Saturday, December 21, 2019

No cartoon - Joaquin Phoenix in Tour De Force Performance.

I knew this wouldn't be a "feel good movie" going in, but had read enough of the reviews to be intrigued. Joaquin Phoenix as "Joker" is both sympathetic and revolting. He makes you weep for his character, while also creeping you out, big time!
Prior to seeing this film, the only character I have seen that comes close to the authenticity of a damaged and dangerous being is Anthony Hopkins' "Hannibal Lecter". But in some ways -  ironically! - Lecter is cartoonish in comparison with Arthur Fleck, whose personal history is riddled with misery and pain.

There seems very little let-up in cruelty towards Arthur, except for from one of the characters.   It is evident from the beginning of the film that Arthur is emotionally fragile, and mentally off-kilter. He could snap at any time. The build-up to his course of actions follows many incidents of abuse by others. It certainly doesn't help his case that he has an impediment - laughter that he cannot control. This gets him into trouble, at times.
Arthur's relationship with his mother Penny (played beautifully by Frances Conroy) has an undercurrent of sadness and dysfunction that boils over when Arthur learns that she has kept important information from him.
Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in this role, perhaps his best ever.  Arthur/Joker gracefully dances in a few scenes, lost in his own world. In fact, it is possible that some or all of the incidents in this film were not real, but instead the figment of Arthur's imagination. In any event, it was all real to Joker, who reacted accordingly.

Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar and other awards as Best Actor of 2019 for his performance in"Joker", for sure. Artfully directed by Todd Phillips, the movie sets up for the next Batman movie.    However - I wouldn't advise viewing"Joker" if you are prone to depression.  You need to distance yourself emotionally to some degree, to truly appreciate the performance and messages in this film.

Friday, December 20, 2019

See's Candy and Mission Paks for Christmas

I've been seeing this display since I was a kid - and that's a LONG time ago! It's the SEE's Candy Santa Display in South San Francisco.

My Auntie Arlene used to work at that See's Candy Store in SSF. Any time we were there, we'd ask our mom if we could visit Auntie, but Mom didn't want to disturb her sister-in-law at work. That was Mom's story, but she also never got us the cakes or sweets at our church bake sales or when the Bread Man rolled around. Maybe she was doing us a favor, not loading our bodies with sugar(which we have more than made up for since then). Auntie Arlene and Uncle George used to send us Mission Pack fruit baskets for Christmas (remember those t.v. commercials? I still remember the song).

Mom would torture us
by having us look at that thing until Christmas Day. We kids were hungry/starving most of the time, so food was always a great gift choice. Meanwhile, Auntie, Uncle, and their lucky kids would go off to Hawaii for Christmas. Mahalo, Auntie and Uncle! mele Kalikimaka!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Wouldn't it be great if we could re-write history? Quentin Tarantino does just that, with his latest film.   I should preface this review by admitting that I have only liked a handful of Tarantino movies.  But it appears that he has progressed as a filmmaker, judging by his latest achievement, "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood".  This film is not only a super-entertaining depiction of 1960s pop culture - it is a loving tribute to those who didn't make it to the 1970s, who should have.

Tarantino did a lot of research into 1960s culture and history. His story is set in the year 1969.
That year brought us Woodstock and the Apollo Moon landing, which was historic, magical, and epic. But it was also the year that my 16-year-old sister was killed in a car accident, devastating my family permanently. In 1969, the Beatles performed in their last public performance together, Senator Edward Kennedy's car skidded off a bridge, resulting in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. The year ended with the Rolling Stones' disastrous Altamont concert, and the death of Meredith Hunter.

