March 1, 2017

Pet Peevishness...plus the redeeming glories of the cat in the box

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Photos provided

 

By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

 

"I'd be a terrible superhero.  I'd see the signal calling in the sky from home and be like, 'I literally just sat down.' "  Credit: buzzfeed, googleimages, and darling fellow blogger Beth Kennedy!Peevishness2.jpg

 

 

People who bore us all with their pet peeves?  THOSE very dopes are MY pet peeves.  Granted that life overflows with inconveniences, annoying humans, political shenanigans, rudeness, put-downs, materialistic impulses, lame attempts at entertainment, underappreciated and abused animals, neglectful kin, self-centeredness, long lines, confusing coupons, junk mail, irritable spouses, entitled white male baby boomers, and smug newscasters and journalists and columnists whose hugest crime is redundancy.  I'll give you that.  But endurance matters...cataloguing gripes or engaging in whining never moves mountains. So, buck up...or to quote Megyn Kelly, "Suck it up, Buttercup!"  Climbing hills only to slide backward is a daily occurrence that connects us all...even with mythological concoctions named Sisyphus...who rivals any Biblical character I ever encountered in Sunday School.  Is that name Greek to you?  Sorry.  I tend to allude to literature I have been forced to read or movies I usually happily attended for over half a century now. I climb hills...I always have...I never stop...I have no time for...pet peeve listing...nor pretensions.

 

 

But peevishness is an entirely different beast...and some hot button perturbing issues encountered recently or throughout the "tempus fugit"-ing  years never go away...and they really should.  IN MY OPINION, the natural emergence of peevishness follows as the night the day:

  

 

1)  Mothers-in-law who behave cattily, meowing "Why do you love animals so inordinately much?"  The impolite yet truthful answer would go over like a lead balloon bopping a well-coiffured henna-rinsed possessive mama right on the bean.  Walt Whitman, help me here.  "I could stand and look at the animals long and long.  They are so placid and self-contained" for starters.  And did a mother cat ever once in the history of the world intrude upon her kitten's existence after she chewed the cord and "Let it (the son or daughter) go?"

   

 

2) Why does the "groom"-ster, perched atop the over-decorated and stale wedding cake, memorize and totally master all of the character descriptions in His playbook, such as gruff, insincerely charming,  condescending, controlling, evasive, arrogant, private, escape-prone, preening, non-communicative, posing, and blowing-off (beyond all sense of reason)?  And another incidental question:  why is He (with a capital "H") necessarily God (with a capital "G")...a closer reading of the Good Book allows one to reinterpret that time-honored, popular, crowd-pleasing theory into a possible SHe (capital "SH") as that particular gender deserves the following adjectives:  kind, sensitive, creative, clever, patient, long-suffering, nurturing, peace-making, and wise ( in spite of pesky and damaging stereotypical put-downs) and jolly well might have whipped up the universe Herself (in just one week!) as well as all of the galaxies and big dippers with one swoosh of a magic wand followed by a big bangWell, that's my theory anyway!

  

 

3) Charles Krauthammer I am not...I was never injured in a diving accident nor am I uncannily brilliant and eloquent.  I salute him, the only Fox pundit (and "rag" columnist) worth his salt However, Joe Scarborough must stop his chauvinistic abuse of Mika Brzezinski every morning on MSNBC--SNL should depict Morning Joe shirtless astride a white horse...Putinize him, tap the equine on the rump, and send Joe back home to Florida!  (I truly miss Don Imus these days!) Chris Matthews ought to rename his 7 o'clock hour something other than...HARDBALLRachel Maddow equals perfection itself.  The State of our Union frightens anybody with any sense whatsoever, and the Donald may be onto something by slamming the media...instead of bashing Hillary who got robbed and probably is delighted to get to stay home.  The cabinet picks are reminiscent of Col. Mustard, Miss Scarlet, and Prof. Plum...and Mrs. Peacock ... each so dimensionless but scooting around the board at dizzying, mindless speed.  Where is an FBI director exactly and precisely when we need one?  As for "intelligence" sadly lacking? Welcome Soviet planes or occasional ships either circling overhead or submarining just off the East coast.  Ah, Connecticut -- better duck!  Similarly, IF the Donald wishes to casually stroll among the frisky, feisty protestors at Trump Tower, Mar-a-lago or one of his assorted, illustrious golf courses, the Secret Service guys may need to preemptively shout, " Donald, Duck!" And a banished National Security adviser who carries shoulder bags and wears dorky brown shoes (and whose adult, though junior-high-ish time-warped, son) blog(s) misogynistic attacks?  Gone with the Wind-Bag...and "Lock Him up", Comey.  Sooner rather than later?

  

 

4) I pause here at number four to grab my digital camera in the midst of winter to shoot the umpteenth photograph of my Cary Grant-ish (straight from TO CATCH A THIEF...Hitchcock's svelte cat burglar poised upon bright orange Mediterranean roofing tiles prior to those imminent nightly jewelry heists through open windows of nouveau riche' dames) feline who may or may not be a tad autistic.  (Am I politically incorrect?  How Republican of me!)  "Cary" cuddles up wherever there might be a triangular spot for him to nestle; he seeks out such configurations and also bats at the caned seat holes on old rustic chairs.  He waits patiently for our Scottish UPS man to deliver a wondrous package that, when unwrapped, provides this cat'o mine with a four-sided box to curl his feline 20 pound body into lasting for hours upon hours.  I do not ever grouse about members of the animal kingdom.  In another life, I MUST have been a rabbit, giraffe, wolf...and got punished by the gods that be and reincarnated as a...HUMAN...dammit!  My peevishness captured in this bullet-point #4 resides in that I CANNOT ABIDE ANYBODY WHO DOES NOT REVERE SENTIENT BEINGS as much as we love ourselves.  Sexism, racism, anti -Semitism -- and the greatest of these is SPECIESISM...which is the root of all evil.  BTW, needless to say, I do NOT enjoy the Westminster activities...and now they plan to add cats!  Supervised Breeding!  Playing God whose name backward is...you guessed it! First, puppy mills and soon, cat mills...for the rich and clueless among us.

