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Tarzan of the Apes ~ A Capsule Book Review

1914 First Edition Cover

1914 First Edition Cover

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

Tarzan of the Apes, by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, was first published in All-Story Magazine in 1912 and in book form in 1914. The book proved so popular that Burroughs wrote more than twenty sequels over the next thirty years. The first movie version of the novel was in 1918, with many others following. It was during the 1930s, however, that Tarzan became a genuine movie icon. The movies made the story of the jungle ape man much more famous and popular than it would otherwise have been.

As the book begins, John Clayton and his wife, Anne (Lord and Lady Greystoke) have set out from England for Africa. John Clayton is going to assume a post in Africa for the British government. Things do not turn out well for them, however. The crew of the ship they are on mutinies, kills the officers, and puts John Clayton and his wife ashore in an isolated and remote part of Africa where they have very little chance of surviving. Anne is going to have a baby, but that is the least of the couple’s worries. They set about building a small cabin in the jungle where they can keep themselves safe from jungle predators.

Anne delivers herself of the baby, but she and her husband soon die, leaving the baby alone. The baby would also die if a female ape named Kala, who had recently lost her own baby, hadn’t come across him and adopted him as her own. Kala belongs to a tribe of apes that are described as being somewhere between gorillas and man on the evolutionary scale. They are brutal and vicious predators, but Kala takes care of and protects the baby until he grows to about ten years of age, at which time she is herself killed. The apes name the boy Tarzan, which means “white skin.”

Tarzan soon discovers that he is not like the other apes. The most striking difference is that he isn’t covered with fur. As he grows into manhood, he begins to display the best of both worlds: the cunning and intelligence of a man and the strength and agility of a jungle predator. He swings from tree to tree, from branch to branch, with ease, apparently defying gravity. When he is hungry, he kills a jungle animal and eats it raw. Eventually he comes across the little cabin that his father built (not knowing, of course, that it was his father) and discovers the books that belonged to his parents. Their skeletal remains are, in fact, inside the cabin.

With much painstaking effort, Tarzan teaches himself to read English from the books in the cabin without ever having heard it spoken. He gradually puts the pieces together to learn the truth about himself, that he is descended from an English Lord and is an English Lord himself, Lord Greystoke, but it doesn’t matter to him. He is still Tarzan, king of the apes.

When Tarzan is at the height of his muscularity and physical beauty, a small band of white people find themselves in his jungle. (Included in this group is, ironically, Tarzan’s cousin, William Clayton.) The whites are lost and abandoned, in much the same way that Tarzan’s parents were, and, finding Tarzan’s cabin, use it as their own.

Among these white people is one Jane Porter, an American girl traveling with her professor father. She is the first white woman Tarzan has ever seen and he falls in love with her. He becomes the benefactor and protector of all the whites, but he is really doing it for Jane. When he rescues her, they have a romantic interlude in the jungle. The jungle adventure at this point turns into a love story.

Tarzan rescues one of the party of whites, the Frenchman Paul D’Arnot, from torture by cannibals. D’Arnot and Tarzan are then separated from the others for an extended period of time as Tarzan nurses D’Arnot back to health. During this time, Tarzan learns much more about civilization from D’Arnot and learns to speak French.

When D’Arnot is well enough, he and Tarzan make their way back to the camp of the whites, but they have gone way. They waited one week longer for the return of Tarzan and D’Arnot at the urging of Jane Porter, but, alas, they finally go away, believing that Tarzan and D’Arnot are probably dead.

Becoming more and more familiar with the ways of civilization, Tarzan, along with D’Arnot, make their way back to civilization and eventually to America, where Tarzan wants to claim Jane Porter as his own, only to discover that she has agreed to marry his cousin, William Clayton. We learn that she is marrying Clayton only for money to help her father, when it’s Tarzan she really loves.

Tarzan of the Apes is written simply, obviously for a youth audience, but it is engaging enough for an adult audience. If it lacks the depth and nuance of great literature, it still has literary merit. That it is still in print and still being read after a hundred years says a lot.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

The residents of the strange alternate world known as “Panem” are savagely oppressed by a cruel government represented by the word “Capitol” and personified by creepy Donald Sutherland as the “president.” Enter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), famous because she was the winner, two times, of the Hunger Games. Like a modern-day Joan of Ark, she will lead her people to freedom against tyranny. Or will she?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is the third movie based on the popular book series. While movie number one and number two were very much alike, this one is quite different. Katniss Everdeen is recruited by the leader of the opposition, Alma Coin (Juliette Moore), to be its “mockingjay” in the fight for freedom against the government. Katniss is perfect for the mockingjay because she’s resourceful, brave, determined, fed up with the way her people are treated, but, most of all, she’s known all over the land for her triumphs in the Hunger Games. Getting her to represent the opposition is a major public relations coup.

