Thursday, August 28, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: WAITING FOR ISIS EDITION

As President Obama decides whether to OK an attack on Syria in order to dismantle the ISIS leadership, Congressional leaders assured the public that it was still business as usual in Washington.

Talking to reporters at a whiskey-tasting event in his home state of Ohio, Speaker of the House John Boehner made it clear that terrorist threats weren't going to deter his colleagues. "We're just going to let President Obama twist in the wind for a while. The idea of ending our vacation early in order to come together in the face of an imminent attack on U.S. soil is just plain laughable. I don't know when he's going to get it through his head that we're here to help us get re-elected, not make decisions or, more importantly, help him do his job."
 
Reporters caught up with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at his annual Hug-A-Latino Day Festival in Phoenix, Arizona. When asked if he was inclined to reconvene the Senate early to discuss a possible attack on Syria, Reid demurred. "For once, I'm in agreement with my friend John Boehner. The minute that Democrats make a statement one way or another on such a life-or-death issue, they're putting their jobs in jeopardy. Look at Hillary Clinton. She was yapping non-stop for weeks during that book tour, even raked President Obama over the coals over his dithering. Now that it's time to put up or shut up -- well, you don't hear much out of Chappaqua these days, do you? That gal wants to be president, alright!"

President Barack Obama took a break from his combination golf game/ballet practice to make a statement as well. "I know that many have taken me to task for spending more time pushing a climate change treaty instead of making a decision on what to do about ISIS. But hear me out. Those terrorist folks are going to get us no matter what I do about Syria. And when that dirty bomb goes off in Times Square one Sunday afternoon, New Yorkers are going to want as much temperate air as possible afterwards. Now watch me nail this arabesque!"

                                                             *****************

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

REEFER MARRIAGE

There are many theories regarding the secret to a happy marriage. Enduring love, of course. Shared spiritual values. Respect. And, of course, not getting married at all. 

Now the medical journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors takes it to a higher level, thanks to a study of 634 married couples:

Examining the couples over the first nine years of marriage, they discovered that husbands who used [marijuana] around three times a week with their wives, were less likely to be violent towards them in the future. Marijuana use by husbands also predicted less frequent attacks from wives.

Would somebody explain to me how weird
orgies, wild parties and unleashed
passions lead to misery?
Did they need a study to discover that people who smoke dope are probably too high to do anything more aggressive than mindlessly flip through 500 TV channels all night? Keep in mind, too, that the study was done by the University of Buffalo, which, just by being a university, is probably skewed toward smoking weed anyway. 

The study didn't taken into account same sex marriages, perhaps assuming violence never comes into play. However, in my foolish youth -- if you call my 20s and 30s youth -- I got looped with male friends almost exclusively. The closest to violence we ever came was fighting for the last Entemann's cookie, deciding who was going out on another beer run, and disagreeing whether Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee was a better Dracula. How many non-smoking married couples wish it never got worse than that for them?

The director of the study, Dr. Kenneth Leonard, had a theory regarding the study's findings:

"It is possible, for example, that - similar to a drinking partnership - couples who use marijuana together may share similar values and social circles, and it is this similarity that is responsible for reducing the likelihood of conflict."

Take note that it took a professor at the University of Buffalo, where the yearly tuition is roughly $43,000, to come to the conclusion that couples who smoke dope hang around other couples who smoke dope. Look in the damn dorms, doc!
Or maybe it was because Paul looked
like this when he got high.

Interestingly, on the same news site that reported the study, there was a piece about the dissolution of Neil Young's marriage after 36 years. Young, a longtime pot smoker, told the New York Times that he quit in 2012. Coincidence? 

Think back further, when uber-dope devotee Paul McCartney lay down the pipe at the behest of his second wife, Heather. Anyone remember how fast that marriage went down the drain? 

Lately we've been hearing all sorts of dire warnings from the unofficial morals squad regarding the relaxation, or even elimination, of marijuana laws -- the same group decrying the breakdown of marriage. It would be pretty funny if the University of Buffalo study was eventually proven via a gradual decrease in divorces. "Do you, Mary, take John, in lawful weeded bliss..."

