Poetic Movie Review: The Big Sleep

Dorothy Malone Big Sleep

Dorothy Malone

is the reason why

I never leave home

without a pocketful of rye

Let’s get this straight. Two complete strangers – a fattish hardboiled detective, and an alluringly bookish bookseller – opportunistically find themselves alone, on a rainy afternoon, with nothing to do except share an opportunistic bottle of rye (who doesn’t carry one of those in their pocket) and for no good plot-related reason I can come up with, they have sex – yes, right there on the books, we presume – and then it’s “so ‘long, pal”.

And it’s 1946. I didn’t know people actually had sex in 1946.

Well, it makes no sense to me, but like many classic Noirs – and The Big Sleep is nearly definitive – sometimes you love it for the style, not always the story. Even Raymond Chandler famously couldn’t explain the plot, and all he did was write the thing.

Regardless, this is a charming scene in a movie filled with them – pitch-perfect photography, atmosphere, acting, repartee, sexuality, and glorious subtlety (back when filmmakers assumed an American audience possessed the intellect to read between the lines). So, maybe you don’t always need logic, sometimes you can just let yourself be charmed.

Yes, You Actually Can Say Merry Christmas to a Jew

It happens every year. Someone walks past my desk on their way home that last night before the break, happy and Christmasy, with their handshakes and ho-ho-hos, and then there I am, all Jewish and stuff, watching their ruddy cheer melt into low-level panic.

“Hey!” they’ll say, a little less cheery. “Merry…I mean, Happy… I mean…”

It’s awkward for them, it’s awkward for me. Because they hate not being able to say “Merry Christmas.” But they know it’s probably NOT COOL to hate that they can’t say “Merry Christmas.” And if I wasn’t Jewish they’d talk about how it sucks that they can’t say “Merry Christmas.” Only how are they going to talk about it without starting a holy war?

And all they wanted to say was Merry Christmas and get out of my cube.

So here’s a secret (no, it’s not how you can get the free money): You actually CAN say “Merry Christmas” to a Jew, and no one’s going to set the Mossad on you.

What you can’t do, and this needs some explaining, are two things.

One, you can’t get outraged when someone says they’re insulted about your saying “Merry Christmas” to them. If you need to understand why, you could ask your parents who should have taught this to you already, but the only reasonable response to someone telling you that something you’ve said or done makes them uncomfortable is rather straightforward: “Sorry about that.”


The other thing you can’t do is that thing you may have done the first time you found out I was Jewish to begin with:

“Oh, you’re a — um, you’re a Jewish? I had no idea you were — uh, Jewish. I mean, you’re pretty cool for uh, I mean…”

“For a Jewish.”

“Yeah! You’re really cool for one of those.”

There’s a reason you walk away feeling like you just insulted me, even though you meant to give me a compliment. It’s because “you’re cool for a blank” is a code, whether you’re talking about a Jewish guy like me or an African American or a take-your-pick-ian. And the code, when translated, is “you’re surprisingly unlike the stereotypes that I harbor towards all the other people in your religion/race/sex/nationality.”

So, not cool.

But for Christmas, at least for me, it’s okay. In fact, like any Jewish, I feel a little guilty. Though if you think about it, there’s not much Christ left in Christmas these days. I’m not talking about the Trinity or Midnight Mass. I mean the American Christmas, Charlie Brown, chestnuts roasting, presents under a tree. Eggnog and starry nights and good cheer. These are all lovely things, so why should Jews have a problem being offered a chance to enjoy them? And in truth, we probably don’t.

So go ahead, wish me a Merry Christmas. This Jewish wishes the same to you. And maybe next year, all our troubles will be miles away.

I wrote this a few years ago over at BeYourself, and still sorta liked it, so here it is again. I know, blah, blah self-promotion. Trust me, no one is reading this.

Still Buzzed Over the Beatles: Get Back

It’s been a few days since Part 3 of the Beatles: Get Back, and I am still mesmerized. This has to be the most moving, enlightening, and utterly heartbreaking video-based experience ever. Of all the emotions and compelling moments – too many to choose from – I suppose the most impactful one for now has to be the culmination of the rooftop show, both in the unexpected power of their performance, and the brilliant choices on the director’s part to demonstrate it.

Watching across the hours as these songs were transformed from disinterested disarray into iconic rock status – right before our eyes and ears – well, it’s transcendent. It breaks the thesaurus. It’s hard even for this wordsy guy to find the words.

But it doesn’t end with that performance. There’s a few piercing arrows left in Peter Jackson’s quiver as the minutes of the film wind down.

The first one is the simple, unvoiced, heart-stopping subtitle that floats across the screen as the band shrugs off their instruments:

“This was the Beatles last public performance.” Let your soul stand cool and composed before that sentence. I had my fist in my mouth by then.

