Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'The Death of a President'

Hey there, y'all.

Sorry it's been awhile since I've ducked in here. The last couple of weeks at work have been nuts. It's the busy season for us, too. One of several.

Not too much to report. We had a great Thanksgiving. Hope you did, too.

Saturday night I was feeling well enough to take a jaunt to Johnson City. I hadn't seen Robinella since our wedding and we were overdue for a short and sweet road trip.

So, we went to the Down Home and heard some tunes and detoxed from all the turkey and tryptophan.

I've been neglecting my reading since finishing Tom Brokaw's new book. Tonight after work and a later appointment, I ducked into the Fountain City Branch Library and borrowed William Manchester's "The Death of a President." I thought about it last week when that awful anniversary came and went. Hate to admit it, but I've yet to read it. (Can you believe this one-time best seller is out of print?!)

Manchester writes in a distinctive style that is both anachronistic and charming. I have to keep a dictionary nearby. But I love it. His two books on Churchill are must haves for any student of history and I enjoyed what I read of "American Caesar," Manchester's biography of Douglas MacArthur.

Jenn tells me that sometimes I get submerged in whatever historical anniversary we're bumping up against at the time. Maybe so. This year, I stumbled onto a YouTube series of the CBS broadcast day from Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, beginning with "As the World Turns," which was interrupted about 10 minutes after its 1:30 p.m. (Eastern) start time when Walter Cronkite read the first of the fateful wire dispatches from Dallas.

I watched about 30-some installments of it over the course of a week and finally decided to dig up a copy of Manchester's book. I'll let you know what I think when I'm through.

Here is a link to a 2009 Vanity Fair story that tells the stunning, tragic story behind the book's publication, which was fought by Jackie Kennedy for a time.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Will film version of 'The Descendants' live up to novel's promise?

When we were honeymooning in Hawaii in late September and early October, I read a hotel magazine article about an upcoming George Clooney film called "The Descendants."

Filmed on Oahu and Kauai, the film is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings about Matt King, a Hawaiian native who suddenly becomes a de facto single parent to his two daughters when his wife slips into a coma following a boating accident. He also soon finds out she was cheating on him. And he has to decide whether to sell long-held family land to a developer.

Matt has to deal with all this upheaval while trying to figure out how to be a better parent as well as navigating the divide between him and his oldest, estranged daughter.

I remembered seeing the film's theatrical trailer over the summer and was intrigued when the director, Alexander Payne, said in the article he wanted to "see Honolulu filmed (accurately) on the big screen."

I checked the book out of the library after returning from Hawaii. "The Descendants" is a charming, quirky novel. Hemmings writes with a fresh, contemporary voice. By the time I reached the final page, I felt like I'd spent some time with three-dimensional characters.

I could write 20 blogs about the film adaptations of favorite books that proved to be disappointments. (A much shorter blog could be written about the ones I like.)

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to seeing this novel come to life, as well as seeing contemporary Hawaii on the big screen.

"The Descendants" opens nationally this week. We'll see if the film lives up to the novel's promise.

You can see the theatrical trailer here.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, November 11, 2011

'In Flanders Fields'

Happy Veterans Day to those who served.

Here is a special thank you to the men and women who have put themselves in harm's way to defend our freedom. Let's also pause today to remember those who didn't make it home.

In honor of Veterans Day, I'd like to share a favorite poem, from World War I. Written by Lt. Col John McCrae, it is titled, "In Flanders Fields."

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I mean, really, how difficult can it be?

How difficult can it possibly be to get a fast food order correct? (Read that sentence as if I'm saying it in the late, great Andy Rooney's high-pitched voice.)

I mean, really, how difficult can it be?

Here's what happened to me today. I pulled up to the drive-thru at a local fast food restaurant in Halls. I ordered what I thought was a simple selection: a hamburger with mustard only.

"Do you want a combo or just the sandwich?" the attendant asked.

"No, just the sandwich."

"Would you like cheese on that?"

Thinking to myself that "mustard only" should be self-explanatory, I cheerily replied, "No, thank you, just mustard."

I pull up to the window and am handed my order while the attendant rings up my card. I glance at the sandwich -- and see lettuce, tomato and a bunch of other stuff I didn't order.

"Uh, ma'am?" I said. "I hate to complain, but I ordered this with mustard only."

She takes it back and corrects my order. In the back, I hear another woman say, "That's the way I ordered it."

