Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes ~ A Capsule Book Review

Boxes cover
Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

As a young man, Howard Hughes (born 1905) inherited the Hughes Tool Company from his father, using it as the starting point to build a vast business empire. He was a pioneer of aviation design and a daring test pilot (in 1946 he was nearly killed when the aircraft he was testing crash-landed and burned). In the 1930s and ‘40s, he was a movie maker in Hollywood, having become enamored of the movies as a child. He owned an airline and then another one, getting into trouble with the U.S. government for violating antitrust laws. At one time he owned almost all the gambling casinos in Last Vegas, lending an air of respectability to an unsavory industry. For a while, he was not only the richest man in America, but the richest in the world. He was a playboy, an escort for some of the most beautiful and well-known ladies in Hollywood. He had ties with organized crime and rubbed elbows with some of the most famous political leaders of his time. More than anything else, though, he was known for being extravagantly eccentric, reclusive, and mysterious.

This following quote from the nonfiction book, Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes (by Douglas Wellman and Mark Musick), tells us a lot about the real Howard Hughes:

“The world of Howard Hughes is sometimes unfathomable. Between the things he did do, the things he didn’t do but was accused of, and the things he did but covered up, his life is a bewildering series of conflicting stories. He was a master of secrecy, intrigue, and diversion, which is apparent from the abundance of books and articles on the man, many of which are contradictory.”

At the height of Howard Hughes’ fame, the world knew him as a rich eccentric. People loved to talk about him and write about him, but much of what was spoken and written was exaggeration or blatantly untrue. Nobody could know Howard Hughes, so people fabricated stories about him to sell books, newspapers and magazines. He was “hot” copy.

The world believes that Howard Hughes died a broken old man at age 71 in April 1976. He had been living in a Las Vegas hotel room, barely kept alive by his uncaring custodians. He was filthy, malnourished, emaciated and addicted to Codeine, Valium, and other drugs that he didn’t need. He left behind a fortune in excess of two billion dollars. At the time of his supposed death, he had at least forty pending lawsuits against him and was being hounded all the time by the U.S. government for non-payment of taxes. Great wealth has its own unique problems.

The premise of the nonfiction book Boxes: The Secret Life of Howard Hughes is that Hughes didn’t really die in 1976. A decoy died in his place, a Howard Hughes stand-in, presumably a Las Vegas derelict of about the same age, with similar physical characteristics. Why would a man like Howard Hughes fake his own death? The answer should be obvious. He wanted to be left alone, to live the rest of his life in peace and seclusion. The forfeiting of his great wealth was the price he was willing to pay.

We hear all the time about people faking their own deaths, but if anybody could do it, it was Howard Hughes. He had the means to do it and the “enablers” to carry out his wishes and keep their mouths shut. He assumed the name and identity of Verner “Nik” Nicely. He married a woman named Eva McClelland. He died in 2001 at the age of 95.

The book presents plenty of compelling evidence that the mysterious and eccentric old man named Verner “Nik” Nicely was in reality Howard Hughes. Mr. Nicely had burn scars on his body, consistent with the scars that Howard Hughes sustained in a crash in his test pilot days. He was the same height as Howard Hughes, had the same physical characteristics, and was in possession of encyclopedic knowledge of aviation and mechanics. His wife, Eva, who died a few years after he died, was certain that she was married to the once-famous Howard Hughes. Read the book and decide for yourself if she was telling the truth.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp    

Brumm’s Drug Store ~ A Short Story

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Brumm’s Drug Store
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Mayfleur had worked at her new job for only two weeks and already she was thinking about quitting. There was always so much to do, she had never had to work so hard before. She was on her feet all day long without ever a moment to herself. The worst part, though, was Mrs. Brumm watching her all the time.

Some people named Brumm owned the store. Mr. Brumm was the pharmacist. He stayed behind the pharmacy counter all the time. He smiled a lot and hardly ever said a word to anybody. If anybody asked him a question, he pointed to his wife to answer it. And his wife, Mrs. Brumm, seemed to be everywhere all at once. Nothing escaped her scrutiny. She was all-knowing and all-seeing.

There was only one customer at the lunch counter drinking coffee so Mayfleur wasn’t very busy at the moment, but she knew that Mrs. Brumm was lurking around somewhere—she could smell the stench of her sweet perfume—so she tried to look busier than she was. When the man drinking coffee asked for a refill, she was glad to be in motion for a few seconds with something specific to do. She gave him a sweet smile as she filled his cup and asked if he would like anything else.

“Mayflower!” Mrs. Brumm came around the corner without a sound. “The magazines are a mess! They need straightening! Right now!

Mayfleur jumped at the sound of Mrs. Brumm’s voice and sloshed some of the hot coffee on her hand. She put the pot back on the warmer with a clatter and then nearly fell down where somebody had dribbled some water on the floor. Her day was not going well and she had more than six hours to go.

Mrs. Brumm was right. The magazine rack was a mess. It was one of Mayfleur’s responsibilities to keep it in order, and Mrs. Brumm would accept nothing less than perfection. Mayfleur was just separating Look from Life and Superman from Justice League America, when Mrs. Brumm barked at her to drop what she was doing and fill a food order. Miss Tolley upstairs wanted a tuna salad sandwich on toast, a chocolate milk shake with a jigger of rum mixed in, a pack of Lucky Strikes—and she wanted them now.

Mayfleur knew that Miss Tolley was Mrs. Brumm’s sister and there was something funny about her. Something not quite right, but Mayfleur didn’t know what it was. Maybe she had a missing leg or something and couldn’t get out of bed. When she took the food order upstairs, she’d find out for sure.

She went behind the lunch counter and began preparing the food order, not bothering to wash her hands first. She put the wrapped tuna sandwich on toast in a white paper bag, along with the Lucky Strikes, and then she set about making the chocolate milk shake with the rum in it. (The bottle of rum was kept under the counter especially for that purpose.) She fastened a plastic lid on the milk shake and put it in its own white paper bag. When the order was ready, she carried it out the front door and around the corner to the door where the stairs were. She went up the steps slowly, looking at the grooves in the wood underneath her feet. The grooves made her think of all the people who had gone up the stairs who were now dead.

