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My Top Ten Gumbo of 2017 (Part II)

Happy New Year! 2017 was a tough year, and 2018 should be even rockier.

As the Mueller investigation proceeds and more indictments come, Trump and the GOP, along with the Faux News/right-wing hate-radio noise machine, will become more and more unhinged and desperate. It will not end well.

So let me finish listing some of my favorite things from 2017, in case it was the last good year before the Fall/Impeachment/Unrest/Chaos of 2018:

 

BEST MAGAZINE: THE NEW YORKER

I’ve been a subscriber to The New Yorker for I-don’t-know-how-long. Forty years? More? Reading The New Yorker is part of what I do every week. I don’t read it all, by any means, but it’s nice to know what’s there. (And we keep stacks of old New Yorkers around, so we can catch up to old issues.)

I read The New Yorker three ways: first, for the cartoons; next, for the happenings in New York City and capsule reviews; and finally, for the articles. Current editor David Remnick is maintaining the high standards set by Harold Ross and Mr. Shawn. In some ways, it’s better than ever. Maybe the fiction is weaker (no Cheever? no Updike? No Salinger?), and there is no critic I look forward to reading the way I used to look forward to Pauline Kael. I guess the era of the powerful movie critic is over: everything is now Rotten Tomatoes.

But I still rip open the cover as soon as I get it in the house, to see what “everyone” is reading. In fact, many of their stories make news and are on the internet and website long before I get the actual magazine in California.

I give New Yorker subscriptions to several people for Christmas. I can’t think of a better present.

Anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon – by Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKxaL8Iau8Q

Trump cartoons from The New Yorker
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g27q6DVR-yg

New Yorker dog cartoons
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4o68eyT26w

More New Yorker cartoons
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUfh5xwXMKI

 

BEST MOVIE (a tie): THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI and LADY BIRD

I didn’t see everything, but these two are the best of what I did see. Martin McDonagh fulfills the promise of IN BRUGES, and Greta Gerwig emerges as a first-class screenwriter/director.

Both filmmakers benefit from wonderful performances by two excellent actresses: one young, one not-so-young. Saiorse Ronan and Frances McDormand should fight it out for the Best Actress Oscar.

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My Top Ten Gumbo of 2017 (Part I)

No question about it, 2017 was a tough year.

And it’s not just the person in the White House. It’s the entire catastrophic GOP agenda: this horrible “tax reform” bill filled with poison pills, the hijacking of the federal judiciary by the ultra-right, the subversion of the EPA, the State Department, and the Interior Department, the attacks on the FBI and the Department of Justice, not the mention the failure to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. And there is so much more: Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort and Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Jared and Ivanka and Roy Moore and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Mike Mulvaney and Donald Jr. and George Papadopoulis and Rick Gates and Vladimir Putin. The list is almost endless: the corruption is deep and complete.

It makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. Everything else is really minor, when you consider that Trump has his finger on the nuclear button.

But within my micro-life, I had some beautiful moments and exquisite experiences in 2017, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on as we celebrate the end of an improbable year:

 

BEING WITH MY GRANDSON, ETC.

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Nature knows something. Old people and young people just seem to go together. And so the cycle of nature gives me a little boy – the son of my son – to fill these late-in-the-game days with a kind of pure, uncomplicated, primal love that I’ve never known before.

Fortunately, I get a lot of one-on-one time with my grandson Calder. His parents trust me. (I was a good Dad. And I am so terrified of anything going wrong while Calder’s in my care that I am super-ultra-vigilant. Nothing but good will ever happen to him while he’s with me.)

It makes me think of the song from SWEENEY TODD

“Nothing's gonna harm you
Not while I'm around
Nothing's gonna harm you
No sir, not while I'm around”

Sometimes I take him to a playground near his house. I push him in a stroller and sing and talk to him. We make jokes and play “I Spy” and talk about what’s new in the family. As his mother has said many times, “Calder is a good companion.” He just happens to be very young.

I also take him to two different parks near my house: our local playground with two play structures, some greenspace and a bandstand, and a larger park a little further away with ballfields, tennis courts, a huge playground, and even some forest.