"No," another voice answered, "you just said no cheese."

The attendant at the window was apologetic. "Sorry about that. I'm normally working sandwiches."

I didn't get mad. I know these folks work an at times frantic job for a less than glamorous salary. But, I just marveled. Especially after repeating the order.

Here's a story that sounds like a joke, but it actually happened.

A woman pulled up recently to a drive-thru here in Knoxville. The exchange went like this:

"May I take your order?"

"Yes," the woman said. "Just give me about five dollars of whatever you think I should have."

"Excuse me?"

"Just give me about five dollars of whatever you think I should have."

"Uh, ma'am," came the reply, "we can't do that."

"I don't know why not," the woman answered. "You do it every damn time I come through here."

Point taken, on a day in which I can relate.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thanks for memories, Mr. Keane

Sad news tonight. Bil Keane, the creator of the popular daily comic panel strip "The Family Circus," died yesterday. He was 89. The story is here.

According to King Features Syndicate, which distributes it, "The Family Circus" is the most widely read syndicated panel. It's a delightful, if sometimes overtly sentimental, bright spot in the day. I've read it, along with two other strips, regularly for more than 25 years. It isn't "Peanuts," but it's pretty good.

Keane used the "Circus" circle to find humor in the adventures of his real-life brood. One I read just this past week had one of the kids yelling after the father, who was carting off two large bags of leaves, "Wait, Dad, here's some more for you," while shaking a few more out of the trees in the family's yard.

It was never irreverent or smug, just cute and warm, as comforting and familiar as an old friend.

"Many of my cartoons are not a belly laugh. I go for nostalgia, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, the tug in the heart," Keane told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.

Years and years ago, "The Family Circus" partnered with KOA Campgrounds. The family was featured in KOA literature, which I can remember reading while spending summers camping with my grandparents, dreaming about traveling the country by camper.

Keane's passing won't be the national mourning moment that followed Charles Schultz's death. But he'll be missed. His youngest son and longtime collaborator, Jeff, will continue the panel.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Keane.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My favorite curmudgeon

Sunday nights will never be the same.

Andy Rooney, America's favorite curmudgeon, whose commentaries provided the perfect period for the final moments of "60 Minutes," died Friday night. He was 92.

Barely retired a month (although he said, and I concur, that a writer never retires), Rooney passed away from complications following surgery. He will be missed.

Rooney got his start during World War II, as a reporter for the daily Stars and Stripes newspaper. He said later that being in the war, first as a reluctant soldier, altered his thinking about its necessity. "I saw the Germans," he said, "and I changed my mind."

He came to fame in the final installment on "60 Minutes," complaining about everything from women's hats to flights of stairs. ("They don't take flight.")

But he could also be serious, offering a touching tribute to D-Day, raging against the senseless 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City ("I could kill the bastards!"), mocking the lyrics to Michael Jackson's "Bad."

He said, though, that of all the things about which he could complain, he could never grumble about his life. It was filled with a loving wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Not to mention a career to remember, punctuated by those perfect periods at the end of "60 Minutes" on Sunday nights.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

When October goes

Shopper-News columnist Lynn Hutton filed a great column this week, her annual ode to autumn. It can be found here through Sunday (Nov. 6) and then archived here on Page A-7.

Lynn's piece, awesome and eloquent as always, got me to thinking how much I, too, hate to see October go.

Fall is fun, filled with football and falling leaves. Days are usually mild; nights are nicely nippy.

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind for us, roaring in like March's lion (or, if you will, like a luau) on our honeymoon in Hawaii, and ending more like a lamb, quietly, at home. Jennifer didn't feel well last night, so we canceled our Halloween plans. She stayed in bed much of the evening while I indulged myself in my favorite guilty pleasure from the '60s, the campy ABC daytime drama, "Dark Shadows." ("How can you kill a man who's already dead?")

We saw spectacular fall colors over the weekend at the lake, filled with gold and brown and blue, better than what Jennifer says she saw with her grandparents in the Great Smokies a week ago.

Now we creep toward the holidays, which, sadly, have become anxiety-ridden endurance contests. Dreary, gray winter days are soon to follow, that three-month misery when the sky won't snow and the sun won't shine. I've already told you about losing baseball until the spring.

So forgive me if I hum a few bars of Johnny Mercer by way of Barry Manilow today.

Oh, how I hate to see October go...

Labels: , , , , ,