Sayonara Harvey

The rains have finally come to an end and we had our first glimpse of the sun as it was going down last night. I haven’t seen a reliable total accumulation value for our area, but we seem to be in the approximately 20-25″ band.

The rains started through the night on Friday, mostly after midnight so technically Saturday, and those were probably the worst. When I got up, the water in the ditch out front (behind the mailbox in the picture) was nearly level with the edge of our lawn and flowing like a raging torrent. However, there were some gaps between the regular squalls, and every time the rain stopped for more then half an hour or so, the ditch drained considerably, and I never saw it that high again. Our biggest worry were the tornado warnings. During the first day or so, pop-up tornadoes did a lot of damage in very specific locations, but as the days went on, most warnings passed without any actual tornadoes occurring.

Still, the imagination plays strange tricks. We received another batch of heavy rains overnight on Saturday/Sunday, and there was a new flash flood or tornado alert every hour or so. I couldn’t help dreaming that I’d wake up, put my foot down on the floor and find water there. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Didn’t even come close. The yard got soggy (see photo), the back yard even moreso, but the water stayed out. Not even a drop spilled over the lip into our garage, which is the point where I figured water might get in if it did anywhere. If ever the time comes to sell this house, we have a great pitch: it’s been through TS Allison, Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Harvey without flooding.

For the most part, we had the television on to various weather channels. We watched The Weather Channel on Friday, but it got repetitive. We watched KHOU until their station flooded and they had to evacuate. One valiant reporter in the field stayed on the air for a while and managed to facilitate the rescue of a transport driver whose truck was filling with water. We eventually settled in on KPRC, where we were very impressed with the coverage provided by Chief Meteorologist Frank Billingsley, who did an excellent job of explaining what was happening and why. (Aside: Billingsley has a book coming out in August, Swabbed & Found: An Adopted Man’s DNA Journey to Discover his Family Tree, about his journey to track down his birth parents which sounds fascinating, too.)

Often, though, we found the news overwhelming, so we either switched off the sound and left closed-captioning on or watched a few episodes of Call the Midwife, which we’ve been enjoying. I also went to work every day this week: the office is only a couple of miles away and the roads were clear. We had a skeleton crew, and at times I was the only person on the second floor.

We had stocked up on supplies before the storm, and we never lost power or internet service, so there were no hardships involved. It was interesting to see what was gone from the grocery store: bread and milk were among the first to go. That and bottled water. And potatoes, for some reason. When I strolled through the store yesterday, just out of curiosity, there was very little by way of produce left, no fresh meat or dairy. The beer aisle had been plundered, although some of the higher-end beers were still available. The potato chip aisle was picked clean (although an early photo on social media showed a store where all the chips were gone except for the “Chicken and Waffles” flavor, which were still available in abundance).

On the social media side of things, Eric Berger provided some of the most solid weather reporting in the region. He’s a former weather reporter with the Houston Chronicle who became the senior space editor at Ars Technica but established the Space City Weather blog as a hobby—a passion, really. Every day, sometimes several times a day, he updated the status and what was coming, even if it was dire news. He wrote this essay for Ars Technica to sum up the experience: it’s well worth reading. This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same.  I am grateful for his straightforward reportage.

It’s hard to predict when the city will be back to normal. We haven’t had mail delivery since Saturday. Both airports are closed. (My wife was suppose to be on a flight on Monday night—rescheduled to later this weekend, but even that isn’t guaranteed at this point.) There are places in the heart of Houston where the homes may be under water for a month. The major roads are starting to clear up, but there’ll be debris and potential structural damage. What we experienced in our northern suburb was but a minor inconvenience compared to what many will have to deal with for weeks, months, maybe even longer.

I was touched, though, by the number of people who reached out to us during the past several days to see how we were doing. Not just friends and relatives, but people I only know as icons and screen names and twitter handles. Your concern was greatly appreciated and truly touching.

The Houston region has been through an ordeal, and will continue to suffer, but it has demonstrated in the past several days a resolve and a spirit that makes me glad that it has been my home for half my life. We like to make fun of “Mattress Mack,” the skinny, aging furniture salesman who for decades has been making campy commercials in which he brandishes handfuls of money while yelling, “Gallery Furniture will…save…you…money!!” but he’s the kind of guy who steps up in a crisis, opening his huge stores as shelters for regular people and first responders.

