2016 Reading challenge update #3

The Magicians
The Magicians

I had not intended to read The Magicians by Lev Grossman when I started my 2016 reading challenge. I had picked out a different book for the science fiction/fantasy category. But then I watched the first season of “The Magicians” on television, and decided that I needed to see the source material. The Magicians is the first in a trilogy of books. Think of it as an American version of Harry Potter attending a college version of Hogwarts, graduating, and entering adult magicianhood. The book is certainly denser than the TV show, and the characters have more emotional depth. But it is still a comfortable read. I’ll be reading the other two books in the trilogy.

All in Color for a Dime
All in Color for a Dime

All in Color for a Dime was the first book about comic books that I ever read. I bought my first copy in 1971 when I was in the army, stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. It is a book of essays that fascinated me then and still does. I have read the book from cover to cover at least three times, and perhaps four. I have also gone into it occasionally to re-read a specific essay that I enjoy. I’m particularly fond of “The First (arf, arf) Superhero of Them All (Popeye)” by Bill Blackbeard and “The Four-Panelled, Sock-Bang-Powie Saturday Afternoon Screen” by Chris Steinbrenner. You probably picked up on the fact that neither of those essays are truly about comic books. The first is about E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theater comic strip, and the second about serialized movie shorts mainly from the 1930’s and 40’s. Both have ties to comic books and fit well into the book. I finally had to buy a new copy of the book because the glue had completely dried up in my first copy and the acid yellowed pages were coming loose.

A Moveable Feast
A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1964, three years after his death. I bought my copy in the late 1970’s when I was living and working in Auburn, Indiana. The book of  consists of a series of short sketches of Hemingway’s life as a writer while living in 1920’s Paris. He was, at that time, living with his first wife and child. But they pale in comparison to the other people surrounding him. Among those people are Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I went through a phase in the late 1970’s and early 80’s when I read eight or nine of Hemingway’s books. His writing style is often described as lean and muscular. To me it seems as if he tries to describe the complexities of life and people in simple, declarative sentences. But I’m wordy and not a literary critic.

12 - Creole Belle
Creole Belle

Choosing a book from the 2010’s was not easy. In the end I just pulled a book at random from my “to be read” bookcase. In my hand was Creole Belle by James Lee Burke. This book is one of Burke’s Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Truth be told, I read one of the novels in this series years ago and didn’t like it, so I didn’t buy any more. Then, around 2009 or 10 I saw the movie “In The Electric Mist” starring Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux and decided that I should try another of the books. I’m glad that I did. Burke’s writing reminds me of John le Carré in that I feel he writes literature disguised as popular fiction. These books are not your typical “James Patterson chapter every two pages” type of writing. With Burke you get flawed heroes, soul-searching, and state of human-kind expositions. And yet there is plenty of action. I came across a quote that I love in Creole Belle. It seems to sum up a lot of this year’s political campaign and noise. Robicheaux says this to the daughter of a man, about her father.

He’s an ignorant, stupid man, a racist, and a bully…His sin lies not in his ignorance and stupidity but in his choice to stay ignorant and stupid.”

I try to fit in a Burke novel at least every year.

Where do those ideas come from?

Wall Art #13 (I think)
Wall Art #13 (I think)

I found this when I was out looking for a picture for the most recent 3-3-1. I came across it after I had taken the picture that I used in that post. I don’t want to let this photo go to waste. I’ll have more pictures from that morning in future posts.


What do you do when you are awake at 3 a.m.? I usually try to put my mind in neutral by going over old familiar daydreams. There is something about repetitive mental thoughts that aids in my relaxation and eventual sleep. But sometimes it doesn’t work.

A few nights ago I woke up around 2:30 a.m.. 3:00 rolled around and I was still wide awake. My normal daydreams weren’t working; and don’t tell me that they are daydreams, not night dreams. I don’t want to hear your semantics…that’s my game. I don’t know why, but my mind turned to writing, and travelling, and life & death, and other things that popped in and out of my head. I should have gotten out of bed and started drafting all of these thoughts, but instead I stayed in bed with my eyes closed thinking.

