Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Recolte Rouge

Stick with me on this one, and maybe the candle will be worth the game, then again if it isn't you won't know until it is too late.

I recently re-read Red Harvest by Samuel Dashiell Hammett, it is a lovely, and very complex book written in the latter part of the 1920's, and it helped make a) Hammett a household name, and b) it helped to raise the mystery story to a higher form of literature. Previously 'hard-boiled' crime stories were published in 'pulp' magazines, so named because of the cheap 'pulp' like quality of the paper on which they were printed.  Hammett wrote numerous pulp stories, and created an unnamed character known as the "Continental-Op" (named because he worked for the Continental Detective Agency which was based loosely upon the Pinkerton Detectives, which Hammett had been one of before he became a writer). 

The book, in which the Op is the driving force, is a great book, with an extremely complicated plot. It has been 'redone' and or influenced movies like "For a Fistful of Dollars" and "Miller's Crossing". The latter film merely 'borrows' some plot devices from the book, but it's plot was so complex that the Cohen Brothers had to take six weeks 'off' from writing it because it was causing them writer's block. Six weeks in which they wrote "Barton Fink."  This is not a book review, nor will I attempt to explain the plot of the book in full. Read the damn thing yourself, and you will be rewarded quite richly. I figure that time spent reading a book review of such a good book is time that is better spent reading the actual book. After all, Dashiell Hammett is a much, much better writer than I ever will be, and it is his plot, and his story to tell. I figure we, for the most part, are able to tell our own stories much better than people telling it at one time removed. At least, if we try hard enough.

The point of this meandering point, if such a thing exists, is that near the end of Red Harvest, the Op (our mostly anti-hero), and a fellow detective are in search of a warehouse that they believe holds the earthly remains of another couple of main characters in the book. They are working on a 'tip' from someone that tells them that the bodies of these two fellows (a couple of villains of the piece) are to be found. And they are to be found in a state that we like our villains, dead.  Our detectives pile into a car, and go in search of this warehouse, in the first place you'd normally look for them, the warehouse district. The town in the story is not huge (it is based upon Butte, Montana), and the warehouse district is not hard to find, but being a district, it does posses more than one option.

The next scene that happens is, in my humble opinion, absolutely brilliant. The Op, and his partner come upon a warehouse, what they think is the correct warehouse, and the Op, ever so slowly, and ever so carefully enters the warehouse via a boarded up window (boards that he has to quietly remove). Since the fellow that gave him the information that the villains are dead, just might have been lying to him, the Op proceeds with the type of caution that has kept him alive this long. The tension is not overly done, and is just enough to keep you guessing until the Op meets the inhabitant of the warehouse. Which turns out to be some old fellow that is guarding a shit load of illegal hooch. The old fellow just happens to be an employee of one of the villains the Op is looking for, and the Op tells him of his employers possible demise, and suggests that a 'vacation' might be in order, and then the Op helps himself to a 'free' bottle of the illegal whisky.

Our boys eventually find the correct warehouse, and the plot continues to its lovely little ending. The point I took from the above scene is how brilliant it is. It is a scene that doesn't really drive the plot along to its conclusion, and it is in the last chapter after all, but it shows (to my mind at least) how the simple fact of going to the wrong warehouse, can be used to show how life, and how even 'heroes' sometime take unexpected, and rather pointless detours. We all like to think we have a plan, be they the five year type, or simply trying to plan some fools birthday lunch, plans are what, in theory, drive us forward. Pushing us to get out of the bed, off the couch, and forcing us to put on pants in order to face the day, because it is part of the plan.  Maybe your plan is to take over the Ukraine, or maybe it is just to get Wendy's, either way they are plans, things that you make in order to impose order upon your, and perhaps other's lives.

Life, that shit that happens while you were busy making other plans, still needs a plan of its own. It is a thing that must needs doing, and you may have a partner in the planning, or you may be a solo act. Either way, it has to be done, because without a plan you end up in the wrong warehouse, and all you have to show for it is a illegal bottle of knock off hooch. Hooch isn't the worst outcome for being plan less, there are far, far worse things that could happen to you, but is it really the reward you were looking for? Perhaps it can ease the problem(s) of the day, maybe even (if you ration it out wisely) the week, but eventually the hooch is going to run dry, and/or lose its ability to solve the problem of your lack of a plan.  Five year plans are great if you are planning the economy of a world super power, but what happens at the end of those five years? Another five year plan has to be enacted, and that is only really possible if the first five year plan went according to how it was supposed to.

Then again, no one has promised you five or even one year, so perhaps flying by the seat of your pants, relying on poor lighting and alcohol to get you through is the better solution. After all, have you ever spent a lot of time in the warehouse district. It is full of dilapidated, desolate places that are just one step away from collapse. Either way read Red Harvest, get to that one scene near the end, and appreciate it for what it is, a brilliant piece of writing by a man at the apex of his career.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Half-awake, and not entirely sober, I groped for the light switch in order to 'shed a little light upon the subject.' The subject that needed  illuminating is not exactly relevant to the story, but needless to say it was important at the time.  The problem was that the light that was to provide me the illumination to see what I needed to see was not in a cooperative mood. The quick buzzing sound, followed by the light blowing out was proof that today was not going to start well. Truth be told, I should have semi-expected this type of problem. The adobe which I call 'home' is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a palace. It has its quirks, and one of those quirks is the electricity can be a bit dodgy at times.  Many a light bulb had sacrificed it's light giving life to the capricious nature of the shit hole in which I live.

