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Penny Dreadful, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review

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Penny Dreadful- Victor Frankenstein

Penny Dreadful, Season Two ~ A Capsule Review by Allen Kopp 

My favorite character on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He’s slender, young and handsome with a dimple in his chin. He doesn’t look like a mad scientist or somebody who enjoys reanimating dead tissue. He’s brilliant in his work but uncomfortable, since he is a Victorian gentleman, when it comes to things like picking out a lady’s undergarments. In season one he created a sweet doe-eyed monster out of parts from cadavers, only to have an earlier creation—one who didn’t turn out so well—return, kill the sweet monster and start making demands. This earlier monster, who calls himself John Clare, is lonely—if Dr. Frankenstein will create a mate for him, he promises he will go away and not cause any more trouble. Dr. Frankenstein tells him to be patient and he will go to work on the problem. While John Clare is waiting, he goes out into the cruel real world and finds a job. First he works at a Grand Guignol theatre, where bloodletting is the order of the day. That ends in tragedy, so, in season two, he secures employment at a wax works. The kindly owner of the wax works has a blind daughter to whom John Clare is drawn. She feels perfectly comfortable with him because she cannot see how strange he looks.

In season one of the show, the only American character in the cast, Ethan Chandler (in London with a Wild West show), had a girlfriend from the lower English classes named Broma Croft. He was in love with her but, alas, she had consumption and soon died. Dr. Frankenstein secures her body with the intention of turning her into the mate for his monster. He puts her in a pickling solution and waits for the terrific thunderstorm that will reanimate her. When the storm occurs and he is able to bring her back to life, she is disoriented and remembers nothing of her former life. He names her Lily (the flower of rebirth and resurrection) and tells her she is his cousin and that they grew up together. He has to teach her everything about the world, as she is like a newborn baby. He dyes her hair blond to give her a different identify from the one she had when she was Broma Croft and enlists the aid of Vanessa Ives to buy her some clothes to wear.

Of course, other things are going on simultaneously. Vanessa Ives, who was revealed at the end of season one to be Sir Malcolm Mallory’s out-of-wedlock daughter, is now living in his house with him and his African man-servant Sembene. She is, and always has been, much tormented, subject to visitations by the darkest of forces. (Is she a witch or what?) We have recently learned that Satan desires her above all others. (What he will do with her when he gets her we can only imagine.) Satan has sent his consort (one of them?) to earth in the guise of one Mrs. Poole. She has a collection of naughty “daughters” who are also minions of Satan who will do her (and his) bidding. Their one goal is to get Vanessa Ives for Satan. (Why he can’t get her himself has not been revealed.) Sir Malcolm has begun a flirtation with Mrs. Poole (not as innocent as he thinks), not knowing who, or what, she really is.

Then there’s youthful Dorian Gray. He has a new love interest, named Angelique, who, on first acquaintance, appears to be a woman but—wait a minute—“she” is really a “he.” (Dorian knew right away it was a man; men are what he is most interested in.) When Angelique inquires about Dorian’s age, he tells her he is older than he looks. (We already know how he keeps his youthful appearance.) There’s a scene where Dorian and Angelique are playing a game called gossamer tennis (ping-pong to us), a game newly brought over from India by returning soldiers.  Angelique bests Dorian in every game, even though the place where they are playing is lit by electric light, not very flattering to a “girl’s” complexion, as Angelique says.

Penny Dreadful is set in Victorian London, but it’s not the London of Charles Dickens. It’s a mélange of horror movie themes, dark and forbidding, with dark forces everywhere afoot. It’s classy, well-made, intellectually stimulating and a feast for the eyes. How do they do those fabulous sets that are only seen for a second or two? If it’s all computer-generated graphics, it’s still impressive because it looks so real. Seeing it is to step out of the mundane world we live in into another time and place that is fun to visit, even though you probably wouldn’t want to live there if it meant you had to do without the Internet.

Penny Dreadful, Season Two

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Ladies of the Laundry

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The Ladies of the Laundry

The Ladies of the Laundry ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Two years out of high school, Virgie Smalls worked in the Handy Dandy Laundry. She hated the white uniform she had to wear and almost everything else about the job. The work was tiring, monotonous and steamy. All day long she moved her arms up and down, in and out, over and under, until they seemed to move of their own accord without any effort on her part. When she looked ahead to the future, it made her sick to think that she might have to spend her entire life in such a place.

