Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Flubs and Phone Phobias

"It is my heart-warmed and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone."
                                   -- Mark Twain's Christmas greeting for 1890 (that is him in that year you see on the left).

I sort of share his feelings

I have always hated the telephone, except for a few years very early on when I had not yet grasped what the confounded machine was. When I was born, the telephone wasn't all that old, just 65, which was less an age than I am now. It was even newer when Mr. Clemens gave his greeting in 1890, since Bell had, much to my chagrin, invented the auditory torture device in 1876. In fact, Alexander Graham Bell had only been in his grave 19 years when I departed my mother's womb. 

You know the telephone wasn't so universal when I was born. In 1937 only 32% of America households even had one. I couldn't find the statistic for 1941, but venture to guess it was still in the minority. We were members of that minority of unfortunate souls; that is, the proud possessors of a phone. (Nowadays I feel people do not so much possess a phone as it possesses them.)

The phone was a different animal when I was a child.  The number wasn't hard to remember,
because it was only three digits long. You could only dial a limited number of others, those who shared your party line. The party line was an interesting, if ofttimes, annoying convenience. It was a shared thing, but not always as fun as a party. You might want to make a call, but find the line tied up by another, whose conversation you could hear, by the way. The whole idea hinged on the trust system that you would not eavesdrop upn your neighbor, quite the test of human nature. Each party had their own ring, because any call rang the line, so you had to know when to pick up. Users were requested to keep their calls short. 

If you wanted to call somebody beyond your own party line you first called up a Telephone Operator, pretty exclusively a woman, and ask for the person you wished to connect with. The Operator sat at a switch board and by plugging this wire in one hole or other could get you on line with whom you wished, if the party you wish had a phone. These Operators plugged away at the Telephone Exchange, which was located on Green Street in Downingtown. From what I remember it was a square white building that looked pretty much like a house. (I believe the left photo is that same white building on Green as it looks today.)

Sometime in the mid-'fifties, as the direct dialing system was developed, we got a new number with an exchange name. This was more to memorize and was made up of two letters and five numbers. The two letters were an abbreviation of an exchange name. Remember the old movie BUtterfield 8? That would have been written as BU 8. I don't remember our first such number in Downingtown, but I do remember what it was when I was a teenager in Bucktown -- HO 9-6862. The HO stood for Homestead. Later of course, they dropped the letters all together and it became 469-6862 and finally they added Area Codes, so it was 215 469-4862. (For Pete's sake don't go calling that number. I don't know if it is still in service, but if it is, it isn't my number and I have no idea whose it would be, but I know they don't want to hear from you!) There were still telephone operators and they were still operating out of that Telephone Exchange on Green Street even when you could dial direct to people here, there and everywhere. You could call on them now to obtain a number or for help in connections.

All the history aside, I simply have always hated talking on the telephone. If you want to
contact me use email or Facebook, but don't expect me to spend a lot of time chatting with you on the phone. I don't even answer the phone if I don't recognize the name or if the Caller ID says Unavailable, Unknown or Number Only. I figure if it is someone who really needs to speak to me they will leave a voice message and I will call back, unless they are selling something, begging for money or a politician. There may be some irony here given that the mother of the woman I married was a long time employee and Supervisor for Bell Telephone. The picture on the right is my mother-in-law with her Switchboard crew taken in 1952. She is the lady standing on the far left.

Now if I disliked the wired-in land-line telephone, I really hated the Cell Phone. There are a group of people (almost all men, but not completely) that I call the destroyers of modern civilization, which might be the subject of a future post. One of the foremost of these devils is Marty Cooper, invented of the Cell Phone. I don't know why any sane person wants to be connected to the world at all times and every place. I have no use for this tether on my freedom.

I lie. I have one use, emergencies. That is the right good purpose of this device. I do have a Cell Phone, as does my wife. She carries hers in her purse and I don't think she has ever used it. I keep mine in the car. I have used it on occasion, like calling AAA because I got a dead battery or the power company when we have no electric nor land-line. I don't wander about in the supermarket with it to my ear asking what brand of cream cheese the wife wants me to pick up while running down other shoppers with my cart.

I have a perfectly fine Nokia Flip Phone for my purposes.

And just recently I had a purpose and this is where the flubs come in to our conversation.

My friend, Ronald Tipton (pictured here nearby about to depart, took a 10 day vacation trip to Los Angeles and he asked me to take him to and from the airport and his home. I drove him up from Southern Delaware to the Philadelphia Airport on the Monday he left with no instances.

I had a few concerns about picking him up, though. His return flight was scheduled to land at PHL 6:03 AM on January 21. There was a blizzard also flying across country, but it wasn't schedule to begin putting down until Friday evening, so my concerns weren't with the weather.