Now I have to try to reconstruct those thoughts because they are very important, deep thoughts. And I need to share them with the world. Because, as I said they are very important, deep thoughts. Even the rabbit holes my mind swerved into need further excavation. OK. That excavation is for me; you might not find the rabbit holes relevant.

I used to have a friend who told me that I wrote too much; that I needed to pare it down because people don’t like to read a lot of words. She is probably correct. We do seem to live in a Twitter/Instagram world. Short phrases and cropped pictures have become very important. Just ask the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.

I haven’t mastered the art of short and pithy. Frankly, I don’t want to. When I was in college my professors and instructors told me that I needed to add verbiage to my papers. In effect, while I thought I was being succinct, they thought that I was leaving out important information. So, with effort, I started bulking up papers. That also served me well when I worked for the State. But now, it seems, I should be reversing all that work that I put into eliminating terseness. May I cry?

OK, those two preceding paragraphs are a rabbit hole. That isn’t what I started to write about, though in my defense, it does have to do with writing. It just isn’t very important and deep.

Of course, it has been a few days since my early morning musings, and I have forgotten a lot of the very important and deep thoughts that ran through my mind. Maybe I can spend some time reconstructing them from the wispy memories that I have retained. If so, I’ll try to share them here at Classical Gasbag.

Saturday movie #16

The Presidio
The Presidio

On Saturday I went back and re-watched one of my favorite mystery movies from the 1980’s, “The Presidio” starring Sean Connery, Mark Harmon, Meg Ryan and Jack Warden. The movie wasn’t universally loved, but I like it.

A murder on the U.S. Army base, The Presidio, brings together the base Provost Marshall, played by Sean Connery and a San Francisco detective played by Mark Harmon. Connery’s character had been the commanding officer of Harmon’s character, and when Harmon left the military they parted on bad terms. Meg Ryan played Connery’s daughter who became romantically involved with Harmon’s character. Jack Warden played Connery’s best friend, a retired Sgt. Major.

Sean Connery plays…well…Sean Connery. He has an excellent fight scene, though he doesn’t quite keep his word to his opponent. He comes close. Mark Harmon is much younger, of course, than his character on the TV show NCIS. He also shows a lot more emotion. I think that this was the first movie in which I saw Meg Ryan. That’s because I have never watched the movie “Top Gun.” I know that is hard to believe, but so far I have been able to insulate myself from that particular Tom Cruise movie. Of course, Jack Warden puts in his normal yeoman-like performance.

It occurs to me that the only negative comment I have received directly from a reader was in response to a comment I made about Meg Ryan a few years ago. I have learned my lesson to never say anything that might upset one of her fans. If it helps, I am one of her fans. So please take the next paragraph as pure befuddlement on my part.

I don’t know if it was the editing, but I felt like I was missing scenes in the movie. I may need to buy a copy of the movie to see if I’m truly missing something. Also, it seemed like Meg Ryan’s character was all over the lot emotionally. I didn’t understand what her motivation was for some of her actions. But I still enjoy the movie, so if you get a chance, watch it. Oh! And they solve the murder.

3 – 3- 1, A Time And Space Experiment

Just a note to welcome The Girl Next Door to this 3-3-1, which she hosted. Remember, if you want to join the fun, leave a Comment and we will contact you with the necessary details.

The Girl Next Door

I will start out by explaining what 3 – 3 – 1 is. ‘3 – 3 – 1’ stands for ‘Three people, three places, one time’. It is a time and space experiment of sorts. It goes like this – three people living in three different places click a picture at the same time of the day, agreed upon beforehand. These pictures (along with a short introduction to them) would show just how different the lives of people can be, in spite of existing in the same world at the same time.

