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The Magnificent Ambersons ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

It’s the fin de siècle (end of the nineteenth century) in Midwestern America. The Ambersons are the wealthiest family in a town that is about to become a city, thanks to industrialization. The patriarch of the family, Major Amberson, a veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, has made a fortune and then sits back and watches as his family spends his money. He has a son, George Amberson, who makes bad business investments while being a gentleman of leisure. Major Amberson’s daughter, Isabel, is the prettiest girl in town. Eugene Morgan, a friend of George Amberson, is interested in Isabel but, for her own complicated reasons, she chooses to marry dull and steady Wilbur Minafer. Wilbur and Isabel have one son, George Amberson Minafer, who is spoiled terribly by his doting mother, his Aunt Fanny (his father’s sister) and the rest of the family. He grows up with an astounding sense of entitlement; he is brash, arrogant, condescending and not very likeable, although he is admired for his good looks and aristocratic bearing.

When Eugene Morgan again comes into the lives of the Ambersons (he left after Isabel jilted him), he is an up-and-coming inventor of automobiles (“horseless carriages”) and a widower, with a pretty post-adolescent daughter named Lucy. When young George Amberson Minafer meets Lucy at a “ball” given at the Amberson mansion on New Year’s Eve, he is drawn to her in a way that he doesn’t quite understand. When he learns that his own mother and Lucy’s father, Eugene Morgan, were once romantically involved, he takes an immediate dislike to Morgan. He believes that “horseless carriages” are only a silly passing fad and will never take the place of the reliable old horse. He never passes up a chance to insult Morgan and his profession.

George’s father dies fairly young (he was never very healthy, anyway, and he worked too hard) and the way seems open for Eugene and Isabel to resume their courtship of old. George is not going to stand for it, however. Despite his interest in (and growing love for) Eugene Morgan’s daughter, Lucy, he will do anything in his power to keep his mother and Eugene Morgan from getting together again. He is appalled at the prospect that they might marry. When he realizes that the “riffraff” of the town is openly gossiping about his mother and Morgan, suggesting that they were “carrying on” while his father was still alive, he takes matters into his own hands and makes a complete fool of himself. As his uncle George tells him afterwards, the worst way to deal with gossip is to acknowledge it or try to set it right.

Despite all that’s happened, Isabel still believes her son Georgie is an “angel”; she worships and adores him unquestioningly. When he insists that he take her on a “tour of the world” for an indefinite period of time to remove her from the grasp of Eugene Morgan and from the gossiping in their home town, she has no other choice but to comply. George believes he is doing the right thing for his mother but, blinded by his own narrow-mindedness and sense of outraged morality, he is doing more harm than good.

While George and Isabel are busy gallivanting around Italy and other foreign places, things are not going well back home for the Ambersons. Their once-lovely little town is growing into a thriving, industrialized—not to mention dirty and grimy—city. All the people they knew are either dead or moved away, replaced by hordes of foreigners and immigrants. Amberson is not such an important or well-recognized name as it once was. The once-pretty vistas of their hometown are replaced by sordidness and squalor, boarding houses and cheap apartment buildings. More importantly for the Ambersons, their great wealth is dwindling, through unwise investments and negligence. (When Major Amberson builds a beautiful mansion for Isabel to live in upon her marriage, he just happens to omit the important detail of providing her with a deed to the property, which nobody realizes they don’t have until it’s too late.) The Ambersons are not able to keep up with the times; they make the mistake of not foreseeing the societal and economic changes that are going on around them. They seem to believe their insular world will last forever.

More than anything else, The Magnificent Ambersons is about change. While the Ambersons are unable or unwilling to adapt to their changing world, Eugene Morgan becomes successful and makes a fortune at manufacturing and improving the automobile. He is the antithesis of the Ambersons. His name, Morgan, becomes as important in its own way as the Amberson name was in their own high-flying time. He possesses the important attribute of adaptability, which the Ambersons lack.

Indiana native Booth Tarkington wrote The Magnificent Ambersons in 1918. It has the distinction of being on the Modern Library’s list of the hundred best books in English of the twentieth century. It’s a readable and accessible American classic, one of my all-time favorite novels. I’ve read it twice in my life, the first time decades ago; the second time I read it I liked it just as much as the first time. The memorable movie version, made in 1942, is one of those rare film adaptations that does justice to the book on which it’s based. Most of the dialogue in the movie is lifted word-for-word from the book.