                                                   *********************


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: FERGUSON MEDIA COVERAGE EDITION

The presidents of three major networks' news divisions reflected on their coverage of the recent tragic events in Ferguson, Ohio.

James Goldston of ABC News told reporters, "Although what happened to Michael Brown's family was terrible, it allowed my colleagues and I to allow black reporters to cover a major news story for the first time. And let me be the first to say, they did an exemplary job of being professional, while, at the same time, being black. The next time there's a race riot, our black reporters will be there, putting things in black perspective for our white anchors."

NBC News' Deborah Turness was equally enthusiastic. "We've been looking forward to a story where our black reporters could put their unique talent to good use. After seemingly endless stories about everything but racial incidents since Trayvon Whatshisname, the Ferguson incident was something of a godsend for our minority news people. I say, 'Well done, black reporters, well done.'"

"I couldn't agree with them more," said CBS News president David Rhodes. "Our black guys have been in the bullpen for a long time now, just waiting for us to let them take a swing at a story we thought they could handle. I predict that there will come a day -- perhaps in our lifetime -- when they'll be able to cover politics in general, which has traditionally been the 'white beat.' Especially if there's ever a black president."

                                 ********************

Saturday, August 23, 2014

CROSSINGS TO BEAR

We dropped our daughter off at college on Thursday. Her roommate, whom she had been in touch with for several weeks, had arrived first with her parents and sister. As the adults helped unpack, and kids from the floor dropped by to say hi, it soon resembled the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera. Further throwing me off-balance was the other father's talk of an earring holder, which I kept hearing as "urine holder."

You can put it down to my jitters at sending my only child away to school, but I had found myself strangely unmoved emotionally in the days leading up to this. I came close to shedding a tear the night before the move, when my wife and daughter had a good sobbing session. The latter in particular had been quite nostalgic as of late, starting many sentences with "Remember when..." 

I told her more than once that I probably wasn't going to get emotional during the run-up to her leaving, that it would probably hit me the first night, when her mom and I could go to bed and triple-lock the door, knowing she wasn't coming home after a night out with her friends. 

But that was a lie -- I wasn't moved because I'd experienced this separation once before, shortly before her ninth birthday. I wrote it about it on my original blog, and thought it  applied to the current situation.

I reproduce that essay now, just as it appeared a decade ago:



When I was growing up, I had an preternatural fascination with celebrity divorces and deaths – you know, the important stuff. As such, my favorite section of "Time" magazine was "Milestones.”  Not until I became a father did I realize that most of our milestones are of a much smaller variety.


A week before her ninth birthday, Daughter was off to, by my count, her 47th sleepover of the year. Her friend's place was literally around the corner -- a minute-and-a-half stroll, tops. Daughter suggested that she could easily walk there herself. Wife and I were of mixed emotions: "no" and "forget it."

Now I have clear memories, living in Newport, RI, of being eight years old -- and perhaps younger -- walking three or four blocks to Hal's Corner Store for the daily paper. It wasn't unusual; most parents sent their kids on errands, unattended, especially in the summer. The idea of being picked up off the streets by some marauder, or getting flattened by a car jumping the curb, never crossed anyone's mind. Either that, or all the families were so large the parents figured if something happened, there'd always be another kid to send out for a pack of smokes.

But we have one child. It's a relatively safe, quiet, family-oriented neighborhood…in New York. So we offered a compromise. We'd walk her down the block. She'd cross the street by herself -- a first, by the way -- then continue to her friend's building while we watched from across the street. Daughter weighed the pros and cons.

     Pro: She'd still make her appearance alone.
     Con: Freakin' parents are still there for part of the trip.

It was good enough for her. We put on our coats and walked to the corner. The light was red.

Hugs. Kisses. Goodbyes.

The light was still red.

More hugs. More kisses. More goodbyes.

The light changed.

Our little girl, loaded down with pajamas, toiletries, pillow and American Girl doll, scampered East across the street before crossing South. No traffic, no cars jumping the curb. Perfect crossing weather.

I had to fight the urge to run after her.

