D’Arcy At The Bat

A bat. [Source: Wikipedia]

bat n : any of an order of night-flying mammals with forelimbs modified to form wings.

[Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary]

I considered naming this post “Listen to them…they are the children of the night. What beautiful music they make” but I decided: a) it was too long for a title, and, b) the possibility of a copyright violation because it was the classic line spoken by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film Dracula (Universal Studios retain some killer lawyers, I hear).

But, actually my chosen title speaks more to the point of the story (all true, I assure you) as I am about to relate.  Less than 24 hours ago (as I write this), my friend and seasonal neighbor (his real home is in Ohio), D’Arcy Havill, had an hour-long, somewhat contentious, battle with a real bat that entered his house in the dark hours, after sunset and during a rainstorm.

In a sense, it all began as my wife, Mariam and I were finishing dinner at the Belvedere Restaurant in Saranac Lake.  The dinner (I had Salmon) was to celebrate D’Arcy’s wife’s birthday.  Her name is Judy.  You’ve read about this couple in past blogs.

It was a warm muggy afternoon and there were scattered evening thunderstorms.  We drove home in a light sprinkle of rain.  I pulled our car up to their garage and parked.  Judy and D’Arcy opened the garage door and went into their house.  Mariam and I followed…but we took the walkway to the front door.  We were there to end the evening with a bit of chocolate cake and ice cream.  No sooner was I inside and heard the screen door slam shut behind me, I heard D’Arcy say the dreaded words: “Who let the bat in?”  I thought he said “Who let the cat in?” and I became confused because I could see their two cats, Delilah and Sylvester standing in the hallway.  The cats suddenly began to act as though they were walking on a bed of hot coals…they hopped about and were looking up.  There it was.  A bat had come in behind us and was making circular flights around the ceiling fan.  The cats were immediately banished to the master bedroom…and for good reason.  When cats and bats tangle, things can get rough and ugly.

Being from the mid-west, D’Arcy probably had an edge over Mariam and me when it comes to bats.  The Adirondack bat population has plummeted in recent years because of something called “white nose disease” (don’t ask).  Consequently, the mosquito population has spiked (keeping me indoors until the first frost…probably in late September).  So he (D’Arcy) issued the first command: “Open the doors!”

Meanwhile, as the bat kept circling the ceiling fan, Mariam took my iPhone into the kitchen and found “bat calls”.  I had no idea there was an app for that sort of thing.  I thought at first that she had found a really awful jazz station on the radio, but they were indeed, bat calls.

I thought for a few minutes and realized she may have been playing an aggressive angry call instead of a mating call (that would have attracted the bat, one would think), so I suggested that she not play the calls.  Next thing I hear is some conversation that was recorded by a family who were facing the same situation…a bat in the house.  Their problem ended when the mother shooed the bat out of an open door with a broom.

“Let’s get a broom,” said Judy.

“No,” said D’Arcy, eyeing the ceiling fan and several antique paintings, clearly envisioning an interior design fiasco.

The radio did suggest that the lights should be turned off.  The bat would become disoriented by a lot of light since they used echolocation and are known to have poor eyesight (you know…”blind as a bat”).

So the adults retreated to the screened-in porch to ponder the situation.  Here we were, four adults, all past retirement age, with three and a half Master’s degrees between us.  I was a science teacher but I never taught a lesson on bats.  What were we going to do?  Mariam and I just couldn’t say “good night” and leave the Havills with a rogue bat flying around their white vaulted ceiling.

Someone suggested using a butterfly net.  The only problem was that none of us caught or collected butterflies.  But, no authentic Adirondack camp is without an antique fishing net…the hand held kind.  D’Arcy had two.

We went back into the living room and found that the bat had landed on the wall, about fifteen feet above our heads.  We went back to the porch.  The fishing net thing gave me an idea.

“Just a thought, but why don’t we attach one of your nets to a pole and capture the bat while it is resting on the wall?” I said.

D’Arcy went to work like a true mid-westerner.  He grabbed his wooden hiking stick, disappeared into the garage and soon we were duct-taping the handle of the fishing net to the stick.

Back to the living room.  We turned on a single light and we soon had the bat trapped by the net (after a long reach). But as he was dragging the net down, the bat crawled out from the gap where the net handle and walking stick were joined.  Off it went to make more orbits of the ceiling fan.

Back to the porch.  Mariam suggested that if he turned the net inside out, there would be no gap.

“Then we would slide the bat down the wall and slide a piece of cardboard against the wall and the net, thereby trapping the bat.