   

 

5) I really and truly resent being blown off...by docs, by snide baby boomer boys, by green-eyed, double-talking women, by relatives, by repairmen, etc.  I would be there for anybody who ever needed me to ... be thereMy mother spent her last days in a nursing home which actually shortened my life...I did not sign her up for such...nor do I ever wish to be relegated to one if at all possible.  The second day of Edna's incarceration was Christmas day, and she still possessed a phone and summoned several family members to visit her immediately, and she really let us have it!  (Not unlike Melissa McCarthy channeling Sean Spicer on SNL---  feel free, dear READERS, to google any and all references you may need in order to comprehend more fully?) Good for her!  However, she gave me a sad but true after the fact compliment, "Susie, you have never had moral support from anyone and for that I am very sorry."  In that way, I take after my dad who himself supported everybody (including me) at all times...with money, yes, and love and enthusiasm and kindnessHe should have received some of that attention himself.  Often, I know how he must have felt.  For two weeks I have been medicating a beautiful Rottweiler/ Black Lab Mix dog we adopted.  We provided this shelter dog with her heartworm treatment and all of her shots and now she is settling in just fine but lately needed a total of six Benadryl tablets per day at eight hour intervals and four antibiotic capsules every twelve hours which, needless to say, involved this 70 year old dispensing pills a staggeringly five times per day with an accompanying meal each dosage.  Quite an assignment!  I bought an alarm clock, and I still have peanut butter under my fingernails from fooling her with a dollop of yumminess concealing the drugs. Not as tricky as giving shots to a diabetic Husky a few years past, but grueling.  I am exhausted.  And I was asked once by a church lady if my pets or the homeless animals I have saved from death ever "thanked" me?  And wouldn't I rather travel and not be inconvenienced by pets dependent upon my everlasting presence?  I stifled my response...Jesus generally, when not otherwise occupied with something more pressing, positions one arm around my shoulder and usually places His other hand over my mouth, so I am a slow retorter.  Thank You, Jesus!  Really, when I stop to think about it, I do not need an acknowledgment of kindness...but I certainly wouldn't mind a gracious lick on the hand and a genuine empathetic response now and then.  Thank YOU, Duchess...the look in her sweet eyes as she patiently and trustingly consumed all of those meds was enough for me, church lady.  So there.  Perhaps, you might unpack your bags and adopt a homeless pet, may I suggest?

 

  

6)  My final complaint...for the moment? This hypochondriacal, quick-fix, instant gratification, pharmaceutical-popping, vainglorious, idolatrous American culture of which I assume I am a part?  I wish to implore that such nonsensical self-serving behavior cease...I yearn to stare not one second longer into blank, clueless, egomaniacal faces...even across the kitchen table.  Heated arguments concerning whether a humorous yet skinny valentine's day gift plaque should get shipped in a precariously cardboardish tube with a teensy label rather than placed lovingly inside an oversized bubble-wrap envelope addressed calligraphy-style with a water-proof laundry marker and the mister has his way as usual and the package bounces all over the greater Detroit area for days?  Well, such relentless contentiousness is ludicrous.  (And I was correct in the first place.)  I detest someone barking "Gimme that remote control" without a please or my name perhaps, followed by a comma...bellowed by the "great profile" who also claims to be able to unscrew any lid...and then cannot...after blustering out, " Gimme that jar or bottle or whatever"...again without mention of my Hebrew name "Susan" which means "lily" BTW, once again followed by ...a comma and the word please?  I do not care that Chauvinism is alive and well...I do miss politeness, though.  In the midst of a hectic spate of days, I mentioned to my kid Roy, my only confidant and a great one, that my older sister Sarah had said that she was glad I was pregnant (some 44 years ago), and that the couple of which I was half would maybe care about somebody besides ourselves and spend less time being competitive with each otherRoy's reply which left me humbled and also chuckling. "Well, we can see plainly that never quite worked out!"

 

  

I do love the words "the awful grace of God" which Bobby Kennedy quoted from a Greek philosopher-playwright-poet whom Jackie Kennedy had always admired. She gifted a book, in which that phrase appears, to her brother-in-law who was more than a little bit in love with the former first lady who had become, against his wishes, Mrs. Onassis. Sometimes being alive can hurt so much and so deeply that we can become peevish if we are not careful. We review and lament the scars and remember the slights...and the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".   We lose sight of the immediacy of a previously unwanted dog named Duchess who needs her 5:30 A.M. meds...we get out of bed or rise arthritically from a kitchen chair and we unscrew the lid and we bury the pills in the peanut butter, evolve, and we become what being human requires of us...in as many ways as we can and as often as we can while we live...the only heaven we can ever know is at hand...it can and really must be here and it must be now.

 

  

"And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."~ Aeschylus (And may my own words as a world-weary mortal not merely become falling raindrops which evaporate upon contact -- might these thoughts instead penetrate consciousness and soak into an occasional psyche here and there once in a while.)

  

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Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.comJoi n a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

January 19, 2017

Hidden Figures: A Review

"What's there tells a story, if you read between the lines." Hidden Figures review

By Roy Sexton

The human mind. Regardless the gender, race, age, creed, ethnicity of the physical form carrying that brain around, intellect can be the great unifier, driving humanity's greatest contributions to this planet. Sadly and too often, our simplistic yet unrelenting cultural need to categorize and compartmentalize makes us lock away - belittling, ignoring, neglecting - the contents of brilliant minds in a vault of misogyny, prejudice, fear, and hate.

Hidden Figures is more than a film about how endemic institutional sexism and racism nearly derailed the American space program - a program so often held, perhaps erroneously, as the beaming example of progress and inclusion, inspiring multicultural fables from Star Trek to EPCOT Center.

Hidden Figures, based on the nonfiction bestseller by Margot Lee Shetterly, is a heartbreaking yet inspiring, trenchant yet forgiving, tear-jerking yet intellectual, timebound yet timeless allegory/cautionary tale for the mistakes we Americans are doomed to repeat when we let our baser, viler instincts cloud our appreciation for how diversity - the essential fabric of the much-vaunted U.S. of A. experience - enriches/enhances/enables our collective ability to problem-solve, defy the odds, and dream huge.

This movie got to me. Bigly.

The film's marketing campaign - effective as it has been (giving Rogue One a run for its money at this weekend's box office) - gives the impression of yet another in a too-long line of Lifetime-telefilm-meets-Oscar-bait-lets-wrap-American-racism-in-the-golden-hued-bubble-wrap-of-safe-historical-distance flicks. And, yes, the selfsame gorgeous cinematography, the jewel-toned zing of too-crisp-1960s fashion and decor and cars, the winking let-us-take-a-breather comic relief, the anachronistic pop music score (Pharrell Williams doing double duty as the film's producer and composer) are all there.

Don't be fooled. There is a stronger, more cutting message at play here than, say, in DreamWorks' similarly positioned, cozy race fairy tale The Help. Whether Hollywood realizes it or not, too often big budget films dealing with race and gender bias unintentionally perpetuate the very bias they are attempting to decry. The persecuted class is too often "rescued" by someone (usually a pleasant, conflicted, well-heeled white person, male or female) who steps outside the cultural norms of the persecutors to pave the way for social justice. You know what? That's an annoying trope that needs to retired. Doesn't mean it's untrue, but we've seen it. A lot. And whether we accept it or not, said trope seems engineered to let everyone off the hook, selling tickets because we all leave the theatre feeling good with our heads still buried in the sand.

