Fellow Boomer Frank Bascombe Returns in Richard Ford’s New Book

If you’re a Boomer, then Frank Bascombe is one of us, and it’s nice to have him back and once more pondering the past, fretting about the future and coping with an unsettled present. His creator, Richard Ford, has somewhat begrudgingly returned Frank to us in Let Me Be Frank With You, continuing a life started nearly 30 years ago in The Sportswriter (1986), picked up again in the Pulitzer-winning Independence Day (1995) and seemingly wound down in The Lay of the Land (2006). But there always seemed something a little too easy about the outcome of the last novel, something left dangling in a tangled life marked by sorrow, loss, moments of joy, hopes, longings, failure and success.

And so now Ford returns to his everyman in response, he admits, to requests from readers, but also a desire to touch on “the consequences of a hurricane that the media wouldn’t pay attention to.” In other words, the human debris left behind to be dealt with long after the storm — in this case, Hurricane Sandy and its disorienting aftermath that causes Frank to realize nothing is here to stay.

He’s now 68, still living in New Jersey, contentedly married, retired from selling real estate, and aware of and troubled by both the liberations and challenges of creeping age. In four interconnected novellas, Frank deals with his “new normal,” awakens to the need to savor the little moments, even accepts that less is more as he jettisons even friends. He’s not always lovable, sometimes not even likable in his comments and actions, but that’s what makes him believable on the page. Continue reading

Memory is a Tricky Tease

Time moves in one direction, memory in another -- William Gibson

Time moves in one direction, memory in another — William Gibson

We all know memory is a tricky thing, sometimes teasing, sometimes torturing as we grasp at the past, often during attempts to deal with the present and plan for the future. As we learn more and more about the human brain and its miraculous functions, we also come to understand that memories are not exact, finite things. There is no portion of the human brain that functions as a “filing cabinet” from which memories are extracted whole and presented for retrospection. Instead, a “memory” is formed through input from various sections of the brain, with data collected and assimilated into a reconstruction of something or someone past. This means a “memory” is not an exact thing, but a re-creation.

I was considering this recently after reading a column by a friend with whom I attended school from our first day through high school. His well-crafted piece, featured in the hometown newspaper, was his recollection of beginning school with that fearful walk into the first grade classroom (no kindergarten in those days in our little town). Having shared that experience – we were in the same class – it was interesting to compare my memories, admittedly dim, with his, and allow his to cause me to examine things forgotten.

One thing I agreed with was the slanted perception of that time and place and situation. For me, it reinforces the notion that memories are recreations, perceptions fed through Continue reading

Thanks, Woody, For The Perfect Thanksgiving Film

At some point during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I will again honor a long-standing tradition and steal a couple of hours away from the rituals of family, food and football to wallow in the pleasures of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. It is, in my mind, the perfect film for Thanksgiving, with a surprising sweetness and warmth protruding from beneath the multiple layers of angst, anxiety and cynicism that are the director’s staples.

Hannah and Her Sisters long ago became my Thanksgiving addition to the films that must be enjoyed annually during the November-December holiday season. My personalhannah poster list always includes Miracle On 34th Street (the 1947 original, of course, with Edmund Gwenn forever embodying Kris Kringle), two well-aged musicals in White Christmas and Holiday Inn, and the lesser known, but delightful All I Want For Christmas, which features a very young Thora Birch and the forever young Lauren Bacall.

You’ll note my line-up doesn’t include It’s A Wonderful Life, which I only catch sporadically since I’ve always found it a bit manipulative. But if it warms the cockles of your heart during the holidays, add it to the stack.

