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23 April 2018 @ 04:32 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Matthew Mellon was a billionaire, via inheritance and cryptocurrency. Harry Anderson was a magician and actor, best known for his role on Night Court. Bruno Sammartino was the longest reinging heavyweight wrestling champion. Avicii was a Swedish musician. Verne Troyer was an actor, best known for playing Mini-Me In the Austin Powers movies. Richard Jenrette was an investor who spent a lot of money restoring historic houses.

Carl Kassell was an NPR journalist, best known as a host of Wait, Wiat, Don’t Tell Me. Getting his voice on one’s answering machine was an excellent prize. I never entered, since the timing wasn’t convenient for me, but I do own a doll of him, bought via the NPR website many years ago.

Barbara Bush was the wife of one president and mother of another. While I didn’t agree with much of her politics, I admired her outspokenness and her efforts on behalf of people with dyslexia. She wasn’t a perfect person by any means, but all of us are products of the environments we grow up in.

I Can’t Complain But Sometimes I Still Do: Work is okay most of the time, but I could live without wrestling with administrivia. In particular, I have various mandatory training courses to do, mostly for my customer, not my company. They’re on a couple of different systems and some work only on one browser, some work only on a different browser, and some just outright don’t work. It’s a tremendous waste of time getting to them and figuring out how to get them to run.

Cirque du Soleil: Cirque du Soleil has a touring show in Tyson’s Corner right now, called Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico. The basic concept has a fool as a tourist with his various encounters including musicians, acrobats, and giant puppets (e.g. a horse, a jaguar). Cirque is very good with creative costumes and highly engineered set designs. The latter included an elaborate waterfall curtain. The circus stunts included an excellent juggler, some very impressive hoop divers, and particularly notable aerial leaping between what I think are Russian swings. There was, alas, a contortionist, but I know most other people aren’t creeped out by contortionism the way I am. The Mexican aspect came in via costumes and music, by the way, but there was less of a plotline than with some other Cirque shows I've seen.

Legal Seafoods: The friends I went to Cirque with and I had dinner before the show at Legal Seafoods. I had a tuna sashimi rice bowl, which had about three times as much rice as I was capable of eating. There was very good seafood salad and tasty mushrooms, but the spinach was bland and the kimchi was just okay. The tuna was good, but the dipping sauces for it were somewhat too salty. It wasn’t the most exciting meal ever, but it was fine and reasonably convenient.

The Best Doctor in Town: A friend told me about this play he was in. It was produced by Shoestring Theatre Company, which has a mission to build bridges between Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia. I know a little about the southwest part of the state because I’m familiar with a bookshop in Big Stone Gap. And I’ve driven up I-81 from Tennessee. Still, I’m much more culturally aligned with NoVa.

The play was written by Amelia Townsend and tells the story of a hospital in which a surprising number of patients seem to be dying. Old people die, so it isn’t completely clear there’s anything fishy going on. There’salso a missing piece of jewelry and both a reporter and a cop who think there may be more to the story, but who are stifled in investigating it by their editor and the high sheriff, respectively. And then there’s a young resident who has his own story, but no evidence. Overall, I found the story absorbing, with a good mix of humor and a serious message about what trust means. There was also an undercurrent associated with the decline of coal mining. It was worth seeing and I will definitely keep my eyes open for future productions by this company.

It’s playing for another week, so do go see it if you are around Fairfax. And they will be taking it to Big Stone Gap at the end of May, so folks in that part of the state should look for it.

Weather: It looks like it is finally settling into springtime. The down side is that the air is now about 25% pollen.

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20 April 2018 @ 01:11 pm
The theme for Week 16 (April 16-22):is Storms.

I am stumped. I couldn’t think of any significant impact of a storm on any of my ancestors. I am sure that, living in places like Poland and Lithuania, they encountered many a blizzard. And most of them were near rivers, so there must have been floods. But I don’t have any documentation of any of that.