We waited until the little mammal needed a rest and sure enough, it went to almost the same place it had been a few minutes earlier…only a few more feet higher.  D’Arcy made the supreme reach and covered the bat.  He dragged it slowly down, this time leaving the creature no gap to escape.  I slid the cardboard against the wall and before you could say “strike two”, we had it outside.  But then the problem of getting it out of the net presented itself.  It was hopelessly tangled.

“Scissors!” he yelled.  He was like a surgeon and Judy promptly brought a huge pair from the kitchen drawer.

We snipped and cut and gently, string by string, finally freed the bat, who promptly flew off toward our house…hopefully to gorge itself on all the mosquitoes that had been eyeing me for the last few days.

We let the cats out of the bedroom (where they had clawed the edges of the carpet trying to escape).

Mariam and I went home and watched two hours of a tense murder mystery series on PBS.

It’s been said that the last few Batman movies have become darker, more brooding.  I can totally get it.

And, even though we all lost a precious hour, I still believe, “Every little bat is sacred”.

Not like last night, but close. [Source: National Park Service. The Carlsbad bat flight]

D’Arcy’s net the morning after. [My photo]

 

 

 

 

 

Kodak Moment

BrianEmpireStateJuly,'01

My son, Brian, just turned 28 on July 14.  He is a part of the last generation of people (in America, I suspect) who had their childhood photos of them taken with film.  I have boxes stacked in my closet of envelopes containing hundreds if not thousands of pictures of him, my daughter, my family, my wife, her family, our friends…our childhood playmates…the list goes on.

The date on the back of this photo is July, 2001.  Brian is standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  I have another picture of him standing in lower Manhattan with the WTC behind him.  Two months later…

I have beside me on the table where I now write, a heavy book with the title: “A New History of Photography“.  On page 24 is a negative of an image of a ‘latticed window’, taken by William Henry Fox Talbot.  It is a negative.  The date of this image is 1835.  It is probably one of the earliest “photos” ever taken.  It pre-dates Daguerre by a few years.

Photographs.

No longer will I carefully tuck the little tag with the serial number of my film in my pocket while the person at my local pharmacy tells me “it will be ready next week”.

picspkg

No longer will I carry the packet home and review the images I just paid $7.50 to have developed.  No longer will I look at the strip of negatives and take one back to the drug store and say: “I want duplicates of #17a and #17b”.

Neg

I will not be licking little “corner” adhesive mounts for a scrapbook.  It’s all done in the computer now.  I can use  Photoshop 9 to alter reality.  (Even with this technology, I’ll never make myself look like George Clooney.)

I have to say that I will miss gently touching an old photograph.  Discovering a box of images I’ve never seen before.  Open my wallet, as a teenager, and gazing at the small school photo of my girlfriend, standing in an antique store and looking into the eyes of a stranger, a natty gentleman in a bowler, a pretty woman in lace, an old man with a white beard and straw hat, an aunt with a basket of unshucked peas in her lap.

My wife has a photo of her grandmother in her coffin.  It was taken in Aleppo, Syria circa 1920.  This was a common practice in pioneer America and Europe.  It was a way of keeping a final image after a life lived.  Instead of a slowly fading memory, there, in an old dusty book, was the final picture of a loved one before they were buried.

Now, our memories…well, we don’t need memories anymore.  Everything, an entire life can be stored on a memory stick…available with a touch to a keypad.

I’ve seen Internet projects where a woman photos her face from exactly the same angle every day for a year or more.  It makes for fascinating viewing, but in life, I don’t want to see the gradual changes that are meant not to be seen in 30 seconds, but in 365 days.

When you turn to look at someone you love, or have loved, or will love…what you see should change in real-time.  Not in slo-mo or fast forward.

That’s not how life works.

Your Kodak moment should be a moment, frozen, as you are, for all the future generations yet to be born.

Recently, in a restaurant on Broadway in New York City, I went down a few stairs to the men’s room.  In the hallway, at the bottom of the steps was an “old-time” photo booth.  These were often found at county fairs, Coney Island and Amusement Parks…everywhere.  They used to cost about 25 cents.  Here was one that gave you a set of four poses for $3.00.  I didn’t mind the money.  But these were in black and white…like the old days.  Nothing digital about these!

I couldn’t resist.

I just need to use Photoshop 9 to retouch my hair…and I’m a teenager again.  My wife doesn’t need any alterations to look pretty.

Yes, we’re teenagers again, kinda.

PhotoBoothPics

 

 

 

Not Just Another Skyscraper

EmpireStateBldgNov'14

The Empire State Building has been linked to me, in one way or another, since before I was born. That may sound a bit confusing…but stay with me.

