Saturday, July 31, 2010

Once Upon a Time


The cigar smoking fellow above is one Sergio Leone, and today is not his birthday. July has been full of hero less days, and I figure it is fitting that the last day of July is hero less as well. Mr. Leone was born January 3rd, 1929 in Rome, Italy. He was born the son of a film director, and an actress of the silent film era, so I guess it was only natural that he would end up in the film industry. He shares a similar trait of many of my heroes, that is he dropped his study of law in order to go into show business. I guess that just reinforces the idea that being a lawyer is not a lot of fun.

His first film was "The Last Days of Pompeii" when he was asked to fill in for director Mario Bonnard, who had become seriously ill. He finished that film, and then two years later, got his first solo directing job. But it was his third film that was to launch his career in a big way, and provides the beginnings of the reason he is our hero of the day. It was 1964's "A Fistful of Dollars", and it is the first of his "Dollars" trilogy, and it was the film that made Clint Eastwood a major star. He did manage to get his ass sued for this film, because it was pretty much a shot by shot remake of "Yojimob" by Kurosawa. I figure if you going to rip somebody off you could do a lot worse than ripping off Kurosawa.

The film, and the other two of the "Dollars" trilogy, "For a Few Dollars More", and "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" were groundbreaking in the western genre. Before Leone, characters in westerns always were perfectly turned out, clean cut, and the good guy wore a white hat, the bad guy wore black." Leone's westerns changed all of that, take a look at the characters in these films. They all could use a bath, a shave, a haircut, and would do a chain gang proud. They sweat, they curse, and you can never be sure if there is a hero among them at all. My perfect example is the "Blondie" character in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Blondie is labeled as "the Good," but he shoots at innocent people, he helps Tuco engage in a money making scheme that is pretty much strong arm robbery, and he is certainly not above taking anything he needs. Rather ironic that it took an Italian who only ever said "Good Bye" in English (he spoke through a translator to his actors on the set) to give an whole new meaning to the Old West, and change the ideal of the American cowboy.

He was notoriously difficult to work with on the set, Clint Eastwood referred to him as "Yosemite Sam" because of his quick temper, and he has been blamed in part for the suicide of actor Al Mulock, who jumped from his hotel room to his death while still in costume (Leone was supposedly quoted as saying "don't forget the costume!" as Mulock was taken to the hospital). He was also a compulsive eater, and by the time of his death had become quite a tub. After the Dollars trilogy, he did 5 more films, including "Once Upon a Time in the West" (now regarded by many as his best film), and "Once Upon a Time in America" (which, due to ruthless editing was a commercial flop, showing us that even heroes can fail), his last film.

It was that compulsive eating that was to do him in, he died of a heart attack at 60, days before the contracts on what was to be his next film (a war epic about the siege of Leningrad) were signed. It all he made only 11 films, but in that group are some damn fine films and it is for those films that Sergio Leone (January 3rd, 1929-April 30th, 1989, at the age of 60) you are my (345th) hero of the day.

Friday, July 30, 2010

One More


I know it is a bit over the top to have two fictional characters from the same TV series as heroes on the same day, but hey it is my blog, I get to make the rules. Then if I feel like it, I get to break the rules that I just made.
Either way, the ugly fellow above is one Moe Szyslak, and I figure if we have the drunk Homer Simpson as a hero, we should have the fellow that serves him all those wonderful Duff beers that get him so blissfully drunk. Moe is not the happy type of bartender. He doesn't want to hear your problems because he has too many of his own to worry about you. You go to his tavern to drink, and listen to HIM bitch about his life. Moe is a vulgar, ugly man, with a violent temper, and a shotgun. The latter which he has pulled on numerous occasions on his patrons.
He is unlucky in love, mainly because his is pug ugly, and a bit of a sociopath. I agree that Moe doesn't posses the most heroic of qualities, but somehow you still have to like him. His annual Christmas suicide attempts are hilarious ("18 wheels, and every one of them missed me."). He does, on occasion show some redeeming qualities, but for the most part he is an unrepentant, extremely depressed bastard. Why you wouldn't want to spend you're evening getting bombed at his bar is beyond comprehension. He provides the yardstick by which we can all measure our own misery. If we ever become as, or more miserable than Moe, then it might be time to pack it in, and end it all.
It is not the brightest role to play, and it is a bit of a forlorn role, but Moe plays it quite well, and pulls it off with a sort of understated humanity that endears him to us even as he repulses us. So for being that paradoxical character that we all need in our lives, Moe Szyslak (???-present), you are my (344th) hero of the day.

Fobidden Doughnut


The chubby, yellow fellow above is one Homer J. Simpson, and of course today isn't his birthday. But July is BY FAR the worst month I have had in the search for heroes, and we are getting close to the one year time limit of the blog. Not that it matters Homer would be a hero regardless of how bereft the month might be, but since the month is a wasteland of real heroes, I have decided to draft Homer into the stand-in hero ranks.
Homer is the embodiment of American blue collar workers, even though his job is a desk job, Homer's collar is distinctly blue, He is fat, crude, incompetent, and a borderline alcoholic (hmm reminds me of someone I know). He is the American male draw in yellow, and possessing only four fingers. When the Simpson's started being about Homer, and stopped being the Bart is bad show, it reached its apex. Homer is, in many ways, THE Simpson's. Without him, things would fall apart very soon. He has been called "the greatest comic creation of all time", and was voted the second (after Bugs Bunny) greatest cartoon character of all time.
He and I share an affinity for doughnuts, though I am not sure I would sell my soul for one, but you never know until the offer is made. He might be, in some respects, an absolute horrible human being, but he has he good points as well. He is a devoted family man, and his love for Marge is beyond question, and one of the greatest TV romances of all time. He is able to serve as example to his drinking buddies by "making our alcoholism look less raging." He has provided years, and years of some of the best comedy I have ever seen, and one of my all time favourite lines of his is "to alcohol, the cause of, and solution to all of life's problems." On its surface that is just a funny line, but you put some thought into, and you will see that maybe Homer is on to something there. Not that it is necessarily a good thing, it just happens to be way to close to the true for comfort.
It is that type of line, and that love for his family that help Homer's popularity, and make it impossible to hate him for his obvious flaws. He might not be the best father or spouse in the world, but he tries, and we no longer live in a Ward Cleaver type of world. The family unit is much closer to Homer's family that to Ward's. He has been called "a dog trapped in a man's body" and "a slave to his stomach," and those are probably true, but all the while he provides us with a great deal of humour, a little bit of philosophy, and a glimpse into what it is like to be human in today's America. So, for all those laughs, and all those wonderfully quotable lines, Homer J. Simpson (???-present), you are my (343rd) hero of the day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dead Cert


The blanketed fellow/horse is one Wilko, and today is of course not his birthday. Since he is a thoroughbred his official birthday is January 1st, he was actual born on January 13th, 2002, but I figured that he deserved his place on this list as well.

As you have figured out by now, I am a gambler, I will bet on almost anything, and I have made some pretty goofy bets in my life. I once bet on if the pope would live out the rest of the year, he didn't and I won (I had bet him to croak). One other time, I bet how many seats the Liberal Democrats would win in the British general election. I won, even though I could not, at the time, name one Liberal Democrat in the whole of Great Britain. I don't always win my goofy bets, but they can be a lot of fun to make. However, my one true gambling passion is betting the ponies, and the reason for that has been explained multiple times.

Like most gamblers I am a bit superstitious, and will bet on a "hunch" in a heartbeat. Sometimes these hunches are golden, but most of the time they only result in my money being pissed away, and my muttering that my hunches are mostly shit. This is where our hero Wilko enters the story. It was the 2004 Breeder's Cup Juvenile, and I didn't know Wilko even existed until about 10 minutes before the post of the race. I was there just to gamble on the best day of American horse racing, and he was just some pony entered in the race. He was an outsider, American born, but had done all of his racing in England, and was a 28-1 shot on the board. There was no real reason to think he would run more than 10 feet, and then fall flat on his horse face, except for one small thing.

To this day I cannot explain it, most fellow gamblers sort of understand what hit me that October day in 2004, but the non-gamblers that I relate this story to just look at me like I am a mental patient, and nod knowingly. You see the thing that hit me about 5 minutes before the start of the race was that Wilko, the rank outsider was going to win the race. It was a dead cert, I had, and have no explainable reason how or why I knew this, I just KNEW it. It was as if the gambling fates had reached down, and given me, for the briefest of moments, second sight, and I KNEW what was going to happen. It was one of the most glorious moments of my life, and I rushed to my companion, and breathlessly explained to her that we HAD to bet it ALL on Wilko.

