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Transcendence ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Transcendence ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Transcendence has all the elements of a summer movie and it isn’t even summer yet: a one-word title, a big-name movie star (Johnny Depp) and a fast-paced techno plot with plenty of action. Johnny plays Dr. Will Caster (a part that almost any actor could have played). Dr. Caster works in the field of artificial intelligence. He and his team (including his wife, Evelyn, and his best friend, Max) are working on a computer system so advanced that it far surpasses human capabilities. The potential for helping mankind, curing illnesses, healing the planet, etc., are staggering. The one problem they can’t seem to figure out, though, is how to make the AI system “self-aware.”

A radical group wants to end the study of artificial intelligence, believing it has the potential to bring about the end of the human race, and murders some of the researchers. When Dr. Caster is shot, the gunshot doesn’t kill him, but it seems the bullet that entered his body was treated in some way to cause him radiation poisoning. He has only a short time to live. Before he dies, though, he will “upload” his consciousness into the computer system, providing the missing element of self-awareness that has hitherto been lacking. His fellow researchers, Evelyn and Max, are complicit in this plan. Evelyn sees it as a way for Dr. Caster to live on after his physical body has died. Max is more skeptical.

So, Dr. Caster is dead but his intellect and consciousness live on in the sophisticated, highly advanced artificial intelligence computer system. His wife is delighted at first that she can still talk to him and interact with him, but after a couple of years she sees where the whole thing is headed: he has a god complex. He believes he is so far superior to “simple organic” life (meaning humans) that he comes to see himself (the computer system) as the future and the human race as a thing that is completely unnecessary. He is sort of a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein in that he ventures into an unknown place where man is perhaps better off not to go.

Transcendence is engaging enough (more in the first half than in the second) for what it is, but there’s nothing unique about it. It’s in the cookie cutter mold of American movie making. There are other movies with the same look and feel. Now that summer is coming on, there will be lots of them because they make a ton of money and then are quickly forgotten until they turn up on TV.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Tattooed Baby

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The Tattooed Baby ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

“Banjo sure is a pretty baby,” Willem said.

“He’s the most beautiful baby in the world,” Delores said.

“Why does he have such fuzzy hair?”

“He has hair like his daddy.”

“Who’s his daddy?”

“My husband, of course! Alvin Wilfred Seagast.”

“Oh, yeah,” Willem said. “I forgot about him.”

Willem had seen Alvin, of course, but never gave him much thought. He carried a briefcase and drove a black car. He didn’t say much; kept his head down most of the time and didn’t look at people. At family dinners he was polite but would go off by himself the first chance he got. Willem’s mother said he was odd, came from an odd family.

“You’re not just going to ask me questions all day, are you?” Delores asked.

“Is Banjo the only baby you have?”

Delores huffed out a big breath. “Do you see any other babies around?”

“Do you want to play a game with me? How about Parcheesi?”

“I have too much to do to play games. Why don’t you see if Rosie is home? Maybe she’ll play with you.”

“I don’t like playing with Rosie. She cheats.”

“I’ll bet she doesn’t. She’s probably just a better player than you are.”

“Ever since she got a Ouija board for her birthday she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

“I’m sure that’s just your imagination. I don’t know what difference a Ouija board could make.”

“She thinks she’s a hot patootie.”

“Where do you hear expressions like that?”

“I hear it all the time.”

“Well, it sounds vulgar and I don’t want you saying things like that around Banjo.”

“Why not? He doesn’t know what words mean yet.”

They both looked at Banjo’s tiny face. He wrinkled his brow and pushed an air bubble out between his lips.

“What does it mean when he does that?” Willem asked.

“I don’t think it means anything in particular.”

“Since you’re my cousin, does that mean Banjo is my cousin, too?”

“Yes, he’s your cousin, too.”

“If you had another baby, would it be my cousin, too?”

“Why do you keep talking about ‘other babies’?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you’re bored. Why don’t you go outside and play. It’s almost time for Banjo’s nap. I don’t want you making noise and keeping him awake.”

The phone rang. She set Banjo down in the playpen and went into the kitchen to answer it. In a minute she came back smiling.

“Willem, darling,” she said, “I’m going out for a few minutes. Will you keep an eye on Banjo for me?”


“I won’t be gone more than ten, but don’t leave him alone until I get back. If he cries, give him his pacifier.”


She checked herself in the mirror and then was gone. Willem ran to the window for a peek. He saw her get into a pretty yellow car that a man was driving. The car sped away.