I do have one cute storm story, however. There was a major storm shortly after we moved from the Bronx to Long Island. I’ve always thought of it as a hurricane, but I see no records of one at about the right time, so it might have been a nor’easter instead. At any rate, I have a distinct memory of my father turning to my mother and saying, "Well, Bea, if the house stands through this, I’ll know we made a good investment." As a three-year-old, I did not find that reassuring.

Note: not only did the house stand through that storm, but it made it through Superstorm Sandy without issues.

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19 April 2018 @ 10:51 am
White Chocolate with Wild Blueberry Toasts: This is a white chocolate dip with wild blueberry toasts to dip into it. It has 130 calories. The toasts have a lot of blueberry flavor and the dip is sweet without being cloying. It’s not especially filling, but is tasty.

Sesame Garlic Crunch: This is a mixture of oat bran sesame sticks, garlic sesame sticks, and multigrain soy rice crackers. It has 140 calories. This is an excellent savory snack, with a nice sesame flavor and plenty of crunch. It’s not very garlicky, which makes it good for eating at work.

Natural Vanilla Seeds (new): This is a mixture of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with a vanilla glaze. It has 170 calories. It is amazingly delicious - just a little sweet and with lots of vanilla flavor. I was pleasantly surprised and upgraded this to "love."

Sweet Mustard Ranch: This consists of pretzels, mustard breadsticks, and sour cream and onion cashews. It has 130 calories. It’s a pretty good savory snack, though there are others I like better. Like many graze snacks, it works best if you eat all the components together.

Lightly Salted Popping Corn: This is 130 calories of microwave popcorn. It’s one of the most straightforward snacks Graze offers. It’s a reasonable serving size and not excessively salty or greasy. Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say about it.

Sweet Rhubarb Jam: This consists of dried apple slides, dried rhubarb slices, and dried cranberries. It has 100 calories. It is tasty and nicely balanced between sweetness and tang. Overall, one of my favorite fruit snacks.

The Cheese Board: This is a mixture of cheese-flavored almonds, cheddar bruschetta, gouda puffs, and cheese-flavored cashews. It has 110 calories. It is pretty tasty, though somewhat saltier than I’d prefer.

Vanilla Pear Energizer (new): This is a mixture of dried pear slices, vanilla pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and almonds. It has 150 calories. The individual ingredients are all good, but I didn’t think the combination was particularly harmonious. While most Graze snacks work best if you eat the ingredients together, this was an exception. I think that the fruit just overwhelmed the taste of the vanilla pumpkin seeds.

Cinnamon Oat Squares (new):This wasn’t actually in my box – it was on sale at Wegman’s and I bought it on impulse when I saw it by the checkout counter. These are soft granola squares, with oats, honey, cinnamon, and chia seeds. They have 200 calories. I expected this to be pretty much the same as my beloved Graze flapjacks and, while they were similar, the texture seemed firmer. These were still quite good and I may buy them again, especially if I find them on sale.

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16 April 2018 @ 04:35 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Yvonne Staples sang with her sisters. Mitzi Shore owned The Comedy Store. Patrick McManus wrote humor about the outdoors. Dame Daphne Sheldrick was a conservationist, focused primarily on elephants in Kenya. Milos Forman was a film director, who won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Gerald Nachman was a film and theatre reviewer; I read his book Showstoppers not long ago. R. Lee Ermey was an actor.

Ghoul Pool Update: In light of the news re: Barbara Bush’s health, I used my second trade to swap Ed Kranepool for her. I am not a fan of the Bush family politics, but I’ve always liked Barbara’s outspokenness. I hope her final days are as peaceful and pain-free as possible.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was in a taxi with three other people, going to a hotel in Austin, Texas for the National Storytelling Conference. I mentioned that I knew at least two people in Austin and one of the other people in the car agreed that she had introduced me to one of them, who also showed up at the hotel. As we were walking into the hotel, I ran into another friend, who handed me several hangers with her clothing on them, but one of the other people grabbed those and took them up to her room. I checked in and got a room key which read 5B-123. I was disappointed to be on the 5th floor, which was the lobby level, but I felt better when I saw the rooms were off in a side corridor, past some shops. There were several hotel employees watching videos and one of them tried to show me how to use my key to watch movies. I explained that what I really needed to know was how to find my room and they laughed at me. Eventually, I found the right corridor, labeled B100-199, which involved going through another door.