She gave me that withering look that people reserve for the truly demented, and said "go ahead, piss your money away, but I am having no part of it." Well, needless to say, this was the proverbial glass of cold water in the face, and the ugly head of doubt (the gambler's true enemy) reared its head. When faced with her derision (and I have faced a lot of female derision in my life), my confidence waned, and my dead cert began to look like the ravings of a mad man, which isn't necessarily a bad thing except that I was the mad man in question. I didn't quite lose all my courage, and I did still place a smallish wager on Wilko (an across the board bet), off they when, and things were looking a bit bleak, as he got shuffled back to fourth in the far turn, but then MAGIC happened, and Wilko surged past the wall of three horses in front of him (one of which was a pretty good horse named Afleet Alex), and passed them like they were sitting still. That is correct he had won! At 28-1 my horse, my long shot had come in, and the look on my companion's face was of disbelief. That would show her to distrust my dead certs!

You would think this was a happy ending, after all he paid $58.60 to win, and I was clutching a winning ticket, and I cashed it that day. I won somewhere around 300 dollars on Wilko that day, and I was a fan for life. However, the happiness ends there, you see the sad part of this story is twofold. One, that was the last race he would ever win, he raced quite a few more times, and I was there for most of them, giving back the money I had won on him as I watched dismal performance after dismal performance. My faith was shaken but never broken, and I had money on him when he lost his last race, and then was retired to the ever lasting joy of my pocketbook. Secondly, I had wasted my gift. It is one of the few times in my life when I was certain, and I mean beyond a shadow of a doubt certain, that something was going to happen, and I let it slip away. You see if I had done what I should have done that day, I would be typing this from my retirement home in the south of France.

However, I gave into to doubt, and derision, and placed a MUCH smaller wager than I had intended. I was planning on betting the entire GI Empire on Wilko that day, and was dissuaded from it by a "friend." I know I should be happy with the winnings I took home that day, and the added bonus of being able to heap scorn on my friend for her doubting me. But, there remains to this day, and I am sure it always will be there, that "oh, what might have been" feeling. That if I would have had the courage of my conviction, if I had realized that for one brief moment in time, I was a Cassandra like seer, and could predict the future, and placed the LARGE bet I wanted to, I would have been golden. It is a bittersweet moment, sometimes more bitter, sometimes more sweet, but there it is nonetheless.

However, none of this is Wilko's fault, he was my "one shining moment" in my pony playing career, and the fault for not seeing it clearly lies solely with me. So, for that 1 minute 42 second ride into my heart (and then later breaking my heart), for being that one long shot that ever punter hopes for, but rarely cashes in on, Wilko (January 13th, 2002-present), you are my (342nd) hero of the day.

Confessions


The well worn fellow above is Thomas de Quincey, and since I am running twelve heroes (or so) behind schedule, I decided to draft him into the hero brigade. He was born August 15th, 1785 in Manchester, England, and since he shared that birthday with Napoleon, he really had to be pushed off to some hero-less day like today.
His childhood could not be called overly happy, but by the age of 15 he was ready for university, and one of his teachers expressed great confidence in the young de Quincey's intellect, and had high hopes for him. However, when he was sent away to school things went a bit potty, and after 19 months at school, he did a flit. His intention was to try and track down his hero, William Wordsworth, that didn't go exactly as planned, and he ended up living as a starving vagabond rather than return to his family. This time was to form the first section of the book (and the reason he is our hero for today) "Confessions of an English Opium Eater."
However, before he penned that wonderful work, he was roped in by the family, sent off to Worcester College, where he was regarded as a bit of a flake. It was during this time he begin to take opium. It was to be his inspiration, and his downfall all wrapped up in one neat little package. De Quincey's life was lived pretty much hand to mouth, and his debts, his opium addiction, and his family needs keep him in poverty for much of his adult life. It some ways this, for his readers, is a good thing, it is unlikely that without the need to fuel his opium addiction, de Quincey might not have ever put pen to paper.
I guess the twin mistresses of poverty, and addiction can inspire even the most slack jawed of us to get off their ass, and try to make some dough. His later life improved somewhat, and for a opium addict he managed a good run, dying at the age of 74. "Confessions" is one weird ass book, as you would expect being written by a fellow high as a Georgia pine, but it is still worth a read. It helps you get inside the mind of a man consumed by addiction, and the wild thoughts that race through his head as the drug takes over. So for writing that wild ride down for the rest of us to read, Thomas de Quincey (August 15th, 1785-December 8th, 1859), at the age of 74 you are my (341st) hero of the day.

Of Course you are


The suave fellow above is one Sean Connery, playing the role that made him both famous (good for him), and my hero of this particular day (good for me). However, as with most days in this rotten, heat addled month, today is not M. Connery's birthday. He was born August 30th, 1930 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The son of a cleaning lady, and a lorry driver, young Sean started his working life as a milkman before joining the Royal Navy. It was while in the navy that he got his two tattoos (same number as I have), his read simply "Mum and Dad", and "Scotland Forever."
As as young lad he was a fair hand at football, and was offered a trial at a decent Scottish club (if there be such a thing), but realized that footballers have a very short shelf life, and decided to stick with the acting gig. Good thing for the history of film that he did. His big break came in 1962's "Dr. No" when he played (to perfection) the role of secret agent James Bond. He went on to play Bond in seven films, including the first five. At first, he was not Ian Fleming's idea of James Bond, being a bit too much like a "stunt man" than a suave secret agent. The story goes that it was director Terence Young that taught Connery how to "be" Bond, if so, he did a damn fine job. Connery is by far my favourite Bond, and delivers one of the best lines ever (in "Diamonds are Forever') when he responds to the well endowed Plenty O'Toole's introduction of herself as "I'm Plenty O'Toole" with the laconic "Of course you are." It is a great line, and Connery plays it to perfection. He might be almost 80 years old now, and looking a little rough, but he will always be the image that I pull up in my mind of James Bond.
He went to make a lot more lovely films, and to play some pretty damn fine roles. Even winning an Academy Award for his role in "The Untouchables", but it is for those seven Bond films that he is, and remains my hero. So, even though it isn't his birthday, and Sir Sean hasn't played Bond in decades, it is for being the suave, cool, James Bond that Sean Connery (August 30th, 1930-present), you are my (340th) hero of the day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Under the Volcano


The fellow aboe is one Malcolm Lowry born this day 1909 in Merseyside, England. After graduating from Cambridge, Lowry would start the wild life that would include his twin obsessions, alcohol and literature. He got himself married in 1934, and it was to prove a bit of a disasterous union. He would follow his bride to New York, where he would enter Bellevue Hospital after a alcohol induced breakdown, and then to Hollywood where he would give screen writing a shot. The lovebirds moved to Mexico in 1936, in one last (failed) attempt to save their marriage. His blushing bride had had enough of him by late 1937, and Lowry would enter a period of deep alcoholism after she left. It is during this time that he "lived" the facts that he would turn into his greatest work, the semi-autobiographical novel "Under the Volcano."
It is not the happiest of novels, and I am sure it wasn't the happiest of times for Lowry, but drunk, lonely, and depressed he churned out one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century (being voted number 11 by people who create these sorts of lists). Apparently he was such a excessive drunk that Mexico just deported his ass in 1938, he moved to Canada, found him a new wife, and sat down to write his masterpiece. The new wife was to provide a more positive influence upon him, and he entered a more stable period of his life. Not that he gave up the sauce, but at least he was not getting drunk and deported, which is progress I suppose.
I haven't the faintest idea how I came across the book, and had no idea what a wonderful book it was until I read it. Get thee to a bookstore, and purchase you a copy, and you will be blown away as well. Lowry came to a bad end, which is no surprise, a few too many sleeping pills and too much booze lead to his death by "misadventure." But, for writing a wonderfully dark novel about a guy just simply unraveling, Malcolm Lowry (July 28th, 1909-June 26th, 1957, at the age of 47), you are my (339th) hero of the day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Half Light

I fear that my hero of the day posts have had a chilling affect on my "normal" writing. Not that my normal writing is any good, but the few ideas I do manage to have, and not forget, are generally swallowed by the hero of the day post. Of course that is provided I am able to actually put those ideas down (so to speak) on the internet. The few non-hero posts that I have done this year are probably not easy to find. I understand that quality beat quantity, but I made my own bed with my hero project, and I have to finish it, even if that means drafting a fictional rabbit (or is he a hare?) as a hero of the day.