As we walked on the street opposite her, Daughter ran -- out of excitement? A little fear? To get rid of us faster? -- to her friend's building. She spoke to the doorman, who sent her up the elevator, alone.

Time elapsed from crossing to arriving: roughly 30 seconds in Earth time; a year in worried parents'. Yes, yes, we felt pride in our brave little girl. We also felt sick in our gut, wondering if 15 would've been a more appropriate age hold such an experiment. 


I later thought about many of the major milestones in our kids' lives. Learning to walk. Going to school. Learning to bike. First sleepover. Learning to drive. Going to college. They all share one thing.

Leaving.

And even though the first time Daughter walked it was toward me, she started going in the opposite direction as soon as she found the confidence. The act of birth itself was the first physical separation of child from mother. It was just a warm-up for what was to follow.

The mysteries of successful parenting are dwarfed by this: We have children so they can leave.

 
                                                  ******************     



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CARRY ON, MY WAYWARD PHONE

If you spend any time at all watching the news, you'll know that reporters love using the phrase "fluid situation." They're not talking about either floods or my life. Once I find something I like doing, or even find myself doing, I am loath to change directions. I am a human block of cement. So you'll understand why it took me over a decade to change my wireless carrier, despite being charged outrage prices every month.

If they had kept this logo,
I'd have stayed.
I stuck with AT&T for no other reason than a fear that if I switched carriers, I would not only wind up paying even more somewhere else, but I would lose service for however long it took until the new company picked us up. That wouldn't mean much to me, but my daughter communicates with the world via texting. In fact, if AT&T offered a "text only" choice, I'd have grabbed it in a minute.

Now, what would you say if I told you that my new carrier was rated #1 by Consumer Reports? Gets an A-rating from the Better Business Bureau? Requires no contracts? Switched service for me from AT&T within five seconds after I gave them the OK? And, in fact, uses the AT&T network, which means my service will be the same as before for over $100 less? And -- here's the kicker -- employs friendly "sales associates" who answer the phone immediately and don't require subtitles to be understood? I'm thinking you'd say, "Brother, where have you been all my wireless life?"


"I am so down with this portable
telephone thing!"
Now, what if I were to tell you the company was called Consumer Cellular, and was marketed primarily to AARP members, who receive a 5% discount? I bet many of you are suddenly OK with overpaying for your service.

I had the same problem. Just the name "Consumer Cellular" sounds generic. You kind of picture a couple of people drumming up business off a bridge table at a street fair. 

Compare it to T-Mobile. Boost. Sprint. Verizon. Cool names all, punchy, modern and hip. "Word, I got Boost."

Word, I was spending over $1000 a year to type Ok to every text I received from my daughter. The time had come make the switch.

My wife was eager to jump in the game, just to get her own cellphone, since the one she was currently using was really for work. She could have gone with an iPhone 5S from Consumer Cellular, but went with a flip phone instead, perhaps remembering our daughter's admonishment that we weren't smart enough for smartphones. (Actually, she said that about me, but I'm sure she was talking about us.

My wife's phone arrived while she was away with friends for the weekend. Taking it carefully from the box, I could hear her reaction already. "Ohhh, this is nice! This is very nice! I love it!" The reality, however, was somewhat different. After suppressing a dry heave, she muttered, "Well. This certainly isn't a sexy phone."

"Watson, come here! I need
a sexy phone!"
What in the name of roaming charges is a sexy phone? Something that looks like a Christian Louboutin platform pump? A phone with prominent abs? You show me a better phone for 35 bucks.

Sexy phone? I've been using the same flip phone for over five years. It's more banged up than someone racing against Tony Stewart. I have to use a jackhammer to push the numbers 1 and 7. From a distance, it looks like a good-sized waterbug. At least my wife's phone looks like a phone. Maybe a phone her mother would use, but a phone! Hey, it even has extra audio clarity for hearing aids! And big numbers for easier use!

This is hot.
My wife could probably deal with all of that. But what she really had a problem with were the words Consumer Cellular on the outside of the phone -- that whole "generic sounding" thing again. Our daughter saved the day by providing a sheet of stickers she's been using to cover her new iPhone and iPad. After careful consideration, my wife chose the rainbow and puffy clouds image. Very sexy. If you're My Little Pony.