One concern was oversleeping. I am an early riser so I probably should have been all right, but still, I had to be up by at least 5:00 AM in order to do the necessary morning chores and then leave by 5:45. Depending on traffic, it takes normally 20 to 30 minutes to drive up I-95 from here to the airport. Of course if there is road construction or an accident it can take much longer, even hours. But there wasn't any road construction, a small miracle in itself, and although there was more traffic than justified so early, it was not all that heavy. And by this last comment you can assume I did not oversleep.

I had told Ronald I would try to be there around 6:15 so as to give him time to get from the plane to the pickup area. He had told me to pick him up at the outside pickup area of Terminal C. He had also told me to be sure I turned my Cell Phone on, since he knew I always kept it off.

I decided the night before I better check my phone, make sure the battery was charged and make sure it was the right number I had sent him.

That's right, I wasn't sure of my number. As stated somewhere in this treatise I told you I had a Cell Phone and my Wife had one, too. They were both Noika Flip-phones and looked exactly alike. I had put our numbers in my directory, but I had a suspicion I had somehow switched who had which phone. The numbers do not show up anywhere on our phones, and the service provider will not give out that information for security reasons. I know; I tried.

The battery was good.

I then called my land-line and that rang, so I knew the phone was working and I knew how to make a call. Now to check the number. I went on the Land-Line and called the number I had written down as mine. It rang once then a voice announced that the call could not be completed. I tried again, because obviously I am insane and thought doing the same thing over would have a different result. It didn't.

I then tried calling the number I had down as being my wife's. I assumed I had switched our phones. This time it rang a few times before voice mail picked up, but the phone in my hand did not ring. On top of that, the voice mail was a male voice. Oops, I must have misdialed. I tried again, naturally and the same result, of course.

I fiddled about trying each phone back and forth, confusing myself even more and getting nowhere. Finally I called the provider to ask, plead, beg for help, not only frantic that I be able to communicate with Ron the next day, but also that I had tried several times and gotten that poor joker's voice mail, on which I recorded a pathetic apology explaining my total inepitute. I thought this guy will think I'm stalking him.

The provider answered with that automated menu of push a one, etc. I selected help when it's number came up and then it told me how the representatives were busy with others and it could be 15 minutes of holding on and hearing lame music, but if I wished I could leave a number and they would return my call. I could even put in the time to call back, and so I did.

Then the solution I should have thought of to start with came to me. If I call my Land-Line the Caller ID will show my number. Well, I picked a phone and dialed the number for my wife and lo and behold, this time the Land-Line rang. The ID number matched what I had written for hers. Joy, of joy, one phone identified and I set it off to the side.

I then tried the other and once more got the message that it could not be completed. Huh? I looked at the Caller Id and bingo, I had written down the wrong number. I had copied down an 8 that should have been a 6 and when I tried it again with the 6, success. I knew my phone, problem solved.

And just then the provider called to help me. I apologized for taking up their time, but I did make a comment about getting this dude's voice mail when I had been dialing my wife's number earlier. He didn't ask if my wife perhaps had a secret, but he did ask if I was a recent customer. No, we have been customers for a good while. 

"Oh," he says, "did you change the message when you first got the phone."

Duh! Never crossed my mind. Whoever had the number before had set the voice mail message. I wasn't harassing anyone, except myself or my wife. That came as a relief actually, even though I felt stupid.

Anyway, I was now prepared to get Ron and the next morning having awaken on time I stepped out into the frosty air to leave when it dawned on me in was not dawn yet. It was dark out, very dark indeed, pitch black dark. I dislike driving in night anymore, I'm old you know, and I especially dislike it when driving somewhere in such anywhere I am not overly familiar with and the airport can be a bit daunting.

Exiting I-95 at the airport ramp I was careful to get in the Arrival Drive, but then I came to a Y in the road and saw no sign saying, "Passenger Pickup". I saw one saying "Garages" pointing right and thought the pickups were by the garages and so I went right. Terminal A garage, Treminal B garage; there came Terminal C garage, and there goes Terminal C garage. I passed every garage they had, but there were no passenger pickup spots and now I was leaving the airport wondering where I would be able to turn around and get back.

I turned left and this took me through the rental car lots and onto a ramp apparently headed back to I-95, but then another guiding light, "To Philadelphia International" and I was once more soon back on the Arrival Drive. This time at that Y I went left and yes there were pickup points.