My "back up" therapist, Dr. Duvel, has encouraged me to bring those few non-heroic ideas out of the "half-light" where they are standing (or it is lurking?), and to see how they stand up to the harsh light of day. I tried to explain to the good doctor that there are both heroes, and non-heroic ideas in that half light waiting where we both stand. These ideas (both types) are just waiting there hoping that I can keep it together long enough to give them their due. They have yet to realize all the external issues I face just to get myself through the day. Of course, my issues are no greater than the ones facing any of the rest of us, but I seem to be singularly ill adapted to deal with those issues. This inability to deal with just the simple things of life is quite an obstacle to trying to accomplish anything more than just going to get the mail.

It is in that half light that I see myself, and my ideas as they are, half-formed, half-baked, and half coherent. They are there one minute, and then poof they are gone (like Keyser Soze), and if I am not paying strict attention, I am left wondering if they ever happened. Sometimes I wonder if "I" ever happened, and that causes a whole new kind of crisis. It is those moments when I cannot get to sleep that many of these ideas, and all of their complications come pounding on my intellectual door (normally there is a "no one at home sign on my intellectual door), but here they come nonetheless. They appear, seem to be perfect, then fade away into the dark, and all I am left with is an ghost, a vapor, and a disappearing trail that I cannot follow in order to retrieve them, and write them down.

Perhaps if I can keep the good doctor focused long enough, and have him peruse this blog post, he might realize that for some ideas there just isn't any hope. After all, a lot of things, places, or people look a lot better in the half-light. This is the siren call of Dr. Duvel, he tells you that you need to talk, sits down, and smiles politely, and asks you to talk. Then you realize it has all gone pear shaped, usually the first hint is the look of horror spreading slowly over the good doctor's face. Next thing you realize you are just hoping to get to a good stopping point, praying his phone rings, or his secretary comes in and needs him for something, anything to deflect his attention away from you. Because you don't want to be here, sitting on his couch (or is it a stool), wondering if you did say that horrible, horrible thing out loud.

Then you start praying for the half-light, that half-light that you, yourself can disappear into, and hope that maybe all this thinking will get you somewhere (it won't but you hold on to that hope like a sailor clings to a plank of a shipwreck). You realize that all these sessions with him usually end the same way, you just throw money at him, and hope that his notes get burnt up in some timely fire. You drift away from that convenient lamppost, and head spinning, stagger away down that deserted street, and hope that tomorrow is a better day.

Your only hope is the deep sleep that is awaiting you if you ever manage to make it home, and you really need to make it home because tomorrow, while it might not be better, or better lit, will still throw at you all those little day to day tasks that you are so horribly bad at performing. And those tasks, those day to day, mundane items need to be attended to, and someone has decided that, for some ungodly reason, you are the person that is best suited to perform them. Little do they know the terror that idea inspires, and all you can do is slap a smile on your face, and do the best you can. Even if it isn't good enough, the best you can do is sometimes just enough to get you through the day, and into the half-light that follows.

What's up Doc?

Once more we delve into the fictional world to find our hero of the day. Our hero is the carrot chewing hare above known as Bugs Bunny, he wasn't "born" today, but it was this day in 1940 in which the cartoon short "A Wild Hare" was released. It is considered to be the first appearance of Bugs Bunny, and his buddy Elmer Fudd in their "finished" form. It was in this cartoon that he also uttered the line by which he is known for "what's up doc?" asked of Elmer Fudd as he emerges from his rabbit hole.

Bugs has had many feuds over the years, and a recurring theme in the Looney Tunes cartoons is that he always wins. However, he usually does it in a way that makes us still root for him, which is some feat. Bugs appeared in 163 cartoons shorts during the golden age of cartoons, and I have probably seen them all about 4 times each. His "of course, you realize this means war" line is one that I have borrowed on more than one occasion. Similarly his "ain't I a stinker" line is a good all-purpose line that has many uses. He is an enduring American legend, and was voted (in 2002) TV Guide's number 1 all time best cartoon character.

Sadly, I haven't seen any of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons in a while, and if they are making new ones, I haven't seen those either. I know he is still around, but without Mel Blanc voicing him it just isn't quite the same. He is a reminder of the (few) happy moments of my childhood, that is long since past. Put me in front of a Bug Bunny cartoon, and I was happy as a clam. Perhaps I should look into purchasing the collection on DVD, so I can always have happiness (of the unbottled variety) just a moment away. Maybe one day I will take that "left turn at Albuquerque," and find that happiness I possessed as a child watching Bugs get the better of other wonderful characters like Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam, but until then I guess I will just have to hope the Cartoon Network is showing some re-runs. So, for teasing me how to be a bit of a smart aleck, and delivering such wonderful lines with perfect timing, Bugs Bunny (July 27th, 1940-present), you are my (338th) hero of the day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jury

July is not a month overburdened with heroes of the real life type, so I have once again plucked a fictional character out of my, ever decreasing, hero bag of tricks. His name is Richard Jury, and he is the "hero" of a lovely series of books by Martha Grimes. Each book (they are murder mysteries) is named after an English pub, and follow a pretty set formula, but even so they are pretty damn fine books. At least the first ten or so, after that Ms. Grimes kind of goes of the rails, but until then all is well.

Jury is a superintendent at Scotland Yard, and is the fellow tasked with solving all those lovely little murder that Ms. Grimes can think of in her over active imagination. Jury had a rough childhood, his father was an RAF pilot that got himself killed over Germany, and his mother was killed during the London Blitz. His age is only given once, as far as I know, and he is 43 (forever 43 it seems). The joys of being a fictional character, never aging, and in theory at least immortal. He is moody and a bit of a melancholic and a bit moody, both of these character traits (or flaws depending on your point of view) I have been accused of possessing myself. He also takes a field of untrodden snow as a challenge. However, unlike me, Jury is a bit of a ladies man, he is supposedly a handsome devil, and the ladies just can't resist. Sadly for him, he is unlucky in love, and remains a challenge to single women everywhere. He usually gets his man, but he certainly doesn't always take a lot of joy in it. In fact, happiness does not seem to be on the menu for our boy Jury. A certain sadness permeates his soul, but it is not despair, it is just sadness. So, for all those cases closed, and for doing it with a lovely English style, Richard Jury (???-present), you are my (337th) hero of the day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Stand-Ins

The group of fellows above are the band known as Okkervil River, and today is probably not any of their birthday's, but since my first attempt at a hero (see below) failed so badly, I thought I would give these guys their collective time on the hero podium.

They were formed late in 1998 by Will Sheff, Zach Thomas, and Seth Warren, three college buddies with a desire to become professional failures. They relocated to Austin, Texas where they played there first gig in early January, 1999. They take there name from a short story written by Russian author Tatyana Tolstaya. Okkervil River is an actual river outside of St. Petersburg, and I am pretty sure none of these guys have ever seen it. That doesn't stop them from making some pretty fucking awesome music. This isn't your headbanging, drive fast, hate life type of music. This is music with a story to tell, some extremely complicated lyrics, and some wonderful production values. Like most bands, their line up has changed, but it is Sheff that is the constant. I am not sure if he is classically educated or not, but he certainly seems that way. Some of their song's are just amazing. Some of the best lines I have heard from a band in a long, long time. I highly recommend them, and suggest you get thee to iTunes, and start downloading their stuff. Start with "King and Queen Song" then try "Calling and not Calling my Ex" give "The Velocity of Saul at the time of his Conversion" a listen and see what you thing. I warn you these are not the bubble gum chewing, pop diva bullshit that is poisoning the airwaves of America all the time, but if you listen, and put some thought into their songs you will be richly rewarded. Part of the reason that I decreed these fellows as today's stand in heroes is because their last album (their 5th) is titled "The Stand-Ins." So for standing in for my failed hero, and being a damn fine rock band in their own right Okkervil River (1998-present), you are my (336th) hero(es) of the day.

Disappointment

When I was doing some forward thinking a while back, I came up the person whom I figured would be today's hero. After all, he was born today, and I had just started his autobiography. I had heard good things about his work, had even read a bit of it, and he did eventually win the Nobel Prize for literature. But, then it all ended in tears, as these things sometimes do, I read the REST of his autobiography. I found that he was a bit of a snide, lying, jackass who liked to blow his own horn A LOT. I even researched a bit more, and found a collection of his letters to his brother, and to his wife, and between his wife and his brother. Needless to say, I was disappointed in my choice for a hero. It seems he was a bit of a womanizer, now in and of itself that is not going to lose you hero status. Quite a few of my heroes have been, erm shall we say freethinkers when it comes to love. Both men and women can still be heroes even if they like to spread the joy so to speak. However, my candidate glossed over ever bit of that in his autobiography, there is a brief mention of a couple of other women, but nothing that would lead the reader to think that the author was having an affair (in some cases years long) with the woman in question.

