Lawrence of Arabia

The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

—-Lawrence of Arabia

One thing that I like is Fathom Events. It’s a company that shows special screenings on modern theaters. I usually go to their opera events – they stream the New York Metropolitan Opera to movie theaters everywhere.

Upcoming Fathom Events come to me in my email and one caught my eye. They were going to show Lawrence of Arabia. I have seen the film on television now and then – but I’m not sure I had ever watched it start to finish in one setting. I’m quite sure I had never seen it in a theater – especially not in a large modern screen with comfortable seats and food delivered to your seat… and beer.

“I’ve always wanted to see Lawrence of Arabia in a theater,” I told Candy.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that,” was her reply.

So I bought a ticket. I was worried that it would sell out so I bought it a week ahead, and chose a good seat.

On the day I settled in, ordered some chicken wings and a beer. Two guys came in, they had the two seats to the left of me. Another couple was behind us a few rows and a group of four off to the side.

That was it. I can’t believe more people didn’t want to see such a classic film in such a setting. The guy right next to me said, “Um, I’m going to move, nothing personal, but we might as well have some room.” He moved down a few seats on the other side of his friend. I wasn’t offended, of course, but it wrecked havoc with the waiters and the food and the bills and such.

The movie was great, of course. The desert scenes were the real heart of the film, spread out in glorious color across the vast curved screen. The movie is so unique, too. There are no female parts in the movie at all. It doesn’t have the usual epic arc – it’s really a personal story told across an enormous canvas. Key parts of the film are mysterious – it’s hard to say exactly what happened – and that’s another part of the genius.

All in all, a nice afternoon.

Drained the Pond

“Remain in the world, act in the world, do whatsoever is needful, and yet remain transcendental, aloof, detached, a lotus flower in the pond.”
Osho, The Secret of Secrets

There are these ponds in the park at the end of my block. I think they are mostly there for flood control, but they look great. I’ve taken photos of them over the years.

Pond at the end of my block, Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

The ponds at the end of my street,
Huffhines Park,
Richardson, Texas

Men Between the Ponds

Men Between the Ponds

The ponds are surrounded by hiking/biking trails – it’s on my work bicycling commute. I always enjoy riding past or around the ponds – except on the days/times that the trail is too crowded.

Not too long ago, I noticed a guy sitting by the pond watching his black lab out in the water. The dog wasn’t far from shore – but still the water barely came up to his dog knees. That’s when I realized the ponds are a lot shallower than they look. They must be silted full.

Sure enough, a couple weeks ago, as I rode to work, I noticed an orange temporary fence around the pond and machines installing huge sheets of plywood, making a road to the water’s edge on the other side of the pond. Then, some workers started visiting the pond all day and night, using big portable pumps to empty the water out.

Then came in the giant shovel machines to scoop out the black muck. It was so vile and watery they had to lime it and then stir the mix with the long arms of the shovel buckets to stabilize it enough to scoop it into waiting trucks. The smell was awful – that mud had a lot of grass clippings, trash, and who knows what mixed with it and it had been sitting down there underwater for years.

One day there was an elderly woman sitting on a bench with her tiny dog held in her lap. They both were watching the machines work – unbothered by the smell of the muck and the diesel fumes from the straining engines. Everybody else seemed to be ignoring the scene.

Finally, they seem to have finished. I wondered what the bottom of the ponds would be like – they were too  big to be concrete lined. I forgot that there is caliche limestone only a few feet below the surface (that’s why nobody in Dallas has a basement) and it looks like they scooped some of the rock out (it isn’t very strong) when they made the ponds – making big oval saucer-shaped indentations in the earth.

The equipment is being loaded up – I guess they will start letting the ponds fill in now. The calendar says fall – but it’s still summer here in Texas – not sure how long until we get enough rain… we’ll see. When they are filled I guess they will look exactly the same as they did before. Deep water looks just like shallow.

The drained and scooped pond at Huffhines Park.

The caliche limestone at the bottom of the pond. Huffhines park, Richardson, Texas.

The Ladies Paradise

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
Émile Zola, The Ladies’ Paradise

Cover of Au Bonheur des Dames by Emile Zola

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Ladies Paradise.

The overall story is a very thin romance between a poor, country girl that comes to Paris and finds work in a new, rapidly expanding department store and the owner of the store. He is Octave Mouret, the relentless womanizer of the book before this one – Pot-Bouille. His desire to possess women has now metastasized into the need to dominate them commercially by creating a retail establishment that they cannot resist – literally a ladies’ paradise.