The workers at the laundry were all older women, smokers and drinkers, whose idea of a good time was Friday night bingo at the VFW hall. Virgie didn’t bother to make them think she liked them, so, as a consequence, they didn’t like her. They never invited her to their baby showers or after-work drinking parties. When she walked into the room where they were talking, they fell silent.

Another person at the laundry who was just as disliked as Virgie was Sterling Fingers, the truck driver. He was only four feet, eight inches tall and had to sit on a built-up seat when he drove his truck to be able to see over the steering wheel. The ladies called him shortstop and tittered when he walked by. He got back at them, though, by coming up behind them and making pig sounds and then pretending he didn’t do it when they turned around and were ready to slap him. He also liked to play tricks on them by going into their locker room while they were working and switching their purses or tying their shoes together by the shoelaces in such hard knots that they weren’t able to get them apart.

One day one of the ladies went to the boss and complained about Sterling Fingers. She said he put his hand on her ass cheek and said a dirty word in her ear. The boss called Sterling into his office and told him what the woman had said.

“She’s full of shit,” Sterling said. “I never did no such thing.”

“We can’t have that kind of behavior here,” the boss said.

“I said I didn’t do it.”

“All right. I’ll take your word for it this time, but I have to warn you. You’re on probation.”

“Why isn’t the heifer that told a lie about me the one that’s on probation?”

“Remember what I said, Sterling.”

He wanted to do something bad to the woman who told the tale on him, but he knew if he did it would only get him fired. (What he really wanted to do would get him sent to jail.) His way of dealing with the situation was to stay as far away from the ladies as he could so none of them could ever have any complaints against him. Pretending they didn’t exist was easy for him, as he found nothing about any of them that could ever interest him.

One Friday when the boss was away and Sterling was emptying some trash, he saw the woman who had told the lie about him slip out the side door that opened into an alley. Curious, he went to the door and opened it just enough to see out. The alleyway was private, closed in on three sides. The woman, whose name was Bernadette, got into the back of a black van with a man and they closed the doors. The windows had curtains on them so Sterling could only imagine what they were doing. A while later Bernadette was back on the line as if nothing had happened.

Now, he didn’t care one whit what Bernadette did or with whom, but he knew it was a strict policy of the company that you were not supposed to leave without first punching out at the time clock. Anybody who left and didn’t punch their time card was guilty of what they called time theft. Sterling could have gone to the boss on Monday morning and told him what he saw, but he knew it would seem that he was only trying to get even, so he decided to wait and see how things played out.

He began watching Bernadette without letting her know he was watching: as she cut up with the ladies, as she went into the restroom and came out again, as she took her lunch break and as she left to go home at the end of her shift. If she ever looked at him looking at her, he yawned with affected nonchalance and looked down at his fingernails.

His vigilance paid off, finally. The next time he saw Bernadette sneaking out the side door, he was ready. He had a tiny camera that he had bought especially for the occasion. He took pictures of her kissing the man, getting into the back of the van with him, and of the man reaching out and pulling the doors closed as Bernadette began to unbutton her uniform. Her face was plain as daylight. There could be no question that it was her.

When he got the pictures back from the developer, he wrote DURING WORKING HOURS in the little white margin at the top of each one and put them in an envelope. He carried the envelope in his shirt pocket for several days before doing anything about it.

He saw Virgie Smalls sitting in the break room alone one afternoon, drinking a Coke. He sat down across from her and lit a cigarette.

“You hate Bernadette, don’t you?” he said.


“Bernadette. I said you hate her.”

“If I ever thought about her,” Virgie said, “I’d hate her.”

“You think about her and you hate her.”

“Well, let’s just say I despise her.”

“Same thing.”

“What’s this about?”

“We can get back at the silly cow now.”


He took the pictures from his pocket and handed them to Virgie. “This is just between the two of us,” he said.

She looked at the pictures and smiled for the first time that day. “Who took these?” she asked.

“Who do you think took them? Yours truly took them.”

“Who’s the guy?”

“It doesn’t matter who he is. The thing that matters is we’ve got the goods on a person we hate.”

“All right. So now what?”

“I need your help in this.”

She handed the pictures across the table as if they had become hot. “No! I’m not getting involved in anything like that.”

“All you have to do is get them to the boss.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

“For reasons that I don’t care to elaborate on right now.”