The government has no intention of letting its people be free; it prefers to see them dead and will employ any measures to get and keep the upper hand, including bombing large parts of the country to cinders. Another of the government’s tactics is to use Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as a sort of propaganda tool. You will recall (or maybe you don’t) that Peeta Mellark was with Katniss during the Hunger Games and is an important person in her life (she finally admits that she’s in love with him). Peeta appears to have gone over to the other side but has in reality undergone a kind of brainwashing. He goes on TV as part of an orchestrated plot of disheartening the opposition and tells them that they should lay down their arms and give up their fight against the government. Those who know Peeta know that he is being manipulated like a puppet on a string. Katniss wants Peeta back. Will they be able to rescue him from the enemy? What will he be like once he has returned? Those questions are answered, in part, in this movie, but apparently we will have to wait until the next chapter to learn the whole truth.

Some of the characters from the first two movies are also on hand here, including the ever-strange Effie Trinket, minus her wigs and outrageous outfits; Haymitch Abernathy, the drunken “trainer” from the earlier movies who doesn’t have much to do here; Gayle Hawthorne, Katniss’s alternate love interest who also doesn’t have much to do; Primrose, Katniss’s cat-loving sister; and Caesar Flickerman as the very odd TV host, minus the blue hairdo.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 is dark, figuratively and literally. Some of the scenes are so dark that you can hardly see what’s going on. Most of the action takes place in a sort of bunker where the opposition is encamped. What’s worse than the darkness is the incomprehensible dialogue, either because of the layered soundtrack or because the actors have been eating mush before going in front of the camera. When it’s shown on TV, I’ll watch it and turn on the closed captions so I can find out what they were really saying.

Fans of the books and of the first two movies will probably love The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, but it’s not for everybody. Those who haven’t followed the story up to this point probably won’t have a clue as to what is going on.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Mr. Doodles’ Thanksgiving

Mr. Doodles' Thanksgiving

Mr. Doodles’ Thanksgiving ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(This short story has appeared on my website before.)

The four-day Thanksgiving weekend was upon us. Everybody had to leave school; nobody could stay, no matter how much they wanted to. The cafeteria would be closed and the heat shut off. It was time for the university to take a little snooze. Get out and don’t come back until Sunday night at the earliest.

On Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, I walked downtown to the bus station in a light rain to catch my bus. After a bumpy, smelly, two-hour ride, during which I tried unsuccessfully to take a nap, I arrived in my hometown. It was raining there, too.

I called my mother and asked her if she could come and pick me up because I had a sore throat and didn’t feel like walking home in the rain and didn’t have the money for cab fare. She sighed and banged the phone down in my ear. Ten minutes later she pulled into the parking lot of the bus station in her old beat-up Oldsmobile the color of an army tank.

“Thanks for making me come out in the rain,” she said by way of greeting.

“I didn’t make it rain,” I said.

“I thought you said you weren’t coming home for Thanksgiving.”

“Had to. No choice.”

“Well, I’m kind of glad you’re here because I need your help tomorrow.”

“Why do you need my help?”

“Everybody’s coming and I have to fix a lot of food. You can help entertain.”

“Who is ‘everybody’?”

“Grandma will be there with her friend Bunny. Lindley is coming and she’s going to bring her new beau. Your father said he’ll be there if he doesn’t get a better offer. I think he has somebody he wants us to meet.”

“How about if I just catch the next bus back to school?” I said. “I’ll spend the weekend in a homeless shelter.”

Mother and father were divorced. Mother still lived in the house I grew up in. Father lived not far away. They prided themselves on still being  “friends,” though no longer married. They had a peaceable arrangement whereby mother still called father over to the house to fix things that were broken, while she sent him an occasional cake or plate of food, or mended his clothes when needed. They were very adult about the whole thing.

While I sat at the table and ate my dinner of leftover stew and hot chocolate, mother sat across from me and blew cigarette smoke above my head.

“How is school?” she said.

“All right.”