But the real protagonist of the story is the store itself – the eponymous Ladies Paradise. Large swaths of text are dedicated to detailed dreamy descriptions of the store, its wares, and the elaborate displays set up to show off the goods and lure in the women of Paris and, most importantly, to separate them from their money.

As the book progresses the store grows and grows, taking over building after building, until it dominates the area and all retail commerce. There is a heart-tearing description of the woeful ends of the various small shopkeepers of Paris – trying to scrape out a living selling cloth, shoes, or umbrellas – until they are inevitably ground under the heels of the behemoth growing through the streets – their owners are driven into bankruptcy, poverty, and madness.

The book was written a couple of centuries ago – but it is a story that is still going on today. We have all seen small businessmen destroyed by large corporate chains that offer lower prices, bigger selections, and spectacular shopping experiences. It is a story that could take place in the last couple of decades.

Except today, even those huge conglomerates are being driven out of business by a technology that Zola couldn’t even imagine – online shopping. Though, now that I think about it, The Ladies Paradise puts together a company of horse-drawn delivery vans, with advertisements plastered on the side, that resembles today’s fleet of Amazon-Prime vehicles.

The novel’s fictional department store was modeled after a real place – Le Bon Marché in Paris. The store is still open.

This was an enjoyable tome in the series, though the long, detailed descriptions of ranks upon ranks of goods placed on sale went on too long for my taste – but probably necessary to drive home the point of the plot. It was simultaneously a record of the past, an reverse echo of the present, and a warning of the future.

Back From the Shadows Again

“We are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, I live in terror of not being misunderstood”—- Oscar Wilde

 

Let’s see, the last blog entry I wrote was on July 7, 2019 – on the eve of my annual trip to New Orleans for the Writing Marathon. That was almost three months ago – a long gap for me.

I’d like to say that I’ve simply been busy with other things and decided to take a break for no real reason. I’d like to say that… but it wouldn’t be true. It’s a long and complicated story and some of it I’m going to keep under wraps – a lot of it isn’t just my story – but here’s the ten cent version. It may not be completely accurate – my memory is hazy.

Every year I look forward to the writing marathon in New Orleans. But this year, I thought about skipping. First, Candy had some surgery and wasn’t really up and around completely. She assured me that it would be cool if I went. As the day approached I realized I didn’t feel very good. Among other symptoms I was weak and tired all the time.

It took me a few minutes to realize this originally said “art changed my life” — French Quarter NewOrleans.

Checking into what it would take to cancel I realized everything (two hotels, parking, the conference fee etc.) was already paid for and non-refundable. A week of vacation was scheduled and my work arranged. So I decided to go.

The drive to New Orleans wasn’t too bad – I’ve made that trip more than a few times. To make the trip easier I had a hotel in Gonzales – most of the way. I could sleep there, get up fresh and drive the last few miles. There was no hurry, but I had a hell of a time getting out of bed. Eventually I hauled myself into the car and drove on into the Big Easy… and checked into my French Quarter Hotel. It was a beautiful piece of luxurious historical lodging and I was excited… though a bit worn out.

The first evening reception of the Writing Marathon was great. This was the third year I had attended and there were a lot of familiar faces and old stories going around. I was excited for the week of walking around and writing.

The only problem was, everybody kept saying the same thing, “Bill, you don’t look too good.” And I felt really weak. I begged off going out to eat and live music and went back to my hotel.

And proceeded to get really, really sick.

One scary thing is that I remember spending one day in that room but it turns out I might have been there for three. I must have been unconscious/delirious and unaware of the passage of time. I do remember looking around my hotel room and seeing things as they were, but when I’d close my eyes I would see someplace else – some kind of seaside scene. Back home, Candy and Nick were upset because they couldn’t find me (I wasn’t answering my cell phone). Lee was on his way back to New Orleans from the Galapagos Islands.

Finally, I realized how much trouble I was in and called the front desk. The kicker is that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a panic attack – but I realized that there is a big difference between not being able to breathe because you are having a panic attack and having a panic attack because you can’t breathe. I was able to stagger to the front desk and they put me in a cab that was always at the step and sent me to an urgent care center.

The cab driver, a grizzled old veteran of the French Quarter said, “Hey, you look like you’re having congestive heart failure. The last guy I had like that was dead in three days.”