Our next move is to get Nexflix Streaming, and lower our cable service to less-than-basic. Public access and the traffic camera channel will never look so sexy.

                                                  *******************

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "FREUD" (1962)

Few high-pedigree movies of the last half-century or so have done such a thorough disappearing act as Freud. Premiering to major fanfare in 1962, it quickly underwent nervous studio butchering before vanishing into the collective unconsciousness of Hollywood producers, who would make sure not to make any more movies about psychiatrists, unless they were farces or Barbra Streisand vanity projects. 

Perhaps the headcases who ran Universal-International Pictures realized too late that a movie called Freud, directed by John Huston and starring Montgomery Clift, wasn't going to be a date movie. Instead, it focuses on the Viennese shrink developing his theory on how we're all screwed up because we either loved our mothers too much and hated our fathers, or vice-versa, or both. In a year that saw two Disney productions in the top 10 highest-grossing movies, Freud was not what the doctor ordered.

Forget that much of Freud's work in this field has been discredited in the last couple of decades. (For some reason, women go into hysterics over the word "hysteria.") There's much to admire about Freud on its own terms. First, Huston made the wise decision to abandon the original script written by France's favorite cockeyed philosopher, Jean-Paul Satre, which would have run about 10 hours. 

No wonder he never got the girl on
"The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
Second, casting Montgomery Clift was brilliant, in that his presence -- usually described by movie historians as "troubled" -- makes Freud more human than we tend to picture him. I mean, this Freud is so repulsed by his patients that he temporarily quits psychiatry altogether, because these people are, you know, nuts. I mean, how would you react to David McCallum speaking like Peter Lorre before making out with a headless mannequin he thinks his is mother?

"On the count of three, you're going to quack
like a duck. Just kidding!"
But thanks to his mentor, Dr. Josef Breuer, Freud is soon back in the game, taking on the case of Cecily Koertner, blind and paralyzed since a traumatic childhood incident involving her father. Peeling back the layers of Cecily's memories like a jumbo shallot, Freud cures her physically and psychologically, while discovering the root of his own deep-seated hatred for his father. Doesn't anybody like their parents?


If all this sounds like the patient-curing-the-doctor routine beloved by Reader's Digest, don't be put off. Freud is a serious, perhaps great movie, even if it has a whiff of old Hollywood about it. The mishmash of accents; occasional dialogue along the lines of, Siggy, you look hungry, eat a sandwich!; the boastful father who envisions great things for his son the doctor. 

Yet, had Huston waited for a more liberated time, Freud would have lost its prime assets: Montgomery Clift; the stunning black and white photography; and Jerry Goldsmith's Twilight Zone-ish score (parts of which were later lifted for Alien). The dream sequences, by the way, look like the dreams I have, which, upon reflection, is more information than you need.

"Say,  you look familiar..."
One of Huston's inspired casting choices directly involves Freud's sexual theories. Freud's wife Martha believes that he married her only because, according to him, we all fall in love with someone who reminds us of somebody else. No surprise, then, that the actresses playing Freud's mother and wife look like sisters. If that's not enough, Rosalie Crutchie, as Freud's mother, was only 42 -- the same age as Montgomery Clift. Oh, yuck.


Larry Parks expounds on the psychological 
underpinnings of singing "My Mammy."

In hiring Larry Parks as Dr. Breuer, Huston was doing his bit to break the Hollywood blacklist. Famous for starring in The Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again, Parks' movie career was derailed by admitting to Congress that, when barely out of his teens, he was very briefly affiliated with the Communist party. A white guy in blackface who was once red -- only in Hollywood, kids. 

Freud himself should have been on the set of the movie. John Huston emotionally tortured
Having fun with Spence and Monty.
Montgomery
Clift over the latter's sexuality. Clift, now in the depths of his booze and drug addiction, briefly fled to Germany for the premiere of Judgement at Nuremberg, where, reports film historian John McElwee, "a hostile German press merely exacerbated [his] already bizarre behavior... [Clift], according to one observer, 'showed up stoned and drunk out of his mind, jumping on Spence’s back.' Things got worse when Monty crawled on his hands and knees between the aisles, and 'screamed all sorts of crazy things,' causing Tracy to flee from the auditorium." Today, that kind of thing would earn you a spokesman gig for Cabo Wabo Tequila and a guest shot on Two and a Half Men. 