There were four apartments over the drug store. She found Miss Tolley’s door and knocked hesitantly, as though afraid she might wake someone. She heard the undoing of the locks from the inside and then the door opened and there stood Miss Tolley in a red Japanese kimono.

Mayfleur was only moderately surprised to see that Miss Tolley was a midget, no more than three feet tall. She realized it could have been a lot worse. She might have had leprosy or no arms or been covered in scales.

“Are you Miss Tolley?” Mayfleur asked.

“Well, I ain’t Virginia Mayo!”

“I have your food order from downstairs.”

“Okay.”

She took the two bags from Mayfleur and set them down. Mayfleur turned and started to leave, but Miss Tolley gestured for her to sit on her sagging sofa and “take a load off.”

“What’s your name?” Miss Tolley asked.

“Mayfleur Pickering.”

“How is Bertha treating you?”

“Who? Do you mean Mrs. Brumm?

Hah-hah-hah! Is that what she makes you call her?”

“That’s what she told me to call her from the first day.”

Hah-hah-hah! She’s a riot! I’ll bet she doesn’t give you a moment’s peace, does she?”

“Well, she is kind of demanding.”

“You don’t have to sugarcoat it for me, honey. She’s my sister. I know what a demon she is. How long you been on the payroll?”

“Two weeks.”

“I’ll bet it seems like a couple of years already, don’t it?”

Mayfleur felt uncomfortable hearing Miss Tolley talk about Mrs. Brumm that way and she wished she might go back downstairs and disappear behind the soda fountain.

“Well, if there’s nothing else,” Mayfleur said, “I really need to get back downstairs.”

“You don’t need to worry about it,” Miss Tolley said. “I call the shots around here and if Bertha don’t like it, she knows what she can do about it.”

“You ‘call the shots’?”

“I own the drugstore. Didn’t you know that?”

“No, nobody told me.”

“Not only do I own the drugstore, I also own these apartments and three other buildings besides.”

“Oh.”

“So, two weeks, you say?”

“That’s right.”

“I bet you think every day about quitting, don’t you?”

“Well, I…”

“You can be truthful with me, dearie. I know nobody can stand working for Bertha for long. You would not believe how many girls she has had working for her! I think we average about one a month.”

“Well, I don’t like to complain. I had a little trouble finding a job, so when this one came along I was glad to get it. I’d like to keep it for a while.”

“But still, you’d like to tell Bertha to take it and shove it, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, I…”

“And what do you think of the mister?”

“Who?”

“The pharmacist. His name is Lloyd Brumm. He’s Bertha’s husband, if you can call it that.”

“Oh, him! I don’t usually see him unless I have to go behind the pharmacy counter for something.”

“Don’t let the smile and the quiet demeanor fool you. He’s a drug addict and he’s just as crazy as Bertha.”

“He seems all right.”

“He’s in the perfect profession for an addict. One day he’s going to overdose himself. Do you know he used to go around telling people he was a doctor? He did it to impress the ladies. They’d see the white coat and believe him. Oh, he’s quite the ladies’ man, he is!”

“He seems harmless enough.”

“Let me warn you about him, though. He’s quite the skirt chaser. He’ll go after any female over fourteen years old. It don’t matter if she’s married or ugly or obese or covered in fur. Drugs are not the only thing he’s addicted to!”

“Does Mrs. Brumm know?”

“Of course she knows, and it don’t matter to her! It’s a marriage in name only.”

“I do feel a little sorry for him being married to her.”

“You and me both, honey, but you don’t want to waste too much sympathy on him, though. And, take my advice. Don’t ever let him get you alone if you can help it. That’s what he likes to do. Get a girl in the room alone, and then he’s all over her!”

“I never would have known!”

“And, something else I gotta tell you: he peeps at you when you’re going to the toilet.”

What?

“He’s got a peep hole in the wall. He spies on you when you’re in the bathroom.”

“Are—are you sure?”

“Yes, he’s a very sick person!”

“Why don’t you plug up the peep hole?”

“Because I’m waiting for the right time. I’m going to bust him and I’m going to bust her, too! I’m going to squash them both like bugs! Do you want to know why she watches you all the time?”

“No. Why?”

“She’s hoping to catch you stealing from her.”

“I’m not going…”

“She’s always on the lookout for a thief so she can call the police and have them arrested.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She enjoys getting people in trouble. That’s her thing. She’s an absolute lunatic. She wants to embarrass you in front of other people. If she so much as caught you taking a toothpick that didn’t belong to you, she’d be on you like a dive bomber. She’s hoping you steal money, though, out of the cash drawer.”

“I would never…”

“Her favorite thing, though, would be to catch you with him.”

“With who?”

“With Lloyd, her husband. The pharmacist. If she caught you dallying with him in the back room, that would push her over the edge.”

“I thought you said it was a marriage in name only.”

“It is, but she’s still jealous of his attentions to other women. She’s a drama queen down to her toenails. She loves explosive, emotional scenes. She watches soap operas on TV all the time. That’s where she gets a lot of her material.”

“Believe me, Miss Tolley, I would never dally with him in the back room or anywhere else! The thought of it makes me sick!”

“Makes me sick, too!”

“And I would never steal money from her. Or anything else.”

“I believe you’re a good girl, or I wouldn’t be telling you these things.”

“I’d better get back downstairs. She’ll think I’m taking too long.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mayflower. If she says anything, just tell her to talk to me. I’ve got your ass covered.”

She went back downstairs, expecting a large dose of Mrs. Brumm’s anger for taking so long with Miss Tolley’s food order, but Mrs. Brumm was standing in the back of the store near the pharmacy counter, talking to two men. When Mrs. Brumm saw Mayfleur come in the door, she stopped talking in mid-sentence and pointed. The two men turned and looked at Mayfleur. Breathless, Mrs. Brumm strode forward in a few sprinting steps.

“Here she is!” Mrs. Brumm said. “Here’s the girl! She’s the one!”

As the men came toward her, Mayfleur saw they were uniformed police officers, but still she didn’t know what was happening.

“You work for this woman?” one the officers asked.

“Yes,” Mayfleur said.

“How long?”

“Two weeks.”

“She says you’ve been stealing money from her. Money from her cash register.”

“I haven’t!”