“Who was that?” Banjo asked but, of course, there was nobody there to answer.

Banjo pulled himself to a standing position and looked curiously at Willem. “Mama?” he said.

“She’ll be back right away,” Willem said. “She had something she had to go and do. Something she forget about earlier.”

He threw Banjo’s floppy pink bunny in the playpen with him and hoped he wouldn’t start crying. Banjo picked the bunny up and stuck one of its ears into his mouth.

“Hey, I know something we can do until she gets back!” Willem said.

He had some tattoos in his pocket that came with bubble gum. He took them out and looked at them. There was a heart, a scorpion, a skull and crossbones, a spider, a coiled snake, and others with sayings on them, like “OH YOU KID!” and “BE MY BABY.”

He went into the bathroom and got a clean washcloth, wetted it in cold water and took it back into the front room. Banjo looked up at him and smiled, showing his tiny teeth. Willem wetted a spot on Banjo’s forehead and then pressed the paper with the tattoo on it firmly to the spot. When he pulled the paper away, Banjo had a perfect skull and crossbones right in the middle of his forehead.

“Hey, that looks great!” Willem said.

He went and got a mirror. When Banjo saw himself, he squealed and laughed and bounced on the balls of his feet. Willem then put a coiled snake on his own forearm and a star on Banjo’s cheekbone. He was going to put a heart with an arrow through it on Banjo’s forearm when he heard a car door out front.

When Delores came into the house, she smiled at Willem and looked over to the playpen to make sure Banjo was all right. When she saw the skull and crossbones and the star, her smile faded.

“What on earth?” she said.

She ran over to the playpen and picked Banjo up with enough force that she scared him and made him start to cry. “What did you do to him?” she screamed.

“It’s just tattoos!” Willem said. “They wash right off!”

“How could you do such a thing?”

“I thought it would be cute!”

“Whenever you have your own children you can mark them up all you want, but until then keep your hands off mine!”

“I only thought…”

She carried Banjo into the kitchen and set him on the counter beside the sink, managing to scare the wits out of him. She began scrubbing at the tattoos with a bar of soap and a dishrag. When she saw how easily they came off, she settled down right away, but she was mad at Willem for the rest of the day and would hardly look at him.

Willem felt bad that Delores was mad but defiantly kept his own tattoos, a coiled snake on one arm and a heart with an arrow through it on the other, and hoped that she had plenty of opportunity to notice how cute they looked.

Alvin came home from work and it was time for dinner. Willem expected Delores to tell Alvin about the tattoos while they were eating, but she didn’t mention it. After dinner Alvin and Willem were in the front room watching television while Delores was in the kitchen washing dishes.

“How have you been, old man?” Alvin asked Willem.

“Okay,” Willem said.

“Did you have fun today playing with Banjo?”


“He’s something, isn’t he? I’d have a whole houseful of kids if it was practical.”

“They cost a lot of money, my mother says.”

Alvin finished his beer and filled his pipe. He looked at the television and then he looked at Willem. “I like your tattoos,” he said.


“Do you mind if I ask you something?”

“No. What is it?”

“We’re pals, aren’t we?”

“I guess so.”

Alvin reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. He peeled a two-dollar bill off the roll and handed it to Willem.

“What’s this for?” Willem asked.

“We’re pals, aren’t we?”


“I was just wondering if you saw anybody around today.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you notice any strange fellows around the house today? Fellows you don’t usually see, I mean.”

“Well, um, let me think.”

“I want you to keep your eyes open and let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Like what?”

“Like somebody coming around to the house to see Delores when I’m not here.”

“Sometimes Rosie’s mother comes over and they have coffee and pie together.”

“No, I don’t mean Rosie’s mother. I mean a fellow. A man.”

“Like in a yellow car?”

“In any color car.”

“Sure, if I see anything like that, I’ll let you know.”

“But you have to make sure that Delores doesn’t know. It’ll be our little secret.”


Willem looked at the two-dollar bill in his hand, admiring it and realizing he had never seen one before. He didn’t know if he would be able to spend it or not. He might have to hang on to it until he was an old man.

“I want you to put that in your pocket and not take it out again until you get home,” Alvin said.


