Monday, June 30, 2008

Not a Review: Late and Brief Impressions on Two Indie Films

A Mighty Heart: Honestly, it’s just so good to see Angelina Jolie in something other than a tabloid or a big-budget, broad-stroke, hopeful blockbuster. This movie allowed her to interpret a character with some depth, and it was a nice reminder that she is—whatever else she may or may not be—a woman of acting talent. It reminded me of why I fell in love with her in Girl Interrupted. A far overdue pleasure. (And of course a sad and tragic story)

The Year of the Dog: Here, Molly Shannon gets to demonstrate the deeper ranges of her talents. This is a strong performance that may force us to think differently of her, although I’ve always sensed a certain tragic understanding beneath many of her SNL characters. She gets something. This is Mike White’s directorial debut. (He also wrote it.) Some of his previous work is pretty lackluster in my opinion, but he was also a writer on Freaks and Geeks, the quickly canceled and now—in my opinion deservedly--uber-appreciated television series. I have an annoying habit of, three minutes into a film, listing the three possible plot outcomes with a self-satisfied roll of the eyes. The Year of the Dog made me look stupid. If possible, go into this one cold. Don’t even read the DVD cover.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Indie Profile: The Hill Top Motel, Kingman AZ

The Hill Top doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not. It does indeed rest on a hill top, right on the side of the historic Route 66. It offers a view below of basically nothing, a razed and languished desert floor.

This single-storied 50s motor lodge has been independently owned and operated, by the same family, for over twenty years.

The owner/operator is polite enough, in his own distant, understated way. His giant, intimidating dogs, however, require some getting used to. These dogs (great Danes, I want to say) are liable to come charging out from his residence, but up close they are actually quite friendly and lovable. One wonders, however, if a single command from their master might put an individual in immediate peril.

The rooms are clean and come with microwave and refrigerator. Televisions provide clear cable with several movie channels. They sometimes allow pets, but they don’t designate pet rooms, which is a potential problem for people like me with allergies. But I had no problems.
They advertise free internet, but I wasn't able to get consistent access. That may have been me though.
They have a nice cactus garden around their sign, if that matters at all.

The hotel is in walking distance of a saloon-type bar and restaurant, but it closes at ten, (at least on summer weeknights.)

For forty-four dollars a night, this is a pretty good deal. I have nothing to complain about here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Food For....?

Last Sunday, Father’s Day, I was grading essays in my office. The sun was fading outside, and I thought I’d take a walk while there was still some light.

I drove just outside of town and took a left into what I thought was the open desert. I had actually turned too soon, and the narrow road led me to our small, local cemetery. I had been here before. It was a good place. The last time I was here I saw a group of road runners (a bevy?).

I got out of my car and walked. I found a grave, “Joe Garcia, 1928-2006." On the same stone was etched “Beloved Wife, Etta Garcia 1933- ”

In the distance I watched a woman bowing over a gravesite. By the time I got closer, she had turned and recognized me. “I thought that was you,” she said. I recognized her, a friend. I hadn't expected this. “My father,” she said, indicating the grave she had just left. “Twelve years, it’s been.”

She pointed up to the front of the cemetary, near the entrance. "I came with my friend." I squinted and could see a large man on his hands and knees. "He just lost his little brother two weeks ago."

I nodded. What can you say?

“I come here sometimes,” I said. “I mean, my father’s alive, but…”

We parted, and further down the road I saw a very pretty young woman standing with her feet wide, just standing. Very still. She had a tattoo that ran up her left calf.

I walked to the end of the center path, paused in a flower garden, and turned around.

As I neared my car, the pretty young woman called to me.

“Hi!” she said.

A former student. How did I miss that?

She was with her mother, a very old lady with jet-black hair.

“We’re just here visiting Dad and Grandpa,” she said.

Her mother made her way slowly to their car and opened the passenger door. We talked briefly, my former student and I, about school, about the classes she was taking in the fall, about her plans for the future.

This week in class we read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Also, “Embalming Mr. Jones.”

Readers! Can it be that we will all die some day?

Gather Ye Coy Mistresses While Ye May!

Make your scratch on anonymity.

Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption

By Laura J. Miller


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just so you know

Announcement to teachers: Young students in English 100 will not necessarily find funny the witty banter of Ira Glass and Sarah Vowell.