“Of course she’d lie about it!” Mrs. Brumm said. “They always do!”

Mayfleur saw that there were several customers in the store and they had all stopped what they were doing and were looking at her. Mr. Brumm had come out from behind the pharmacy counter and was looking at her with a strange smile on his face. Mrs. Brumm was performing for the assemblage.

“She has a hundred and fifty dollars, at least, inside her purse that she keeps in the back room,” Mrs. Brumm said. “Where would a girl like that get a hundred and fifty dollars in cash?”

“I don’t have a hundred and fifty dollars in my purse!” Mayfleur said. “I have two dollars and some change. If there’s a hundred and fifty dollars in my purse, you put it there!”

“I did not!” Mrs. Brumm said.

“Anything else stolen besides the hundred and fifty?” the officer asked Mrs. Brumm.

“Yes, I’m sure she’s been stealing from me all along!”

“Oh, Mrs. Brumm!” Mayfleur said. “The magazines are all messed up. I never got a chance to straighten them earlier. I think I’ll do it now.”

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

The Confessions of Nat Turner ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Confessions of Nat Turner book cover 2

The Confessions of Nat Turner
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

In 1831, about thirty years before the Civil War, in the state of Virginia, a slave uprising resulted in the deaths of 59 white people and significant destruction of property over the course of two days. A slave named Nat Turner (he heard voices and had visions) planned the methodical attack for years, believing he was following the will of God. He saw himself as an avenging angel. He didn’t act alone in the uprising; he recruited followers from among his fellow slaves who were more than willing to wreak havoc against the establishment.

American author William Styron (1925-2006) published his historical novel The Confessions of Nat Turner in 1967. It is a fictional account (historical accuracy not verified) of the only slave uprising of its kind in the Southern United States. The mastermind of the uprising, Nat Turner, narrates the story in his first-person voice. Through the character of Nat Turner, William Styron gives an articulate voice to the enslaved.

The irony of Nat Turner, according to this novel, is that he was favored among slaves. He was intelligent, he could read, he was a skilled carpenter and he possessed mechanical abilities beyond his station in life. He possessed an uncanny knowledge of the Bible, better than most preachers, as one character in the book observes. He passed through several owners, some of them cruel and callous, but, for the most part, he was with people who cared for him, valued his abilities and wanted only the best for him. Already we see the irony of this situation. Why would such a man plan and carry out a bloody and violent attack of vengeance?

Nat Turner spent years planning the bloody insurrection, working out every small detail, even drawing maps. He thought of it as a military operation. He shared his plans with his group of loyal core followers, swearing them to secrecy. They were all willing to give up everything to make the undertaking a success. They hoped that, as they made their bloody way across the landscape, hundreds of other slaves would join them and their numbers would grow into an invincible army. Their plan was to kill every white person in their reach (eventually numbering in the hundreds or thousands), and when they were finished with their march of death and destruction, they would escape into the swamp and never be seen or heard from again.

The operation fell far short of Nat Turner’s expectations. The group of renegade slaves killed 59 white people, including at least one small child, and attracted about two dozen additional slaves to their ranks. The problem with most of these “recruits” was that they were undisciplined and wanted only to drink whiskey and run wild. Ironically, Nat Turner killed only one victim, a young white woman named Margaret Whitehead. She had shared her views of the Bible with him and had only ever been kind to him; he had no reason to want to kill her except for her whiteness. Most of the white people killed were not known for their cruelty or mistreatment of slaves.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is the psychological portrait of a subjugated man and the cruel times in which he lived. It is a fascinating glimpse into a chapter of our long-ago history. It is a thoughtful, intelligent book, beautifully written, filled with bitter irony. If you read no other “serious” book this year, you will have made a wise choice.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp    

A Mother and Her Cigarettes ~ A Short Story

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A Mother and Her Cigarettes
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

When Ruffin awoke early on Monday morning, he immediately began calculating how he might miss school that day. He could say he was sick, but if he wasn’t vomiting or didn’t have a fever, his suspicious mother wouldn’t believe him. He had to be visibly sick. Not always easy.

He realized, after a couple minutes of deep thought, that he was going to have to go to school no matter what. There was no way around it. He already had more than enough absences for the semester; any more would result in disciplinary action, which meant tedious lectures about the tragic consequences of not taking school seriously enough.

He splashed some water on his face, made a feeble effort at brushing his teeth and dressed in the same clothes he wore to school on Friday. Taking a quick look at himself in the mirror, he went downstairs to the kitchen, where his mother was sitting at the table smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. She hadn’t yet put on her wig and makeup and looked like a derelict old man.

After pouring himself a cup of coffee and adding milk, he sat down at the table, squinting in his mother’s cigarette smoke.

“Boy, I feel lousy this morning!” he said. “I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I have a splitting head. I think I probably have the flu.”

“You’re not missing school again today,” she said.

“When you were young, I bet your mother didn’t make you go to school when you were sick.”

“I don’t believe you’re sick.”

“Can’t you tell just by looking at me? My color is terrible!”

“If you miss any more school, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? They’re going to come after me for being a lousy parent.”

“You are a lousy parent!”

“The whole world doesn’t have to know it!”

“Just feel my forehead,” he said. “I’m burning up!”

She stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray and finished her coffee. “You’re not sick!” she said.

When she stood up to put water on her geranium in the window over the sink, he reached across the table and stole three cigarettes out of her pack and put them in his shirt pocket.

“I saw that,” she said, slowly turning around.

“Saw what?”

“Put ‘em back.”

“Put what back?”

“I’m not as stupid as you seem to think I am. I saw you steal cigarettes out of my pack.”

“I didn’t!”

She started slapping him with both hands. He put his arms up in feeble defense.

“I’ve told you I don’t want you smoking!”

“I haven’t been smoking!” he said. “I would never smoke! It’s bad for your health!”

“You stole them!”

“All right, I’ll admit I took them. I didn’t really steal them. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“So, are you telling me you’re stealing my cigarettes but not smoking them? If you’re not smoking them, what are you doing with them?”

“I took them for a sick friend.”

“What friend?”

“You don’t know him!”

“I want to know his name!” she said, slapping him again.

“Harry Burgess! His name is Harry Burgess!”

“Tell Harry Burgess to steal his own cigarettes!”