“Are you making lots of nice friends?”

“Sure.”

“You were always so shy. I used to worry about you being such a loner.”

“I have thousands of friends.”

“Do you remember that boy in high school who had blond hair and spoke with a lisp?”

“No, I never knew anybody like that.”

“I can’t think of his name, but I heard he works as a cake decorator now. I guess he just wasn’t smart enough to go to college.”

“You don’t have to be especially smart to go to college.”

“One of Lindley’s friends from school was caught embezzling money from the bank where she worked. She’s in lots of trouble now. She’s probably going to jail. It was in the newspaper. I’ll have to be sure and tell Lindley about it when I see her tomorrow. Can you imagine how terrible her parents must feel?”

“Maybe they were lucky and died before their daughter became a criminal,” I said.

“Her first name was Paula or Patsy or something like that, but I can’t remember her last name.”

And so went our conversation, a mother and son who hadn’t seen each other for three months.

The next morning she was up before daylight banging around in the kitchen. She had been thawing the turkey in the refrigerator for two days and wanted to get it baked so she could have the oven free to bake the pies. She made me set the dining room table as soon as I finished with breakfast.

The first to arrive were grandma and her friend, Bunny. They had identical silvery hairdos, fresh from the beauty parlor. Grandma was carrying an orange peel cake and Bunny the little wicker basket that contained her tiny chihuahua dog, Mr. Doodles.

Grandma kissed me, leaving the imprint of her lips on my cheek. “How’s the big college man?” she asked. “Keeping all those pretty coeds in line?”

“Oh, you know it grandma!” I said.

Bunny shook my hand and let Mr. Doodles out of his basket. He ran into the living room and crawled under the couch.

Bunny was a seventy-five-year-old retired nurse. She still smoked Kool cigarettes and drank gin right out of the bottle. She and grandma were the best of friends. They had recently moved into grandma’s house together and had purchased side-by-side cemetery plots. They were in it together for the long haul.

Grandma and Bunny went into the kitchen to help mother with the dinner, while I tried to coax Mr. Doodles out from under the couch. When I set his basket down where he could see it, he ran to it and jumped in. He laid down and licked himself like a cat and went to sleep.

When my sister, Lindley, arrived, she had a man with her I had never seen before. He was no more than five feet tall with a pear-shaped body (Mr. Five-by-Five). His head was covered in blond corkscrew curls that hung down around his ears to his shoulders.

“This is my friend, Stubby Miller,” Lindley said.

“I’m so happy to make your acquaintance,” Stubby said, taking my hand in both of his and pumping it vigorously.

“Stubby has an interesting job,” Lindley said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“He’s a professional clown.”

“I prefer to think of myself as an entertainer,” he said.

“I know lots of non-professional clowns,” I said, “but I never met a professional one before.”

Of all of Lindley’s boyfriends, I had to admit that Stubby Miller was one of the better ones.

Lindley went into the kitchen and left me alone with Stubby Miller and Mr. Doodles. Stubby crossed his squat legs on the couch while Mr. Doodles raised his head and looked at us and went back to sleep.

“Is that your pup?” Stubby asked.

“No, it’s Bunny’s.”

“Who’s Bunny?”

“You’ll meet her later,” I said. “She’s my grandma’s friend.”

After an uncomfortable silence, Stubby said, “I hear you’re up at state university.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I never had a chance to go to college myself.”

“It’s vastly overrated,” I said.

“Don’t you like it?”

“Of course I like it,” I said. “It gives me time to decide how I want to ruin the rest of my life.”

I offered him a glass of wine, which he was glad to accept to keep from having to talk to me any further.

Father arrived with a bottle of champagne and a henna-haired woman on his arm, one Shugie Sherwood, dressed all in red. Red, in fact, seemed to be Shugie’s color. Besides her red dress, her lips were the color of a Valentine heart and her cheeks as rosy as mother’s were pale.

Father called us all into the living room. He opened his bottle of champagne and when he made sure everybody had a full glass, he held up his arms like a minister about to bless a crowd of sinners.

“To our little family gathered here today,” he said, “I have an important announcement to make.”

“Well, for heaven’s sake!” grandma said. “Why all the ceremony?”

Father was obviously relishing the moment. “Shugie and I are going to be married next week at the court house,” he said. “Since we’ve both been married before, we decided to dispense with all the formalities.”

On the collective intake of breath, he held his arms up again for silence.