Atlantic City: This past weekend, I did something I hadn’t done since college. Namely, I took a Greyhound bus. It was a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to go to Atlantic City for a weekend. The trip up, on Friday evening, wasn’t too bad. The bus leaves from Union Station and stops in Silver Spring and Baltimore on the way. Because the route to Silver Spring goes up North Capital Street, it went through parts of D.C. that I don’t usually see. There is, for example, some appealing architecture in Eckington. I suspect the Prospect Hill Cemetery just north of it is also interesting. Cultural Tourism DC does not appear to have a walking tour of that area yet, alas.

Anyway, we got to Atlantic City pretty much on time and I checked in at Bally’s. I checked out the casino fairly briefly, as I was tired. I was annoyed to discover that smoking and non-smoking areas were divided only by signs, with no physical separation to keep smoke away from non-smoking areas.

I should also note that my room featured three of my pet peeves with hotel rooms. The light switches were difficult to find. There were inadequate electric outlets (and none at all near the bed.) And I had to rearrange furniture to close the drapes. At least the bed was reasonably comfortable.

I got breakfast at Maria’s Luncheonette, which somebody had recommended to me. The omelet I had was good, but the hash browns were terrible. The coffee was strictly medicinal, but I expect that when away from home. (I am an unrepentant coffee snob. The only place I’ve ever traveled where I could get consistently good coffee was Vietnam.) The atmosphere was fabulous, though. It definitely felt like a local diner, completely lacking in tourist glitz.

The main purpose of my trip was doing a volksmarch along the boardwalk. I do enjoy being near the ocean, though the Atlantic City boardwalk provides obstructed views of the water much of the way. It does, alas, provide unobstructed views of the plaid-shorted domestic tourist. It’s also obvious that the area is not doing well economically, with several shuttered casinos and a certain amount of frozen construction. (That’s a term I learned in Russia many years ago, referring to buildings that were started but for which money ran out before they were completed.) Still, the weather was nice and I felt nostalgic for trips I had taken to Atlantic City with my mother, who I could usually persuade to take a break from the casinos to walk along the boardwalk.

The other thing I had planned was seeing the Atlantic City Ballet, doing their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was at the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesar’s Palace, which is a huge space that the audience came nowhere near filling. Overall, it was pretty good. I was particularly impressed by the athleticism of Caio Rodrigo, who played Oberon. And I thought Kristaps Kjkulis, who played Bottom, was particularly expressive, making his performance all the more humorous. I did think that there’s a certain amount of dancing for the sake of dancing that does nothing to move the storyline along, but that’s all too typical of ballet. Overall, I enjoyed it.

I did spend some time gambling in between things. I look at gambling as entertainment. That is, I budget what I can afford for it and don’t worry if I lose. I came home with less money than I’d left home with, but so be it.

The trip home did not go as smoothly as the trip up. Greyhound tells you that the bus will board 20 minutes before departure time. Ha! Every bus was delayed by at least a half hour. Mine was delayed by nearly 2 hours, with little information provided. The lack of information is, of course, the bigger issue than the delay itself. It did not help that it was cold and windy. I was relieved to get on and be warm again. I did manage a good nap on the way home, at least. But I don’t feel any particular need to repeat the experience.

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11 April 2018 @ 03:10 pm
The theme for Week 15 (April 9-15) is Taxes.

Tax lists are often a good sources of information for Lithuanian Jewish genealogy. The most common sorts are the Box tax, which was a tax on kosher meat and was used to pay things like the salary of the rabbi, and the Candle tax, which was a tax on Shabbat candles and was used to pay for educational expenses of the community. These lists are useful because they generally include the person’s father’s name and may also include their occupation and/or the number of people in the household.

A simple example is the 1846 Candle Taxpayers list from Dusetos, which includes my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Zelman Nilel [sic] NODEL, whose father is listed as Izrael. It also identifies him as being low income.