The second is when this beautiful film gives us the ultimate gift – we get to watch the band roll the tape in the control room and listen to Let It Be for the first time. This is Let it Be! It’s an astonishing moment in a masterful documentary and it’s just beautiful. The joy and quiet pride on their faces – it means everything.

You probably have to be a fellow Beatles nut to have this resonate so deeply, and yes there are more important problems in the world, but if you are in love with this band, you get it.

I won’t forget this experience, across three days of Thanksgiving 2021, in the middle of historic anxiety. It’s as good as any counter to that silly thing people say, “why can’t we have nice things?”

Well, actually we can.

Poetic Movie Review – The Best Years of Our Lives

I wish they would make

more like this

once in a while


without scorn

about universal things

that matter

I love this movie and I love this scene – it’s the penultimate moment before Dana Andrews walks among the bones of old bombers and confronts – in some sense – the demons of that war.

I’m not sure we should glorify the sacrifices that people make in war, but I do think we should honor them, especially in a righteous cause. This quiet scene encapsulates that idea with measured and moving grace – the pride in a father’s face, the catch in his throat as holds his emotions, and the compassion in his wife’s eyes, which convey paragraphs without a word – this is masterful movie making, in one of the great films.

A Misfit Remembers Neil Peart

Credit: cygnus-x1.net

Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass-production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

It’s been a year since we lost Neal Peart, the extraordinary drummer, lyricist, and writer, and it’s hard to reconcile those feelings, but I think those lines above have always broken my heart.

They’re from the song “Subdivisions,” from the album of the same name, and to be honest, I wasn’t even a fan of that album at the time. It had made the unforgivable mistake of being played on the radio.

That’s because I was sixteen, and Rush was supposed to be my band, for kids like me who didn’t listen to pop radio, because that music was popular. I was a misfit, an outcast, one of the self-exiled, just as my favorite band was self-exiled, purposefully devoted to musical integrity as they defined it, indifferent to the mass collective. Like the band I admired, I was learning to follow the unwritten code that instinctively spurned the fakery of the mainstream. I didn’t have the words to ground this concept in a tangible way, not yet anyway. Rush — through Neil Peart — gave them to me. They did that by exemplifying an ongoing commitment to integrity, to making the music they loved, and fuck the label — or the radio — if they didn’t get it.

And apparently they didn’t. They used to play Spirit of the Radio on the FM stations too, oblivious to the sharp critique at the heart of the song:

One likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
Of integrity

But let me go back a bit. When I discovered Rush in high school, music was about to become my salvation. Before that, I’d been a crazy-shy kid. I had few friends. I wouldn’t start to grow until my sophomore year, and then I almost didn’t stop, but until then, I was always the smallest in class. I was uselessly incapable of performing all the things that seemed to matter so much in the subdivided realm of grammar school. I dropped every ball that had the misfortune of being hit in my direction. I could not do a pull-up if my life depended on it.

Worse yet, I’d been tagged as a loser in sixth grade, the year my family fell apart, and the business crashed, and I got kicked out of advanced English for refusing to read The Chronicles of Narnia — just, because. I can remember, as if it were this morning, the time the prettiest and cruelest girl in school stopped me in the hall, looked me up and down, and said through her gum, “Um, like where do you get your clothes?”

Fast forward to the fall of 1981. High school. And while doing homework, out of the radio came an electrifying guitar riff followed by a rumble of drums that seemed to detonate from the speakers. What was this thing that I’d found? I grabbed the pillows from the living room couch, dug out a pair of sticks I’d gotten as a kid, and I tried to play along to “Limelight” (as if).

It wasn’t long after that I noticed a kid at school with a Rush t-shirt. I asked him about the song I couldn’t stop thinking about.

“Oh yeah?” he said. “You like that, I got an album for you.”

Next day, he reached into his book bag, and it’s just a dream, but in my remembrance, there was a parting of the clouds and a chorus of angels as he handed over a well-thumbed 2112.

“And you’re gonna wanna use headphones.”

Image for post

I took that album home, dropped the needle, and with the first notes, it was love.

That’s my story. I bet if you’re reading this, yours is similar. From 2112, I went on to discover all the rest: Hemispheres and Caress of Steel and Permanent Waves and A Farewell to Kings, all the masterpieces of the band’s early ’70s days — and not just Rush, but the creative and, dare I say it, intellectual music of that album-oriented era. And I’d grow my hair, fumble around a drum kit (I still can’t play Limelight), make a bunch of friends, and find a community — an identity. The foundation was always music, our tastes grounded in the subculture, because our music wasn’t sappy and over-saturated with hooks and immediacy. It took effort. It wasn’t for the masses.

It belonged to me. To us. The outsiders. The misfits.

