of course if Martha Stewart goes through a certain phase and deems it a "Good Thing" and Mom is of that ilk, then so be it because the Oracle of Ostentation said so.

Our house did not follow that usual track. There has been the ongoing argument about white lights (that I prefer) and colored ones (that my DH likes). I won that skirmish and we have had white lights for the past twenty five years or so. We have bounced around from theme to theme. Each year I tried to make things a little different, add a little flare. Sometimes it was well received and others not so much. The year I used tartan plaid and brass bugles went over fairly well. The peacock feathers - not so much.

One year there was such a fuss over which ornaments would be used, knowing I was out numbered, I selected certain ornaments, bought my own tree, white lights, and moved it into the living room. All the ornaments on my tree were either white or gold or of some celestial design. It was gorgeous, if I must say so myself. My family disagreed and said it was too fru fru. One of my daughters accused me of stealing all the "pretty" ornaments. The following year, I was told there would be only one tree. And so it was.

But I digress. Back to the matter at hand. In looking through the ornaments we have accumulated to go on the tree, I have selected the ones I think look best. They are not necessarily the fanciest or ones that match. And as the coup de grace, I think colored lights would look great. I know, say it ain't so. Now I just need to figure out how to get my DH to bring up the color versus white light argument so I can let him win. It just wouldn't be cotton for me to show my hand and admit I agree with him.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Brush with the past

Most of my teenage years I lived close to the edge - not on the exciting edge doing daring things, but rather on the fringe of the "in crowd". Oh, I had good friends and we were pretty close. But there were always those folks who were in a bigger group - the group you watched from afar. You know, the group who did things you could never imagine doing, or knew you would never get away with. 

How scandalous -  smoking cigarettes (and more) in the parking lot of school. Staying out all night, crawling back home in the early hours on the morning on a school day. Not showing up for school just because you did not want to. And my mother was concerned about my hanging around with the "right" kids, the ones from the better families, the old families, the upper class. She never understood some of these kids were from these families. But I digress.

Yesterday I was in my gallery rearranging photos and selecting ones I was going to take to a Vet's office in town that also displays my work. A lady about my age with dry blond hair, heavy makeup, and a haughty attitude about her, approached me. "Are you the artist?"

"Yes I am. Well actually this is all photography." (Often people think some of my work looks like a painting because of the effect I give it and I never want to claim I painted it.)

"Well, I have been admiring it. Actually I love it. Do you photograph people's homes?"

"I have in the past." I went on to explain some projects I had done with some families.

This led into a rather long rambling story on her part about her large home in Chapin that she may want photographed, her husband, her business (she sold clothes, antiques, and was a gemologist). Then she stopped, "Don't I know you? My mother owned the dress shop [she gave me the name] downtown for years. My name is Julie."

Then is struck me, I knew exactly who she was, she was one of those girls who lived on the edge when we were in school. Our paths had crossed. She had been dating a golfer at our rival in-town school who dropped her and started dating me. She was none too happy (although I had never met her at the time.) 

I can remember hearing all kind of threats from her through friends that I was treading on her turf. I was scared silly. In my mind I may as well have been Sandy at the hands of  Rizzo (of Grease) - well without being so cute with the blond hair and Australian accent. At that time in high school I knew I was way out of my league. Yesterday all these thoughts came whirling back to me.

"You went to [the other] school, " I said. "You were Julie XXXX. We had mutual friends." I told her my maiden name, that I went to the other high school, and named some of the mutual friends we had (excluding the boyfriend).

She just gave me a dismissive smile (much like I imagine I would have received 40 years ago). The young man I supposedly "stole" from her died a year or two ago - the last time I saw him was the summer after my senior year in high school. I had moved on with life and she had not crossed my mind since. I don't know who she married or how many husbands there have been, nor did I care. 

But some things never change, she still comes across as someone who is snooty and rough. I, in her eyes, probably come across as the same "little twit" (her words 40 years ago) who stole her boyfriend. Far be it for her to admit he asked me out. Like I care.

We said our goodbyes. She said she would talk to her husband and give me call.

I turned back to my work. Thinking more about it, I was sure there was more to her than I saw, that is usually the case with most people. Then again, probably not. That was one call I hoped I never got. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shonda Doesn't Live Here

We often get random calls from people we do not know. They all seem to know us. Of course there were the calls in the past several days from Governor Haley, State Senator Sheheen, Congressman Clyburn, Senator Graham, and Senator Scott. Do they really think people are going to listen to them and say, "Wow, you know he/she really has a point?" 

The most annoying one is from "Lisa" at the bank who calls often. When I answer the phone there is a pause, then Lisa comes on with her automated voice, "Hello, this is Lisa calling about your credit card account. There is nothing wrong with your account, however I would like to inform you about some services that are available to you . . ." It never gets past that point. Once again, my question is: Are there people out there who listen to the entire message and are so convinced they wait with bated breath for her to tell them how they can get there "services"?