Hidden Figures is slyer work, and I, for one, am grateful for that fact. You do leave the theatre "feeling good," but for a different reason - one you may not see for days or even weeks. Crackerjack Taraji P. Henson (Emmy-nominee and Golden Globe-winner for Empire, Oscar-nominee for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ) portrays one of NASA's resident human "computers" Katherine Johnson. She states, while faced with a particularly vexing mathematical problem, "What's there tells a story if you read between the lines." Amen. The protagonists of Hidden Figures - African-American women thinking and feeling in an era, not unlike the present one, where their thoughts and emotions are not only unappreciated but vigorously unwanted - do not need a rescuer or a hero. They save themselves - not to mention the space program and American pride - with their wits and their will and their very American drive to realize their own ambitions.

The film in its entirety is perfection, but Henson is the rocket fuel that keeps the enterprise propelled. She is a star, eminently watchable, with a character actor's gift for definition, nuance, and differentiation. She inhabits and frames every scene with such spark and such drive, with such believable caution and frustration, with such compassion and inquisitiveness that you never want her to leave the screen. Henson rarely overplays any moment - there are very few over-the-top snippets where you say, "Oh, that's the clip they will play at the Oscars." The few outsized aspects to the performance are so righteously earned that they land like the perfect punctuational flourishes in a fine symphony. I wonder if I would have enjoyed this film nearly as much with anyone else in the role.

Nonetheless, Henson is aided and abetted by strong turns from Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) as data expert Dorothy Vaughan in another derivation of Spencer's trademark world-weary "take no mess" tenacity and Grammy-nominated R&B wunderkind Janelle Monae (Moonlight) as engineering savant Mary Jackson whose peppery perspective gleefully, warily challenges the status quo at every fork in the road ("Civil rights ain't always civil").

Oscar-winner Kevin Costner was born to play 1960s sad-sack, pocket-protected, horn-rimmed, progressive misanthropes slogging through government jobs, searching for one bright spot in a sea of bureaucrats (see JFK and about half of his filmography). As space program director Al Harrison, Costner's scenes with Henson crackle at the heart of the film: two human beings, neither of whom could really give two damns about race or gender, in love with the idea of solving big problems but burdened by a corporate culture (and society writ large), cutting off its collective nose to spite its collective face so threatened by authentic wit and wisdom, consumed by petty jealousy, and immobilized by resentment. Costner ruefully intones at one point, "We can't justify a space program that doesn't put anything into space."

Golden Globe-winner Kirsten Dunst (Fargo) is also great as a mid-level NASA manager who inadvertently blocks progress at every turn, dutifully following a governmental system rigged against forward-thinking yet somehow intended to land a man on the moon. Dunst is so underrated; I wasn't even sure it was her until I looked up the cast list on my phone halfway through the film (with apologies to my movie-seat neighbors). Dunst rejects the indulgence of playing juicy, stereotypical "racist villain" notes in the film, presenting instead a believably bedraggled functionary who knows her paycheck is contingent upon her being a rule-following twit.

Less successful in that regard, Jim Parsons (Emmy-winner for The Big Bang Theory) is underwhelming in his role as Henson's rival and nemesis Paul Stafford. Without Sheldon Cooper's OCD-nerd-centric tics, Parsons just comes off as a dull, hateful milquetoast. That may have been by design on the part of director Theodore Melfi but could have been accomplished more effectively and interestingly with a lesser-known actor. On the other end of the spectrum, Glen Powell is a bit too twinkle-eyed in his "Prince Charming buying the world a Coke" portrayal of astronaut John Glenn. To his credit (and the film's detriment), Powell leaps off the screen every time he appears - like Ed Norton's prettier, caramel-dipped brother - but he is just "too-too" for me, disrupting the workaday credibility of the film's depiction of NASA.

However, these are minor quibbles, made more obvious when the film surrounding them is so good. Film's about the space program (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, Gravity) always use America's race to the stars as a metaphor for human progress but frequently get side-tracked by the technical mumbo jumbo and with countless shots of retro Americans slack-jawed and gawking at the sky. Hidden Figures isn't that movie, with the exception of a few corny shots of retro Americans slack jawed and gawking at the sky as Glenn makes his nail-biting return to earth in the film's final moments. Hidden Figures is a movie about brilliant minds, unfairly marginalized by American superficiality, for whom mathematics is a language unto itself (the film runs rings around A Brilliant Mind in that regard). That language presents a path whereby three transcendent voices cut through the crap and the clutter of America's sad "traditions" of sexism and racism. Hidden Figures is the movie America needs right now.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton's Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

December 10, 2016

Old Type Writer: Christmas Gift! Christmas Gift!

 (*title borrowed from a chapter of a "Miss Minerva & William Green Hill" a dear old Southland book my mother once read aloud to me--seems like only yesterday...)

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By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

Sat straight up in bed...me, the eternal free-lancing archivist...and woke up my slumbering cat friends...hobbled downstairs garbed neither in kerchief nor stocking cap but definitely clad in my flannel nightshirt...because there arose such a clatter in my cluttered mind that I rushed to the computer to see what was the matter...and I actually witnessed a right jolly old elf...my dad the late Roy Duncan, Blue Bell plant manager for nearly half a century!  Where was he hiding?  Within my filing cabinets BlueBellLofts2b.jpgand an old oak trunk, not to mention alllll over this house (now my responsibility!) which he bought in 1944.  He is everywhere at all times, not a ghost but an absolute presence.  I just wish he could improve with guiding me in locating all of my resource materials which our family has garnered from our Blue Bell Wrangler involvement since the early 1900s...I have yet to rediscover my vintage photograph of my mother's "daddy" visiting the "sewing room" at Blue Bell's national headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, where Grandpa was a head designer for the company which later became billed as "the world's largest producer of work and play clothes"!  The original Southern textile factory located above a fire station, or so the legend goes, became the genesis for the eventual "BLUE BELL" designation -- wafting denim dust particles coated the huge brass bell on ground level. Tracking all of the long-lived massive industry's series of name-merg(er)ed changes alone merits a huge paycheck, but as the oldest-Living-NOT-Confederate- Widow-but-instead-denim- saturated-human-being-alive it seems at this point, I have become the go-to spinner of tales regarding the advent of blue jeans, dungarees and bib overalls?  And all for free...my entire life.  Momentum going strong...Mojo working...no staff...doorbell rings...dryer buzzes...dogs gotta tinkle...lunchtime...amass photos...research articles...type...assemble...re- assemble...interview folks...proof-read...prepare for non-acknowledgement...and do it all over again...occasionally a reward here or there.  And I have been quizzed frequently as to WHATever do I do all day?????

 

 

If you've followed my writings since 1986, you know that I have been a very good little girl and have chronicled to the best of my capability all the facts, figures, statistics, human beings, chairmen of the boards, seamstresses, locations, product mentions, tie-ins to Hollywood and governmental entities and even the "wild West", and "people, places, and events" that I could personally recall or somehow document through photographs and articles and anecdotes.  Two years ago, just like Mitt Romney famously speaking of his "binders full of women", I shared my cornucopia of reminiscences with Terry Tatum (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) to aid in obtaining a grant for a miraculous concept which has now transitioned within record time into the repurposing of the intriguing 1930s Art Deco style brick factory building into the Blue Bell Lofts Apartments.  Observing that impressive restoration feat from afar thrills my very soul.  I look forward to grabbing a hard hat and touring the completed facility sooner rather than later.  I have driven by the Whitley Street location multiple times.  The lump in my throat and the beating of my heart transform into a beaming smile on my old wrinkled, liver-spotted face.  Blue Bell, Incorporated has been my life since birth!  Happy to have been a part of this metamorphosis!

