Waiting For All Those Letters


There is something fundamentally indecent about attacking the United States Postal Service. That's a thing that should be off limits, part of that third rail of American politics where Social Security resides. It should result in automatic disqualification for higher office when a politician messes with the constant and reliable flow of the mail.

Stories like this are helpful as far as understanding why this matters:
My favorite activity, my only faithful daily ritual, is to check the mail. My husband pokes fun, but whenever I’m not traveling he lovingly leaves the task to me. These days, it goes without saying, I’m always home. And while time has become a confounding concept of late (What day is it? How many weeks have gone by? How many months? How often have I cooked this exact same meal?), one reliable marker of pandemic time passing is that once a day the mail arrives, and once a day I go outside to lift the mailbox’s creeky lid. Some days something interesting comes, most days it does not. But every day there’s the possibility of arrival.
What is it that I’m waiting for? Some days I’m expecting a check from one of the various, and inevitably delayed, writing commissions I’m owed. Some days I’m expecting a package—a book, my new toothbrush head, one of the several floral onesies I’ve purchased on Etsy in the past few months in order to brighten my mood and rid my mornings of the burden of too much choice (a jumpsuit is the energy bar of clothing: efficient, a complete outfit unto itself.) But most of all, I’m hoping for a letter, that old fashioned language of love.

My correspondence with loved ones, and particularly fellow artists, is what has kept me aloft in recent months in this era of devastating loss. Their letters, postcards and care packages have reminded me that there is still real, thrumming life out there, on the other side of my door, through the toxic smoke of the California wildfires and the haze of so much uncertainty, and that there is a reason to keep writing.
Veterans are waiting for prescriptions. Kids are waiting for learning materials. A million things that we never imagined we'd ever buy through the Internet and get through the mail are now flowing into our homes in a never ending river of brown boxes with the Amazon smile on the side. How the hell could anyone survive tearing out sorting machines and slowing down the damned mail?

I will never understand it.

Chadwick Boseman 1976-2020


Chadwick Boseman will be remembered as an actor, and he has passed away at the age of 43. He held a degree in fine arts for directing from Howard University. It would have been really something to see what he had planned to do as a director. What a tremendous loss.

Dick the Dog


Apparently, it's a furniture store. This was taken by that damned Google car, Penzance, down by Land's End in Cornwall, England.

Not my photograph, entirely my discovery.

Three Butterflies


The enduring irony of all of this is that, when I was taking photos on a regular basis, I had a camera that wasn't very good. Now that I have a pretty nice camera (with a brand new battery!) I almost never take photos.

Jealous


This is the fox that came in through the window and hid in the library.

Is it wrong of me to be jealous? Is it wrong of me to think that the fox who lives in the wooded buffer zone between all of these townhomes would be a reader, too?

Wildlife, man. Gotta love it.

Sir Patrick Stewart


Listening to Sir Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare's sonnets is enough to put you into a better frame of mind, believe me.

Rooting For Ashley Judd


A career in the arts should never lead to this sort of nightmare:
California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Ashley Judd can pursue a sexual harassment claim against convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. Per The Hollywood Reporterthe court stated that the nature of Judd and Weinstein’s relationship was “sufficient” enough to give the actress grounds to sue. 
In Judd’s complaint, which included stories that she first revealed to the public in October 2017, the actress alleges that Weinstein propositioned her for sex in a hotel room about 20 years ago. Judd declined, saying that she was only able to escape by telling Weinstein that she’d sleep with him if she wins an Academy Award. 
Weinstein would go on to blacklist Judd from Hollywood film roles, particularly within his company, Miramax. 
“As in the enumerated relationships, their relationship consisted of an inherent power imbalance wherein Weinstein was uniquely situated to exercise coercion or leverage over Judd by virtue of his professional position and influence as a top producer in Hollywood,” a judge wrote. “We have no difficulty concluding that the California Supreme Court would reach the same conclusion, obviating the need to certify the question.”
They should grant people immunity and allow them to come forward and admit that Weinstein was able to convince them not to cast Judd in their projects. I mean, it's not a case where she wasn't qualified or capable of being in the movies all of a sudden, right after telling Weinstein that she wouldn't have sex with him. It's more a case where her career was derailed shortly thereafter.