Of course, he was married during all of this philandering, but like I said sometimes personal morals can be overcome if the talent is there. This guy had talent of that there is no question, and I am far from being the moral majority, but I figure if you cannot be honest in your own autobiography then you lose hero status. Sure we all want to be the "good guy" in every story that is told about us, we all want to be our own "hero of the day," but in that small place inside of each of us where our true being lies we must be honest with ourselves. We must be able to tell ourselves that perhaps we could have handled a situation better, or maybe I was wrong and I am the villain of the piece after all. Perhaps next time I will try to do better, and maybe I can become a better person if I learn from this experience. My candidate did not seem to be interested in doing that in his book, and I doubt he would have been too thrilled with the publication of his letters that show him to be such a bastard, but he is dead and lying in a pine grove, and can't do much about it.

So, this was an object lesson for me I suppose. A "don't count your heroes before they are anointed" moment in the march of the hero brigade. And I guess that is the problem with some heroes, they just can't be heroic all the time. The hero pose gets a bit tiring I suppose, and maybe a few of them buckle under the weight of all those heroic expectations. My guy certainly did, and I suppose, in some ways that is as much my fault as it is his. Either way, it is a slightly bitter disappointment to realize that you had his place all picked out and polished up for him on the hero podium, only for him to fall at the final hurdle, and turn non-heroic. To quote my boss "I am disappointed."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pere


The slightly out of focus fellow above is one Alexander Dumas (pere, or the father), born this day 1802, in Aisne, France. His father died when he was only four years old, and his mother was not able to provide much of an education for him, but he was an avid reader. He would read anything you put in front of him, and I suspect that some high adventure stories were placed in front of him as a child, for he grew up to write some ripping yarns. He moved to Paris at the age of twenty, found some low-level job for the government, and began to write (ah, if only). His first two plays were wildly successful, and by 1830 he was financially secure enough to write full time (bye, bye grunt work government job).

He then turned he talents to the novel, and hit upon the idea that was going to make him the big money (he needed big money because he liked to live "large'). His money making idea was to serialize his novel in the newspaper, and it was a smashing idea, that led him to basically found a novel "production company." He would have several writers, and or assistants that would help him with details of the novel, all subject to his final input and approval of course, the most famous was a gent by the name of Auguste Maquet. It was M. Maquet that outlined the plot of what is, in my opinion, Dumas' best novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo." The ultimate revenge novel, it is the major reason that Dumas is on our hero podium today. Read it once because everyone should, then read it again just for the pure delight of the revenge the Count extracts on those who have "wronged" him. It is for that and his "The Three Musketeers" that Alexandre Dumas, pere (July 24th, 1802-December 5th, 1870, at the age of 68), you are my (335th) hero of the day.

Goodbye to all of That


From yesterday's "grave man" to today's man named Graves. The fellow above is one Robert Graves, born this day 1895, in London, England. After a rather typical English schoolboy education, Graves enlisted almost immediately upon the outbreak of World War I. He would become one of the several famous "war poets" that the great war produced. However, it was at a steep cost, he was wounded so badly at the Battle of the Somme, that he was given up for dead (and his death was even officially reported). He managed to survive that wound, and survive the shell shock that many veterans of that horrible conflict suffered from, and thankfully so.

Because after the war he was to write the lovely books that make him our hero of this particular day. "I, Claudius," "Claudius the God," and "Goodbye to all of That." Are three books we should all read. I particularly like the first two, written as a hidden memoir of the Roman emperor Claudius, who reigned 41-54 A.D. They are both excellent books, and PBS (a long time ago) even produced a wonderful series starring Derrick Jacobi as Claudius, that I would recommend as well. Graves would later profess a dislike for the two Claudius books, stating that they were written solely for the money, on a deadline, and he bemoaned their popularity. Deadline or not, and whether he liked them are not later in life, they are two fantastic books, and "I, Claudius" was voted as one of the top 100 great novels of all time. Not bad from someone writing solely for the money.

So, for those wonderful books that tell such an interesting tale, Robert Graves (July 24th, 1895-December 7th, 1985, at the age of 90), you are my (334th) hero of the day.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Grave Man

Today's hero is another fictional character plucked out of thin air, and off of the stand in hero list to make sure we don't have another hero-less day. As with most fictional characters, there is no date of birth that has been assigned to this fellow, and so therefore I pick for him today.

The hero of this particularly hot July day is Mercutio, and his sad fate is to be one of Romeo's best friends in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio is a fine character, a quick witted, sometimes long winded man who is a bit of a free spirit. He is neither Montague or Capulet, but is closer to the Montague's since he cannot stand Juliet's cousin Tybalt. His quick wit, and over the top attitude make him one of the most popular of Shakespeare's characters, and I am quite the fan of him as well. He is a pivotal character, and his death (as some people have noticed) is a pivotal point in the play. Before his death, the play is a bit of a comedy, after his death, it becomes the tragedy that engulfs all the remaining characters. It is Mercutio that, after being wounded under Romeo's arm by Tybalt proclaims "a plague o both your houses." It is one of the most powerful lines that Shakespeare ever wrote, and delivered properly can raise goosebumps. Equally cursing the Capulet who slew him, and the Montague who got in the way, and under whom arm the fatal blow was struck. Ever the jester, Mercutio replies to Romeo's question about his health proclaiming it "a scratch nothing more" but then declares ". . . call for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." It is his exit from the scene and the moment in the play where it all starts to go horribly, horribly wrong. But, while he is alive in the play he is fantastic, and so Mercutio (????-present), you are my (333rd) hero of the day.


By some act of fate the dumbed down 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet is on the boob tube, and I have just watched Mercutio's death scene. I am more of a traditionalist, and prefer my Shakespeare characters be the non-gun toting type, but Harold Perrineau's portrayal of our hero is not bad. As mentioned earlier, this is the point that it all goes horribly wrong. The fans of young love will bemoan the ensuing deaths of Romeo and Juliet, but the true tragedy is the death of the true victim Mercutio. The carefree, life of the party, Mercuito, who as he realizes that his card has been punched proclaims a plague on both the houses of Montague and Capulet. He pays the ultimate price for trying to help a feckless, inconstant, brooding friend, and his reward is a knife in the guts. Bemoan the sad fates of the two lead characters if you want, (clearly I am rather unsympathetic to their plights) but remember all those later love scenes they share are paid for by the blood of the true hero of the piece Mercutio.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Day the Universe Changed


The smug looking fellow above is one James Burke, and today is not his birthday, but he is a hero nonetheless. His actual birthday is December 22nd, 1936, and he was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. Since today was lacking in heroes born on this particular day, I figured I would trot good, old James out for today's spot on the hero podium.

The major reason for his placement on the hero podium is that he is quite simply a fucking genius. Many, many moons ago, when I was but a struggling history student, I got the privilege of watching (for a class) Mr. Burke's wonderful TV series entitled "The Day the Universe Changed." It was quite simply breathtaking, the depth, and width of his knowledge was astounding, and he then went on to do three series of a show (written by him of course) called "Connections." It is exactly what it sounds like, Mr. Burke takes crayons and shows how they are connected to corn flakes, taking giant leaps, both forward, and backwards in time, to show how all sorts of things are somehow "connected." That without one French peasant doing one certain thing a certain way, we wouldn't have automobiles. All three of the series are amazing, and if you haven't seen them, you should. I guarantee you will learn something that you didn't know, and you will be amazed at his talent to connect things to each other at breakneck speed. It is a bit like the "six degrees of separation" done history style by a genius, and you just try to keep up with him if you can. I tried to keep up, and I did my best, but there were times that I was as lost as last year's Easter eggs. But, for making all those connections seem so effortless, James Burke (December 22nd, 1936-present), you are my (332nd) hero of the day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Movable Feast