“And that’s not all,” he said. “After we’re married we’re moving to Phoenix, Arizona. That’s where Shugie is from. She owns two apartment buildings there and I’m going to manage them for her!”

Shugie giggled and her face turned even redder.

“Well, congratulations!” Stubby Miller said, holding up his glass of champagne and drinking it all in one gulp. He seemed to be the only one truly moved by the news, and he didn’t even know father and Shugie.

Grandma moved forward and kissed Shugie on the cheek and Bunny shook her hand. Mother set her glass of champagne down and left the room.

Before we ate, I went into the kitchen to get some glasses. Mother was in there alone, putting the turkey on the platter.

“What did you think of father’s news?” I asked. I couldn’t resist.

“It’s his life,” she said, shrugging.

“What do you think of Shugie?”

“Whore.”

“Won’t you miss father, being so far away?”

She looked at me as if realizing for the first time how truly stupid I was. “If I hadn’t wanted him out of my life,” she said, “I never would have divorced him.”

When we were all seated at the table, including Mr. Doodles, mother made us sit with our hands in our laps while she said grace. She had never said grace before in her life, as far as I knew.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” she said with her head bowed, “the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

When she was finished and gave us the cue to begin eating, Lindley laughed. “Are you trying to tell us you’ve joined Alcoholics Anonymous, mother?” she said.

“I thought it was lovely,” grandma said.

Bunny held Mr. Doodles in the crook of her arm and fed him small bites of turkey and potatoes from her plate. As he chewed, he looked at all of us sitting around the table with his enormous eyes like brown marbles. I wondered what he was thinking.

“He’s just the most precious little boy in the whole wide world!” Bunny cooed.

During the meal, Lindley and Stubby Miller sat very close. Sometimes he put his arm around her but he had to reach up because she was taller than he was. He said little things to her that only she could hear, causing her to blush. I began to think they were serious about each other. I could easily see my odd sister married to a fat little clown.

Father and Shugie talked excitedly about the things they were going to do when they got to Phoenix. The trips they were going to take. The sights they were going to see. At least once every minute he reached over and took her hand in his own and squeezed it. Her eye makeup ran in rivulets down her cheeks. It seemed she was melting before our eyes.

Mother ate quietly, speaking only when spoken to. I knew she wasn’t happy about father and Shugie but would never reveal what she really thought. It was our way to keep things bottled up inside until they burst out on their own.

After everybody left, I helped her stow the leftovers in the refrigerator and wash the dishes. When we were done, she went to bed without a word while I stayed up and watched TV until I could no longer stay awake.

The next day she wanted me to put up her enormous artificial Christmas tree, string it with lights and decorate it, which I did without complaint. It was a ritual with her to put it up on that day. She wouldn’t take it down until after New Year’s.

The rest of the weekend passed in a blur. I ate lots of leftovers and slept at ten-hour intervals. Mother wanted me to go to church with her on Sunday but I said I had a sore throat and cough and didn’t want to pass it on to anybody there. She accepted that excuse and went without me.

On Sunday evening she drove me to the bus station to catch the bus back to school. As I was getting out of the car, she asked, “Will we be seeing you at Christmas?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.

The bus was on time and the rain had stopped. I took these things as a good sign. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and tell my thousands of imaginary friends about my Thanksgiving weekend at home.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Thanksgiving for Poor People

Thanksgiving for Poor People

Thanksgiving for Poor People ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

(This short story has appeared on my website before.)

Veradean showed Vicki-Vicki a picture in a magazine of a family at Thanksgiving. An older woman with gray hair, obviously a grandmother, was holding up a huge turkey on a platter before a table full of smiling family members, including a small boy and girl. On the table were bountiful bowls of all kinds of food:  dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickles, green beans, cranberry relish, carrots, peas, corn, rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate cake. What you know but what you don’t see is grandma setting the turkey in the middle of the table and all her family beginning to eat.

“This makes me hungry,” Veradean said.

Vicki-Vicki took the picture from her and studied it. “You can’t eat a picture,” she said.

“Why can’t we be like that?”

“Because we’re not,” Vicki-Vicki said. “We’re poor and poor people don’t set a table like that.”

“Why are we poor?”

“Because we live in Scraptown and we don’t have any money. We’re trash and our mother is trash and her mother before her.”

“I’m not trash!” Baby Eddie said.

“You’re trash just as much as I am,” Veradean said.