Numerous actresses can probably make the case that their refusal to submit to Weinstein's predations hindered their careers. We need to make this right and correct what was done. No one should have this kind of power. Ever.



Remembering Carrie Fisher



Byron Lane used to be Carrie Fisher's assistant. This is what she taught him:
You once worked as Carrie Fisher’s assistant, and that job shaped this book. Why did you want to use that experience in your novel?Working for Carrie Fisher saved my life in so many ways. I was in a funk when I got the job and her energy and zest for life lifted me up. She taught me so much about friendship and family and writing and life. We had so much fun and so many adventures. When she died, I wanted to capture the spirit of our time together. She always used to say, “Take your broken heart and make art.” And, so, that’s what I did. I think she’d be proud of me.
What are the characteristics you need most to be a personal assistant in Hollywood?Being a celebrity assistant can be a tough job and an amazing experience. If you’re intuitive and naturally inclined to be a helper, you’ll do great. The vibe of your boss will color the experience and make it more or less pleasant, but at the end of the day, it’s about service. If you find the right fit, you can have a life-changing and brilliant time. I wish everyone was a lucky as me to work for someone as amazing and cool as Carrie Fisher.
I have always believed that she should be remembered for her writing and for her acting because she was equally good at both. She was an outstanding performer, and that extended to her one-woman shows that were based on her books. No one was more complex than Fisher in terms of how she succeeded in two vastly different industries. It is rare, but not unheard of, for someone to be wildly successful in one field and then to be an absolute giant in something different, but there it is.

Lake Street


I took this entirely by accident just after Memorial Day 2020 on Lake Street in South Minneapolis. This is the view looking east towards St. Paul.

The Fake Balcony


This architectural abomination hangs off the side of a Popeye's restaurant, and extends out over the drive through lane.

What the hell is it? Why is it there?

Clearly, it's designed to invoke the balconies one would find in New Orleans. But, can anyone go stand on this thing and hoot and holler and throw things? No, because that would mean they would have to get on the roof of the Popeye's and then jump off said roof and stand on a rickety balcony that has no function. This is just sad.

I can imagine a scenario where someone shows up at Popeye's drunk, and climbs up onto the roof where they actually do have a ladder. Then that person shimmies over to the balcony and falls down onto it. They stand up, dazed, and the whole thing collapses onto a Ford Escort parked at the drive through window. Everyone is injured, but not severely. Just enough to be a nuisance, you see.

That's the Popeye's drive through balcony. Just enough of a mistake to be annoying.

We Need More Stories About Friendship

Rachel Shukert, left, showrunner and executive producer of Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club,” at her Los Angeles home, and Ann M. Martin, author of the book series “The Baby-Sitters Club,” at her New York home.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Don't let the subject matter throw you off. This isn't a throwaway series of books for young adults. These are the books that turn people into readers, and this is a show that focuses on the overlooked skill of friendship:

Premiering Friday, the 10-episode reboot opens with a modern wink to an origin story as important to some as Spider-Man’s or Batman’s. Sporty seventh grader Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace) watches as her single mom, Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone), is in need of a sitter to watch her youngest son. Elizabeth huffs about young people these days being hard to get in touch with, as well as the high fees of internet-based babysitting services: “When I was a kid, my mother would just call some girl in the neighborhood on a landline,” she says. “And she would answer, because it was part of the social contract.”
Kristy’s great idea is born: a babysitting club.

She enlists her shy bestie Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker) as secretary, their artistic friend and neighbor Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada) as vice president, fashionable new girl from New York City Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) as treasurer, and eventually environmentally conscious California transplant Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez) as an alternate officer. (Claudia also serves as the resident BSC host because she has a phone — one of those now-vintage transparent landlines with brightly-colored hardware — in her room.)
“When I saw them all together for the first time, that was one of the top five moments of my life,” Shukert says. “Maybe ahead of my wedding, but after having my son.” The way she speaks with reverence about the series, it’s easy to believe she isn’t joking.