And it wasn’t just greater Houston: many other communities and municipalities were hard-hit, too. The storm impacted a vast region in a way never before seen. Hopefully we’ll never see the likes of it again.

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Harvey

As of mid-September, I will have lived in Texas for 28 years, during which time I’ve seen one hurricane (Ike, 2008) and a couple of very damaging tropical storms (Allison, 2001 being the worst). Now we have Harvey headed vaguely towards us. Ish. He’ll either be a tropical storm or a Category 3 Hurricane, depending upon who you believe. Landfall will occur hundreds of miles away from us, far down the Texas coast, but we’ll be on the wet side of the storm, so a lot of rain is forecast. When I say “a lot,” I mean anywhere from 12″ to four feet.

The strengthening might be good news for us. Not so good for people in its direct path. The first predictions were that it would come ashore and then sort of amble east and sit on us for a few days, pulling in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dropping it on us. I don’t see that eastward jag on any of the current maps, so I think that’s good. If it speeds on through, so much the better. The real trouble comes when storms like that—like Allison—stall. We’re doing minor storm prep, making sure there’s nothing in the yard that will go airborne, filling the car gas tanks, getting a few supplies so we don’t have to venture out if it rains hard. Our part of the community doesn’t flood, as a rule, and we don’t have to go anywhere this weekend, so we’ll be fine, I figure.

My work has been translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Russian and, now, Bulgarian. I received word this morning that the anthology Shining in the Dark, which contains my new story “Aeliana,” will be published by Pleiad Books in Bulgaria in late November. The anthology title in that language is СИЯНИЕ В МРАКА and my name is written on the cover thus: БЕВ ВИНСЪНТ.

We’ve been watching Call the Midwife on Netflix lately. It’s set in East London in the late 1950s, the story of a handful of nurses who work as midwives in conjunction with a group of nuns. It’s based on the memoir of a real midwife and the stories are charming but they also delve into social issues of the era: poverty, abortion, mixed marriages, incestuous relationships, abuse, etc. There’s one old nun, Sister Monica Joan, who is suffering from bouts of dementia, often prone to quoting philosophers or poets, but who occasionally becomes properly lucid and can cut straight to the heart of an issue thanks to her many years of life experience. She’s a delight. We’re in season three of five, and it has been renewed to run for a few more years.

I also finished Ozark, which I quite enjoyed. It’s been drawing some comparisons to Breaking Bad, but it’s not quite as artistic as that earlier show, and it has a few stumbles and mis-steps, but I’ll be back for season two. We went out to see An Inconvenient Sequel last weekend. A lot of it focuses on Gore’s behind-the-scenes efforts during the negotiations over the Paris Accord, which I hadn’t heard about before. It’s a State of the Union statement on how things have changed—and how they haven’t—in the years since An Inconvenient Truth. Well worth seeing, but I doubt any climate deniers will bother, so it’s hard to gauge its real impact.

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The Geeks and Me

After I got back from Bangor last Wednesday, I spent 45 minutes on Skype with the four hosts of the Geek Cast Live podcast. The podcast is now available online. My part starts about 20 minutes in and runs through the end. I had a great time talking with them!

Also available as of a couple of hours ago: my preview of Mr. Mercedes, the TV adaptation of King’s Edgar-Award winning crime novel, which premieres on Audience Network tonight. I haven’t yet heard where people who don’t have U-Verse or DirecTV will be able to see it. Stay tuned: it’s probably the best TV adaptation of King to date. I’ve seen the first four and can’t wait for the rest.

We watched The Zookeeper’s Wife this weekend, and then followed it up the next evening with Fiddler on the Roof. I first saw the latter in 1979-80 when I was living in Halifax. Saw it at the Barrington Street cinema with some high school friends. I’d forgotten how long it was (just over 3 hours), and there’s a song that I’ve always associated with it that I now discover is not in it at all—it’s in Oliver, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. But I must have, else how would that song be so strongly imprinted on my mind?

Trying to find time to get back to Ozark, which I’m halfway through.

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Riding with…

Life is an adventure, an interesting one at that. I’ve been very fortunate. My wife says I live a charmed life, and I can’t argue with that.

This week, I flew over two thousand miles (each way) for dinner and a movie!

