The Omni from VOYAGERS!
Regular readers know that I’ve never met a time travel story I haven’t loved whether it be one of my favorite movies TIME AFTER TIME (1979) or the haunting STAR TREK episode “City On The Edge Of Forever”. Heck, I even like lesser stuff like THE TV series VOYAGERS (1982-83) and TIME TUNNEL (1966-67). Any TIME SQUAD fans out there???? So naturally I have often pondered where I would go if the chance to time travel came my way.
In choosing my Top 10, I took into account that I believe it wrong to go back in time with the aim of changing history. There are always unintended consequences to every action and I, frankly, think that history largely follows its intended path no matter what we do. Sure I could stop Booth from killing Lincoln, but who’s to say that our 16th president wouldn’t have died soon anyway due to lingering health issues. Same for Kennedy. So most of my picks are to simply go back and be a witness to history.
Here are my Top 10 Events I’d like to see:
#10—Indianapolis, Indiana, May 30, 1911
Attend the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Watch the cars race around the original Brickyard at almost 75 mph.
#9—London, England, 1595
Attend the world premiere of Romeo and Juliet. Get William Shakespeare’s autograph.
#8--London, England, September, 1888
Follow Jack the Ripper around Whitechapel, bonk him on the head and find out, once and for all, just who the heck he (or she) was. I suspect it was someone we have never thought of.
#7—Ancient Judea, circa A.D. 31
Find out where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and get a front row seat.
Wright Bros Family Album
#6--Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903
I’d find a seat on a nearby sand dune and watch the Wright Brothers give their flying machine a try.
#5—Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863
Catch Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. And I’d arrive early to get a front row seat so I could actually hear it. I also want to see how close Daniel Day Lewis came to capturing the real man.
#4—Frankfurt, Germany, May 6, 1936
Take a transatlantic flight on the airship Hindenburg. No, I would not book a ticket on the fateful 1937 trip (see reason in #1). I have been a fan of airships my whole life. I prefer them to our modern cramped jetliners any day. The chance to spend three days sailing the Atlantic in luxury would be just perfect.
#3—Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963
Catch President Kennedy’s motorcade moving through Deeley Plaza while keeping my eyes firmly focused on the Grassy Knoll. Was there a second shooter?
#2—Jerusalem, A.D. 33
Witness Jesus’s crucifixion. Just to see how close the actual event was to all the versions we’ve read and seen down through the years.
RMS Olympic, 1911
#1—Southampton, England, June 14, 1911
Take the maiden voyage of the Olympic. The what???, you ask. The Olympic was the sister ship of the Titanic. I am an admitted Titanic fanatic. I probably own a dozen books on the ship. I’ve had the blueprints memorized since childhood.
Why take a ride on the Olympic instead of the Titanic? Because I’ve seen enough time travel movies to know that if I went on the “unsinkable” Titanic, something would happen to prevent me from getting off the ship before it struck the iceberg and went to the bottom! Better to sail on the nearly identical Olympic (which safely sailed the Atlantic from 1911 to 1934) than risk becoming the next Jack Dawson.
Those are my Top 10 Time Travel Destinations. What are the places where YOU would go??????
A couple months back, I dreamed I went to my high school prom. This was rather amazing because I never attended any school dance in my life. The one year I actually had a girlfriend, it turned out that she did not go to dances for religion reasons. She said I could go with someone else if I wanted to. But she said it in that “girlfriend voice” that hinted, “Sure, you can go with someone else but don’t even think of giving me a call afterward if you do.” I opted not to go.
So imagine my surprise to find myself dreaming about being at the prom. The gymnasium was decorated and beautiful. The lights were low. The disco ball was turning. Everyone was there in their finest 1970s fashions. The band played all the required dance tunes of the decade: “Stairway To Heaven” and “Freebird” and “Show Me The Way” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman.”
I was having a really amazing time. My date was having a fun time. We laughed. We joked. We slow danced. We discoed. We sat at the table and chatted and laughed. We drank punch. It was really a LOT of fun. And I remember thinking that I was really dumb back then. I SHOULD have gone to the prom.
Then they announced the winners for Homecoming Queen and King. And as we all stood and applauded, and as the happy couple took the stage (she in her stunning pink dress and he with his blonde shoulder length locks) I suddenly realized in petrified horror: “Damn, I’m not at my high school prom. I’m in CARRIE!”
Without looking back, I grabbed my date’s hand and led her straight out the nearest exit door. The first screams of horror were just starting to sound as the doors swung shut behind us.