That adoration, steeped in childhood memories untouched by the corrosion of time, made for a surreal adaptation process. Shukert says rereading the original book series, which ran until 2000 and has sold more than 180 million copies, she was struck by how she remembered very specific details — like Stacey painting her toenails with pink polish accented by a green dot or Claudia having white tights with plaits all over them or how Eleanor Marshall, one of the kids the girls babysit, was allergic to strawberries. But what came more sharply into focus was how the girls’ environment and experiences shaped how they navigated the world...

The reason why we need more of this type of storytelling is obvious--we're inundated with images and viral videos and police reports about individuals who cannot navigate polite society without looking like a jackass.

It's my personal opinion that there is a crisis in our society that centers around an inability to find and make friends with people who can check our impulse to do stupid shit. You need people around you who can call you on your bullshit. And you need to understand that this affects everyone, not just adults. So, if there's a vehicle out there for young people who can watch real friendships evolve and change, then this is the type of content that should be applauded and rewarded.


Monty Python Speaks



Monty Python Speaks is a book that gathers decades of interviews into one chronological source. In and of itself, that is a fantastic idea, and I don't know how you could screw that up. 

Does that mean I can recommend this? Well, with some qualifications, sure.

First of all, there is little here that will be shocking or revelatory. I have read several books on Python and I've seen the documentaries on Netflix. If you have an interest in what they did before coming together as a six person troupe, there is a wealth of material out there to go through. You can see the different factions and how they worked in British television before the initial run of the series.

This book captures some of the negotiations and the discussions and will allow the business associates a voice that doesn't really come out in the documentaries. So, you can get some of that here. In fact, I wish there were more books. That's a pet peeve of mine, and I don't know how to get over it. I remember reading a book that had the scripts of the show Ripping Yarns, and I loved it. Very little of that ended up in this book because it only involved two of the Pythons and no one thought to interview them about it.

However, this brings up my chief complaint with this book and that is, they really should have annotated each excerpt with a date and time of interview. It doesn't do you any good to go through the chronological history without telling the reader, "so-and-so said this on Feb 4, 1976 when he was in a foul mood and angry at that other son of a bitch who said something in return on April 8, 1977 when he found out what had been said about him."

You will begin to understand why Terry Gilliam is a bit of a pain in the ass about things because there are ample statements from everyone as to why that is. And then, in return, you'll discover that John Cleese was very much a pain the ass from the beginning because everyone seems to say so in their rather polite way. 

Someone could write an entire series of books and detail why Gilliam and Cleese are absolute pains in the various asses of everyone who comes into contact with them. Not sure if those would sell, but there you go.

Second, the book is missing contributions from Graham Chapman (who died, of course, after a lifetime of being a pain in the ass and had serious issues) and from Eric Idle (who is very much alive, is a nominative pain in the ass like we all are, sometimes, and likely didn't care to contribute anything).

Third, this is the updated version and carries through the diagnosis of dementia for Terry Jones (a right miserable pain in the ass about things, as you'll read) right after their farewell run of shows at the O2 arena. No mention that that's what Led Zeppelin did as well, and I've always wondered who else might use the O2 to tell everyone "we're done, now go fuck off."

Clearly, Idle told everyone to fuck off and kept the money he made from Spamalot, so maybe there's a book in that I need to go read. If you look at how successful the Broadway show was, you come away wondering why they didn't do more with that and expand into the larger Python universe with more songs and more shows. There's a book there, too!

I thought there should have been more material with regards to Python's tour of Canada and the United States. There could be a whole book on that. And the absence of any real commentary from Idle, aside from some one-liners that deliver some zings, cripples the narrative. 

There is a wealth of back and forth from Cleese, Michael Palin (who everyone loves and no bad words are said about him because he was easy to get along with and was not a pain in anyone's ass, ever),  and Jones and Gilliam that significantly advances the reader's understanding of their various projects. You will learn exactly why they made two disappointing films and two great films and you'll learn why everyone seemed to have been disappointed in everything regardless of whether it was successful or not.

Oh, and someone should write an entire goddamned book about their goddamned albums because they are, without question, entirely ignored by a world that should be reintroduced to the comedy album format. Goddamn it all anyway.

For completists only, in other words.

The Root Beer Stand


This is a business model that makes sense.