Copyright ©  2016 by Allen Kopp

Never Touch the Ground

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Never Touch the Ground

Never Touch the Ground ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was a hazy day in mid-August. Wesley John Garbutt was downtown buying a pair of shoes. That’s the way it was these days. When he needed something, his father gave him the money and he went by himself to get it.

He found a pair he liked and when he tried them on they didn’t pinch so he bought them and was just leaving the store when he saw a woman walking along the sidewalk a half-block away with her back to him. She had auburn hair and was wearing a business suit, the kind you might see Barbara Stanwyck wearing in one of her black-and-white movies. He was going to yell to her to get her to turn around, but he wasn’t sure it was who he thought it was and didn’t want to draw attention to himself if he was wrong. Instead he walked very fast after her, dodging people left and right, and in a minute came around to her left side.

“Mother?” he said.

“Wes?” she said. She turned to look at him. She was wearing dark glasses so he couldn’t see her eyes. She smiled but didn’t seem glad or surprised.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely surprised to see her.

“I was going to call you and your father in a day or two.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“I thought it best not to.”

“What?”

“It was a spur-of-the-moment trip. I didn’t even know we were coming until the day before. I was going to call you while I was here and see if I might see you.”

He shifted his package awkwardly from one arm to the other.

“What have you got there?” she asked.

“Shoes.”

“Doesn’t your father go with you to buy shoes?”

“He doesn’t need to. I can do it on my own.”

“Oh, that’s right. You’re almost grown now. I can see.”

“Are you on your way to an appointment?” he asked.

“I just came from one. I went to see the doctor.”

“Are you sick?”

“Just a checkup.”

“Don’t they have doctors out there where you live?”

“Of course they do. I just thought I’d see the one I used to go to when I lived here.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

“All these exhaust fumes are giving me a headache,” she said. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“No.”

“There’s a little restaurant down in the next block. Let’s go have some lunch.”

They sat at a booth beside a window. She lit a cigarette and smiled. “How have you and your father been getting along?” she asked.

“All right, I guess.”

“Don’t you know for sure?”

“He’s been in a bad mood with me most of the summer.”

“Why?”

“He signed me up for swimming lessons and I refused to go.”

“You refused to go?”

“Yeah.”

“Didn’t you want to learn to swim?”

“No!”

“Why not?”

“I just didn’t. I hate the thought of all those naked strangers.”

She laughed. “It would probably be good for you,” she said. “Help you to emerge from your shell like a little baby bird.”

“Would you want to take swimming lessons?” he asked.

“No, it’s a thing I would never choose to do. I want to drink water and wash in it, but I don’t like the idea of being fully immersed in it.”

“That’s my point exactly. Don’t you think I ought to be able to say whether or not I take swimming lessons?”

“Well, fifteen-year-olds usually do what their parents tell them to do.”

“Not always. Not when it comes to swimming lessons.”

“He probably thought it would be a good way for you to get out of the house and not spend so much time on your own.”

“I like being alone. I love it when he’s gone and I have the house all to myself.”

“So he’s been yelling at you a lot?”

“Not really. More the silent treatment. I very subtly threatened suicide when he said I had to take the swimming lessons whether I wanted to or not.”

She looked at him and frowned and blew out a big stream of smoke over his head. “You wouldn’t really do that, would you?”

“The important thing is to make him think I might.”

“You really shouldn’t threaten suicide, you know. It makes people think you’re crazy. There’s insanity on your father’s side, you know.”

“As long as it worked, that’s what matters.”

The waiter brought their food. She picked at a spinach salad while he devoured a fillet of sole.

“I’m just curious,” she said. “How did you make him think you would do it?”

“Do what?”

“Kill yourself.”

He laughed and wiped his mouth. “I asked him if he knew about the new thirty-story office building that just opened. He said he drives by it sometimes. I told him that anybody can go up to the observation deck on the top floor, even a stupid ninth-grader like me. I didn’t say I would or that I ever had. Just that I could if I ever felt like it.”

“I see,” she said. “You didn’t actually say anything about jumping off. You just implied that it was something that might have crossed your mind from time to time.”