I pulled in at the island at Terminal C and waited. Ironically, despite
trying to be later, I arrived at exactly 6:03. I got out of my car and paced the platform a bit, sometimes staring over to the Baggage Claim exits. No Ronald. I got back in the car and looked up at yet another sign. It read, "Loading and Unloading". It also said, "Handicap Only". Suddenly I recalled there was this blue line by my car. 


I had to move to another spot. 

I called Ron's iPhone number and who should answer...Voice Mail. Great. It is now about 20 minutes after and where is he.  I get out and paced a bit. I get back in and called and once again it was Voice Mail. "Yeah," I muttered in my mind, "he tells me to be sure to turn on my Cell Phone, but he didn't tell himself. Now what do I do?"

I did what I could, I sat there. My phone rings, but I don't hear at first and when I do it stops ringing.  I pull it from my pocket and flip it open. Yes, it is Ron's number listed as Missed Call. Fortunately, he calls me back and we do eventually hook up and all ends well and with that I will stop rambling on.

But I do hate the telephone.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Movies (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this look at films I liked, I spoke of a film the critics and the public got wrong. I blame the misconceptions on the marketing of the film. It was promoted as a horror film; a monster film, and fairly similar to other such movies in that genre. It the still here we see one of the main characters, the blind girl Elizabeth, being attacked by one of the monsters in the forbidden woods.  Just below is the trailer for the film.

The promotion would attract fans of there-is-a-wolfman-under-the-bed crowd. You begin watching this film expecting some terrible creature to begin chewing up these poor, naive villagers, blood and guts galore, and terror everywhere as one by one the main characters are slain. Who will survive; how will the Creatures be stopped?

Thus when the secret of the Creatures is reveled many found the rest of the film anticlimactic and the critics claimed the problem was the reveal came too early. The critics dismissed it as just another M.
Night Shyamalan gimmick film. This was not a straight forward monster movie. The horror is not that there are monsters in the woods that we can isolate ourselves from and be safe, but that we can't escape evil because it is not the world out there, it is the nature inside. We are our monsters. Where we go our evil will go because it is part of our nature. Good and Evil always share the table with us. Thus "The Village" remains one of my favorite films.

Anyway, here are some films I saw for the first time in 2015 that I feel were worth seeing. None of them involve car chases, spaceships or Hobbits. There is little in the way of swearing or sex or violence, although there is a little of each in a couple. They are quiet films for the most part that tug at one emotionally, have a sense of purpose, teach us to be more observant of our world, less judging of other people and are generally uplifting, even if sometimes downers in the middle.

"ST. VINCENT" (2014, writer-director Theodore Melfi.

I spent sometime recapping "The Village" because I wanted to begin with another film I say was mismarketed to some extent. "St. Vincent" starred Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, and the ads I was seeing when it was released made it look like another one of her of prat-falling, scatter-brained comedies.  Apparently no one was too thrown off by this. It not only garnered very good critical reviews and several high nominations for awards, it earned over $44 million in the domestic box-office.  I know they talked about this being a comedy and all, and it was, but

it was more a dramedy, funny at times, but both thought provoking and heartbreaking as well. McCarthy was fairly subdued and really not much of a factor in the whole scheme of things. Murray and a young actor named Jaeden Lieberher carried most of the plot.

I will try to explain a bit about St. Vincent without any spoilers. Murray plays a down-on-luck Vietnam veteran, Vincent MacKenna. It is close to the characters he has down pat, sardonic, grumpy, anti-social. He is an alcoholic, chain-smoking, hooked on gambling, apparent loser, whose only friends are a (you ready) a sex club performer, who is both pregnant and Russian (Naomi Watts), and his cat, Felix. We find him desperately lacking needed funds early on, but not necessarily why he is in the straits he is in or why he so desperately needs this money. A Bookie is after him as well as other creditors, making it easy to assume his source of desperation is a large gambling debt, which makes one wonder why he can't lay off his betting. He also makes some mysterious visits to a hospital, where he is well-known by the staff, and where he pretends to be a doctor, and that is all I'll say about that here.

His path crosses with a Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy) as she is moving into the house next door and her moving men accidentally knock a

tree branch down damaging Vincent's car. It is not the best way to meet each other. Maggie is a single mom recently divorced from her carousing husband. She has been left to raise their 12-year-old son on her medical technician salary. Despite the scruffy, grumpy nature of Vincent and the circumstances of there being throw together, Vincent does end up being a babysitter for the boy; she because she needs someone to look after the child and he because he  needs the money. The man and boy bond in a way that helps both to grow as people. 

There come some crisis along the way and the boy's father interferes with Vincent and the boy's relationship. Things begin to look very bad indeed and on that note I will end this synopsis and suggest the film is well worth the time to see and learn the outcome for yourselves, then you will understand the title of St. Vincent.  (This film does contain cursing, mild sexual situations and some violence.)