"Good God, I can't believe
that title!"
Still far more interesting than most any movie today, Freud comes from a time when intelligent dialogue was not only important, but expected from this kind of drama. Unfortunately, the studio wasn't particularly keen on it. Shorn of several minutes for general release, the film was given the legendarily stupid title Freud: The Secret Passion. Some posters printed it as Freud: A Secret Passion -- a subtle yet vital difference for the article-obsessed.

Following its TV debut in the late '60s, Freud vanished for about 15 years before briefly reappearing on home video. It went AWOL for many more years until a handful of airings on cable television -- then disappeared again for over a decade. Today, the original 140-minute version is commercially available on DVD only in Spain.

Well, not quite. I remember a particular dream sequence at a train depot during AMC's sole broadcast of Freud about 25 years ago. When watching the DVD, I was disappointed to discover that it was missing. For God's sakes, leave Freud alone!

                                               ***************

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GOOD SWILL TO ALL

As our daughter prepares to go to college next week, she's been leaving little works of art around the apartment in order to leave her mark. That would have been fine had she left it there. But as far as she was concerned, we were lacking in one important department.

"So when are you guys going to start composting?"

"I'm already composting," I replied, not without a little self-satisfaction. "I throw it in the garbage."

"No, that's throwing it in the garbage!" she retorted unnecessarily.


It's a scam, that's what it is.
She'd been on this composting kick for about a month, but it wasn't until a few days ago she got some back-up from Mom. I had already sealed my fate by mentioning that the grocery store sold compostable bags. 

Knowing that it was useless to put up a fight when I'm outgunned 2-1, I offered to drop by Bed, Bath & Beyond for a composting container to put next to the kitchen trash can.

You think I'd get an, "Aw honey, that's so sweet of you!" from my wife. Boy, was I wrong. I was duly informed that we were to put the composting in the freezer.

Ah, yes. There's nothing like garbage nestling next to the ice cubes to add just the right tang to frozen margaritas. Fortunately, my wife suggested we pack the bag-filled swill inside the plastic containers that we use for leftovers. The leftovers, presumably, would go in garbage bags.

Trust me, this is the work of a $100/hr
composting stylist.
I was stunned to see how quickly the containers filled up. I was going to wait until next Saturday to drop off this crap at the weekend greenmarket a few blocks away, but felt obliged to bike down to the Union Square Greenmarket on 17th and Park a few days ago. I wasn't alone, for the plastic compost can was positively filled to the brim with corn husks, coffee grounds (ethically sourced, no doubt), and rotten fruits and vegetables. It was stomach-churning, to say the least.

The composting crowd, by the way, can't even decide what counts as compostable. Meat, bones, dairy? Yes, say some, jumping up and down, clapping their hands giddily. You can even compost paper towels, napkins, wet newspapers and pizza boxes!

No, finger-wag others, all that stuff is garbage with a capital G. What's a novice composter to do?

Since it was only two days worth of frozen slop I had dropped off, a new plan of action was required; otherwise, we'd be going through all the plastic containers. My wife suggested our metal serving bowl that we usually use for pasta. This worked well, until the time came to actually remove the offal-filled bag, since it had frozen solid to the bowl. 

In trying to remove it, first by pouring hot water on it, then by simply pulling it out, I tore the bag open, thus necessitating the use of another one. This didn't seem very ecological to me. It was only as I write this that I realized I could have composted the first bag instead of throwing it out. Old habits are hard to break.

This morning, I biked to the greenmarket at 99th and Madison. As I dropped our rejectamenta into the proper container, I realized that by obsessively putting our scraps into compostable bags, then biking to these greenmarkets to drop it off, I had become what I had always made fun of. Just because I'm a do-gooder doesn't mean I have to like it.