The urgent care center took one look at me and realized I was too far gone for them and stuck me in an ambulance. At that time, Lee had come back from the airport and called the hotel. They said they sent me to an urgent care center, but didn’t know which one.

Lee lives car-less in downtown New Orleans so he looked up urgent care on his phone and rented a bike. Later, he told me that it was a good thing – that he could get around in the quarter faster on the bike than in a car. The first two places he checked were wrong and then he rode up to the place I was at as they were loading me into the ambulance. He said I didn’t look too good. They wouldn’t tell him anything until he begged and they said they were taking me to the Tulane Medical Center.

So, what happened? It turns out that it started with a urinary tract infection that then spread to my bloodstream and set off a serious attack of Diabetic Ketoacidosis. I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but alone I probably would have been dead in about six hours. However, they knew immediately what was wrong and with treatment, I improved quickly.

I spent a couple days in intensive care. Going through my mind constantly was the Dorothy Parker quote, “What fresh hell is this?” The worst was the fact I had eight (yes, I counted ‘em – including one triple on my right arm) IV tubes and needles stuck in both arms and one foot. Whenever I would move it would set an alarm off and I would lay there listening to that awful BEEP BEEP until someone would come by and reset the machines.

It was a lot better when I was moved into a regular hospital bed and after a few days I was released. Lee’s apartment was only a few blocks away and I felt like I could walk there. But the minute I hit the pavement and the Louisiana summer heat I realized that I didn’t have the strength, sat down on a bench and waited for a ride.

That turned into a theme as I stayed at Lee’s place for almost a week until I regained enough strength to make it back to Dallas. If I rested I would feel OK, but as soon as I actually moved it would take all my energy. Simply taking a shower was about all I could muster.

The view from my son Lee’s apartment – New Orleans, Louisiana

One day, while Lee was at work I decided I could walk to the grocery store, Rouses. I made it to the store, bought some food, then realized I wasn’t going to be able to walk back (only two blocks or so). I waited outside until Lee came by after work – and was able to shuffle back with him carrying the bags.

Even after returning home, regaining my strength was a slow process. I did go back to work as soon as I could – walking across the parking lot the first day back was a serious effort.

Then I found myself having not ridden a bicycle in two months. That first day I climbed on and rode two miles. After that short distance, I felt like I had finished the Tour de France. So I made up a chart and some goals and have been working on building up my mileage since – up to ten miles per day – I was able to ride 300 miles total in September and am almost getting to where I need to be.

There has been this personal journey to put my life back together. One last thing is my writing – and I’m about there. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to write here every day, there are a lot of other things going on, but I promise I won’t have another gap like that if I can help it.

Off to the Big Easy

I’ll be in New Orleans for the New Orleans Writing Marathon for the next week. I’m taking my laptop, but I’m not sure if I’ll be posting here.

See you on the flipside.

(click to enlarge) Sixth and Camp in New Orleans – a beautiful row of Camelback Shotgun Houses

Short Story of the Day – Marooned, by Edward Wolf

I remember enjoying the peacefulness by floating around on a child’s ducky-tube while sipping on a jigger of a bottom-shelf tequila.

—-Edward Wolf, Marooned

Somewhere in the Caribbean

Marooned, by Edward Wolf

from Flash Fiction Magazine

 

 

Short Story of the Day – Jackalope Run by CJ Hauser

It’s a sloppy, grey Connecticut winter, and this is a bad town for Mexican food. You are a white girl in the vestibule of Rancho Allegre waiting to pick up three Chile Relleno dinners. You will pay with your father’s American Express card. You are thirty years old, unemployed, and have recently moved in with your parents.

—-CJ Hauser, Jackalope Run

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and Negra Modelo at Big Shucks.

Jackalope Run by CJ Hauser

from Hobart

About the Author:

CJ Hauser

CJ Hauser teaches creative writing and literature at Colgate University. Her most recent novel. Family of Origin, will be published by Doubleday in July 2019. She is also the author of the novel The From-Aways and her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, Narrative Magazine, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly. Esquire, Third Coast, and The Kenyon Review. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a PhD from Florida State University. She lives in Hamilton, NY.

About the Story:

If I want to find out if a Mexican Restaurant is worth returning to – if they have the chops – I will order a chile relleno. This is the most difficult thing most Mexican restaurants shell out. It their chile relleno is good – the rest of the food probably is.

I too hate it when the restaurant has its staff come to my table and sing Happy Birthday. I hate it even more when they go to someone else’s table.