Oh yes - and then there were the Tate-LaBianca murders. The victims seemed to receive far less press coverage than the Manson family. Even recently, I read Dianne Lake's memoir: "Member of the Family", about her time at the Spahn Ranch, and what led up to the subsequent killings, with way more written about the perpetrators of that ghastly slaughter than about the innocent targets of their murderous depravity. There are many films and books produced about Manson and his band of followers, but almost nothing of significance about their victims.   The affect that those murders had on Hollywood - and even for the rest of us, back then - has reverberated throughout the decades.  The images stay in our minds.  
History aside, two fictional characters dominate "Once Upon a Time..." with performances by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt that are definitely Oscar-worthy. Both actors have sunk their teeth into their roles with gusto, a definite treat for viewers. 

"Don't let the Mexicans see you crying." 
DiCaprio plays introspective leading man t.v. star Rick Dalton.  You rarely see Dalton without a drink in his hand or a cigarette in his mouth. Regrets are many, as he is reminded that his youth and bankability have passed him by.  There is plenty of scenery-chewing by DiCaprio, who shines as the seasoned pro that he is. 
Pitt plays the part of Dalton's stuntman Cliff Booth to perfection. Booth is not introspective, except perhaps in one scene where he winds up daydreaming while fixing an antenna on Dalton's roof. Otherwise, he is just a "live and let live" kinda guy - unless he is crossed.  Then, watch out! 

I have to say that I was very impressed by the casting of Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and Cass Elliott.
The details and authenticity of "Once Upon a Time..." are enough to give those of us who were alive back then the "suspension of disbelief" we need, without our saying too often: "But wait a minute - it wasn't like that."
The music, fashions, products, technology, transportation, cinema, television actors, shows, commercials, and other signs of 1960s pop culture are authentic enough to pass muster.  He did his homework. Any discrepancies or inaccuracies are minor.  

Yet in addition to creditable details, we find the blessings of fiction, for this is not a documentary, and not made to be.  There are Tarantino's usual fanciful meanderings into scenes that go slightly off-path. They are great character studies, though. and are fun to watch, which is really the point.

I'm thinking that this one will be taking home the bulk of the Oscars.  Hollywood especially has needed this one, I think.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dog Gone Sad

I probably should preface this by saying that if you don't want to be sad, don't read this blog, and leave it at that. 

A friend had recently asked me what my most exciting Christmas gift as a child was.

That would have been in 1958. My sister, brother and I saw a large box by the tree. We went to the box, and saw a puppy. We were THRILLED. We had never had a pet before. We took him out of the box, and just played with the puppy - who we named "Chauncy" - all day. Had to go to mass, and were impatient to get back home to play with Chauncy. 3 months later, Chauncy was sick - apparently, he had distemper. My parents had bought him at a pet store in SF. He had to be put down, of course.  We were DEVASTATED!

Our next puppy was 6 years later - half chihuahua, half cocker spaniel. My father named her "Lisbeth Tailears." We had Lisbeth for 3 years. We ADORED her! 
My sister Susan holding Lisbeth Tailears.

But we stupid kids were walking her around Pacific Manor one day, and decided to take her off-leash (there were no leash laws then). We were blabbing away, crossing the overpass - that one that they just re-did in Sharp Park. We suddenly noticed that Lisbeth wasn't with us. We looked around, and saw that she was crossing the freeway, below us. She was afraid of heights, I guess. We looked down, saw her look up, and then saw her being hit by a car! We rushed down to where she lay. She was killed instantly. The driver stopped and apologized - he felt horrible. We reassured him it wasn't his fault, that our dog wasn't supposed to be on the road. My brother Arlo and I were just sobbing, almost hysterical. My sister Laurie picked up Lisbeth's body, and I ran to a pay phone to call our mom. Laurie told Arlo and I to stop crying - that Lisbeth was "just a dog".  I remembered Laurie's comment 5 years after that - 1969 - when she was killed in a car accident. More grief. 

We had other dogs - Laurie's dog Lucy was hit by a car and killed a month after Laurie died. Lucy was LAURIE'S dog, no other, and she grieved, that dog just mourned for my sister (as we all did). 