“That’s right.”

“Very clever.”

“I thought so.”

“So you think dying in a horrible way is preferable to swimming lessons?”

“Don’t you?”

“No, I don’t think it’s what I would choose.” She pushed her salad away and ordered a cocktail.

“I always could talk to you,” he said. “I can’t talk to him.”

“He’s your father. I know it’s not easy, but the two of you need to try to get along.”

“Yeah, he’s all I have now, since you ran out on me.”

“Your father and I both agreed that it was better for you…”

“How’s Ben, anyway?”

“Who?”

“Your new husband.”

“His name is Richard.”

“Oh, yeah. How is he?”

“He’s all right.”

“How are his two daughters? Still alive, I suppose?”

“Yes, they’re still alive.”

“If either one of them dies, you be sure and let me know since it’s because of them I can’t come and live with you.”

“Do you wish them dead?”

“Not until this minute.”

“Don’t have bad thoughts about them. If you ever got a chance to know them, I think you’d like them.”

“I doubt it. I think I should probably go on hating them on principle, don’t you?”

“You’ll do whatever you want no matter what I say.”

“About your trip to the doctor,” he said. “I’ll bet you’re going to have a baby, aren’t you?”

She laughed and reached for her cigarettes. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Well, that’s what happens with newlyweds, isn’t it?”

“Maybe when they’re young. I’m over forty and Richard is almost fifty.”

“Well, I won’t be surprised to hear that I have a new little half-brother.”

“Never on this earth,” she said.

“If it’s not that, then why did you see the doctor?”

“I told you. It was a checkup.”

“You must have had a reason to want a checkup.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

She turned her head away and looked out at the street. “Nothing for you to worry about, I said.”

“You think I need to be protected like a little kid? I’m not supposed to know the truth when something’s wrong?”

“It’s just that I don’t want you to worry.”

“What is it, mother?”

“I’ve been having headaches and dizzy spells. Sometimes I just black out for no reason. We were afraid it might happen when I was driving the car or something, so we thought I should have the doctor…”

“Who is ‘we’?”

“Richard and I. We thought I should consult a doctor about it.”

“What did the doctor say?”

“He took some blood, wants to do some tests. You know how doctors are. It’s nothing, I’m sure.”

“Will you let me know what you find out?”

“Of course I will.”

“I want to come and live with you so I can take care of you,” he said.

She smiled and patted his hand like a benevolent mother superior. “We’ve been all through that,” she said. “Maybe you think it sounds cruel when I say we don’t have room for you, but it’s the truth. We only have two bedrooms. Richard’s two daughters share the same room and they’re constantly fighting. You wouldn’t believe how jealous they are of each other and how competitive. I’m sure they would gladly kill each other if they thought they could get away with it.”

“Sounds awful.”

“Yes, it is pretty awful sometimes.”

“Then why don’t you come home and forget Richard and his two horrible daughters?”

“It doesn’t work that way, dear. Your father and I are divorced. I can’t just drop my second husband and go running back to my first one whenever the whim takes me.”

“I’ll bet it happens all the time.”

“Not to me.”

“Oh, all right,” he said, willing to drop the subject because he knew it was an argument he would never win.

“In a year or two we’ll talk about having you come to live with us.”

“Why don’t you wait until I’m thirty-five?”

“Sarcasm is unbecoming in a child your age,” she said.

“Is Richard planning on getting rid of one of the daughters?”

“No, but we might get a bigger house.”

“When?”

“Well, we’ll see. Nothing definite yet.”

“So, in the meantime, for the next year or two, I have to stay here and live with him?”

“Life is hard for all of us sometimes.”

The waiter came and he ordered a piece of lemon meringue pie for dessert and his mother another cocktail. “Aren’t you looking forward to starting the tenth grade?” she asked cheerfully.

“No!” he said. “I hate school.”

She gave him a disbelieving look. “Since when?”

“Since always.”

“You didn’t hate school when you were little. Your third-grade teacher said you were a joy to have in her classroom. You made good grades and you always had a smile on your face.”

“And after that, everything turned to shit,” he said.

“What turned to shit?”

“Everything.”

“Would you like to see a counselor? I think we could arrange it.”

“No, thanks! I’m not crazy!”

