Sunday, September 30, 2007

Behind the Scenes - Ben Stiller The Heartbreak Kid

Here are some shots from my visit to the set of The Heartbreak Kid while they were on location last fall in San Francisco.

You can see Ben Stiller here and Malin Akerman is near the wall talking to a crew member.

I believe it was an architect's office or law office that was redressed to look like a florist's shop.

Below is a a broader view of the set-up.

Now, by "behind-the-scenes" set visit, I mean, I was riding by on a street car I'd hopped around Fisherman's Wharf and we passed the location headed back down to a stop closer to my hotel.

You can see Malin Akerman--no kin to Forry I'm sure; it's spelled differently--crossing the street. Click for a larger view.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

California Baggin'

I was kind of expecting someone to look at me and say: "You mus' be frum Cal-if-ornia or somethin'."

It was the debut of our new cloth shopping bags from at the grocery, and I-- though often a head-butter of convention--felt a little self conscious. It's one of those contradictions they tell you to look for in creating multi-dimensional fictional characters.

With Flowers In My Hair
I certainly would have been more in place in say San Francisco where they've criminalize plastic bags, I believe.

In Ireland you fork over 22 cents per plastic bag. OK, not cents, but it costs you some coins with harps on them, so I wouldn't have been out of place there either.

Christine--complete with a Life is Good T-shirt--and I were the only ones at the local store doing a green thing, though. They sell their own branded bags, but I don't see them in wide use, and Christine even bought drawstring produce bags.

I kind of worried about those since you can't see through them. I feared the produce manager's henchmen might come out and shake us down as suspects in a plot to mix in pricey New Zealand apples with the Jonagold's from Washington state.

I got in trouble for buying from New Zeleand a few weeks back. I was in trouble with Christine not the produce manager. They were A.) pricey as I mentioned and B.) Shipped a long way, which is bad in green terms. Believe me, I know what it's like Living with Ed.

The need
Despite my reticence on the initial excursion, I see the need for reusable bags, and you can too in the work of photographic artist Chris Jordan whose works in his "Intolerable Beauty" collection provide a visual understanding of how much we use every day in this country.

It's not on his website, but you can see his rendering of the number of plastic bags used by Americans in just fives seconds in his recent Bill Moyers Journal appearance. That's where I discovered him.

Even if you buy into the conservative notion that it's really impossible to hurt the planet--I'm acknowledging not agreeing with that idea--there still seems to be a high degree of waste. Certainly it's energy that could be channeled in better ways.

Yeah, it was a little embarrassing at first but by the time we were bagging things in the checkout line, I was glad we weren't choosing paper or plastic.

Further reading
Citizen Times: Breaking the plastic bag habit

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Will I Die?

As you know I sometimes pause to speculate on how I might purchase the agrarian real estate some day. Happily there's now a place to get answers:

How Will I Die Quiz

How Will I Die Quiz

You will die at the age of 108

You will be killed by Rosanne Barr when she snaps one day in the street

Find out how you will die at


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's on the iPod? - Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

I don't know when it crept into the public domain, but apparently someone let the copyright lapse on Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

If you can't make it to the theater to see The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, this flick is not really a substitute but it's free.

It's available on and Public Domain Torrents, though oddly there aren't a lot of seeders. I can't imagine why with a Golden Turkey classic like JJMFD. (I also can't figure out why JJMFD is in public domain yet it's companion in Shockorama Billy the Kid vs. Dracula isn't?!)

At any rate, I'll be watching on the treadmill at the gym over the next few nights. When the program director on my local channel when I was a kid screened it in a weak moment one Saturday afternoon, I only caught the tale end of it.

Jesse and his buddy Hank were already in the Daughter of Frankenstein's clutches, so I didn't see the complicated tale of betrayal that led them to that fearful place.

Now I'm getting caught up--fortunately there's a long-ass expository scene at the beginning that gets things set up. The daughter of Frankenstein has fled from Europe to the old West and is devoting her time to completing her father's experiments. Her earliest attempt fails because she doesn't read the directions correctly.

Jesse James, having diverged from historical accounts of his life, is busy avoiding Jim Davis of Dallas and things just go downhill from there.

I haven't noticed any of the mic shadows and other flaws that made the director, William "One-Shot" Beaudine infamous, so the video iPod may be the film's perfect medium.

It's not a classic, but did I mention it's free!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Autumn's Emergence

It doesn't seem quite like autumn, but I see by the calendar that we're approaching the October country. A few more days, and it might be time to watch out for Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

Autumn, as I've written here before, is my favorite season and a favorite time to read scary stories.