I am an American male, raised to hide emotional reactions.  But, I can say that the building has made me cry on more than one occasion.  When I was young, one of my favorite movies was King Kong.  I could quote lines…once upon a time…yes, I could.  Now I can merely paraphrase.  But as a boy, somehow I “got” the idea of why Kong did what he did to the people of this wonderful town.  He was frightened and he was in love with Faye Wray so he took her to the only place where he could save himself and, he thought, her.

It didn’t work. He died. She lived. And the hero at the end said something like: “It was beauty that killed the beast.”

So, I cried.

I cried again when Deborah Kerr was hit by a taxi on her way to meet Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember.  When he finally found out that she was paralyzed because of him, he cried.  “I didn’t see the taxi,” she said. “I was looking up at you.”

And, yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally met (thanks to his little boy) on the observation deck in Sleepless in Seattle.  It didn’t help me when Jimmy Durante sang “As Time Goes By” at the end.  And, the lights of the building became a giant red heart.

[Tonight, the building is bathed in blue in honor of the Alzheimer’s Foundation.]

I kissed more than one girl on the observation deck.  I got a parking ticket once when I left my MG on 34th Street…beneath a NO PARKING sign.  I once had to pick something up for my wife in an office of the building, so I wandered the hallways, not as a tourist!

The legends and lore of the Empire State Building are many.  Amazingly, it was built in only 10 months!  It was opened to the public on May 1, 1931. (May 1 is my wedding anniversary.)

Sixteen years and one month later, I was born.

According to Wikipedia, there were 30 attempted suicides by jumping.  It seems only four were successful.  The first occurred before it was even opened.  A worker was laid off.  He jumped to his death.  One jumper clearly was not on the “List.”  She jumped off the 86th floor deck but the wind blew her back to a ledge on the 85th floor where police brought her inside.

A slightly gentler breeze could have ruined her whole day.

On a foggy day, July 28, 1945, a B-25, flying in zero visibility flew into the side of the building between the 79th and 80th floor.  Fourteen deaths resulted.  Parts of the plane severed the elevator cable and the operator survived a 75 floor free-fall.  Look it up.  She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On a clear day, in late 1930 or early 1931, a young man was walking along the streets of the west Village.  The man worked for Bell Labs on Bethune Street.  He looked up and saw the workers putting the finishing touches on the Empire State Building.

The man had come from a rather poor family who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania.  He had dropped out of school and left home to find work in the Big City.  The man lived in Bergen, NJ with a relative.  His wages were low but he sent what he could back home to help out.  After a year or two, the man returned to complete high school, court a young woman named Mary…and eventually married her in 1936.

I know this story pretty well.  The man was my father, Paul.

He told me all this when I was a little boy watching King Kong.

“No,” he told me more than once.  “I never saw a large ape climbing the building.”

As a little boy, I never could quite believe him about this.  How could he not have seen the ape falling?  How could he have missed it when beauty killed the beast?

The beast?  Well, I guess that’s where I played out my small role in my father’s contact with this great building.  Sixteen years and one month after he walked down Bethune Street, I was born.

Add two years to that…I would be entering the “Terrible Twos.”  So, my father gets the beast after all.

And, about 70 years later, I’m standing on 7th Avenue looking up at a very special building…washed in blue light…honoring those who have lost their memories.

That’s something I’ve haven’t done…lose memories.

 

Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve VI: “A Light Hearted Look at Demonic Bloodsuckers”

Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula-2

There are creatures that can crawl up a wall, head down, in an upside down position (like a spider), turn themselves into bats, rats, moths, mists, and clouds of dust.  They ‘live’ by sucking the blood of a live person.  We call these demon-like beings vampires.  They would not make very good neighbors, although, I’ve lived next to people who can do pretty much all these things…but that’s a another story.

A vampire can’t do everything (although in modern days, they can do much more than tradition tells us, i.e., go out into the sunlight.)  They cannot cross running water (movie lore), and they cannot enter a room without being invited.  A vampire abhors garlic (a recent addition to the lore)…but it’s the Crucifix that will usually stop them in their tracks.

Vampires are hot these days…or should I say cold.  The adventures of the Undead, as a role model for teenagers, started long before “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer”.  “My Best Friend is a Vampire” probably was released around the time that “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” made a big star of Michael Landon.  My first experience of a vampire on the big screen was a re-release of “Dracula”, with Bela Lugosi (1931).  In the mid to late 1950’s, came the Hammer Films series that starred Christopher Lee as the Prince of Darkness.  I believe it all started with the 1957 “Horror of Dracula.”  It was followed by sequels, one of which played up the sensual/sexual nature of the vampire/victim relationship so clearly, it was not released in the USA for quite a few years.

