Funny and/or Strange

Chaffetz, Weiner, Love Ewe–Bestial Friends Forever

Many moons ago, upon the occasion of that most holy of holiest (not to mention drunkenist) nights, Christmas In August, I gifted my old friend and mentor Perry with an inflatable lamb–THE LOVE EWE.  Intended as a joke, she proved to be quite a hit at animated-sheephunting camp. As they say in Wyoming, “welcome to Wyoming, where the men are men and the sheep are scared.  Ahem.

Perry’s well-considered gift to me was a nice, gift-wrapped fifth of George Dickel, my tonic of choice at the time, and a straw. It was, at that point, perhaps the kindest and most generous gift I’d received in my life, and still ranks right up there, just beneath the homemade “I love you daddy” stuff my daughters have made over the years, and a collection of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories that my wife gave me, when we first started dating, for my birthday one year when my entire family–including my mom–had forgotten. I’m pleased to see that The Love Ewe is still hot to trot, with a hilarious website of her own.  I only wish that Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz and former New York Congressman (and lewd Twitter all-star) Anthony “Look at My” Weiner had summoned up the discretion to contact The Love Ewe, who is a professional after all, instead of taking out their pent up urge on unwitting amateur lambs, however compliant they might have seemed at the time.



Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight

I don’t see a lot of films in the theater, and I rarely review those I do–if for no other reason than that I tend to spend my big screen movie money on empty calorie treats like the latest Star Wars film–spectacles with running and jumping, superheroes and spacemen, things that go kaboom in the deep. By strange coincidence, while devoting some time to catching up with some of the many blogs I follow, after a lengthy period of real-world responsibilities pulling me away from you, my electric brethren, I stumbled into not one, nor two, but three different reviews of Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. I consider this as a calling to write my own. And while it seems a bit late for a film that premiered on Christmas Day, 7 weeks ago, I’ll say: so what. The film is going to come out on DVD and streaming soon enough, and the internet is forever.

The plot isn’t complex: Kurt Russell’s aging bounty hunter, escorting a prisoner played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and running hard to outdistance a looming Wyoming blizzard, first encounters an infamous colleague, Major Marquis Warren, to whom he grudgingly offers assistance. Soon, the two hardened men take shelter in a remote mountain outpost, in the company of an assortment of potentially dangerous men, one or more of whom is almost certainly not what he appears to be.

As the blizzard descends on the outpost, the perspective changes from sweeping, widescreen vistas of gray and white, granite and snow, icy rivers and stark forests beneath soaring peaks, to the warm, fire lit confines of the snowbound cabin. The sense of confinement, despite the rich, saturated glow, is threateningly claustrophobic, leaving one almost desperate to return to the harsh, howling storm outside.

From here, the concept is simple. A room full of strangers and their secrets, each of whom has some reason to distrust, or despise, at least one of the others, none of whom–even the men we suspect are the heroes in the tale–can be trusted. Who are these people? What are the agendas at play? When will pulsing tension break, and who will survive when it does?

Jackson and Russell deliver highly nuanced anti-heroes, reluctantly allied–at least in the short term–against the strangers around them. Leigh is nothing short of perfect as a filthy, rotten-toothed villain bound for the gallows, while veteran Tarantino players Tim Roth and Michael Madsen are subtle, hovering between menacing and virtuous. Bruce Dern is quietly powerful as a withered veteran confederate officer who serves as both mirror and foil to Jackson’s former Union soldier, but it is Walton Goggins, the least famous player in the main cast, who nearly steals the film as the morally indeterminate young Chris Mannix, who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock, delayed on his trip to assume his duties.

Early in the film, I suspected the three hour running time of the extended roadshow version might be too much, given the palpable weight of tension that runs through virtually every word, action, and and moment of the film, but even with the old-fashioned intermission that further extended the showing, I was quickly draw into the action, where I lost fully lost myself. For all that time, the story never lags–even a prototypical Tarantino flashback deep into the heart of the film, which reveals a much more light-hearted back story for the owners of the mountain sanctuary, is fraught with promised doom and mayhem made all the worse by its sunny happiness and a charmingly bright performance by veteran stuntwoman and actress Zoë Bell (who played the scarred mystery woman in Django Unchained, took all those beatings as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill, and doubled leads in both Inglorious Basterds and the Grindhouse films–Mr. Tarantino, would you please make this woman a star already!)

For all of it’s lush visual appeal, Hateful Eight is an old school drama, with talented actors at their peak, inhabiting tightly written characters in conflict with each other. In an age of CGI gobbledygook and cynical pandering to corporate theaters and studios that foolhardily invested in the failure that is 3D technology, this is a big, gorgeous, exquisitely crafted masterpiece shot on rich, glorious film. Take away the performances, the sizzling dialogue, even the bile-churning, exquisitely tangible violence, and Hateful Eight would excel on the merits of it’s cinematography alone. It is beautiful and horrible, the best Tarantino has done since Pulp Fiction. It is nothing less than the work of a master at the top of his craft, and should not be missed.