“And there’s more where that came from, as long as we’re pals and we keep our mouths shut.”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

The Fires of Vesuvius ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Fires of Vesuvius cover

The Fires of Vesuvius ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

During the early Christian era and for hundreds of years before, Pompeii was a thriving seaside town of 20,000 people or so, about 150 miles southeast of Rome. In the year 79 AD (or BCE), the volcanic mount Vesuvius erupted and literally buried the town alive under layers of pumice and volcanic debris. Scholars had known of the existence of Pompeii from written records, but the town itself wasn’t “rediscovered” until the 1700s, at which time archaeologists began the painstaking job of digging it out bit by bit. (Excavation continues to this day, 250 years later.) Since the town hadn’t been touched for all those centuries, its streets, temples, houses, paintings, etc., were remarkably well preserved. It gave the world a chance to know a lot more about a long-lost period in history than had been previously been known.

The Fires of Vesuvius by Mary Beard is an exhaustively detailed account of what the ruins and artifacts teach about what life was actually like in the Pompeii of two thousand years ago: how people lived (bad teeth, no toothbrushes), what their dwellings were like (those made of wood mostly don’t remain except for nails and fittings), how they navigated about town (one-way streets), how they got water into their homes (a fairly sophisticated system of “running” water that not everybody could get), how and what they ate (a fairly healthy diet of fruits and vegetables; cooking utensils and ovens for baking bread remain), how they made a living (farmers in the immediate vicinity around the town; shopkeepers, fullers and small-business owners in the town), what they did for entertainment (plays and gladiatorial games), how and who they worshipped (many gods to choose from; few or no signs of Christianity at the time of the eruption), what their political structure was like (only the rich could stand for office because they were expected to use their money to benefit the public in some way), what they wore (not so many togas), what artwork they admired (phallic symbols carved everywhere, meaning prosperity and good fortune), how they buried their dead (on the roads outside of town, elaborate memorials for the cremated remains of the rich; barely a hole in the ground for the poor), where they went to take a bath (elaborate public baths with little or no sanitation; sometimes turds floating in the water), and in some cases, their private thoughts expressed in “graffiti” that is everywhere in the town. The people of Pompeii were apparently a fairly literate bunch, and they took advantage of the quaint custom of writing their thoughts and feelings on walls or wherever they happened to be, much of which survives. Thankfully this custom has mostly died out. I, for one, don’t want to have to look at scribbled writing on every surface, which, I’m sure, would be unbelievably ugly.

Readers who have more than just a passing interest in Pompeii, or those who plan to go there, will find plenty in The Fires of Vesuvius to recommend it. The casual reader will probably be put off by the dense text (although it isn’t that difficult to absorb) and the wealth of minute detail, more than the average person reading for pleasure is going to want to know. If, however, you are a student of archaeology or are writing a research paper, this book will prove to be a valuable storehouse of information.

A tiny footnote that I found interesting that I hadn’t known before: During World War II, the Allies, in bombing Italy to subdue Il Duce, destroyed parts of the ruins of Pompeii. Whether this was deliberate or accidental isn’t stated. The irony is that some of the ruins had to be reconstructed to make them look the way they did before the bombing.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Oculus ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An antiques-loving yuppie couple purchase a quaint, old, full-length mirror that hangs on the wall. The couple don’t know it, of course, but the mirror has a history, going back four hundred years, of bringing about violent death to its owner. An evil spirit resides in the mirror and this spirit protects the mirror from destruction as if it (the spirit) and the mirror are the same.

The couple, the Russells, have two children (Kaylie, age 12 and Tim, age 10). The father of these two becomes withdrawn and secretive. He won’t let anybody go into one room in the house that he calls his office. (It’s the room where the mirror is kept.) Kaylie, when she and her brother are playing in the yard, sees a strange woman embracing her father through the window, when she knows there is nobody else in the house except her parents. The man’s wife, the mother of the two children, becomes suspicious of her husband’s activities and begins doing some investigating on her own. This, as one might expect, leads to tragedy. Kaylie and Tim make a vow to each other that, when they are grown, they will do whatever they can to find out exactly what happened and to clear their family of wrongdoing.

Eleven years later, Tim, age 21, is being released from a mental institution, where he has been since he was 10. Kaylie, his sister, is now 23. In the intervening years, she has discovered the history of the mirror and is determined, with the help of Tim, to make good on the vow they made to each other 11 years earlier.

Oculus is an acceptable horror movie with a cast of unknown (at least by me) actors. While it doesn’t have the chills of Insidious or Mama, it’s intelligent and well-made with a few tense moments. It isn’t junk or schlock. If you are a fan of good horror films, like me, you will like it. If you try to dissect it too much, though, you’ll expose the holes in the plot, so just enjoy it without getting too analytical.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Shall We Have a Cigarette on It?