An even more useful example is for my great- great-great-grandfather, Tevel KHAYKEL. He shows up on an 1868 list fromn Pumpenai and Puselotas of taxpayers unable to pay. It also indicates that his father’s name was Nosel and he was 36 years old. I’ve recently found his son, Efroim KHONKEL (my great-great-grandfather) on a 1911 list of candle taxpayers from Villiampole. That one is particularly useful because it has his address - Yubarskaya Street 104. I probably need to spend a bit more time communing with this list, but so far he's the only relative I've found on it.

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10 April 2018 @ 01:16 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Cecil Taylor was a jazz pianist. Isao Takahata was a film director and producer and co-founder of Studio Ghibli. Eric Bristow was a hall-of-fame darts player. Donald McKayle was a Tony-award winning choreographer. Chuck McCann was an actor, including being the voice of the Cocoa Puff’s Cuckoo Bird. Daniel Akaka was the first person of native Hawaiian ancestry to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Soon-Tek Oh was an actor, most famous for voicing a character in Mulan. But his greater significance was in theatre. He played Tamate (yes, a woman) in the original Broadway production of Pacific Overtures. And, most importantly, he was one of the founders of East West Players, which has provided a lot of theatre opportunities for Asian-Americans, both as performers and writers / producers.

Baseball: The Red Sox are off to a great start, having won all their games after an opening day loss. Tonight, they start a three-game series against the Source of All Evil in the Universe. Yeah, I know, it’s only April, but I do love my Bosox. (I am, however, always worried about their bullpen.)

By the way, I don’t pay as much attention to the National League, since they don’t control the state of the world in the same way, but the Mets are also off to a great start.

Don’t Interpret This Dream: I was standing with some other people next to a river and it was really windy. Somebody said, "since we’re in Arkansas, we should go and visit the Gales."

Note: When I am awake, I know the difference between Kansas and Arkansas.

Speaking of Dreams: I read something recently that suggested that having dreams is a good indicator of the quality of your sleep. I don’t think I sleep particularly well, but I do dream regularly. Most mornings, I remember one or two dreams, though I tend to forget them within a half hour of waking up unless I either make a point of remembering bizarre aspects. Or, of course, write them down.

USA Science and Engineering Festival: I spent Saturday afternoon volunteering at the USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Convention Center. My assignment was as a Social Media Coordinator, which meant that I was positioned next to a large backdrop with a picture of a diver and a shark and encouraged people to take photos in front of it and hashtag them appropriately. In practice, much of my time was spent on two other things – directing people to various areas and keeping people from stealing the props we had for their pictures. The signs did not make it obvious that you had to walk through Hall D to get Hall E, where the Ocean area and NASA’s exhibit were. And there were a lot of people who wanted to meet a robot down in Hall B, which was downstairs. The staff member for our area yelled at us that we weren’t an info booth, but we were actually in exactly the right place to be one, since we were just outside the entrance to Halls D and E. (The official info booth was deep in Hall D.) And providing information was listed as one of the responsibilities on the sheet we had gotten when signing up.)

As for the props, we had things like silly glasses, a cut-out of a snorkel, an octopus, and so on. We also had signs people could hold up. The most popular one was one saying "Seas the Day." We also got several takers for "Feeling Fin-Tastic," including two little boys named Finn. Overall, it was reasonably fun, though I was exhausted by the end of the five-hour shift. I’m an ambivert and that’s a pretty good stretch of extrovert time.

I had only a little time to walk through the exhibits, so I don’t have anything to say about them. It was very crowded, which is a good thing. I should also note that my company did not have an exhibit. They have in past years, so that was disappointing to me.

JGSGW: There was a double meeting on Sunday for the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington. I wasn’t particularly interested in the afternoon session (on crypto-Jews) but I went to the morning section on genetic genealogy. I’ve found DNA testing to be a source of frustration, largely due to Ashkenazi endogamy. That is, coming from a population where cousins married, our relationships look closer than they are. While non-Jews end up with a couple of hundred matches, Ashkenazim end up with thousands. I don’t really have 18,000 cousins. At any rate, the speaker did a good job on the basics and explained the various tests well. I think my next step might be to upgrade my brother’s results, but there are also other family members I should get tested. As always, I really need to get more organized.