“He can’t! He doesn’t have any hands!”

“How does he smoke, then, if he doesn’t have any hands?”

“I have to light the cigarette for him and hold it up to his lips.”

“You’re a liar!”

“No, really, mother. That is the Lord’s honest truth!”

“I want you to bring Harry Burgess to meet me. I’d like to meet a boy with no hands.”

“Well, he’s shy. He doesn’t like meeting people. People laugh at him and call him ‘meat hooks’.”

“He sounds like your type of friend.”

“I’m going to the school nurse today and tell her you beat me! I’ll have the bruises to prove it! She’ll call the police and they’ll come and take you away in handcuffs.”

“Put the cigarettes back in the pack and get your ass to school!”

On his way to school, he stopped at Finklehoff’s Sweet Shoppe and bought his own pack of cigarettes. Hungry from not eating breakfast, he also bought a donut, which he ate in a few quick bites.

Being within sight of the school building always made him feel despondent and a little suicidal. He loitered out in front for a while before going in. Soon he was joined by his friend Harry Burgess.

“Did you study for the American history test?” Harry asked him.

“Hell, no!

“Me either. All that stuff just goes right out of my head as soon as I read it. Why should I care about history stuff?”

“My old lady beat the crap out of me at the breakfast table this morning,” Ruffin said.

“You mean your mother?”

“Yeah, I mean my mother.”

“Why did she beat the crap out of you?”

“Because she’s evil.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.”

“I have cigarettes, though.”

“Yeah? Where’d you get ‘em?”

“I stopped at Finklehoff’s on my way to school this morning.”

“Did you steal ‘em?”

“No, I didn’t steal them! What do you think I am? I bought them!”

Together they went into the school building. It was still a few minutes to first bell, so they made their way to the boys’ restroom on the first floor. All the way in back was the traditional smoking space between the last stall and the wall. It was fairly private and there was a window there that might be raised to let out any excess smoke.

Ruffin took the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and opened it. He gave one to Harry and took one himself. They lit up and puffed greedily.

“Boy, that tastes good!” Harry said. “I’ve been having a nicotine fit all night long!”

“I know what you mean,” Ruffin said. “Smoking is one of life’s greatest pleasures!”

“Does your mother know you smoke?”

“I think she knows but she doesn’t want to admit it. She smokes like a fiend all the time, but she tells me if she ever sees me smoking she’s going to knock it down my throat.”

“That might cause you to get choked!”

“Yeah, if she caused me to choke to death, she’d go to jail, but she’d swear I had it coming. How about you? Does your mother know you smoke?”

“She doesn’t pay any attention. If she saw me smoking, she’d scream at me and lecture me, but five minutes later she’d forget about it.”

They heard the door open and close and then quiet footsteps.

“Who do you think that is?” Harry whispered.

“Probably nobody.”

Harry opened the window a little higher and began fanning the smoke with his hands.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ruffin said. “So, we’re smoking! What of it? Who cares?”

They heard the water running and relaxed. Whoever had come in didn’t care what they were doing. They kept smoking, generating an unusually large amount of smoke.

What’s going on here?” a loud voice said behind them.

Startled, they both turned and looked into the face of Mr. Emmett Terry, school principal.

“Are you smoking?” Mr. Terry said. “Hiding in the bathroom and smoking?”

“No, we were just taking a little break before going to class.”

“You’re not smoking?”

“No, we’re not smoking,” Harry said, grinding his cigarette out under the heel of his shoe.

“There’s enough smoke in here for a forest fire!”

“Oh, that! We were wondering about that too!”

“My office! Right now!”

“Yes, sir!” Harry said.

The penalty for smoking on school grounds was a three-day suspension. Mr. Terry, in this case, was not inclined to be lenient.

“The three days of your suspension will go on your permanent record as unauthorized absences,” Mr. Terry said gravely. “This could severely limit your ability to get into a good college.”

“This is going to kill my mother!” Harry said.

“Now, I’m sending a letter home with each of you for you to give to your parent or guardian. At the end of your suspension, you will not be readmitted to school until your parent or guardian comes to the school for a sit-down meeting with me, the superintendent, and the guidance counselor.”

Harry groaned.

“When you boys sneak cigarettes in the boy’s restroom, it’s a serious breach of discipline. School administration seeks the help and intervention of the parent or guardian in a situation this serious.”

“You make it sound like we killed somebody!” Harry said.

When Ruffin got home in the middle of the day, his mother was dozing on the couch.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” she asked.

“I’ve been suspended from school.”

What?

“I said I’ve been suspended from school for three days.”

“You’ve what?

His hand shook as he handed her the letter from Mr. Terry. She looked at the letter, front and back, but before she opened it she lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of blue smoke upward into his face. He was sure he was going to vomit. He was more afraid of her than he was of Mr. Terry.

Copyright 2022 by Allen Kopp

The Ship Sailed On ~ A Short Story

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The Ship Sailed On
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~ 

Wallace Weems didn’t like offices. They were places of confinement and discomfort. He squirmed in the chair, picked up a magazine and, finding it of no interest, threw it down again. He looked at his watch and then at the clock on the wall, confirming that it was fifteen minutes after the time of his appointment. He had arrived on time, and he wondered why they couldn’t extend the same courtesy to him.

He was thinking about getting up and going home, when, finally, the young secretary came out from behind a partition and told him Mr. Strang would see him now.

“How are you?” Mr. Strang asked, shaking his hand without smiling. “Have a seat. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

He sat in the leather chair in front of Mr. Strang’s desk and wondered if he was going to have to wait some more, while Mr. Strang fumbled through some papers on his desk. Finally he set the papers aside and sat down at his desk.

“I was sorry to hear of your mother’s passing,” Mr. Strang said.

“Thank you.”

“I represented her interests for more than twenty years.”

“Oh?”

“I wanted to come to her services, but I found myself unable to get away.”

“There weren’t any services to speak of. Just a simple cremation.”

“No family?”

“Only me.”

“Oh. That’s very sad.”

“Not so sad, really. Just a fact of life.”

“So, what are your plans now that she’s gone?”

“I don’t have any plans. I haven’t had time to think about it. She’s only been gone a few days. I still find myself in a state of shock.”