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Shall We Have a Cigarette on It image 2

Shall We Have a Cigarette on It? ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

“This is a lovely old house,” Jerry said, sipping his martini. “How many rooms does it have?”

“I never bothered to count them,” Charlotte said. “There are too many.”

“It isn’t any of your business how many rooms my house has,” Charlotte’s mother said. “That’s an impertinent question.”

“Mother, I thought we agreed that you were going to try to be civil this evening,” Charlotte said.

“I made no such agreement.”

“I apologize, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said with his humble smile. “I had no business asking such a question. It’s just that I admire these old houses so much.”

“Yes, and I’ll bet you’d like to see it knocked down and a parking garage or an office building put in its place!”

“That would be a great pity, ma’am.”

“Or maybe you can see yourself living in it. A life of ease and idleness.”

“Not at all, ma’am.”

Charlotte could see that her mother was determined to make Jerry feel uncomfortable. He would handle it with his customary grace, though; of that she was certain.

“Charlotte tells me she met you on a cruise to South America.”

“Yes,” Jerry said.

“I don’t approve of cruises on which idle young women with too much money and too much time on their hands indulge themselves.”

“Not everybody on the cruise was rich, mother,” Charlotte said, “and they weren’t all young. I was talking to one middle-aged woman who told me that she and her husband saved for five years to be able to afford it.”

“What were you talking to her for?”

“Well, you know. Too much time on our hands.”

“I’ll bet there was lots of drinking and other activities on board that ship that decent people would rather not know about.”

“No doubt,” Jerry said.

“I suppose Charlotte told you all about herself.”

“As much as I needed to know.”

“Did she tell you that she had a nervous breakdown and, in so doing, was a patient in a sanatorium for almost a year?”


“It was only at the urging or her psychiatrist that I allowed her to go on the cruise at all without a chaperone. He said it was vital for her mental well-being. I never heard such hogwash but I allowed her to go nonetheless.”

“It was very kind of you.”

“I don’t believe in psychiatrists. Most people with mental problems have nothing to do but gain control of themselves and their emotions. When I was young, we weren’t allowed the luxury of nervous breakdowns and special doctors to treat them. We all bucked up and did whatever had to be done!”

“I don’t think Jerry wants to hear all that, mother,” Charlotte said. “We’ve already said all that needs to be said on the subject.”

“I’ll say whatever I want to say and ask the questions I want to ask in my own home!”

“No less than you deserve, ma’am,” Jerry said.

“And, under the guidance of her ‘progressive’ psychiatrist, Charlotte changed completely. She became a daughter I no longer recognized.”

“Don’t you think it was change for the better, ma’am?”

“I do not! When a mother no longer recognizes her daughter, how can that be change for the better?”

“You decide for yourself, Jerry,” Charlotte said. “You saw the picture of what I looked like before.”

“She was fat!” Mrs. Vale said. “Comfortably fat! After her so-called illness, she lost thirty pounds. She changed her hair and eyebrows and began buying expensive clothes which, of course, she expected me to pay for!”

“You seem to forget that I have money of my own,” Charlotte said.

“Everything you have still belongs to me! Don’t you ever forget that! With one stroke of my pen, I could strip you of everything!”

“Yes, but you won’t, though, will you?”

As if on cue, Cordelia appeared in the doorway. She was as black as ebony and almost as wide as she was tall. “Dinna is suhved,” she said in a loud voice.

“Since there are just the three of us tonight,” Charlotte said, “we’re having dinner in the small dining room.”

“You have more than one dining room?” Jerry asked.

When they were seated at the table that seated fifteen (even though it was the small dining room), Cordelia began serving the dinner, first the soup and then the fish.

“The finest food I ever ate!” Jerry said.

“Don’t think there’s any reason for you to get used to it!” Mrs. Vale said.

“Mother, stop picking on my guest,” Charlotte said. “You needn’t attack him every time he opens his mouth.”

“It’s all right, Charlotte,” Jerry said. “She’s just exercising a mother’s prerogative.”

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s prerogative to be rude.”

“I’m not rude!” Mrs. Vale said. “I’m just direct!”

“And an admirable quality it is, too!” Jerry said.

Mrs. Vale gave a tiny smile. Charlotte believed that she was beginning to warm toward him, if ever so slightly.

“And what about you?” Mrs. Vale asked. “Have you had any nervous breakdowns?”