And while I never gave schoolbooks much attention, a Rush album was a literary experience. Yes, the music was spectacular, with performances elevated to super-human capacity — but it was the words that resonated just as much:

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
That’s far too fleet

These were lyrical puzzles, challenging but accessible. I was fifteen and learning to untangle verbal complexity. To think. And to explore, because from the back of the albums, I tracked down the references: Anthem, The Fountainhead and Kubla Khan, which led to Wordsworth, Shelly, Ginsburg, then Kerouac, Coltrane and Bird — a chain of artistic exploration that widened from music to…everything else. I had no idea at the time, but Neil Peart was my initiation into a love of intellectual discovery, without parents or teachers deciding what was appropriate or necessary — two of the ugliest words to describe the pursuit of knowledge — not as a means to an end, but for the pure joy of exercising the mind.

Obviously, I never met the man. And he’d be appalled at all this gushing and I wouldn’t have the guts — or the gall — to show it. You don’t have to read past these lines to understand how this modest and authentic man spurned celebrity:

Living in a fish-eye lens
caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend

But I do have a secret fantasy. It goes like this. I’m out on my own Healing Road, just “following my front wheel” as Neil once wrote, trying to make sense of this brief and bewildering experience we call being. Pulling into a roadside diner, there’s a BMW GS propped under a tree, and beside it, on a bench, face in a book, sits this handsome and rugged dude with a skull cap and a contemplative curiosity across his face. I take in the scene. And leave him alone. Because I know better. Instead, I wait inside until he gets up to pay, and that’s when I sneak out to leave this note across the cylinders of the Ghost Rider’s machine:


Just wanted to say: Thanks.

For everything.

A long-awaited friend

Flattening the Propaganda Curve in the Age of Coronavirus

fake news

I’ve been thinking about propaganda for a long time – how it affects us, how it threatens us, how we can push back against it. The psychological evidence supports the idea that everyone is equally susceptible to propaganda; we appear to be biologically designed in a way that makes us vulnerable. That means it starts with all of us – no one is immune. Which can feel a little hopeless, but also give us power. From a social-activist point of view, we need to find an antidote, because I don’t think it’s an overreaction to call it the biggest threat to democracy since the 1940s.

Most of the articles that help you recognize “fake news” offer good advice, but they usually require EFFORT, and that’s just unlikely given the utter saturation of information that confronts our moment-by-moment wakefulness. Few of us are going to check Snopes.com every time we read a piece of news.

Over the last four or five years, I put together my own list of things to look for when I wanted to validate or dismiss a news article as “fake,” and they’ve been generally helpful. Yet I really struggled to organize these ideas in a compelling way. I have about ten attempts on my C:\ drive to prove it.

Then I read this article at the Washington Post (Coronavirus modelers factor in new public health risk: Accusations their work is a hoax), and the alarm bells went off. Which helped coalesce my thoughts into a reasonably articulate essay. Which you can find here: How to Distinguish Journalism From Fake News. It’s in the very excellent Better Humans publication, and if you’re not following them, you should.

In the meantime, if you’d prefer the Cliffs Notes version, they go like this:

  • If it supports one side and paints any possible alternative as ludicrous, then it is propaganda.
  • If it references an alternative view without mocking it, then it is journalism.

Not all FOX News is propaganda. Not all MSNBC is journalism. And vice-versa. Trust journalism. Ignore propaganda. And we’ll get through this.

11 Rules for Writing Online, Because Internet

Writing for the web takes a certain style, and it’s the clicks that count. To help get you started, here are 11 ways to write great posts online that are sure to make you a cyberstar.

1. Start with a rambling paragraph that serves no function to the reader other than adding to your word count to help meet Google SEO requirements.

2. Entice clicks using unrelated photo of a sexy girl, preferably with nose ring and yoga pants, surrounded by fields of wheat.

3. Put a number in your title so readers can quickly determine how little thinking will be required. Because why should they. Think. Much.

4. Use single word sentences for punctuated emphasis, rather than incorporating any adjective thingies. Like. The. One. Above.

5. Use cutesy words to downplay any pretense of intellectualism, for example thingies.

6. Use “like” a lot. Like, all the time. Also, reference complicated concepts as “a thing.” Yes, this is a thing.

7. Use “fuck” everywhere; it will jar people into reflexive re-tweets like fucking automatons.

8. Use clever word creations like “internety” as if they were legitimate terms.

9. Employ “I” “me” or “my” at about five-words-to-one. I’ve found that in my writing it helps prove my ability to show how awesome I am. Because. I. Am. Awesome.

10. Assume your audience lacks any historical knowledge whatsoever and explain even obvious references. (Ex: World War ll, a clusterfuck between good and bad guys back in the olden days, was a big fucking deal. Really. Fucking. Big.)

11. Make your article about sex. If it’s not about sex, make it about sex. If you can’t make it about sex, find some other internet.