For those of you who disdain vampire legends and have not done your homework, you will need this brief outline: The novel that popularized the character of Dracula was the book of the same name, written by the Irish writer, Bram Stoker in 1897.  He based the main character on a real person in history.  This would be Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476).  He was nick-named “Vlad the Impaler” for reasons I won’t go into here.  Use your imagine.  But this guy was real.  He did unspeakable things (refer back to his nick-name).  He lived in the part of central Europe that has long been known as Transylvania, in central Romania.  I cannot give the details about a woman who was a real-life counterpart to Vlad.  She was a Baroness or something in a small region, probably Transylvania.  She felt that to keep her beauty and youth, she needed to bath every so often in a tub of virgin’s blood.  So she sent her henchmen out to locate and kidnap the virgins of the village.  I’ll go no further in a description of what she did with the young girls and how she bathed in their blood…let’s just say she managed.  Between her and Vlad, she kept the female population of a fair number of villagers from ever reaching womanhood.  Together, they made Jeffery Dahmer look like Bobby Flay. (Maybe Bobby’s last name made him a bad choice to use here).

I wish I could remember the name of this woman…but it’s getting late in the afternoon…the sun is low in the sky.  So I must hurry to finish this before darkness descends on the North Country.  Too bad I used the last of the garlic cloves in a pesto sauce last night.  I wonder if garlic powder will work?

From books I’ve read, the belief in vampires still exists in remote villages in this region.  In fact, there are accounts of vampires who lived and “worked” here in America…and quite recently.  Google it.

A defrocked priest (now, that’s always worth a story to look into) named Montague Summers wrote many books on werewolves, witches and vampires.  His 1929, “Vampires and Vampirism” is a classic.  Anne Rice popularized the genre with “Interview With A Vampire” in the 1970’s.

Vlad_Tepes_002

[Vlad the Impaler in a historical painting]

10026134-large

[Brad Pitt from “Interview With A Vampire]

Why have I chosen vampires as one of my Halloween posts? I think it’s pretty obvious.  But, most the most amazing fact about these fictional (?) characters is that people did and still do consider them as real! If you find yourself wandering through an old cemetery and you come upon a caged grave, it’s a good chance that the deceased that lie here were thought to be vampires.  The cages were put in place around the grave to keep them in.

dab668fee09d2bd2715066af74edfee1

[Please note: The idea that graves were caged (like these in Edinburgh), were to keep the dead in has recently been debunked by scholars.  Now it is claimed that it was more to protect the recently deceased from grave robbers.  Other details concerning Vlad have also gone through historical revisionism.  I like my versions better.  Like I say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”]

What makes the vampire legends compelling to me?  It’s the fact they represent the ultimate in true tragedy.  What was once a human soul…cannot die!  To wander the earth until he or she is standing at the Gate of Judgement must be unbearable.  And this brings a second aspect of tragedy: a vampire can be released (killed) by having a stake of “white wood”, ash, or oak driven through the heart.  And, there is the third element of tragedy.  Who does this deed?  If it’s a loved one, imagine the anguish one must go through to “kill’ someone you love so that they can find true death (and happiness).

It’s a good thing these are facets of fiction…or are they?

What is shown below is not a toy box.  It’s a real 17th century vampire hunter’s kit.  (If this is something you would buy your child, you need to seek professional help immediately.)

17thCentury?VampireKit

 

So, after you’ve read this post, make yourself a hot toddy.  Soak in the hot tub.  Get a good book (one by me, perhaps).  Check your windows…are they locked?  Are all the doors bolted?  Is you’re cell phone by your bed?  Are you ready to sleep?

Do you hear something? A creaking, a groan, clanking of something metallic?

It’s only your house settling down for the night.

Trust me.

Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve V: “Cardboard Tombstones and The Greatest Horror Movie Ever Made”

Since it’s creeping, day by day and night by night, toward Halloween, it’s time to consider the movies.  I’m not talking “Mary Poppins” either (although dancing with penguins can be pretty scary).  No, I’m talking of the Great Horror Movies of the Century.  Some of the most blood-curdling scenes on film were written by gifted authors, directed by geniuses, acted by theater legends and perfect excuses to wrap your arms around your sweetheart and pretend you were brave and protective.  I did this, and all the while, missing key dialogue and scenes.  Try watching Lon Chaney through narrow slits of nearly closed eyes?  Try turning away from some demonic brain surgery scene…your girlfriend will think something is wrong with her left ear or a strange woman on your left will call the usher because you’re staring at her right ear.  It’s not easy.