The destination: Bangor, Maine, a city I have visited numerous times over the years. I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and Bangor was a regular destination, either for camping or shopping. I’ve also passed through a number of times on my way back to visit family.

I went up on Monday because it takes a long time to get there from Texas and I was worried that a delayed or missed connection would mean I wouldn’t get to attend the main event on Tuesday afternoon/evening. That gave me plenty of time to wander around town. I visited Gerald Winters and Son on Main Street, the relatively new store devoted to King books. I’d met Gerald previously at NECON, but I’d never been to his store. He has some amazing stuff. In addition to a full-scale reproduction of the crate from Creepshow, he has the original stamp used to print the text on the spine of The Eyes of the Dragon. Stuff like that. I chatted with him for a while before visiting a couple of sites that I’d never managed to get to before: the Standpipe and the Paul Bunyan statue, which will be familiar to readers of It. I was bemused to discover that the standpipe has a WiFi network. How different would that make the story, were it told today?

Unbeknownst to me, Columbia Pictures had brought a “gaggle of movie writers, bloggers, podcasters” to town on a private jet and they were following a similar itinerary to mine. Our paths never crossed. #19hoursinbangor brings film writers to Bangor for an exclusive Stephen King tour.

We had a large group dinner before the main event, which was an advanced screening of The Dark Tower, sponsored by Zone Radio. After dinner, we headed over to the cinemas at the Bangor Mall. I missed the entrance and went into the mall ring road, where I proceeded to drive my phone’s GPS system insane. Turn right, turn left, make a U-turn. By the time I got back to where I needed to go, the voice was no longer speaking in complete sentences, and when I got back in my car after the movie, it still wasn’t very happy with me.

The radio station gave away some Dark Tower books and audiobooks, t-shirts and a few signed galleys of Dark Tower novels as door prizes before the movie, as well as movie posters and stickers. The woman who was “handing out” the t-shirts lobbed them into the audience like a quarterback. One of them spiraled right at me and hit me in the chest surprisingly hard! It was a small, so I passed it on to someone else who’d be able to wear it.

Then Stephen King appeared and made a brief speech before the movie started. I posted my review of The Dark Tower at Cemetery Dance Online earlier today. Also check out an excerpt from my interview with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, conducted in 2012.

After the movie, a gang of us decamped to the nearest Denny’s to discuss the movie and have desert. It was a great excursion. I enjoyed myself immensely. I also have to say that Bangor airport is one of the most chill airports I’ve been through. The TSA people were so friendly and amiable. It may have to do with the fact that I was there at 6:30 am and they hadn’t had to deal with travelers for hours, but their friendliness impressed me.

Then, last night I spent about 45 minutes talking about all things King with the geeks who produce The Geek Cast Live Podcast. I’ll let you know when that episode airs. It was a lot of fun talking with them.

This is cool, too: I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel at NECON for The Taco Society Presents on YouTube. The focus of the episode was Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the charity anthology that contains my short story “Truth or Dare?” My bit starts at 29:15. After we chat for a couple of minutes, I read an excerpt from the story. Note my flashy Hawaiian shirt, purchased specifically for the convention.

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Necon 37: The anthology and the roast

Last weekend was my annual camping vacation, also known as Necon. Probably my twelfth time attending that writing conference, plus or minus. It’s always a great time. There’s a core group of people who almost always attend, together with a healthy injection of newbies to keep things fresh and interesting.

Compared to others, I had a trouble-free journey there and back again. Flew into PVD via Philadelphia and picked up one of the newbies at the airport. Went out to dinner at Jacky’s Galaxie, an annual tradition, with a bunch of friends and another newbie.

On Friday, when many others were out playing Miniature Golf (a Necon Olympics event), I was on a Kaffeeklatsch where five us discussed our recommended books from the past year. That afternoon, I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel for the Taco Society Presents. All of the attending authors who were part of the Necon charity anthology Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep were interviewed briefly about our work and read a short excerpt from our stories. That was fun.

In the evenings, after the organized events, people normally congregate in the quad (on some nights there’s a saugie roast—i.e. hot dogs), chit-chat and drink, staying up to the wee small hours. Lack of sleep is a Necon thing, so much so that I often found myself in need of an afternoon nap.