“Yes, you’re trash,” Vicki-Vicki said, “and the sooner you realize it the better.”

“Once trash, always trash,” Veradean said. “You can take the person out of the trash, but you can’t take the trash out of the person.”

“I don’t want to be trash!” Baby Eddie trilled. “I don’t like trash!”

“The pilgrims were trash, too,” Veradean said. “They didn’t have any money, either. Miss Edmonds read us a story about them. They wore black and prayed all the time. The king got mad at them and kicked them out of the country. They didn’t have anyplace to go so they came over here in a little wooden boat. They landed on a big rock. When they climbed down off the rock and looked around them, they saw that the land was nothing but woods and wild animals. There were no supermarkets or schools or cars or buses or anything like that. The Indians that already lived here were afraid of the pilgrims. They hid from them and threw rocks at them.

“The pilgrims didn’t know how to take care of themselves and a lot of them died right away in the snow. They couldn’t figure out how to make corn and stuff grow in the ground just right. Finally the Indians weren’t so afraid of the pilgrims anymore and came out from where they were hiding and started helping the pilgrims. They showed them how to grow stuff so they would always have something to eat.

“When the pilgrims finally started to get the hang of living here and learned what they needed to know to get by, they had a big feast after the harvest to show everybody how well they had done. Since the Indians had helped them get started and had kept them from starving, the pilgrims asked the Indians to join them in the feast. The Indians brought along some of their stuff, too, that the pilgrims hadn’t yet learned how to make on their own. This feast was the first Thanksgiving and it’s been held every year at the same time ever since.”

“Very interesting, I’m sure,” Vicki-Vicki said.

“So, are we going to have a turkey for Thanksgiving?”

“I want a turkey!” Baby Eddie squealed.

“We don’t have money for turkey.”

“We can’t have anything like in that picture?”

Vicki-Vicki had a little money for food that her mother had left before she went away with her latest boyfriend, but not enough for anything special. They would probably have Campbell’s vegetable soup and open a can of tuna if they were lucky. Maybe some Twinkies for dessert.

“We’ll try to have something special but I don’t know what it’ll be.”

“Will it be a surprise?” Baby Eddie asked.

“Yes, it will be a surprise.”

The next day she saw an ad in the newspaper that attracted her attention. The Everlasting Light Mission would be serving Thanksgiving dinner from noon until six. Good food and Christian fellowship, the ad said. Come One, Come All.

On Thanksgiving morning she made Baby Eddie and Verdean each take a bath and then she found some special clothes in a trunk for them to wear: a 1940s schoolgirl dress with puff sleeves and a sash in the back for Veradean and a 1930s sailor suit for Baby Eddie. For herself she chose an old gray suit that smelled of moth balls, exactly like the one Kim Novak wore in Vertigo.

If she was going as Kim Novak, she had to look the part. She fixed her hair in a sophisticated upsweep and put on lots of makeup and drew her eyebrows on with an eyebrow pencil. She was poor and would be surrounded by other poor people, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be stylish. People might take her for a movie star, but she didn’t care if they did.

When they got to the Everlasting Light Mission, they took their place in a long line that snaked down the block. She was a little disappointed at having to wait so long just to get in, but Veradean and Baby Eddie were excited. They were doing something they had never done before. It was their special thing that she had promised them for Thanksgiving.

The Everlasting Light Mission was an enormous old building that used to be a warehouse. Long rows of tables bearing white tablecloths and paper pumpkins were set up in rows to accommodate the hundreds of people who needed a meal and had no place else to get it.

When finally they came to the place where the food was being served, Vicki-Vicki took two plates onto a tray, one for herself and one for Baby Eddie, while Veradean managed a tray all on her own. When they passed on to the dessert table, they all three chose pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Baby Eddie had never tasted pumpkin pie before, but Veradean remembered having it once before when she was little.

They went to the far end of one of the long tables and sat down, Vicki-Vicki on the end, Baby Eddie to her left and Veradean to her right. They began eating, just like the family in the picture would have done.

“This is some good shit,” Veradean said after she had taken a few bites.

Soon Vicki-Vicki saw a man moving slowly down the table toward her. He smiled as he spoke to everybody, patting them on the backs or shaking their hands. She knew he was a minister because he was dressed all in black like a pilgrim. He gave her a slightly uneasy feeling. When he came to her end of the table, he paused beside her and looked down his nose at her.