"LIKE SUNDAY LIKE RAIN" (2014, writer-director Frank Whaley.)

I viewed a lot of films this past year where a child and an adult-misfit crossed paths for the betterment of each. This next film got just-slightly favorable ratings and reviews, but I enjoyed it and would have given it a higher rating than others did. In some ways this first group of movies is as if different writers/directors were given a very brief plot outline and asked to do a variation on the theme, thus four of these films have a number of similarities.  They do have  a number of differences though. First of all, let's consider "Like Sunday Like Rain".

Instead of an alcoholic, sardonic man as the adult, there is Eleanor (Leighton Meester), a college-age (23), but not in college, young woman finding herself suddenly adrift in life, breaking up with her cheating boyfriend and thus losing her home, because she was living with him. To make matters worse, the boyfriend shows up at the cafe where she waitresses, causes a scene and gets her fired. She makes an attempt at getting help from her family, but that doesn't exactly work out and she is now out in the world left to her own devises, something she is hardly prepared to do.

Meanwhile, we have Reggie ( Julian Shatkin), a 12-year-old musical prodigy and cellist; a young genius who lives with his cold and indifferent parents, who are always flitting off somewhere and

leaving him in the care of a babysitter. His parents are very well-off. Despite being a child, Reggie does pretty well at making his way in the world. Being wealthy, he bribes people to meet his needs and requests and seems in control of his situations; note I say seems. 

When we first meet Reggie his mother is facing an immediate crisis. She has a trip about to begin just as she loses the babysitter. Although Reggie can actually handle things on his own pretty well, his parents view him as a helpless child and his mother is now desperate to find someone, anyone, to be his babysitter.

Thus, Eleanor needs a job and Reggie's mother  needs a babysitter and so our two characters come together for the remainder of the film . They learn from each other, share their loneliness with each other and in a sense grow-up together. We eventually learn these two characters have more in common than it first appears. This includes music, from which comes the title, "Like Sunday Like Rain." I am not going to explain what crisis arise except it all progresses to a somewhat bittersweet ending.

"LOST CHRISTMAS" (2011 Written by David Logan & John Hay; Directed by John Hay.

This film also involves a bonding between an adult and a child, but before we get into all that, I want to point out the obvious, this is a Christmas story. 

I confess I have a fondness for Christmas movies that began in my childhood. It has been close to a lifetime tradition of mine to watch these movies each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although I enjoy several such films
and ones quite diverse, such as the first two "Home Alone" outings, "Scrooged", "Harvard Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", "Holiday Inn" all comedies, and then more serious attempts such as "An American Christmas Carol", The Little Shop Around the Corner", "The Nativity" and several versions of "Dickens' Christmas Carol", I have four long-time favorites. These four have become classics. I will speak of them in no particular order.

First is "A Christmas Story" (1983) based upon Jean Shepherd's boyhood
reminiscences. This film is not like the others I will soon mention in that it
has no supernatural or miraculous events associated with the story. Ralphie is simply a normal boy in a normal family growing up in a small town sometime in the early 1940s.  Although exaggerated for comedy effect, the story, characters and setting ring very true to me. I have told my own children if they want a good idea of what my life was like as a child, watch "A Christmas Story" (if you want an idea of how it was in my teen years, watch "American Graffiti"). I was around Ralphie's age in the the same time frame, and although I never wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun, such things were common in comic book ads and I can certainly relate to the coal furnace and overbearing snowsuits and the school bullies.

My other three Christmas films I traditionally and faithfully watch all have some grounding in reality and fairly accurately portray a period of time, but each also carries a bit of supernatural  magic. 

There is "A Miracle on 34th Street", a film dealing with the over
commercialization of Christmas even back in 1947.  The question here is whether Kris Kringle, Macy's Department Store Santa Claus, is the real deal or not. This film doesn't leave the realm of the possible, but it does leave you with the question unanswered. Edmund Gwynn makes a perfect Santa.

Next we have the best of the film versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Along the lines of "Miracle on 34th Street" this British film also deals with greed, but more importantly examines a man's life, what made him what he became and whether he can find redemption through the supernatural intervention of Spirits. This is a superbly done film all around, but what really elevates it to the best of the breed is the performance of Alastair Sim. There have been numerous movie and TV versions of this classic novella, but no other actor was able to convincing pull off both the mean and miserly Scrooge and the converted joyous generous one with such believability. Perhaps Sim's pliable rubber face helped pull this off, but it is a true tour de force.