My usual response to the burning out of the light is something along the lines of 'bollocks, not again.' This particular day's response was a bit more colourful than that, and may have included a discouraging word or two. Sitting in the dark can, on occasion, can be somewhat entertaining (especially if you have someone to sit with you), but it is not generally how modern man is meant to live his life. No matter how bright of a day (made glorious summer by this son of York, oh wait sorry sidetracked), it may be, some artificial light is almost always required to navigate one's way around in the world.  On rare occasions darkness can be your friend, but unless you are banging an ugly girl, or are ugly yourself, or are perhaps waiting in a dark alley to exact your idea of cruel revenge upon a mortal enemy, darkness is just plain scary.

Thus, the death of (another) light bulb was not a happy occasion. Expected or not, it was still not something to brighten the day. You can't simply plan for this type of event. They just happen no matter if in the deep recesses of your mind you know it is coming, forward planning is just not likely to happen. Therefore, when that 'Pop' of yet another dying light bulb went off, temporarily blinded you, and then plunging you into dark despair, you are faced with a choice. A choice that you had been avoiding like the plague. The choice of how to replace the traitorous light bulb that has left you in the lurch.

For the briefest of moments, you have to ask yourself if perhaps replacing the damn thing at all is even worth it. In a twist on the old saying is the 'candle worth the game' you have to wonder if acquiring another doomed light bulb is worth even the trip to the store.  Not that there aren't stores on every corner offering you a dizzying array of different type of light bulbs. Because there are, they are everywhere you look, even if you are trying to pretend like they aren't there.  Eventually, that burned out bulb will begin to reproach you. Reminding you of yet another failure of yours, even though you protest loudly that you aren't to blame. Secretly you realize that your part in this explosion was not inconsiderable. 

The real irony of the situation is that I (or you if this has happened to you) am the party that is supposed to fix the problem. It is inherent in the problem that I was part of it, and sending the idiot that caused the problem to fix the problem seems to be, in general, a shit plan. Which nine times out of ten it usually is, while not quite Einstein's definition of insanity, sending an idiot to fix the problem created by the aforementioned idiot is close. However, it is also inherent that I be the one to fix the problem, while despairing of any sort of success, there is quite simply no one else around interested enough (they have their own set of problems) to fix this problem for me. Truth be told, even if there were someone like that around they couldn't solve the problem. After all, it is my problem, and it requires me to fashion a solution, no matter how ill-conceived of an idea that might prove to be.

Therefore, you trudge to the nearest, or most likely place to find a replacement for the lately lamented light bulb, only to be met by a vast wall of choices. Perhaps it has been too long since the last bulb burned its last, and you've not realized the advances in light bulbs technology, or perhaps you are just the type of person that like one type of light bulb, and is a bit blinkered about the other options on the menu. Either way here you are, faced with a choice. It is not quite higher math which I am thankful for, since me and higher math are mostly strangers to one another, but it is still way more complicated than I remember from last time.  However, it must needs doing, and to go home without a replacement bulb would just mean more non-quality time in the dark, and I have determined that the dark and I need some time apart.

But, where does one start? After entering the store to find a new bulb, one is beset by the age old problem of indecision. The last bulb didn't last, but it was still good while it did. Should I go back to what I know? The tired, and almost true type of bulb that can be relied upon to work a certain length of time, and then explode as regular as Old Faithful. At least in that bulb there lies some sort of comfort zone. The knowledge that nothing is perfect, or everlasting, and therefore this bulb has a proven track record of performance and explosion. Something to 'set your watch by' as it were. The comfort and disappointment of the same time of bulb is something that I have grown used to, and grown to expect, like the sun rising in the east, or my athletic teams failing constantly. Something that unlike horses, can be predicted without too much effort. 

Or, should one step out into the great unknown of light bulbs? Maybe try one of those fancy CFL bulbs that are supposed to last forever, maybe even a circular bulb, something that keeps the light going round and round. That might be the new wave thing to do, try for something fresher, and newer and see if it can survive the quirks of my electrical graveyard. After all, man's march through time is one of progress is it not? These new types of fancy, high flauting, light bulbs might just be the answer to my spending way too much time in the dark. They do come at a slightly higher price, but are a bit sleeker than the old bulbs, so perhaps that is a trade off. Who knew that buying a goddamn light bulb could turn into a philosophical debate worthy of William of Ockham? Life, or at least this part of it shouldn't be so complicated, but it is, and a decision has to be made, and made sooner rather than later. I wonder if two light bulbs can somehow go into one light socket?