“So happy to see you here today, sister,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve met you before. What is your name?”

“Vicki-Vicki Novak,” she said.

“And are these your children?” he asked, gesturing toward Baby Eddie and Veradean.

“Brother and sister,” she said. She could hardly keep from laughing.

“I hope you will honor us with your presence at a church service immediately following,” he said.

She figured it was the price she had to pay for the food.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you,” he said as he moved on to the next table.

“I don’t like him,” Veradean said. “He looks like Dracula.”

“I like Dracula,” Baby Eddie said.

They ate everything on their plates and when they had finished they went into the part of the warehouse that had been made into a church. They took a seat on the back row, just as a wheezing organ began playing solemnly.

There were fifty or so other people waiting for the service to begin. They were mostly men, Skid Row types and bums. Some of them dozed, while others folded their arms and trained their empty gazes on the ceiling.

In a little while the organ music stopped and the minister in black stood up at the pulpit and raised his arms.

“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “rejoice, for this is a day that the Lord hath made.”

“Amen!” somebody shouted.

“We are so happy that you have made your way into our little fold on this blessed day. I’m here to tell you that the Lord loves you, no matter what you’ve done and no matter how low you might have sunk in this life. That is our message of hope at the Eternal Light Mission: You are loved, in spite of all your transgressions, as only He can love!”

Baby Eddie went to sleep, leaning his head against Vicki-Vicki’s side, while Veradean played with a piece of string. Vicki-Vicki listened as attentively as she could for about ten minutes and then she began to wish she was someplace else. When the minister had his eyes closed, she stood up and pulled Baby Eddie and Veradean toward the exit as quietly as she could.

Outside the Eternal Light Mission were half-a-dozen bums standing in a circle. They were talking and laughing but when Vicki-Vicki came out the door they stopped and looked at her. She was barely aware of them because she wasn’t interested in them. When she paused and opened her Kim Novak shoulder bag and took out a cigarette, one of the bums stepped forward and lit it for her. He was fairly clean-looking for a bum and he had on a nice hat, probably stolen. She smiled at him and started to walk away.

“Live around here?” he asked.

“No, I live in the South of France,” she said.

“I saw you inside with them kids. They yours?”

“Well, they’re with me, aren’t they?”

“Could I give you a lift someplace?”

“Don’t trouble yourself.”

“I’ve got a car. Parked right around the corner.”

She looked at the sky, took Baby Eddie by the hand, and the three of them walked away.

“I think he was going to ask you for a date,” Veradean said.

“You don’t know anything about men,” Vicki-Vicki said.

When they had walked no more than a quarter-mile from the Eternal Light Mission, a white car pulled up alongside them. It was the bum in the nice hat. He rolled along beside them, keeping pace with their walking.

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” he said. “I sure would like to give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

“I think I’ve already declined your invitation,” she said, trying not to smile at him.

“I don’t believe them kids are yours. You’re too young to have kids that old.”

“If you must know, they’re my brother and sister.”

“I knew it! I bet you don’t even have a husband, do you?”

“Yes, I do. He’s likely to be along any minute and he won’t like it if you’re bothering me.”

“Just tell me where you live and I’ll come and pay you a visit tonight, after you get them kids put to bed.”

“Let’s get him to take us home,” Veradean said. “I’m tired of walking and it’s going to start raining. We’re not going to get a better offer.”

Vicki-Vicki signaled to him to stop. She opened the back door for Veradean and Baby Eddie and then she went around and got into the front seat. The bum looked at her and smiled. Since she was accepting a ride from him, the least she could do was smile back.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Beauty Queen

Beauty Queen

Beauty Queen ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

I had fifteen minutes before bus time so, after buying my ticket, I sat down on one of the ratty bus station seats that had some of the stuffing coming out. It had been a difficult week (they all were) and I felt terrible. My toothache was killing me, I felt like I had a cold coming on, and I had heartburn from the Hungarian goulash I had for dinner. I took another one of my pills for my tooth, washing it down with a shot of the watered-down whiskey from the flask I carried. I closed my eyes and felt myself growing drowsy in the warm, stale air of the bus station when somebody sat down beside me. I opened my eyes and saw it was Wanda Guilfoyle.

“How are you, Warren?” she said.

She had never spoken to me before and I was surprised she even knew my name.

“All right,” I said.

“Going home for the weekend?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s always good to get away from school for a couple of days, isn’t it?”