The fellow above is one Ernest Hemingway, born this day 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. He is quite simply, for me at least, the greatest American author that I have ever had the pleasure to read. And I read for pleasure a lot. The details of his life are much too large for this humble page, and I repeat I am a lazy slob. I could not do him justice, and if I tried I would show you how badly I need a lesson in Hemingway.
His style was his trademark. Short, declarative, sentences that told you exactly what you needed to know, and then move onto the next sentence. I am his polar opposite in the world of sentence writing, and I recognize this as a personal failing. I write sentences that are paragraphs, and then I don't even bother writing in paragraphs. But, let's allow Hemingway to speak for himself as his iceberg theory of writing.
"A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit."
That quote is from his "The Art of a Short Story", and there are theories that his sparse, tightly woven prose comes from the fact that he began as a writer of short stories. A great deal of what he wrote, he lived. "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "A Farewell to Arms", and "A Movable Feast." Are the books that are among my favourite of his, Paris is "a movable feast" to Hemingway, and to others of the "lost" generation that knocked about in Paris in the 1920's. It remains that in my imagination, and the thought of chucking it all overboard, moving to Paris, and starving to death (not the best ending, but the most likely), has been one of my "big" ideas for over a decade. Unlike, Hemingway, I lack the intestinal fortitude to try that little adventure, so I console myself with reading "A Movable Feast" again once in a while.
I still remember the first Hemingway I ever read, I was probably about 10 years old, and it was the short story "Hills like White Elephants" the meaning of it all sailed gently over my 10 year old head, but the impression was permanent. He came to a bad end, as several members in his family did as well, by committing suicide with a shotgun, but for that lovely, lean, explosive prose, and books that are just stunning to read, Ernest Hemingway (July 21st, 1899-July 2nd, 1961, at the age of 61), you are my (331st) hero of the day.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Standard

I must admit that today's hero is a bit bittersweet, his name is Alexander "the Great" and he was born this day 356 B. C. in Pella, Macedonia. We all know the basic facts, born the son of a King, tutored by none other than Aristotle, and pretty much conquered the world before the age of 32. Undefeated in battle, he pretty much sets the standard for military commanders. Measure yourself against Alexander the Great huh? You will be found to be wanting I promise you. That is part of the bitter sweetness of him as a hero, when I was younger, skinner, and smarter I used to measure myself against people like Alexander, and I was appalled. Looking back at it now, I realize how fucking stupid that was, but I did it nonetheless. It was not an uplifting experience, and I don't recommend it to anyone. The good news is that unlike Alexander I lived past 32 years of age, now if I had just conquered the known world by now we would be pretty close to even, but that master plan of world conquest has never really taken off, so I figure I will have to continue to look up at him as he rests high up there on the hero podium. Also, after reading a physical description of him, I think I might have him beat in the looks department. I suppose small victories are important too. I doubt they will be naming any cities after me anytime soon, or I will get to attach "the Great" to the end of my name. And "the Average" or "the Mediocre" just doesn't have the same ring as "the Great." Although, it does appear that we share at least some traits, the fondness for booze for one, he apparently did not respond well to orders from his father, and he was stubborn. All of these things I freely admit to being a part of the make up of what little character I have. So I guess it isn't all bad, if I can say that me and Alexander the Great had somethings in common. Maybe that way I can stop comparing myself to him, and ending up horribly depressed at the results. So, for conquering the known world by the age of 32, and being "Great" Alexander of Macedonia (July 20th 356 B.C.-June 10th, 323 B.C. at the age of 32), you are my (330th) hero of the day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Embers

Today is going to be a bit of a repeat, long before I came up with the idea for my "hero of the day" post(s). I wrote a post entitled "my hero of the day." It was written on April 23rd, 2009, and it was about what a lovely writer a fellow by the name of Sandor Marai is, and how reading him is both a lovely experience, and a painful reminder of my lack of talent.

Since I am forgetful, I did not realize that I had not done Marai as my hero of the day on his actual birthday, and I now feel quite ashamed of myself. He was born April 11th, 1900 in Kassa, Austria-Hungary, and he was the first person to write a review of Kafka's work. There is a odd number of connections amongst my heroes that just can not be explained in a normal way. Perhaps there is some thread that ties them all together, but I have been unable to figure out what it is. He wrote forty-six novels, but so far only four of them have been translated into English, also his memoirs have been translated as well, and I have read all of his works I can get my hands on in English, and I strongly suggest you do the same. Some of the sentences he wrote, are master classes of imagery, and just take your breath away. He fled the Communist regime in Hungary, and moved to California. Sadly, after the death of his wife, he became a bit of a recluse, and committed suicide by gunshot in 1989. However, I can only hope that somewhere in the world there are translators working on making more of his wonderful writings available in English. So, despite my forgetfulness, and making because he foreshadowed my hero of the day idea, Sandor Marai (April 11th, 1900-February 22nd, 1989, at the age of 88), you are my (329th) hero of the day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Der Trinker


For this post, we are going to engage in a little forward time travel. The bespectacled fellow above is one Rudolf Ditzen, and he was born July 21st, 1893 in Greifswald, Germany. He is better known by his pen name, Hans Fallada (a name taken from two separate stories by the Brothers Grimm), and we are advancing his hero status forward to today for two reasons. First, there was no hero that I could place on the hero podium born today, and secondly I have just finished "The Drinker" a book written by Herr Fallada.

It is a lovely book that was written while Fallada was "resting" in a Nazi insane asylum, and was written in a fortnight using paper on which he was supposed to writing a completely different kind of book. It was written in a some type of cross script (not a code as some people think) to both save paper, and confuse the Nazis who had locked him up in the loony bin. It is a powerful book telling the story of one man's fall from a "normal" life into one of utter degradation. It starts with the line "I was not always a drunkard . . . " and quickly goes on to show how the main character's life goes down the garbage chute. It is not considered to be "high art," but I wouldn't know high art if it hit me in the forehead, so it matters not to me. I was quite impressed that it was written under such trying circumstances so quickly, and that Fallada never when back and edited a single line of it. I do not know if any editing was ever done to it, and of course I read it in translation, but if it was never cleaned up, then it is even more of a impressive feat.

Fallada himself led a pretty wild life, he was born the son of a man who would eventually become a supreme court judge, and had a fairly difficult childhood. An accident when he was but 16 years old would lay the foundation for a life long addiction to morphine. At the age of 18, he killed a friend in a duel that was supposedly staged to end up with them both dead. His friend missed his shot, Fallada did not, and then tried to kill himself. That little stunt would lead to his first incarnation in a mental institution, it was not to be his last. His most famous book "Little Man, Now What?" was turned into a movie, and made him a popular writer in Germany, and the United States.

However, eventually the Nazis showed up, and he was declared an undesirable author, and thus locked up in the asylum in which he wrote "The Drinker." He claimed to, besides not editing this book, to never go back to read a line he had written after it was published. He did not read any of the reviews of his work, and usually wrote very quickly, feverishly putting down onto paper the story that was bursting to come out of him. I can not claim to have that type of talent, or dedication (the most I can write in one sitting is about 8 pages), but I share that same approach to my "writing." I rarely go back (as you can tell) and edit or reread what I have written. I quite often "rush" to my laptop to write down a blog post that has suddenly "blossomed" in my head (once while brushing my teeth), and I bang it out right there as quickly as I can before it fades away, and leaves me pondering what it was all about. I possess one other book by Fallada entitled "Every Man Dies Alone" it was written in 24 days, and is about 500 pages long! I can only hope that it is as good as "The Drinker." He came to a bad end, as one would expect, by dying of a morphine overdose, but during those feverish bouts of writing, he produced some world beating literature, and it is for that literature that I have advanced him in time to be our hero of the day. So, Hans Fallada (July 21st, 1893-February 5th, 1947, at the age of 53 from an overdoes of morphine), you are my (328th) hero of the day.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Solo

Life is a solo journey, sure you are going to meet and greet a lot of people on the way, but at the end of the day you are the captain, owner, and solo passenger on your own personal ship of state. It is a bit like an trans-Atlantic flight back in the day. You might have a support staff, maybe even a mechanic or two, and there might or might not be a welcoming committee with a big bouquet of flowers and a banner welcoming you to the ground, but you are the one up there in the wild, blue, yonder all alone. Freezing your entire ass most likely, and wondering if you are ever going to see green grass again. Every flight is an adventure, a solo adventure that you have to undertake along with all the rest of us. Co-pilots are not allowed even though there will probably be some people who you might want to be your co-pilot. They might look like a co-pilot, they might act like a co-pilot, but really all they are doing at best is flying in the same directions as you, if only for a while. Enjoy that shared ride while you can, because by definition it can not last. Eventually that person masquerading as your co-pilot will chart a new course, one that may be slightly or even radically different than your own, and all you will see is their contrails as they leave you in search of their own destiny. Even Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" can make a partnership as he does in "For a Few Dollars More," but that partnership, like them all, does not last. Eventually he goes his own way, and rides off into the sunset to pursue whatever fate has in store for him, and him alone. That fate, be it good, bad, or ugly is the one in the cards for him, and him alone, try as you might, wish with all your heart that you could, but you will be unable to share it on its true level. Just like the title of a book by Hans Fallada "Every man Dies Alone" and I tend to agree with that theory. Of course it isn't just the solo death that awaits you, that I am blathering own about it is the long day's journey to that death that is also a solo expedition. Certainly you will meet some fellow travelers on the way, and they will be at different stages upon life's way, but just remember they are going east, you are headed north. Enjoy their company if you can, and while it lasts, try not to get too attached, and try not to dissuade them from going east, even if you think it's the wrong direction. It might be, but they have to sort that out for themselves. Besides you have your own problems, and try not to neglect them by trying to save the world. The world isn't worth saving, and even if it was you are probably not the person to do it. Of course, as you realize this little aside is just distract attention to the fact that, for today July 17th, there is no hero of the day.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shoeless Joe


