Thursday, October 31, 2013

TV and Me--Final Episode (For Now)

Briefly, three current shows and why i like them:

NCIS--Like the other two I'll discuss, this is implicitly right wing:  a bunch of heroes who work for the CIA are unlikely to be liberals.  But it's terrific entertainment.  I have wondered why I've found it so, given the rah-rah-america undertones, few women, and only one person of color, who is the head of the department but far from the lead character. i could argue that one of the key characters, abbie,  is female, brilliant, and refreshingly odd. but that would be only partially honest. there was, until the actor's recent resignation, another brilliant female character--ziva, who was annoyingly beautiful but cool.  [and yes, i was one of those people who had to see the episode about  ziva's departure and her near-romance with tony culminating in a passionate kiss.] The plots are unavoidably repetitive: at least half of the TVGuide blurbs begin with "a marine is found dead in...'' But the action always works, because, i think, it's a terrific acting ensemble.  And it has among the cast the terrific, aging [also a relelif to me] david mccallum as the chief medical officer, briskly efficient but deeply compassionate: he always gently talks to the corpses he is dissecting, and these monologues are one of the show's highlights.

the spinoff of NCIS, NCIS LA, has a good cast, though not as fine a cast as its parent show.  but it has something that  the former show doesn't--linda hunt. hunt is one of the few female actors who succeeded in hollywood without being conventionally beautiful--or even pretty.  She was amazing in the 1982  film, The Year of Living Dangerously,  in which she played, believably and stunningly, a chinese-australian  male dwarf.  A tiny woman and now an elderly one, she sparkles as the head of the agency, and is a constant presence, radiating a strength that easily surpasses the talents of the rest of the cast.  the show itself is fun, but i watch it chiefly to see her.

finally, there's my butterscotch sundae, the show i indulge in with no nutrients, but pure pleasure--the summer show covert affairs. like drop dead diva, it was divided into two sections--half of which played in the summer, half in fall. since affairs started later in the fall than ddd, i get to enjoy it for a few more weeks.  it's another cia show, this time occupied by undercover [hence the 'covert'; the 'affairs' is pure sexual come-on] agents. the hero is annie walker, young-and-beautiful, and able to successfully flee from or pursue baddies--usually rogue agents from other countries--in stilleto heels and tight dresses.  she can also jump from the shore into a boat moored nearby in a single leap without scratching an ankle [although to be fair, she did this in low-heeled boots].

 so okay, verisimilitude isn't its strong point. in fact the second most important character [competing with annie in importance, if you take the fan mail seriously] is her handler, auggie, who was blinded in iraq and is almost as much a super-hero as annie. through 3 seasons he was also her best buddy, and anyone who doubted they would become lovers wasn't paying attention from day one.  last summer's season ended with their first kiss; this season began with them as a couple, with a flashback to their first night of sex, complete with the ubiquitous tv satin blanket covering him to the waist and her to just above her breasts.  i always think these blankets are specially made to be 5 inches higher on one side than the other.  and while the scene was appropriately sexy, the camera did a lot more moving around than the lovers.

but they have been an absolutely endearing couple, with as much tenderness as sexiness always in view, even at their most angst-ridden.  and honesty compels me to admit that this is what i watch it for. i love the action sequences, and the plotting the cia agents --and yes, they're all gorgeous--get involved in. this season has been a bit darker than the earlier ones, with annie, auggie, and the crowd in their different way out to defeat super-villain henry wilcox, until recently a higher-up in the cia.  this separates our lovebirds, as annie 'goes rogue' in her pursuit of wilcox and her determination to disband his evil empire.  i do like when we see bad apples in the cia.  annie follows henry's trail to geneva, disguised with dyed but not cut hair--no scissors will shear those sex locks!--and at one point actually tortures to death one of his henchmen, whom she has tied to a chair.  the scene should be appalling, but the writers set it up with a strain of gallows humor: the henchman receives each of annie's vicious blows with an appropriate scream, then blandly critiques her performance. since we see lots of blood and body goo, she's clearly doing a fairly good job, and one does wonder what his complaint is. when she sets out to use electric torture, sticking both of his legs into pails of water, a lamp gets knocked over into the water, and the obnoxious torturee is dead before she can get the info she needs from him.