However, for Thanksgiving, there is only Hannah and Her Sisters, a film in which Allen skillfully mines his favorite themes: love, sex, relationships, infidelity, mortality, religion, culture and the meaning of life. Yet, this one also has a creamy center since, beneath it all, this is a true romantic comedy, with a heart and soul that fit precisely into that certain longing that infects most of us around the holidays. And in today’s world, its warmth, escape and comic relief are needed more than ever. Continue reading

A New Year’s Reflection

Each year as the holidays roll around, I find myself thinking about a friend who, just before Christmas, marks the anniversary of his teenage son’s death in an auto accident. I remember with great clarity sitting in his office one afternoon while he told me the entire story. I hadn’t asked for the details, had only again told him that I hoped he was doing well. But, without introduction, he began, and I listened in that uncomfortable way that enfolds you when faced with someone’s intense grief and pain.

His son and his best friend had spent the night at the home of another family. They left in their cars at the same time in the morning, traveling together until one turned left and the other turned right. Shortly after turning, his son lost control of his car, ran off the road, hit a tree and was killed instantly. Moments later, the best friend also wrecked, was knocked unconscious and trapped in his overturned truck, which began to burn. However, when others arrived on the scene, he was found away from the truck, still unconscious and critically injured. But he was alive, and survived. He doesn’t know how he got out of the truck, and emergency personnel couldn’t explain how he could have escaped due to his injuries.

This still grieving father is convinced that his son, who had died just an instant before, saved his friend as a final act of compassion. He believes this deeply and takes comfort in this fact. And I have no reason to dispute him because I have come to believe there are things in this world that defy rational explanation.

As I rose to leave, he came from behind his desk and hugged me, which was surprising since we had only known each other a short time and mainly in a business setting. He told me the most important thing he had learned from his son’s death is that there is nothing certain in this life, and that each day we should hug the people close to us and tell them that we love them. Because, as he learned in the most horrible way possible, the day may come when you cannot do it. Continue reading

In Quotes, Truth Often Lurks

Quotations: We find them at odd times in odd places, and are struck by a truth or insight. Or we seek them out to help us express ourselves better by using someone else’s words when failed by our own. They can be found in handy collections for easy access, or happened upon and saved—torn from a page or jotted in a notebook, or even copied and pasted in electronic form. Sometimes we commit them to memory, waiting for the right moment to utilize them.

Somehow they help us make sense of things, or offer a better way to explain something, or add something concrete to something felt, or imagined. “Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean,” wrote Theodore Dreiser. “Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.”

See what I just did? Enlisted a quote from a respected writer to help make my case, pulled from an ever-expanding collection that resides in a laptop file labeled simply, “Quotes.” Continue reading

Earworm #247: “Tell Her No” by The Zombies

For some reason, or maybe no reason, I woke up with zombies and an earworm. Okay, let’s make it clear quickly that these were The Zombies, not those amalgamations of decimated flesh now creeping constantly across your television screen. Nah, what was rattling around in my head was that British Invasion band and that great song, “Tell Her No.” If you’re a Gen B member, bet you can sing a few bars of that hit (and if you don’t know the truth about earworms, get the scoop).

There was a certain minor-key inflection to the song that set it apart from some of the perky pop of the early-to-mid 1960s. And a maturity to the lyrics as a guy admonishes a friend to stay away from a girl he loves, opening, “And if she should tell you come closer / And if she tempts you with her charms / tell her no, no, no…” Continue reading

The Forgotten Force of Moderation

Those of us who count ourselves among the Boomer Generation probably recall that once upon a time in American politics there was a thing called a “moderate.” These were elected representatives, both Democratic and Republican, who gravitated toward the middle of the political spectrum, who could be counted upon to consider all sides of a situation and then serve as the “moderating” force that resulted in bills being debated, adjusted and ultimately passed. All this was done in the spirit intended by the founding fathers of elected officials representing the best interests of their constituents while coming together collectively for the good of all.

Today, this seems like ancient history, even myth—those long-ago days when the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate sat down together, with allies and aides, and hammered out legislation, with compromise often the necessary ingredient for progress. In those mythical times, it wasn’t about winning politically—or not losing—but about responding to the will of the electorate, and doing what was best for constituents and the country. Now, however, moderation has been replaced by polarization that has the system frozen.
Continue reading