I don't think I'll re-read Something Wicked This Way Comes again this year, but it's a perfect autumn tale, set in autumn which is likewise a character.

Another excellent autumn choice is Fear by L. Ron Hubbard, a dark and chilling tale with a twist. It's been mimicked a few times so the ending may not seem quite a surprise, but it's still a classic psychological horror tale with a wicked opening passage:

"Lurking that lovely spring day, in the office of Dr. Chalmers, Atworthy College Medical Clinic, there might have been two small spirits of the air, pressed back into the dark shadow behind the door, avoiding as far as possible the warm sunlight which fell gently upon the rug."

By the time the professor finds his lost hat, many shivers have crept up the spine.

This year, instead of turning back to one of those classics, I've picked up Basil Copper's Necropolis. For some odd and inexplicable reason our local library owns an Arkham House edition.

It's dubbed a Gothic mystery and is set in a foggy Victorian England. The focal character is a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes. Hopefully it will be a nice choice.

Beyond reading, I need to fit in a screening of some of the Universal Horror tales. They don't air those as readily on cable any more, but I hate to miss The Black Cat and the uber spectacular Son of Frankenstein.

Yes, it should be a good season.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I have an assignment for the day job that's not too bad, eh? Building model kits. I guess there's good and bad, but generally it's an interesting assignment.

Our hospital system is bringing in one of the people involved in the sunken U-boat discovery chronicled in Shadow Divers . He'll speak to the medical staff at their annual meeting.

We have a vibrant wound healing program, and because it utilizes hyperbaric oxygen chambers, wound medicine is called diving medicine.

Our wound medical director met one of the divers at a conference and yadda, yadda, yadda - "Sidney, could you help us build a bunch of U-boat model kits as center pieces?"

The request came from my co-worker whose husband is a phenomenal model kit builder with a Trek emphasis. I think he's reconstructing the entire ruins of Wolf 359.

My model background
I usually build kits of Dracula and other Universal monsters. I was going to build a Tor Johnson from Plan 9 kit, but that was around the time Christine and I were getting married and she felt there were better uses for my fortune. It's a lovely radiant cut.

I haven't built model kits in a few years. There was an unfortunate incident involving Christine's breakfast-nook table and some paint thinner.

But since it's for work I'm building Revell U-boats.

A lot of U-boats.

Fortunately I have until October 10 or so, and my co-worker's husband is going to spray them all a gunmetal gray. It would be fun to paint them with the precision this model-builder achieved, but that would be impractical.

I'm a little nervous because Scott (my co-worker's husband) is a perfectionist and I find myself not wanting to disappoint. I hope I will get faster with my next builds, but there's a surprising amount of detail even though there are not a million little pieces.

Cementing the hull without separations requires all of the rubber bands, chip clips and clothes pins I could find, and I have big fingers that make the assembly of the conning tower and the deck guns a little challenging.

The near-sightedness in my left eye comes in a little handy, though.

I find it satisfying, and a nice break from writing. I'll try to keep you posted on my progress.

Ships completed so far: 1


Ships completed so far 9/24: 4 1/2

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It Cuts Both Ways

My buddy Robert the photographer extraordinaire and I were leaving paid parking yesterday when I realized we'd failed to get his card validated in the area where we were shooting group photos.

"I can get that stamped, I said.

"Nah, it'll be 60 cents," he said. "Don't go back in."

So, three minutes and $2.00 later we had the Robertmobile on surface streets again.

"You know," he said, "I acted a lot more polite at the booth than I felt when I realized the charge. Sometimes manners just kick in and you grin and go on."

And sometimes manners don't. I worry I'm turning into an asshole.

Time passages
Flash forward - it's today and I'm in line at a sandwich shop. A guy somewhere between 55 and 155 is hanging out at the counter between ordering stations. I don't know why, but I really hate disorder and confusion when all I want to do is stand in line, order, pay and go sit down.

But there's confusion and re-direction and the clerk asks the person in front of me - "Can I help you?"

But the person in front of me has already placed her order with another clerk working the take-out station. Great - she's placed her order and is, I don't know, rolling pennies. Maybe it's time to GO ON TO THE NEXT PERSON IN LINE!

That would be me. After a little more confusion the clerk sort of looks my way.

"Do you want to do me?" I ask. Not the best choice of words, but I wasn't expecting to have to do any prompting, you know, to buy food in a restaurant.

Turning phrases
She gets my Reuben and iced tea on record, and as I'm paying the old guy wakes up and starts babbling.

"Do you?" he asked. "What does that mean?"

I ignore him. I'm just trying to order a sandwich not send cryptic signals to anyone loitering at the check-out counter.

"What? Do you? I didn't catch that," he repeats.