still, none of this is why i watch. i watch for the pure romantic perfection of annie and auggie.  they are a gorgeous fantasy of tortured but true love.  what straight woman wouldn't want an auggie? what straight man woildn't want an annie?  but then, what decent perosn wouldd want to interfere with their terrific symmetry?  the show's fan mail is loaded with fierce demands to keep them together, or to separate them and pair annie up with a seasoned israeli rogue agent who often appears on the show.  these fans, as far as i can see, are as passionate as the ddd fans but without the friendly banter of the latter.  maybe it's the cia influence: these fans are out to kill.  but  how can i criticize them?--i'm one of them. break up a&a, and i'll do worse than kill. i'll remove one aging spinster from their viewers.  that'll show them.  jump on those boats without me, annie walker!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Another Installment in the Adventures of India Footlock

It was on the afternoon of the Vandellen’s Annual Charity Event that we learned about the time India Footlock had been bitten by a fish.  The Event was as dreary as such events tend to be: you presented your invitation, paid for long in advance, to a butlerish sort of man and entered a large room that had once been a ballroom, and began to approach a huge table that held pots of sour coffee and soggy sandwiches.  Then you carried, precariously, your paper cup and paper plate and drifted about looking for a place to sit.  We had long since learned that to get a spot with enough chairs together to seat those of our group we knew were coming we had to arrive early; by now we had, by unspoken agreement,  always included an extra chair for when India joined us. We knew that she would show up, and that sooner or later she would meander toward us and, if seating were available, join us.
         She showed up fairly soon, looking with mild distaste at her plateful of lettuce and pale salmon as she carefully lowered herself into her chair. “I was bitten by one of these long ago,” she said, “and haven’t trusted them since.”
         With anyone else, we would have assumed a metaphoric meaning: the speaker had gotten ill from eating spoiled lettuce, or too much salmon, that sort of thing.  With India, such an assumption was questionable.  After a moment’s hesitation and a near sigh, Riply took the lead.  “You mean,” he asked cautiously, “a salmon bit you?’’
         “Yes,” she replied.  “Of course, I was fairly young at the time.”  We all nodded, and she continued.  “It was in one of the foster homes, where the people were very nice, and tried to make sure we all had educational experiences.  So one Sunday, they took us all out to a fish hatchery.  Have you ever been to a fish hatchery? No?  I wouldn’t recommend it.  They’re very boring—at least this one was; I’ve never been to one since.  Just these square pools full of baby fish, who don’t do much but swim around in circles, poor things, and then there’s one real little lake with examples of what the fish look like when they grow up, which isn’t much more interesting than the baby pools.  I had eaten  tuna salad earlier in the day, and some must have remained on my fingers. Anyway my fingers felt greasy and I stuck them into the water.  I was daydreaming about something; you do tend to daydream when they’re making you watch baby fish all day.  And one of the grownup fish must have thought I was a tuna.  Silly, wasn’t it?  Tuna are awfully big; a little salmon couldn’t eat one, now could it? But whatever the reason, the wretched thing dug its teeth into my finger; it felt like a knife cutting and I screamed and yanked my hand up, with the nasty salmon attached to it, and the teeth pulling the wound further open with the weight of the fish, which fell onto the ground.  I was bleeding  and I was and scared of getting rabies, because those shots, you know, are very painful but if you don’t get them you die.  So I started, quite sensibly, to scream, which brought the other foster children, lost no doubt in their own daydreams, to attention.  They ignored me, all but one little boy, who glared at me and pointed to the flapping fish at my foot. 
         “If you leave it there it will drown,” he yelled at me, and pushed the creature back into the water with his foot.  Someone eventually found me a band-aid, and I never did get rabies, so I guess that was alright.  But I’ve never trusted the ghastly creatures since.” She popped the salad into her mouth, winced, washed it down with coffee, and winced again.  Then she smiled at us and walked on to another group of people, stopping at the table on the way to grab a fresh sandwich.  Prunella watched her, and then looked at us.  “You don’t suppose she ever got bitten by a chicken, do you?” she asked.

Monday, October 28, 2013

TV and Me

Good news for lovers of Drop Dead Diva: Lifetime network has already renewed it for a sixth season.  Last year at this time, nobody knew if it would be renewed or not.  Lifetime hemmed and hawed and finally announced that it was being canceled.

fans, myself included, were furious.  they had kept us, and the actors, writers, and everyone involved with the show waiting far too long. fans were also concerned that the actors were contract bound and thus couldn't look for new longterm work. so we wrote letters, petitions, and emails by the hundreds--and Lifetime changed its mind.  this  year, apparently, they didn't want to wait for the onslaught.