“Nobody said you’re crazy.”

“I’ve been thinking about how you used to take me to school on the first day and meet the teacher and she would show me where I was going to sit while you stood there and watched. Some of the kids cried but I never did. I remember one little boy asking his mother through his tears if he had to stay there all day, like it was a punishment or something.”

“You were always so well-behaved. I never had any trouble with you.”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t have any others.”

“Well, now I have two stepdaughters.”

“Ugh!” he said. “I’d put rat poison in their food.”

“I somehow don’t think you’d get away with it.”

“I didn’t mean I’d poison them. I meant you could poison them.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

After they left the restaurant, they stood on the sidewalk in the bright sunlight. She blinked and looked up and down the street as though trying to remember where she had left her car.

“Do you need anything?” she asked. “Do you have plenty of clothes for school?”

“No, I don’t need anything,” he said. “I have plenty of clothes.”

“Do you need a warm winter coat?”

“Mother, it’s summer! Nobody even thinks about a winter coat in August.”

“Winter will be here before you know it.”

“No, I don’t need a winter coat.”

“How about a nice new suit?”

“I have two suits and I hardly ever wear them. If I need a suit, he’ll give me the money and I’ll go buy it on my own the way I did with the shoes.”

“I used to always take you shopping when you needed anything,” she said.

“And then you left.”

“I’d like to buy you something while I’m here. There must be something you want that you don’t have.”

“I want a cell phone but the boss says I can’t have one.”

“Costs too much?”

“No, I don’t think it’s that. He thinks I’ll spend too much time talking on it and not do my homework.”

“Would you do that?”

“Of course I wouldn’t.”

“Who would you talk to if you had a cell phone?”

“I don’t know. Somebody else who has a cell phone, I guess.”

“Would you call me on it sometimes?” she asked.

“Sure.”

“All right, then. We’ll buy you a cell phone.”

A half-hour later he emerged from the store with his very own cell phone in a plastic bag. He knew that some people at school would be impressed, but he didn’t care so much about that. If they didn’t like him anyway, a phone wouldn’t make that much difference.

“Call me on it in a few days when you figure out how it works,” his mother said.

“I will.”

She kissed him on the cheek, smelling like cigarettes and Evening in Paris perfume, and then she let go of his arm and quickly walked away.

That evening at the dinner table his father said, “Did you get a good pair of shoes?”

“Yes,” Wesley John said.

“Did you have any money left?”

“No, shoes are expensive.”

He ignored the sour look his father gave him and said, “I met somebody downtown today that you used to know.”

“Who?”

“My mother, your former wife.”

“What is she doing here?”

“She and her new husband just came for a little trip. A few days, that’s all.”

“Where did you see her?”

“I met her on the street after I finished getting my shoes. She was all dressed up and she said she had been to the doctor.”

“Is she sick?”

“A checkup, she said.”

“Did she mention me?”

“No. Why would she?”

“No reason.”

“She wanted to know if there was anything she could buy me and I told her I wanted a cell phone.”

“She bought you a cell phone?”

“Yeah.”

“I already told you you couldn’t have one. Cell phones are too much of a distraction.”

“Mother didn’t think so.”

“She thinks she can get your sympathy by buying you something I already said you couldn’t have.”

“It wasn’t like that. She wanted to buy me some clothes and I said I didn’t need any.”

“You can’t have a cell phone. You’ll have to take it back and get her money refunded.”

“I don’t want to take it back!”

“This is not going to be like the swimming lessons! If you won’t take the phone back, I’ll take it back myself!”

“Never mind! I’ll just throw the stupid thing in the trash! I don’t want it anyway if it’s going to cause so much trouble!”

As much as he hated displays of temperament, he left the table and went to his room and slammed the door and locked it, not intending to emerge until the next morning.

Alone in his room, he began worrying about his mother and about what might really be wrong with her. He remembered a story he saw on TV about a woman with a brain tumor who had dizzy spells and blackouts. He was almost sure that his mother had the same thing. If she did, she’d be dead soon and he would probably never see her again because she lived so far away now that she was remarried.

As he went to sleep that night, he imagined the two of them, himself and his mother, joining hands and jumping off the thirty-story office building together, but not dying in a horrible way. They’d never touch the ground but instead would float off together to a convivial place something like heaven where second husbands and stepdaughters are not allowed.

