Thursday, February 28, 2019

"John Grisham - Writer Or Scalawag?"

It depends on the answer to,

“How much slack do you cut a ‘page-turner’?”

I am determined to read books.  But there are books and there are books, you know?

Maybe you don’t, because that wasn’t too clear.

Here’s what I mean by there are books and there are books.

I am currently slogging through The Oxford History of the American People.  It’s in two volumes.  “Volume 1” is 408 pages.  “Volume 2” is 522 pages. 

It’s a history book.  Laden with facts.  There is a whole hunk about 1625, in the Caribbean.

If I’m lucky, I can push through four pages at one sitting.  Then I’m exhausted and it’s “What on TV?”

That’s not what I want from reading.  I mean, sure, sometimes, you know, to learn things.  But The Oxford History of the American People is, like, textbooks.  I keep turning back, hoping I won’t miss something for the “Mid-term.” 

I can’t tell Charles the First from Charles the Second.

CHARLES THE FIRST:  “I’m the one with no head.”

The dense material flies over me.  Sitting on page 155 of Volume 1, I was asked, “What have you learned?”  I was, like,   

“Early America was really rough.”

I can remember the “gist” of things.  But the specifics go in one brain cell and out the other.

I am also reading Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare.  I’m on page one hundred and twelve.  You want the “gist” of that one?  At least up to page one hundred and twelve?

Here it is.

“We don’t know anything for sure about Shakespeare.”

A hundred and twelve pages of “Nobody agrees.”

The thing that stays with me about Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare so far:

On the book’s cover, Bill Bryson’s name is bigger than Shakespeare’s.

Despite these frustrating drawbacks, I am determined to keep reading.  It’s just that, sometimes, I need “soft food.”

So I pick up John Grisham’s The Rooster Bar at Kennedy Airport, to take me through the six-plus hours of flying back home.  (Sitting in “Coach.”  We have tons of accumulated “Air Miles.”  But there’s a reason for that.  When we try to use them for an upgrade to “Business Class”, American Airlines won’t let us.)

John Grisham has sold more than a hundred million books, so any critique would be spitting on diamonds.  And who am I to critique?  We were landing in Los Angeles before I knew it. 

I read over 200 pages of The Rooster Bar before reaching L.A.  The Oxford History of the American People wouldn’t have gotten me past Brooklyn.

The Rooster Bar is a tightly written tale about three drowning-in-debt, Third Year students at a low-rent law school, who turn to cruising the courthouse hallways for clients pretending to be actual lawyers, collecting fees in cash, and no one’s the wiser.

John Grisham knows the “legal thriller” terrain.  The Rooster Bar races along, cleverly structured, capably written, though rarely indulging in literary flourish.  An “Express Train” doesn’t dally to savor the landscape.

Basically, it’s Law & Order between two covers.  Although hardly a masterpiece, the book successfully serves its purpose.  An efficient time-killer, on paper. 

I reach the okay-but-not-special conclusion, and after the last page, there’s

“The Author’s Note.”

After reading it, I am definitely not happy.

Listen to this:

“As usual, I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff.  Law, courthouses, procedures, statutes, firms, lawyers and their habits judges and their courtrooms, all have been fictionalized at will, to suit the story.”


Why did he write that?   

To deter irate, letter-writing quibblers from ruining his day.

Let’s dissect this shameless disclaimer:

“As usual”?

“What do you mean ‘You’re lying’?  I’m always lying.”

“I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff”?

The whole book is “legal stuff.”  What am I supposed to believe, any of it?  And if it’s not all lies, which part of it is accurate? 

In his defense, Grisham ropes in Mark Twain, explaining,

“Mark Twain said he moved entire states and cities to fit his narrative.  Such is the license given to novelists, or simply assumed by them.”

That’s ‘The president can’t be a crook because he’s the president.’”  Plus, Mark Twain never suggested he was literally “factual.”

John Grisham writes "procedurals" with fabricated procedures!

Is this what I tacitly agree to, reading fiction?  I sign an invisible contract saying,

“Lie to me, as long as it’s interesting”?

I’m a rookie to this “book thing.”

What should I learn to expect?

And accept as perfectly okay?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Role Appropriate"

What if Othello was played by a white guy?

I don’ t mean a white guy in “Blackface.”  That’s over.

BLACKFACE” MAKEUP SPECIALIST:  “Just like that?  It’s ‘bad taste’, and I’m finished?”


Forget about “a white guy.”  Let’s be bold with this hypothetical.

What if Othello were played by a white woman?  That’s not so outlandish.  Glenda Jackson’s starring in King Lear.  Throw in “Race Reversal”, and you’re there.

Think about it.

Jersey Boys… with all girls.

A Man For All Seasons…  starring a woman.

I am hearing “Why not?”  Or, more completely, “Why not, you geriatric sexist moron?”

Maybe they‘re right.  I am habitually sluggish to change.  When I saw Hamilton, I was at first jarred by a black actor playing George Washington.  Not only did I know that George Washington, historically, was actually white.  But, to me, the show’s “Race Neutral” approach sacrificed the intrinsic “Status Disparity” between Washington and Hamilton.  (Who was also played by a black actor, though it would have been similarly challenging if the actor were white.)

I eventually got over that concern.  Not till somewhere in “Act Two”, but I got over it.

Forget “Racial Interpolation”, Hamilton’s casting was implying.  It’s just actors, playing their parts. 

Which brings me, perhaps belatedly – though it’s always a joy to learn more about me – to Eddie and Dave.

Eddie and Dave – written by Amy Staats, directed by Margot Bordelon – was the play we saw recently in New York when we believed we were seeing The Other Josh Cohen.  (Our tickets to the wrong play were also for the previous week.  But they let us in anyway.)