And then I woke myself up.
Can’t wait for the remake in October!
Last Thursday, I was literally sitting down to write today’s blog when I read the news that Karen Black had died. Once the shock wore off, my initial thoughts were:
For me, Karen was one of the major stars of the 1970s. She may not have always played the lead in her films but, for me, she always stood out and raised the level of every film she was in. Her early roles in YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW (1967) and EASY RIDER (1969) personified the feelings of the age and the young people looking to make some noise and shake things up. I feel like another part of my youth just died.
--Some day I finally need to watch FIVE EASY PIECES (1970).
Karen’s breakthrough role and the only one she received an Oscar nomination for. Very sad because she deserved at least three more noms, if not wins.
--She was the only good thing in AIRPORT 1975 (1974).
She played a stewardess who finds herself flying a 747 after the crew is killed in a mid-air collision. An outlandish situation in an over the top film (most of AIRPLANE’s satire was making fun of this movie) and yet Black made her character believable and relatable.
“Salt Lake…This is Columbia 409!...Something hit us! All the flight crew is dead or badly injured! There's no one left to fly the plane! Help us! Oh my God, help us!”
-- TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975)
When I was a teenager, this TV movie with its rampaging doll scared the hell out of all of us and was the source of many a nightmare. Karen played four roles in it, each one different and amazing. Still creepy today.
Amdst its all-star cast, I remember being blown away by the actress playing country singer Connie White, especially her amazing singing voice. It wasn’t until I saw the end credits that I realized it was Karen Black.
-- BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)
She personally scared the SH*T out of me in in this film. I STILL have nightmares about the ending. “I've been waiting for you, Ben!”
--FAMILY PLOT (1976)
She got to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s final movie. How lucky is that? Her co-star was the amazing Bruce Dern who will probably win a long overdue Oscar this year for NEBRASKA (2013).
--THE GREAT GATSBY (1974)
Sorry Isla Fisher and Shelley Winters. For me, Karen will always be the perfect Myrtle Wilson. However you feel about the Robert Redford version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, pretty much everyone agreed that Karen was the best thing in it. She deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress then was not even nominated for the Oscar. I still don’t understand it. She should have won, hands down.
--She was 74???????
For me, Karen was forever young, ever the embodiment of LIFE in all of its explosive, eternal glory. There was always so much life running through her and her characters it made me believe her life force would be impossible to extinguish. And now she is gone.
Of course, it hasn’t been extinguished. It has merely passed on from earth to the ephemeral where it will live forever. Forever in our hearts, and forever in the movies.
Her beautiful monologue from THE GREAT GATSBY (1974).
Worth an Oscar nomination for this scene alone. Like Nick (Sam Waterston), each time I see her, I am entranced all over again.
Watch this scene from SIGNS (2002). What type of person are you?
Can you guess what type of person am I?
Every morning I wake up, stagger out of bed, and log into email. I do that even before I have a cup of coffee in my hand. And every morning, I find that my inbox has been infested overnight again by spam. No, not the tasty “meat” manufactured by Hormel for years (and a favorite of GI’s in World War II). This is 21st century spam also known as junk email: messages promising the moon and the stars and the clovers for just one simple click on their link. Never mind that the link’s URL contains abbreviations for countries like Rumania or Nigeria or Jamaica, man.
Stop thinking, Richard! The sky is the limit and my ship has come in! I’ve been approved for loans that I didn’t apply for. I have won overseas lotteries that I did not enter. Russian and Asian women I have not met can’t wait to see me again. A simple click of the “Delete All” button and all that good fortune is gone, thrown in the trash until tomorrow morning when my inbox will be full of it again.
It is a never-ending cycle that we have come to accept in today’s cyber world but I wonder if we have ever taken a moment to think about all the spam still rolling around the inbox of our minds. You know, all those useless moments and songs and facts that we have picked up through the years and somehow retained even when we don’t want to. They come in all shapes and sizes.
There are TV commercials from my youth. Let’s see if any of them ring a bell for you (click on the link for the answer):
“Mamma Mia, that is a spicy meatball!”
“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
“Tastes like wild hickory nuts.”
I’m particularly troubled that I’ve hung onto this Levi’s jingle from the early 1970s: “Good morning, world! Good morning to you hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo. I’m a wearing my Le-he-he-he-he-he-vi’s!” (I can do the whole song upon request).