On Friday night, we had the mass signing event. The Necon anthology was a hot property (all proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and I signed my story many, many times during the evening. Another annual Necon tradition is the “roast,” where an unsuspecting victim is lampooned, teased and tormented. Last year was the first time I participated in a roast, part of the lightning round. This year, I got bumped up to a full player, and I think my bit went over pretty well. I don’t get many chances to be funny in public, so it was a neat experience.

Before the roast, a bunch of us went to Thames (not pronounced like the river!) on the waterfront for dinner, another semi-regular tradition. We had been evacuated from the hotel in the midst of the last panel session of the day when the kitchen set off the fire alarm. Something to do with roast garlic, I hear. One unexpected benefit of the fire drill is that we took our first group picture. I’m somewhere in the back of this motley crew (photo credit: Tony Tremblay):

For the first time in years, I was able to get a morning flight back to Texas that didn’t require me to leave the venue at 5 am. I actually got to have breakfast! My return journey, via Charlotte, was uneventful and more or less on time, although we did have to divert around a storm as we approached Houston, which got the flight in a few minutes late. Not bad compared to many of my friends, who spent extra hours, even into the following days, trying to get home.

Necon is a wonderful time, always. Great to see people who I interact with throughout the year online, and to make new friends and acquaintances. Even do a little business, although no writing whatsoever. Takes me a couple of days to recover from the excesses in consumption and the shortfall on sleep, but I enjoy every minute of it.

Here is the lineup for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: a fine anthology, edited by PD Cacek (this year’s roast victim) and Laura J. Hickman, with cover art by Cortney Skinner:

  • Foreword by Christopher Golden
  • Mother and Daughter by Jack Ketchum
  • Messages by Errick Nunnally
  • Sleepless by Mark Steensland
  • The Vacant Lot by Thomas Tessier
  • blood, cold like ice by Doungjai Gam (Doungjai Gam Bepko)
  • A Life Unremembered by G. Daniel Gunn (Dan Keohane)
  • Wired by Elizabeth Massie
  • Blue Stars by Tony Tremblay
  • Happy Now Mother? by John Buja
  • Nina by John M. McIlveen
  • Housing the Hollygobs by Marianne Halbert
  • Inertia Creeps by Charles Colyott
  • Leave Here Alive by Bracken MacLeod
  • Sleep Well by Angi Shearstone
  • The Fine Art of Madness by Gary Frank
  • The Beach by Cara M. Colyott (Cara Marie)
  • Angel Tears by Jill Bauman
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town by James A. Moore
  • Would You, Could You, In the Dark? by Craig Wolf
  • Wishing Won’t by Richard Dansky
  • The Phobia Where You’re Afraid of Words by Paul McMahon
  • Nightly Rituals by William Carl
  • White Wings by Mark Morris
  • The Other Side by Paul McNally
  • Truth or Dare? by Bev Vincent
  • Unexpected Attraction by Matthew Costello
  • The Ritual Remains by Jonathan Lees
  • The End of All Stories by Trevor Firetog
  • Duality by Brian Keene
  • The Lake Children by Izzy Lee
  • The Circus Under the Bed by T.J. Wooldridge (Trisha Wooldridge)
  • 1-2-3 Red Light by Gregory Norris
  • The Old Men Know by Charles L. Grant
  • The Oldest Fear (internal art) by Shikar Dixitby

Available as a trade paperback exclusively from Amazon, and soon to be available in eBook format as well. Great stories for a very good cause.

 

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The Doctor Is In

I’m off to Necon in a couple of days. I have a Kaffeeklatsch on Friday at 10 am, where William Carl, Frank Michaels Errington, Tony Tremblay, Frank Raymond Michaels and I discuss the best books we read since this time last year.

Later that afternoon I’ll be interviewed for the Taco Society Presents as part of the launch of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the anthology containing my short story “Truth or Dare?”, which debuts at Necon. The antho can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now! 100% of all proceeds will be donated to The Jimmy Fund. Many of the contributors will be at Necon, so we’ll be signing the anthology during the mass signing on Friday evening.

We watched an odd movie last weekend: Certain Women. It consists of three (very) loosely linked stories set in Montana. It stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart, and the odd thing about the film is that these aren’t exactly stories. They start out with interesting premises, but ultimately they don’t go anywhere. It has a vaguely Lynchian feel, mostly because of the long, awkward pauses in dialog (especially at the very end of the third vignette, which is pretty much ALL pause.