My last, and one of my favorites as a film period, is "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). This movie was list 11th on the AFI's Greatest Films of All-Time List. It not only captures a time and place, but portrays its characters as real people with both virtues and flaws. This is especially true of the hero, George Bailey.

My introduction to the story of the Building & Loan manager and the guardian angel took a circuitous route. I knew nothing of this film until a much later date than the other three I have described, even though it was the earliest of them released.

Near Christmas of 1977 I flicked on a new TV movie staring Marlo Thomas. She was the daughter of Danny Thomas and had become a big star at the
time due to her hit sitcom, "That Girl". Now here she was playing this character named Mary Hatch in a story called, "It happened One Christmas". She was a young woman who grew up in this small town, wishing to escape it, but always held back by circumstances. She married a struggling mechanic named George Bailey and because of certain events, she became the manager of the Hatch Building and Loan, where she battled to keep it out of the hands of the grasping bank owner played by Orson Welles. Through mishaps, she decided she can't go on and is about to commit suicide when a somewhat blundering angel named Clara stops her. This angel, played by Cloris Leachman, then arranges for Mary to have never been born and shows her what things would have been like if she hadn't been there. 

Boy, I liked the story and boy was I surprised when several years later, after a protracted copyright battle allowed its public showing again, this old film starring Jimmy Stewart appeared  on TV about a character named George Bailey. Seeing these two films will give you a good lesson in the difference between artisan and artist or seeing a show at the local dinner theater and seeing it on Broadway. Still, "It Happened One Christmas" is testimony to a good story; "It's a Wonderful Life" lifted it to greatness.

And so we come to another film I saw for the first time just last year, "Lost
Christmas". I like this British Film starring Eddie Izzard. It has more in common with the last three movies I spoke of than with "A Christmas Story", that is there is something miraculous involved. The film is set in modern day London (at least I think it is London, it is a British city nonetheless). We open on Christmas Eve in the home of a fireman and his family. They have just given their son a puppy, which the boy names Mutt, and are ready to settle in for the night when the father is called to report. The boy, not wanting his dad to go hides the car keys. This does not prevent his father leaving, just delays him a bit for the mother takes the man in her car. On the way they are both killed in an accident. Well, Merry Christmas everybody!

Time jumps ahead a year and we see the same boy, living with his senile grandmother. He is now a street punk, a petty thief and under probation. He is off to report to his probation officer along with his puppy, a full grown dog now. He stops to see his "fence" to sell a bangle he has stole and leaves Mutt waiting outside. When he comes out the dog has disappeared.

In the meantime, we have a man found lying in the street, seeming to be dead, froze to death, but as another man approaches the body, the prone man's eyes snap open and he gets up. He cannot remember anything about himself, not how he came to be lying there, what his name is or anything else, but he does have the power to see instances in the life of anyone he touches and the ability to find lost things.

It is shortly after this that the man who lost his memory meets up with the boy who's lost his dog. They begin their search together. The man is called "Anthony", because it is the name on the workman's jacket he is wearing, but
it isn't really his name. The boy is known by his street name of "Goose", and is so usually called such that his own grandmother has trouble remembering his real name. Within the course of their journey they intermingle with an Indian woman, who has lost a sentimental piece of jewelry, a woman, who has lost a child, a Doctor, who has lost a letter, and a man, who has lost a precious book. By the end of the film we see how all the characters weave into the life of Goose and "Anthony" and we finally learn who the man is and how he ended up where we began the tale. 

The film has a certain melancholy to it, but it also has lessons on self-sacrifice, trust and, like "It's a Wonderful Life", how we all fill in a hole that could be a pit to someone if we weren't there.

"AKEELAH AND THE BEE" (2006, written & directed by Doug Aitchison.)

This film was released back in 2006 and it has been popping up on the TV premium channels many times since. I always skipped past it, put off by the unusual sounding title. I thought it was one of those National Geographic type movies, perhaps some backwater third world country native involved with beekeeping. Then one night there it was, right at the beginning when I was laid back just wanting to chill with a movie. 

As it turned out the backwater third world country was Los Angeles and it had nothing to do with buzzing bees. Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is an 11-year-old girl who despite the odds against it became obsessed with going to the National Spelling Bee.  Well, that still didn't sound overly exciting, I mean -- a spelling bee? I was wrong again. This film took on the intensity of any other good movie about an unlikely hero taking on daunting odds. 

It was very interesting to learn what kids went through to succeed in this
spelling competition.

This also had that child and adult, mentor and mentored aspect. Akeelah is eventually coached, against his better judgment at first, by a Dr. Joshua Larabee (played by Lawrence Fishburne ). Her quest is also complicated by the fact her mother is dead set against her doing this and eventually forbids it, forcing Akeelah to take desperate measures. 