The idea of this experiment was born some time ago, when two bloggers known to me were discussing about a picture one of them posted. The two bloggers got fascinated by the idea that two people can be leading such completely different lives, at exactly the same time. Out of their discussion was born the idea of doing…

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Saturday movie #15

Ocean's Eleven
Ocean’s Eleven

I wanted to watch the original “Ocean’s Eleven” that starred Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack. Though it was titled “Ocean’s 11,” using the digits rather than the word. I wasn’t able to see it because I don’t own it and our library doesn’t have a copy. I hadn’t seen that version in years, and I guess I won’t be watching it any time soon. More’s the pity.

Still, I have to admit a fondness for the updated Ocean’s movie. The fact that I am a  fan of George Clooney, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle has very little to do with it, except that they drew me in to see the film in the first place. It has a well written script, a fine director, and the ensemble cast works well together.

And it is a caper film! Or is it a con film? Or is it a heist film? Is there a difference? Those are good questions, and I don’t know the answers. I just know that I love caper/con/heist movies. Any time there are unforseen twists in the plot, I like it. If humor is involved, I like it even more. And happy endings are always good. “Ocean’s Eleven” has all of those elements.

Now I just have to find time to watch “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

Another waiting room experience

From the third floor window
From the third floor window

Yesterday I spent part of the day with a friend of Cindy’s who was going to a clinic for a cancer treatment. Cindy and/or her friend’s husband usually go with her, but they were not available for the beginning of her visit. So I volunteered, which isn’t like me, but it seemed like the right thing to do. She is undergoing immunotherapy for lung cancer, and lately she has been having trouble breathing, so she wanted someone with her to make sure her questions were answered. The truth is that Cindy wanted someone there to make sure all of her questions were asked. So there was I, tagging along with the questions in my mind.

When we got to the clinic, the first thing that had to be done was to have some blood taken…her blood, not mine. As we sat there, waiting for the phlebotomist to take our friend back to the drawing room, I was looking at the artwork  the walls. On one wall, though, there was a photographic portrait of a man. I assumed that it was the picture of someone who had made a large donation to the clinic, and perhaps had passed away. I was about to walk over to the picture in order to read the small brass plaque attached to the frame. That is when our friend, who saw where I was looking, said, “That’s my doctor.” I told her that I thought that it was a picture of  dead man, but she assured me that he was alive. Well, it wasn’t quite a shrine, but I did find it a bit self-aggrandizing in that he was honoring himself.

After the blood draw, they had our friend deliver her own vials to the lab which was on another floor. While she did that, I took today’s picture from the third floor lobby. I have to say that those windows had not a speck of dirt on them.

Upon her return from the lab, we repaired to the main waiting area. At first there were only a couple of people there with us, and we spent the time chatting. But then other patients started arriving and taking seats, until almost all of them were filled. There are always observations to be made in waiting rooms, so I started observing.

The most interesting conversation that we overheard was between to gentlemen. Let me assure you that we were not eavesdropping. They were speaking quite loudly. They started by comparing treatments. They were also undergoing immunotherapy with the same drug with which our friend was being treated. A woman turned to look at them and said, “He’s getting that drug too,” and nodded her head at her husband.

“Is he having any problems with it?” asked one of the men.

I thought, “He’s sitting right there. Why don’t you ask him?”

After being told that her husband had no bad side effects, the man who asked said that he had developed a rash, but didn’t want to take any steroids to treat it. Then he went on to tell the room at large that his kidney cancer couldn’t be cured and that the doctor was just trying to keep him alive a little while longer. The second man chimed in and told us all that his lung cancer had metastasized and had traveled to his brain, and they were also just keeping him alive a bit longer.

I was inclined to say to them, “Could you speak a little louder. That woman in the corner is hard of hearing and may not have heard you raining down gloom and depression on these seriously ill people.” But I held my tongue. Who has a pissing contest over who has the worse cancer and will die first?