Commentary Journal

Home Sweet? Home

Early morning. Thermal features near the Artist’s Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

It’s been awhile: 23 days. 5974 Miles. 15 States. 10 National Parks. 2 Spectacular State Parks. 5 Motel Rooms. 7 Campgrounds. Temps 33 (Madison, Yellowstone National Park) to -99 degrees (Moab, Utah). 2 Jacuzzi nights.  About a dozen great old friends. A few new ones. A lot of new adventures.

Am I glad to be home? I’m still thinking about that one. I will say it is good to sleep in my own bed again, that it was nice to be indoors for two nights in a row, and that I missed my dog.  I guess I missed some people, too–a few here and a lot of you, there, gentle readers.

If I had it to do again, I’d take the laptop and blog from the road, even if it was only a an update now and then.  You’ll be hearing a lot of this trip–it was significant for me in many ways far and above simple nostalgia–but I’m certain a great deal of things that might have been amusing, or entertaining, or at the very least just a little bit droll, have fallen prey to my aged and distracted mind.

I didn’t write while I was gone.  Intentionally.  The object was to stoke the creative fires, build up a good appetite, and enjoy the trip viscerally rather than interpretively or expositionally, and I’m feeling some of that but, strangely, this is my third evening indoors and I had to overcome a bit of awkward reluctance to sit down and start–something I can best describe as shyness.

I met up with a group of old friends–former coworkers I met 25 years ago as a young, messed-up, kid who didn’t know the first thing about the world or himself–except that he wasn’t happy. It’s been 20 years since I saw most of them, and I was a little nervous going in: these people mean so much to me, but were we still the same people?  The sensation was disconcerting, to say the least–I’ve beaten as much of the hesitance and doubt from my soul as I could without breaking my hammer, and I’m unaccustomed to feeling awkward, but this was important. I’ve made very few friendships that move me as these people move me.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, with some innocents who have no idea I’m about to make them famous…. When you see these long narrow panorama pictures, give ’em a click…they get BIG.

And, of course, I had nothing to worry about. There was no question that the years had passed, but I fell right into the comfort of my friends’ company as naturally as if we’d been separated for a day or two–there were hugs, of course, a general marveling at how much we did/didn’t look as we once did, and a profound awe at meeting our respective children.  At least, I was awed.  Every kid I met was loaded down with coolness and cuteness and –because folks like us were drawn together for a reason–there was just a little devilry to be found in those youthful eyes.  I would remark over and over again how strange it was, to be in that place, among those people, knowing full well how much time has passed but at the same time feeling like it was nothing at all.  A blink.

How strange it was, then, to come home a few weeks later and feel estranged and awkward at my desk?  Some things I’ll never figure out–and I’m not going to waste more time talking about it.  I’ve got a ton of writing to do, both here and on The Novel, a lot of work in my day job, a lot of work around the house, and a host of other crap in front of me and, strangely enough, I feel motivated to take care of some business.  I also have over 3 weeks of my favorite bloggers to catch up with–so be patient.  I’ll be around, eventually.

Where's Chuck?

Where’s Chuck? 8.4.15

I’m on vacation, but I planned ahead. Presuming that we stay on track, we’ll be seeing a lot of cool things–here’s what I hope to see today.

This is the second epic long day of over-ambitious landmark bagging.  We’ll begin from our campsite near Rushmore, weave our way through the wild and windy scenic highways of the Black Hills–including the Needles Highway

Great-American-Drives-South-Dakota-Black-Hills-f3293efaac614955908b2b57dab55e59 PigtailBridgesChad
and Deadwood…









No, wait–not that Deadwood.  This Deadwood…












And Spearfish Canyon…

4003_5860_Spearfish_Canyon_South_Dakota_md lodgefall__gallery

Then on to Wyoming and Devil’s Tower…

Which we won’t be climbing…

Not because we’re afraid to climb or really bad at it–but because it was carved by a giant bear and we’re afraid he way come back…

Then we head up to Montana and Little Bighorn Battlefield…

DC09LittleBigHornPD cfiles30478


Before making our way to Red Lodge for the evening.



nb75at70aBy the time you wake up and read this–by the time the WordPress robot publishes this–I’ll be two large travel mugs and a couple hundred miles into our big vacation, having slipped off in the foggy pre-dawn morning on our way west, and we hope to stay on vacation for several weeks.