                                                          ******************

Thursday, August 7, 2014

WAR BRIDES

If you believe the tabloid press, the singular cry from single women in New York is, "All the good men are taken!" Then they look at me and say, "And him, too!"

Relationship experts -- known by their professional title of yenta -- often urge desperate women to leave the big city and move to the Midwest, Southwest, or the westiest west state of Alaska. According to Jamie Dettmer of The Daily Beast site, however, it appears that many women have decided to head in the opposite direction:

The self-proclaimed Islamic State, formerly known by the acronym ISIS, is actively recruiting Western women and girls. And in the process this “caliphate” that now occupies large swathes of Syria and Iraq is showing, once again, that it’s almost as shrewd with social media as it is ruthless on the battlefield.
 
The tweets and blogs apparently are written by Western women married to jihadi warriors. They aim to persuade would-be “sisters” in Europe and the United States to travel to the Middle East to help this al-Qaeda spinoff build its extremist vision of an Islamic society.

Potential caliph-ettes (as one is tempted to call them) are told their main contribution to the Islamic revolution will be through matrimony, not martyrdom; child-bearing, not gun-toting.

Earlier generations of mothers would read that last paragraph and say, "What's not to like?"

And apparently, they wouldn't be alone, for European women and teenage girls really are volunteering to walk down the bombed-out rubble that used to be an aisle with their guerrilla grooms. And I was concerned when my daughter started putting up posters of rappers!

I'm not sure what the appeal here is, unless it means sartorially fitting in with your friends, which is a major concern for girls. And that would be a pretty easy thing to do, when they're all required to wear a burqa, hijab, niqab, and other words that look like they were created by a drunk playing Scrabble. 

This 21st-century version of "eloping with the misunderstood bad boy" opens up new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Like a dating site -- Terrorist-Mingle.com comes to mind. As usual with these kinds of things, a guy would have to fill out a Q & A to find the right girl:

How would you describe yourself? Physically fit, with an unerring ability to kill anyone who doesn't think the way I do.

What do you do for fun? Destroy churches. Turn entire towns into human slaughterhouses. Wave at TV cameras from the back of pick-up trucks while shooting machine-guns in the air.
 
What is your idea of a good first date? Romantic strolls among mangled corpses of non-believers, playing catch with human skulls, and watching the sunset through the ruined remains of historic sites we've just blown up.

What are you looking for in a bride? Only three things: Loyalty, deep spirituality, and the ability to imitate a  goat during intimate moments.
  
Lucky for them, there's no shortage of old-fashioned (as in 7th-century) girls ready to start a family. They even endorse home schooling:

 [Jihadi bride] Umm Anwar insists in online exchanges that her role in the Islamic State isn’t just being a housewife. She says she is able to use her education as a medical student and she says, “Women give birth to the mujahideen [warriors] and they are the ones who raise them and teach them.”
  
Granted, there's a difference between raising a boy to study hard, go to school and get a good job -- and raising  one to blow himself up for the cause. But remember, it's not the destination, it's the journey. 

No, there's not much difference at all between dating the rebel and marrying the martyr. The most famous exchange from Marlon Brando's The Wild One still rings true on the streets of the Islamic State:

"Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"
"Whaddaya got?"

Compared to what these girls are in for, Johnny's starting to look like a pretty good catch.

                                                           ***************

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "THE FLAME WITHIN" (1935)

Psychiatry. Unrequited love. Emotional adultery. Clown costumes. The Flame Within is a veritable textbook of classic movie genres. 

Dr. Mary White, apparently confusing her occupation of psychiatrist for relationship counselor, is treating Linda Bolton for suicidal tendencies, and Linda's fiance Jack Kerry for alcoholism. Now there's a fun couple! The good news: Linda and Jack are eventually cured. The bad news: Jack and Dr. White fall in love. Ha! Better get out those razor blades, Linda!



Paging Dr. Bozo, paging Dr. Bozo...
Writer/director Edmund Goulding appears to have consulted Symbolism for Dummies when putting together The Flame Within. Mary White's name recalls both the name of Jesus' mother and the color of purity. Dr. Gordon Phillips, the man hopelessly in love with her, dresses as an especially sad-eyed clown at a costume ball. Jack Kerry, who sobers up to become an inventor, develops an inflatable airline seat, symbolic of the kind of plot device that actors were paid to deliver with a straight face.