“That’s perfectly understandable.”

“Even though she was over ninety years old, I had convinced myself she would never die.”

Never die?”

“That’s not quite true. I mean, I knew she would die someday, but I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. My own death seemed more real to me than her death.”

“It was your own way of coping, I suppose.”

“Yes.”

“It helped you get through the difficult years with her.”

“When I graduated from high school, she was almost fifty years old and in failing health. She had a bad heart and cirrhosis of the liver from heavy drinking. She had smoked two or three packs of cigarettes a day since the seventh grade. She believed she would live for only two or three more years.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I also believed it. I tried to get away from her, but when I saw she was probably going to die soon, I thought I could wait. Two or three years. That’s not so long. I could ease her dying and keep her from being all alone. No more than three years and I’d be free and clear. I’d sell the house and go someplace far away. I always wanted to travel. I thought about Europe or Australia. I had always been attracted to Australia, for some reason.”

“It didn’t quite work out that way, did it?”

“No, it did not! The two or three years turned out to be more than forty years! Forty years is a big chunk out of your life. While I waited for her to die, I missed all my chances.  The boat sailed without me. I missed the chance for a college education or a career or a happy marriage. I didn’t even have any friends. I gave everything up for her!”

“Do you think she appreciated your sacrifice?”

“Of course she didn’t! She was selfish that way. She didn’t see me as a real person.”

“Surely, that’s an exaggeration!”

“No, it isn’t. She only saw me as an extension of herself. She was a person without empathy. She was unable to see anything from my standpoint.”

“Yet you loved her.”

“I wanted to kill her! I used to fantasize about pushing her down the basement steps or putting rat poison in her soup. I wanted to drop her from the highway overpass into rush-hour traffic. I wanted to take her on an ocean cruise and push her overboard in shark-infested waters.”

“Yet you never acted on these impulses.”

“Of course not! What do you think I am?”

“Well, cheer up! You’re not quite sixty. That’s not so old. You have a lot of years remaining to you. The best part is your mother left you some money. You can travel or do whatever you want now, without accounting to anyone.”

“She left me money?”

“Yes, she did.”

“She never talked to me about money, except to complain about not having enough. She always wanted me to think we were one step away from starvation and bankruptcy. We ate plenty of baloney and Ramen noodles because they were cheap.”

“She had money.”

“She wanted me to think we were poor because if I had known there was money, I might have robbed her and gone far away where she’d never find me. It makes perfect sense.”

“Well, your troubles are over. She left you in excess of one million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

What?

“She left you a fortune of over a million dollars.”

“She left me what?”

“One million, two hundred thousand dollars.”

“Are you sure there’s not some mistake?”

A few weeks later, he was on an ocean liner to the European continent. He wanted to see Paris, Rome and London. He might have flown on a plane and been there in a dozen hours, but he had always imagined himself on a mighty, ocean-going ship, and he couldn’t see it any other way.

He loved being at sea. It was everything he ever dreamed of. He was seasick on the first night out, but he refrained from eating dinner and the next morning he felt better than he had ever felt before. It was the beginning of a new life for him. He was casting off the old life like a snake shedding its skin.

He hadn’t spoken yet to any of the other passengers, but he studied them furtively and wondered what they were thinking. Some of them looked at him appreciatively and smiled knowingly. Surely they found him of some interest, or they wouldn’t bother looking at him at all.

The third night out he enjoyed a lavish dinner in the dining salon. When he was finished with his dinner, he didn’t feel like returning to his cabin alone, so he went into the bar and ordered a champagne cocktail. He found he was enjoying the music and the atmosphere, so he stayed for over an hour and had several drinks.

He returned to his cabin, more drunk than he had ever been in his life. As he switched on the lights and locked himself in, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting in the chair beside the bed.

“Well, well, well!” she said in her raspy smoker’s voice. “What have we here?”

“Leave me alone, mother,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself and I’m just getting started”

“On my money!”

“It’s not your money anymore, mother. It’s my money now.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve! Squandering my money! How much did this little trip of yours cost?”

“None of your business, mother. It doesn’t in any way concern you. You’re dead.”

“You’ll never be rid of me!”

“It’ll be easier than you think.”

“Why did you have me cremated? You know how I hate cremation!”

“I wanted to make sure you were really and truly gone.”

“I’m not gone! I’m right here beside you!”

“I want to show you something, mother.”

He opened his suitcase out on the bed and pulled out a modest-looking oblong box from underneath the pants and shirts.

“Do you know what this is, mother?”

She watched, fascinated, as he set the box on the bed and took off the lid, revealing a quantity of gray ash nestled in a plastic bag.

“This is you, mother! It’s you!”

“I think you’ve taken leave of your senses!”

“Not at all, mother. And do you know what I’m going to do with you? Come along with me and I’ll show you.”

Carrying the box of ashes, reeling from the liquor he had consumed, he left his cabin like a mad man and went out onto the deck. The wind was blowing and the sea was rough, but he was not to be deterred.

“Watch me now, mother!” he said. “This is where you and I part company!”

He lifted the plastic bag out of the box and began emptying his mother’s ashes over the railing. He leaned out a little too far and when the boat gave a little lurch he lost his balance and fell headlong into the sea.

He struggled to right himself in the frigid water. He emitted one pitiful little scream, but it was already too late. No one had seen him fall. No one heard him scream. The ship sailed on. The waves closed over his head. His absence was not noted for two carefree days.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Ramses, the Son of Light ~ A Capsule Book Review

Ramses, The Son of Light Book Cover
Ramses, The Son of Light
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II (also known as Ramses the Great) lived an astonishing ninety years, from 1303 BCE to 1213 BCE, about twelve hundred years before Christ. As Pharaoh, he was a builder of mighty monuments and an effective administrator. His father, Seti, was Pharaoh before him. Seti made Ramses his regent when Ramses was only fourteen years old, meaning he would be Pharaoh after Seti.

French writer Christian Jacq has written a series of six fictional books about the long-ago life of Ramses. The first book in the series is Ramses, the Son of Light. It’s about the early life of Ramses, from childhood into young adulthood. Though he was born into privilege, he did not have an easy life. There were always those who wanted to destroy him or marginalize him. His older brother, Shaanar, was his biggest rival and his greatest enemy. Shaanar saw himself as the future Pharaoh and would have done anything to remove Ramses from the scene, especially after it became clear that Seti wanted Ramses to succeed him.

