Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Patricia Highsmith, on January, ‘A Two-Faced Month’)

“January. It was all things. And it was one thing, like a solid door. Its cold sealed the city in a gray capsule. January was moments, and January was a year. January rained the moments down, and froze them in her memory: the woman she saw peering anxiously by the light of a match at the names in a dark doorway, the man who scribbled a message and handed it to his friend before they parted on the sidewalk, the man who ran a block for a bus and caught it. Every human action seemed to yield a magic. January was a two-faced month, jangling like jester's bells, crackling like snow crust, pure as any beginning, grim as an old man, mysteriously familiar yet unknown, like a word one can almost but not quite define.”—American novelist and short-story writer Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), The Price of Salt (1952)

Last week marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Patricia Highsmith. For the longest time, she was known for two psychological thrillers adapted into classic films by Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train) and Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley).

Yet only over time—and especially after intrepid biographers worked mightily through her abundant published and unpublished writings, separating fact from fiction—would the outlines of an author as tortured in her private life as Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, or Shirley Jackson emerge.  

Five years ago, a novel in a far different vein from her best-known novels of suspense, featuring a lesbian romance that she wrote under a pseudonym, was translated to the big screen: The Price of Salt, retitled Carol, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. 

Leafing through the book recently in a larger anthology of Highsmith’s work, I was much taken by the above description, and thought it would use it while I still had the chance this month.

For a fascinating overview of the multiple treatments of her work by Hollywood, please see this blog post from the American Film Institute from a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Photo of the Day: ‘And the Sky is Gray’

A humorous meme of the past week reminded me of a popular song of the mid-1960s that baby boomers will recognize. (For the rest of you: Just Google it, okay?) That line lingered in my mind out here in northern New Jersey as I looked out over the Hackensack River from Foschini Park.

This past summer, even with COVID-19 raging, the park was heavily used by walkers. It was a different story late this afternoon, with only three other people around while I was there. (One, oddly enough, was practicing his golf swing in the gravelly parking lot.)

The emptiness was borne in on me as I walked on the wooden planks that formed the path on the riverfront park’s perimeter. With nobody near me, the sound of my footsteps echoed all the more loudly around me.

TV Quote of the Day (Jack Benny, on the Impact of Glasses)

Jack Benny [admiring a photo]: “What a dollface! Such a beautiful complexion, lovely lips, sparkling eyes...”

Rochester Van Jones [played by Eddie “Rochester” Anderson]: “Yeah, boss. That's the best picture you ever had taken.”

Jack: “I'm looking at Miss Livingston, for heaven sake! How could I say that about my picture?”

Rochester: “Without your glasses on, you could say that about a garbage truck.”— The Jack Benny Program, Season 4, Episode 8, “Jack Dreams He's Married to Mary,” original air date Feb. 7, 1954, teleplay by Sam Perrin, George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, and John Tackaberry, directed by Ralph Levy

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Thomas Merton, Praying for ‘Prudence in Proportion to Our Power’)

“Grant us prudence in proportion to our power,
Wisdom in proportion to our science,
Humaneness in proportion to our wealth and might.
And bless our earnest will to help all races and peoples
to travel, in friendship with us,
Along the road to justice, liberty and lasting peace.” —American Trappist monk, theologian, memoirist and poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968), “Praying for Peace,” in A Thomas Merton Reader, edited by Thomas P. McDonnell (1996)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Tweet of the Day (Chipper Jones, on Hank Aaron’s ‘Class and Integrity’)

“I can’t imagine what Hank Aaron went through in his lifetime. He had every right to be angry or militant.....but never was! He spread his grace on everything and every one he came in contact with. Epitome of class and integrity. RIP Henry Aaron! #HammerinHank”—Former Atlanta Braves All-Star third baseman Chipper Jones, tweet of Jan 22, 2021

I agree with this well-meaning tribute by Chipper Jones to fellow Braves great Hank Aaron, except for that second sentence. The African-American slugger was indeed “angry” about the torrential abuse rained on him by bigots for breaking Babe Ruth’s career record for home runs.

Wouldn’t you be, if the FBI needed to investigate death threats against you and kidnapping threats against members of your family?

Wouldn’t you be, if you had obeyed one of the cardinal rules of American society—to succeed, work hard—only to grasp that for countless unseen cowards, this was not enough?

Wouldn’t you be if, decades after praising two of your heroes (Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella) for proving to the world that “a man’s ability is only limited by his lack of opportunity,” major-league baseball was still making painfully slow progress in placing minorities in managerial and front-office positions?

It would have been more correct for Jones to tweet, then, that Aaron was not as angry as he had every right to have been about the rancid racism he experienced for decades

I not only, like Jones, “can’t imagine” what Aaron went through, but how he restrained himself from saying anything more scathing about John Rocker’s 1999 Sports Illustrated interview than that he had “no place in my heart” for the prejudiced pitcher's infamous comments about gays and minorities.

In other respects, Jones is correct: Aaron did epitomize grace, class and integrity—and so much more. Though physically gifted (the young Alfonso Soriano was praised for strong, quick wrists that reminded many of “Hammerin’ Hank”), he realized it wasn’t enough.

This meant that, as teammate Dusty Baker told the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector in 2007, Aaron exercised “total recall” on how he had fared against every pitcher he ever faced—"line out, walk, all kinds of stuff.”

And so, quietly, without the flair for the moment displayed by contemporaries Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Aaron mounted his inexorable assault on Ruth’s hallowed career HR record. (By the way: Aaron achieved that mark in an era of pitcher dominance and competition from African- and Hispanic-American players excluded in Ruth’s era—and without the performance-enhancing drugs used by Barry Bonds.)

Along the way, he not only posted other offensive records (most RBIs, total bases, extra-base hits, and All-Star Game appearances) but demonstrated excellence in other aspects of the game, stealing 20 or more bases six times and winning three Gold Gloves for his defensive play in the outfield.

Hank Aaron was enshrined in Cooperstown because of these astounding career totals. But he is universally mourned because he was a model of dignity, dependability and perseverance. I am just sorry for younger fans who, unlike me and others of my generation, were not fortunate enough to see him play.

Song Lyric of the Day (Joni Mitchell, on the ‘Little Left of Wild Eden Earth’)

 “And everyone's a victim!
Nobody's hands are clean.
There's so very little left of wild Eden Earth
So near the jaws of our machines.” — Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, printed as the poem “Bad Dreams Are Good” in The New Yorker, Sept. 17, 2007, and as the song “Bad Dreams” from her CD Shine (2007)

(The photo of Ms. Mitchell accompanying this post came from an Asylum Records ad from 1974.)

Friday, January 22, 2021

Quote of the Day (Bruce Schneier, on How ‘Everything is Turning Into a Computer’)

“Just like that, everything is turning into a computer….Your phone is a computer that makes calls. Your car is a computer with wheels and an engine. Your oven is a computer that bakes lasagnas. Your camera is a computer that takes pictures. Even our pets and livestock are now regularly chipped; my cat is practically a computer that sleeps in the sun all day.”— American cryptographer, computer security professional, and privacy specialist Bruce Schneier, Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and ControlYour World (2015)

What’s your cat’s name, Bruce? HAL?