Speaking of odd, I watched Bordertown on Netflix, a Finnish crime series (11 parts that comprise five stories) set in a small city on the border with Russia, near St. Petersburg. The main character, Kari, is one of those intuitive detectives who can put all the pieces together like Sherlock Holmes does. Kari’s trick is a memory mansion, in which he lays out a grid with tape on the basement floor and moves around from segment to segment while he envisions evidence. He also has a repertoire of odd hand gestures (he tends to grip his head). Physically, he reminds me more than a bit of Graham Joyce. Some of the stories get wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but it’s an interesting series. One of the other main characters is a former FSB agent who ends up in Finland because of the first case and stays on.

I was very pleased to find out who would be playing Doctor Who next. Jodie Whittaker was excellent in Broadchurch, and I’m sure she’ll bring something fascinating to the show. Alas, we have to wait nearly half a year to see her in action.

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Every weekend should have four days

I like this four-days-off / three-days-on thing. I could  get used to it.

Saw Baby Driver this weekend at a 4 pm showing, and the theater was packed to the brim. As an added bonus, I got to see the trailers for both It and The Dark Tower beforehand, the first time for both on the big screen. Of the two, I would say The Dark Tower generated more buzz among the audience, for whatever that’s worth.

Baby Driver is a heist/chase movie set to a soundtrack. The main character has tinnitus, so he listens to music on iPods (he has many) most of the time to drown out the constant noise. He’s gotten himself in debt to Kevin Spacey and is working it off by driving the getaway car from audacious heists—and he’s a very good driver. Everything that happens happens to the beat of whatever he’s listening to at the time. Every tire squeal, every gunshot, every door slam, everything. The movie is high-energy, non-stop action, as Baby goes from one scheme to the next and manages to fall in love in the middle of it all while looking after his deaf foster father to boot. Highly enjoyable, although the bit with John Hamm at the end was a touch too horror-movie generic. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though. Jamie Foxx is terrific as the self-professed crazy Bats.

We collected the last several episodes of Doctor Who to watch over a couple of evenings. I was able to avoid most spoilers (and forgot any that I couldn’t), so it was a good way to watch Capaldi’s final run. Mostly very good stories, and it was great to see the “round-faced” Master again and the interplay with Missy. The appearance of the pilot was more than a tad on the deus ex machina side (the first episode of the season feels like a long time ago, so it was a stretch expecting us to remember everything about that character), an overly simple way to solve a complicated problem, but all in all we liked how things worked out. Although we mourn the loss of Capaldi, who started out as a cold, unfeeling Doctor and ended up one of the most sensitive of them all. (I’m fairly certain he is the first Doctor who I’d seen in other things before I saw him in Doctor Who.)

I won two tickets to see Steve Earle and the Dukes at the House of Blues on Monday night. I’ve been a fan of his ever since he was on Treme, especially his album The Revolution Starts Now. The opening act was The Mastersons, a husband-wife duo who are also part of Earle’s band “the Dukes.” They got half an hour to show us their “solo” chops before the band started rocking at 9:00. It was a great show. The band is highly talented and Earle’s gravelly voice is still in fine form. He did several songs from his new album, the Waylon Jennings inspired So You Want to Be an Outlaw. He chatted a little between songs, but half of what he said was unintelligible to us (in part because of the chit-chat going on around us, and in part because he tends to mumble). This was their first gig of the tour, and it went off pretty well, with a minimum of glitches.

We don’t always go out into the crowds to see the fireworks. Our community has a number of venues where they can be observed, and some are easier to get to (and away from) than others, but this year we decided to dive in. Five parks had live performances, and we chose the one at the waterway (our faux Riverwalk) that is next to our favorite pizza joint. We went early to get parking, had dinner and then took our portable chairs to the park and settled in for the evening. It was pretty hot, but we found a shady patch and there was a breeze every now and then, so it  wasn’t too bad.

Music was supplied by Level One Band from Kingwood (except for one park where the musical offering was country, most of the options were R&B/Motown acts). They were good, interactive, talented, and it was fun to watch the small kids playing around and hopping and dancing to the beat. The fireworks went off at 9:30, and we had a ring-side seat for them. I have to echo a sentiment tweeted by my writing buddy Michael Marshall Smith, though. He wrote: “If I’m honest the ideal fireworks show would last two minutes and be perfectly visible from wherever I already was.” I’d be just as happy if the whole shebang went off at once rather than drawn out over a 15-20 minute stretch.

