Monday, January 14, 2008

"Oldies, But Goodies"

I’ve been watching old movies lately. I’m not sure why, but I am sure the "why" part of it doesn't really matter all that much. My guess is it's simply because I've now seen pretty much every post-1970 movie made - at least the ones stocked on the Plaza Library bookshelves. My "no-TV" rule has given way to a substitute visual fix –the DVD, both movies and television series. Still, watching television was one thing. Popping a DVD into my laptop is another. At least with a DVD, it’s a more finite process; a beginning and an ending. With TV, it was a perpetual kind of thing. It was on in my apartment in the city - all the time. My breaking point? As much as I love following politics and government affairs, I simply grew weary of the screaming and constant ranting. To me, that's not a productive approach to inducing change. It's not very, how can it put it? Enrolling. As much as I liked watching Chris Matthews and The McLaughlin Group, it was time to close down the shop.

So with my more modern day movie supply exhausted, it was time to enter a new phase: the black and white era.

One example, "Adam's Rib" - I just watched it last night; a cute flick with Tracy and Hepburn. The more I see those two together in films, the more I love them.

A few weeks ago, I watched a film called "Advise & Consent" - starring Henry Fonda, Don Murray, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Walter Pigeon, Jean Tierney and quite the performance by Charles Laughton. This was a great film.

Sticking with the Fonda theme, when I saw both the old and new versions of "12 Angry Men," on the shelf, I knew immediately which one my hand would reach for. That original cast (Can you name all those actors in this photo?) ... I think this might be one of my all-time favorite films, right along side "To Kill A Mockingbird." Well ... for me, that movie has a unique place in my heart and I'm saving it for a special day. I often see it on the shelf, but haven't acted on the urge yet.

Again, with Henry Fonda - "The Grapes of Wrath." You know, with all of the folks I've been interviewing, and all the stories they share about the Great Depression - when I watched this film again, it was like a whole new experience for me. Back in April, 2007, I interviewed a woman named Hazel McCrary, from Stillwater, Oklahoma. Hazel told me all kinds of stories about the Dust Bowl and how her family lived through that period.

"Well, we just existed, literally existed on, you know ... very little. We had some cattle, we had cows so we had milk. And we had chickens. We all worked as much as we could. My daddy sold his wheat for 5¢ a bushel, haulin’ it to Canadian, Texas (smiling), sellin’ it for 5¢ a bushel. You know, so you just didn’t make any money and then the dust blew in (motioning with arms) til’ the fence rose. It’d just cover over it, it’d be just like a little ridge. You’d just go up, you wouldn’t even know there’s a fence there because the tumbleweeds would gather on that fence and then that would start blocking the sand. And the dust just built up, built up (raising hands far above her head, showing me). It was unbelievable … "

Hazel talked with me about the dust and hardship and how the concept of scarcity has stuck with her all of her life, even to this day. We sat together in the hallway of the yoga studio and as I listened, I couldn't help but think about the John Steinbeck novel and the images he described. I mentioned the book to Hazel and she told me "It was like that. Pretty accurate, yes." So when I took out the movie a few weeks back, my brain already loaded up with these stories from people who lived the experience first-hand ... Talk about a different way to watch a movie.

TV-Lite: For now - just two words. "Perry Mason." For those of you who remember the show, close your eyes for a second. Think about the opening; those first few theme song notes. Now, I ask you, is there anything more stirring than that instrumental opening? That steady piano line; the heavy brass. Okay, so some of the episodes were funny to me and watching the court procedure was also … well … I smiled, sometimes even laughed out loud at some of the things unfolding on my screen. Being a lawyer and having seen a number of trials in my life, I have to say, I have yet to see a witness break down on the stand like they do in a Perry Mason courtroom ... on every single show!! I understand it was a formula for the times and, it clearly worked. And then, Raymond Burr – talk about one-of-a-kind. Add some Della Street (Barbara Hale) and Paul Drake (William Hopper), the white haired, playboy-like PI who always seemed to be wearing some kind of white suit, like the "Man from Glad" ... Of course, there was good ole' reliable Hamilton Burger, Mason’s prosecutor nemesis. Two things about Mr. Burger: (1) Did he ever get a conviction in his fictional life? And (2) Was his name the product of some kind of writing-session practical joke? (Ham – Burger?)