Wanda was homecoming queen and the most beautiful girl in school. She had perfect skin and honey-blond hair that cascaded down her back. She was a drama major; I had seen her in Dial M for Murder in the part that Grace Kelly played in the movie. Everybody believed she would go to Hollywood after she finished school and become a big movie star.

Wanda and I moved in different circles, as you might imagine. The only reason I knew her at all was because her boyfriend, Mickey Farrington, was an acquaintance of mine and we roomed on the same floor.

“Yes, it’s always good to go back home,” I said.

“Did you hear that Mickey and I got engaged?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “When did that happen?”

“At the sweethearts’ dance a couple of weeks ago.”

“I wasn’t there,” I said. “I never go to those things.”

“You should go! They’re lots of fun.”

I shook my head. I was sure my face turned a shade of crimson.

“Some people are meant to go to dances and some are meant to stay at home,” I said.

“Oh, Warren,” she laughed. “You are funny! Don’t you even have a girlfriend?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t want one.”

She laughed again. “Every boy needs a girlfriend. I know three or four girls who would be so happy to go out with you.”

“You mean ugly girls?”

“You’re just shy. You need to work on overcoming your shyness.”

“It’s more social ineptness than shyness,” I said, pleased with my own cleverness and flattered that she and I were sitting there talking about such things.

“Anyway,” she said. “So Mickey and I will be getting married soon.”

“Marriage can thwart your career goals,” I said. I knew I sounded idiotic but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Well, that’s true,” she said, “but to me the most important thing is marriage. Then I’ll worry about my career.”

“Are you going to be an actress?” I asked.

“Who knows?” she said. “I might be a laundress or a clerk in a department store, like countless others. One thing is as good as another.”

“No ambition?” I asked.

“Not much.”

“I don’t have any, either.”

“All human endeavor is essentially pointless,” she said.

“I’ve always thought that,” I said, amazed that she and I had anything in common.

“How well do you know Mickey?” she asked.

“Oh, I’ve talked to him a few times. I’ve sat across the table from him in the cafeteria. I wouldn’t say we were friends, though.”

“Do you know a girl named Marsha Dethers?”

“No.”

“She goes around with all her body parts hanging out. She has no taste and no class. She’s a whore, a total slut.”

“I get the impression you don’t like her very much.”

“I think Mickey is cheating on me with her.”

“That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?” I said.

“If I find out it’s true, first I’ll kill her and then I’ll kill him.”

“Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to marry him,” I said, “if you already suspect him of infidelity.”

“Oh, he’s the one all right. If I can’t have him, I don’t want anybody.”

“You’re young,” I said, and I knew I was on the verge of saying something stupid again.

“Do you think you could have a private conversation with Mickey, man to man I mean, and find out if anything like that is going on?”

“I don’t think he would tell me, even if it was.”

“You could use your charm on him and draw him out. He loves to talk about himself.”

“I don’t think I have any charm,” I said.

“Invite him to go have a hamburger with you on Sunday evening and get him to talk. Once he starts talking, he’ll tell you everything.”

“He’d think I was making sexual advances. Asking him out on a date.”

She laughed. “You say the funniest things,” she said.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

“I’d make it worth your while.”

“What do you mean?”

“I would pay you for any valuable information. That’s how important it is to me.”

“I couldn’t take your money,” I said.

“It’s very warm in here,” she said, putting her palm against her forehead as if checking for a fever. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well at all.”

I was just about to ask her if I could get her a Coke or a drink of water when she began twitching all over and pitched forward onto the filthy floor. She arched her back and, with arms and legs at unnatural angles, flopped around like a fish out of water.

“Could somebody help here?” I screamed, not knowing what else to do.

A bus station employee, an old woman, came out from behind the ticket counter and knelt down beside Wanda. She put a folded-up towel under her head and pulled her legs out straight and turned her slightly off her back onto her side.

My bus was announced. I hated to leave Wanda on the floor like that, but she was being taken care of. With one last look, I went outside and got on the bus.

It was only about half full. I went all the way to the back and slouched down in the seat. I was almost ready to cry at what had happened to Wanda and my toothache was hurting worse now from gritting my teeth. I took two more of the pain pills and two Dramamine tablets to keep from being bus sick. The Dramamine had the added effect of making me sleep.

In spite of the lurching of the bus and the gas fumes in my nose, I went soundly asleep and after a while began dreaming about Wanda. Dreams so real they made me believe she was really there beside me.