Copyright ©  2016 by Allen Kopp

The Charioteer ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Charioteer cover

The Charioteer ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

English writer Mary Renault (1905-1983) is known mostly for her historical fiction set in ancient Greece. Her 1953 novel The Charioteer, however, is set in a much different time period: World War II. Young British soldier Laurie (Laurence) Odell sustains a severe leg injury (his kneecap is blown off) in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. While recuperating in an army hospital from a series of operations on his leg, he meets Andrew Raynes, a Quaker and a conscientious objector. (These “COs” are very unpopular with most people.) Andrew doesn’t fight in the war because of his religion, but he’s doing “war work” as a hospital orderly. Andrew and Laurie Odell become friends, they begin to meet secretly every day and, after a time, they become more than friends.

Years earlier, when Laurie was in school, he was drawn to an older boy named Ralph Lanyon. Ralph was a “Head” (sort of a student leader) at the school. After Ralph is “sent down” at school (expelled), Laurie never sees him again but never stops thinking of him. Fast forward years later to the war: Laurie and Ralph meet again; it turns out that Ralph rescued Laurie at Dunkirk, even though Laurie was barely conscious at the time and wasn’t aware of what was going on. Not surprisingly, he still is drawn to Ralph in a sexual way and he discovers that Ralph feels the same way about him. Since Laurie has already committed himself in a way to loving Andrew, he is faced with a dilemma. Who needs him more, Andrew or Ralph?

Meantime, Laurie has family problems. His mother, who has been a widow since Laurie was five, is planning on marrying a vicar named Mr. Straike. Laurie and Mr. Straike don’t like each other very much and are at pains to keep it hidden.  Mr. Straike was instrumental in having Laurie’s eleven-year-old dog, Gyp, euthanized while Laurie was away and his mother didn’t bother to tell Laurie about it until he comes home for her wedding. He swallows his grief over losing Gyp and ends up giving his mother away in her wedding to Mr. Straike. Whenever Laurie is alone with his mother, he wants to tell her of his homosexuality and of his feelings for Andrew, but he is never able to get the words out; he knows that Mr. Straike would violently disapprove.

The more Laurie sees Ralph on his leaves from the hospital for treatment, the more he sees him a different light. Ralph is a member of an insular group of gay men, whom Laurie doesn’t like very much. (They’re plenty bitchy and one of them attempts suicide while Laurie is present.) Although Ralph is talking about him and Laurie being together forever, Laurie isn’t sure that’s what he wants, especially since Andrew has come into his life.

The Charioteer is interesting fiction for its time, the early 1950s. If the plot creaks at times (especially for the American reader) in the long, long conversations in the second half and we’re not always sure what the characters are saying, we can overlook the plodding and the occasional flaws. (Who doesn’t have them?) On the whole, it’s a rather conventional wartime love story made unconventional because all the participants are men. Despite its theme, however, it’s easy on the ears and eyes for those who might be offended by descriptions of an “alternative lifestyle.” The sections dealing with any kind of love or sexual activity are very chaste. For all we know, Laurie and Ralph or Laurie and Andrew might be playing chess when they are alone together. We know what’s going on here, but we’re not hammered over the head with it. This is what is known as subtlety and artistry, two qualities sorely lacking in today’s tell-all, anything-goes culture.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Hell or High Water ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

When scruffy Texas brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) begin robbing banks, it’s more a question of seeking vengeance on a particular bank than a desire for money, even though they are poor. As Toby Howard says, he’s been poor all his life; his parents were poor and his grandparents; it’s been like a disease handed down from generation to generation. He’s a divorced father of two sons who would like to see his children have a better chance at life than he ever had.

Tanner Howard, Toby’s brother, is an ex-convict (out of 39 years, he says, he’s spent 10 of them behind bars). He is much more willing to fight, ignore the rules, and cause trouble than Toby is. When he returns from prison, their mother has just died. Both brothers feel they’ve been cheated by a certain bank, with seven branches in different Texas towns. They begin robbing these banks, taking what is considered small amounts, and not going after what’s in the vaults. Droll, about-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) methodically tries to figure out what’s going on with the brothers and what they will do next. He reasons that, since the brothers are only robbing the different branches of one bank, they probably have a grudge against that bank and are trying to get enough money for a particular reason.