The good news: There are tons of titles, especially old TV shows, I have yet to see again, so the horizon is vast on that front. I think it may be time for some more lighthearted stuff, to soothe the soul at bedtime. Shows like "Dick Van Dyke" and "I Dream of Jeannie" will work just fine, I'm sure. I see those particular DVD boxes on the shelves and, if I listen carefully, I think I hear them calling out my name. The bad news: Well, it's not actually bad news. The fact is I simply have to curb the urge. "Everything in moderation. Everything in moderation. What applies to food, applies to DVD's. That's the ticket.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Year - New Approach

Less, More Often - My personal mantra for the new year. I've been doing some thinking about this, the blog part of the site, and decided that it's worth a try to write a little less but to do it more often. Actually, that's more along the lines of what a blog is supposed to be. Instead of working to post what I would call “finished” pieces or essays, I’m going to simply write tidbits here and there and simply … post them.

Come to think of it, less, more often is also my dietary goal. Portion control (laughing). My goal this year is to actually take home some food from a restaurant every now and then. I envy folks who can do that on a regular basis. This will be uncharted territory for me. Last year it was the Midwest. This year, it's the doggie bag.

So, on that note …. As Mr. Gleason used to love to say, “and away we go….”

* * * * * * * * * *

Man, It’s speeding Up - Back in, I think it was July, as I walked into the KCUR-FM studio, getting ready for my Walt Bodine Show interview, I met a very nice woman, Ruthanne, at the front desk. On the way out after the show was over, I bumped into Ruthanne and she asked if I’d be interested in coming to speak to her church Sunday school class at the start of the new year. I'm finding that I love doing that kind of thing so, of course, I said "Yes" right away. And I remember thinking, “January. That’s soooo far away. I mean, I don’t even have a 2008 appointment book yet."

Well ... January 6th rushed into place faster than any January 6th I can remember. It seemed like just yesterday I was standing in the KCUR lobby, Ruthanne asking me to speak at her church; Me, thinking about my lack of a 2008 appointment book.

A Meriwed Sunday - What a wonderful group of people. The Country Club United Methodist Church has several Sunday school classes, the Meriwed Seekers being one of them. Briefly, the group was originally formed many years ago by some newly married World War II veterans and their wives and it is this same core group that keeps things going, although newcomers are always welcome. They meet every Sunday, inviting guest speakers from both inside and outside the class, covering all kinds of subjects.

As it turns out, the church is about two minutes from my home, right around the corner. I drove over, parked, and as I walked into the church’s side entrance, Ruthanne’s husband met me as soon as I entered the building, right at the 9:15 designated time. After a cookie, cup of coffee and a short introduction by Ruthanne, I was up at the podium, microphone in place and the Eldercation program had begun.

As I said before, I enjoy doing this kind of thing and look forward to doing more of it down the road. My hope is that the 30-40 people sitting in front of me (all seniors, of course) enjoyed listening to what I had to say as much as I enjoyed saying it. After talking about the project for a few minutes, explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing, I spent some time putting out to the group a few of the questions I ask during a typical Eldercation visit. And that gets the ball rolling. It’s so much fun to listen to people’s answers but it's just as much fun to listen to and watch folks interacting with one another. That’s a nice twist to the one-on-one interview, reminding me of when I organized a series of focus groups at The Murray Hill Center a few years back. The group dynamic presents a completely different picture.

Normally, I’m able to put on about a 90 minute program but, after Ruthanne told me I had about 45 minutes or so, I knew I had to make some adjustments. It was a bit of a challenge but, in the end, it wasn't all that hard to do. As things wound down, I finished up by reading a few excerpts from past interviews and, since it was a Sunday morning and I was speaking with a church class, I figured it would be a good idea to focus on some religious, more spiritual issues. I can’t tell you what I joy it was to be able to stand up there, reading an excerpt from an Emma Foote interview. The more I find myself sharing Emma's words like that, the happier I get. The idea that I can put some of that woman's words and ideas out to the world like that … well … let’s just say it warms my heart and moistens my eyes. Of course, I called Emma on the drive home, (she’s turning 99 this March) .

“You’re famous!!” I told her. And she laughed ... and then laughed some more, the way only Emma can laugh. I refer to that laugh as a Deputy Dawg laugh, the way she ends each chuckle with a soft, sighing kind of “eewww.” I’m not sure that translates here, but perhaps you know what I mean.

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