Drive up restaurants like this have been around forever. This is just one version of the idea that you could provide food and somewhere to park for people to use for their dining enjoyment. I've seen so many variations of this over the years, and given our need for social distancing and isolation from others, it really makes sense for this to be the choice right now.

The Root Beer Stand was closed, of course, and it wasn't even dark yet. In better times, I hope people flock to places like this and keep them in business.

Think of the simple meals to be had here. Not a bad way to go, and certainly better than having everything enclosed right now. When things get back to normal, I suppose we'll all prefer to gather in one place and eat shoulder to shoulder. For right now, nah. Just stay in the car.

A Dog in Dolores Park


Not my photo, but I sliced this out of an image taken in Dolores Park in San Francisco. The image of the dog, no leash, no owner nearby, made me think of social distancing.

You should not practice social distancing with your dog. Keep your dog close.

Richard Boone


Every once in a while, you stumble across a hidden gem or a tremendous performance. Watching Richard Boone in John Wayne's last film, The Shootist, is a case study in watching a masterful actor rise above the material.

Michelle Obama Reads to Children


There are a lot of people who could be doing this, but Michelle Obama is probably the best candidate for the job:
On “Mondays With Michelle Obama,” which begins today at 12pm EST, and will run from through May 11, the former first lady will livestream a reading of a classic children’s book as part of the PBS Kids Read-Along series. She joins an ever-expanding pool of celebrities reading books for kids online during the pandemic, but I think it’s safe to say she will overtake both Dolly Parton and Tom Hardy as the Lit Hub Slack favorite. This is our future president, people. (Just kidding, that would be in the good timeline, for which we have clearly not been chosen.)
The first book will be Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. Watch “Mondays with Michelle Obama” on the PBS Kids YouTube channel or Facebook page, or at Penguin Random House’s Facebook.
It is probably not fair to expect the former First Lady to have to entertain other people's kids, but there it is. She is gracious and generous with her time and probably enjoys the process. If she provides this service, then I believe that she deserves the praise that goes with it. I suspect that she will reap a vast amount of scorn for her abilities, and it's like we're living in the mid-2010s all over again.

Any number of public figures could be doing this. We could encourage judges to sentence them to reading books to kids if they get crossways with the law. I don't know if that would go over all that well, but it's a good idea.

David Hockney


This may not be the diversion you want, but it's the diversion you need.

David Hockney gets up every day and draws in the Normandy countryside. He is basically doing the Lord's work right now, and this is the relaxing, calming content that a dumb site like this readily has to have in order to survive.

Twenty Pounds


Some amazing works of art that can fit in your wallet, provided that you're able to get a hold of money from Scotland.

This post details the features found on bank notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, which now features women and wildlife.

Savage



This cover from the New Yorker is absolutely savage.

It destroys Trump and reduces him to little more than a figure of stark raving madness. It is social commentary of the highest level, taking all of the finest elements of the visual arts - the red tie, the triple chins, the sweep of artificial hair - and shows us Trump's perpetual howl of ignorant rage. Having him blinded by a misapplied surgical mask is the icing on the cake. Even his fake whitened teeth are treated with contempt.

It is brilliant.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


He was an unhinged, crazy bastard but people loved him.

Rolling Stone has put the original essay from Hunter S. Thompson online so people can read what became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Yes, Thompson lost the plot with an eventual crash that left him in the mountains, paranoid but unbroken. But he could write very, very well.

Minitel


It was slow and clunky, but it worked and that's all that mattered:
Combining a monitor, keyboard, and modem all in one beige plastic package, the Minitel terminal — known as the "Little French Box" — was once a common sight in French households. With it, writes Julien Mailland in the Atlantic, "one could read the news, engage in multi-player interactive gaming, grocery shop for same-day delivery, submit natural language requests like 'reserve theater tickets in Paris,' purchase said tickets using a credit card, remotely control thermostats and other home appliances, manage a bank account, chat, and date." All this at a time when, as Schofield puts it, "the rest of us were being put on hold by the bank manager or queueing for tickets at the station." And what's more, the French got their Minitel terminals for free.
In order for regular Americans to get on the Internet in the 1990s, they had to have a computer with a modem and a phone line. By the time you got all of that lined up, you had to pay for access and that meant about $25 a month to someone like America Online.

I kind of like the French idea better.

Blockbuster



The Blockbuster Video Chain was a horrific company, a blight upon the American retain landscape. It was easily the worst company of the 1990s and early 2000s (says me).

Who is nostalgic for anything related to Blockbuster? This is a picture of a game you can play in your home. Why would you want anything with the blue and yellow logo of eternal evil on it? I see the Blockbuster logo and I see red.

Get rid of this shit, man. There should not be any of it left. When they closed those stores, think of all the Blockbuster bullshit that was thrown away. The signs, the bags, the bins, the display cases, the shelves on the wall. Think of all the stores they once had. A lot of them are now Panera Bread stores or places where you can get vaping crap. There should not be any of this, it should all be gone. They should set all of their remaining merchandise and mementos on fire and disappear into the sordid annals of history, going the way of those stores where people sold belly slaps and gum that didn't work.

I'm still mad about having to pay late fees. All of America should still be angry. I'm still giving Netflix money because that's what killed Blockbuster.

Why would you play a game like this? You should fling this goddamned thing into the rafters. It's not safe to start fires in stores, so don't do that. But, shit. Where was this considered a good idea? In a pitch meeting attended by people who didn't have to live in a country where there were no good movie stores and where a Blockbuster video store was just there, like a blight?

Don't you remember going there and being forced to wait to get movies? You'd have to sweep in and try to get a new release. You might have to move up and down the aisles like a shark and wait for a dopey kid to put a just-returned copy on the shelf. Then you would have to wait in line to rent it. Oh. I can't rent it until I pay late fees? Well, goddamn.

Don't get me started on what it was like to rent a movie and find out some idiot had put the wrong movie in the wrong box. Or that they had failed to rewind the damned thing.

Fucking late fees. When am I getting over them?

Never.


John le Carré


John le Carré on how far we have fallen from grace.
I try to imagine how it was for Palme in those times: the shuttle diplomacy, the tireless reasoning with people locked into their positions and scared of their superiors. I was the lowest form of spy life, but even I got wind of contingency plans for outright nuclear war. If you are in Berlin or Bonn when the Russian tanks sweep over you, be sure to destroy your files first. First? What was second? And I doubt whether your chances would have been much rosier in Stockholm. 
In Berlin, in August 1961, I look on as coils of Russian barbed wire are unrolled across the Friedrichstrasse checkpoint, otherwise known as Checkpoint Charlie. Intermittently, in the days that follow, I watch the Wall go up, one concrete block at a time. Do I lift a finger? No one did. And maybe that was the worst part of it: the oppressive sense of your own irrelevance. 
But Palme refused to be irrelevant. He would make himself heard if it killed him, and perhaps in the end it did. 
It’s October 1962 and Cuban crisis time. I am a junior diplomat at the British embassy in Bonn and I have just moved into a new hiring beside the river Rhine. German decorators are painting the walls. It’s a sunny autumn and I think I must have been on leave because I am sitting in the garden writing.

Mutt Mutt Engine



If you ever find yourself in need of adopting a rescue dog, please consider reaching out to these folks:
It’s a sweet existence for Gilbert, Lamb Chop, Secret Squirrel, Little and Goo — all dogs adopted by Sally and Chris Mars. 
The canine quintet has the run of a red two-story house in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis (“when your name is Mars, you have to paint your house red,” said Chris). Their lives today are a far cry from what had appeared to be their destiny. All of them were plucked from misery — abused, neglected, abandoned, hoarded or overbred in a puppy mill. 
“He’s the reason we have five dogs,” said Sally, 55, gesturing to her husband. 
“I’m not built to foster,” admitted Chris, 58. “I get too attached.”  
After years of volunteering with animal rescue organizations, the couple founded their own last February. Mutt Mutt Engine began with the goal of helping one dog a month. Their project quickly exceeded their dreams. By September, the fledgling nonprofit had helped 55 dogs escape desperate fates. 
Mutt Mutt Engine benefits from the talents and notoriety of its creators. Sally is an accomplished photographer and television commercial producer. Chris has earned international renown as a painter; his first career making art was as drummer in the Replacements, the legendary Minneapolis rock band.
Mutt Mutt Engine has a regional approach, so please find out if they have the right rescue dog for you.