She runs into fierce competition from Dylan Chiu, who has already placed second in the last two National Spelling Bees and who has a father that insists this is disgraceful showing is not to happen again. This film will teach us a lesson about fair play, tolerance, sacrifice and sympathy for others.

THE FIRST GRADER (2010, Written by Ann Peacock & Directed by Justin Chadwick)

This is somewhat different from the others I have covered. It is a biography,
telling the story of real life Kimani Maruge (played by Oliver Litondo), an 84-year-old Kenyan who decides to take up the government's new offering of a free primary school education to all those who have a Kenyan birth certificate. Kimani never had any kind of schooling and he is determined to enter the First Grade and learn how to read.

His desire is not easily met as officials and others oppose him being there. Meanwhile, through flashbacks, we learn much about the man and the history of his country, not to mention the brutality of humans against other humans. The tortures Maruge endured in his life are not always easy to watch, but his determined struggle to be all he can be and the inspiration he became are.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Movies (Part 1)

Am I showing my age by calling this movies? What if I said Flicks? Perhaps Edison's or Magic Lantern Shows? Whatever the jargon we want to assign to them at various decades, I admit I like them.

The photo that opens this little spiel is of the Warner Bros. Theater in West Chester, Pennsylvania, as it looked in 1948. I would have been seven that year and the Warner was one of three movie houses I frequented during my boyhood years. The other two were the Auditorium in Coatesville, and most of all, the Roosevelt in Downingtown. After all, for most of that time I lived in Downingtown. The Auditorium and Warner were First Run houses and your big A Movies played there. The Roosevelt featured second runs and B Pictures. I saw most of the old Universal Monsters at the Roosevelt along with a lot of old-time Oat Operas
(Westerns) staring Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and others of that ilk, as well as Gene Autry & Roy Rogers.

That is the interior of the Roosevelt on the right.  Sadly, although the buildings still exist, the Roosevelt and Warner are no longer showing films. The Warner is a hotel and last I saw it the Roosevelt was vacant and for sale.

But I really didn't intend for this to be a nostalgia piece, only a kind of review of some films I saw over the years that I liked. I also don't intend this to be considered a critique, even though in a galaxy far, far away I once was a critic, both of movies, live theater and books. I did movie and theater pieces for "Philadelphia After Dark" and book reviews for "Media & Methods" as well as some other places. I'm not a big fan of critics, however. I think people should make up their own mind about such things. Like what you like and dislike what you will, although I would suggest you also think about the films you view and consider why you like or dislike them. I don't mind reviews that give me a clue to what I may see in a film, but I am careful about the judgments of their worth and meaning as given by the critic. So All I want to do is mention some films I enjoyed a great deal and tell you what they were about without any spoilers, and let you decided if you care for them upon seeing.

I must warn I have some odd tastes in films. For example, let me explain some movies I saw in the past that I particularly like, but other people may find a little ...uh...bizarre.

For instance, "The Dark Backward, even the title is a bit strange and the film even stranger. I suppose this is something in the line of David Lynch's world (and I do also like David Lynch films). The movie came out in 1991 and was written and directed by Adam Rifkin. Rifkin is probably best known for directing "MouseHunt" and "Underdog",, movies somewhat removed from "The Dark Backward". He did this particular film in 1991 and it was named one of the ten best films of the year by the New York Post, although other critics weren't so kind. Neither was the public and it did very, very poorly at the box-office. Nonetheless, I liked the thing, which shows you how weird I can be.

How can I explain it? The main character, played by Judd Nelson, is a garbage man and would-be stand up comic, except his act is really garbage itself and he is going nowhere until one morning he wakes up and discovers he is growing a third arm. This new appendage is square in the center of his back. (Of course this can be handy for when he gets an itch between the shoulder blades.) His sudden acquisition does land him in a club where he becomes a featured act accompanied by his best friend, Gus (another trash man), who plays an accordion he is never without. From this point the story begins to be a bit strange.  Don't dismiss this as a bunch of amateur nobodies. Besides Nelson the movie stars Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, Lara Flynn Boyle and James Caan.

Another film I saw several years ago that I liked a lot is "The Legend of 1900", a picture
written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and released in 1998.  The 1900 legend is not about the year, but is the main character's name, as well as the year he was born. He was found as a newborn in a box aboard a luxury liner named the Virginian and destined to live his entire life about the ship. As he grows, he becomes a fabulous pianist, plays with the ship's orchestra and has a very exciting piano duel against Jelly Roll Morton, the immortal New Orleans Jazz man. I don't want to say much more because I don't want to spoil anything, but I feel it is a very beautiful film.