“Not yet,” Jerry said.

“But you will have at some time in the future?”

“He was making a joke, mother,” Charlotte said.

“Well, I want to know something about the men my daughter invites into our home for dinner.”

“What do you want to know about me, Mrs. Vale? You may ask me anything.”

“Are you going to marry Charlotte?”

“I’m already married, you see.”

“So you’re not just after her for her money?”

He laughed and wiped his mouth. “No,” he said.

“Tell me about this wife of yours. If you’re running around with other women, why doesn’t she give you a divorce?”

“Her religious scruples prevent it. And, anyway, we’ve been separated for a long time.”

“So, you’re married to the woman but not living with her? Not sharing the same bed?”

“Mother, really!” Charlotte said.

“I haven’t laid eyes on her in two years.”

“Have you and Charlotte been intimate?”

“Jerry, you don’t have to answer that question!” Charlotte said. “Mother, that’s not an appropriate line of questioning. I’m not fifteen years old!”

“You sometimes act as if you were!”

“I think what you want to know is if Jerry and I are serious about each other and how we plan to proceed from here. Isn’t that it?”

“All right, then, you tell me!”

“Jerry and I are very much in love. We won’t be able to marry for some time, but that’s all right with me. We plan on going abroad and living together.”

“Not on my money you won’t!”

“Really, mother, are you going to start in on money again?”

“I won’t have my daughter living in sin with a man she’s not married to!”

“I am of age to do whatever I wish.”

“Are you of age for me to cut you off without a penny?”

“No need to worry, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said. “I have plenty of money for the two of us to live comfortably.”

“I won’t allow my daughter to blacken her name and the memory of her father by cavorting with a married man.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, Mrs. Vale,” Jerry said, “that seems a hopelessly old-fashioned view to take.”

“Who are you to judge me? You don’t know Charlotte the way I do. You don’t know the family history that’s behind her.”

“Maybe it’s time to forget all that and begin anew.”

“Never! Not as long as I’m still living. I’ll call my lawyer tomorrow morning and have my will changed!”

“You go right ahead, mother,” Charlotte said. “I’ve had enough of your bullyragging and intimidation.”

“So, are you saying you don’t care about my twenty million dollars?”

“You can do whatever you want with it. We can meet with your lawyer and make a few suggestions.”

“So, it doesn’t frighten you anymore when I threaten to disinherit you?”

“Not in the least.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m in love.”

“Love! What could you possibly know about love?”

“Mother, if you don’t stop saying such mean things, I’m going to stick a knife through your heart.”

“You haven’t got the guts!”

“Try me!”

Cordelia brought in three cups of coffee, along with dessert, and withdrew again to the kitchen.

“No dessert for me,” Charlotte said. “I’m watching my figure.”

“What happened to the little girl who used to eat a whole pie at one sitting?” Mrs. Vale asked.

“She’s all grown up, mother. She’s somebody else now.”

“I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it,” Jerry said. “I love banana cream pie.”

“Watch out you don’t get fat,” Charlotte said.

“I’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

Mrs. Vale drank her coffee and called Cordelia in from the kitchen to give her another cup. When she was halfway through the second cup, her eyes closed, she gave a little shudder and fell forward directly onto the banana cream pie. Charlotte and Jerry sat quite still, Charlotte sipping her coffee and Jerry eating the pie.

After a few minutes, Cordelia opened the door to the kitchen a few inches and peeked around the edge of it. “Can I come in?” she asked.

“Yes, please do, Cordelia,” Charlotte said.

“Did it work?”

“I don’t believe she’s breathing,” Charlotte said.

“One of us should check to make sure,” Jerry said.

Cordelia put the tips of her fingers on Mrs. Vale’s neck. “I don’t feel no pulse,” she said.

When they had Mrs. Vale pulled back from the table, Cordelia put her ear to the old woman’s chest. “No heartbeat, neither,” she said. “You’d better listen for yourself, Miss Charlotte.”

Charlotte took off her earring and leaned over until her ear was touching the sunken chest. “She’s dead,” she said.

“Ah!” Jerry said. “Success!”

“Well, ain’t that something!” Cordelia said. “It sure enough worked!”

“And you won’t ever tell anybody about this, will you, Cordelia?” Charlotte asked.

“On my word of honor! I never did like her anyway. She sure was mean to me! I won’t shed no tears for her!”

“I’ll give you enough money so you can go home to your people and you’ll never have to work hard again.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m gonna buy me a dozen pairs of silk stockings and some gardenia perfume. It sure does smell high!”