Sometimes I’ll take him to a nearby botanical gardens – Descanso Gardens – which is an absolute gem. Of international renown, Descanso is our magical 150-acre retreat, tucked into Cherry Canyon on the south side of town, less than two miles from my house. Just two traffic lights. Calder loves flowers and gardening. “I am a good, strong gardener,” he says as he rakes, digs, or hoes.

Descanso is most famous for its vast camellia forest and its collection of native oaks. There is also a rosarium, a Japanese garden, a bird sanctuary, a lilac garden, and a xeriscape. (That’s a drought-tolerant or low-water garden, composed of native plants.) There are lots of walks and trails, a miniature railroad, and a stream. There are koi in the stream, and I’ve spent many hours, illegally feeling the koi with contraband bread. Kids love to feed bread to the koi, both my kids and the kid I used to mentor. Oh hell, I love to feed bread to the koi. But no more: I am a rule-follower with Calder. Right down the line.

The ETC. about Calder is that now I get to enjoy the Tiny Goddess as “Nana” or “Nanny” or “Nan” … my Son as a good Dad … my Daughter as a beloved aunt … my Daughter-in-Law as Mother-of-the-Year … and all the ripples of goodness that come from this smart, nice little boy.

It’s something quite wonderful: a new kind of love, this late in life.

 

“Not While I’m Around” – from SWEENEY TODD –sung by Ken Jennings
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zet0XrrhiuU

 

THE DODGERS

I watched more baseball this season than I ever have in my entire life. I bet that the TG and I watched more than 100 games. We missed a lot of April and May, but once the basketball season ended, we watched just about every game.

The love of baseball came slowly to me. When I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at baseball, and it was too slow and boring for me. It took a lifetime for me to develop an appreciation of this sport, from which I now derive so much pleasure.

And this was an amazing Dodger season to follow. Just because they fell short in Game 7 of the World Series, I won’t dismiss the whole season as a failure. At least they got us all the way to a Game 7. That’s the closest the Dodgers have gotten since 1988, the year before we moved to LA.

We reveled in every win, died a little with every loss, and enjoyed the whole ride. To quote from my “D-DAYS” blog from July 11 --

“The team is great: from veterans like Clayton Kershaw (who is approaching Koufax Kountry) and Chase Utley to prime contributors like Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, and Joc Pederson to new stars like Corey Seager and the sensational rookie Cody Bellinger. If you have Yasiel Puig hitting in the seventh or eighth position, you have a powerhouse line-up.

They could go all the way this year, but beating the Houston Astros in the World Series will not be easy.”


Turns out, my prediction was dead accurate.

I can’t wait until next season. I might even have to look at what’s going on down in Orange County with the Angels and Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani, the new Babe Ruth. Not to mention Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in the Bronx.

Game 5 of the World Series highlights – one of the greatest games of all time!! – the year’s highest drama, even if the Dodgers lost
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZdlcTp56Hk

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"Many Years Later": Great First Lines

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The Parks Department in my nice little town in southern California trucks in snow from the nearby San Gabriel Mountains to Memorial Park on Foothill Boulevard for our kids to play in. They dump two large mounds of snow—one for big kids, one for the little ones—onto the grass so that California children, growing up in this warm-blooded paradise of ours, can know what snow is like.

So on a beautiful, sunny, mid-70s Saturday afternoon, I took Calder to play in the snow…and discover ice. Which got me thinking about one of my favorite first lines in all of literature:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

That first line by Gabriel García Márquez from ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE sets the stage for his great novel of time-displacement and intergenerational fantasia perfectly.

Which got me thinking about Great First Lines in Literature.

(Anything to keep my mind off the GOP Tax Reform monstrosity, Mike Flynn, and what’s in the White House)

Some of these first lines come from all-time favorite novels of mine:

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” —Samuel Beckett, MURPHY

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, 1984

“Stupidity is not my strong point.” – Paul Valery, MONSIEUR TESTE

“I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.” —Saul Bellow, THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” —Vladimir Nabokov, LOLITA

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, ANNA KARENINA

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” —J. D. Salinger, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” —Ford Madox Ford, THE GOOD SOLDIER

“I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.” —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND

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