 

 

Jennifer Romano of TALK OF THE TOWN suggested that I write nostalgia pieces (since 2009), and I happily accepted that challenge.  (I would have preferred political punditry, but in a conservative community, liberal progressives are not in great demand, so her wisdom prevailed.)  Accounts of Blue Bell and its employees have dominated my reveries, and my little home where my parents brought me a few days after my birth is bursting at the seams with my constant ongoing run-about quest to re-quilt remnants of the past into stories that resonate in the present. Been there. Done that. I am in fact so hunched over from searching for memorabilia and then hovering over my computer that my once adequate posture can only be recaptured in Kodak photos from many years ago.  If I smoked cigars and lived in a tree with my typewriter poised precariously on a leafless limb, nobody could distinguish me from SHOE of comic strip fame. (Photographs provided!)  But, the journey has all been worth it...and I can hardly wait to climb those front stair steps immediately outside what used to be my dad's office containing its army green metal two door cabinet full of royal blue bound STITCH 'N TIMES volumes and his oversized pearlized sinfully comfortable grey leather chair and that inimitable photographic gallery of Blue Bell top executives surrounding a commissioned blown-up technicolor portrait of his first grandson wearing bib overalls and a white straw cowboy hat while leaning on a fence (another photograph provided!) to see the results of innovative creativity by those wonderful folks who so capably preserve the past with an eye toward the future.  Thanks for contacting me, Terry Tatum!  Wonder what I'll look like in a hard hat rather than a Carl Sandburg visor?  Take the tour on your monitor with me now, readers...and YOU can wear your pajamas this go 'round.  Two assignments for readers follow!  Enjoy the cheerful, collected, affirmative quotations from folks you may well know.  And, just click onto the links...and, as Jackie Gleason often exclaimed,  "Away--eeee we go!

 

 

 

"I remember Blue Bell and Roy Duncan and the pride he took in the plant and people when I came here in 1966.  He was a great guy who did much for the community.  We should have more people like him today, and the country would be a greater place to live." ~Ralph Bailey

 

 

"Oh, the memories of Blue Bell when I worked there so many years ago.  Thank you for reminding us of years gone past.  Life was so very different back then. We not only showed up in those days, but also on time by the time clock we punched in each and every day...and we did not miss a stitch.  If only we could go back when day to day living seemed simpler." ~Laurie LaRue Bills with her mother Betty

 

 

"I wish I had seen Blue Bell back in its day when it was a working factory.  I do remember Mom working there and picking her up after work with Dad...Most of all, I remember Mr. and Mrs. Duncan always willing to spend some time with my brothers and me." ~Jerrie Hammond-Begue

 

 

"My grandmother worked there, too!  She used to tell us that she sewed with her machine which whirred to beat the band...buildings like this, so rich in the fabric of our histories are all over this country." ~Julie Shawver Sisco

 

 

"I remember so well going to the Blue Bell plant when we came to Columbia City visiting from South Carolina when I was just a child.  Your dad took us on a tour of the plant and gave us ice cream. I think that I recall that his grave site is almost in the shadow of the plant where he spent so many years.  The people who worked for him were fortunate, and I suspect they realized it." ~Carole Duncan Craft 

 

 

"My grandma worked there...Flossie Lee Heupel.  I remember her telling me stories of sewing on pockets!" ~ Niki Buse  AND "My grandmother worked there during W.W. II." ~Chad Langohr

 

 

"Mr. Duncan had no way of knowing this, but I created some of the best Quality and most efficient plants in Blue Bell when I was in charge of Wrangler Kids' Manufacturing.  I was reflecting on this and came to the conclusion that much of the reason for that success was because I applied many of the principles that I observed Roy using when I worked in the Columbia City plant.  (I worked in several divisions before obtaining responsibility for my own operations, but my foremost examples came from Columbia City.)  Mr. Duncan worked hard and played hard, enjoying every part of his life, including his family...I don't think Roy got full credit in his community or at Blue Bell for his real value to either." ~Bob Kellogg

 

 

"I remember Grandpa Roy at the Standard station in Columbia City when he saw that I was wearing Wrangler Jeans. He said jokingly that he might have run me over if I was wearing another brand. He was so community minded." -Bill Wilder (NOTE: My dad certainly had fun....and he would have never run over Mr. Wilder because they were great friends...plus Bill wore Wranglers always - I am sure! Just to be safe?)

 

 

Fortuitously, I recently retraced the life-affirming, sensible, re-assuring, hand-written message of my brilliant paternal grandmother's "once-upon-a-time" Sunday School lesson, entitled "The First Christmas Gifts".  She filled her 1942 narrative with accessible facts of history, geography, science, Mid-Eastern culture, archaeology and astronomy.  I share this for the second time with my readers!

 

 

"We are accustomed at Christmastime to talk about the season from the divine side. Let us investigate the other side. It is a sublime picture. Wise scholars of the East following the skies' signals, then bowing down at the feet of a little child, so poor that its cradle was a manger, while offering the wealth of the world in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is not what we Get in this world, but what we GIVE which measures and develops character and marks the grade of humanity to which we belong." Upon explanation of the actually "practical" significance of each of those material gifts, Grandmother wrote that she believed that "Greatness in character is graded by gifts of service. How many people can I nurture, burdens can I carry, opportunities can I extend, hearts can I cheer, tears can I banish?  How much joy can I bring to the world? "  Gifts proffered by the Magi, to honor a new life, began a tradition -- gifts from the rich to the poor, the haves to the have-nots, sharing wealth so that others might thrive, flourish and contribute their talents to a harmonious and an inclusive society.

 

 

So, when I happily observe this Blue Bell building's restructuring process, I focus upon its revival and renewed value to our town and to our community. I no longer view the factory as simply an artifact of a more prosperous time when local industries once kept our nation humming, providing fruitful lives for countless generations of families.  Cheers to those who once populated this Blue Bell story, a history which so many of us still treasure -- to the employees, their children and their children's children, and to all those customers who have enjoyed their durable Wrangler jeans and still do. The saga continues thanks to the talents and industriousness and intuitive creativity of a new generation to whom we owe a multitude of thank yous for recognizing the import of a historic, sentimental landmark and for infusing the Blue Bell factory with new life, a second life sheltering its future special new group of residents within a comfortable, updated, cozy environment.  Another Blue Bell LOFTS family soon moves to the 307 South Whitley address in Columbia City, Indiana.  Blue Bell -- gifted to our residents twice....once in January of 1932...and again during this oncoming winter of 2017...  "Christmas Gift! Christmas Gift!"  Thing One and Thing Two! A familiar slogan known among the tight-knit Blue Bell personnel "The Big Company that pays attention to little things" might now be transposed to "Somebody up there likes us!"  Let the celebration begin with words submitted by employee Myrtle Wooten in a 1950s Stitch 'N Times--the official and popular newsletter of our noteworthy Blue Bell Factory.

