The New Age of Stupid

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We are living in dangerously weird times right now. Smart people just shrug and admit they’re dazed and confused. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb.

Hunter S. Thompson, Prepare for the Weirdness (ESPN.com, November 20, 2000)

It seems we’ve truly entered a new age of stupid. The scourge of fake news and baseless (read “idiotic”) conspiracy theories have now polluted mainstream society.  It’s beyond comprehension people out there believe the Clinton campaign ran a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria or that Sandy Hook never happened. Seriously, grow a fucking brain. Rational thought for a good many people has flown the coop.

There is, of course, a stunning lack of intellectual capacity in government. As Mark Twain once said, “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress—but I repeat myself.”  We have an incoming administration comprised of individuals who deny climate change is real and believe you can pray away gay. You can no more pray away your sexuality than you can pray away stupidity—and God forbid we should want clean air to breathe and fresh water to drink.

I used to joke that realty television would be the downfall of civilized society. It’s become a contagion, spreading its displays of vapid human behavior from one TV channel to the next. When was the last time you turned on The History Channel and actually saw a history show? If it’s not back-to-back episodes of Pawn Stars, it’s an all-day marathon of Swamp People. (Full disclosure: I enjoy American Pickers.)

Want endless programming focused on little people, polygamists, and quickie marriages? Tune into The Learning Channel.  And then there’s Bravo, the burning, incandescent center of the reality TV universe. Entertainment and reality have morphed into some horrible new thing that’s found its way into the highest echelon of power.  Indeed, the soon-to-be leader of the free wold will be executive producer of the new Celebrity Apprentice.

In this new world, sensible thought, logical arguments, and the simple truth are frowned upon. Look at what’s happened to Chuck Jones, president of Indiana’s United Steelworkers Local 1999, who called out Trump for exaggerating the number of job’s saved at the Carrier plant. Trump himself bashed the guy on Twitter, which spurred a number of Trumpites to launch a campaign of harassment against Jones.

Consider that. The President-Elect of the United States of America maligned on social media a private citizen for speaking his mind. That should concern you . . . if it doesn’t, you’re part of the problem.  But who knows? Maybe, someday, he’ll turn his Twitter minions on you.

A speakeasy in the desert

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“Come on in and have a drink.”

I have always thought I was born several generations too late. I get nostalgic for decades that passed long before my birth. Perhaps that’s the reason I love writing about the past. There are several periods I wish I could have been around to experience, among them: 1940s London and 1960s San Francisco—but most definitely near the top of my list are the 1920s. The decade brings to mind jazz, illicit cocktails, gangsters, flappers, literary salons, and smoke-filled speakeasies.

The speakeasy has always fascinated me. The National Prohibition Act was ratified as the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at midnight on January 16, 1920. The nightmarish law made it illegal to “manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor.” When American cities were wrung dry, the speakeasy was born. It was a portal to another world, transporting those lucky enough to know where to look into a parallel realm of sinful entertainment and strong drinks.

I’ve always considered the speakeasy to be my kind of place—so, you can imagine how cool it was to find out there’s one not far from the Arizona town where I live. It’s beneath an Italian restaurant downtown. Access is gained via an unmarked stairway. At the bottom is a single door beneath a red light bulb. Walk through the door and you find yourself in a dark, subterranean cavern with low-hanging lights, exposed brick walls, red leather booths, and a well-stocked bar. My wife and I took a seat and immediately soaked in the ambience.

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The cocktail menu is fun to browse. Alongside each listed drink is the year and city in which it was first created. The drinks are made as they were back in the day. I was torn between the Trader Vic Mai Tai (Oakland, CA, 1943) and the Aviation (New York, NY, 1916). My wife settled for a Cosmo (alas, I failed to note the details of its provenance). I opted for the Aviation, a strong concoction of Aviation American Gin, Maraschino liqueur, Crème de Violette, and lemon juice, served in a coupe champagne glass with a Maraschino cherry.

It was excellent—and I’m happy to say I’ve found my new regular drinking haunt!

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Don’t call him ‘Pappy’

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I love reading the personal letters of my favorite authors. Here’s one penned by F. Scott Fitzgerald to his 11-year-old daughter, Scottie, while she was away at summer camp. Among the many things evident is his absolute hatred for being called “Pappy”:

La Paix, Rodgers’ Forge
Towson, Maryland

August 8, 1933

Dear Pie:

I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?

I will arrange the camp bill.

Halfwit, I will conclude.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Worry about. . .

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:

What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:

(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

Daddy

P.S. My come-back to your calling me Pappy is christening you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudimentary state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your contemporaries. “Egg Fitzgerald.” How would you like that to go through life with — “Eggie Fitzgerald” or “Bad Egg Fitzgerald” or any form that might occur to fertile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why borrow trouble?

Love anyhow.

This letter appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters and Letters of Note.

