Tag Archives: how green was my valley

interlude: Random thoughts as I enter the 2014.

2 Jan


I took my dog Jack for a walk on New Year’s Eve. I was on the tail end of a four-day flu, replete with aches, fever, coughing, low-grade misery. When I get fevers now, I experience weird temporal distortions. Time speeds up, slows down, skips a minute or an hour.

So I walked. It was early evening, cold, dark, snowy. I looked up at the second story windows, saw a tall dude talking on his phone. I stopped. He looked like me. He had short hair, he was thin, he had gray clothes. At the moment I look like the last survivor of an Arctic expedition gone horribly awry—I’m unshaven and unkempt with absurdly long, curly hair threatening to mulletify—but a few years’ ago, I looked just like him. I waited. He laughed, throwing his head back. I do the same thing. He was pacing in front of the window while on the phone. So do I. Is that me? I wondered. Am I peering back in time?

He stopped, stared out at me. I stared back. I couldn’t make out his features. I felt creeped out. I moved on.

I walked Jack around the block, came upon an empty parking spot. Next to the spot were two shoes, placed as though their owner had evaporated while waiting to be picked up. It was eerie. I walked over, put my foot next to them.

They were almost, but not quite, my size.

Life can feel portentous, if you let it.

I went back the next night, same snowy darkness, same window, same dude. He looks nothing like me. He isn’t even that tall.

The shoes were gone.


Roberto Bolaño (I love him; see my review of his life’s work here) gave a series of speeches, as his literary celebrity was rising and his body was failing him. The most famous was titled “Literature + illness = illness”. His point is that literature, which he worshiped and adored, could do many things. But it couldn’t heal him.

I’ve had a roaring end of the year run of sickness—stomach flu, pneumonia, colds, coughs, aches, nausea. As well as dangerously low iron stores (I was a regular blood donor and I am a dedicated vegetarian), reoccurring bursitis in my left shoulder and a rib on my right side that slips out of place[1].

I’m falling apart. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, or looking for pity. But I’ve been writing a lot, trying to push through when I feel ill, and that Bolaño speech keeps echoing through my thoughts. Does literature offer anything when your body is in arrears? Even diversions matter little when nausea is knocking at the door. Or put another way, when I feel sick, I don’t want to read at all.

Literature + illness = illness.


I watched Breaking Away tonight. It’s a great movie, shot with that film stock that seems to glow with sunlight. I kept thinking that linked with some other movies, it forms a kind of epic American tale of anxiety, masculinity, ennui, male sexuality and decline. Stand By Me and then The Outsiders and then Breaking Away and then The Breakfast Club and then Dazed and Confused and then The Diner and then 25th Hour. 

You can see River Phoenix becoming Dennis Quaid/Judd Nelson/Nicky Katt, becoming Mickey Roarke becoming Barry Pepper.


I remain convinced that It’s a Wonderful Life is the greatest film ever made.

I’ve been sleeping with my legs crossed and my hands in my pockets. I feel elegant, like Cary Grant. I stare at the ceiling and imagine I have a cigarette dangling from my mouth.

Simone’s favorite movie—I swear I’m not making this up—is John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. It’s a fabulous movie, often criticized for beating Citizen Kane for best picture in 1941. Critic Dave Kehr thinks Valley is the better movie. He might be right.

Because of the girls, I don’t make it to the theater very often. The best movie I watched this year was 2011’s Once Upon A Time in Anatolia. The second was probably 1950’s The Gunfighter. The worst movie I watched was 1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade.


There is a generation of dudes who revere Chuck Norris[2]. I’m not one of them. He’s wooden, blocky, and his movies have the worst kind of politics. But Lone Wolf McQuade feels special. People remember it as Norris’s Spaghetti action movie, with an epic fight at the end with David Carradine.

None of this is true. I rewatched it. The movie is terrible. The music is a miserly Morricone ripoff. The action scenes are slow and muddled. The plot is stupid. The highlight of the movie is Chuck Norris pouring a beer on his face to rejuvenate himself after a beating, and then drive his all-terrain vehicle out of a dirt pit where he was buried inside. Here’s the clip. Do yourself a favor, watch this and skip the rest of the movie:




However, it fits with my thinking on 1980s action movies. As a whole, they are really about racial reconciliation. Think about it. Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, They Live, Firewalker[3] are all about forming bi-racial friendships, cleansed (or purged) of racial prejudice through extreme violence.


As some people have noticed, I’ve been writing about Simone and Pearl less. As they gets older, funnier, more self-aware, I feel like writing too much about them for this blog seems . . . wrong somehow. I’ll keep inserting little anecdotes here and there.

A few days hence, I’ll continue on with the National Book Award Winners. I’m taking a slight reading break to catch up on all my Christmas books. Until then, au revoir.


[1] From an injury I received while working backstage at a play in college. Seriously.

[2] I have a theory that a whole generation has a special attachment to the movies TBS played all through the mid-1980s. These include Beastmaster, Krull, Conan the Barbarian, Delta Force, Lone Wolf McQuade, The Octagon, Ladyhawke, and so on.

[3] I could go on, but isn’t Louis Gossett, Jr. and Chuck Norris saving each others lives evidence enough? Iner