The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — June 2009


Best not to listen
To the shearing wind that cuts
Through the knot of time.

June 30, 2009   Comments Off on 199

Leaving Barstow

Leaving Barstow is the kind of independent film that could easily be cheesy—you know, the type of thing that film majors do for their final project—but it sets a comfortable tone with good acting, intelligent directing, and easy to watch cinematography, and you willingly come along for the ride, enjoying every minute. The plot is what you might expect—about a high school senior who hopes to go to college, but is entangled in a protective relationship with his single mother. We watch as he is lectured by his favorite teacher (in the screenshot), chats with his best friend, tries to chase away his mother’s latest lover, falls in love for the first time, and eventually has to choose between his mother and his dream. It sounds sophomoric, doesn’t it? But it’s not. In my opinion, it’s as good or better than Wendy and Lucy or Napoleon Dynamite, but then I’m kind of stuck in a high school frame of mind.

June 30, 2009   Comments Off on Leaving Barstow

Lansing, MN

Just north of Austin is a small village called Lansing, consisting of a few houses, a church, a railroad siding, and an elevator. My friend from the coffee shop remembered it as a “gem of a town.” I remember seeing it once or twice as a boy with my father. Being there again this weekend was a shock. A first I couldn’t figure it out. The village smelled like a feed lot. Then I realized what was going on. Some of the homes had bags of trash piled in the driveways and around the houses that were several rows deep—probably months’ or years’ worth. It was like being in Napoli or New York during a garbage strike. I guess it’s cheaper to create these walls of trash rather than pay to have it hauled away. It’s a libertarian’s dream. I wonder if there’s any form of government left in Lansing.

June 30, 2009   Comments Off on Lansing, MN

The Hormel Strike

When I got beans at my local coffee merchant this morning, the guy on duty, who was orignally from Austin, reminded me that it was the 1985 strike at Hormel and its aftermath—the loss of several hundred well-paying jobs—that caused the changes in the city. Neither the parent union nor the state would support the strike (in fact, the governor sent in troops to protect those crossing the picket lines), and the company eventually succeeded in reducing wages to the bare minimum. Hormel argued that it was the only way they could compete with other meat processors, and they were probably right. Reaganomics was in full swing, unions were busted everywhere, and America was quickly becoming a banana republic. The problem was that the owners of Hormel, no matter how generous they were with their foundation, could not give back to the community what several hundred well-paid workers once did.

Seen from the perspective of twenty years, one can argue that world economic conditions (the so-called integrated global economy) was responsible, and there was nothing anyone could do. Perhaps this is true, but, certainly, Reagan and the Bushes hastened the effects. Their one driving political purpose was to shift as much wealth to the ruling classes as possible, and, in this, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

June 30, 2009   Comments Off on The Hormel Strike


When he exhausted
All hope of any outcome,
He found his true form.

June 29, 2009   1 Comment

Austin Manners

While I was working on my blog in the library in Austin (which, by the way, is a fantastic facility), a woman began a conversation with the lady sitting at the table next to me. They talked as if they had just met on the street. Sotto voce was not the standard, I discovered. The conversation started with my neighbor’s hair color and proceeded from there to things they had in common, including friends and stuff they each liked. When it became clear it wasn’t going to end anytime soon, I suggested they lower their voices. They looked at me as if I were making a joke, laughed, and continued as before. Now annoyed, I suggested they take it outside. This time, in deference to my persistence, began speaking in exaggerated whispers.

Several minutes later the woman who began the conversation left for another part of the library.

When I got up to use the men’s room, I passed her and she took the opportunity to give me a piece of her mind. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t react. I could sympathize. I had put a dent in their style.

“I always talk like that in the library,” she said, with obvious heat.

“No one has ever said anything to you before?”

“No. I’ve had to listen to other people’s conversations many times. Why shouldn’t you?”

“I guess I don’t have Austin manners,” I said and strolled away.

June 29, 2009   Comments Off on Austin Manners

Who’s Your Daddy, Holger?

According to The Guardian, FIFA Technical Study member Holger Osieck praised Clint Dempsey for “winning nearly every ball in the air, keeping possession, and working hard” in USA’s 3-0 win over Egypt. Osieck also praised his “tireless” performance against Spain.

Doesn’t Osieck know that he needs to check in with John Harkes before making such comments?

June 28, 2009   Comments Off on Who’s Your Daddy, Holger?

Austin, MN

Paramount Theater

As I write this, I’m sitting in the public library in Austin, Minnesota, staring at the river in front of me and at the Hormel plant on the opposite bank. It’s been decades since I was last in Austin, and out of nostalgia, I walked through the city, stopped in a couple of stores, chatted with Mexicans I met on the walking path, had a Guinness (brewed in Canada) and a burger at a local sports bar, and am processing what I’ve seen.

A couple of things are obvious. Austin has a significant Chicano population, serviced by a large grocery store. There was even a Latin wedding going on at the Catholic Church with the reception in the adjoining park. Also, like most southern Minnesota cities, it has more than its share of American flags, Harleys, pro-lifers, and Bible thumpers. In the park, for example, I came across a group praying with loud Jesus this… and Jesus that… before they had lunch and played volleyball. This born-again religiosity, formerly restricted to the South, is now part and parcel of small town life across America. The old movie theater advertised a come-to-Jesus preacher and next door was an office that promised full counseling through the length of a woman’s pregnancy.

I asked the librarian if this culture had affected the schools, but like many of my questions, it seemed off-the-wall and he had no way of responding. I wish he had known. The forces of hysteria are winning because liberals and progressives do not do enough to counter them. For example, along the Interstate on the way south from the Twin Cities there are at least three large billboards proclaiming that life begins at conception. There are no billboards of the opposite persuasion with the message that we need to keep abortion safe and legal.

This culture is not going away any time soon. It is deeply rooted in dislocation of workers caused by the new global economy which has transferred, and continues to transfer, millions of jobs from the United States. Without middle class jobs, there can be no middle class culture. Hysteria replaces reason, and the temptation to redeem exhausted values by bowing down and accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior becomes overwhelming.

June 27, 2009   Comments Off on Austin, MN


The black butterfly
Fastens itself like a leaf
And waits out the storm.

June 26, 2009   Comments Off on 197

Michael Jackson’s Passing

On the way to Dunn’s this morning, jolting over the makeshift yellow bumps some enterprising neighbor erected in the alley to annoy drivers, I was thinking what people would say during the eulogy at my funeral. Not much, probably. Certainly, no good man stuff and no recounting of my accomplishments. I could see myself watching the meager and sparsely attended proceeding (a la Mark Twain), and saying, Hey, I did this or I did that, but in a half-hearted way, knowing how little the things I did mattered to anyone. Still, I would be satisfied with my life, knowing I had inspired love in my mother, my sister, and my wife. That would be enough for me.

When I got to Dunn’s, the barista, who is not normally known for his wisdom, wondered what I thought of Michael Jackson’s death, and I raised my hands in a universal gesture that means, Hell if I know. Michael had not been on my mind, or, at least, I didn’t think he had. When I thought about it, I said, “I really couldn’t identify with Michael Jackson.”

The barista then said, “You know, he was an iconic figure who exemplified a generation and a certain type of music that will die with him. It marks the end of an age.” And I thought, holy shit, he’s right.

June 26, 2009   Comments Off on Michael Jackson’s Passing