“So, all you want me to do is just hand them to him?”

“That’s the idea.”

“When he sees what they are, he’ll want to know where I got them.”

“Wait until he’s out and take them in and put them on his desk in a place where he’ll be sure and see them.”

“I guess I could do that.”

“I guarantee Bernadette will be gone in a matter of minutes.”

“You’re very naughty, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think anybody’s as naughty as Bernadette,” he said.

He waved the pictures in her face and watched as she took them from him and put them in the pocket of her uniform.

The next time the boss was out for the day, Virgie gave Sterling a sign that the pictures were on the boss’s desk.

When the boss called Bernadette into his office, presented her with the evidence and fired her, she bellowed like a bull. She ran through the building, turning things over as she went. Sterling was loading the truck at the dock, but he heard the commotion and went to have a look.

“You little rat bastard!” Bernadette screamed when she saw him. “You did this, I know you did!”

“Get her out of here,” the boss said to some of his men, “before she kills somebody.”

The next time Sterling saw Virgie, he smiled and made a dusting-off motion with his hands.

Bernadette’s dismissal was all the ladies of the laundry could talk about. The rumor mill was rife with speculation. The man she was meeting in the alley was really her husband, someone said. He’s an escaped convict and the police are after him to send him back to prison. No, that’s not true, another said. He’s an important man in politics and he has to be careful because if he’s caught cheating on his wife it could ruin his reputation. The question, then, begged to be asked: out of all the women in the world, why would he want to cheat with unattractive Bernadette?

In a few days, though, they all moved on to other things. A new girl named Josephine was brought in to replace Bernadette. She was newly arrived from Puerto Rico and was just learning to speak English. The ladies loved to gather around her and laugh at her fractured pronunciation of words. Every time they laughed, she blushed fetchingly and covered her face with her hands, eliciting more laughter. The ladies were all in love with Josephine, at least for the time being.

Anybody who knew Bernadette well knew she would have to have her vengeance, and when it came it was on a day that it was least expected.

The laundry was shutting down for a week for repairs and everybody was happy. A whole week off with pay to carouse around at night and sleep late in the morning. It was just like heaven.

Sterling Fingers was all caught up on his deliveries on that last day before the week off and was pushing some dirt around with a broom near the front door when who should come rushing in but Bernadette. She was staggering and obviously drunk and when she saw that Sterling was right there and she wasn’t even going to have to go look for him, her face lit up with an evil grin.

“Bernadette!” he said. “How lovely to see you! Ugly as ever, I see!”

“This is for you, you little son of a bitch!” she said.

She approached him and plunged a knife into his gut and turned and ran out the door.

“Oh-oh-oh!” he said, going down on the floor. “Oh-oh-oh!”

One of the girls in the front office screamed and everybody who heard her came running to see what had happened. Several others screamed and covered their eyes when they saw Sterling on is back on the floor holding his hands to his gut, blood gushing out around his fingers.

“Mother of Mercy!” he said. “Is this the end of Rico?”

Nobody made a move to help him except Virgie. She knelt down beside him and took his hand between hers.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” she yelled.

One of the ladies went and got some towels and handed them to Virgie. She pressed them against his abdomen where the blood was pouring out.

“It’s going to be all right, dear,” she said. “The ambulance is on its way.”

“It was Bernadette,” he said.

“I know.”

The paramedics arrived and lifted Sterling onto a stretcher. Virgie held onto his hand as long as she could.

He looked into her eyes, his voice weak, and said, “You called me dear.”

“Don’t try to talk now,” she said.

“You helped me,” he said. “You were the only one.”

“They’ll take you to the hospital now and get you fixed up.”

“Will I see you again?” he asked.

“I’ll be here,” she said.

As the paramedics lifted him into the ambulance, he said to one of them, “I want you to get the minge that did this to me.” He fainted then and didn’t say anything else.

The police caught Bernadette drinking vodka cocktails at a bar a few blocks from the laundry. She was smiling, smoking cigarettes and chatting with the bartender as if she stabbed somebody in the gut every day of the week.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Benediction ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Benediction ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp 

I met writer Kent Haruf at one of his book-signing events in St. Louis. We spoke for a minute about Cormac McCarthy and Oscar Hijuelos and I came away with a signed copy of his novel Plainsong to add to my collection of signed books. His 2013 novel Benediction continues his string of quietly impressive books set on the high plains in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. The main character here is Dad Lewis (we never know his first name), lifelong owner of the town’s hardware store. He has a faithful wife named Mary and two children, Lorraine and Frank. When we meet him, he is old and sick and doesn’t have long to live. His daughter Lorraine, now middle-aged, returns home to be with him in his final stretch. He longs to reconnect with his estranged son Frank before he dies, but Frank is gay and he and Dad have never hit it off very well.