Shortly after that our friend and I were taken into the back to see a nurse practitioner. Her vital signs were taken, and it was noted that the oxygen level in her blood was low. A nurse brought in an oxygen tank for our friend to us while she was there. The nurse practitioner told us that the lab results were good. After hearing of our friend’s trouble breathing he felt that it was probably caused by the immunotherapy which was irritating her lungs. He canceled the treatment for that day, and instead ordered an IV steroid, a prescription for oral steroids, a lung X-ray, and oxygen for her use at home. In the course of ll that, he had answered all of the questions that I had been tasked to ask. Quite satisfactory.

From there, we went into another area where there about  dozen people attached to IV drips of various kinds. The first thing that I noticed was that none of them were reading while they sat there having drugs go into their veins. If it were me, I would have been working on my reading challenge. But thankfully, it wasn’t me. Most of the people had looks o there faces similar to what you see at the slot machines in Las Vegas.

Cindy arrived as our friend was being hooked up to her steroid drip. We answered all of Cindy’s questions to her satisfaction. I was relieved. As we sat there talking, I told Cindy sotto voce that I had been gathering tidbits for my blog. She chuckled and told our friend non sotto voce that she would let her know when I posted about the visit. That caught the attention of one of the doom sayers from the waiting room. He gave us a wall-eyed stare that went on so long that I thought he might have won the contest. But after a few minutes he finally closed his eyes. I asked Cindy if she had seen him blink while his eyes were open. Like me, she had not.

At that point our friend’s husband arrived, so Cindy and I left before anything else of interest happened.

3-3-1 – A time and space experiment

A while back Anju of This Labirynth I Roam https://cupitonians.wordpress.comand I published a 2-2-1 (two people, two pictures, one time). This time around we are joined by Sayantan of Know-All’s Box https://knowallsbox.com/. The purpose of these posts is to show the contrasts in place and view of people with a similar goal. If you would like to participate, leave a comment and one of us will contact you. Or, start your own 2-2-1 and let us know about it.

This Labyrinth I Roam

The first edition of 2-2-1 saw a collaboration between Norm from Classical Gasbag and myself. The idea was to capture the differences in culture, geography, traditions across various time zones. Luckily, the two of us weren’t the only ones who liked the idea. We’ve had a few volunteers for the project and while logistics will always be a nightmare, you will see more posts in the months to come.

Just to reiterate, the point of this collaboration is not to have a well-curated collection of flawless photos but to capture emotions, flaws and the flow of real life at a set time across borders and across the limits of time.

Say hello to Norm, the Classical Gasbag, and the creator of this series!

Indiana Lafayette USA Morning on the farm

When it is 7 p.m. in Bangkok, Thailand it is 8 a.m. in Lafayette, Indiana, USA. From where I live it is…

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Saturday movie#14

The Net
The Net

Saturday I watched “The Net” starring Sandra Bullock and Jeremy Northam. Dennis Miller also had a significant role. The movie was released in 1995. The DVD was released in 1997.

I suppose you could call this movie a cyber-thriller, though I prefer just plain  thriller. I’m funny that way. The film has been lauded as one of the first movies to point out the dangers of using the Internet for identity theft, and other things scary. It was well done. I thought that it was more realistic than “Hackers” which was also released in 1995. That movie starred Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller. Miller, of course, now stars as Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary.”

A lot of the computer graphics seem lame by today’s standards, but it was the 1990’s. Things have changed so much, so quickly,since then. For instance, it seems jarring to me to see them using dial-up modems. I don’t know if they were using 14.4 kbit/s or 28.8 kbit/s. I do remember how excited I was when I switched to the 28.8, and later to the 33.6. They are also using 3.5″ floppy discs in the movie. And yet, as out of date as the technology is in the movie, I love it. I think that I love it because it melds believable technology threats with an old-fashioned good guy/girl vs villain thriller. The fact that it gives me a nostalgic feeling also is a reason for me to love the movie.

I remember recommending this movie to a person I’ll call him Dickie because I don’t know anyone named Dickie. Dickie was about to buy his first PC. He watched the movie and dropped his plans to buy the PC for at least two years. That is the power of the media, and a well told thriller.

If, like me, you enjoy watching old movies, I highly recommend this one.