“I’m sorry you had to see me that way,” she said, taking my calloused paw in her delicate, soft hand.

“No reason to apologize,” I said.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” she said.

“What is?”

“Everybody thinks I’m so perfect and I’ve had these awful epileptic seizures for as long as I can remember.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We all have things we’d like to keep hidden.”

“You won’t tell anybody you saw me in such an ugly state?”

“Of course I won’t.”

“You’re a sweet boy, Warren.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m mostly a turd.”

“Any girl would be lucky to have you for a boyfriend.”

She nuzzled against me and put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. We slept there together in that way, side by side, until I reached my destination. I had never been so intimate with anyone before in my life.

My sour-faced mother picked me up at the bus stop in her ancient white Cadillac. She didn’t even look at me. Just puffed on her cigarette and listened to the country music on the radio.

“I have a girlfriend,” I said.

She looked over at me as if discovering for the first time that I was in the car with her. “You?” she said.

“She’s a beauty queen. She’s going to be a movie star.”

“What would she want with you?”

“She thinks I’m sweet. And funny.”

“Maybe she can support you. I’m pretty sure you’ll never be able to support yourself.”

All weekend long I felt a glow inside my chest when I thought of Wanda. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and see her again. I’d call her up on Sunday evening and ask her to go downtown and have a hamburger with me.

Sitting with me in the diner, breathing deeply of the grease-saturated air, she’d reach across the table and take my hand in hers and her eyes would glisten with tears. We’d laugh about her little misadventure in the bus station. I’d tell her to forget about Mickey Farrington. Let the whore have him. You don’t need him. You have me now.

I could see it all happening.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Right in the Middle of My Daily Duties

~ He Kicked Me Right in the Middle of My Daily Duties ~ 

From the Laurel and Hardy Oscar-winning short film, The Music Box (1931). She punched him in the nose first, so that’s why he kicked her right in the middle of her daily duties. Slapstick begets slapstick.

Right in the middle of my daily duties.

He kicked me right in the middle of my daily duties.

 

Nightcrawler ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a fast-talking young man with a line of blather, a certain amount of charm, and a burning desire to succeed in his chosen profession. He goes around the scary streets of Los Angeles at night, looking for accidents, shootings or crimes in progress so he can film them. He then sells what he films to TV news stations, which will pay lots of money for the bloodiest and most sensational film footage—the more blood, mayhem, and human misery, the better. This is the stuff that brings in viewers.

We see right away that Louis Bloom is bereft of morals. He steals an expensive bicycle early in the movie and pawns it to buy himself a video camera and the equipment he needs. He ingratiates himself to a news director at a Los Angeles television station, a woman named Nina (Rene Russo). She is charmed by his bravado and sees he has a real eye for TV journalism, or, in other words, he is a deft purveyor of the kind of sleaze that is her life’s blood. (Her job might be on the line if she fails to deliver the kind of trashy visuals her audience has come to expect.)

Louis hires an assistant named Rick (Rick Garcia) for thirty dollars a night. Rick is everything that Louis is not; he’s hesitant and lacking in confidence. He wants to make good (as he tells Louis, he is sleeping in a garage) but we see he isn’t suited for the kind of things that Louis expects him to do. If he had any sense, he would walk away, but, of course, he doesn’t and he comes to a bad end.

When Louis and Rick accidentally stumble on a crime in progress, an apparent “home invasion” (that turns out to be something else) in a house in an upscale neighborhood, it is heaven-sent for Louis. He hides outside and films the whole thing taking place inside the house, including gunshots. After he films two men leaving, he goes inside and films the bloody crime scene up close, including three shooting victims. When he takes this film footage to Nina to sell to her, he demands an exorbitant fee. (To give himself leverage and bargaining power, not to mention big money, he withholds the part of the film that shows the two men leaving the crime scene, landing himself in hot water with the police.)

Nightcrawler is intelligent and literate, if a little verbose. Louis Bloom is an interesting and complex character. Lots of adjectives might apply to him, including unscrupulous, self-aggrandizing and opportunistic. Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing every step of the way (he had an awful lot of dialogue to memorize). Also memorable are Nina (when Louis makes sexual advances, she says she doesn’t date people she works with and, anyway, she’s twice his age, which would make her about 68) and Rick, who has a kind of Ratso Rizzo appeal, although he’s a lot cleaner than that.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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