The rather large eared fellow above is one Joseph Jefferson Jackson, born this day 1887 in Pickens County, South Carolina. He is best remembered for being a part of the Chicago "Black Sox," the team that conspired to fix the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. He got his famous nickname "Shoeless" Joe by literally playing in his stocking feet in a game. He had bought some new cleats, and they were giving him blisters, therefore off came the shoes, and a nickname was born. He was, by all accounts, one fine fucking baseball player. His career batting average of .356 is still third all time behind Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby (also two fine fucking baseball players). He still holds the White Sox's all time record for triples, and career batting average.
His role in the Black Sox scandal has been debated since day one, he did supposedly admit to taking 5 grand, but the fellow that gave it to him said that he literally threw the money onto the floor of Jackson's room. His batting average in the 1919 Series was .375, he made no errors, and even threw a runner out at the plate. Hardly the actions of a player trying to lose the series. Years later, after he and his seven teams were banned for life from baseball, the other seven players said that he was never at any of the meetings that were held to discuss the fix. He remains banned from baseball, and therefore ineligible for the Hall of Fame. This is a shame for he would certainly be a shoo-in for the Hall. He maintained his innocence to the end of his life, and after a reading of some of the evidence of his "crimes," I am pretty sure he was not involved in the fix. So, for being a fantastic ball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (July 16th, 1887-December 5th, 1951, at the age of 64 of a heart attack), you are my (327th) hero of the day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

King Blabbermouth


Today was another one of those days sorely lacking a real, live hero, so I am once again forced to come up with a make believe one. Our hero today is one of the five fellows in the line up above. His name is Keyser Soze, and he is a right bastard. He was voted number 48 out of the top 100 movie villains, which means he is probably not really hero material. But once again, I repeat they are MY heroes, and I get to pick them. If you disagree feel free to start your own blog, and pick your own heroes. However, I do warn you it is a lot more work than you think.

Our boy Soze is one ruthless bastard, if you cross him, as four of the five fellows above did, even unknowingly he will exact his revenge. In these fellows case he gives them the option of completing a "suicide" mission to repay their debts to him. If they live, the get to walk away, but if you have seen the movie, you know that none of them make it. There are two major reasons that Keyser Soze makes it onto the hero podium. First he quotes, or rather paraphrases Charles Baudelaire when he states "that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing man he didn't exist." Any criminal who can quote Baudelaire can't be all bad. Secondly, his ability to weave a yarn that Agent Kujan believes made out of whole cloth, and using names, dates, and places from things that he sees in the room in which he is sitting is impressive. I like a good yarn, and I wish I had that kind of talent, to just start telling a story, a logical story that hangs together, just by using the things in my line of sight. And, yes I know it is a movie, and it is make believe, but still it is well done. Plus, the part where Verbal Kent says "how do you shoot the devil in the back Agent Kujan? What if you miss" is also an all time great movie line.

The fact that he kills, robs, and sells drugs do make Keyer Soze a bit of an anti-hero, but at least he is slick, and a man of his principles. People are truly afraid of him, and they are not even sure he exists. Now that takes some talent. So it is for that talent that Keyer Soze (played so very well by Kevin Spacey) (???-present) you are my (326th) hero of the day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bleak


Since today is Bastille Day, I tried my best to find a French hero (good luck with that), to assume the mantle of hero of the day, however, as usual, the French failed, and besides it would have taken a big time hero to unseat the fellow above. His name is Ingmar Bergman, and he was born this day 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden.
He was born the son of a nurse, and a Lutheran minister that later when on to be the chaplain to the King of Sweden. I am sure this religious upbringing, though he claimed to have lost his faith at the age of eight, lead to his somewhat "bleak" outlook expressed so eloquently in his films. His first foray in to film was writing the screenplay for the 1944 film "Torment" it is a lovely film, and I recommend it. However, the film that he made that puts in squarely on the hero podium is 1957's "Seventh Seal." Not an uplifting film, but it is absolutely fantastic. I also recommend "Wild Strawberries." Few of his films were run away commercial successes, and few of them were overly happy films. He even said in a 2004 interview that he could not watch his films anymore because they depressed him. His films are pretty bleak, and he was his own screenwriter, often thinking about films months or years before he began writing. Three of those films did win the Oscar for best Foreign Film, so even though they weren't blockbusters, they were damn good films. Woody Allen, a fairly good film maker himself, called him "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera." Not a bad thing to have said about you, and even better considering the source. So, for making such bleak, yet still lovely films. Ingmar Bergman (July 14th, 1918-July 30th, 2007, at the age of 89), you are my (325th) hero of the day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Night Soldiers


Today we have to bring another substitute out of our bullpen of heroes. Today was just lacking, I tired my best to make Caesar a hero, but I just could not manage it, something about his populist politics that rubbed me the wrong way. So instead we find us a real, still alive hero to take his place on the hero podium for today.
The fellow above is one Alan Furst, and he was born February 20th, 1941 in New York City. It is not a slight to him that on his birthday he was behind the author of "The Planet of the Apes" films. I mean someone has to finish second after all, or there wasn't really a race. In spite of his grandfather's wishes, Mr. Furst decided to become a full time writer, and was not overly successful at it until the publication, in 1988 of his book entitled "Night Soldiers." It was that book that marked the beginning of his success, and it is a wonderful book. His genre is the spy novel, mostly set in World War II, and mostly in Eastern Europe. Part of the reason he is on the hero podium is that he and I admire a lot of the same authors. Eric Ambler, Issac Babel, and Joseph Roth to name a few. He is remarkable at creating an atmosphere for his "historical espionage" novels. I have read 10 of the 11 books he has written, and am just waiting for the 11th one to come out in paperback. I highly recommend him, and have even reread a couple of his books because they are just that good. So, for writing some crackerjack contemporary fiction, Alan Furst (February 20th, 1941-present), you are my (324th) hero of the day.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wonderful Disobedience

Today's hero is another fellow pulled off the reserve bench since today was lacking in its own bona fide hero. His name is Max Brod, and his actual birthday was May 17th, 1884, and he was born in Prague when it was still a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It is no shame that M. Brod was unable to break onto the hero podium on his actual birthday, since the hero for that day was another author by the name of Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

He was a rather prolific writer in his own right, but his major claim to fame, and the reason I deem him hero worthy is for his role as Franz Kafka's literary executor. He first met Kafka in 1902, when they were both students at the same university. From that first meeting a deep friendship grew, and they would meet almost daily until Kafka's death. It was Kafka's death that gave our boy Brod the chance to make his wonderful contribution to the world of literature. Kafka told Brod to burn all of his papers, and writings, and Brod told him that he would not do such a horrible thing. Brod took those wonderful writings, and had them published, thus saving some of the world's best literature from the flames. His defense to his disobeying his dying friend's last wishes was that he had told Kafka he would not burn his papers, and Kafka did not replace him as his executor. So for that wonderful disobedience that saved some damn fine literature, Max Brod (May 27th, 1884-December 20th, 1968, at the age of 84) you are my (323rd) hero of the day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Captain


After watching one of the worst world cup finals ever, I figured to make the fellow above today's hero because, after all he was on the winning team, and history loves a winner. His name is Francesc Fabregas, and he was born May 4th, 1987 in Vilassar de Mar, Spain. His claim to the hero podium rests on the shirt he is wearing in the above picture. He is my club team's (Arsenal) captain, and talisman. That is until he bunks off to Barcelona, like all the rest of my favourite players. Since he was first taken to a Barcelona game when he was just nine months old, and started playing football with their youth academy (starting there at the tender age of 10), I figure he is as good as gone back home when he gets the chance. But for now at least he is still the captain, the play maker, and in a way the heart and soul of the current Arsenal squad. When he leaves (not if, but when) it will be a massive blow to my team, and to me, and I may have to consider taking this post down, and strip him of his hero status.