Around 1970, my brother had a dog named Nina that had puppies. We were excited about the pups. A couple of days after the pups were born, we looked everywhere for the, and couldn't find them. Our mom told us that they had all died. We were freaked out - a litter of 6 pups all died? Years later, my mom confessed (while drunk) that she had drowned them all in the tub. I guess she was feeling overwhelmed. I can't have pets - I'm bad luck for pets - they all die on me. 

The second most exciting Christmas gift was the Beatles Rubber Soul album. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Annual Renewal

Recently, I got a renewal notice for my annual contribution to KMUD radio station. This is something that I contribute to, every was one of my brother Arlo's last requests of me.   Arlo passed away on October 5, 2002, at the age of 48, from stomach cancer. 

Arlo started KMUD radio in the mid-70s, as little hole-in-the-wall station, a dream of his since we were kids, building superheterodyne receivers from scratch, on breadboards (I can still smell the soldering fluid burning on the components), and then listening to XERB radio in Tijuana with Wolfman Jack's scream "XERB" in his gravelly delivery...but I digress. 

Arlo accomplished quite a lot in his 48 years, in spite of his beginnings, which were rough.  I won't go into details, as they were also my beginnings.  Suffice it to say, he overcame a great deal to realize his goals and his dreams, one of them being a little radio station of his own, which grew into what it is today.  He was instrumental in bringing many music acts into Humboldt County, and organizing events like the Kate Wolf Music Festival (now performed in part on the Arlo Hagler Memorial Stage - yes, my brother has a music stage named after him).
All of that is only an example of Arlo's contributions.  He was heavily involved in cleaning up the environment.  He worked for the Southern Humboldt Recycling Center, while hosting KMUD's Environment Show, with issues ranging from cleaning up our oceans, to forest destruction to be dealt with.  Saving the redwoods was one of his prime concerns, and he was instrumental in helping save the Sinkyone Wilderness from clear-cutting and development.  The the concept of clean energy was also a favorite topic.  It was on KMUD radio that Julia Butterfly's story first broke, the "girl in the tree" - who, for 738 days, lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree. She was called Luna, and wanted to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests.  She and Arlo were friends (I think he had a serious crush on her), and they shared a common mission.   So, there was more than entertainment in his programming - updates on community news, activities, environmental concerns and how his listeners could help, etc.   With his soothing deep voice, he kept his listeners tuned in.  My mom loved the show, never missed one. 

Arlo was the community's electrician, board certified, with his website "Watts Happening" to advertise his business (Arlo's Music website was called "Random Axxes", long before the television show "Random Axxes" came about).  The logo on his website was a dinosaur animated gif, with the line:"Dinosaurs Welcome". 

He was excited about the possibilities of the internet, especially for artists.  It was the most positive take on what was considered the new frontier, when he wrote:

"This site is a companion to my radio program, RANDOM AXXES, aired weekly on our local community radio station, KMUD. The idea behind this web site is a simple one: to put the listener directly in touch with the artist(s). If there's something you heard on my show, something you like from a band you've never heard of, you can visit this site, find the song list for the show in question, and follow the link to that band's web site, or one of the web sites dedicated to that band (Often a fan site will be better than the 'official' site). Whenever possible, I encourage you, the listener, to buy direct from the artist. An ever-increasing number of musicians are taking to the Web, releasing  albums old and new through their own independent labels, thus bypassing the corporate record companies, commercial hype, and other barriers.  I see this as one of the highest possible uses for the Internet; Grass-Roots Cyberdistribution. Music by, and for, the people. That's the idea. Or maybe it's only Rock And Roll...Arlo Hagler"

 There was music and the station - which didn't pay in money - and then, there was his "day job", as an electrician.   Below:  A screenshot of Arlo's "Watt's Happening" website, which he created himself, leading with a line by Hunter Thompson, "Electricity is neutral. It doesn't want to kill you, but it will if you give it the chance."