There you go, surefire rules that’ll shoot you straight to the top of the feed. And what’s writing for anyway? So go out and get ’em, keyboard cowboy!

For the benefit of the three or four humans who may recognize this brilliant piece of satire, an earlier version was posted over at Medium a few years ago. So yes, I have shamelessly stolen from myself, for the benefit of the other three or four humans stumbling on this site. What can I tell you, I thought it was funny.

I’ve Fallen In Love (with an E-bike, Silly)

Well, after way too much research, much of it at this awesome site, and also after driving most of the people in my life a little crazy, I took the plunge and bought an electric bike. I picked it up a few weeks ago.

And I think it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I wrote about all this for Better Humans at Medium, which you can read here: How an E-Bike Got Me off the Couch and Back in Love with Exercise. Maybe that article brought you to this little corner of madness. If so, howdy.

What’s not in the Better Humans piece is what I actually bought. But I can share here that I ended up with a 2020 Specialized Turbo Vado 3.0. It’s this one: https://www.specialized.com/us/en/turbo-vado-3-0/p/170305?color=274059-170305.

I love, love, love this bike. Mostly because it feels like a “bicycle,” and it looks like one too; the battery is hidden in the frame so it’s not so obvious. I’ve been puttering around on an old Walmart-special mountain bike for years. But this thing is so polished and comfortable, shifts great, very solid and I feel totally in command. And I can hardly hear the motor. Specialized uses a Brose, which some argue is the quiet one (other e-bikes use motors from Bosch, Yamaha, or Bafang, if you’re keeping score). What I do know is that I went through the park, past lots of people, and had to use the bell because nobody looked up or even noticed me coming behind them (and I’m too shy to yell, “Hey get outta the way!). I even turned off the motor support at one point on a flat surface, doing about 15 MPH – no difference in sound.

It does not feel heavy at all. It FEELS like you’re on a lightweight bike. But this is deceptive – heavy is heavy. I came to a rolling stop once and turned onto a sidewalk, and being unused to hydraulic brakes, I hit them hard and I almost went down. So it takes a little while to get the feel of things, especially if you’re an amateur like me.

Honestly, I found the whole e-bike thing seriously daunting — and kind of fun to learn about, too — because there are so many options and e-bikes are still evolving. Seems like each year brings innovations and changes. Not in the price – they are expensive! Which is a shame. Because I think the more people ride them, the better we’ll all be, in a “change yourself, change the world” kind of way.

I’ve done about 65 miles so far. I posted my early experiences on this forum, so read along there if you like – but I’ll also post updates here as I keep learning, adding accessories, and riding – assuming it actually gets above 45 degrees in New Jersey at some point for f$&$‘s sake!

Robert Hunter’s Box of Rain

Thinking about Robert Hunter, who died this week.

Have you ever read the lyrics to “Box of Rain”? I’ve always loved that song. But I only started to understand why after I found a letter excerpt posted online between Robert Hunter and a fan who had asked him to explain the meaning of “box of rain.” Hunter was always reluctant to do this, “because it encourages others to ask about what I had in mind when I wrote a song, and mostly you’d need to have my mind to understand even approximately what I had in it.”

And fair enough. But, in this case at least, he decided to make an exception, and wrote: “By ‘box of rain,’ I meant the world we live on, but “ball” of rain didn’t have the right ring to my ear, so box it became, and I don’t know who put it there.”


So when you read those lyrics now, which were originally written to give Phil Lesh the words to say to his dying father, and help him to move on (“what do you want me to do, to do for you, to see you through?”), they are just heartbreaking, because I don’t know anything that captures the poignancy of living and leaving than the last two lines of that song, which are:

Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there.

It’s such a beautiful thought, and since Robert Hunter is one of the great voices of our time, here’s the full lyric, which reads as well as it sings:

Look out of any window
any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
birds are winging or
rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?
this is all a dream we dreamed
one afternoon long ago

Walk out of any doorway
feel your way, feel your way
like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
around some corner
where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
to watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
when you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
you find by you, you can see
clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
through other eyes on other days
while going home —
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
one afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
to another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
with words half spoken
and thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
to do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
and love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
if you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
in and out the window
like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

Robert Hunter

A Conversation with my Daughter, Who Wants a Tattoo

Ursula is fourteen. We were driving.

Dad I want a tattoo.

No way.

Why not? I’m old enough.

If you have to ask that question you’re not old enough.

Silence in the car.

If you did get one (I ask), what would it be?

Little Bear.

(Melting): Ursula. That’s what we used to call you, sweetheart.

Yeah, I know. That’s what my name means.

Do people call you that?

Yeah, that’s what they call me.

(Wiping eyes): Really? I didn’t know they called you Little Bear. God, I loved reading that book to you.

Yeah. So dad, what would you get?

If I got a tattoo?


(Thinking): I’d get Frog and Toad.