DDD is among the shows created by an interesting new programming device that the 2nd-tier cable channels have been using in the past few years--new programming for summer only. (this  year, however, that too has been tweaked: a few of the summer shows, DDD included, did half the shows in the summer and held the rest for the fall.  i'm not sure of the reasoning, but it's great to see my favorite shows through the early fall.)  DDD's fifth season ends next week.  it's been an up and down season, but overall a good one.i think the writers fail in consistency too often: a 'good' character suddenly turns nasty, or deserts his pregnant lover, etc, not in a way that shows complexity or nuance but simply in a way s/he wouldn't act. tonight's episode was one of the better ones, with Deb's mother being arrested for soliciting sex.  She is innocent of that; in her loneliness, and the bizarre effects of a recent surgery, she picks up a  lot of guys in bars.  What is great here is that we are not asked to condemn her promiscuity, but to accept it, in a world in which a woman over 40 is considered past her sell-by date. I love it when the show takes on social issues [over the years, it has won several awards from gay and  lesbian organizations).  yet  its major message--the sexiness of jane, who is fat--is diluted by the fact that everyone else in her law firm is model-thin.  again, this is inconsistent dramatically and in terms of its own theme.  still, given what we have on tv in general, it's a superior show.

next sunday is its last episode till the summer, but i'm not as bereft as i might be. a small but one hopes growing station is airing reruns of another of my favorites that, sadly, was cancelled and stayed canceled, leverage.  since i've missed a lot of episodes over the years, i'm glad for the chance to catch up; reruns are fine too.  leverage is an interesting show: sort of mission impossible meets robin hood meets m*a*s*h meets low-key marxism.   here a group of five ex-criminals turns its talents toward helping those exploited by the rich and the powerful. it begins each episode by announcing this, explaining that 'we give them [the underdogs] leverage.' thus it has been an implicit critique of the US economic policies that area knocking down more and more middle- and working-class citizens.  at the same time, it is always funny.  technically each of the characters has a different skill.  nate is the brains behind the whole thing, and working for him are a tough martial arts expert, eliot; a failed actress who can fake accents and characters of all sorts for their con jobs, sophie; an expert computer hacker , hardigan; and a cat burglar, parker.  in fact, everyone takes on some degree of 'acting' in their often convoluted and multi-faceted cons; all have intellects suitable to the work they do;  eliot is a splendid cook who can take on that role when they are undermining crooked restaurant owners; and geek hardisan can fight nearly as well as eliot if he needs to.

i have my favorites among these characters: parker, with her terrible social skills--the result of a dickensian childhood of crime and little parenting--can be funny and sometimes touching, and loves her work.  she frequently joins their meetings hanging upside down from the ceiling.  and hardison is witty, clever and fun in, as he gleefully admits, a geeky way. slowly throughout the seasons, these two have become close to each other, and ultimately lovers.  this has its downside, though.  granted, romance is a low priority on the show: still, nate and sophie have a vague, tentative relationship, and we do see them in  bed occasionally.  while the vibes emanate between parker and hardison, we never see a kiss or, as far as i can tell, a hand-holding.  i can only guess that this is to please any racist viewers around: parker is pale blonde, hardison dark black.  the intensity of their feelings for each other will sometimes be evident in an episode--most outstandingly one in which hardison has been buried alive, and the group is desperately trying to find him among hundreds of graves.  parker contacts him by their omnipresent hidden listening devises, and she fiercely talks to him, keeping him from giving up hope, keeping her own emotions in check yet clear to the viewer, until she does the impossible and finds him.  his gratitude, her relief, are clear: yet nary a clinch.   even when they move in together and tell the rest of the crew that they've done so, they sound and act like roommate chums rather than lovers.  it has been a disappointment in an otherwise gutsy show.

okay, we've covered my sundays, and as always i've written a long piece.  covert affairs will wait for another day, as will ncis:la. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Two Susans

had a lovely lunch today with susan love, who wrote DR. SUSAN LOVE'S BREAST BOOK with me as her co-author, and her wife and daughter. We've been in touch sporadically over the years, but the last time i saw her in person was, i think, about 20 years ago. she has recently had leukemia, and her bone marrow transplant has had great results. i had known of susan before i actually met her through one of her patients who was a dear friend of mine and died in 1991. before her death, susan shapiro founded the women's community cancer project. when i got home, in the mail was a form letter from the project, announcing its closing. saddening. but it lasted all these years and helped change the face of how cancer affects women on many levels, and the importance of researching environmental factors. so ending my day with thoughts of my two susans and their magnificent fights against cancer....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

TV's Recent Gems and Near-Gems

you lose some, you win some.  for a few weeks, my sunday evenings were two hours of pure television bliss. from 8 to 9 there was PBS's exquisite mini-series, Last Tango in Halifax Lord, what a refreshing show! the plot sounds pure Hallmark: 2 elederly widowed people who were in school together 50  years earlier meet again when alan's young grandchild persuades him to look for celia on facebook.  they meet again, each admits that they were in love with the other back then, and have remained so ever since, and decide, after an hour of wonderful conversation, to get married.  their middle aged children are appalled, then supportive.