Being regent meant that Ramses had to undergo many tests to prove that he could be an effective Pharaoh when the time came for him to ascend the throne. Not only would he have to deal with treachery and opposition in his own sphere, he would have to keep Egypt’s enemies at bay and do what needed to be done to avoid war.

Ramses was precocious, as one might expect, and manly in his teen years. He had a girlfriend, Iset the Fair, with whom he shared many passionate embraces, beginning when they were barely out of their teens. When it came time to marry, though, Ramses chose Nefertari as his blushing bride. A Pharaoh wasn’t limited to only one wife, so Iset the Fair became his number-two wife after Nefertari. With Nefertari he felt love, while with Iset the Fair he felt passion.

Ramses, the Son of Light is lightweight reading. It’s not a serious examination of a long-ago monarch or the time in which he lived. It’s what is called pop fiction instead of serious literature. Book two in the series, which I haven’t read, will be sure to pick up at the beginning of Ramses’ long and successful reign as Pharoah. There will be wars, there will be rivals, there will be intrigue, there will be dishonesty, there will be plenty of ugly and destructive human nature to go around.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp   

Swimsuit Optional ~ A Short Story

From the Shallow to the Deep image x
Swimsuit Optional
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

Gideon Sayers had just finished tenth grade and would move on to the eleventh when school took up again. He didn’t have any specific plans for summer, but he was looking forward to having plenty of time to himself and doing exactly as he pleased. His father would be at work all day.

On the very first day of summer vacation a girl from his class named Joyce Mahoney called him on the phone.

“I don’t think I remember you,” he said. “I can’t place the name.”

“What do you mean you don’t remember me?” she said. “You see me every day at school!”

“I’m not good with names,” he said. “Describe yourself.”

“Well, let’s see. I’m taller than most of the other girls. I have short brown hair. I’m not fat like a lot of the girls.”

“A lot of people fit that description.”

“I failed the Constitution test two times. I passed it on the third try.”

“Oh, yeah! You had a crying fit in American history class and you called the teacher an effing bastard.”

“That’s me!” she said. “If I had known I was going to have to describe myself, I wouldn’t have bothered calling.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he laughed. “The thing with girls is that they all kind of blend together for me.”

“I can see this wasn’t a good idea,” she said.

“No, no, that’s all right! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Next week is Christine Swanson’s seventeenth birthday and we’re having a pool party at my house to surprise her.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“There isn’t any reason why you should.”

“Who did you say the party is for?”

“Christine Swanson.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“Gideon, you are impossible!”

“Can you describe her for me?”

“She’s only the most popular girl in school! She’s a cheerleader. She was yearbook queen. Her picture is absolutely everywhere.”

“Oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard or her. What about her?”

“We’re having a pool party for her at my house.”

“I didn’t know you had a pool.”

“We’re calling everybody in drama club. We didn’t want to leave anybody out.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“That’s funny. Your name is on the list.”

“I’m not in drama club.”

“Well, somebody made a mistake, I guess.”

“Now that you’ve invited me, do you want to uninvite me?”

“No, I made the mistake of inviting you, so the invitation still stands, I suppose.”

“That’s awfully sweet of you, Janet, but I don’t really know how to swim.”

“It’s Joyce. My name is Joyce.”

“Oh. Right. I forgot for a moment to whom I was speaking. As I was saying, I’m not a swimmer. I don’t know how to swim.”

“That’s all right. Nobody knows how to swim. We just splash around in the water. The boys try to drown each other. There’s a diving board but nobody knows how to dive—they just jump off into the water. There’ll be water volleyball, music and lots of food.”

“I don’t know how to play water volleyball.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play.”

“Would I need to wear a swimsuit?”

“We have a swimsuits-optional policy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you can swim naked if you have the nerve.”

“And what day is that?”

“Thursday next week.”

“What time?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Um, hold on a minute! I have to check my social calendar.”

He kept her hanging on for five minutes or more and when he went back to the phone, he said, “Janet, are you still there?”

“It’s Joyce.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Joyce. Well, I’m sorry, Joyce, but I won’t be able to come that day. I’m having abdominal surgery.”

“Oh. I see. I didn’t think you’d come, but I thought I’d try anyway since your name is on the list.”

“Well, thank you so much for the call. It was lovely speaking with you.”

“Yeah, you too. Good luck with your surgery.”

As he was hanging up the phone, his father came into the room, reeking of aftershave.

“Who was that on the phone?” his father asked.

“A girl from school. Joyce somebody-or-other. She invited me to a pool party at her house.”

“Are you going?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I think you should go. You’ll have fun. You shouldn’t stay at home all the time by yourself.”

“I like being by myself.”

“I’m going away on business for a few days, until at least Monday or Tuesday. I want you to go stay with Aunt Vivian.”

“I hate staying with Aunt Vivian. I want to stay here.”

“I don’t feel right about leaving a child alone in the house that long.”

“I’m not a child. I’m almost seventeen. I’ll be in eleventh grade.”

“You’re not afraid here by yourself?”

“Of course not!”

“I can trust you to behave responsibly?”

“Of course you can!”

“And if there’s an emergency involving fire?”

“I’ll call the fire department. And if there’s an emergency involving crime, I’ll call the police department.”

“Good. I think we understand each other.”

“I’m going to need some money.”

“What for?”

“A swimsuit.”

“Of course. For the swimming party. How much do you need?”

“I don’t know. I never bought a swimsuit before. I guess about fifty dollars should cover it.”

His father took two fifty-dollar-bills out of his wallet and placed them carefully on the coffee table.

“I don’t want you drinking beer. High school boys seem to think it’s grown-up to drink beer.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. Drinking beer doesn’t interest me.”

His father jangled his keys, picked up his suitcase by the front door, waved goodbye, and then he was gone.

Before his father’s car was all the way out of the driveway, Gideon went to the phone and called his friend David Deluca. David was one of the few people in school with whom he had anything in common. Their hatred for algebra was only exceeded by their hatred for gym class.

“How are you, old friend?” Gideon said cheerily into the phone.