The local online radio station did a simulcast to synchronize all the locations where the fireworks were being launched. Either someone simply googled songs containing the word America without scrutinizing the lyrics too carefully, or there was some top-notch trolling going on. The first song was “Fortunate Son,” followed by “Pink Houses” and “Born in the U.S.A.”

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Juror #56

Apparently we’re getting our first tropical storm of the season tomorrow. It doesn’t look like a major storm—it doesn’t even have a name yet, and the path is uncertain. We might get some rain out of it, which wouldn’t be bad. At least it’s not 120° like they’re reporting in Phoenix. So hot that it exceeds the flight tolerances of many commercial aircraft. When we were descending from the higher altitudes into Phoenix at the end of our recent vacation, it was over 100° in Phoenix, and this was around 6 pm. Can’t imagine adding another 20° on top of that.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been called to jury duty when I got as far as voir dire. I was called once many years ago, but at the time I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, so I wasn’t eligible. Then I was called again last year, but the day I showed up we were met outside the courtroom and sent home. “Everyone’s been good this week,” we were told. “No trials today.”

I got my summons in the mail last week and went online to register. Although the summons was for the first week of July, I was given several weeks to choose from. I picked the closest date. In retrospect, given that it was Thursday and the next date was the following Monday, I probably virtually guaranteed I wouldn’t get picked. I ended up with #56 out of perhaps a pool of 60. Even with no-shows and people excused for cause, together with the strikes exercised by the lawyers, they didn’t need to go beyond about #32 to impanel the jury.

It was a civil case, someone claiming a pre-existing back injury had been exacerbated in a car accident, and gross negligence was on the table. Might have been interesting. Perhaps next time I’ll make it farther in the process. Sitting in the back row, I barely got to open my mouth during jury selection.

Today’s the day the issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine containing my story “Pain-Man” goes on sale. I haven’t received my contributor copies yet, but I hear it has been seen in the wild.

Issue 21 of Dead Reckonings magazine features a conversation between me and Hank Wagner about the Netflix series Stranger Things.

We watched an odd movie the other night, Beatriz at Dinner, starring Selma Hayek and John Lithgow, along with Connie Britton and Chloe Sevigny. Hayek plays a masseuse and holistic healer who ends up stranded at the mansion owned  by a wealthy couple hosting a dinner for a billionaire real-estate mogul named Doug Strutt (Lithgow). The wife graciously invites Beatriz to stay the night and join them for dinner, which turns into an awkward affair when Strutt starts gloating over his hunting exploits and various business deals that are amoral and destructive. Beatriz can’t remain quiet, speaks her mind, and causes a stir. It’s tempting to interpret Strutt as a certain buffoon who elevated himself to the highest office by screwing people over, but the movie was in production before or during the campaign. The film’s bottom line is that there are a lot of people of his ilk. What do you do about it? Strike or retreat? In a sense, the movie has it both ways. A choose-your-own-ending adventure. It’s a challenging movie. There is palpable discomfort during some of the scenes. But it’s definitely thought-provoking.

I’ve been enjoying the Netflix series Shetland, a crime drama set in the islands of northern Scotland. The first two seasons are based on the novels of Anne Cleeves. Season 1 is one book adapted in two one-hour episodes. Season 2 is three novels, six episodes. Season 3 is also six episodes, but it tells a single original story, not based on Cleeves’ work. The scenery is spectacular (especially the story set on Fair Isle), the accents are thick (especially among some of the older folk), and the stories are intriguing. The third season reminds a lot of the work of Ian Rankin. I hear they’re filming a fourth season.

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Waiting for Gadot

We watched a very strange movie called Wakefield on Friday, based on a story by E. L. Doctorow. It stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner as a couple with issues. Cranston is a  Manhattan lawyer who is delayed getting home after work one day, chases a raccoon into the detached garage facing their house, and ends up deciding to spend the night in the attic, from which he can surveil his family, which also includes teenage twins who don’t have much use for dear old dad any more.