but this was far indeed from a hallmark movie. the two, played magnificently by derek jacoby and ann reid haven't a trace of adorable codger about them.  they are adults who are in their  late 70s, and have grown and lived over the years.  their daughters too are complex adults, both with troubled lives that their parents can't change. at first hostile to each other, they become fast, supportive friends.  Alan's daughter Gillian is a widow with a strong libido; celia's daughter caroline is recently divorced fro her philandering husband and is having an affair with a female colleague in the university where both work. neither is at all discomfited with her new friend's sex life, nor is alan.  celia, in other ways a strong liberal, is rigidly opposed to her daughter's relationship with a woman, nor can she handle the idea that caroline had enjoyed her marital sex life before she kicked her husband out for his infidelity. needless to say, the series treats both the daughters' sexual lives without a hint of exploitation.  nor are we expected to react with distaste to the openly sexual nature of the elderly couple's relationship.  sex, like all the realities of life, lives gently in this homey, comfortable world.

all of this  makes celia's obstinate fury to caroline's lover startling, as it is to alan, and in fact nearly destroys his love for her.  his liberalism, even more than hers, is core deep, and probably a lot closer to left than liberal.  it's also matter of fact, a core-deep humanity that opposes people hurting each other.   for celia, the realization that she has injured not only her beloved daughter but also the man she is in love with, shakes her enough to make her confront her own bigotry and approach caroline's lover with a heartfelt apology.   yep, a happy ending, with not a smidgen of saccharine. for the fans of the show, there's an equally happy ending: a second season of the series will be shown next summer.

TV is rarely this good with elderly characters, and in america, at least, on the rare occasions when it is, the show seldom succeeds. {I  don't know how this plays out in England, except that the BBC also had a hit that pbs aired in the early 1990s--a broad, hilarious sitcom called Waiting for God, which was set in a retirement home run by a money hungry jerk named harvey baines [or, as residents Diana and Tom refer to him ''the idiot baines'']. Diana fights baines and all he stands for with militant wit and anger; she had s pent her life as a photojournalist, covering wars and politics.  Tom is a gentle soul, given to playing with people's perception of him as demented.  he lives a rich fantasy life, closing his eyes and becoming a john wayne character, or james bond, or whatever hero of whatever fantasy he has crafted. when pulled away from his escape world, he cheerfully apologizes for being preoccupied and explains that he has been busy making passionalte love with veronica lake.  these two characters are opposite versions of resistance, and their attacks on the idiot baines and all he stands for are marvelous funny, in the face of a literally morbid world, in which people are sent to age into death. like alan and celia, they become lovers, and they don't marry only because diana is opposed to the institution of marriage. so they live in sin happily as long the gods allow.

the US has had its elderly heroes, though the one that always gets touted, Murder She Wrote, is really about a middle-aged character.  Judging Amy [about which i'll write another time] was one of those grandly progressive tv shows that flourished for some reason in the early 21st century, and though Amy was as youthfully beautiful as you could hope for,  one of the two crucial barely secondary characters was her mother, played by tyne daly, one of our truly fine actors.  maxine, in her 60s, is bolder and less rule-bound than her daughter, a social worker fighting passionately for the rights of the throwaway children her jobs connects her to. widowed, she falls in love with a man her age, played by richard crenna.  there are a couple of fairly explicit bedroom scenes with the two,  in one of which maxine leans over him, pulling the pins out of her bunned hair, so that it falls sensually over his face.  again, no cute codger there.  [more about amy and the brief golden age of the early 2000's on a later post.]

recently we did less well with nbc's  harry's law,' with Kathy Bates, in which an aging female lawyer named Henrietta fights the good fight--interestingly, from a conservative perspective.  the show lasted barely two seasons.

this post started out with the topic of my sunday night tv shows, but it's already too long. so another time for drop dead diva, which ends its current season in two weeks, leaving me not totally bereft since a small cable station, wbin, is airing reruns of the too-soon-canceled leverage.  that too will appear with DDD and probably the puffy spy show covert affairs, which has oddly become my favorite just-for-entertainment show in recent months. stay tuned....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hooray for Me!!