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06 April 2018 @ 03:02 pm
The theme for Week 14 (April 2-8) is The Maiden Aunt.

This one is easy. The only relative I know of who qualifies is Frieda SCHWARTZ. She was actually my great-aunt, my grandmother’s middle sister. (Grandma was the oldest of 5 children – 3 girls and 2 boys). If her naturalization certificate is correct, she was born on 16 July 1906 in Ostrow, Poland. She came to the U.S. in 1920, with her mother and siblings. She filed her first papers in 1930 and was naturalized in 1935.

Interestingly, her brother, Morris SCHWARTZ, also used the same birthdate on some records, which implies that they are twins. I’m skeptical because that’s the sort of thing you’d think somebody would have mentioned at some point.

Frieda worked at a few menial jobs over the years – as a typist in a factory that made satchels and as some sort of operator in a factory. But that was all in the 1930’s. She might have helped out in the other brother, Phil’s, jewelry store. She and Phil lived in a large apartment in Brooklyn for a lot of years. Frieda was a hoarder and all sorts of odds and ends turned up when she was moved into a nursing home after a stroke. Those ranged from a full-length 1920’s wool bathing suit to a Victrola with a collection of Enrico Caruso 78s to a World War II ration book. She also wore the same worn-out clothes all the time, despite having lots of nice new things in her closet.

I’ve always assumed Frieda never married because she was, frankly, an unpleasant woman. My father felt free to criticize my mother’s relatives and referred to her as "Aunt Morbid." But my mother claimed that she had gotten involved in an unsuitable relationship, i.e. one with a non-Jewish boy, back in Poland and that was part of what made my great-grandmother bring the family to New York (where her husband had been since 1910). That’s not the kind of story one could prove or disprove, so it’s just something interesting to think about.

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05 April 2018 @ 02:01 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Ed Charles played third base, including a stint with the Mets, including their 1969 World Series. Louise Slaughter was the oldest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Sammy Wilson won a Tony for playing Paul in the original production of A Chorus Line. Frank Avruch played Bozo the Clown in Boston through the 1960’s. Charles Lazarus founded Toys R Us. Louis Kamookak discovered the wreck of HMS Erebus. Wayne Huizenga founded Blockbuster Video. Zell Miller was the Governor of Georgia for much of the 1990’s. Seo Min-woo was a K-pop singer. Linda Brown was the subject of a Supreme Court case on segregation. Stephane Audran was an actress, best known for Babette’s Feast. Peter Munk founded the largest gold mining company in the world. Anita Shreve was a novelist. Stephen Reinhardt was a liberal judge. Connie Lawn was the longest-serving White House correspondent. Ron Dunbar was a songwriter whose works include "Band of Gold" and the execrable "Patches."

Rusty Staub played baseball as part of the original Montreal Expos. He came over to the New York Mets in 1972 and was one of the more notable players for them during my high school years. I have a bobblehead of "Le Grand Orange," acquired when I went to a game in Montreal. He was also the first Mets player to get over 100 RBIs in one season.

Steven Bochco was a television producer, most famous for ensemble shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. He also created Cop Rock, which is worth a look for the musical aspect.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and the second wife of Nelson Mandela. She was a controversial figure, largely because of the human rights violations committed by her security detail. In addition to her praise of "necklacing," she is said to have ordered kidnappings. She also got involved in fraud related to a funeral fund.

Intern Reception: I went to a reception last week for MIT students looking for policy internships. This appeared to be the year of the economist, with nobody interested in space. I did enjoy several conversations, both with people I knew (including one from an unrelated and, hence, unexpected connection) and who I didn’t. But the most interesting moment of the evening was when a young woman leaned too close to a candle and her hair caught on fire. Nobody was injured, fortunately.