When morning comes, he realizes how difficult it will be to explain his decision to camp out in the garage, so he decides to stay there longer. And longer, and longer. Days stretch into weeks stretch into months, as his situation becomes more and more untenable in terms of explaining his behavior. He becomes in effect homeless, looking somewhat like Tom Hanks from Cast Away and behaving like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He eats food he finds in the trash, battles with Russians over the choicer bits of things people throw away, befriends a couple of special needs children who live across the fence from them, and basically checks out from society. Is it a nervous breakdown? I guess you could make that argument. The more we learn about Wakefield, the less we like him. We learn how unfair he was to his best friend and how duplicitous and controlling he was toward the woman who would become his wife. Only Cranston can make us go along for the ride, because this is another version of Walter White. I envisioned him claiming a fugue state and showing up naked in a convenience store to work his way out of his dilemma. How do you resolve such a situation? Will your family rejoice at his return after so long or will they hate him for what he put them through? An interesting question, isn’t it. The answer, alas…

On Saturday night, we listened to the Blue Grooves playing a free concert at the waterway park and then saw Wonder Woman, which is every bit as good as everyone is saying. There is the origin story part of the movie, featuring Robin Penn Wright as a fearsome Amazon general, and then there’s the part of the film where Gal Gadot’s character truly becomes Wonder Woman, and then there’s the final conflict. All well handled, though I might like fewer Matrix-y conflict scenes in favor of more natural (as natural as superheroes and demigods can be) battles. A good turn for David Thewlis, currently chewing up the scenery in Fargo. The movie works well for us in part because it has zero reliance on any other part of the D.C. universe. Even if you didn’t know who Bruce Wayne was, it works. And the fact that it’s set against the backdrop of a conflict everyone knows and more-or-less understands is so much the better.

Alas, I have fewer kind words to say about Season 3 of Bloodline (Netflix original). This is a Florida family drama that hinges on an incident from the childhood of the Rayburn children in which they were coerced into lying to the police (and everyone else) about how brother Danny was injured on the day their sister drowned. That lie, which they have to continue to live, is poison to the family, and it culminates in a Biblical reckoning at the end of Season 1. The truth is that the Rayburns are not nice people, external appearances notwithstanding. Danny took a dark path, Kevin is a lazy screw-up, and John is so tightly wound that he has never been able to enjoy any of the good things in his life. Sister Meg has gotten away from the toxic environment on occasion, but she keeps getting sucked back in.

So it’s not the easiest of shows to watch, as the Rayburns continue to do self-destructive and damaging things and then have to pile lie upon lie to cover up. The murder that ended season 2 propels Season 3 up to a point, but then, nine episodes in out of ten, they decide to pretend the show is Twin Peaks. A solid hour of baffling storytelling. They make poor use of some of the supporting cast (John’s wife, for example). Not to mention the fact that there’s this character played by John Leguizamo who wanders around like the purveyor of doom, making gloomy predictions and dire threats, only to have the character expunged from the story without anything coming of it. Mystifying. I would have been happy if the final season had ended with the rather jarring incident at the end of episode 8, although it would have been a shame to miss Sissy Spacek’s show-stopping rant in the final episode. And then there’s that ending. Hmmmm. Shame, really. Good actors doing good work, poorly served by the story.

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A week above 5000 feet

Last week, my wife and I took a vacation in Arizona (mostly), New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. We flew into Phoenix, picked up a rental car (a Mustang GT, not the convertible we had reserved—thanks, Hertz) and drove up the Oak Creek Canyon scenic route to Sedona, where we spent our first night in an outwardly plain but well-appointed and centrally located motel. We had a late dinner at the Sound Bites Grill, overlooking the mountains while we listened to the music of Estaban and his ensemble. We were, at that point, at about 4000 feet above sea level, and we’d stay at least at that height for the rest of the week, though we were often above 5000 feet and, at one point, as high as 8800 feet.

The next morning, we completed the drive up Oak Creek Canyon and turned east. Our first stop was in Winslow, Arizona, a little town made famous by “Take it Easy,” the first hit single by The Eagles. The town itself looks terribly depressed, and I’m not sure it would still exist if not for the song. According to the legend, Jackson Browne came up with the line “I’m standing on a corner in Winsolow Arizona, such a fine sight to see…” but got stuck until Glenn Frey convinced him to lend a hand, coming up with the line about the girl and the flatbed Ford. There’s a statue on a corner that is supposed to represent Browne and a more recent one added to depict Frey, and a permanently parked flatbed Ford with a painting on the nearby wall that looks like a window reflection showing the girl. It’s a place rooted in nostalgia, as evidenced by the average age of the people hanging around the corner that Sunday afternoon.

