Tuesday started well. I woke around 530 and thrashed around a while, finally dragging my sluggish butt, a camp chair, and my stack of pulp science fiction novels down to the beach–David Weber’s take on the old Keith Laumer “BOLO” stories, which was pretty cool, and an old Sci Fi Book Club anthology of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes: Lieutenant of the Survey Services stories. I’m enjoying both immensely–the Bolos are super-powerful sentient battle tanks that lend themselves to some heavy duty metaphorical thoughts about the nature of service, sacrifice, and war while the John Grimes stories are just good old fashioned testosterone-addled space adventures from the days when writers imagined rocket ships landing fins-down on strange and distant worlds. A lot of people don’t get that good speculative fiction, whether it’s space opera or fantasy or whatever, is rarely just about what it looks like it’s about on the surface, and I love that.
The family joined me a little later, and we spent the increasingly cloudy morning swimming in the still-welcoming waves, drying off, and reading. Around noon it began to look like rain, and an hour later we were safely at an Outlet Mall in OCMD–if by safely I mean that we fought out way into the parking lot and found a space. Actually, my wife followed a guy back to his car and begged him to wait for a few minutes until I navigated the gridlocked lot to take his place–how about that for some bold points? I was suitably impressed–things were getting very Darwinian in that lot, more cars than spaces circling like vultures and approaching a state of gridlock. I smelled anarchy and trembled–my wife never flinched.
Outlets…shopping…I try to be a good sport about it, and did pretty well in the first place we went, holding things that the women in my life may or may not want to try on at some distant, foggy point in the future, but after a couple of these store visits I relegated myself to the row of husbands and fathers leaning against walls and posts on the sidewalk in front of the stores. We made some good bonds out there, commiserating and reassuring each other that this, too, would pass. I talked to a young man with a couple of small children–one about 3 in a stroller, enraptured by a handheld electronic game, the other a baby in his arms, and mused about the obvious thing these outlets need: a sports bar for men. At one point, he shook his head and said, “I was 18 when I went to Bosnia. Three trips to Iraq, twice to Afganistan–you think it couldn’t get worse, then you come home and your wife takes you to the outlets.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one, then he cracked a big smile and laughed. “Nah, this isn’t like war. It’s just as boring, all the waiting, but in a war you at least get to fight back, eventually.” Then he kissed his little baby on the forehead and said, “This isn’t so bad, though.”
No, it wasn’t–and when my family finally emerged it was with demands that I find something to buy for myself, but they never have my shoe size–14–at these places, and I just got some new shirts about 8 years ago. There’s nothing I need, short of one of those $400 stand mixers, and the truth of the matter is that my vintage Sunbeam does everything I need. Since it looked like the rain wouldn’t be stopping, my wife suggested an alternative….
“Let’s go see that movie you want to see.” She said. “The raccoon movie.”
The raccoon movie! I didn’t need to be asked twice–we had a daughter use her magic telephone to get movie times and split, heading inland to Salisbury, MD because we were confidant that 26 miles of highway driving would be faster than crossing the gridlocked bridge and driving through 107 blocks of rain-day Ocean City traffic.
As we headed east, the rain increased from sprinkles to drizzle to wall of water that seemed like a fire hose was aimed at our windshield. We tried not to think of our tent back on Assateague, where we’ve been driven off the island by storms and flash floods twice before over the past decade. We had several days on reservations left and weren’t going anywhere.
Our denial was made easier by “the raccoon movie,” Guardians of the Galaxy, the perfect matinee–funny, exciting, plenty of tongue-in-cheek–just the kind of thing to crawl into and disappear for a few hours on a rainy day, which is what it’s about, right? I would have sat through it a second time, absolutely.
Eventually, we had to face the inevitable–our campsite back at Assategue had been pummeled by the storm. A small tear in the rain fly and been wind-twisted into major damage, and the rain made it’s way inside, soaking all of our sleeping bags and pillows. We agonized even as we tightened the guy lines and replaced the loose spikes, should we give up, suck it up, or retreat to a motel–if we could find one–and deal with it in the morning. Consensus favored the latter, and we actually struck out on a search only to stop about 2 miles from the campground. “We’ll never find a room,” I said. “We should suck it up, deal with this, whatever–worst case, we’re awake all day and we sleep on the beach in the sun tomorrow.”
It seemed like we just needed someone to say it–back we went, sleeping under a few old blankets, jerry-rigged pillows. I slept in my fleece jacket instead of a blanket–fleece stays warm despite being damp. In the morning, the sun rose into a clear blue sky–draw what conclusions and lessons you may, but we stuck it out and were rewarded.