“Fine,” David said. “Who is this?”

“It’s your best friend Gideon Sayers.”

“Oh, yeah. Hi.”

“What’s new and different with you today?”

“My mother is finding jobs for me to do around the house.”

“Why don’t you sneak out and come over?”

“Why would I do that?”

“My father is gone and I have the whole house to myself.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. If I left now, it would only get her started. Once she gets started, she doesn’t stop.”

“I don’t have a mother.”

“I know. She killed herself.”

“Well, you don’t have to sound so happy about it!”

“I’m not. It’s very sad.”

“Well, I’ve invited you. Are you going to accept the invitation or not?”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I’m kind of tired.”

“You’re sixteen years old! How can you be tired?”

“My blood sugar is low.”

“Well, eat a Snickers bar and come on over.”

“I don’t think so, Gideon. I have eczema on my feet. It makes walking painful. We’ll make it another day.”

“Well, suit yourself. I had something I wanted to tell you, but now I’ll just keep it to myself.”

“What is it?”

“Joyce Mahoney called me this morning.”

“She called me, too. She’s calling everybody. She’s trying to get a big crowd at her swimming party next week.”

“Oh. She called you too?”

“Yeah, she called me too.”

“Well, are you going?”

“Sure. Why not? I think it’ll be fun. If I’m not having a good time, I can always say I have a funeral to go to and leave.”

“Are you going to swim naked?”

“I don’t think so. I have some new swimming trunks from Brazil. They’re yellow with a red stripe up the side. I want everybody to see me in them.”

“You’ll drive the girls wild, especially the fat ones.”

“How about you? Are you going to swim naked?”

“I’m not going. I told Joyce I’m having abdominal surgery that day.”

“You are such a liar!”

“Well, I had to think of something quick. That was the only thing that came to mind.”

“You should go, you know, and stop being such an old nelly. I think it’ll be fun. I’m going to borrow my brother’s car. If you want, I can stop by and pick you up and we can arrive at the party like a couple of big men on campus.”

“I don’t think so. I already told Joyce I’m not coming.”

“Call her back and tell her you are coming. Tell her your surgery has been postponed until an appropriate donor can be found and you’d be thrilled to come!”

“I don’t know, David. I feel kind of funny doing that.”

“Do you want me to call her for you?”

“No, I’ll do it. I need to think about it first, though.”

“What’s there to think about?”

“I don’t know. It’s just the way I am.”

The next day he walked downtown with his father’s two fifty-dollar bills in his shirt pocket. He went to the clothing store where his mother always bought his school clothes and found the men’s swimwear department. He selected several swim suits, size small, that he wouldn’t be too embarrassed to wear in public. He took the swimsuits into the changing room, quickly, before he met somebody he knew.

After checking the door of the changing room three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying the swimsuits on. A yellow plaid was pleasing to the eye, but it made him look like a clown. A light-blue would have been acceptable but, when he saw it was slightly transparent, he ripped it off. A white one that hung down almost to his knees made him look like an old man and, anyway, white would show stains. He finally settled on a red one, not too tight and not too baggy, that he could see himself wearing in front of his whole class. It only made him look slightly ridiculous, instead of completely ridiculous. Well, he reasoned, he wouldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.

When he got back home from his successful shopping trip, he felt emboldened to call Joyce Mahoney and tell her he was wrong about the day of his abdominal surgery and would be happy after all to attend the pool party.

Joyce answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” Gideon said. “Is that you, Joyce?”

“Yes, it is. Who is this?”

“This is Gideon.”

“Gideon who?”

“Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“From school?”

“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”

“Look, Joyce, I know why you’re doing this.”

“Doing what?”

”Pretending not to know me.”

“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about your pool party.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”

There was a silence on the line, making Gideon wonder if she had hung up.

“What did you say your name is?” Joyce asked.

“Gideon Sayers.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m in your class at school.”

“I don’t want to be mean, Glenn, but your name wasn’t on the invitation list.”

“It’s Gideon. Not Glenn.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I don’t know who you are.”

“You just called me yesterday and invited me to your party!”

“Are you sure it was me?”

“Of course it was you! Don’t you remember talking to me?”

“No, I don’t! It must have been somebody playing a trick on you.”

“It’s all right, Joyce. I know what you’re doing. Just forget I called.”

“I have to go now,” Joyce said. “It was lovely speaking with you.”

After his phone conversation with Joyce had ended, he went upstairs to his room and closed the door and locked it, even though he was alone in the house. He took off all his clothes and took the red swimsuit out of the bag and pulled it on, up his legs and over his thin thighs. After tugging the swimsuit into place, he turned and looked at himself in the full-length mirror.

It was worse even than he thought. He looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He was meant to always be clothed. He looked so ridiculous that he couldn’t keep from cringing.

“I can’t let anybody see me like this!” he said.

He took the scissors and cut the red swimsuit into strips, relieved he would never have to wear it where anybody could see him. And after he was finished, he left the strips of red material on the floor around his bed to remind himself just how close he had come to making a complete fool of himself.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Dune ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Dune 3
Dune
~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp ~

Frank Herbert’s famous science fiction novel, Dune, was first published in 1965. It is a long book, over 700 pages, a difficult and rather tedious book to read. Dune is now a long movie (two hours and forty minutes), and this is only Part One. Part Two will be along at some future time. We’ll be watching for it.

Dune, the movie, is a serious science fiction film, meaning that it’s for the thinking grown-ups in the audience and requires a lot of attention to keep track of what’s going on, what just happened, and what’s going to happen next. The main character is a boy-man named Paul Atreides (a grown man but still rather like a boy). He is the son of a government leader Duke Leto Atreides and Duke Leto’s “concubine,” a woman called Lady Jessica. They live on an alien (to us) planet called Caladan. Lady Jessica has been teaching Paul the special powers of the religious order to which she belongs called the Bene Gesserit. Paul has been having dreams that might or might not be visions involving the planet called Arrakis. Do these dreams/visions mean that he has a unique destiny among his people?

Arrakis is important to the people of Caladan because a valuable spice, mélange, is found only there. Mélange extends life and perception. It is also necessary for instantaneous interstellar space travel between planets.