“You’ll be able to buy anything you want now.”

“And who knows? I might even find me another man to marry.”

“Stranger things have happened,” Jerry said.

Charlotte and Jerry went into the library, Charlotte’s favorite room in the house. She went to the French doors that opened onto the terrace and opened them. The room was instantly filled with night smells from the garden.

“Just think,” Jerry said. “Free of her at last!”

“Yes, free of all encumbrances,” Charlotte said.

“I was thinking we might live here, for a while at least.”

“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said. “I want to get away. Go abroad.”

“Yes, darling. Whatever you want.”

“Nobody ever called me ‘darling’ before.”

“The poison is absolutely untraceable. Nobody will ever suspect a thing. She was just an old woman who died from a sudden heart attack.”

“Brilliantly planned and executed!”

“And twenty million dollars?”

“It’s all too wonderful!”

“Shall we have a cigarette on it?”

He put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit them together, and handed one to Charlotte. Her eyes glistened with tears as she took it from him.

Standing there, side by side, framed in the doors to the garden, they looked up at the sky. A half-moon was just visible over the treetops, surrounded by a million stars.

“And will you be happy?” Jerry asked.

“Oh, Jerry,” she said. “Let’s not ask for the moon! We have the stars!”

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Miss Snooty Britches

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Joan Crawford and Ann Blythe in Mildred Pierce

Miss Snooty Britches ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Why is it we never seem to get along anymore?” Mildred said to her daughter, Veda, who was eating a banana.

“Oh, you know, mother,” Veda said. “I just don’t like you very much.”

“Why not?”

“It isn’t only you. I don’t like anybody and I don’t like my life.”

“Your father and I work very hard to give you and your sister a lovely home and all the things you want and need. If you don’t like your life, it isn’t my fault or his.”

“Don’t you get it, mother? We’re not rich! We don’t even have one servant! How can I hold my head up when my mother bakes cakes and pies to sell to the neighbors and my father works in a real estate office?”

“We do the best we can. When I was your age, I lived with my family in a boxcar down by the river. At night the police would come and raid us and make us get out, no matter how bad the weather.”

“Yes, mother, I’ve heard all that a million times before, but your life is your life and it doesn’t have anything to do with my life.”

“I’m proud that I was able to give you a better life than I had.”

“Oh, mother, don’t you see? It’s not just my life within these four walls! It’s this awful town and its men in overalls and women in uniforms! Its dollar days and its smell of grease!”

“The town was good enough for you not too long ago. What happened?”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m really quite beautiful. I make the other girls in school look like the leftovers from a dog fight. I’ve had people tell me I could make it in the movies if only I gave it a try. Why, if I set one foot in Hollywood, those casting directors would be all over me!”

“Then why don’t you give Hollywood a try?”

“Because I’m seventeen years old and I would like to at least get a high school diploma before I take the world by storm.”

She threw her banana peel on the floor and went to the piano and began playing Chopin’s Valse Brilliante. After she had played a few bars, her face took on a dreamy, faraway look.

“That’s pretty,” Mildred said, not looking up from the cake she was decorating. “What’s it called?”

“It’s something you would never have heard of,” Veda said sniffily.

“For your information, young lady, I’m not a complete boob!”

“Pretty nearly, though. And while we’re on the subject, that dress you bought for me is truly awful. I’ll bet you bought it in the bargain basement because it smells cheap. I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing.”

“I thought you would like it. The saleslady said it’s the latest thing.”

“It’s hideous! Why don’t you wear it?”

“It isn’t the right style for me. It’s too young.”

“Maybe if you wore it you would catch the eye of a really interesting man. One with money.”

“Veda, how can you speak to me that way? You know I would never look at another man as long as I’m so happily married to your father.”

“Mother, who are you trying to kid? Father has been stepping out with Mrs. Biederhoff for months now! It seems you’re the only one who doesn’t know about it. He’s probably over at her house right now, drinking cheap gin and playing gin rummy!”

“So help me, Veda!”

“If I were you, I would divorce that loser so fast it would make his head spin!”

“How can you say such things, Veda?”

“But, to be quite honest, my sympathies lie entirely with you, mother. Mrs. Biederhoff definitely comes from the lower classes. But, then, so does father.”

“I suppose you think I’m low class, too?”

“Well, you never speak of your people or where they came from. You might have descended from rag-pickers for all we know.”