Writers and their cocktails

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Photo: Esquire.com

As suggested by my last couple of posts, I’ve been reading a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This, naturally, got me thinking about authors and alcohol. While Googling the subject, I came across a great post on a website called The Kitchn. It lists the the favorite cocktails of famous authors. This should be required reading for anyone who enjoys a good book and a strong libation (preferably at the same time). Here’s the list as it appears on The Kitchn (click here for the full article)—complete with nice literary quotes. Indeed, drinking should be educational.

Ernest Hemingway: The Mojito – Hemingway is associated with a number of cocktails (he was, after all, a heavy drinker), but none more so than the Mojito. According to Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide, the mojito was invented at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba, where Hemingway drank them.

 “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.” – Ernest Hemingway, a signed quote hung on the wall of La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba

William Faulkner: The Mint Julep – Faulkner’s Mint Julep recipe, as seen in Rowan Oak, the estate where William Faulkner lived from 1930 until his death in 1962, consisted of whiskey, 1 tsp sugar, ice, and a sprig or two of crushed mint, served in a metal cup.

 “Isn’t anythin’ Ah got whiskey won’t cure.” – William Faulkner

Scott Fitzgerald: The Gin Rickey– It’s rumored that Fitzgerald’s passion for gin stemmed from his belief that you could not detect it on his breath. Traditionally a rickey is made with gin, but it can also be made with scotch or rum.

 “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Raymond Chandler: The Gimlet – The gimlet didn’t catch on in America until Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe introduced it in The Long Goodbye.

 “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else.” – Terry Lennox in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye

Ian Fleming: The Vesper Martini – In Fleming’s Bond series, the Vesper Martini is the first drink Bond ever orders – and the only time he orders it. The Vesper differs from Bond’s standard cocktail of choice, the martini, in that it uses both gin and vodka. Bond would later be known for ordering vodka martinis. (Interesting side note: in total, Bond orders 19 vodka martinis and 16 gin martinis throughout Fleming’s novels and short stories.)

 “A dry martini… One. In a deep Champagne goblet…Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?” – James Bond

Truman Capote: The Screwdriver – Capote is said to have called the Screwdriver—made with vodka, orange juice, and orange slices—”my orange drink.”

“In this profession it’s a long walk between drinks.” – Truman Capote

Edna St. Vincent Millay: The “Between the Sheets” – The story goes that Edna St. Vincent Millay, while writing and drinking late one night with Edmund Wilson and the poet John Peale Bishop, asked the men to hold her in their arms, one holding her lower half, the other her upper. Thus, the seductive “Between the Sheets” cocktail, which is basically a Sidecar with rum.

“Ah, drink again
This river that is the taker-away of pain,
And the giver-back of beauty!” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

John Steinbeck: The Jack Rose – Also known as “Jersey Lightning,” the Jack Rose is for “the brandy drinker who also happen[s] to be a champion of the working class,” according to Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide. It was Steinbeck’s favorite drink.

 “I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” – John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley

Jack Kerouac: The Margarita – Kerouac is said to have developed a taste for margaritas during one of his many trips through Mexico, a country and culture he loved.

 “Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” – Jack Kerouac

Tennessee Williams: The Ramos Gin Fizz – Are you from New Orleans? Apparently folks there still drink this famous Southern cocktail in honor of Williams. The drink was featured many times in his writings. The standard recipe contains egg, cream, lemon and lime juice, sugar, gin (of course), and a bit of orange flower soda water.

 

Fitzgerald Fascination

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I have recently—for reasons unknown—become slightly obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The fortunate product of this Fitzgerald fascination is it prompted me two weeks ago to read The Great Gatsby. The book was assigned reading in high school many eons ago, but I foolishly cheated myself and opted for the Cliff Notes. Truly reading the book for the first time was a wonderful discovery and education—for while I loved the story, I was completely blown away by the writing.

I can’t recall a book with more beautiful prose. Descriptions of simple things, like fading sunlight on a woman’s face, are stunning:

For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

Such writing in high school was wasted on me; I didn’t appreciate, back then, the effort involved.  After reading Gatsby, I read A. Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, a biography of Fitzgerald’s editor–the same guy who discovered Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, among others.

It was interesting to note in Berg’s book that when Fitzgerald sat down to write Gatsby, he did so not with commercial success in mind but rather to see how far he could push his talent.  “This book,” he wrote Perkins in 1924, “will be a consciously artistic achievement.”

The end result obviously speaks for itself.

Next on my reading list: Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Film rights optioned!

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Very exciting news this morning: The film/television rights to Winston Churchill Reporting have been optioned by a production company. I can’t go into details just yet, but needless to say I’m riding pretty high at the moment.

This is actually the second book of mine to be optioned this year. The television rights for my first book, On the House, were optioned a few months back with the intent of turning it into a multi-part miniseries.

I’ll post more info on both fronts as things develop . . . and as I’m permitted.