We're working on writing "Process Analysis" essays this week, and I found an old episode of This American Life that dealt with the theme of "How-To's." I listened to it over the weekend and thought it was terrific, figured it would be an intertaining diversion. More importantly, I wouldn't have to develop a full lesson plan.

Early in the episode, Ira is trying to teach Sarah how to drive a car. I knew I was doomed one minute in. One of my students, an intelligent and focused young scholar, squinted and looked at me very seriously. "I don't understand," she whispered. "Is it supposed to be funny?"

Well, if you have to ask...

Luckily, in the same program, Junot Diaz reads his "How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” This went over much better and sparked some interesting discussion.

This was a good education in audience. The segment was designed to appeal largely to listeners of This American Life and NPR in general. Inside jokes aren't funny when you're not on the inside. Oh, and I am an old man. I must remember this. Live and learn. That's part of the fun of teaching.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Last Night

I had a strange dream last night. Actually, it wasn’t strange at all in terms of the overall canon of my dreams. But this one deals with upcoming events and has a literary thread, so here goes:

I am traveling alone in some vague part of the country. I guess I have to assume that it is somewhere in Georgia because I am aware that I am looking for “The Flannery O’Conner House.” In reality, I am not sure that any such place exists, but her being a relatively important writer, it seems like a solid guess that it does (exist).

I am on what seems to be a central avenue in a local town, nondescript, lined on both sides by what seems like pre-fabricated homes. I ask a local townsman where the Flannery O’Connor house is, and he gives me vague instructions, points me farther down the main street and to the left. I walk forward, turn left and find a lovely independent bookstore. I realize that I don’t have my video camera. How can I profile this store? How can I convey its local awesomeness to the rest of the country? I don’t even have a basic still camera. I am at a loss.

I stumble toward the entrance. (Why am I stumbling?) I enter, and inside it is silent, still: quiet. I walk around, looking for someone, anyone. The store is wonderfully eclectic. There are sections for children’s books, fiction, local writers, and Georgia history. I was right; I’m in Georgia. The store is furnished with soft couches and recliners. I smell coffee brewing. I consider taking a nap.

Finally, an old woman descends a staircase and greets me. She is the owner, she tells me. I ask her about the O’Connor house, and she nods as if annoyed, says that “Yes, it is just up the road.”

I want to tell her that I’m not just some know-nothing tourist, that I want to profile her store, to value what she is doing here, but she turns on her heel and motions for me to follow.

At this point, I’m stubling over my words. I want to know if she sells disposable cameras. She pauses. She seems bothered. She nods, yes. But you'll have to wait, she says. Her partner handles that. She begins to make her way carefully up the stairs. I follow at a respectful distance. As we reach the top of the stairs, the room opens up to me. It is not books that are kept up here but rather used furniture. All types: desks, recliners, couches, love seats, end tables. And here, suddenly, is her partner.

She is short, this partner, mid-thirties to early forties. I don’t remember her name if, in fact, it was given to me at all. This partner and I follow the older lady, who tells her that I’m looking for the O’Connor House and asks if she (the partner) can take me there.

The short partner says, “Yes, please follow me.”

I pursue, and the younger partner takes a right, down a very narrow, tile-lined corridor. I trail along, and the corridor takes a sharp left. By the time I take that turn I realize that I have inadvertently followed her into a small restroom. She is already sitting—pants a her ankles--on the toilet.
[Insert Freudian analysis here.]

“I’m so sorry,” I say, so embarrassed, and turn quickly out of the corridor, back into the main room. I’m looking for the hall to the staircase, and I think I’ve found it. I enter, and—despite all logic—here I am upon her again, her squatted humbly on the throne, and here I am saying, “Oh, God, I’m sorry. So terribly sorry,” and I turn into what I am sure is the main room. Yes, there is furniture all around. The old lady looks at me suspiciously, but then her partner is with us again, looking refreshed and sturdy.

“Had to pee, did you,” the old woman says to her younger partner.

“More than that,” the partner says. "I’m so proud of myself. My bowls are more regular than they’ve ever been.”

I give her “the thumbs up” and say, “Cool.”