At his memorial, I actually heard one tearful mourner who was going to re-wire her house or repair her appliances, now that Arlo was gone? That memorial was huge, held at Mateel Center in Redway, truly a Celebration of Life that went on for two days, with music, tributes, festivities, along with clouds of the "good stuff" wafting about.
The memorial actually started out as a benefit for Arlo while he was still alive, to help make expenses - Arlo had no medical insurance, which is part of why he waited so long to see a doctor about his stomach pains.  Always stoic - something we were taught to be - he took Rolaids, hoping the pains would subside. After he died, we found Rolaids and other antacids lying around his home.


Poster for the benefit, which was to help Arlo pay his medical bills.

Just a few of the many atendees at Arlo's memorial, Mateel Center.
Arlo was a performer himself, starting out in grade school, doing a solo of "Blue Moon" in our elementary school auditorium...that took guts!  He was brave, and seemingly unconcerned with the snickering of some of the kids.   Eventually, his voice changed, he took up guitar, and did some performing that actually earned him some money.  Not an egotist, he invited others to participate, and was great at promoting the work of many other artists.  If artists were going to have a performance - music or otherwise - in Humboldt County in the 70s-2000, "Random Axxes" was one of the of ways to announce that show. He also interviewed many musicians and others in the business.

When Arlo started out, his Garberville studio was barely the size of a broom closet, filled to the max with cassette tapes and records.  I took a pic of him during his show, as we were already anticipating the move to a larger studio in Redway.

As I look at KMUD's program line-up today, I see many changes from 12 years ago, only recognizing the "JoMama's Blues" slot.  The station has grown.  Arlo would be proud.  The last time I saw him - to say goodbye - he was concerned about the station, among other things.  He had so much left to do, he wasn’t finished, he told me.  Would KMUD survive?  Would his efforts towards improving our environment carry on?

Something I have never mentioned before, but appreciate as much a anything is Arlo's devotion to his family, in particular to our autistic brother Mark.  When everyone else was too busy or couldn't make it, Arlo visited Mark, took him out to eat, and met with Mark's caretakers.  He checked up on Mark regularly. He was there for my mom, who lived close by, and the rest of our family.  I'm sorry to say that we may have taken that for granted, as we never thought he would leave us.
My annual donation to KMUD is one of the small ways in which I contribute.  I think Arlo would be very happy that KMUD is thriving.  Arlo's dream lives on in the station that he started, through in the efforts of others who share that dream.

Christmas Temping

I was a Santa's Helper for Macy's, many years ago, where one of my jobs was to take the photos of children with Santa.   One requirement was to have the child AND Santa looking at the camera, simultaneously.   Eight times out of 10, as soon as the kid was put on Santa's lap, the crying ensued, and, in more than a few cases, this was accompanied by screaming.  The Santa that I worked with was a 21-year-old blonde surfer, who filled out the Santa suit in the shoulders, but had to wear padding over his belly to complete the effect. He was continually tugging on his beard and belly, as both kept shifting.  He was cheerful, though, and that disposition helped when he got peed on a few times by terrified toddlers. 
My duties included escorting the child to Santa’s lap, then taking the photos, processing the orders, and giving the child a candy cane on their way out.  The camera was located inside of a large candy cane enclosure, I guess to disguise it, but also made my job a bit clumsy. 
The photos were not the Polaroids that other malls used, but actual 35mm photos that the customers would receive later on.  Getting Santa and the child to look at the huge candy came was not always easy, but we survived it. 
My first husband Perry played Santa for the mall a week later, so when we got our paychecks, we found that Santas get paid a lot more than helpers, even though helpers actually did more of the work.  There’s a lesson in there, somewhere. One bonus was that I got a free photo session for my 4-year-old daughter Kelly, with the Surfer Santa.  She knew to smile, as Mom was behind the candy cane camera. 