He has scored 46 goals, and has 81 assists in 267 appearances for my team, and for that I will always be grateful. He is also a member of the Spanish team that won the World Cup just a few short hours ago. Even though he does not start for them regularly, he did provide the assist to the game winning goal in the 116th minute. I hope that he does not go back to Barca just yet, considering that the reason he doesn't start for Spain is because the entire Barca midfield does, but I figure that since he played there from the ages of 10 to 16, and it is his hometown club, he will eventually leave Arsenal for home. I figure at this rate I will just have to accept my fate, and become a Barcelona fan. However, I figure, given my reputation for backing "beautiful losers" that Barcelona should be warned in advance. Having me as a fan could be the kiss of death, but they have brought it upon themselves.

Either way, for today, for providing the assist that has led the perpetual under achievers Spain to hoist the World Cup, something I really thought to never see happen, Cesc Fabregas (May 4th, 1987-present), you are my (322nd) hero of the day.

P.S. For fuck's sake PLEASE don't leave Arsenal!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm a Golfer


The rugged looking fellow above is one Victor Mature, and today is not his birthday, but after doing the math and sorting out that somehow I am going to come up short in the hero department, I decided to start looking for overlooked heroes. M. Mature falls directly into that category.

His actual birthday was January 13th, 1913, and he was born in Louisville, Kentucky. I looked back at my records, and realized that it is no shame that he was unable to unseat W.C. Fields as the hero of his actual birthday. He was born the son of a cutler of Italian heritage, and a mother of Swiss descent, Victor moved to California after finishing school in order to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. I guess, in some ways, his story is a tale of "some dreams do come true." After a couple of films, he did some service in World War II with the Coast Guard, then resumed his acting career with the film

I am currently watching, 1946's "My Darling Clementine" directed by John Ford. So, far it is a wonderful film, even if it does contain some serious historical "liberties." His major claim to fame is his roles in several films based on biblical themes. He credited his ability "to make with the holy look" to explain his success in these types of films. I have also watched his film debut in 1939's "The Housekeeper's Daughter" today, and though it was a bit part, I was impressed with his screen presence. His other role that makes him my hero of this day is as Lt. Candella in 1947's "Cry in the City." It is not a classic film (but could be considered classic film noir), but his role, and his presence make it worth seeing, which I have done more than once.

He was famous for his self-deprecation. He was once turned down for membership of a famous country club based on the fact that they did not accept actors, he replied "I'm not an actor, and I've got 64 films to prove it." He was notoriously fond of gold, and once said that "Actually I am a golfer. That is my real occupation. I was never an actor, ask anyone-particularly the critics." Well, I am not a golfer, nor an actor, but if Victor Mature was not an actor then the world is flat. So, for that wonderful ability to make with the holy look, and an awesome screen presence, Victor Mature (January 29th, 1913-August 4th, 1999, at the age of 86 of leukemia) you are my (321st) hero of the day.

One Rock

This was the second post that I promised to do yesterday, obviously I am a big, fat, liar and should be ashamed of myself. However, we are going to engage in the "myth" that this post was written yesterday, and since the post itself concerns a myth, I think that is only fair. Also, in reality, this post was in fact "written" yesterday just not written down. It was written (mostly all the way ) in my head, and all it took was me not being a lazy slob long enough to physically type it out. However, I am a lazy slob and therefore here we are, a day late, and a blog post short.

The boulder pushing fellow above is Sisyphus, and I am not sure he even ever existed, so today (or yesterday) is very unlikely to be (or have been) his birthday. Since I had M. Camus as yesterday's hero I thought to complete the circle (so to speak) by having Sisyphus as well. Our boy Sisyphus (according to the myth) was not an overly heroic fellow, he was the son of a king, and used his power to enrich his kingdom by abrogating all common decency. He also seduced his niece, stole his brother's throne, and gave away Zeus' secrets. He was banished to Tartartus where he was to be chained forever by death personified, but Sisyphus was a bright boy, and asked Death to show him how the chains worked, then used that knowledge to chain Death in his place. That is just part of the myth of Sisyphus, feel free to peruse the rest on your own, since this is not some sort of history lesson.

Eventually, Sisyphus is brought to heel, and forced to pay the piper (as we all have to do eventually). His task, his eternal task, was to push a rather large rock up a rather large hill, but before he reaches the top the boulder slides ever so slowly back down to the base of the hill. Sisyphus must then start all over again, until he completes his task, which is of course impossible. Which is the point, the gods were punishing him for his hubris by forcing him to be forever just "pushing a rock."

This is where our other hero, Camus, takes over. He wrote his "Myth of Sisyphus" to espouse his idea that Sisyphus is the prototypical absurd hero. The rock, the eternal task of pushing that rock, to no avail, up the hill is, to Camus, symbolic of modern man's condition. The pointless labour of Sisyphus is a metaphor for the endless drudgery that factory workers, grocery store clerks, bank tellers, lawyers, and ditch diggers endure on a daily basis. Quoting Camus "The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious." Once you become conscious of the absurdity of your task, at least in Camus' theory, you become free to accept your condition. It is a tragic moment, but Sisyphus is deemed by Camus to be happy. Realizing the absurdity of his fate, he heaps scorn upon it, and there is no (again Camus' thinking) fate that cannot be overcome by scorn.

It is in that moment when Sisyphus turns to go back to the bottom of the hill to start his hopeless task over that Camus sees him as happy. Perhaps a wry grin comes to his face as he turns around knowing that he must start over, but there is a bit of the "so be it" attitude about Sisyphus. A kind of "it was worth it" or a "if I had to do it all over again I would" attitude about him. And it is that fleeting moment of turning back to his futile task that he finds happiness.

I love this reasoning, and I also hate it. The idea that we are all condemned to some pointless task, is one that I truly embrace. The everydayness of modern life, and the ever increasing realization that tomorrow it all starts again, is one that makes me want to run off and join a circus. Even as I know that a circus, eventually, is going to take on the same mundane feeling to me. However, I have yet to get fully on board that realization leads to contentment, and then to happiness. Perhaps I am not yet mature enough in my thinking (which is highly likely) to make that next logical step. Or perhaps, I am just a miserable bastard (also highly likely) that just needs to be miserable in order to function. I certainly hope that is not the case, but do concede that there is a streak of that attitude marking my personality. I truly hope that Sisyphus is happy, even if it only for that one, fleeting, moment. Because if he can be happy, then there is a hope that happiness is on the menu for the rest of us.

Our lad Sisyphus is a tragic, flawed, absurd, and yet still somehow inspiring hero, and that is quite an accomplishment. He is continually paying a very steep price for failing to memento mori. It is this lack of memory, this hubris that, while making him quite the bastard, also makes him my (320th) hero of the day.

Friday, July 09, 2010

L'Etranger


Today is going to be, if I can stay awake long enough, a double hero day, and neither one of those heroes was born on this day, but that does not detract from their hero status.
Our first hero is the fellow above one Albert Camus, born November 7th, 1913 in Drean, French Algeria. The son of a poor agricultural worker who was killed when Albert was only a year old, M. Camus was raised dirt poor in Algiers. However, he eventually made it into the University of Algiers, and when on to obtain what would be the French equivalent of a Master's Degree. At the tender age of 22 he joined the French Communist Party, but was eventually expelled after being denounced as a Trotskyite (whose birthday he shared). He was married twice, one was quite short lived (he married a morphine addict, which is probably a never good plan), and then again to a pianist with whom he had children. Despite being married, he maintained that the institution of marriage was unnatural, and he conducted numerous affairs. Hey, I never said I would invite him over for dinner, his hero status is based upon his writing, not his morals.
And what writing it was the three works of his that resonate the most with me are "The Plague" "The Stranger," and "The Myth of Sisyphus" (more on that one later). All three books are masterpieces of the absurd, and the absurd is meat and drink to Camus. He once said that "the absurd is the essential concept, and the first truth." It is the absurd that his name is commonly linked to, and he is one of its "founding fathers." The idea that humans are unable to find any inherent meaning in the universe. This absurdity leaves humans with three choices; suicide, a leap of faith, or recognition. Camus claimed that suicide would be an admission that "life is not worth living" and when on to state that the leap of faith defied rationality, and was a form of philosophical suicide. The final choice, recognition, is the only answer for Camus. To recognize, and embrace the absurdity of your existence allows humans the chance for "freedom."
Though he would distance himself from being labeled a "philosopher of the absurd" in later life, absurdity remains forever attached to his name, and his writings on the subject are fantastic. His life was cut tragically short by a fatal car accident in 1960. But, for writing such brilliant works that help attempt to explain that perhaps it is best to "just let go of the bloody rope," and accept your fate Albert Camus (November 7th, 1913-January 4th 1960, at the age of 46) you are my (319th) hero of the day.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