Some good friends came over last night to join us in some delicious imperial stout (Thanks, Jarrod!) and our annual watching of Love Actually, the Christmas movie that most of us love and lots of us love to hate–a fairly successful situation for a movie that, while it uses Christmas as it’s framework is, as the title suggests, a movie about love in it’s myriad forms and configurations. It’s clear why I enjoy this film: I’m a sentimental sap, a sucker for pulled heartstrings–and this movie yanks on them by the dozens. I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised by the depths of antipathy that some other people project on this film, and even I have to admit that it’s more than the usual, toxic broth of cynicism, arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. A lot of the critics seem relatively intelligent. I’m not going to go too far into this, when it’s expressed so eloquently here:
Utter bullshit, of course. The title’s hyperbole speaks for itself: I’m pretty sure Love Actually is NOT the least romantic film of all time. “I Spit On Your Grave” and Mel Gibson’s Jesus Torture-fest come to mind.
After that, lets put on our Ad Hominem for a moment and wonder aloud what kind of moron confuses the convention of romance with the emotion of love. Romance is a mood, love is a feeling. Romance is an ideal. Love is, well, often far less than ideal–which is far often the best kind of love. Got it? This movie is about Love, actually. (get it? couldn’t resist). But I’m not the hero of this story. Another writer at The Atlantic took up the sword/pen and defended our noble movie with a patience and depth I couldn’t be bothered to find. Emma Green, you are the hero of the moment
I wrote this elsewhere, but it pales next to Ms. Green’s black belt defense:
It was Mao who said “kill all the intellectuals, right?” I am relatively confident that Christopher Orr, were he to attempt an improvement, would pen the most absolutely boring film ever made. The sheer audacity of servicing nine “love” stories–and this story is about love, not romance–requires a certain level of imagination that most of what is happening with these people is happening between the cuts–while the camera is focused on the other couples. Laura Linney and her beau, for example, are shown at the end of a long evening date, so contrary to their relationship being purely physical they’ve had time alone together, plus five years of workiing together and a shared mutual attraction–but the kicker is that the love story isn’t theirs; Linney’s character’s story is the love for her brother, the sacrifices she makes in her own life for him.
I’d argue that Firth’s character doesn’t fall in love when he sees his crush in her underwear, it’s clearly been building over their time together and is only fully realized when they jump into the cold, eel-infested pond and separately realize neither ended up there for practical reasons, but out of their growing affection.
As for the PM and the foul-mouthed staffer–I’m sure I’m not the only one who met someone, out of the blue, who just stunned them like a cannon shot to the sternum from the very first moment. It happened to me some time ago, and I recognized it as something weird and cool and magical and the kind of thing that is best left alone. I met a woman some years ago and quite unexpectedly found myself in a stammering, ridiculous fit of adolescent awkwardness even though I was well ensconced in a relationship with a fine woman who happened to be standing about 4 feet away at the time; for days afterwards my thoughts turned constantly to this young woman–in my circumstance, it manifested as intense curiosity, but had I been single (she was) I know, with complete certainty, that I would have been punted ass-over-teacups into a full-blown drive-past-her-house-repeatedly crush. I pity the critic for never having experienced this, nor even having the capacity to imagine such a powerful feeling.
I proud to admit that I’m one of the people who loves the crap out of this film–and yes, Bill Nighy is a major reason why. But I like it all. I like the stupid vanity/foolishness/delusions of the Alan Rickman character, the tone-perfect reaction to his selfishness from Emma Thompson’s character. I read this Christopher Orr article and what I realized was that’s it’s little more than a snobbish, verbose confession that the guy just didn’t get it. He’s virtually shouting it: “I missed the point completely! I just didn’t get it all! I’m obtuse as a moose! As dense as a dirty diaper! But boy can I show off my book-learnin’.” There’s also the possibility that Mr. Orr just never really felt or understood love, but that’s too sad to consider.
“The life and career of award-winning journalist Christopher Hitchens is chronicled in this video collection. Hitchens, in his singular voice, reports and reflects on cultural trends, political events, and the forces that define our Age.”
I certainly didn’t always agree with what Hitchens wrote, but I like reading it. His life seems to me one prototype of what what a writer’s idealized life should be like. There are few famous people I’d meeting, or ever wished I’d met. Hitchens was one of those few:
There’s also this, a nice article that includes a wonderful poem by James Fenton: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/04/remembering-christopher-hitchens.html
And a few others:
I wish I could have James Fenton read a poem when I die.