Advice for the man on the make:
get rid of the costume before you put the
moves on a woman.
Despite its soap opera aura, The Flame Within features some fascinatingly progressive notions, not the least of which is a woman who prefers her profession over marriage. In fact, Dr. White alarmingly considers psychiatry "a religion," perhaps allowing her to take a tax exemption. For doubtful patients like Jack Kerry, however, she refers to herself as a "nerve specialist." Make up your mind, lady!

Pining in the background for Dr. White is the older Dr. Phillips, who appears to have taken the Hippocratic oath from Hippocrates himself.  Perhaps most startling for its time, Dr. White is herself several years older than her object of lust, Jack Kerry. Unintended laugh alert: somebody refers to him as John Kerry, another fellow with a penchant of collecting rich, older women.

Director Edmund Goulding, Louis Hayward
and Ann Harding (Dr. Mary White) look
for a greater ecstasy than themselves,
and fail.
Seeing that The Flame Within was a product of 1935 Hollywood, all this refreshing progressiveness flies out the window in the last reel. Having returned from a trip to Europe, Kerry wants to dump Linda for Dr. White, who's equally in love with him. But Dr. White, taking that psychiatry-as-religion jazz seriously, advises him that doing something good for someone who needs him -- like staying with the wife whom he doesn't love -- will provide a "greater ecstasy" than his own happiness. 

While there might be an argument to be made for that schlocky slice of philosophy, most people would reply Buuuuuuullshit. I mean, tell that to Louis Hayward, the actor playing Kerry, who was married twice, all the while carrying on a long-term affair with Noel Coward. Tell that to anyone involved in the making this movie. That "greater ecstasy" routine was just a sop to both the censors and the saps in the audience who were living lives that couldn't compare to those they saw in glossy, upscale M-G-M pictures like this.

Most disappointingly is The Flame Within's final moment, when Dr. White decides to take her own advice, and announce that she's going to give up her profession. What will you do, her wannabe-paramour Dr. Phillips asks. Turning to him soulfully, she whispers, "You tell me." While their colleague Dr. Frazier smiles approvingly at their sudden engagement, the lesson for women is to marry a guy you don't love only because he needs you. Just for laughs, somebody please run this movie for Gloria Steinem.

"Can you treat my daughter
once she comes of age?"
It's appropriate Linda Bolton -- who tries to commit suicide a second time by jumping out of Dr. White's window --  is played by Maureen O'Sullivan. During one of the two costume ball scenes, she wears a blonde wig -- and, for a moment, becomes the spitting image of her equally-nutty daughter Mia Farrow, who's had, um, relationship issues of her own. Until her final moment onscreen, O'Sullivan's character is quite unlikeable throughout The Flame Within, making you wish she'd successfully jump out the window for a change.



What keeps The Flame Within worth watching is Ann Harding as Dr. White. Unlike her drag-queen contemporaries Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Harding doesn't indulge in histrionics. Her subtle, empathetic performance is so different from everyone else's that at times she appears to have come from several decades in the future. No wonder she's been pretty much forgotten -- there's nothing to parody. 

Harding, too, might have been more self-aware than the character she plays. Finally succumbing to Dr. Phillips' amorous entreaties, the expression on her face is anything but ecstasy, probably unnoticed by audiences 80 years ago, leaving one with an uneasy feeling as the movie fades out. There's plenty of drama in The Flame Within, alright, but not all of it intended.

                                            ***********************

Monday, August 4, 2014

68 POUNDS AND COUNTING

Over the weekend, my wife and daughter made a pilgrimage to the mecca of Bed, Bath & Beyond. It wasn't just any journey, mind you, but one to pick up supplies for our daughter's move to college in a couple of weeks. 

Trust me, this is all a girl needs.
When I went to college the first year, I brought clothes, sheets, a towel, a beat-up typewriter, soap, shampoo, and some record albums. Probably two suitcases and one cardboard box. Could have dragged it onto a Greyhound bus if I had to.