This might sting a bit


The serious looking fellow above is one Dominique Jean Larrey, born this day 1766 in Beaudean, France. Orphaned at the age of 13, he was raised by his uncle who was a surgeon in Toulouse. He was sent to Paris to study to be a doctor, but they were cut short by war, from now on his training was to be the on the job variety. He must have had some talent, because he was Napoleon's chief surgeon from 1797 to 1815. He would be responsible for many innovations in battlefield surgery, including the flying ambulances that provided for quick transportation of wounded soldiers back to the field hospital thus saving many lives. He also created what would be considered the precursor to the modern "MASH" unit that treated wounded based on the severity of their wounds. He also decreed that treatment of wounded was not to based upon nationality, treating enemy wounded as he would treat allied wounded. Napoleon made the statement that "If the army ever erects a monument to express its gratitude, it should do so in honor of Larrey." Pretty high praise coming from Napoleon, he was equally respected by his opponents, at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Duke of Wellington gave instructions to his men to not fire in Larrey's direction in order to 'give the brave man time to gather up the wounded."
When he was captured by the Prussians, he was condemned to death, but German surgeons plead for his life pointing out that he had saved the life of the son of Field Marshal Blucher, the Prussian commander at Waterloo, he was pardoned, sent back to France, and spent the remainder of his life writing, and practicing civilian medicine. So, for all those innovations that saved all of those lives both allied and enemy, Dominique Jean Larrey (July 8th, 1766-July 25th, 1842, at the age of 76), you are my (318th) hero of the day.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A evening with Mahler

The fellow above is one Gustav Mahler, born this day 1860 in Kaliste, Germany. I can not say that I know a whole about Mahler, except that he was more famous for being a conductor than for being a composer. I do have have one personal experience with Mahler that puts him on our hero podium for today.

It was several, several years ago, and the latest "girl of my dreams" was a music major. Now it you have seen the new beer commercials featuring Jamie Gold you will know that if your lady loves something, you love something. I did (and still do) have a great appreciation for classical music, and it is not just from this time frame. However, one night she scored us tickets to the symphony of the town we were living in at the time, for "an evening with Mahler." I put on my only suit (at the time), and decided to give it a shot in order to further my evil plans. Evil plans are of course the best kinds of plans to make. I figured what is a couple of hours of music for a chance of "reading the bible" with her. Did I mention she was tall, thin, and gorgeous? What she was doing with me remains a mystery, and I was in no frame of mind to solve that mystery. I was just happy that she was foolish enough to hang out with me.

Much to my surprise, I was totally blown away by the music, and impressed by its pure, raw power. I must confess that I had figured that I would be bored to death, and that it was just something I had to "get through" in order to get what I wanted, you know pleasant conversation, nothing more. I figure if you want you can look up all the interesting facts of Mahler's life, and he did live quite an interesting life. However, for me he will always be the music I remember that got me the chance to make some "beautiful music" of my own. So, for that totally shallow, and awful reason Gustav Mahler (July 7th, 1860-May 18th, 1911, at the age of 50), you are my (317th) hero of the day.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Birthday

Today is the fourth birthday of this blog. On this day four years ago, I pounded out the first sad, little blog post that got me started on the path that has lead to where I am today. I am not sure if I envisioned it turning into a post a day for a year kind of thing, but then again I am pretty sure I did not have any sort of plan when I first started. As I have mentioned before, I am not sure what happens when the "hero of the day" idea runs its course. I feel like a nice rest from the (self imposed) pressure of blogging on a daily basis would be nice, but then again I also feel a bit challenged by the fact that I have a (self imposed) deadline to meet. I would like to say thanks to the person(s) who said they never thought I would be able to keep the hero of the day thing going for a full year. I like to think that they meant no malice by the comment, but they did certainly provide me with a form of inspiration. I am just that childish that if you tell me not to, or that I can not do something, I generally try to prove you wrong even if it almost kills me. I would also like to thank the person(s) who mock the very idea of blogging in general, I suppose that, in some respects, they have a point. There are a zillion blogs on the Internet, and I am sure that 90% of them are a total waste of space. This one might be as well, but at least it keeps me entertained, and truth be told that is my main objective, to entertain myself.

I have come to understand that no one, or very few read this blog at all, and I am pretty sure that I am the only one who comes to it everyday. I am not churning out great literature, I am incapable of turning out great literature, and if I could churn out great literature I wouldn't just put it on the internet for free. I am attempting to find something, anything, that keeps me from imploding from ennui. I am not sure that it is the cure, but at least it keeps me from doing something rash like take up exercise. I certainly do not want to risk my health by doing something as foolish as say, joining a gym. I will just continue to exercise my mind (ha ha), or more correctly my typing fingers by churning out a daily blog post.

Of course, by now, you should have guessed what all this blathering is about. It is simply to distract attention away from the fact, that for today July 6th, there is no hero of the day.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Almost Human


The dapper fellow above is one Charles Laughton, and today is not his birthday. His actual birthday was July 1st, 1899, and he was born in Yorkshire, England. As with yesterday, today did not live up to its promise and provide us with a hero, so I had to bring one in off of the hero bench. A place that is getting mighty thin, but when you have a fellow like Laughton on the bench, quality is more important that quantity.


He was born the son of a hotel keeper, managed to get himself educated, then was shipped off to fight in World War I (in which he was gassed), and then came back home to settle into the family business. It was while doing this, that he began to act as an amateur at first, but then his family allowed him to pursue his dream, and he became a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After graduation, he began what was to be an extremely successful career of stage acting, and he was well known as a top notch stage actor when he decided to try his had at the big screen. Lucky for us he did, after a couple of films, he won an Academy Award for his part in "The Private Lives of Henry VIII." Laughton, had the perfect physique to play the larger than life (in more ways than one) Henry VIII. In 1935, he made "Mutiny on the Bounty" alongside Clark Gable, it was one of his most famous roles, and one for which he is probably most remembered.

However, it is for his role as Quasimodo in 1939's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that puts him on our hero podium for today. He plays the hunchback to perfection, never muttering a coherent sentence, he shows us in his facial expressions (he once said that he had "a face that would stop a sundial") the full range of human emotions. He was that good, and he shows us that the "almost human" Quasimodo is really more of a human that 90 percent of the rest of the people in the film. That takes some talent, and Laughton had a ton of talent. Maybe that is why I like the film so much, he shows us that almost human is probably the best that any of us can be. The ugliest fellow in the world has more humanity about him that any of the rest of us. It is an object lesson for us all to watch the film, and see Laughton in action. It reminds us that a twisted back does not have to keep a person from having a straight character. His performance makes the movie the best production of the story that has ever been, or is likely to ever be done.

He made tons of other films (another one I like is "Witness for the Prosecution" but not for the reasons you may think), but it is for those fleeing moments when you see him express what the rest of us can only hope to feel while playing a man who could barely grunt that makes him our hero of the day. So, for that role that holds up a mirror that the rest of us "humans" are very afraid to look into, Charles Laughton (July 1st, 1899-December 15th, 1962, at the age of 63, of cancer of the gall bladder), you are my (316th) hero of the day.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Grouchy


The less than clean fellow above is one Oscar the Grouch, and today is not, as far as I can tell, his birthday. However, there is a dearth of actual heroes for today, and Oscar is kind of enough to step into the gap. And since I have been compared to Oscar by my co-workers I figured that Oscar would have to be one of my heroes. In fact, if I were to delve too deeply into my childhood, I might find that he is a bit of an inspiration. Oscar is 43 years old, and has always been 43 years old, so I guess a birthday does not really have a lot of meaning to him, but I guess there are worse things than being forever 43. He was originally orange, but the cameras of the day were not good at picking up that colour, and he became green. He lives in a trash can, and is rarely seen outside of it, though he does have a car named the "Sloppy Jalopy."

The origin of his name comes from a waiter at a restaurant called Oscar's Tavern that his creator Jim Henson was a patron of. There was a waiter at the joint that was just grouchy beyond belief, and thus "Oscar the Grouch" was born. I wonder if that waiter ever figured it out that one of the most rude, crude, and grouchy characters in the world was based on him. If he did figure it out, I wonder if it changed how he acted. If he were truly a grouch, I doubt it. Once a grouch pretty much always a grouch is my theory, and I am sure that anyone who knows me would tell you the same thing. Being a grouch is a way of life, not just some knucklehead having a bad day. Oscar may be a grouch, but he has been entertaining children since even I was a child, and that was a long time ago. Clearly he has being a grouch down to an art form, and the rest of us could take lessons in grouchiness from him. So, for being a consummate grouch, and still managing to teach generations of children wholesome life lessons, Oscar the Grouch (??-present), you are my (315th) hero of the day.