I finally look at him and glare and say: "I didn't throw anything in your direction."

He doesn't know quite what to say to that, and as he starts stammering I move on, feeling almost immediately like one of those jerks in neckties that I hate.

Unlike Robert, my underlying manners burned out in a burst of impatience some time ago.

Maybe the old guy was hanging out at the counter because he didn't have anything else to do, and maybe he was babbling just to make a joke and be friendly in that folksy yet annoying way old guys have.

And maybe my rapier-like retort did more damage to me than to anyone else.

You always think back on situations, and the things you should have said.

Sometimes when you say them, you wish you could take them back.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Alternating Green

I believe I can dub our spring/summer garden a modest success. The production was moderate, but anything it lacked in quantity was compensated by the spiritual enrichment.

Brandywine tomatoes proved to be the largest but our plants didn't produce that many. The Cherokee purples were the most interesting and the Mexican Midget cherry tomatoes the most plentiful and the tastiest. Peppers were a mixed bag also, with some hot peppers proving the most prolific. We grew enough red and orange bell peppers for a few rounds of fajitas without requiring supplements from the grocer.

It's the spirit that counts

Given the spiritual benefit, we've decided, especially since it's hot for most of the Texas autumn that we'd try a winter garden, and I use the term winter loosely.

Seeds for this round are coming from the Territorial Seed Company, another provider of heirloom seeds and more.

The Micromix
I've sunk a few radishes and otherwise mostly varieties of greens including kale and a micromix (pictured) that should sprout ready for clipping, washing and salad preparation in a couple more weeks.

I think my results in our square foot garden will remain only supplemental to our diet, though we're hopeful to sprout enough kale for a soup Christine wants to make soon, and it all may save the cost of a few bags of Dole romaine mixes.

It continues to feel good to get back to the land.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Getting a Little Wordie

I found a potentially useful tool at least for those of us who love words.

It's Wordie, described as Flickr without the pictures. It's a site that lets you create lists of your favorite words.

Got words you want to use in your writing?

Got words you want to remember to excise from your writing, like suddenly as Kate mentioned recently?

Wordie is the answer.

The Word So Far
So far I'm just getting started but I threw in a few Lovecraftian words as a start, another scary-sounding word and a word picked at random from a copy of The Hustler by Walter Tevis that was on the shelf by my desk.

It occurs to me that it could be useful in compiling words you want to use in describing a setting, or for brainstorming advertising copy.

"Write down everything you can think of about the product," an ad writing teacher once said. "Then use that to come up with your ad headline."

Word UP
Wordie's a great place to do just that, or to free associate in the quest for the ultimate metaphor.

Give it a try and see where it takes you.

(Special thanks: I discovered Wordie via 40 Unusual Websites You Should Bookmark and the collective efforts of all those who love and use Digg.)

Life Imitates Emily

A woman lived with her mummified aunt for a year, according to a Reuters report.

It's almost like the tale of Miss Emily Grierson, though William Faulkner's "A Rose For Emily" is pure Southern Gothic and the real-life version is set in Vienna.

According to Reuters the modern case may involve financial coverups. I don't know that Miss Emily was motivated by benefits payments or anything so crass.

Is there a lesson in this?

Well, I guess it's - if you decide to rip from the headlines, make sure you're not ripping off someone who anticipated human behavior ahead of itself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

If You're Going To Write About Murder...

...maybe it's a good idea not to write about one you committed.

According to news accounts, Krystian Bala has been convicted of a murder that bore strong resemblance to his novel Amok.

He claimed he read about the murder in news accounts and incorporated it into his work.

I don't know that the matter should really dissuade writers from finding inspiration in headlines for fear of being accused. Bala had ties to the victim that became apparent after a tip, and police said there were details in Amok that only the police or the killer would know.

Other dangers of ripping stories from the headlines are worth remembering:

Someone else--such as Law and Order--could be ripping as well, and your novel will not seem fresh.

Real life recounted in print is journalism. Make sure there's something worthwhile you can do with characters and situations to add meaning.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pay It Forward - Thriller Writing Tips

I haven't seen the new Kevin Bacon thriller Death Sentence yet, but reading about it led me to an item I thought I'd share - Brian Garfield's Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction. Word up is they helped John Grisham with The Firm, so they can't hurt.

The new movie is based--loosely, I think--on Garfield's sequel to Death Wish, the novel and not the movie, and when I discovered that I bounced around Garfield links and found the thriller tips.

Unseen wonders
I can't tell you if the movie is any good, but once upon a time I liked the book. I found it in paperback on a variety store's rack. I'd read Death Wish because I couldn't see the movie. There was a time when I was too young for things.