As most of you know, i've taken up writing 'flash fiction' these past few months.  Not sure why; they just started coming into my mind,  and seemed happy there.  Along with the 'series' ones, like the   India Footlock group [which has so far underwhelmed both my blog and facebook readers} are severally self-sustained short-short stories.  The most recent one i wrote for a specific publication that wasn't accepting any new stories except for christmas themed ones. i figured that gave me a chance so i wrote a story, based on the rag-doll Jesus i've written poems about in the past.  the publication promptly rejected it, alas, but i trudged onward [you can tell the depression had ended because i haven't done much trudging for a couple of years], and just as promptly as the first online mag rejected it, the second accepted it.  the publication is called Linguistic Erosion, and appears daily.  "The Jesus Ragdoll" will be published on the first page, on Christmas day.

The cynic in my soul reminds me that I've published books, for heaven's sake, and articles galore, at least in the old days.  but it's been a long while between bylines, and as i said, i'm new at flash fiction. so i'm feeling a mild version of what i felt over 50 years ago when my first poem was published in a small poetry mag.

i will remind you closer to the time so you can prepare to spend about 2 minutes of the christmas season reading a brilliant bit of flash fiction.  [and of course will publish here my yearly xmas card poem, but it won't be a poem this time: i guess i'm hooked on flash fiction...]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In 14 hundred ninety two...

Honesty prevents me from wishing you all a happy Columbus day.  but i wish you a day away from work, and the prayer that in 100 years or so from now, our descendants will being taking off to celebrate a happy End of Colonialism Day.  so in case we don't all make it to that day, that's what i wish you now:


Saturday, October 12, 2013


this is the latest complete India Footlock tale. i have been hesitant to put it here b/c the 2 friends who read it didn't get it, so it may just be weird.  but i haven't posted here much lately, so i thought i'd see if anyone else got it, liked it, hated it, or whatever

‘Speaking of such things,’ Gloria remarked one afternoon, when we had not in fact been speaking of such things at all, and hadn’t been for several weeks [she had, like all of us, picked up India’s habit of non sequiter, which consisted of suddenly hearkening back to a conversation from weeks or month ago], ‘what do people think of the notion that each of our lives exists simultaneously on several different planes that don’t know about each other?  Like a kaleidoscope where each possible combination of stones already exists when we see the one that seems to come up alone?”

India nodded.’ So that each possible thing that might happen to you in a given instant actually is happening in its own realm.’

Uh-huh,’ Gloria nodded.  ‘Only it’s much more complicated than that, because most things that happen to you happen between you others—like the eight of us sitting here. And so that each possibility that could exist for every one of us exists on planes that are both individual and collective.  Like, reimer here has dozens of possibilities, but in some of them he’s with us, and others not. and each of us too has dozens of possibilities, some of which include the others.’’

‘well, in at least one of these possibilities, I’m getting dizzy,’ muttered Joel.

‘she’s quite right, you know,’  India said firmly. "The possibilities are endless, and quite intriguing.  And when you think further than in some of our other-planes, we are different ages or races or temperament, because each possibility for each person carries a separate history.  For instance,’ she turned to me, I assume because I was sitting next to her. ‘On one plane, you and I could be young lovers, gently touching each other for the first time.’

I gulped, and joel snickered. much as we all loved India, her place in our hearts was as a more genteel and subversive version of Auntie Mame, not as a hot young woman.  And yet, even as I thought this, a vision shimmered through a scrim of not-quite-fantasy, and there was a young, thin, fragile india, dressed in an opaque negligee, her arms around my neck and her small, firm breasts pressing into my chest, as I trembled in my first, awkward caress, while outside, india’s voice continued in its usual neutrally cheery tone.  ‘’of course, we could as easily be a pair of hungry rats tearing each other to pieces over a scraggly bit of some long-rotting animal corpse.’’

‘eieuw,’ said Gloria, and joel laughed: ‘india, I never knew you were a romantic!’ the others, myself among them, rushed to change the subject.  Yet the feeling that remained with me the rest of the day was neither of our lightly but caringly bonded group nor the ghoulish brutality of the starving rats.  It was a slight and contented erotic tenderness to a girl I’d never seen but somehow had known well, and I wondered what was happening between those lovers who might have been india and me and who I knew I’d never see again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Whole Week Un-depressed

i can't believe it!  thank the gods for Abilify!  after 2 years, what a relief!

Friday, October 4, 2013

happy birthday keith

today would have been my kid brother's 66th birthday; he died at 33.  it still hurts not be able to tease him about his balding, or being a grandfather, or any of the other signs of old age.  i still miss him.

and, in the sometimes dreary life-goes-on motif-- today is the 3rd day in a row in which, though hardly happy, i'm not actively depressed.  keith would be happy for that.....