This wasn't the case for my daughter. She's a girl, you see. And my wife was a girl in her day as well. Girls and former girls alike need things. Lots of things. Things boys and former boys don't need. I mean, who wears flip-flops to take a shower? Girls!

The newest model from
Frigidaire.
Hygiene had its place for boys, I suppose, but not everywhere. For instance, my college didn't allow refrigerators except for medical reasons. So when I was a sophomore, my roommate kept a six-pack of Schlitz cold by putting it in the toilet and flushing it from time to time. No one was using the toilet for the usual toilet reasons -- and the cans were, of course, unopened -- so there was no reason to feel that this was particularly unsanitary. 

Now if you're thinking, Boy, that roommate of yours sure was an idiot! -- well, that roommate of mine was Denis Leary. He's currently shooting his next sure-to-be-hit series for FX. Look where I am: blogging from my dining room. Say it like Edward G. Robinson: Who's the idiot now?

My girls aren't idiots. But, boy, can they shop! They were wise enough to ask me to stay home instead of joining them on their expedition, and a few hours later I knew why. They returned home empty-handed. Not because it wasn't a successful outing. Far from it. It was so good they arranged to have it delivered later that day. Their one souvenir was the receipt -- the longest receipt, I believe, since the last time a girl went shopping for college supplies.
And it was two inches taller than
Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

It was four feet long, the height of an average nine year-old. Putting it another way, it was taller than an average eight year-old. Do I make myself clear? You could measure the receipt against a normal human being -- and come out on top! 

My eyes blurred as I scanned the purchases. There were the usual suspects: Neutrogena. Maybelline. Dove Body Wash. (Body wash? Whatsamatter with a bar of soap?)
 
Then there were other items that Cro-Magnons like me couldn't decipher. Swisspers. Harmon Puffs. Goody Elas. Hev Elastics. The list went on like that, a code waiting to be cracked by Naval Intelligence.

And as for the cost of this dormitory shopping derby... Let's just say my wife earned enough points to buy a first class ticket to Malaysia. Unless she flew Malaysian Airways. Then she had enough to fly 50 miles off the coast of Australia or thereabouts.

The delivery arrived a few hours later -- total weight, 68 pounds -- in two large boxes, plus one mattress cover. (Mattress cover? That's what the sheet's for!) My girls opened the boxes like giddy children on Christmas morning. The first box almost exploded like a jack-in-the-box from the pressure of the dozens of items enclosed. The second, quite light, was another story. It contained a white, fluffy chair-pillow that they didn't buy.

A dark gloom fell over the girls. If they sent us a pillow-chair we didn't buy... that means they forgot to include one item we did buy! No one was up for plowing through it all, so I volunteered for the next day's suicide mission. I would go through the box, item by item, and check off each one against the receipt, while my wife and daughter went to New Jersey to have lunch with my mother-in-law. Man, was that a disappointment. Once I had the place to myself the following morning, there was no point in indulging in a shower. (Remember what I said about boys and hygiene?) Slipping on the right mood music -- Paul McCartney outtakes -- I settled in to the task ahead of me. Two hours and one leftover portion of homemade chicken lo mein later, I had gone through the contents, checking off each item with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker.

But one item on the receipt remained unchecked -- the mysterious-sounding Slim Red 4142. Was this a cowboy from outer space? A new kind of medical marijuana? A photo of a blues singer currently incarcerated in Sing-Sing? 

Well, the girls will know, right? Uh-uh. Arriving home, they, too, were perplexed by Slim Red 4142. It would be up to me to get to the bottom of this when I returned the pillow-chair the next day.

I arrived at B B & B shortly after its 9:00 a.m. opening. After explaining the circumstances of the unwanted pillow-chair, I pulled out the receipt and pointed out the missing Slim Red 4142, with the question, "What is this thing?" She and another customer service rep plugged in the information and returned with the answer: the flip-flops for the shower -- the one item I counted that I had neglected to check off the receipt.

Once again, with feeling: Who's the idiot now? Damn her useless hygiene.

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