Then there’s Reverend Lyle, new to Holt from Denver. His wife and son are unhappy with small-town life and they never pass up a chance to remind him. (His wife was having an extramarital affair in Denver and that was one of the reasons they left.) When Reverend Lyle preaches a sermon in the Congregational Church about loving one’s neighbors and turning the other cheek, it doesn’t go over well with small-town folk, especially during wartime. (He’s only stating what the Bible says, but most people seem to think he’s siding with the enemy.) He is so disliked after this sermon, it seems there is no way he can survive attempts to have him fired or reassigned. After his unsympathetic wife leaves him and his son attempts suicide, what’s left for Reverent Lyle in the town of Holt?

Other characters include Berta May, the old lady who lives next door to Dad and Mary Lewis, raising her young granddaughter, Alice, after the girl’s mother dies; Tanya, the wife of a fired employee who Dad Lewis helps (without expecting anything in return, although sex is offered) after her husband commits suicide; Willa Johnson and her fifty-six-year-old daughter Alene, a teacher who once had an unhappy love affair with a married man that she was never quite able to get over. On a hot day the ladies (Mary Lewis and her daughter Lorraine, Willa and Alene Johnson, Berta May and her granddaughter Alice) take off all their clothes and get into the stock tank. I might have expected them to be more modest than that, especially in the company of a young girl, but it seems that woman aren’t as modest as men.

Benediction is a slice of small-town life, understated in the way of the man who wrote it. There’s nothing bombastic or larger than life here, just solid storytelling told in uncluttered language with plenty of drama (but no drama queens) just underneath the surface. It’s people living out their good-and-bad lives, forcing us to wonder—and not for the first time, either—what it’s all about.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp 

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

This is the second film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel. The first was in 1967 and starred that mod girl Julie Christie. This one is better, though. It has Carey Mulligan (who played Michael Fassbender’s disturbed sister in Shame and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby) as Bathsheba Everdene. The story is set in rural England in 1870. Bathsheba is that rare animal in Victorian England, a free-thinking woman who doesn’t believe that a woman has to be dependent on a man to get along in the world. She has, as she says, an education and nothing else. When handsome sheep farmer Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts) proposes marriage to her on very short acquaintance, she tells him she doesn’t want a husband. That isn’t the end of him, though. Just about the time he loses his own small farm through a cruel twist of fate, she inherits a farm of her own from an uncle. Since she knows nothing about running a farm, she employs Gabriel Oaks to help her.

Meanwhile, Bathsheba has caught the eye of wealthy landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). He has a large, impressive house and anything a girl could want in the way of earthly possessions, but he’s dour, middle-aged and unexciting. When he proposes marriage to Bathsheba (as, with Farmer Oaks, on very short acquaintance), she turns him down, explaining that she doesn’t want to be any man’s property. Farmer Boldwood doesn’t give up easily, though; he believes he might be able to get her to change her mind.

A third man comes onto the scene and almost literally sweeps Bathsheba off her feet. He is handsome Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy. With his red uniform, pale skin, perfect physique and black mustache, he is too much for Bathsheba to resist. She enters into a hasty, ill-informed union with him, only to regret it almost the same day as the marriage. It turns out that he was supposed to marry another girl named Fanny Robbin (played by Juno Temple, who plays Texas-accented Dottie in Killer Joe), but when Fanny goes to the wrong church on the day of the wedding, she literally leaves him standing at the altar. When Frank meets Fanny again after he is married to Bathsheba, she is destitute and carrying his child. She and the child both die and Frank is grief-stricken. He tells Bathsheba that Fanny meant more to him that she (Bathsheba) ever could. He commits suicide (or seems to) by removing his uniform and swimming far out into the ocean. There’s a heavy dose of irony in how the story is resolved.

With this cast of characters and the setting, how could you go wrong? If you are of a literary bent and especially if you have read the books of Thomas Hardy, you will love this satisfying, beautifully photographed, perfectly cast version of Far From the Madding Crowd. Unless, of course, you prefer Fast and Furious 7, which is, I imagine, a lot like Fast and Furious 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Where will it all end?

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Door That’s Always Closed

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The Door That's Always Closed

The Door That’s Always Closed ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

My name is Charles Anson. I moved in with my mother in her apartment after my father died. At first I hated the idea of living with her at the age of thirty-seven, but soon I got used to it and thought of her home as my home. And I have to admit my life was easier than when I had my own place. My mother had a cook and housekeeper, so I no longer had to buy my own food or cook it and no longer had to do any housecleaning, which I was never very good at anyway.

My mother didn’t give birth to me until her mid-forties, so to me she seemed old before her time. She had developed a bad heart in the years after my father’s death and told me she was happy to have me there with her—I was her only family that counted, she said—even though we argued quite a lot at times about my drinking habits and the late hours I sometimes kept. My mother had a bad temper, which my father could have told you about if he had still been alive. I remember when I was little and heard them fighting late at night. It wasn’t unusual to hear glass breaking or wood splintering. When my father got enough of being goaded, he would end up breaking something. In the morning when I asked about whatever it was that got broken, my mother would laugh and say my father had a little accident while sleepwalking. I knew it wasn’t the truth but it was a good way to gloss over an ugly situation.

I went to work every day and when I came home my mother was there and dinner on the table and all was well. After dinner, I would usually step out if I felt like it, and I see now that my mother was a little jealous that I didn’t spend all my time with her when I wasn’t working. She watched movies on television and she was always happy to have me watch with her, but it wasn’t my idea of a good time. I could only take so many Bette Davis or Joan Crawford movies.

Most of the time when I came home from a night on the town, sometimes at one or two in the morning, my mother would have all the lights on in the place and also the TV but would have retired to her room. This made her feel safer when she was alone, she said. I would turn everything off, starting with the TV, and make my way to bed, sleep for about four hours, get up and begin my day all over again, as so many of us working stiffs do. My mother had told me I didn’t even need to work, that she had plenty of money for us both to live on, but I couldn’t see myself hanging around all day with just her to talk to and having to ask her for money anytime I wanted to go out and have a few drinks.

On weekends I always tried to spend either Saturday or Sunday with my mother, just the two of us. She liked to go for a drive and I would very often take her to the cemetery where my father was and take her to a hamburger place for lunch. If it was a Sunday, we would try to take in a museum or a concert. If we ever went to a movie, she always said she preferred seeing movies on TV, and when I told her most people who liked movies wanted to see them at the theatre and not on TV, she only shook her head as if she didn’t understand.

“Movies today are not like the old ones they have on TV,” she said.

“To each his own,” I said.

All in all, my life was agreeable. I didn’t spend most of the money I made so I was able to invest. The market was doing well, so I did well. I didn’t miss the things I didn’t have that other people had, like a marriage and children. I had learned early in life that not everybody in the world is the same and I found it out more and more as I got older.

My mother went on for years with her bad heart, but she came to a point where she couldn’t go on any longer. She looked pale and drawn all the time and spent most of her time lying down. She stopped fixing herself up and having her hair done up. Most days she didn’t even bother to get dressed.

She went to the hospital for a few days and when she came home she swore she would never go back, no matter what. She wanted to be in the privacy of her own home and not have a bunch of strangers around her at the end. I hired a nurse to be with her during the day when I was at work and another at night. They just did their work quietly and effectively and didn’t bother me. I paid them when the time came and left them to do whatever needed to be done.

I decided to quit my job in early summer. I didn’t need to work, as I said before, and all the time I was away I was worried that the end would come for my mother and I wouldn’t be there when she needed me. I dismissed both nurses and told them I would take over from there.

My mother moved into one of the guest bedrooms—she didn’t want to mess up her own room where all her treasures were—and became entirely bedridden. Her doctor sympathized with her desire to be at home and gave me lots of pills to give to her. He told me I didn’t have to hold back in administering her medicine and nobody would ever know the difference. I knew what he was talking about without having it explained.

We kept her heavily sedated and I knew she wasn’t in any pain. Every so often she would open her eyes and look at me and I knew she was happy with the way things had turned out. She drifted away peacefully on a blazing day in August. She was breathing and then she wasn’t.

Now, when a loved one dies, there are things that need to be done. I was supposed to call the doctor and get a death certificate and then call the funeral home and have them come and get her. I found I wasn’t able to do those things, though. I could not speak the words to anybody that she was gone. All I did was close the door and lock it. I placed a beautiful Chinese screen she was fond of in front of the door to make it look like there was no door there at all.

I knew it was wrong to just leave my mother in the room that way, but it seemed the only thing I could do. I was distraught. My world had been ripped asunder. How could I go on living day after day, year after year? I had nothing to live for.

I kept the apartment dark and I started drinking heavily and taking my mother’s pills. If I didn’t know what they were for, it didn’t make any difference. If I took too many and went to sleep and didn’t wake up, it was all the same to me. I was in a state between living and dying. Time lost all meaning for me.

Then, after two weeks or so, I suppose I snapped out of it, at least partway. I looked at myself in the mirror and vomited. After that, I cleaned myself up and went out and had a good meal in a restaurant. The next day I hired some cleaning people to come in and clean the apartment and air everything out from top to bottom. Except for the room my mother was in, of course.

I began eating regular meals again and gained some weight. I bought some cook books and learned to fix dishes I had never fixed before, like leg of lamb and Hungarian goulash. I bought myself some new clothes and began going out more, but always alone.

In the evenings I would pass the time reading novels, listening to classical music or watching old movies on TV as my mother had loved to do. I became as knowledgeable in movie lore as she had ever been. I saw all the films of Ramon Novarro and Ruth Chatterton. Kay Francis came to seem like an old friend.

To keep from feeling so alone, I bought a life-sized human female doll. It was supposed to be a young and beautiful woman, of course, a substitute companion for lonely men, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted it to resemble my mother. I put makeup on it to make it look older, put one of my mother’s wigs on it and dressed it in my mother’s clothes. I created an illusion. At night in the dark, with just the light from the TV screen, I would have sworn it was her sitting there if I hadn’t known better. I know she would have been pleased.

From there I took the next logical step and began dressing in her clothes myself. It made me feel close to her as though I were absorbing her essence into my body. She wasn’t a rotting corpse behind a closed door. She was right there with me and had been all the time.

After I dressed in her clothing a few times, I started experimenting with makeup. I applied it to my own face exactly as she would have applied it to her face. She had a couple of wigs on the top shelf of her closet and I got them down and tried them with different outfits. I would spend the entire day dressed as her. If it made me feel better and less alone, what did it hurt?

As I stood and looked at myself in her full-length mirror, I realized for the first time how much like her I was. My face was the same shape as hers, down to the dimple in my chin, and I had the same coloring. My beard stubble was light and nonexistent for at least a day after I shaved. I was the embodiment of my mother. I saw nothing of my father in me. He had been large with fleshy ears and a nose like a lump of cauliflower. When I was a child, I used to wonder how the two of them ever came to be together.

I spent hours practicing her walk, her laugh, the way she spoke, lit a cigarette or downed her vodka and tonic. I could match her signature so well that the most highly trained handwriting expert in the world would never have been able to tell the difference. But for whom was I doing all this? Was it was just tricks to be performed for my own amusement or was it something else?

One day when I was feeling brave and more than a little bold I decided to try a little experiment. Dressed as my mother—in her clothes, shoes, wig, hat and coat—I went down in the elevator and down the street to the market on the corner and bought a bag of groceries. I expected people to look at me and know I wasn’t what, or who, I appeared to be. If anybody noticed me at all, though, they looked away without giving me a thought. It was exactly the effect I hoped for.

On my way home, a neighbor woman stopped me on the sidewalk. She put her hand on my arm and leaned in familiarly.

“I heard you were sick,” she said. “I’m glad to see you looking so well.”

“I’m much better now,” I (my mother) said. “My son has been taking care of me.”

I began going out more as my mother. People who had known her for years weren’t able to tell the difference. I kept them from looking at me too closely but, even if they had, I don’t think they would have suspected anything. People see what they want to see and are not all that observant.

Take my mother’s lawyer, for example. He had some documents he wanted her to sign. Now, my mother and her lawyer had known each since high school. Making him believe I was her would be the ultimate test. I was sure I could do it but I was little anxious he would take one look at me and know I was somebody other than my mother. Would he then think I had murdered her or something equally bizarre? I knew I was taking a chance, but I was willing to risk it.

I didn’t need to worry. The lawyer held onto my gloved hand longer than was needed and led me to a chair in front of his desk.

“I’ve never seen you looking so radiant,” he said.

“Why, thank you!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

“Lots of broccoli and blueberries.”

“It has to be more than that.”

“Well, we all have our little secrets.”

“You can’t fool me about your age. I know exactly how old you are because I’m the same age.”

“It’s only a number,” I (my mother) said. “I stopped counting a long time ago.”

After I signed the papers, he invited me to lunch but I lied and told him I had an appointment to see my doctor. I wasn’t sure I could keep up the illusion through a long, liquor-infused sit-down.

When I went out of the apartment now, about half the time it was as my mother. People were attentive and polite to a well-dressed woman alone. I got the best tables in restaurants and some man or other was always more than willing to give me a seat on a crowded subway or bus. People lit my cigarettes, opened doors for me and held elevators. I could always get a smile out of even the most sour-faced old buzzard.

Sometimes, but not often, I thought about my mother lying on the bed in that room behind the screen. I couldn’t visualize her as a rotting corpse. You hear stories about a dead body being closed up in a house and people realizing it’s there only because they can smell it. There had been no odors in my apartment and no complaints from any of the neighbors. I had heard stories about the bodies of saints that aren’t subject to the laws of decay. I could almost believe that my mother was one of those. Wondrous are the workings of heaven and not of nature.

I dreamed often about my mother, a happy dream in which I could hear her voice and see her laughing face. She was always excited about something she had seen or read, a trip she was taking, a play she was going to or an old friend she had met again by chance. She was the only truly good person I had ever known. Everybody loved her.

When I was myself, Charles, I felt dull and uninteresting. My clothes were ill-fitting, no matter how much I paid for them or with what care I chose them. In conversation I was a nonentity. I had nothing to say to people and no desire to be with them.

I went to a lecture on Nebuchadnezzar at a museum, not as my mother but as myself. There I ran into an old acquaintance named Hulga Bosworth. We had dated for a while right after college. It was never what I would have called a romance but more just something I did back then because it’s what everybody else was doing. Hulga told me she had been married and divorced two times. When I asked her if she thought she was ever going to get it right, she just laughed.

She gave me her phone number and a few days later, when I was feeling low, I called her and we spent the next couple of hours filling each other in on our lives. We went out to dinner the next day and a couple of days after that we went to a piano recital. She told me on our second outing that she had never stopped thinking about me and hoped we would somehow meet again. When I said I was surprised that she had ever given me another thought, she laughed and said my modesty was one of the things she had always loved about me.

Hulga and I started spending a lot of time together. Since we were both alone, getting married seemed the next logical step. I wasn’t in love with her but we were compatible and I didn’t relish the idea of spending the rest of my life with nobody to talk to or eat dinner with. When I asked her if she’d like to get married, she didn’t hesitate before saying yes.

It wasn’t to be, though. When she told me I would have to give up my apartment, I refused.

“But darling,” she said, “we don’t need ten rooms for just the two of us.”

“I’m not moving,” I said. “This is my mother’s apartment. She expects me to keep it up while she’s away.”

“Isn’t your name on the lease?”

“It doesn’t matter if it is or not. I’m not moving.”

“You’re being childish.”

“Women always think that men are being childish when they refuse to take orders.”

We had a terrible argument, during which she demanded that I open the door to the room behind the Chinese screen.

“It hasn’t been opened in years,” I said.

“I want to see what’s in it.”

“Maybe it’s none of your business. Did you ever think of that?”

“It seems that since we’re to be married, your business is my business.”

“Not always,” I said.

She cried and threw an expensive vase at me and stormed out the door. The next day when she called to apologize I wouldn’t take her call or the calls that came after.

It was for the best, I knew. I didn’t want to enter into a bad marriage and then have to end up giving her half of everything I owned in a divorce settlement.

After that I drowned Charles in the bathtub, burning his tuxedo as a symbolic gesture, and lived my life as Margaret, mother of Charles. I never did like Charles anyway and I was sure nobody else did. But I continued in the hope that someday there would be somebody for me. If not my mother then somebody like her. Somebody to close the door and lock it when the time came and make sure nobody ever got in.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Stranger ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Stranger

The Stranger ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

French writer Albert Camus was born in Algiers in 1913 and died in an automobile accident in 1960 at the age of 47. His novel The Stranger was published in 1942 and first appeared in English in 1946. It’s the simple story of an ordinary French Algerian, named Meursault, and the act of senseless violence that changed his life.

When the story begins, Meursault’s mother has died in the rest home where he put her because he couldn’t take care of her properly at home. When he travels to her funeral it is a very hot day. He loved his mother in his own way but is not able to cry over her death. In the ordeal of sitting up with her body overnight and the funeral the next day, he shows no emotion. He stands before her coffin, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, observing the other mourners. His lack of emotion is noted by those in attendance and plays a significant part in what is to come.

Meursault has a friend named Raymond Sintès. When Raymond has a dispute with an Arab girlfriend, Meursault helps Raymond by writing her a letter. This leads to an altercation between Raymond and the girl, which leads to Raymond hitting her. A few days later when Meursault and Raymond go to the beach with some friends, the girl’s brother is waiting for them. There is a fight, during which Raymond is slightly injured. Meursault takes Raymond’s gun from him to keep him from doing anything rash. Later in the day, after they have all calmed down, Meursault returns to the beach with the gun and shoots the Arab five times and kills him. Meursault can’t explain why he killed the man, except to say that it was very hot.

Meursault is put in prison to await trail. He is detached about prison as he is about everything else. He is appointed a lawyer, who assures him that he will be acquitted. When the trail begins, it doesn’t go well for Meursault. The prosecution brings in all the people from Meursault’s mother’s funeral who testify that Meursault didn’t cry. The prosecutor in his eloquence portrays Meursault is a cold, calculating murderer and an unfeeling monster. The jury finds him guilty and he is sentenced to die by the guillotine. While awaiting death he allows himself to imagine some miracle occurring by which he is acquitted, but he knows it isn’t going to happen.

Meursault confides to a prison chaplain that he believes in nothing, that life is meaningless and random. There is no plan, no design that gives life a larger meaning. Meursault believes he understands the indifference of the universe toward man, and this allows him to come to terms with his own death. “…I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world,” he says. “Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

The Stranger is divided into two parts, before the murder and after. It’s a first-person narrative, told in Meursault’s own voice. We’re being told Meursault’s version of what happened. This makes the story seem immediate and relevant. While Meursault is detached in all things, his story is not detached and the reader doesn’t feel detached either. It’s a very readable classic, never dull or ponderous. In tenth grade when we were given a list of books to read to write a report on, I chose Pride and Prejudice. If I had known then how good The Stranger is, I would have chosen it instead. The Bennett sisters are chloroform in print.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Mad Mad: Fury Road ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Mad Max: Fury Road is set in a post-apocalyptic world (yes, another one), in an arid desert wasteland, where warring factions made up of grotesques battle each other in enormous vehicles (1000 horsepower) called “war rigs” that seem to be made up of parts of old cars and trucks. These people have reverted to a kind of primitive state in which one person, named Immortan Joe (the most grotesque of them all), “owns” all the people because he “owns” all the water. A woman named Furiosa has “stolen” some of Immortan Joe’s “breed stock” (five scantily clad girls, one of whom is carrying his child) to free them and also to take them with her to the “green place” of her birth. We can see that Furiosa has not had an easy time of it; her left arm is missing below the elbow. She keeps the girls hidden in her war rig as she tries to flee with them.

Enter Max Rockatansky, or Mad Max (Tom Hardy). Max tells us right at the beginning that he is driven by his instinct for survival in this hellish world and is haunted by the people he wasn’t able to save, including, apparently, his own small daughter who appears in his vision at odd times. This is about all we ever learn of Max. He is taciturn in the way of movie heroes, not nearly as menacing as the other men in the movie, and is more than capable of taking care of himself and anybody else he wants to take care of. He joins forces with Furiosa and the breed stock girls, helping them to get to where they think they want to go and flee from their menacing pursuers. We see that Furiosa likes Max but there’s no room here for romance—everybody is in too much danger and too hot and sweaty.

Mad Max: Fury Road has everything you would expect from an action-adventure movie: loudness, fiery explosions, a pulsating music score, unintelligible dialogue, lots of frenetic action, death-defying stunts, and good against not-so-good. This one also has character names such as Slit, Nux, Rictus Erectus, and Toast the Knowing. I see on IMDb that it’s not a remake of the 1979 Australian movie with Mel Gibson but a different story using the concept and setting of the earlier movie. Everything that was at one time a movie hit (that is, made money) will eventually find its way into the forefront again if you give it enough time.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp


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