“Oh, Veda, it breaks my heart to hear you speak that way.”

Veda stood up quickly from the piano. “Oh, mother, really! When are you going to grow up and see things as they really are? If you would dump father, you would have a chance at attracting a better type of man.”

“I don’t want a better type of man. Burt is plenty good enough for me.”

“You say that as if you don’t really mean it. You’re not bad-looking in your way. You have a decent figure. Your problem is you have no taste in clothes and no style. With help from the right person on how to dress and how to fix your hair and makeup, you could be quite a stunning woman instead of a frump.”

“Do you really think I’m a frump?”

“I don’t want to be mean, mother, but I learned at a young age that it’s better to face the truth about yourself and others than to live in a fog of self-deception.”

“How do you get that way, Veda?”

“How about Wally Fay, for example? I know he isn’t very good-looking, but he’s a forward-thinking businessman and is bound to be rich some day.”

“Is money all you ever think about?”

“Can you honestly tell me that anything is more important? You can do anything with money and without it you can do nothing.”

“I would never think of Wally Fay that way,” Mildred said. “He’s your father’s business partner.”

“What difference does that make? If you have any sense at all, you’ll use Wally Fay as your one-way ticket out of this horrible existence you call life. I frankly don’t know what he sees in you, but you know he’s always been in love with you.”

Just then Kay arrived home from school. “Hello, mummy!” she said cheerily, planting a kiss on Mildred’s cheek.

“Hello, darling! How was school today?”

“School was the nuts but the baseball game after school was the berries. We beat the pants off the other guys.”

“Oh, mother!” Veda said. “How can you let her go around like that? She’s dirty and she smells like an animal.”

“What’s with you today, Miss Snooty Britches?” Kay said.

“She’s in one of her moods,” Mildred said. “She thinks she’s better than the rest of us and she doesn’t like her life.”

“Oh, brother!” Kay said. “It must be her time of the month.”

“How do you know about that? You’re nine years old!”

“Oh, I get around more than you think.”

“Well, you go upstairs now and get into a hot bath and put on some clean clothes.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Mother, she’s horrible!” Veda said after Kay had left the room. “The language she uses! Can’t you see what’s happening to her? Her environment is ruining her. Pretty soon she’ll be knocking over gas stations.”

“She does have a good time, though, doesn’t she?” Mildred said. “I remember when I was her age I…”

But she was interrupted in mid-sentence when Burt’s car pulled into the driveway with a squeal of brakes. She ran outside, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“Burt, your daughter is impossible,” she began.

“Mildred, I need to talk to you privately,” he said.

“She’s just been telling me all the things that are wrong with me, you, Kay, and with the town.”

“I don’t care about that, Mildred. I said I need to talk to you!”

“Why, what’s the matter?”

He took hold of her arm and pulled her into the garage. “I just stopped by to tell you I’m leaving you.”


“I’m in love with Maggie Biederhoff and I have been for some time. I’m going to get a few of my things and I’m moving in with Maggie tonight.”

“But, Burt, what about the children?”

“You can sue me for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility and infidelity and I won’t contest it. You can have the house and everything. I wont stand in your way.”

“What are you saying, Burt?”

“I’m saying I’m finally taking control of my own life.”

When Mildred went back inside, Veda was standing there with a smirk on her face.

“Do you believe me now?” Veda asked.

“You were listening?”

“I heard every word!”

“You shouldn’t listen in on other people’s private conversations.”

“I say ‘good riddance’!”

“Veda, he’s your father!”

“He may be my father but he’s just another no-good bum who can’t do any of us any good!”

Mildred groaned and sat down at the kitchen table. “Get me a glass of water, will you, dear?”

“I think you need a good stiff drink!”

“You have your degree in mixology. Why don’t you fix it then?”

Mildred sniffled and made a goose call into her handkerchief. When Veda set the drink down in front of her, she downed it and had another.

“This is the best thing that’s happened in a long time,” Veda said.

“Why, what do you mean?”

“You’re free! Or at least you will be as soon as you get a quickie divorce!”

“Maybe I don’t want to be free.”

“Now you can go after Wally Fay or some other man who’s going places!”

“Veda, I’m not like you! I can’t go after some man I don’t love just for his money!”

“I want you to invite Wally Fay over for dinner. Wear a negligee or something filmy. Show a bit of nip. Men love that sort of thing. After dinner, I’ll take Kay to a movie and you can make your moves on Wally. Tell him you’re finally free of father. Give him what he’s always wanted from you and in ten minutes he’ll be eating out of your hand.”

“Veda, you make me sound like a whore!”

“Well, isn’t that the general idea?”

“I’m going to take a bubble bath and get into bed,” Mildred said. “I have a terrible headache. I don’t even want any dinner. You fix a little something for Kay and tell her I’ve retired early. Don’t tell her yet about your father’s leaving. I want to tell her myself when the time is right.”

“Do you mean you’re not going to telephone Wally Fay?”

“I am not!”

“Now that father is gone, you’re not going to finally fall into Wally’s arms?”

“I don’t really like Wally and I never have. He’s a pig.”

“Mother, you’re impossible!”

“And I’ll tell you something else, Miss Snooty Britches! I’m not going to take advice from you about men or anything else! You’re seventeen years old! What do you know?”

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing I do know. If you’re not going to pursue Wally in the way that fate has laid out for you, then I’m going to go after him for myself!”

“Veda, he’s old enough to be your father!”

“So? He can give me a beautiful home and all the things I want in life. When he’s pawing me and trying to get his hands under my clothing, I can just close my eyes and pretend he’s somebody else.”

Mildred laughed. “I’m afraid that’s not going to work, dear,” she said.

“It’ll work if I make it work!”

“Now I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“I had decided I was never going to tell you this, but now that Burt has left me and we’re no longer a family, I think the time has come.”

“Mother, you’re not going to tell me that Wally Fay is my father?”

“Have you never noticed the resemblance? You have his mouth and his chin.”

“Does Wally know?”

“I never told him. I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to keep from telling Burt.”

“Then if Wally doesn’t know, I’m all right.”

“What are you saying?”

“One of us is going to marry Wally Fay. If it’s not going to be you, it’s going to be me.”

Mildred stood up from the table and slapped Veda in the mouth. Veda fell back against the wall but righted herself and returned the slap with equal vehemence. Mildred opened the drawer where the knives were kept and pulled out the knife she used for cutting up chickens. She threw the knife but Veda sidestepped it handily and reached for a skillet that she brought down on Mildred’s head. When Mildred regained consciousness, the fighting continued until neighbors called the police.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Restoration ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Restoration cover

Restoration ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

From 1649 to 1658 was the period in English history known as the English Interregnum or the English Commonwealth. The country during this period was a de facto republic with Oliver Cromwell as virtual dictator. A political crisis resulting from Cromwell’s death in 1658 led to the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II as king. The period that followed is known as the “Restoration.” It was a time of fashion (plumes, powdered wigs, knee britches with stockings, high-heeled shoes with polished buckles—all for the men), relaxed moral values, hedonism, excesses of every kind, greed and materialism. The historical novel Restoration by Rose Tremain is about this period in English history and about one man in particular, the fictional Sir Robert Merivel.

Merivel is very much a man of his times. He comes from humble beginnings, begins studying to be a doctor as a young man, and is soon caught up in the pursuit of fulfillment of his appetites. He abandons his study of medicine, becomes a sort of courtier in the court of King Charles and, for a brief period, is a favorite of the king. The king, however, is known for his mercurial personality and for his whims, for taking up one person one day and throwing him down the next. Merivel makes the king laugh but the king finds for him another purpose: the king will marry Merivel to the king’s mistress, Lady Celia, a marriage in name only. In return for this marriage, the king sets Merivel up in a magnificent country estate called Bidnold, which has everything an English country gentleman could ask for: lots of servants, a park filled with abundant wildlife, and lots of room to pursue a life of idleness and pleasure. (Merivel takes up painting and playing the oboe but finds he has little talent for either pursuit.) Like Adam and Eve in Paradise, however, Merivel does the one thing he is absolutely not supposed to do: he falls in love with Lady Celia. When the king finds out, he dispossesses Merivel, telling him he needs to go find himself, to “restore” himself to the kind of man he was always meant to be. Suddenly without money or a home, Merivel must embark on a quest to find out who he really is and to fulfill his purpose in life. Fate takes him to a mental hospital run by Quakers in a rural part of England (where he inadvertently finds himself a father) and back to London again where he deals with a plague epidemic and the Great Fire of 1666.

Restoration is not the potboiler one might expect it to be. It elevates the “historical fiction” genre into the realm of “good literature.” It’s beautifully written and contains not a dull or extraneous word. It illuminates a fascinating period in English history without ever being academic or seeming like a history lesson. It brings a remote period of history alive and makes it somehow relevant.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp 


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