Or this Wyler drink commercial from 1970:
Or “I’m a Pepper. She’s a Pepper. He’s a Pepper. We’re a Pepper. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” (Dr. Pepper) Tell me truthfully, can’t you recite the entire theme song to the following TV shows: The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, or Petticoat Junction? Others of you can sing along to the closing tunes for The Lawrence Welk Show or Hee Haw. It makes me wonder why we just don’t have a “Delete All” button on the side of our heads.
Pop songs linger on in my head long after we’ve ceased hearing them on the radio. That’s not so bad if it is a classic like “Hey Jude” or “Don’t Be Cruel” or “Stardust.” But why in the world is my brain hanging onto “Indiana Wants Me” (“Lord, I can’t go back there”), “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”, or “Dizzy”? My head is spinning…….
And yet there is much that is good about our brains retaining all this spam of daily life. Because if we didn’t retain that stuff then we would not retain other things like: that Christmas when you got that gift you never thought you were going to get. Or the first time your baby looked at you and smiled. Or that night when the person of your dreams said they loved you.
Shared memories of past cultural events are also the way we make connections with those of our own generation. Like when I start humming the “T-Berry shuffle”, or start flailing my arms around while shouting, “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” Phrases like that are all part of each generation’s collective past and we use them as verbal shorthand to show others our age that we have share the same path. We have walked the same road. Experienced many of the same highs and lows. It is also the way we hang onto ourselves by remembering all the things that have gone into making us the person we are today.
Remember that the next time you open your inbox and stare at all the spam sent to you from halfway around the world. Look how far we’ve come………
THE ORIGINS OF SPAM
The Monty Python sketch that started it all.
Following along the West Virginia theme from yesterday, today I am sharing my favorite WV author.
Mary Lee Settle (1918-2005) is arguably the most acclaimed and yet least known West Virginia writer. Between 1954 and 2007, she published 23 books ranging from fiction to travelogue to memoir. Pearl S. Buck is probably West Virginia’s most famous author but I have always preferred the works of Settle.
Though known in literary circles, Settle remains largely unknown by the general public and that is too bad. E.L. Doctorow (another of my all-time favorite authors) once remarked that even though Settle “has had her champions and her honors, she has experienced the peculiar lack of recognition sometimes suffered by strong-willed writers no matter how good or voluminous their work.”
I first heard of Mary Lee Settle during my freshman year of college. My family had recently relocated to Michigan and I was missing both West Virginia and my WV friends in a big way. One day, I picked up the latest issue of the New York Times Book Review and there on the front page was Doctorow’s glowing review of Settle’s new novel The Scapegoat (“Mother Jones Had Some Advice”). He described it as a major new work and Doctorow’s opinion was good enough for me. As soon as I could, I drove up to my favorite bookstore, the Creative Bookstore in Clarkston. They only had one copy. I bought it, took it home, and devoured it in two days. I have been a Settle fan ever since and am proud to say that I own everything she wrote (some not so easy to find).
Her primary literary opus remains The Beulah Quintet: five novels chronicling succeeding generations of 3 WV families – the Laceys, Catletts, and Neills - from the American Revolution to present day. It started out as The Beulah Trilogy consisting of O Beulah Land (1956), Know Nothing (1960), and Fight Night on a Sweet Saturday (1964). Love that title! But in the 1970s Settle decided to expand the series to encompass the full gamut of West Virginia history. The trilogy became a quintet and now consists of:
Prisons (1973) – chronicling the ancestors of the families during the English Civil War and how they were forced to flee England for America.
O Beulah Land (1956) – finds the first generations of the families arriving in western Virginia during the Revolutionary War.
Know Nothing (1960) – Three generations later, the family descendants wrestle with the American Civil War while West Virginia breaks away from the South and becomes its own state.
The Scapegoat (1980) – Chronicles the brutal mining wars of 1912. The United Mine Workers under the didactic arm of Mother Jones began to organize the WV coal mines and the owners fought back.
The Killing Ground (1982) – an expanded version of Fight Night on a Sweet Saturday finds the present day family members dealing with unresolved issues from the past.
Besides the Quintet, Settle authored a series of novels set in Canona (a fictionalized Charleston) revolving around three couples and their changing marriages. They are The Love-Eaters (1954), The Kiss of Kin (1955), The Clam Shell (1971), and Charley Bland (1989). Some of the characters also appear in The Killing Ground.
Settle’s series of memoirs should be required reading for aspiring writers. Addie (1998) chronicles her childhood and the grandmother who raised her. All the Brave Promises (1966) covers her World War II service while the posthumous Learning To Fly (2007) details her adult life and writing career.