From there, we continued west, driving through the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We stayed overnight in Gallup, New Mexico and headed north the next day toward Cortez, Colorado. From there, we went east to Mesa Verde National Park, which is famous for it pueblos. We spent most of the mid-day hours there, viewing the types of accommodations the natives used hundreds of years ago. Also saw a very large snake outside one of the Anasazi pit houses. From there we drove west, passing through Cortez again on our way to Four Corners. My wife had been here decades ago, when it was just a disk in the middle of nowhere, but it’s fairly built up now, with souvenir stands, and a lengthy queue to take a picture standing at the junction of the four states. We decided to skip the line and take a few stealth photos nearby.

From there we continued west in Utah, driving through some of the most spectacular landscape this country has to offer, namely Monument Valley, which has served as the setting for many classic Westerns and other movies. Breathtaking at every turn. We ended up in Kayenta, Arizona for the night. The next day we moved on to Page, where we took a cruise on the Colorado river into Antelope Canyon, joined a tour of a slot canyon where the colored walls and lighting from above made for some spectacular views, and ended the day at Horseshoe Bend, a scenic overlook that is, again, breathtaking.

We drove up to Kanab, Utah the next day and had a fairly relaxing afternoon in the low-key town. We took a drive up the Johnson Canyon trail, where one of the attractions is the dilapidated remains of a set used to film Gunsmoke, and had a fantastic meal at Sego. We also learned the importance of keen attention to detail at an artisanal deli where we both misread “roast beet sandwich” as “roast beef.” It was like those old Wendy’s commercials: where’s the beef? Much amusement.

The next day, we drove down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is much less frequently visited than the South Rim. This part is at least a thousand feet higher than the other side, and it’s closed in the winter. A deer dashed across the road in front of us while we were driving up the mountainside, which gave us a fright. Then a few minutes later there was a sign on the side of the road warning of bison, which was worrying, although we didn’t see any that day. I tried to keep a mental list of all the things we were warned might be crossing the road during our journey: deer, antelope and elk (they each had their own unique picture), bison, mountain lions, children, old people, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and boulders. I’m probably forgetting some. (We did see some snow on this side, tucked in at the edges of the treelines, and on the tops of some distant peaks, but I didn’t think there was much chance of snowmobiles.)

The north rim visit was really nice. There are a number of hiking trails that take you along the edge of the canyon overlooking some spectacular vistas. The crowds were relatively small (compared to what we’d see the next day), and it was all very low-key and laid back. However, a thunder-and-lightning storm rolled in (and we were at 8800 feet at that point!) so we hid out in the general store for a while and purchased a couple of $1 ponchos that kept us dry and warmer on the long walk back to where we’d parked. By then, the worst of the rain was over and we had a pleasant drive to our penultimate destination, Tuba City, which is east of the Grand Canyon on Navajo/Hopi land.

On Friday, we drove to the Grand Canyon again, approaching from the east to get to the South Rim. It was my birthday, so we splurged on a 1-hour helicopter tour that took us over the entire canyon from about a mile up, at about 130 mph. Truly spectacular. There was a controlled burn in one part of the mesa that we flew right through, and a section where we saw some bison from above. The pilot told us that the herd was a few hundred in number and that they had moved 100 of them to another part of the region a few years ago, but within a week they had returned to their original location.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the rim and taking in the vistas one last time before the three-hour drive down to Phoenix, where we caught our return flight on Saturday morning. We drove 1600 miles from start to finish. I posted some of our many photos on Facebook, but I’ll put together a slideshow here in the coming days, too. It was a fantastic vacation. We had mapped out the stopping points in advance and reserved all of our motels/hotels, which took most of the stress out of the trip. We always knew where we were staying, so we could just enjoy ourselves and take in the scenery.

Since Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, but the Navajo reservations do, we had fun pinpointing exactly what time it was during most of the trip. We switched back and forth an hour at least once a day, it seemed, and sometimes more often than that.

I picked a Tony Hillerman novel (The Blessing Way) as our night time reading on the trip, and we were thrilled to find many of the places we visited mentioned by name: Gallup, Window Rock, Teec Nos Pos, Four Corners, Monument Valley, Mexican Water, etc. We could visualize the locales as they came up in the story.

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