I’ve lived in Wyoming and Oregon, and have had the opportunity to travel back and forth across this country, with a lot of meandering along the way, many times–but my kids, who were born in Oregon, have not been on the left side of the Mississippi since we moved to Pennsylvania when they were 4 months old.  It was well badlandspast time we got them out there.

I don’t know if I’ll have many–or even any–chances to check in on Old Road Apples, or to see what is going on over at your blog, and the many others I generally enjoy on a daily basis.  It is strange, but I feel like I’m leaving a lot of friends behind, and in a way I guess that I am.

Not to fear, I’ve been planning for several months to make this trip go smoothly, and part of that has included maintaining Old Road Apples in my absence.  I’ve prepared the usual daily tetons1features, a heavy dose of Summer Wonders, and–as a special treat–repeat posts of vintage Junk from the very early days of the blog, before anyone was reading.  That’s right, I have several dozen posts–much of it poetry–that received few hits, likes, or comments–or none and at all.  I’ll be throwing those out at you to see what you think this time–maybe they’re really terrible, and that’s why they went ignored.  We’ll see.

03341_archesparkavenue_672x420Finally, it’s common wisdom not to reveal travel plans on social media, so just to let you know: if you’re one of the rare few who have penetrated my slender wall of anonymity, don’t get any bright ideas about robbing me, or whatever: we’ve got desperate, slightly dangerous and unpredictable neighbors who will be working with a dedicated circle of house-sitters, lawn-mowers, plant-waterers, dog-walkers, and other heroic souls who will providing a constant and vigilant guard on the homestead.  And did I mention the dog?

See you back here in about a month–I hope to return with a mountain of tales both tall and short, and maybe a photo or two.


Commentary Funny and/or Strange nostalgia

Another Yellowstone Tourist Thumped By Bison? Go Figure.

I spent a few summers working in the tourist industry in Wyoming a few centuries ago, and I’m looking forward to taking my kids there to see the sights and meet some of my great co-workers for a reunion this summer.  It’s good to see some things haven’t changed–like killer nachos and tourists doing really, really stupid things that could–and inevitably do–get them killed. Bison attacks are perhaps the most ridiculous–in almot all cases, the 1500lb+ animals are standing around, like cows, chomping on grass, while tourists get closer and closer and closer.  The bison snort, their nostrils flare, they scuff the ground with their hooves…and the lady with the camera says “get a little closer….”

Yellowstone bison attack seriously injures Australian man, second park tourist hurt in 3 weeks

I’m curious.  What parts of this are unclear?  Anybody?  (Note the blood on the bison’s horn, and the splatter from the touron’s thigh–a nice, subtle, artistic touch, I think.) When I was young, these were handed out to everyone who entered the park–unless I’m wrong, strong english reading skills aren’t required to get the gist.


Photo I Like

Found Winter Photo: Bison

I’ll admit it.  I went looking for this one.  The American Bison evolved with their massive heads and necks so they could plow their way through the prodigious snows of the American Great Plains.  You probably know these animals colloquially as “buffalo,” but that is  a misnomer. Buffalo are a very different animal.


In 1800, an estimated 50,000,000 bison roamed the Great Plains, but they were hunted for meat, for their skins, to undermine the Native American cultures that traditionally depended on the animals, and often for sport.  Within a few decades the population was reduced to less than a thousand animals.  Yep, that’s how we roll.

They are magnificent animals–more impressive, I think, than the great predators (Griz, Wolves) that hog the wild west spotlight–and certainly more charismatic.


Photo I Took

Autumn Photo: Yellowstone 1990

Wandering around Yellowstone with some friends way back in 1990, mid-afternoon on the road between Mammoth and Tower, we spotted a colorful grove of aspen trees.  We waded out into the dry autumn grass, plopped down, and stared up and through the golden leaves at the perfect blue sky above. We dozed off and had what was, for me, about the most perfect afternoon nap I’ve ever had.
Old Scans_373

Old Scans_374

My Poetry Poetry

Norris-Canyon Cut-Off Road, 9/11/90

Bag of apples,
sharp cheddar,
Sixpacks and
loaves of bread:
Biblical fare.
Binoculars, and
a taped-together
Aspens rusting in
meadows gone to gold,
the day thick with
autumn mist, wanting wool.
Appalachian boys
loosed in the caldera,
hooting camp elk bugles
from the highway,
taking turns at the wheel
and reading out loud
from torn and trampled
paperbacks. Whitman.
Sandlin. Pound and Pope.
A great-horned owl swept
across the asphalt
at eye level, giant
and hungry and vital.
The fire-refreshed forests
a lawn of lodgepole saplings.


On The Way To Table Mountain, 1996

It’s been a short couple of decades, and a long four years….