Other Major Works:
The Scopes Trial (1972) remains the best retelling of that pivotal American episode.
Blood Tie (1977) is her National Book Award winner about American expatriates living in Turkey (Settle exiled herself there after Richard Nixon became president).
Her writing style is intense, almost stream of consciousness, as she gets inside the heads of her characters. It is the closest thing to William Faulkner that I can think of. Doctorow rightly pointed out:
“Miss Settle's large ambition, her sense of scale, her capacity to take in the whole of life, from the specific feeling of a moment to the vast historic forces in social conflict, are her great gift. The sense of the individual as a member of a family and as a political being in history is hers without question.”
Mary Lee Settle remains a hidden gem of American literature just waiting to be discovered. Better than anyone else, she captured the essence of the West Virginia character; the sad and often tragic history of the Mountain State; and the evolving nature of what it meant to be a woman in 20th century America. To understand all of these is to understand what it means to be an American.
Hello, Everybody. Sorry for the lack of updates in July. I spent a week accompanying our church’s youth group to one of my hometowns: Charleston, West Virginia. Then another week shuttling my son back and forth to film camp. And then the week after that catching up from being gone the previous two weeks. Which means it is time to get back on the horse and update the blog!
As you could tell from the West Virginia-themed clips I left up while away, I was off visiting the state where I spent most of my childhood. This was only my second time back in Charleston since graduating from high school in 1980. I am a proud graduate of George Washington High School, a distinction I share with Jennifer Garner and thousands of others. (No, I don’t know Jennifer. She graduated ten years after me. Though based on her GW reminiscences, we had several of the same teachers).
Though I was born in Indiana, I have to admit that my Hoosier roots don’t run very deep. My family moved out of the state when I was three and I never returned except to visit relatives. Most of my Hoosier empathy gets conjured by the Indianapolis 500 and, yes, I do blink back a tear when I hear Jim Nabors’ sing “Back Home Again In Indiana” every year.
But truthfully I am more Mountaineer than Hoosier. I lived in West Virginia from age 6 to age 17. I grew from a small boy to a young man while living in the Mountain State. It is where I went to school. It is where I made my first friends. It is where I experience my first love. It is where I started writing. It is where I had all those formative experiences that made me who I am today.
For the first six years, I lived in WV’s northern panhandle in the town of Weirton which used to be part of the industrial backbone of America. The steel mill was the heartbeat of the town. If you didn’t work at the mill, you worked at something that supported the mill. The furnaces ran 24/7 giving the town its distinctive look and smell. My cousins still remember us showing them piles of spent coke still glowing in the night.
Weirton would not be a town that readily came to mind as a movie location but it certainly has been immortalized in several great American films. It was one of the towns that made up Clairton, Pennsylvania in the Oscar-winning THE DEER HUNTER (1978). It was the setting for RECKLESS (1984) starring Aiden Quinn and Darryl Hannah. Most recently, it masqueraded as Lillian, Ohio in SUPER 8 (2011). The school the kids attend in that film is my old Marland Heights elementary school. It is like watching my childhood come back to life.
For my teen years, we moved to the state capital of Charleston. If northern WV was all about steel, southern West Virginia is all about coal and chemicals. Union Carbide operated the plants in nearby Dunbar and Nitro and South Charleston. And coal mines drove the countryside economy. I learned to drive in Charleston. I drank my first beer there (no moonshine for me). My first date, my first kiss, and my first broken heart all happened in Charleston.
Being back in the state this month was like being back home. My only regret is that I could not stay longer than I did.
Some basic West Virginia facts: The state sport is football. The state cathedral is Mountaineer Stadium. The state recreation is hunting. The first battle of the American Revolution happened in Point Pleasant (maybe). John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry helped ignite the War Between the States two years later. The first land battle of the Civil War happened in Philippi.
Northerners think the state belongs in the south. Southerners believe it belongs in the north. Easterners believe it belongs in the west. Westerners think it is part of the east. West Virginians like it this way because they prefer to belong to nobody but themselves. Their roots run deep into the heart of the Appalachians. Family is important above all. It is the state that gave us Jerry West and Pearl S. Buck, Brad Paisley and Mother’s Day. But it is also the state that gave us Mothman and the Hatfields and McCoys.
Quite simply, if you want to understand America, you have to understand West Virginia. The state is a part of me and I am a part of it. And I am more than happy to feel its Appalachian heritage coursing through my veins each time I write.