 A postscript to this story is that "Surfer Santa" was fired, because he was found emerging from the restroom in his costume, sans beard, smoking a cigarette.  The supervisor was none too pleased, as this cast a bad light on their reputation. Not sure what the big deal was...didn't Santa smoke a pipe? In any event, he didn't seem unhappy about being let go. 
 Another Christmas, I lit and decorated Christmas trees for Macy's. Sounds fun, huh?  I had to take a class in lighting the tree, the “Sylvestri Way”, wound from the base, and around from the back of each and every branch. 

All of the trees were artificial, which helped, and I did a decent job of it on the first tree, following the directions of our instructor. But when I returned to work, I was given 3 flocked trees to work with, where visibility of the branches was obscured, and everything had to be done by touch.   There were several other "stringers" who got the standard tree. One had objected to doing the flocked trees, as she was "allergic to the flocking". 
Making a difficult situation worse was that if the string of lights went out, everything had to be unwrapped and removed, replaced by a new string.  After three days of clumsily struggling to decorate these trees, my belief in miracles was assured, because those trees actually wound up looking pretty good!  
 I, on the other hand, had looked as though I had been pooped on by a snowman, and as I walked through the mall at the end of the day, just wanted to get the flock out of there!

Christmas Surprise

My baby was not expected to be born until January 11, so it was quite a surprise when my water broke during Christmas Day gift-opening at my in-laws' home. Six hours after the floodgates opened, my daughter Kelly was born, at 6:49 PM.  During my labor, Kelly's father, Perry, was being treated to a complete turkey dinner in the hospital's cafeteria.  Back in 1971, fathers rarely joined in with the birth process, and in fact, Perry was ushered out of the labor room while I was rushed to the delivery room. There were no other babies being born at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City that night.  Slow night, slow period for births, in general.

The process went so fast, that it even took the nurses by surprise. My doctor arrived just in the nick of time, interrupted during a holiday gathering, dressed up with Christmas tie, to help escort Kelly into the world. The best gift ever!

Through the years, there were the usual comments about how babies born on December 25 get short-changed in the gift and attention department.  Either that, or the gifts were piled on, two-fold.

When Kelly was 7, she wanted her birthday to be celebrated in June.  Honoring her wishes, we did so, but by Christmas, she changed her mind, so we celebrated again.

There are several December birthdays in my family. My mother, 2 brothers, sister-in-law, and I were all born in the 12th month, so have been used to having our birthdays overshadowed by the biggest holiday of the year. 
But each December 25, before I wish my daughter a "Merry Christmas", I wish her a "Happy Birthday" -  Kelly's birthday, and the best day of my life.

Pardon My Origami

I read somewhere that it helps to learn new skills, to ward off Alzheimer's and dementia, through neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. 

Using an opportunity to put this into practice, I set out to learn how to create origami figures out of dollar bills.

My sister had given me a heart-shaped bill a few years ago, which I used as my inspiration.
Going online, I found an "Origami Made Simple" website, so sat down with my dollar bill, and followed the directions for making such a heart. After several hours of folding, creasing, unfolding, making "mountains", and folding again, etc., the result was a reasonable facsimile of a heart. 

I also had sore fingers, sweat on my brow, and wondering what steps I missed?  Not giving up, I decided to try something else.  I saw a cool swan design from one of the sites:

 Step-by-step, fold by fold, my swan was complete!  But something went horribly swan looked like an under-baked Franken-chicken!
After a hearty lunch and a nap, I attempted a few more folded money sculptures.  My next project, an elf shoe, actually came out o.k., and it only took 6 hours to do!  Maybe I was learning, after all!   Neuroplasticity, do your stuff!

I decided that my abstract money sculptures would be given to our grandson in a piggy bank that we were giving him for Christmas (I didn't want to put coins in there, as he is still at the age of putting everything in his mouth).   By week's end, I had 12 dollars worth of Origami dollars for our grandson's bank, and maybe a little added to my memory bank, as well.....either that, or I was ready for the looney-bin!