I’m not a screenwriter.  I think we know that.  But I love the visual quality of films and the style of writing.  I think this comes from listening to the radio when I was a child.  Shows like “Inner Sanctum” and “The Shadow” forced me to imagine the faces and scenery.  With movies, you’re given everything.  Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Classic images constructed by Hollywood are like perfect novels…not a word could be changed…not an image could be different.  For example: Lon Chaney getting the mask ripped from his face in “Phantom of the Opera”, or Elsa Lanchester’s jerky head as the “Bride of Frankenstein”.  Or, perhaps one of my all-time favorites, when Bela Lugosi stands on the stairs of his castle and, after hearing the wolves, says: “Listen to them-the children of the night.  What music they make!”

Let’s get to the point.  You need great scenery, deep and meaningful dialogue, professional acting, and a strong plot.  For my money, only a handful of movies fulfill those stringent requirements.  I’m thinking of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original, of course), “Freaks”, “The Beast of Yucca Flats” and, of course, the All-Time Greatest Horror ever put on celluloid: “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

Directed by the legendary genius, Ed Wood, it is a true masterpiece by any standards.  Ed Wood knew how to write and direct a film that will be a classic for all time.  “Plan 9” was filmed in and around Hollywood.  It was released in 1959.  The running time is 79 minutes.  And it had a staggering budget of $60,000.  Wood also had a major movie star on his contract, Bela Lugosi.  Sadly, Lugosi was, at the time, a drug addict.  Legend has it that Wood would drive Lugosi around L.A. to find drug dealers willing to supply them with enough morphine to get Lugosi through the next few days shooting schedule.

Then a slight problem arose.  Bela Lugosi died only a few days into the filming.  To Ed Wood, that presented no big problem.  He simply found some out-of-work actor to ‘stand-in’ for Lugosi.  Recognition problems? No way.  The actor simply held up a cape (Dracula fashion) and hid his face.  Brilliant!

The scenery (and props) were also something to behold.  If you watch the tombstones as the main characters walk through the cemetery at night, some of them flap back and forth.  Who needs marble when cardboard will work just as well?

The ‘flying saucer’ at the beginning of the film resembles a garbage can lid.  It probably was.

But the writing was extraordinary.  And I mean that literally.

Consider the following speech given by Criswell at the very beginning:

Criswell: Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

Now that’s writing.

Other noteworthy dialogue includes:

Criswell: At the funeral of the old man, unknown to his mourners, his DEAD WIFE was watching!

~~

Lieutenant John Harper: It was a saucer.

Policeman: A flying saucer?

~~

Air Force Captain: Visits? That would indicate visitors.

As you can read, the dialogue left much to the imagination…like great film dialogue should attempt.  There’s nothing left for the imagination with a toss-off quote like, say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  But that’s another movie…

Something else should be mentioned here.  One of the main characters, played by an ex-professional wrestler, Tor Johnson, makes a classic return from his grave.  That face, that image was to become the all-time best-selling Halloween mask in history.  [I can not confirm this fact…it was something I read years ago.  I would think that the more recent images like “Freddie”, the “Halloween” monster and the “Scream” figure are probably more popular now.]

This is the make-up artists model:

$_57

 This is the actor, Tor Johnson:

uc04e4ny7wzo404o

So, get the film on Netflix.  Sit back and enjoy.

Finally, I want to add that I first saw the film in the mid-1980’s while living in Norwalk, CT.  It was being shown at a local movie theater as part of the “Golden Turkey” Awards.  The ‘worst films ever made’.  I have to say, I don’t agree.  The real horror movies are those that exploit women, children, gays and glorify violence and war.  Nothing is glorious in those things.  And, I can’t help but feel that the real ‘horror’ of this movie was all behind the camera.  Ed Wood was gay.  That must have been a nightmare in itself in Hollywood in the late 1950’s.  And, the sorrow I felt for Bela Lugosi, once a great actor, seeing him sinking so low in his personal addictions that he agreed to make this film to just get through another day.  Now that’s real terror.  That’s real scary.  I poked fun at this movie in this post, but I don’t laugh so loud now at the inane dialogue or fake tombstones.  I feel sorrow for the lives being played out…where I can’t see them.  Off camera, on dirty street corners and in lonely hotel rooms, when the actors go home to whatever sad lives they had.

Remember the saying: “For all the bright lights on Broadway, there are a thousand broken hearts.”?

These days, for every Brad Pitt, there’s ten thousand waitresses, waiters, barristers and really lonely people who are miles away from their farm in Ohio and their worried parents.