Wednesday, October 26, 2011

For ABC Wednesday and Magpie 89

(Also for Three-Word Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings)
"P" is for Phone Conversation

I had sat at the typewriter for over an hour, trying to figure out what to write. (This happened back in the days before I got around to email.)
I had received an extraordinary letter. It was from a man up in Rhode Island, a man I had known in the old days.
It was a delicate matter; I had known him and also known his wife, back before they were married. I had known her, actually, rather well.
In his letter he said she had left him and he thought I might be able to help him find her. The problem of what to write was suddenly solved because the phone rang. Since he hadn’t received an answer to his letter he decided to call me directly. He got right to the point.
"Reason I wrote you, you went with her for a year or so back then, before we got married."
“A year or so? It was actually a few months. And ‘went with her’ isn’t really accurate; we were friends.”
“That ain’t what I heard.”
“So, well, anyway, how is Marilyn? Okay I hope.”
“Marilyn? You don’t even remember her name. It’s Maureen.”
“Oh, right. You know, it was a long time ago; I was just out of college. I don’t remember everyone I knew in those days.”
“Well, as I wrote you, she left. Just got up and left.”
“Yes, I was sorry to read that.”
“It got me upset; my whole family is upset. It even got her family upset. A married woman. My wife. Just up and leaves. Anyway, I thought you might help.”
“Sure, if I can.”
“Here’s the thing. If she should ever contact you – you know, call on the phone to talk over old times or whatever – could you tell her that what she really ought to do is go back to her husband. And then let me know where she’s staying. It’s important that I find out where she’s staying.”
“Why do you think she left?”
“Who knows? Maybe she just don’t like Rhode Island.”
“She told me, way back when she was first talking about getting married, that she felt vulnerable, that you weren’t – well – all that nice to her.”
“That’s baloney. If she said anything like that, it was a figment of her imagination. As her husband, I worked hard, fifty hours a week sometimes, to get her whatever she needed. You can’t be much nicer than that.”
“But, you never – I’m just trying to figure out why she left -- you never abused her, never hit her or anything like that?”
“What’re you -- a shrink or somethin’!? I didn’t call you to get a lecture! I’m a husband from the old school. My whole family, we know how to treat women.”
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t be of much help. But I'll go along with you in this operation; if I should ever hear from her, I’ll tell her to go back to her husband. Goodbye.”
I hung up the phone.
“Was that him?” she asked.
“Yes. I just hope he stays up there and doesn’t come down here to New York. As I remember, he was a pretty big guy. I’d be inclined to avoid a confrontation.”
“Yes, we’ve got to be careful. When I mentioned divorce, he said he’d kill me first.”
“And that would mean me second. I guess this is what they call living dangerously. But it’s worth it, Maureen – to have you with me again.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

For ABC Wednesday

(Also for Magpie 88 and Sunday Scribblings)

O Mannahatta!
"I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name:
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly,
musical, self-sufficient.
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded.
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.
The down-town streets, the jobbers' houses of business, the houses
of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week.
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft.
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river,
passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide.
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form'd,
beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes.
Trottoirs throng'd, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows,
A million people--manners free and superb--open voices—-hospitality.
City of hurried and sparkling waters! City of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! Mannahatta, my city!"
Walt Whitman
(P. S. It's always been my backyard. --Berowne)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday

(Also for Magpie 87, Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday)
"N" is for "Nice"

A few decades ago I had a great job, making motion pictures around the world for various national governments and American businesses.
One of the assignments was to make a film on Taiwan.

The island of Taiwan – (and, by the way, their preferred name is the Republic of China) – is a beautiful place, a perfect subject for a documentary film-maker.

I shot footage of the usual attractions, as might be expected. But the government agency I was working for wanted me to be sure to include a sequence on the food.
Because the food on Taiwan is really good.

There’s a solid historical reason for this. When the Communists took over mainland China, back in 1950, they closed down the great hotels and the fine restaurants; such things didn’t fit in with Marxist philosophy.

So the great Chinese chefs took off, along with everyone else who could get out, for Taiwan. Result: for many years the island had the best Chinese food on the planet.
My clients wanted me to show this in the film I was making for them, and especially to emphasize one of the great national dishes, Peking Duck.

I had heard about this dish, but I had never had a chance to taste it in its authentic form. It has been around for quite a while; some say almost a thousand years.

So I arranged for a sequence for my film, shot in a Taipei restaurant. During the shoot, I had a brilliant idea.
(Like so many of my brilliant ideas, it didn’t work out too well.)
My view was that preparing Peking Duck wasn’t all that difficult. You see, back home in New York I had always wanted to be considered, by admiring friends and relatives, as a competent amateur chef. How satisfying it would be if I used what I learned here to prepare a really nice dish: Peking Duck. I could imagine a large, full-color photograph of me as a champion Peking Duck chef, with a note reading: "You Are Here."
Again, it didn’t look too hard. You just had to have, first of all, a duck – which would be sort of a basic requirement – and such stuff as scallions, hoisin sauce, etc., etc.
A small, tentative voice within me said, you can do this!
You’d think I would have learned never to listen to that small, tentative voice.
It was back home in New York that I was forced to face the basic fact about cooking Peking Duck – it ain’t easy.
Of course, some of the steps weren’t too difficult. Completely cleaning and eviscerating, the bird? Okay, I could do that. I began to get an idea of what a project this would be when I learned that I was supposed to hang it to dry for 24 hours.
I tried to think of what to say if other members of my condominium association dropped in and saw this small carcass hanging in my apartment - surely that might be regarded as a breach of condo rules? But the next bit was even worse: you were supposed to actually blow air through the crevices between the skin and meat; this would remove excess fat.
The reaction of those same folks who dropped by if they saw me blowing air into a duck – well, that could only be imagined.
At one point a sentence in the recipe caught my eye: "Total preparation time 11 hours and 20 minutes." It was around then the flame of ambition I had to be a Peking Duck chef became a dying ember.
Some folks, as it turned out, did drop by and we had a fine meal. I had phoned for Chinese takeout home delivery -- General Tso's Chicken. :-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday

(Also submitted to ABC Wednesday and Magpie 86)
"M" is for "Monarch"

Finally – the news came with this morning’s paper.
I prepared to sit down to breakfast. My Ovaltine was at the ready, steaming hot and inviting.
(I gave up coffee some time back; trying to follow the current economic and political situation has just been too nerve-wracking.)
There could no longer be questions, arguments, accusations, disputes. The major question of the day had been answered and the answer was right there in the paper.
My political party, after months of submitting a seemingly endless list of potential candidates for the office of the Presidency – ranging from the barely acceptable through border-line deplorable, right on down to flat-out objectionable – had cut the Gordian knot and solved the problem.
It was an astonishing piece of news. Their decision: the person to be chosen at the next nominating convention would not be just someone people admire; the candidate would be something they desperately need:
A King.
After being nominated at the convention, our democratically-elected Monarch would be greeted everywhere throughout the land with great enthusiasm and with a cry similar to the one that has greeted royalty through the centuries:
“Vive le Roi des Etats-Unis! Vive le Roi!”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For Sunday Scribblings

(Also submitted to Three-Word Wednesday, ABC Wednesday and Magpie 85)
"L" is for "Large-Eared"
: I didn’t think I could write something suitable for the Magpie 85 prompt this week.
My Muse: Why not?
Me: Well, it’s a picture of what appears to be an elephant that can fly. It’s a bit too obvious: a flying elephant? That means that other folks are going to be writing about that old Walt Disney movie “Dumbo.”

My Muse: Surely not everyone. But even if some do, you can come up with a different angle on the film. Write about the foreign situation at that time, World War II, the Great Depression…
Me: What does that have to do with a cartoon pachyderm that flies?
MM: A lot. Try to get people to imagine what it meant to be sitting in a movie theatre in October, 1941, watching that film. The film viewer doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself; a lot of people weren’t at that time. World War Two, the great conflict so many had feared for the past decade or so, had already begun.
Me: That’s true. In fact, in Europe it had been going on for two years. It depressed us in the States because it seemed inevitable that we were going to be drawn into it.
MM: And remember October, 1941, the date the movie opened. The attack on Pearl Harbor was just a few weeks away. What with the war going full blast overseas, it was a scary time for all. So it was natural that a lot of folks sought to relax at the movies – with a film about a cute little flying elephant named Dumbo.
Me: You may be right. Especially since the key fact about him was that he was – to use a technical scientific term – large-eared. The other animals made fun of him. He was afraid he might be ejected from the circus.
MM: But don’t forget, the fact that he was convinced he couldn’t do something – i.e., fly – and then it turned out that he could, well, it may have cheered some folks up who thought things were fairly hopeless then.
Me: Well, it cheered up Disney. Remember “Fantasia,” that blockbuster of the animation medium? It had opened the year before and didn’t come close to getting its investment back. You see, Walt Disney was tired of turning out nothing but short subjects of cute little cartoon animals; he felt a call to do something Important. So he went for broke with "Fantasia": it was for common folks of course, but with so much classical music and with numerous literate references, very unusual for a cartoon, it was also aimed at the intelligentsia.
MM: Right. And it was a techie breakthrough for the time. The sound track was recorded using multiple audio channels; it was the first commercial film ever to be shown in stereophonic sound, which had a great impact on movie-goers.
Me: But it meant that many theaters couldn’t play it. And of course the War cut out all foreign distribution, so the film lost a bundle. Disney then sought something much simpler to recoup his losses – enter “Dumbo.” I’ve always remembered that song in the movie about the little elephant flying. Most folks don’t realize that it was rendered by the Hall Johnson Choir, one of the finest choral groups of that time. It went like this:

I seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band
I seen a needle that winked its eye.
But I be done seen 'bout ev'rythin’
When I see a elephant fly.

I seen a front porch swing, heard a diamond ring
I seen a polka-dot railroad tie.
But I be done seen 'bout ev'rythin’
When I see a elephant fly.

I heard a fireside chat, I saw a baseball bat
And I laughed till I thought I'd die.
But I be done seen 'bout ev'rythin’
When I see a elephant fly!

MM: There. So maybe there is something you could write about this week. And oh yes, don’t forget the Manhattan Bridge.

Me: Of course. Not every one knows that there’s an interesting neighborhood in New York City that came into being under the Manhattan Bridge. Above, the Brooklyn Bridge seen from under the Manhattan Bridge. The name of the neighborhood is Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, so everybody knows it as DUMBO. Many folks are proud to say they live in Dumbo.
MM: So the little pachyderm lives on, even today.
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