Sunday, April 27, 2014

Carpet Ride to Magicland

In case the name doesn't ring a bell, he's the guy with the straw hat and Woody Allen glasses, in the suit, dangling from a clock on the side of a building so far above a busy avenue the cars below look like ladybugs on wheels.

 Harold Lloyd.

Movie comedian of the silent 1920s. Called himself the “Glass Character” because his trademark glasses were fake. No glass in them. The guy was a nut. Blew one of his hands to Kingdom Come fiddling with what he thought was a stage prop bomb. It was real. Deliberately gave himself powerful electric shocks to get his hair to stand straight up. Did his own stunts—the clock dangle, the shocked hair, pretending to trip and stagger on building ledges up in the sky, netless—a brave, some would say foolhardy, genius. Nut.

Knowing this and being acrophobic, I can't watch his movies anymore. It even scares me to look at the photos. I'll let Margaret Gunning watch the movies and look at the photos, and I'll read her reports. Well, then again, I don't have to anymore. I've read her book, The GlassCharacter. It's all in there.

Margaret, poor girl, is in love with Harold Lloyd. It started out as just a fascination with soundless images. Love snuck up and struck her dumb somewhere amid the exhaustive research she was conducting for a book about what was then still just a fascination. Love. Alas. Margaret is happily married and has two lovely daughters and four darling grandchildren, yet is far too young to leap the gap into the day when her beloved Harold held sway with the girls of a baby Hollywood. Fortunately, for her and for us, she's a novelist. She has the skill to weave the magic carpet to carry her backward in time to those days of yore, those Harold heyday days, and set her gently down along the path the love of her dreams must follow should he wish a rebirth in the imaginations and hearts of admirers forevermore. She's woven that carpet. It's large enough to take us with her on that long strange trip. I rode along on a test flight. We made it back, and I'm still agog.

When we stepped off the carpet in la la land I saw that Margaret had changed. No longer the familiar author of two of my favorite novels—Better than Life, and Mallory—she'd become sixteen-year-old Jane Chorney, a virgin and erstwhile soda jerk in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a terrible crush on movie idol Harold Lloyd. Soon after we landed, Margaret /Jane (and later “Muriel”, as you will learn) decided to pack up her meager belongings, cash in her chips (two cents shy of fifty bucks) and head to Hollywood and into the arms of her eternal love. I might have tried to instill sense in her were I anything more than invisible eyes and ears. Unfortunately I had lost my voice and corporeal substance upon alighting in the Santa Fe dust.

So it was off to Hollywood via a wearying, bumpy bus ride, Margaret/Jane/Muriel full of glitzy dreams and innocence, and me hunkered weightless, mute and unseen on her delicate shoulder.

I won't say more. I took no notes and had to avert my gaze any number of times during moments that really were none of my personal concern.
The Glass Character is Margaret/Jane/Muriel's story, not mine. What I did see and hear, and learn during our holiday in history is captured with such lucid, insightful poignancy I can't help but wonder if Margaret didn't in fact remain there, dictating her journal to a holographic image of herself in the distant future tapping on a keyboard somewhere in a place called Coquitlam, B.C.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Heart Full of Hope (a review)


By this lovely little book.

Heart Full of Hope, by Christine Geery, is one of those books I hoped would never end. It has no plot, there is no suspense, no narrative thread that compelled me to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next, and no ending that made me gasp with surprise or delight or experience that sense of satisfying closure when all of the pieces finally click together and the whole makes perfect sense the way we wish it would in our lives. Yet, when I finished reading the final page of Heart Full of Hope and closed the covers for the last time, I felt an odd kind of loneliness. One thing many of these plotted books do have in common with Heart Full of Hope is that by the end you feel as if you know the characters, often as well as if they were family.

I had that feeling with Heart Full of Hope well before I'd read all of its 34 slices of Geery's life. I've never met her, have only the photos of her she's included in the book and maybe wouldn't recognize her if we met on the street. But I know her. I can hear her laugh and cry, and I can savor more than one of the Italian dishes that grace her popular table, even the last piece of apple crostata she confesses to having eaten herself despite her strict custom of always leaving the last piece for someone she loves.

Geery's writing is fluid and natural. It flows directly from her heart to her reader's, without the processed feel of craft or cleverness that compromises innocence and distances so many of the autobiographical sketches I've read from the intimacy that can open the heart as well as tickle the mind.

One image that's going to stay with me awhile is of Daphne, a mix of golden retriever and standard poodle she calls a “goldendoodle”. Daphne pops up several times throughout the book as a memorable character, but the one scene that sticks is how she handled “jail”. Here's Geery's description:

We set up an area that we call “jail”, because this is where she must go when she is naughty. One day she started to chew something that was off limits. I scolded her, and as I did she lowered her eyes, walked off and, to my astonishment, put herself in jail! But as always, one look into those wide brown eyes and I melted immediately, so she wasn't there long.

Geery likens Daphne's face to Woody Allen's. I can see where she gets that, but to me the beloved goldendoodle's mug is a spittin' image of Joan Rivers's.

Slim as this volume is, it took me nearly a month to read. I enjoyed it slowly, as I might sipping a fine Cognac. After a day spent struggling with my own writing and existential angst, I'd leave the bedside light on long enough to read another anecdote from Heart Full of Hope before clicking the room dark and drifting off to sleep. Often the smile inspired by Geery's words would drift along with me as if I had just hung up the phone after a pleasing chat with a good friend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Confederate John Singleton Mosby and two other scouts, riding behind Union lines along Virginia's Pamunkey River in the area of Hanover and King William counties, came upon a Union supply wagon, which they promptly captured.  Mosby left one man to guard the wagon and its team, and rode on with the other.  Further upriver, after discovering two Union supply schooners at dock, he sent the other scout back to inform Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, and rode on alone.
Mosby soon came upon a company of Pennsylvania cavalry, mounted and drawn up in a line across the road. 
Evening was drawing nigh and Mosby's horse had tired from the daylong ride.  He knew if he turned to flee, the Union riders could overtake him with their fresh mounts.  He pulled up at the crest of a hill, made a show of drawing his saber and turned in the saddle, waving it in the air as if beckoning followers.  "Come on, boys!" he shouted, "Come on!"
The Pennsylvania troopers executed a smart wheel-around and vanished in a cloud of dust down the road.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Whiz Quiz

Why keep climbing up
after finding up
is never high enough?

Why keep buying the smile
after learning guile
is ever just beneath?

But what if up were all,
and the smile need never fall,
then what?