 

 

"Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, employees and families...We have reached the happy season...When we let our worries drop...When we cease to think of orders...And refrain from 'talking shop'... But excuse us for a moment...While we write a line or two...For we still must speak of friendship....And that means to talk to you...You have helped to keep wheels turning...As they have day by day...And this message is to thank you...Very much in every way..."

 

POSTSCRIPT:  (And thanks to my own Maxwell Perkins aka Roy Sexton, whose assistance is always mighty fine and who proved that one can "go home again!"  Also, much appreciation to the late Louise Easterday for her welcome cheerleading throughout my days of attempting to recapture local history...her phone calls provided the tonic needed to explore as well as to weave together our collective local past, present and future.  I miss her so! (And I revisit her messages still on my answering service -- her final encouraging words also wishing me "Merry Christmas 2013"!)  By now, I could have written a book about Blue Bell Incorporated...Well, Actually a couple!  And I haveA regular localized Leo Tolstoy who has been through the "wars" and is currently seeking a little "peace"!  Now after gathering all of these materials and writing all of this stuff, I just wish for one more thing?  Please, somebody help me find my damned glasses...they have simply got to be somewhere in this upside down house....oh, one more link...Burgess Meredith in my favorite episode of "Twilight Zone"... that IS me!  (In all my faded glory...)

 

___________________

 

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.comJoi n a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

November 9, 2016

Disillusionment -- Pipe Dreams, Puppet Masters & Poppycock

Disillusionment1.jpg

 By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

"While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die: whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness." ~ Gilda Radner

 

 

"If a man does not keep pace with his own companions, perhaps he hears a different drummerLet him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

 

I now comprehend why the art of politics has taken a nosedive in my hierarchy of fascinations...those seeking office only care about themselves and their own Disillusionment2.jpgadvancement.  The challenge presented to the informed voter consists of ignoring what is worst about candidates while also searching feverishly for their best qualities, hopefully discovering their possible, though not probable, concern for others outside themselves.  Perhaps such humans may exist.  Or did they ever?

 

However, I am totally stunned to conclude that the great American musical comedy disenchants me these days...the much touted and overly praised "HAMILTON!" pushed me over the edge as I viewed a PBS documentary focusing on the "making of...", and should I even ever win free tickets to attend this congregation/ aggregation (every lyric monotonously rhymes in this thing!) of rap-fest(er)ing, illogically mythologized, trendy, founding fathers, I shall decline because I would much rather spend time with my dogs instead.  My mutts scoot and skid less around the house than those needy, over-eager actors did and furthermore do not vie so sappily for my attention as to who or which might be the most frenetic and precious and essential to my life.  I could barely sit still through the entire 90 minutes' worth of giddy attempts to resurrect the incredibly flawed secretary Hamilton.  I would rather stare at his visage etched upon a ten dollar bill for a decidedly more pleasant hour and a half!  So there, "Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton"--this song is redundant!  The frenzied crescendoing momentum pointing toward the inevitable duel as well as the blessed finale could not arrive soon enough...no more rhymes from long-ago times.  Nipsey Russell I once loved...several hours of revolutionary rap?  Not so much!

 

 

Perhaps, my advanced age factors in, but humans involved in outdoing each other and stumbling over one another for recognition within any arena whatsoever turns me into a sullen, doubting Thomas not unlike Simon whatshisname on one of those insipid reality "Who is the best dancer or singer or whatever" manic telecast contests which I wisely never watched more than once.  Spectator sports are not my style -- Too reminiscent of either unfortunate cattle herds being loaded up for slaughter or flushed out, hunted, haunted deer caught in the headlights--painful to watch, and anything BUT entertaining!

 

 

I have appeared in several musicals, and for scores of years I have collected original cast albums and sheet music...I am an overflowing vessel of memorized show tune lyricsLately, I cannot abide the entire body of great American songbooks-ish endeavors.  I liken my new-found disappointment to my dad lamenting once about an ungrateful, petulant child, "I'll continue giving that kid a quarter now and then (or was it a pack of gum?  I forget.), but I won't enjoy it as much." I recall that I once delighted in playing the lead in two of my most favorite shows of all time even though occasionally envious girls in the chorus line glared holes through my body because they wished themselves to be singing the songs that I had the arguably good fortune to deliver to mostly approving audiences.  I figured, "Ah, well, the show must go on" and savored every moment flouncing around the "boards" from upstage to downstage and toward stage right and stage left.

 

 

My enthusiasm became dampened eventually by the cliquishness of that absolutely concocted charade branded community theater.  Infighting, jealousies, competitiveness, the buddy system, and struggles over "who's in charge here?"  began to rain on the parade.  Still, I never dreamed that I would tire of the general, all-around perkiness of instructive lyrics composed not only for record ticket sales but also coincidentally for posterity...re: humming and whistling happily inspiring tunes for years on end.  Of course any starry-eyed stage-struck kid obligingly constructs scenery, hammers nails, paints backdrops, flatters directors to accumulate merit points leading toward more consequential roles, and that grandiose scheme momentarily seems like good clean fun.  THEN, one fine day we wake up.  Eyes wide open!  Leading the life of a marionette becomes a distant memory...

 

 

Soldiers fight in suspect wars; costumed athletes scamper after bouncing, hurtling, pitched dreams; office-seekers post signs and shake hands and kiss babies and proclaim all manner of insincerities; and composers create melodies by stringing together a scale's worth of harmonious notes. Lately, everybody authors whether Facebook posts, blogs, or self-published, vanity press books...and do we, any of us, realize that we are lining somebody else's pockets and that we are victims?  We mistakenly think that we engage in entertaining or productive pastimes, but wily, manipulative, exploitative hucksters take advantage of and capitalize upon our aspirations, our thoughts, our creativity, our blind fidelity, and finally the fun and the meaningfulness and our individuality become lost in an opportunistic jumbled muddle.   We participate earnestly and naively but wear our demented, pliable, malleable selves out as we are chastised into becoming team members subscribing to a master plan, and we neglect to analyze those who craftily might be using us for their own gains until the game is over and every song's devoid of its inherent wisdom and beauty.  Sad but true. Tempus fugit! Way past time to snip those strings and wave good-bye!  And begin to dance to the beat of one's very own drum at long last!

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"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." ~ Groucho Marx

 

___________________

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.comJoi n a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

October 5, 2016

Escalators, agitators, various heels, villainous reels, ceilings of glass and plenty of sass!

(Graphic provided)

By Susie Duncan Sexton

  

 Urban Dictionary: nelipot

"Top Definition. nelipot. One who walks without shoes; one who goes barefoot. The nelipot walked slowly, letting the mud squeeze up between his toes."HeelsCollage1016.jpg

SURE, SURE, I drove over to Ft. Wayne, Indiana for Tarantino's HATEFUL EIGHT--in the dead of winter!  I became submerged...immersed beyond redemption...inside realistic, gritty, merciless cowboy land and shall never exit -- at least,from his version.  Thus, when my cable TV's evangelical channel, carrying westerns all day long and saving souls late into the evening, fills my screen with the Technicolor azure buckaroo skies of New Mexico (the only exotic land to which I evertravelled), I try to contemplate and in so doing comprehend the sheer villainy of Bruce Dern or Lee Marvin or Gene Hackmanor Lee Van Cleef or Jack Palance of SHANE or Forrest Tucker (of all people? Forrest Tucker, who starred as THE MUSIC MAN which I once saw at the Shubert in the Windy City and who was the beau of AUNTIE MAME. Oh, and he is a HOOSIER BTW?). In fact, these days, I earnestly emulate their Bad Bart rotten attitudes whenever my own Dagwood (Don, to you readers out there) challenges my authority: "I got something you want, right?  Well, I got a list of chores for ya first!  And just tinkering ain't good enough!"  Following my pointedly sober and stern and gruff directive, I slide a cold beer across the length of the kitchen table in his direction--if back talk ensues as it often does, I reply, "Smile when ya say that, pardner!"

Now, this unsolicited church channel with its gun-slinging right and left is case in point that Prez Obama was onto something at that country club in San Francisco a few years back when he very nearly shot himself in the foot.  I shall not revisit what I felt to be his strongest declaration ever and one which I heartily approved,  because  I've no choice but to live out the rest of my days in a Midwestern, very RED, rustbelt state. (That said, his comments might have had something to do with "guns and Bibles" ... but you didn't hear that from me!)  Yet, our "pious" Governor Mike Pence himself has flown the coop to cuddle with THE DONALD J. Trump, who, the guv'nor's protestatio ns to the contrary, is about as pious as a turnip!  One of life's little ironies!

Let us address HEELS...no, not that kind (mentioned above)!  Consider little pedestrian old houswifey me. NEVER with false eyelashes, like all the too, too glamorous one-room schoolhouse marms or Audrey Hepburn fashion plate types who evidently populated the old wild west once upon a time...a hint of cleavage via bodice-busting gingham dresses, long peroxided or inky dyed hair swirled into incredibly lacquered beehives, and always those sensual mouths coated with iridescent hot pink lipstick shimmering and glistening for the cameras. "Oh my! Those naughty marauding Indians (from central casting) are galloping over yonder hill and headed our way...I shall stop crimping pie crusts and grab my rifle."  I, though leading a traditionally dull life, have shared those unconvincing Mesdames' familiarity with tons of...HEELS!

Yes, I recently tackled autumnal closet clutter: an accumulation of pretty, pretty ingénue girl crap and tons of stiletto heels; Mary Janes; wedges; gladiator sandals; platform atrocities; clogs; and street- walking footgear - the kind my parents would have spanked me forever for purchasing. I bagged up all this unsuitable, impractical, and often unworn footwear for theWhitley County Humane Society's latest fund-raising effort, shoes shipped to barefooted denizens of Third-World countries.  This was one of the happiest moments of my entire life, where two of my passions (slipper collecting and animal advocacy) at long last complemented one another instead of colliding.   I presently prefer animals to shoes becaus e...I AM AN ADULT!  Money for shelter pets, clothes for the poverty-stricken, and least importantly - though still crucial to my well-being - I acquired much needed SPACE!  I found my heart -- buried deep inside where it did not show.

POSTSCRIPT:  Hillary and I are virtually the same age, and I recently noticed that she herself no longer even sports those sensible kitten-heeled dress shoes, consistently coordinated with her inspired AND inspirational pantsuits (of which I totally approve). Rather, one lately can see that the flattest flats (the French refer to such as trotteurs!) available on this or any other planet allow her to scoot about at rallies and debates and Wall Street lectures with aplomb.  No more fainting spells nor rubbery legs.  This is another of myriad reasons that she deserves our votes.  I can hardly wait to view her attire at the inaugural balls. I have only one request: that President (Hillary Rodham) Clinton looks not only comfortable in her own skin  but also in a sequined jacket and flowing trousers. Furthermore, if she cannot go barefoot ("nelipot!"), she should permanently toss all HEELS aside and be allowed to HEAL this nation on DAY ONE (as they all say ... AD INFINITUM)!  And may her ascendant escalator ride glide all the way through that metaphorical glass ceiling.  God Bless Hillary, and God Bless America!  I am Susie, and I approve this message!

___________________

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website atwww.susieduncansexton.comJ oin a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

August 15, 2016

Goodbye, goodbye, Mister Massey

Massey816a.jpg

(Talk of the Town photos provided)

By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." ~ Abraham Lincoln

 

"Whoopsy daisy!"  ~ Bill the Butcher

 

"Strange things are happening!" ~ Red Buttons Massey816b.jpg

My attempt to pound out yet another nostalgia column -- even when the future glowers ironically quixotic just beyond the horizon and beckons with an urgency, an eagerness to either rain or shine upon all of us -- challenges me as a supremely tricky proposition!  Especially vexing would be the daily FACT that due to the age of my Dell computer, saddled with Windows 10 plus those undependable cyber airWAVES emanating and mood-swinging from one nearby teensy Hoosier resort town headquartering my server in a spot called North Webster plus an omnipresent red-light-blinking in overdrive on my latest modem, I am forced to pontificate--between the acidic raindrops of erratic fate.  My emails, my blogs, my Facebook friends, my googling?  Here today!  Gone tomorrow!

 

 

I had planned to wax nostalgic regarding Crooked Lake Golf Course, founded I presume in 1927 by maybe Laurel and Gertie Weeks (close enough), the club pro and his gardening wife so very proud of her glorious bean field.  Holes-in ones, whiffs, divots, eagles, bogeys, shouts of FORE, hills, valleys, sand traps, handicaps, dog-legs, water hazards on a par with oversized puddles...and me being allergic to the local locale because I always got disciplined (almost unreasonably for example yielding to barked instructions dictating how to drive not just a ping-pongish ball but also the precious family automobile) to keep my head down and my left arm straight (while dragging the club backward through the parched grass) by my seasoned golfist dad OR by my rather un-golfish left-handed southpaw hubby-dubby, "Do you think you own the course?  And hot pants are not appropriate sports gear!"  (I loved traversing the fairways any which way I wished...EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE...and going barefoot and wearing as little as possible because I sweat profusely!  I compare myself...not whining OR boasting here...to Lee Trevino as in my Pepsi bottle is half full!  Golf aficionados will understand that reference...the rest of my readers...all half dozen or so of them... must google!)  Mark Twain and I concur that "Golf is a good walk spoiled..."

 

However, from my favorite sportsy status imaginable, being that of couch potato, I just this moment guffawed at sparkling comedian Red Buttons (who, go figure,  MUST be the birth father of overly serious, petulant Sean Penn)--guest of Johnny Carson (Antenna Retro TV)  who laughed uncontrollably, too, at Buttons' "New" line of get well cards.  Red announced that golfing enthusiast Johnny soon would be absent from even more telecasts than usual...but this time due to hospitalization for purposes of cloning another version of himself who could sub for himself when he himself was not actually hosting.  Several of the actual cards' messages leave me still chuckling!  Dr. Sigmund Freud screeches, "Leave my office immediately!  You are sick!"  AND Cleopatra's mother demands, "Cleo, get your dog and your cat and your ASP outta bed now!"  AND..."The jolly chartreuse giant claims there is nothing like a good pea to cure what ails you!"  Oh, and one more," The doc informs his patient THE INVISIBLE MAN, 'Well you appear fine to me!' "  

 

Thus, pardon me as I devolve into the no-no, verboten stream-of-consciousness pattern which I so love and feel comfortable with, not dissimilar to the style of the Nobel Prize Winning, high school drop-out, novelist/ screen-writer William Faulkner and also in deference to my admiring predisposition I confess that I harbor toward THE Donald Trump whom I half the time admire for telling it LIKE IT IS and not ever allowing himself to be pushed around or manipulated...we are only separated in age by one month. I planned to share that I became so intimidated by golf carts and foursomes and unattractive cleated shoes one sunny Saturday afternoon at Crooked Lake that I insisted that Danny Curless and his buddies precede hubby and myself on hole number one which alternates from a hilltop teeing-off position past a heavily forested dog-leg...to another teed-off-heading-straight-down -the-fairway-shot directed via a lazier, sissier path toward the pin. Guess what?  Curless slammed into the jungle and may still be there hunting his ball to this day?  And he was a high school basketball stand-out once upon a time. After a very pregnant pause, I blasted my dimpled little mercurial ball nearly into the cup...only the erect flag blocking my potential newsworthiness...and nobody but competitive hubby witnessed my surprising, once in a lifetime, inspirational athleticism?  And I am S**t outta luck because Don generally refuses to discuss my more notable achievements in one way or another.  (The War Between Men and Women ongoing until Hillary finally wins her spot in history I am certain...three cheers for her imminent victory!)

 

 

Which brings my wandering thought process ala Faulkner around to (double preposition) ... (Oh, BTW do read THE SOUND AND THE FURY-- commences on a golf course!) where I may be headed. Recently, we attended Roy's Penny Seats Theatre Company's summertime musical in the park, XANADU!  I wore my newest, very best t-shirt.  Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher leers from my chest as he emotes in GANGS OF NEW YORK...facetiously he is labelled PATRIOT!  Cinema addicts "get" it...a handsome Middle-Easterner in Ann Arbor exited a café exclaiming that he "LOVED" my shirt!  SOOOOO, we began to discuss the actor and that Oscar winner's portrayal of LINCOLN. I suggested that unless Daniel stars as an absolute fiend, his performances are lame...and that particular film featuring Abe I considered saccharine, cloying, ornate, florid, and too "Perils of Pauline-ish" with only Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant and Tommy Lee Jones as who-or-whomever and Sally Field as screwy Mary Todd each to be up to snuff, so to speak.  "Whoopsy daisy!" 

 

Okay now, that brings me full circle to my explanation of my title this go 'round, IF, "dear reader people", you continue with me as I wind down...  I have adored Daniel Massey since Santa brought me the long-playing cast album SHE LOVES ME in the early 60s....I memorized each and every song and the orchestral bridges...and recently reveled in friend Laura Benanti's scene-stealing performance in the exact same musical at the Roundabout Theater. The show got streamed online on BroadwayHD, and the antagonism reverberating and ricocheting between her leading man and herself reminded me of the "Donald/Hillary Show" which we all enjoy...in spite of ourselves. As I navigated the rooms of my childhood home which I am still trapped in as the only immediate surviving relative (and which is overflowing with memorabilia that I have pored through for the repurposed BLUE BELL LOFTS senior citizens' apartment complex project --I feel like a grant applicant-- and searched for seven years' worth of mis-filed nostalgic columns and gathered exploratory materials and networks aimed at preserving the dignity of local pigs and hogs and piglets sacrificed to the world of "entertainment" and prayed for helpful tips while seeking fellow advocates to save lives of geese and goslings regarded as pests who poop and deserve the likes of the Trumpian brothers' guillotine-poach-approach I guess), I eventually settled down to a fast-food sandwich with hubby Donster!  (Totally, I might add, proud that I have done my bit for humanity and for the benefit of all manner of equally important species...without fanfare NOR monetary  gain.) And I shamelessly proceeded to...talk...and to share some thoughts?  Silly me! 

 

Returning to a cursory mention of Daniel Massey, son of Raymond Massey who portrayed James Dean's non-empathetic, dictatorial, rigid, stiflingly fundamentalist father in EAST OF EDEN, one of the best films ever directed by Elia Kazan, I blended all stream-of- consciousness THINKING into a fresh singular topic which Don simultaneously thought also ... out loud!  Referencing the conclusion of an old film starring Raymond Massey as Honest Abe  (actually Lincoln was not all that honest...watch Kevin Spacey's fabulous series RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE), we both recalled an unbelievable celluloid instance where extras received direction to follow along as Abe departed from Illinois on a train to begin his mythical contribution as 16th prez!  (Henry Fonda and Royal Dano and countless other actors have channeled that moment as well.) Check out the movie ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS, and watch and listen closely...somebody shouts out, ad libbing adoringly, "GOODBYE, GOODBYE, MISTER MASSEY!"  And that notorious blooper has only been matched by an errant ketchup bottle in Alfred Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST featuring CARY GRANT. Oh, yeah.  My other new t-shirt...my very best, most promising one proclaims "Cary Grant for President", but (sigh of relief) we shall save that story for another day and another column if I don't break a hip bashing into stacks of Blue Bell "Wrangler" trivia and towers of rough drafts and piles of newspaper clippings, unfinished articles, starts of novels, unplugged and unleashed blogs, a handful of kitties and mountains of aging photographs.  A staff, a staff, MY KINGDOM...for a staff Google Richard III!  (And inquisitive people wonder WHAT do I do all day?  Here at the Library of Congress with a staff of one...and an armful of cat assistants!)

 

POSTSCRIPT:  ANOTHER COUPLE OF RED BUTTONS' COPYRIGHTED GET WELL CARDS FROM THE 80S:  AL JOLSON'S MOM TO HER SON--"I do not want a million baby kisses. Instead, just gimme a couple of bucks!"  $$    ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  "Do not name a car after me...I have more than enough gas already!"  See, stream-of-consciousness can be fabulous fun...we end up right where we started... just ask Raymond Massey!  And Red Buttons!  And Abraham Lincoln himself!  (You'll notice that within the collages are two black and white photos of my dad and sisters preparing to sled down that fabled hill toward green number five at Crooked Lake Golf Course circa winter 1942!  And remember that the operative word is consciousness of all that life has to offer!)