Other calls we get are for Shonda. Now we do not know Shonda, have never met Shonda, are clueless who she is, or why we continue to get these calls. However from the nature of these calls Shonda does not handle her finances very well. The calls for her are from collection agencies, credit card companies, loan companies, and finance departments at stores. More times than I can count I have politely explained to the caller that I do not know Shonda, that we get calls at this number constantly for her. We cannot help them and would appreciate them making a note in their files that this number is not her phone number. 

For any caller who does take us off their list, I swear two more are added. All I can figure is that she continues to perpetrate whatever  fraud she has been successfully doing for some time and somehow our number is on her file. 

We came in the other night to find a new message on our answering machine for Shonda. This one was quite creative. The caller said they were "calling from their legal claims department and if they did not hear from her in 24 hours they would be issuing a pre-legal warrant." I do not think they know who they dealing with. Whoever Shonda is, she is not going to be slowed down by the farce of a "pre-legal warrant". 

 For kicks and giggles I would love to get Lisa and Shonda together. Somehow I think they deserve each other, not to mention the contingent of yayhoos running for office. Maybe a party line (no pun intended) would be appropriate. Whatever, as long as they would leave is alone.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fat Back and Collard Greens

I probably should re-evaluate my life. Just today I found myself competing with two ladies who missed their calling with Barnum's side show in what would now most likely be referred to as the "Lady with above average body mass" (ie The Fat Lady). We were at the refrigerated section that contained  packages of fat back. Not that there was a sale or it was in short supply. I simply reached to pick-up a package and found myself wedged between these two. I'm not even sure they knew I was there, seeing I was almost lost between their folds and under their muumuus.

I managed to escape, fat back in hand.  I looked in my buggy. Yes, this is your life. I had a bag of collard greens, a small container of sour cream, a pound of butter, and now  two pounds of fat back. Heck all I needed was bacon and I would have three of the four food groups down here. 

Let me explain myself or maybe justify my purchases. Supper was  going to be Hoppin' John, hot sausage, and fresh collards. As a treat for my DH, I was going to make him an apple pie. After you add the fat back to the mess of collards, the sausage to the pot of rice, and the butter and sour cream to the apple pie, any semblance of nutrition has been successfully eliminated. We may die early but we will eat good doing so.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie Review - St. Vincent

I'll skip the details - go see this movie. 

Bill Murray is one of the more talented actors of our time. His comedy is so well known far beyond just his days on SNL, Caddy Shack, and the Wes Anderson films Everyone saw his serious side in "Lost in Translation" (for which he received a Best Actor nomination from the Academy). Melissa McCarthy is brilliant. And the new kid on the block - literally - Jaeden Lieberher - is so ungodly talented for his age, you will see him again. Add to that cast Naomi Watts, albeit with a Swedish accent, and you are off and running. Oh, and I almost forgot Chris O'Dowd as Brother Geraghty.

Seeing the trailers of St. Vincent, one would think the story full of cliches and throw away lines. I also feared that this would be one of those films where the entire entertainment and best part of the story was in the trailer and the rest would be a disappointment - not so. The screen play is well written, the film well cast (need I say more on that subject), the story line humorous, heartfelt, uplifting, and always a little surprising yet not hampered by useless heartstrings or touchy feely moments (that make one want to throw popcorn at the screen and shout "Seriously?").

Murray plays Vincent, a down on his luck hard drinking elderly Brooklyn man (the role must have been written for Murray - he could have been able to play it without a script). McCarthy plays Maggie, who recently separated from her husband, moves in next door to Vincent with her young son, Oliver (played by Lieberher). No spoiler here if you have seen the trailers - Maggie is a cath lab tech who has to work long hours and Vincent, through a series of events, ends up taking care of Oliver. 

McCarthy plays a more serious role as a working mother trying to do the best for her son, balancing a full time job and motherhood. Watts plays a pregnant Swedish pole dancer (yes I could not make that one up). The story is a combination of each of the characters trying to find their way: Maggie as a new single mom, Vincent going through some rough times, Watts dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, and Oliver trying to make sense of it all as his parents go through a divorce, he is thrown into a new school, and Vincent introduces him to a world he has never seen.

It is Oliver, the quiet scrawny little one, who ties it all together and his presence puts it all in perspective. The New York Times in her infinite ability to pee on any decent film out of pure arrogance, says, "A big, sloppy wet kiss of a movie about an old grouch, a sweet kid and their odd-couple friendship. . ." Bah humbug to them. What they fail to acknowledge is that the story is well written, well cast, entertaining, and not necessarily what one expects. 

Oh, and when the movie ends - stay seated for the credits. Just trust me.