Pesach: As my father used to say to my mother, America is not as rich as they always told us. Here it is a major Jewish holiday and we don’t even have any bread in the house.

Interplanetary Addresses: I get a fair number of invitations to events, not all of which are anywhere near where I live. Not everybody remembers they are posting invitations to international websites or email lists. Therefore, it is not uncommon to get invited to something with the address being given only as, say, 2100 Main Street.

I have developed the mental habit of interpreting such things as 2100 Main Street, Mars.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: I was taking a shared taxi to Island Park. I expected to be dropped at the train station, but the driver turned down Carolina Avenue. When we reached my house, I asked to be let out, but the driver wouldn’t stop. Instead, he continued to the corner and turned left onto Austin Boulevard – but in the oncoming traffic lane. I finally got him to stop by opening the rear right-side door, while he was still moving slowly. I threw $40 at him and left. Also, the house numbers were wrong. My house was 127, instead of 60, and the house next door was 241, instead of 66.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 2: I was somewhere in China with my mother. I had arrived a day earlier, so had already taken the river cruise included in our tour package, but I went with her again. Everyone had to show their passports to be able to board the boats and an American man objected. Then we were in the apartment of a man named Anuku and his mother said he spoke such good English because he had studied at Virginia Tech. He had a tattooed Delta on his arm to prove that.

Commute Hell: There was apparently smoke in the tunnel near Virginia Square, so the Orange Line was shut down from East Falls Church to Clarendon. I was smart enough not to think that shuttle bus service would work, so I took the 29N to King Street, where I could get the Blue or Yellow Line to work. It was slow and crowded and reminded me of how much I prefer trains.

Weird Words: Some friends on facebook have been discussing words that they mispronounced because they've only read them, not heard them. I have to admit that I find myself wondering what sort of life people are living that words like "hegemony" or "antipodes" come up in conversation.

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03 April 2018 @ 02:09 pm
I decided to try doing book run-downs, akin to the ones I've been doing for movies.

  1. Stephen King, Different Seasons. While King is most associated with horror, three of the four novellas in this book are not really in that genre. The Winter piece is conventional horror, with both a ghost story and the spooky circumstances under which that story is told. The Spring piece has to do with a wrongfully convicted prisoner. Both of those were readable enough, but not as gripping as the Autumn story, which involved adolescent boys who set off on an adventure to find a dead body, the result of an accident. What is interesting is not so much the dead body but the circumstances of the boys’ lives and how those affect their interactions with one another. The strongest piece is the Summer one, which is a story of psychological terror about a teenage boy who is obsessed with a Nazi war criminal he has discovered in his neighborhood. I found this piece completely chilling, largely because it seemed perfectly plausible. Overall, this book was absorbing.

  2. Alexander Kent, Signal – Close Action! I have been reading the Richard Bolitho series off and on for a while now. I’m not particularly interested in British naval battles of the late 18th century per se, but Bolitho is an appealing character. The real point is his interactions with his crew – which is sometimes contentious – and with his superiors. I will continue reading this series, as the books are enjoyable.

  3. Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. I’ve already written a little about this book, which has to do with an informal slum in Mumbai. It’s interesting, but depressing. The level of corruption and the general lack of caring about poor people (which extends to ignoring a dead body) left me feeling hopeless.

  4. Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues. This is the first Phryne Fisher mystery and, frankly, it didn’t really leave me wanting to read more. There’s too much talk about clothes and Miss Fisher is too skillful to be believed. (For example, she’s an expert fast driver and can fly an airplane and can dance well enough to capture the attention of a Russian ballet star.) The plot is somewhat predictable. And the whole thing is horribly overwritten.

  5. Arvin Ahmadi, Down and Across. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, but this got a lot of buzz in the crossword community. The characters are interesting and I liked the Washington, D.C. setting. There’s a bit too much coincidence in some of the encounters, however. I had to suspend a fair amount of disbelief, but the psychology felt real even when the events didn’t. Overall, worth a read.