Arrakis is a desert planet, a very inhospitable place. A race of people called the Fremen live on Arrakis. The Fremen must share their planet with gigantic and deadly “sand worms.” The cruel Harkonnens control Arrakis. The Fremen have been trying to expel the Harkonnens from Arrakis for a long time, but without success. Unexpectedly, the Emperor has ordered the Harkonnens to leave Arrakis and has awarded control of the planet to the House of Atreides. The Emperor has set up a conflict between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, to force them into a war that will weaken both of them and benefit himself. Duke Leto Atreides wants to strike an alliance with the Fremen to harness their “desert power” to outwit the Emperor.

Paul Atreides travels to Arrakis with his mother and father. When a crowd of Fremen gathers to witness their arrival, they begin chanting a phrase that Paul doesn’t recognize. Lady Jessica explains to Paul that it’s a local prophecy of the Lisan-al-Gaib, the “voice from outer world,” a prophesied Messiah on Arrakis. Will it be revealed that Paul Atreides is the long-awaited Messiah?

The Harkonnens are not going to easily give up control of Arrakis to House Atreides. They sabotage House Atreides at every turn. The Emperor’s wish of war between the two houses is being fulfilled. Paul Atreides and his family are in for some difficult times. Paul, at the end of the movie, is told what has happened to him so far is “only the beginning.”

Dune is weighty science-fiction/fantasy, much more in the vein of The Lord of the Rings than Star Wars. I wouldn’t take my eight-year-old son to see it, if I had an eight-year-old son. He wouldn’t understand it and the sand worms would cause him to have nightmares.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

The Castle on Sunset ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Castle on Sunset cover

The Castle on Sunset
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

It overlooks the famous Sunset Strip in Hollywood. It stands seven stories tall and was built, in 1929, in imitation of a French chateau. It was an apartment building at first and was later turned into a residential hotel. It has long been a mecca for artists and creative people, in an out of the movie business. It is the Chateau Marmont.

Shawn Levy’s nonfiction book, The Castle on Sunset, is a detailed account of the life of the Chateau Marmont, a Hollywood landmark that has seen its fortunes rise and fall. It has had many different owners over the decades, some indifferent and uncaring, while others were scrupulously caring and attentive. The Chateau Marmont was a quiet, “un-Hollywood” retreat in the thirties through the fifties; a favorite of stage-trained, New York, Method actors in the fifties and sixties who came to Hollywood to make movies; in the seventies and eighties, it was a bohemian enclave, slightly seedy and run-down; in the twenty-first century, it became, with its upgrading and renovations, a trendy destination for hip, young Hollywood. Over the years it went from being a reasonably priced hotel to one that only the wealthy can afford. If you think you can go to Hollywood and stay in the Chateau Marmont, you won’t be able to get in unless you are a Hollywood A-lister. (Do you know anybody who is? Neither do I.)

I might not have learned much that I didn’t already know by reading The Castle on Sunset, but it’s intermittently interesting to read, depending on how interested you are in the person being discussed. If you are interested in the death of John Belushi, you will be riveted by the section on his drug overdose death that occurred in one of the hotel’s bungalows in 1982. You didn’t know that Anthony Perkins was gay? He was known for entertaining his male dates at the Chateau Marmont. Movie director Nicholas Ray conceived of his classic film, Rebel Without a Cause, while staying at the Chateau Marmont, while simultaneously having an affair with his sixteen-year-old leading lady, Natalie Wood. He was considerably older than she was.

If you are interested in Hollywood lore, gossip, and naughtiness, you are sure to find The Castle on Sunset a valuable addition to your reading list.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

West Side Story ~ A Capsule Movie Review

West Side Story image 2
West Side Story
~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp ~

A pattern has been established. Every sixty years, there is a new movie version of the classic American musical stage play, West Side Story. The 1961 movie version was a smash hit, winning eleven Oscars, and starring the late Natalie Wood as Maria. It remains a classic, landmark film sixty years later. The 2021 movie version of West Side Story uses all the modern-day film techniques that didn’t exist in 1961, while retaining the flavor and the spirit of the original stage play. The next version of West Side Story will be in 2081. We’ll be watching for it.

Almost every person in the world knows that West Side Story is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. The star-crossed lovers here, though, are not named Romeo and Juliet, but Tony and Maria. Tony is a “white” boy of Polish descent and Maria a “brown” girl from Puerto Rico. (Right away we see there is going to be a problem.) Tony has been in prison for almost killing another boy in a fight. He works, and lives, in a drug store owned by a kind elderly woman named Valentina (played by Rita Moreno, who won a Supporting-Actress Oscar for the 1961 film version). Maria works as a cleaning woman in Gimbel’s department store. “I’m poor,” Maria tells Tony. “I’m poorer,” he says.

The story is set, of course, in New York City in 1957, giving the entire movie a retro look and feel. On the “West Side” of the city, where many Puerto Rican immigrants live, whole sections are being demolished to make way for new buildings. Most of the outdoor scenes are set against piles of rubble.

The young Puerto Rican men in the neighborhood have a gang called the Sharks. The young Anglo men have their own gang called the Jets. The Sharks and the Jets despise each other and are engaged in turf warfare. Each gang wants to be the dominant gang in the neighborhood. This is not going to end well.

Of the lovers Tony and Maria, Tony is a Jet. Maria, while not a member of the rival gang herself, is close to the gang because her intense brother, Bernardo, is the leader of the gang. Bernardo is appalled that Maria, his sister, is cavorting with a member of the Jets. It brings out his killer instinct. The rival gangs are planning a big “rumble” to resolve the issue. They have weapons and, more importantly, high levels of testosterone.

Tony, during one of his romantic interludes with Maria, tells her not to worry. As a member in good standing of the Jets, he can reason with his fellow gang members and persuade them not to fight the Sharks. The year he has spent in prison has made him into something of a pacifist. When the two gangs come face to face in the “salt shed” to fight it out, however, his efforts to bring about “peace” are ineffective. The inevitable consequence is tragedy.

There are many fine moments in West Side Story, some exuberant dance numbers and beautiful, though familiar, music. The whole thing is beautiful to look at. Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria are sincere and believable. There is lots to like in this remake of West Side Story. If you don’t see anything here to like, then it probably isn’t your kind of movie.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp