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Wedding Portrait

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1953 ~ Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

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1920s ~ Two Stylish Couples

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A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

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In the 1935 film version of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Basil Rathbone plays the villainous aristocrat, the Marquis de Evremonde, whose callousness toward the peasants helps to spark the French Revolution. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

A carnival comes to a small Illinois town in October. Carnivals don’t usually come after Labor Day, but this carnival is different. It’s Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. It’s been in business for hundreds of years, traveling around from place to place, feeding on people’s sorrow, despair and tears. It makes empty promises and gets unhappy, sorrowful people to give up their souls. And what do these people get in exchange for their souls? They get NOTHING! You’d be surprised how easy it is to get some people to give up everything for nothing.

Mr. Dark is also known as the Illustrated Man. He’s the driving force behind the carnival. Every inch of his body is covered with tattoos of sinister creatures that move (or seem to move). Mr. Cooger, the other owner of the carnival, doesn’t have much to say. He has ridden on the carousel that makes people younger as it goes backward and older as it goes forward. When we see him, he might be a tiny child or he might be over two hundred years old. But, wait a minute! Isn’t Mr. Cooger also Mr. Electrico, the man who has been cooked in the electric chair as part of the show? One never seems to know about Mr. Cooger.

There’s a Mirror Maze in the carnival that, when people enter, sucks the souls right out of them. Once you enter the mirror maze, you may never be the same again, or you might not come out at all. There are freaks whose distorted bodies reflect their sins; a calliope that plays music backwards; big tents, sideshows, cotton candy and everything else you’d expect from a carnival.

Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are inseparable friends living next door to each other. They are not quite fourteen, one of them having been born one minute before midnight on Halloween and the other one minute after. They are very much alike except that Jim’s personality is “dark” and Will’s is “light.” They are drawn to the unusual carnival and right away they know, or think they know, its sinister intentions.

Will’s father, Charles Halloway, is an old man, fifty-four, janitor at the library. He likes working nights at the library when nobody is there. He is an unusual kind of father, philosophical and understanding. He reads some books on the subject of evil when he is alone at night in the library and uncovers information about carnivals such as Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. He realizes that Jim and Will, and other people in the town, are in danger. Mr. Dark wants their souls. The carnival loves all things “dark,” but if there’s anything it hates it’s laughter and happiness: a simple thing that might be enough to make the carnival move on. You can’t have any souls in this town. Of course, laughter and happiness won’t put the carnival out of business; all it has to be is move someplace else where laughter and happiness don’t exist.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, was first published in 1962. Its language is nearly poetic, a little overblown at times, with a sometimes tiresome stream of metaphors, as shown in this passage where Jim and Will first encounter Mr. Dark: This second man was tall as a lamp post. His pale face, lunar pockmarks denting it, cast light on those who stood below. His vest was the color of fresh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of good versus evil, dark versus light, happiness versus sadness, one of the seminal works of dark fantasy that has influenced a whole generation of writers. So, if you are the kind of person who can always find something to be unhappy about (I’ve known a few of these), you are making yourself more susceptible to evil, and the boogeyman (or Mr. Dark) might just come and snatch away your soul.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Never Mix, Never Worry (I Was Dancing and I Was Ridiculous)

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Never Mix, Never Worry (I Was Dancing and I Was Ridiculous)

They were out all night and didn’t get home until after dawn. Honey was sick from too much to drink and went right to bed. Nick slept on the couch in the living room, slept the morning away and didn’t wake up until the middle of the afternoon. Upon awaking, he had a terrible headache that he hadn’t been aware of while he slept. He wasn’t sure if his body was going to allow him to get up, but after a while he pulled himself to a standing position, head reeling, and went into the kitchen.

Honey was sitting at the table reading a book. She had a cup of tea beside her; she always said tea with lemon settled her stomach. When Nick came into the room, she didn’t look at him but concentrated very hard on the printed page.

“Hello, Honey,” Nick said, going up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders close to her neck. She flinched and leaned forward until he removed his hands.

“What a night!” he said with a little laugh. “I feel like eating something but when I think about what I might eat I think I’m going to puke.”

She marked her place in the book, closed it and laid it aside. “Do you want me to cook some eggs?” she asked.

Nick groaned. “I can’t stand the thought of eggs.” He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. “Don’t we have any bacon?”

“I haven’t been to the market yet. I was planning on going today but I don’t think I’m up to it.

He poured himself a glass of orange juice and sat down at the table across from her. “Can somebody please tell me what happened last night?” he said.

“You haven’t asked me how I feel,” she said.

“How do you feel?”

“Lousy. I feel lousy.”

“Were you able to stop the vomiting?” He ran his hand over his face as if trying to pull it into shape.

“Yes, a person can only vomit so much. I’ve stopped for now, but I don’t dare eat anything. I think it’s going to take several days for me to feel right again.”

“Do you want me to fix you some toast? Do we even have any bread?”

“No, if I eat anything, I’ll vomit again.”

“All right.”

“We need to talk about last night,” she said.

“Not now, Honey,” he said. “I don’t feel like a serious discussion at the moment. And, anyway, I think the least that’s said about last night, the better.”

“Better for you, you mean,” she said.

“I’m going to take a bath,” he said, standing up. “If you feel better later, we’ll go out and get some chicken or something.”

“Maybe I need to talk now!” she said in a too-loud voice.

“What about, Honey?”

“I humiliated myself last night.”

“No, you didn’t. You didn’t do anything the rest of us didn’t do.”

“I was dancing and I was ridiculous.”

“We were all dancing. It was all in good fun.”

“Then why do I feel so humiliated today?”

“You’re tired and you’re overly sensitive.”

“Don’t talk down to me!”

“I’m not!”

“I’m humiliated. I drank bourbon and scotch. Not together, but one after the other.”

“That isn’t anything to be humiliated about. We were all drinking. It was a drinking party.”

“Yes, but you know my one steadfast rule is ‘never mix, never worry’. Well, I mixed and I’m paying the price.”

“Honey, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “We all have little lapses.”

“Stop treating me as if I were a child!”

“Why don’t you go back to bed? You can stay there all day and I’ll wait on you. How will that be? If there’s anything you’d like to have to eat, I’ll go and buy it.”

“The faculty party was bad enough, but after that was over we couldn’t just go home and go to bed and quit while we were ahead the way any two normal people would. No, we had to go to an after-party party.”

“Yeah, I admit it was a mistake,” he said, “and I wish we had never gone.”

“Then why did we?”

“She’s the daughter of the president of the college and he’s a senior professor in the English department.”

“The history department.”

“It never hurts to cozy up to the entrenched people. They’ve both been around a very long time.”

“You’re thinking of your career, of course.”

“Well, one does what one can to get ahead.”

“Just once I wish you would give the same consideration to me that you give your career.”

“Honey, that’s absurd,” he said. “There’s no comparison.”

“Well, I’m glad you admit it!”

“That isn’t what I meant!”

“A night like last night causes me to question my entire existence.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are we going to spend our lives hobnobbing with disgusting people just so you can get ahead in your career?”

“No!”

“Because I’m telling you, Nick, I don’t want to live that way.”

“It was just one party.”

“You can find out a lot from one party.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“If those people, that George and his wife Martha, are representative of the life in this college, then I don’t want any part of it. The way they tear each other apart is indecent. And when they’re finished attacking each other they go after whoever happens to be present at the moment. Just being in their presence makes you feel degraded.”

“You’ve been reading too many books.”

“Did you know he called me ‘angel boobs’?”

He laughed. “Yeah, I think I heard that,” he said.

“And ‘monkey nipples’.”

“He really called you ‘monkey nipples’? I didn’t hear that. When did he call you that?”

“When you were doing your provocative dance with that horrible woman.”

“He was teasing you! It was all in good fun.”

“How can you stand by and do nothing when a strange man calls your wife filthy names?”

She began to cry. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulder. “You take things too seriously, Honey.”

“How would you like it if he called you those names?”

“I think I might have punched him in the nose!”

“But it’s all right when it’s me?”

“That’s not what I meant!”

“I can never face those two again,” she said. “I vomited all over their bathroom. It was as if they saw me without my clothes.”

“You were just being human, Honey. It happens to the best of us.”

“How can we live here and you teach here when I feel so uncomfortable?”

“It’s just something you’re going to have to get over.”

“I don’t think I can. I want you to start looking for another position right away. If not today, then tomorrow.”

“But, Honey, we just got here! Do you know how hard it was for me to get this job?”

“I don’t care! If you have as much regard for me as you do for your career, we’ll leave right away!”

“Honey, that’s so unreasonable! You can’t be serious!”

“I have never been more serious in my life.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re here and we’re going to stay.” He picked her book up off the table and threw it hard against the far wall.

“I can always leave on my own,” she said. “I don’t necessarily need you.”

“Fine. Go home to your mother. Tell her what a mistake it was to marry me.”

“I want to know what happened between you and that woman, that Martha, while I was passed out.”

“Nothing happened! What do you mean?”

“I’m not as stupid as you obviously think I am. I heard them talking about it afterwards.”

“Heard who talking?”

“George and Martha. They thought I was still passed out, but I was just lying there, fully awake, with my eyes closed. I heard the words stud and houseboy. They were talking about you! Were you a stud or were you a houseboy?”

“I didn’t hear any such thing, so I don’t know what you mean.”

“How are you going to face them again?”

“I don’t think I’ll see them again until the next faculty party and that probably won’t be for several months. Everything that happened last night will be forgotten by then.”

“Well, I can tell you right now I’m not going to any more faculty parties.”

“What do I say when people ask me where my wife is? She’s too squeamish for university life? She throws up a lot and can’t stand to be teased a little bit?”

“I don’t care what you tell people. It’s your career, not mine.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m going away tonight.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll think of something.” She got up from the table and went into the bedroom and closed the door.

“I’m hungry,” he said to himself. “I’m going to see what I can find to eat.”

He knew Honey would never leave him, but if they were ever going to settle in to university life, she was going to have to grow up. At twenty-six, she was still a child in so many ways. She needed to see the world as it really is. Yes, it’s ugly and sordid but people do what they must do to survive, to get along. You can’t teach in a university and not play the games that everybody plays. People expect you to play. They want you to be like them. If you’re not, you’ll never be accepted.

A little bit of humoring would bring Honey around. It wasn’t going to be a problem. He’d finesse his way through, just as he finessed his way through everything else. He’d buy her a new coat or a piece of jewelry and everything would be fine. She needed to get out more and meet more people. If she happened to meet a nice fellow, maybe a young athlete, who wanted to take her to bed, so much the better. Nick would encourage it. Casual infidelity was all part of the game. The sooner she realized it, the better off she’d be.

As he took the mayonnaise and pickles out of the refrigerator, he thought about Martha and felt a little stirring. He wondered what she was wearing; if she wasn’t out of bed yet, maybe nothing. He looked at the phone on the wall and wished he could call her. If he was sure George was out of the house at the moment, he’d risk it. He wanted to tell her how much he enjoyed his time with her; he hoped they’d have a chance to do it again very soon. In the morning or the afternoon, during a free hour between classes. One hour with her in own her bed with George away would be most enjoyable.

He was a stud and not a houseboy. Martha knew he was a stud. Everybody knew it. The only person who didn’t seem to realize it was his own wife. He was twenty-nine and attractive to woman. He would still be attractive to women twenty years from now, maybe thirty. It was a tremendous asset in a university, especially with a lonely, frustrated woman like Martha whose husband was a bit of a misfire. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was the daughter of the president of the university. She wielded a certain amount of influence. One good word from her might go a long way.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

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Real-life World War II hero Audie Murphy plays a young Civil War soldier named Henry Fleming in the 1951 film adaptation, directed by John Huston, of Stephen Crane’s great American novel The Red Badge of Courage