I'd also read interviews in which Garfield expressed his dismay over Charles Bronson's portrayal as a hero in the film adaptation of Death Wish.

"Fill your hand," Bronson as Paul Kersey née Benjamin utters in the brutal final action set piece of the film, harkening back to a host of Western gunfighters.

Based upon
As I read, I discovered Death Sentence was Garfield's answer to his concern. Asides even featured characters voicing some of the same things he said about vigilantism in newspaper interviews.

Sentence focuses on Paul Benjamin's move to Chicago where he continues his vigilante ways until his notoriety spawns another vigilante more vicious than he.

He ultimately has to track down and face the other shooter and come to terms with his life and his losses.

It's far better than the inexplicably brutal Death Wish II, and worth a look if you enjoy a thoughtful page turner.

Other Garfield works I've enjoyed include Hopscotch inexplicably adapted for film by Garfield himself as a comedy; Recoil and if you can find back issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine look for his spy stories featuring cold war operative Charlie. Those are a load of fun.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Of Dress Codes and Civil Disobedience

My senior portrait is a lie.

It features a me with a haircut far shorter than I wore it in those days. I had to get it cut before they put me it in the fake tux shirt and the hideously royal blue tux jacket, lest the high school journalism adviser cull my portrait from the yearbook. That's the yearbook that's stacked under some afghans and Halloween decorations in the front closet. It's pretty pointless as a memory of those days.

I should have kept my hair like I wore it, left the yearbook in the box and relied on Kodak moments, though my parents, ever celebrants of conformity and short haircuts, would have been embarrassed. (The, uh, haircut in photos of my dad's retirement party are not particularly indicative of how I wore my hair around that time of my life either.)

I thought of all that when Christine called my attention to these guys, who have contended all summer in "Letters to the Editor" that how they dress does not affect how they learn.

The pink ties and orange belts are their way of expressing their individuality. Power to the people, young dudes!

Maybe the lesson in nonconformity you're teaching yourselves is more valuable than the decorum of appropriate collars and pant-leg lengths could ever accomplish.

Maybe it will remind you to speak out when you learn your government is controlled by lobbyists paying fealty to the congressional leaders--too-long-entrenched and deaf to constituents--who demand it.

In a wonderful interview with actor/writer Ethan Hawke on a recent Studio 360, the host's comment prompted him to spout a few lines from his turn as Mikhail Bakunin in Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia.

I can't help but think of that remark now. "To be answerable to authority is demeaning to man’s spiritual essence. "

Maybe we all need orange ties and pink belts, eh?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Fine, Fine Day on the iPod

I've waited for a while for the fine, fine day that Tony Carey's "A Fine, Fine Day" would turn up on iTunes.

Recently I discovered at least a version, though it's a live recording that sounds a little different and more gravelly than the '80s original.

That's a little disappointing, because it's not just the song but also the rendition from its time that makes me like and recall it fondly.

Orwell That Ends Well - I made it through 1984
When it was on the charts or at least on Top 40 radio, I was a young reporter, periodically running the police beat at night. That involved riding a creaking elevator up to the top floor of the parish court house to read the jail log, a public record and sometimes a news source. It was once the way we, and I'm really using the editorial we, learned a first degree murder suspect had been booked.

More often than not it was less interesting, a chronicle of cable TV theft, shoplifting and unauthorized use of movables. I never knew what the hell that last one meant.

When I made those trips, wondering if it would ever end, I'd ride with trustees on cleanup detail. They always wanted to borrow pens and note books and have you make phone calls for them.

I don't know all of the things you can make from a Bic ballpoint but Dirty Harry got out of Alcatraz with a spoon and some dimes, so I always declined.

All of the exposure to the world of crime got me interested in Elmore Leonard novels, though, starting with a paperback reprint of Unknown Man 89, followed quickly by Split Image, Swag, Stick and others.

Fine, Fine Day was the background music, frequently on the radio and a spiritual cousin of Leonard's work, to me at least, with its account of a con returning from a long prison stint.

Stick 'Em Up
I pictured the song's Uncle Sonny--veteran of apparently numerous scams and shady deals--more like a Leonard character than a gangster in a business suit as the song's video did.

He was like numerous Leonard hard-timers including Ernest Stickley from Stick and his buddy Frank Ryan from Swag aka Ryan's Rules, who died in prison between the two novels.

The song celebrates Sonny's release and his celebration by taking a cab ride to Central Park, and that hopeful note kept me going as I adjusted to the routine of reporting and the harshness of the world.

The police beat was part of my assignment for five years. I don't remember the last time I rode that elevator, but it was a fine, fine day.
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