That’s all I remember. I don’t think I made it to the O’Connor House. I would remember the peacocks, no?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Indie Profile: The DuBeau Hostel, Flagstaff, AZ

I chose the DuBeau largely for nostalgic reasons. On my previously mentioned bus trip, I stayed here and had a wonderful time. My new friends and I drank beers around the fire in the the evening (maybe there was a fire), telling stories and singing songs deep into the night. My fellow travellers included Arizonans ("white" and Navajo) on weekend trips, Australians, Brits, Californians, Swedes, and an older New Zealander couple. The Australians actually had a full-sized didgeridoo. It played alongside an acoustic guitar and a homemade wooden flute of some kind. This was--and I don't say this often--a lovely night. I was twenty-five, and I'd just had my first short story published in a Tampa Bay Weekly. In the morning I would visit the Grand Canyon and in the mean time I was surrounded by gentle and loving people from all over the globe. The world seemed rife with wonderful possibilities.
Twelve years later, there was no fire (I'm not sure there ever was) and I was--it was very evident to me--quite old. Still, I was treated with great tolerance and even friendliness as I eavesdropped on the conversations of travellers, young people pondering good questions and with good motives. It was heartening.
The DuBeau is locally owned and operated, with friendly staff and a general communal atmosphere. The facilities are actually converted from an old hotel, one of the oldest in Arizona. The hostel has a full kitchen available for guests and provides a free breakfast from 7 -10 a.m. The recreation room has free Foosball and pool. The location is unbeatable, right in the heart of downtown, just a short walk to bars, coffee shops, etc.
The cost of a private room with a double bed is $40, including the tax, the other reason I chose to stay there. The hostel caters primarily (and according to whom you speak, exclusively) to international travellers. I wouldn't be surprised if they sometimes turn people away on these grounds. They may be more lenient in renting the private rooms. I was asked if I had a passport or a student ID, and thanks to my ongoing apprenticeship I did have the latter. Will I ever not?
The rooms are charmingly rustic. Quarters are not air conditioned, which is usually not a problem due to the mild climate. I did bring my own fan due to my excessive sweating problem.
If you can get in, the DuBeau is a local treat for the thrifty traveller and perhaps a quaint diversion for the hopelessly middle-classed respectables looking to "rough it" for a night or two

Monday, June 9, 2008

Flagstaff et al

A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference in one of my favorite places, Flagstaff, Arizona. When I left Parker it was 112 degrees. I bought a AAA membership and took the old car north. She held up admirably well. The conference was fair, and my presentation went off passingly decent, but I mostly enjoyed hanging around the city, reading and relaxing in the cool weather. At the same time, I was disappointed with the lack of independent bookstores in a city that I would imagine able to sustain a couple. Starrlight Books is a small and quaint downtown store with, from what I could tell, only used books. There is also a Bookman's in town, part of a small Arizona chain of used book superstores. I'm not sure how I feel about this concept. Perspectives? *

But that's all I found. If you know of others, please let me know.

On my ride back to the desert, to my amazement, I hit a snowstorm. I don't see snow that often, and I certainly didn't expect to see it falling in late May. It was there suddenly, then gone before I knew it, but I enjoyed what I saw. In no real hurry to get home, and wanting to give my car every opportunity to make it back, I stopped for the night in Kingman. Kingman is the hometown of Andy Devine, which they announce prolifically. I googled him when I got home, but at the time I admit I only knew the name from the Jimmy Buffet song "Pencil-thin Mustache."
I got a room at a 50's travel lodge on the Historic Route 66 (review forthcoming).
I thought I would write, but since there was HBO I ended up watching Bottle Rocket, which I've been meaning to see and which I liked a lot. The Wilson brothers, for me, seem to have a take on the world that I really identify with. Both of them, especially Owen, deliver dialogue in a special way that I can't quite name but which is really suggestive toward something. Is that vague enough? I also watched Knocked Up, which was about what I expected it to be in all the good and bad ways.

The next morning I drove home.

It was nice to get out of town.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Book News

It's out!

As some of you know, the book is out. It's a few weeks early and so far only in stock at a few online venues, but copies are beginning to trickle in other places as well. Thanks to all of those who have already purchased a copy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Real Cactus Motor Lodge

This shows us at our best. The Flamingo Hotel: Tucson, AZ. We had our merits. Independently owned and operated. The old website is down. The last I heard, it was to become a Howard Johnson's.