  6. Crabbe Evers, Murderer’s Row. Evers has a series of mysteries set at various baseball stadiums. This one involves a murder at Yankee’s Stadium (or, as I think of it, the Heart of Darkness). The plot is mediocre and the writing is so-so, but the baseball lore is interesting. Skippable.

  7. D. R. Meredith, Murder By Sacrilege. This is the sort of mystery that is based entirely on quirkiness. The premise of a preacher putting his wife’s naked body in a Nativity scene outside the church and then refusing to talk about it at all was an interesting one. But most of the characters behave in such unlikely ways that I was ready to throw this book into a river by the time I was a third of the way through.

  8. Gerald Nachman, Showstoppers!: The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs. This is focused primarily on individual songs, regardless of the actual quality of the shows they’re from. So it discusses some cases where there’s a single well-known song from an otherwise forgettable musical. There is, however, a lot of backstage chatter about some of the bigger shows, which is interesting – at least if you’re a musicals geek like I am. I think Nachman gives Jerry Herman more credit than he deserves. I think Herman was aiming for commercial success a lot of times, rather than merely being a happy person, which is why he wrote so many catchy songs with repetitive insipid lyrics. I also think he underestimates Frank Loesser. Yes, "Adelaide’s Lament" is a great song, but how could you ignore "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" or "Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat" when it comes to showstoppers? And to step away from Guys and Dolls, what about "I Believe in You," from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? And, really, could he not find a single worthy song from 1977 ("Tomorrow" from Annie) to 2001 ("Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers)? Hint: City of Angels (1989) had "You Can Always Count on Me," among other worthy candidates. And 1991’s The Secret Garden has songs like "Race You to the Top of the Morning," "Wick," and "Come to My Garden" – all three in a row. I also think his failure to include off-Broadway shows is a mistake, but at least he’s up front about his criteria. I enjoyed this book, but it could have been even better.

  9. Herman Raucher, Summer of ‘42. This was out of what I refer to as the Mom collection, i.e. the huge number of books from my mother’s house that I feel compelled to read before disposing of. The only thing I knew about this book before reading it is that it had been turned into a movie. Actually, it turns out that the screenplay came first and, while the book was released before the movie was, it was actually a novelization. The story involves adolescent boys, who spend their time fighting with each other and trying to get laid. There’s some humor, mostly as the boys try to figure out what sex really entails – but this is mostly standard coming of age fare. I suspect it worked better on film than on paper. I also suspect it works better for a different generation. It was okay, but too melodramatic for my tastes.

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02 April 2018 @ 12:51 pm
I saw only a few movies this quarter, all of them in January.

  1. What We Do in the Shadows: A few years ago I had asked for recommendations for vampire movies and this was one that a friend suggested. I finally got around to watching it on New Year’s Day. It’s a mockumentary about a group of vampires who share a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. I thought this was one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen – a truly original twist on a familiar genre. It probably helps to have seen a lot of the classic vampire films to get the references. Highly recommended.

  2. Foxcatcher: I’m not entirely sure why I decided to watch this on a long flight, but it was not a great choice. I vaguely remember the murder case in which a du Pont heir killed a wrestler who had been coaching his team, but I didn’t really know much about it. After watching it, I mostly concluded that John du Pont was a pathetic wannabe, incapable of establishing relationships with other people. Maybe I’d have liked this movie better if I cared more about wrestling, but I thought it was too long and too slow-paced. On the plus side, there are good performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo.

  3. In Between: This was a fascinating movie about three Arabic women living in Tel Aviv. Leila is a secular Muslim who works as a criminal defense lawyer. Salma is a Christian – and a lesbian – who works as a bartender and disc jockey. And Noor is a religious Muslim woman studying computer science. They’re caught up in the conflicts between tradition and modernity, each in their own way. What I particularly liked is the friendship between the three women, despite their very different backgrounds. The issues they confront are sometimes difficult to watch, but felt realistic (alas). I did wish that Layla didn’t smoke (and use drugs) so much, but toxic behaviors are not uncommon among people who are exploring their freedoms. Recommended.

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