Now one of my all-time favorite films, one I have viewed a number of times and thought about often, is Frank and Eleanor Perry's version of the John Cheever short story, "The Swimmer".   It is something of a tour de force by Burt Lancaster, who stars in it. (He also has a nude scene, so be warned.)

I find the movie psychologically brilliant. I also find it profoundly sad.

Lancaster plays fit and tanned Ned Merrill. In the beginning he appear at an affluent Connecticut couple's swim party and while sipping his cocktail he observes how the swimming pools of these well-to-do homes spread across the valley like "a river" to his own distant house. He decides to swim home and dives into the pool, emerges from the other side and begins his odyssey across the valley and through his mind and time. What seems fairly straight forward at first, a middle-aged man proving he still has some youth by this marathon swim soon turns into something much deeper. One hint that something more than just a day in his life is occurring is close observation will let you see how part way along the summer day has actually become one of autumn. You really can't get this film on one viewing. neither it's meaning or out of your head.

One last film I'd like to mention here that I like a lot is "The Village".  This is a 2004 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was not well received by the critics, dismissed by them as another twist ending gimmick by the director. Worse, the critics felt the twist was revealed too early and thus destroyed the effect.

Personally I disagree. I feel these critics missed the point. I don't consider the twist as the central part of the plot at all. I say the point being made is that we cannot escape evil in this world, that it will always find us out and we need to learn to face it, not hide away and try through fairytale to protect out children from it.  The Village Elders don't see this anymore than the critics did, but the blind girl Ivy Elizabeth Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the one who can face and see reality.

I find it a beautiful movie to watch.

I would also note it was filmed not far from where I live and nearby where I often walk. The filming was done in fields along side "The Devil's Road", which runs between Centerville, Delaware and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. This road is legendary in my neck of the woods. Sometimes called "the Valley", driving Cossart Road (my photograph of it on left) at night is something of a rite of passage among teenagers. Its haunted hills were a perfect setting to make this film.

I also say the production company marketed the picture wrong. The ads and trailers presented it as a horror film, a monster flick. The emphasis on the "Monster" really led to false expectations on the part of the audience and as a result it proved a let down and anti-climatical. If it had been marketed differently the reception would have been much greater in my option.

When I do Movies (Part 2), I will be talking about films I saw for the first time in 2015 and I will point out one of these that was grossly mis-marketed as well.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Pharmacy Big Rate Credit Card Declined Blues

I had an odd final day of 2015. I began it feeling very much in control. I wanted to finish up things and start the new year very cleanly. It started well enough. I slept in a bit later before arising and performing my usual morning chores and leaving for my walk. I planned to do some errands on the way, simple things really. I had two letters to mail, which I could drop in the box at the entrance island to our community. I had a check to deposit over at the bank through the ATM. These could all be done on my way to the park. After my walk I planned to stop by a garage and make an appointment for an oil change and then pick up some prescriptions at the drugstore for my wife. Everything fit easily into a circular route to and from my stroll. I was as tranquil as a Maine inlet at sunrise.

Naturally I forgot to drop the two letters in the mailbox. I just sailed right by it. I considered turning back and mailing them, but decided not to and proceeded to the bank.

No problem there.  I made my deposit and headed to the park, but I thought isn't it funny, we have this mailbox at the entrance of our community, yet I've never noticed any other having such a thing. There must be other mailboxes somewhere, and thus I began consciously looking for any. Not too far along Marsh Road I spotted one on the corner of a entry lane into a development. It was, of course, on the left side of the road. I was able to make the turn into that street.

I drove up to an intersection, made a U-turn and came back to the box. It sat awkwardly on the corner and to the passenger side of the car. There was no drive-up chute on it as there was on the one where I lived. I had to stop, get out of the car, walk over and mail my letters. No big deal. I then had to turn left out of that development back on to the main road to go on my way. This was no big deal either since it was New Year's Eve morning. Usually on a Thursday at the hour it was, traffic would be heavy here and it would be hard to make a left. A lot of companies close now on New Year's Eve and traffic was nearly non-existent. I breezed right across.

I was happy again. My check was deposited and my letters were mailed and soon my walk was completed. Not much drama or excitement in these paragraphs is there? That's what I wanted, a calm and peaceful day.

I made my oil change appointment without fuss and soon stood in line at the counter of the pharmacy, expecting a quick transaction. I didn't even have long to wait.

My wife had two medications and a starter kit to pick up and Rite-Aide had called yesterday to say they were ready. The clerk got the medications from the racks, laid them before me and said: "$208.71, please."