 

___________________

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.com. Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

July 1, 2016

Elephant Ears Optional: My strange life with Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall

MarshallCollage1.jpgBy Roy Sexton

Tempus fugit. Carpe diem. Time waits for no man. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. 
 

There are so many clichés associated with the concept of time, which is as much an indicator of the shallowness of humankind as it is our own internal wrestling match with existentialism. For 26 years(!), I happily have portrayed a footnote in American history, Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson during World War I. He is a hometown legend where I grew up, Columbia City, Indiana, and my life and his have been peculiarly intertwined. MarshallCollage2.jpg

Marshall is perhaps best known for his quote, "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar." Oh, and he was a Democrat, praise be. They do exist in Indiana! 

While he was born in nearby North Manchester, he resided in Columbia City, and his home was just a few blocks from where my mother grew up, a house my parents then later purchased, prompting a move from Fort Wayne 30 years ago. In fact, as a child, my mother had spent a glorious afternoon once with Marshall's former secretary, looking through sheet music, but, indicative of the nature of any small town that can fixate on the most meaningless of gossip to the detriment of a bigger picture, no one bothered to tell my mother of this woman's notoriety.  

Decades later, my mother would find herself one of the curators of The Whitley County Historical Museum, which you may have guessed is housed in Marshall's former home, restored to its Italianate glory. Because my family has always been a creative and resourceful clan, my mother recruited me, in my freshman year of high school, to spray silver in my hair and clip a fake homemade mustache under my nose (to this day, I couldn't grow a mustache if my life depended on it, and I'm fine with that) and eat soup and break bread at a holiday dinner with a small but plucky crew who had an appreciation for northern Indiana history. 

While that first mustache fell into my soup more times than I could count, and I found myself faced with questions I had no idea how to answer (I am genetically incapable of historical reenactment, and I would be an epic failure as a cast member at Greenfield Village or colonial Williamsburg, as I have no capacity to pretend that I don't know what a television is or to extemporaneously expound on what life was like 100 years earlier without devolving into uncontrollable giggles), it was an auspicious beginning to the longest-running role I've ever held.

It was at that time that I fell in love with having a script, and in a great desire to avoid ever awkwardly eating dinner with people who knew more about the character I was playing then I did, I wrote a 20 minute speech, borrowing liberally from Marshall's autobiography A Hoosier Salad. He was a funny man, not Mark Twain clever, but the Hoosier equivalent, and the speech was peppered with one Neil Simon-esque zinger after another. You know the kind? Set up, set up, punchline. Set up, set up, punchline. 

My parents bought me a better mustache, and introduced me to the joys of spirit gum, though the likely-carcinogenic silver hairspray remained. I borrowed, and never returned - sorry about that - a tuxedo from some family friends, and after honing my craft at one women's literary circle after another, my nascent impersonation career took off. And sputtered. And took off again. I suspect it was in those days that I began to appreciate cucumber sandwiches and pineapple upside down cake and how to successfully dodge and parry through invasive, yet well/meaning, inquisitions from blue-haired octogenarians. I would find myself presenting in the unlikeliest of circumstances, repeatedly giving the speech to Governor, later Senator, Evan Bayh, for example, who probably knew it better than I did after certain point. 

Like Marshall, I would end up attending small, eccentric, insular, provocative Wabash College, a liberal arts institution that, to this day, stubbornly hangs on to its all male status, like a gilded beer keg at a caveman drum circle. It's a charming place, filled with enough memories and shenanigans to last a lifetime; coupled with the tender yet firm guidance of intellectually insatiable parents who afforded me every opportunity, my college years set me on a path for success and even more importantly toward open-mindedness. 

Just when I would hope I had shaken off the specter of Marshall, somebody from the College or from my hometown or from a neighboring burg, would recall that I did this bizarre thing, and they would summon me back, not unlike Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin screaming "Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!" And, poof, I would show up, hat in hand, with the same tired anecdotes that still delighted people as if they had never heard them before. 

As I am careening now through middle-age, I had filed the speech away and hidden that yellowed, crusty mustache under the bathroom sink, believing I would never be asked to do this again. In fact, that tuxedo buckles under my newfound girth, and I had hoped I wouldn't have to deal with the mortification of trying to zip up those pants again. But, mere months ago, Mary Ann Anderson on a sojourn from the Historical Society board, emailed me at the law office where I work, betraying whatever over-the-hill actor protection program I thought I had fallen into, and asked me and Tom to return.  

And I'm so glad she did.

Columbia City has a summer festival every year called Old Settlers. And in the summer of 1986, before I entered eighth grade at a new junior high in a strange yet familiar town, this street fair was my Disneyland. The downtown was taken over by the kind of carnival rides that anyone with a couple of screwdrivers and a hammer might be able to assemble, and for a week solid I would walk a handful of blocks to ride the tilt-a-whirl until my face was blue, shoveling elephant ears down a gullet queasy from the experience. I didn't know nor care what an "Old Settler" was nor why the town's self-appointed illuminati donned red blazers to celebrate the occasion. I just wanted carny distraction! 

Thirty years later, the same rickety rides still appear and the red jackets are omnipresent. But this time I was among them, not as an impetuous teenager, but as an anxious adult, worried about a world spinning off its axis a little more every day and newly appreciative of one's own heritage and mythology. What once seemed tangential to the celebration now seems essential: tracking and inventorying the number and ages of the attendees, where they live, and how far they may have traveled. 

As part of a specific event - "History Alive!" - centered around this particular cataloging activity, Anderson asked me, a couple of Civil War reenact-ors (one for each side of the War Between the States apparently), some local artisans, and a handful of pioneer-garbed volunteers to mill about the museum grounds through the afternoon, greeting the "old settlers" as they arrived. 

I found myself panicked. No script? I have to answer strange questions again? No quips? But once I settled in - somewhere around hour three - and my ever-loving and supportive parents stopped by (we never grow out of that, thank goodness), I started to have, well, fun. And even more I appreciated the purpose of this festival to celebrate people and our connection with one another and our history. Not all of us can be vice president of United States, nor would likely want to be, but we make our own history every day. 

Sitting on Marshall's front porch, dressed like a lunatic, I caught up with a steady stream of faces, half-remembered but fully loved. Looks like I just grew up a little bit. How about that? You can now call me an Old Settler. Elephant ears optional.  

"No, there is no world-wide standard for the determination of provincialism. There is only one standard by which to judge men and women, and that standard is not so much one of brains and education as it is of culture and heart. Kindness seems to be the one golden metewand by which to measure how really civilized and catholic one may be." - Thomas Marshall

_____________

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the books are currently carried by the Whitley County Historical Museum and by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. Susie Duncan Sexton's Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at the Museum as well as Bookbound and Common Language.

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