For a time, the brothers are successful with their robberies. (Toby is able to catch up with his child support payments and pay off the debts on the farm. If anybody asks, he has the excuse of gambling winnings to account for his sudden wealth.) Although not very smart or experienced, the brothers manage to keep one step ahead of the law because they are bold (especially Tanner) and don’t mind taking chances. (They steal cars to commit their robberies and then have the cars buried under sand.) Tanner knows, however, that they won’t be able to go on that way forever. “Did you ever know of anybody to get away with anything?” he asks his brother. Toward the end when the brothers are parting and tell each other they love each other, they know and we know that their time is about up.

Hell or High Water is solid storytelling, a rich film with fully delineated characters. The Texas landscape is bleak and colorless; the Texas accents are at times indistinguishable. There’s nothing pretty or romanticized here, no special effects, no cutesy Butch Cassidy-type touches where we are made to feel the criminals are really good-hearted studs who ought to patted on the back for their crimes because they have such toothy smiles. If the ending (at least one element of it) is surprising, it makes perfect sense and we see, finally, where it has been heading the whole time.  And, yes, Marcus Hamilton gets as evidence the baby-voiced, bosomy waitress’s (button your uniform, dear) $200 tip that Toby left her, even though she told him she had to have it for her mortgage. Did she really think he’d care about that? No, poodle, not when catching bank robbers is at stake.

Copyright 2016 by Allen Kopp

Bal du Moulin de la Galette ~ A Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

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Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)

Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876) by Pierre-August Renoir

In the late 19th century, working-class Parisians liked to dress up and spend Sunday afternoons at Moulin de la Galette in the Montmarte district in Paris, dancing, drinking and eating galettes (small cakes). Bal du Moulin de la Galette (or Dance at Moulin de la Galette) is one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s (1841-1919) most celebrated masterpieces, a typically Impressionist rendering of real life.  

Ice Pick

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Ice Pick image

Ice Pick ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

“Go get the ice,” Reggie Stole said, “and be quick about it. We’ll leave as soon as you get back.”

Reggie’s wife, Fur Stole, had been anxious and nervous all day, getting ready to go on the camping trip. She had to see to all the arrangements, prepare all the food, pack the clothes, make sure the tent didn’t have any holes, and the car had enough gas and oil to make the long trip. She had already taken three nerve pills and was planning on taking the fourth one just as soon as she could get a moment alone. She had also been taking nips of whiskey straight from the bottle, finding that whiskey comforted her even more than pills.

Fur’s son and daughter, Biffy Stole and Shultzie Stole, were excited at the prospect of living out in the woods beside a lake for four days. They jumped up and down and screamed, making Fur believe she could easily strangle them without guilt if only it would give her some peace. She corralled them into the back of the station wagon, along with the old blue ice chest, and set out for the ice house two miles away in a neighboring town.

Fur was relieved to see there wasn’t a line at the ice house. “Let’s make this quick,” she said. “You know how daddy hates being kept waiting.”

Biffy and Shultzie went to get the ice chest out of the back of the car while Fur stepped up to the place in the side of the old brick building where you put in coins, and a block of ice, roughly one foot square, comes out.

She put in two quarters, the going price for one block of ice, and waited to hear the rumble of the ice coming down the chute inside, but, alas, there was no rumble and no ice.

“What’s the matter with it?” Biffy asked, standing beside Fur with the ice chest.

“Maybe it’s just moving slow today,” Fur said.

“Maybe they’re out of ice,” Shultzie said.

“There’d be a sign,” Fur said, “so dumbbells like me wouldn’t keep putting quarters in.”

She banged her fist against the place where the money goes in and stamped her feet, but still nothing happened.

“Go around to the office and see if there’s anybody there,” Fur said to Biffy.

An old blue pickup truck pulled into the tiny lot and parked next to Fur’s car. When she saw a man getting out, she thought he was somebody who knew the ice wasn’t working and was there to fix it.

The man, a burly Dutchman with a flattop haircut, ignored Fur as he stepped up to the coin deposit and started to put in his money.

“It’s not working!” Fur said. “I put my money in and nothing happened. I sent my son Biffy around to the office to see if there’s anybody there.”