"I beg your pardon? $209 dollars?"

My hearing had to be off. Normally we pay a few dollars for each prescription.  After all, that is why I pay monthly for prescription insurance.  The two renewal prescriptions were still low cost, totaling $18. The starter kit was $190.71.

"Even with our insurance," I gasped.

"Without the insurance it would be $698," she said. She glanced down at the bundle. "Says here you have to consult with the Pharmacist."

"Why?" I asked.

"I don't know. It just says it here. Okay, it's $208.71."

I nod, re-pocket my bank card and push a credit card into the slot. This is that new chip type card. Machine tells me not to dare pull my card out of the machine. I don't know what happens if I do. Perhaps my card will explode.

"Declined," the clerk says.

"Declined?" I ask. "Can I try it again?"


I stick in the card again and wait.

"Declined," she says.

I pull that card and fish out my bank card again. "I hope I got enough in here," I mutter as I slide this one (no chip yet). "No reason that card should be declined," I tell the clerk.

"Didn't say why," she says, "just declined."

This time the payment is accepted. Now I'll have to go to the banks and transfer money from the one to the other, I think.

Meanwhile the Pharmacist has made her way over for my consultation. We step to one side. "I have to go over the starter kid," she tells me. She flips open this packet of cardboard and starts reading instructions, pauses and looks up.  "The doctor should have gone over this with her," she says.

"Actually the doctor did," I say, but she continues to go through the whole spiel even though the instructions on the packet are clear as a bell. She finishes and hands everything to me.

"Why is this so expensive," I ask.

She looks at the medications. "These medicines here," she says, "are generic. The Starter Kit is a name brand."

She goes her way, I go mine. I feel as if I need some medication of my own to calm me down at this point.

I'm nervous. I'm concerned about the credit card being declined. Why? I've got two years before the expiration date. I know I'm a few thousands of dollars below my limit. I'd just used the card a couple days ago and it worked fine then. Have I been hacked?

I rush home and call the credit card company. One little ring-a-dingy, two little ring-a-dingy..."Hello, if you want to continue in English, press one. Hola, si desea continuar en español , pulse dos."

I poke one.

"Hello, if you want to continue in English, press one. Hola, si desea continuar en español , pulse dos."

I stab one--hard.

"Hello, if you want to continue in English, press one. Hola, si desea cont..."

I am about to smash that one button when suddenly the message changes.

"To get account balance information, press one. If you want to make a payment, press two." And so on and so forth ad infinitum. Well, ad nauseum, anyway. Somewhere around button 162 I am told to press to speak to someone in Customer Service.

"All our representatives are busy helping other clients..."

"Of course they are," I snarl. "Hire more people."

Some sort of music plays, I can't even recall what.

"Your call is very important to us," says a disembodied voice. 

"If it's so important to you answer the phone," I tell the robot.

"Someone will be with you shortly," it continues ignoring me. "Thank you for your patience."

A few more reminders of how important my call is to them go by and finally a young living, breathing, honest-to-goodness lady speaks to me. Her voice sounded young, but frankly, if she is working she certainly is most likely much younger than I. She tells me her first name and that she is in Kentucky.

She asks how she can help and I babble out my problem, which is essentially, "Why was my credit card declined."

She tells me she is sorry for my problem. She then informs me she is transferring my call to the fraud department.

Ut oh!

I wonder if I will be hearing a bunch of messages about how important my call is, but instead the young lady speaks again to tell me she has so-and-so on the line and turns me over to him. He didn't tell me where he was, but I doubt very much it was Kentucky. He had more of a Calcutty accent.

He apologizes to me for my experience and then explains it was simply a precautionary hold to assure no one was using my account falsely, that they do this little trick now and again for my protection. I had to verify my identity and he assured me my card was fine and I could use it now without a problem.

After we wished each other a great and glorious day and a happy and healthy New Years and salutations and glad tidings, and I hung up the phone I discovered a message on my voice mail from earlier of a call that had arrived when I was not there. It was the credit card company fraud department telling me to call a number and verify my account or I might have my card declined as a precaution against unauthorized use. I then discovered I had an email with the same request and warning.

Gee, I am glad my credit card company is looking after my security, but could they find a way to do this without causing me embarrassment and panic? Maybe I should be less critical, after all they did call and did email and normally I would have found these messages before I attempted to use my card again. I basically hold this card in reserve for emergencies and avoid its use, although I did some for Christmas this year. I wouldn't have used it again, though, if that outrageously high drug fee hadn't been sprung upon me at the pharmacy.

I am thinking maybe I better try using the card for something low cost just to make sure it is all free and clear now. I don't want to slip down anymore declines.