Hold on.  I’m going to research Eddie and Dave.

Okay, I’m back. 

Wikipedia and Google?

“The page for Eddie and Dave does not exist.”

Too bad, because I wanted to know something.

Wait.  First…

Eddie and Dave is a “bio-play” – I may have made that word up – about the rise and fall of the successful rock band Van Halen.  I don’t know anything about Van Halen – I stopped buying records during the “Cassettes Era.”  James Taylor, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Willie Nelson.  (Not unnoteworthily, they were all solo artists.  I liked the Beatles, but I, somehow crazily, never thought of them as a band.)

The question, “Why did you see a bio-play about Van Halen if you had no interest in Van Halen?” has already been answered.

We believed we were seeing The Other Josh Cohen. 

So there we were, watching Eddie and Dave.

Bringing this post “full circle”, the “conceptual uniqueness” of Eddie and Dave is that the roles of Eddie Van Halen, his brother – I looked it up – Alex, and David Lee Roth are all played by women.  Being flippingly consistent, the role of Eddie Van Halen’s wife, sitcom star Valerie Bertinelli, is played by a man.

What I wanted to know was, was that the show’s original intention, or did they hit on the “Gender Reversal” along the way, to make it stand out and more creatively interesting?

It was probably the former, though, lacking available corroboration, I cannot say so for sure.  It is kind of fun seeing female actresses portray three dopey men, symbolizing, as is believed in some circles, all men.  Roughhousing and posturing, the way we arrestedly developed guys do.  The thing is, the vacuous “Valerie Bertinelli” was no prizewinner either.

So in the end, the play just feels like a goof. 

Or possibly a stunt.

Or, synthesizingly, a goofy stunt.

My reaction to Eddie and Dave, which I casually enjoyed, was that it was an extended Saturday Night Live sketch.  Which stayed with me about as long as they do.  If that was the production’s intention – a “back-door” audition for Lorne Michaels – they did a pretty good job.

But that’s about it.

Who knows?  Maybe they were saying that sometimes “Gender Mishmash” carries an message and sometimes it doesn’t, and we should stop thinking about it already.  Which is a legitimate perspective.

Maybe if we were prepared to see Eddie and Dave

The thing is,

We were prepared to see The Other Josh Cohen.

I mean, they were gracious enough to give us seats when we showed up on the wrong week.

But somehow,

It just wasn’t enough.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"A Weird But Wonderful Adventure"

Interrupting my scintillating struggle to quit television.  Not writing for it – television quit me.  I am talking about watching it.  I need to chronicle this while it’s still fresh in my mind.  So here we go. 

 “Start spreadin’ the news…”

A happy couple traveling to New York, free from “real life” trouble and travail.  Scheduled for a professional conference.  But including…

Warming reunions with old friends.

Accompanying cousins, watching their talented daughter perform in the “‘Fame” high school “Rising Stars” production.

Sumptuous dining in prominent eateries.

Unseasonably warm weather. (Some days, actually warmer than L.A.)

Interesting theater.  (More on that elsewhere.)

Visiting three galleries and “The Tenement Museum.” 

A highly satisfying trip to New York.  (Actually I did trip once, on the sidewalk.  A concerned passerby inquired, “Are you okay?”  My signature reaction:  “I don’t know yet.”  It turns out, I’m fine.)

Enjoyable times, all around.

But with detectable “strangeness” along the way.

Check it out.

On our “return flight”, the plane was considerably smaller than the plane flying out of L.A.  Noticing the disparity, I asked the flight attendant, not entirely seriously, “Do a lot of people fly to New York and just stay there?”  She said, “We use the same planes both ways.”

No, they didn’t.  The return “plane” had 32 rows in the “Main Cabin.”  On the flight out, we were seated in “Row 46.”  That would be bigger then, wouldn’t it? 

The flight attendant insisted.  They use the same planes both ways.

Which reminds me…

Once, dining after a long absence at an L.A. restaurant, I remarked to the waitress,

“I notice you don’t serve tapioca pie anymore.  That was my main reason for coming here.”

To which she replied,

“We never served tapioca pie.”

It was the same experience.  Like I had entered a “Parallel Universe” – totally identical, except for smaller “return” airplanes and deleted tapioca pie.
Internet service at the hotel…

I tried to get on the Internet. 

Every day, it was different.

One day, there was a “Privacy” warning.  But, though I checked the “I Agree” box – I am not sure what I agreed to, I just wanted to get on the Internet – I could not get past that intervening disclaimer.

The next day, I could.  But found no accessible pathway to the Internet.

The next day, I got straight on the Internet without doing a thing.

The next day, I got on, but I had to pay for it.

And the last day, it was the “Privacy Warning”, and that’s it. 

I mean, it’s not like we changed hotels. 

Same hotel. 

Different Internet experience each day.

Oh, yeah.

Some days, the TV remote allowed us to change channels, and some days it didn’t.

Maybe it was the room.
Call this one “Pilot Error.” 

But it fits, being equally bizarre.

Or perhaps even more so.

We stop at the theater box office to pick up the tickets we had purchased online.  We offer the printed “Confirmation.”  We are told,

“These tickets are for last week.”

The theater manager is summoned.  She says,

“We think we can accommodate you.”

Since the show’s not sold out, we are generously given some “empties.”

We are very relieved.

The performance begins…

And we are aware this is not the show we had thought we were seeing.

Apparently, somehow,

We had attended the wrong play on the wrong day.

(The “right” play’s review proclaimed, “It’s Seinfeld meets Rodgers and Hart, as directed by Woody Allen.  Which we would probably have enjoyed better.)
Minor (inexplicable) glitches.

But we were together,

Enjoying the benefits of New York.

And we were not robbed in our room.

Imagine that.

Hawaii – Yes.

New York City – No.