Still ignoring her, the burly Dutchman dropped in his quarters, and in  a few seconds he had his block of ice. He began to lift it with his fat fingers.

“That’s my ice!” Fur said. “Didn’t you just hear me tell you I put my money in and nothing happened?”

“What?” the burly Dutchman said.

“I said I just put in my money to get a block of ice and none came out, so that’s my block of ice.”

“I don’t think so!” he said. “I just paid for it. I think that makes it mine.”

“You don’t understand,” she said. “Before you came along, I put in two quarters to get a block of ice and nothing happened. That means you have the ice I paid for!”

“Where’s the ice I paid for, then?” he asked.

“It didn’t come out.”

Yours didn’t come out,” he said. “Mine did.”

“I’m not going to let you take my ice!” Fur said. “My husband is waiting!”

He held the ice against his stomach and said with a sort of sneer, “It’s a tough world, though, ain’t it, lady?”

He turned to walk away and she, realizing she held the ice pick in her right hand, stabbed him in the back. The ice pick went in several inches to the right of the backbone and stuck there.

The burly Dutchman gave a sort of roar, dropped the ice and whirled around. “You crazy bitch!” he said. “You ought to be locked up!

He was reaching around to try to pull the ice pick out of his back but, of course, couldn’t get his hands on it. When Fur saw the burly Dutchman go to his knees and saw how much blood was pouring out, she pulled Biffy and Shultzie to the car and shoved them in. Running around to the driver’s side, she started the engine and narrowly missed being hit by a beer truck as she pulled back out onto the road.

When she got home, Reggie was waiting on the back porch, smoking a cigarette and picking at his nails. “Thought maybe you had to wait while they made more ice,” he said.

“No ice,” she said.

“What?”

Biffy and Shultzie avoided looking at Reggie because they knew he wasn’t going to be happy.

“I wasn’t able to get any ice,” she said, “but we can get some on the way. We’ll also need to get a new ice pick.”

“What happened to the ice pick?” he asked. “You lost it?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We can get another one on the way. Right now we just need to all get into the car and get away as fast as we can!”

“I think you need to take another nerve pill,” Reggie said as he loaded the rest of his fishing tackle into the back of the car.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp

Florence Foster Jenkins ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

It’s wartime 1940s and the place is New York City. Meryl Streep is Florence Foster Jenkins: society matron, patroness of the arts (particularly music) and self-deluded singer. She has a smirking husband (Hugh Grant), a fawning vocal coach, a devoted maid, and a piano accompanist named Cosmé McMoon (played by Simon Helberg, who resembles French writer Marcel Proust). Mr. McMoon is chosen over a bunch of other pianists because in his audition he plays “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens, which reminds Florence of when she was young. Right away when Mr. McMoon hears Florence sing, he knows that something is not as it should be. She shrieks and screeches and is led to believe by those around her that she is a wonderful singer with perfect technique. What Mr. McMoon eventually comes to realize is that everybody loves the good-natured and well-meaning Florence and that nobody has the heart to tell her she isn’t nearly as good a singer as she thinks she is.

Florence isn’t well, we find, and probably won’t live much longer. She contracted syphilis from her first husband on their wedding night when she was eighteen and, in these days before penicillin, has had it ever since, almost fifty years. The doctor says he has never seen anybody live so long with the disease. Her second husband, for his part, loves her and is devoted to her but has a much-younger girlfriend on the side; he reveals to the doctor that he and Florence have always had a sort of platonic, non-sexual partnership, so he never contracted the disease.

When Florence gives a concert at Carnegie Hall, her husband goes to great lengths to buy up all the newspapers in the neighborhood so she won’t see the scathing (true, so, therefore, unkind) reviews. She gets a copy of one of the newspapers anyway and discovers that people consider her the “worst singer ever” and are only laughing at her. She has a moment of self-realization that, up to this moment, has eluded her. 

Florence Foster Jenkins is, we are told at the beginning, based on true events, meaning, I suppose, that part of it is true and part of it made up. Simon Helberg, who plays Florence’s accompanist, is, in reality, a pianist himself and plays all the piano parts, which is truly impressive. Meryl Streep does her own singing and is, as always, superb in the title role. Now, if she will only leave politics alone and stick to acting, everything will be fine.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp