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See you all Monday, January 24, 2020! New day, same challenge! 99 words, no more, no less.
The holiday season has come around again, and hope is in full bloom. Just like clockwork, the annual transition from L-tryptophan to Christmas fudge has set off a flurry of sights and sounds. Cars in the Keweenaw are topped with evergreens, drivers rushing home to deck their halls. Holiday music plays in rotation on local radio stations, and church bells chime on schedule. Along the waterfront, a frosty tree gleams a cool blue while downtown, wreaths and garland twinkle at every turn. There are ribbon-wrapped spruce tips and green Grinch cutouts. Why, there’s even a King Kong-sized elf scaling the exterior facade of a boutique hotel. Yes, there is a swell of hope in the air, set aglow by strands of Christmas lights.
In my small town, a little further up the road, the spirit of the season greets me, although a bit less lavishly. It begins with an artificial tree at the tip of Main Street. Each year at the end of November, the tree arrives on the back of a trailer. We watch as volunteers maneuver it into place and string the power cord. Along the lane, wooden light poles are wound with a single strand of multicolored lights—the old-fashioned bulbs, maybe C9s. Growing snowbanks serve as garland. Beyond that, it’s up to the residents to top off the job.
The sights of this town remind me of my childhood. They speak to me of a collective spirit, the kind I knew in my youth. Back then, there was a towering spruce in my hometown’s centre. It was strung with lights by volunteer firefighters and draped in snow by Mother Nature. It grew next to the firehall where every December, Santa held court beneath a wooden arch and welcomed us each with a brown paper sack of sugary treats.
I remember those visits to that firehall as if it were yesterday. My older sisters were placed in charge. We’d dress after supper in a clamor of snow boots and secondhand coats, hats and damp mittens, then tumble out the back door, panting. Our boots trekked the snow-blown path around the corner, down the side of our narrow home, past the slider window with a single strand of Christmas lights taped to ranch casing. The center of the strand was often drooping; the tape would give way. But did I mind? No, not at all. Those lights were a symbol. They filled me with hope. As long as they were lit, that’s all I needed.
I can still hear the crunch of snow beneath our feet, the wsk wsk of coat fabric as our arms swung to and fro. Our noses numbing. Our breath ascending in transparent Os. It all fanned my growing sense of hysteria. “I can’t wait to see Santa!” I would squeal. Then you better hurr’yup, my oldest sister might say. I would scurry ahead, the route filling my well. There were homes lit like runways and windows glowing with electric-orange candelabras. We caught glimpses of glistening trees between drawn drapery panels and full views of those beyond sheers. There were wreaths on porch doors—a touch our home did without—and the occasional Nativity scene, the Baby Jesus in the center tugging at my heartstrings.
When we’d reach the firehall, the windows were lit, the line long. It snaked around the checkerboard floor. So many kids. Raucous ones. Shy ones. Wealthy ones. Poor ones. We all lined up together, one collective body, eager to see Santa; a queue comprised of the innocence of youth. We, coughing and sneezing, our noses dripping. And he, our idol, anticipating a long night, perhaps a cold in the days to come. But he welcomed us all nonetheless, sat us on his knee, asked for our wishes. And we gushed. Did he know whose Christmas lists would be fulfilled? Did he consider those who might wake to disappointment? I certainly did not, for I believed in the power of Santa. The power of Christmas. The power of hope. And as I neared his side, in those years of naiveté, my wishes were doable. My neighbors’ wishes were doable. There was nothing beyond reach.
When at last it was my turn, I would climb aboard his crushed velvet-clad knee. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he’d bellow. “And what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” What does a child say to this man? On the spur of the moment? In his grandeur? With his red suit and curly white beard? This Santa-star. This celebrity. A saint known round the world! And so I’d sit, transfixed by his tall, black boots. Oh, those boots! With their single buckle. Their shiny leather—or was that pleather? Their squared heels which would soon set foot on my rooftop! What were my wishes from year to year? Was it an Easy-Bake Oven? A Crissy doll? A Mrs. Beasley from Family Affair? The world was ripe for the picking as long as I had the hope! And I did.
It has been decades since I’ve paid a visit to that beloved firehall. And certainly decades since I’ve sat on Santa’s knee. I find the years have molded me, mellowed my hope. I look upon holiday wishes differently now, my perspective matured. Though my family finds comfort in the season, I am keenly aware there are those whose stockings won’t be hung, whose trees won’t be lit, whose holidays may fall prey to financial hardship. As a matter of fact, I’ve learned that as children, my siblings and I were mere steps from that scenario ourselves, our Christmases always teetering on the brink. But somehow, we were sheltered from that reality. Our parents managed the undoable, maybe with a little help. Somehow there were gifts. Somehow, turkey. Somehow, Christmas joy. Was it their hope that fueled the magic? Or was it ours?
Perhaps it was that single strand of lights taped in our living room window.
Born amidst the copper mining ruins of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, T. Marie Bertineau is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community of the L’Anse Reservation, migizi odoodeman. In addition to her Carrot Ranch column, you’ll find Marie’s work online with Minnesota’s Carver County Arts Consortium; in Mino Miikana, a publication of the Native Justice Coalition and Waub Ajijaak Press; and in the annual journal U.P. Reader. Her debut memoir The Mason House (Lanternfish Press, 2020) was named a 2021 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan and is a recipient of the Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Award for Literature (Saginaw Valley State University). Married and the mother of two, she makes her home in Michigan’s Keweenaw.
I’m going on a vision quest to reconnect to my North Star. It’s been a week. It’s been a year. It’s been five years since I left Idaho, and I can finally read posts from Elmira Pond Spotter. Some of you might not even know about Elmira Pond Spotter, but that was my online journal where I explored the writer’s life around an old and deep tamarack bog in North Idaho. On March 9, 2016, I was excited to welcome the return of the migratory fowl, eagles, osprey, and kingfishers who lived seasonally on or around the pond. Abruptly, it was to be my final post.
At the time, I was writing weekly columns for a stunning new Idaho-centric magazine, editing a publication I had developed for a client, and had landed a lucrative contract to write a feature for Sandpoint Magazine. Ten days later, I was in Missoula Montana to host one of the first satellite BinderCon writing workshops, working with NYT Best-selling Author, Laura Munson, and rising writing powerhouse, Stephanie Land. I was revising my novel after feedback from agents and my editor to set the story by my pond.
I had no idea at the time the drastic changes that were coming.
In 2012, I left my marketing management career to pursue my writing dreams and believed that was the biggest transition I’d face in my adult life. I had consulted and led countless brand communications workshops, enough to feel confident that I could start my own marketing communications company. Two years into the work, I realized I didn’t need a company. I was content to work as a contractor. But I had this great company name, a logo my longtime graphic designer developed for me, and a burning desire to connect less with marketing peers and more with creative writers.
CarrotRanch.com was born as a website in May of 2012. However, it wasn’t until March 2014 that I initiated the shift to a literary focus with the first-ever Flash Fiction Challenge. Norah Colvin, Ruchira Khanna, Susan Zutautas, and Paula Moyer showed up. Norah invited her British writing friends, Geoff Le Pard and Anne Goodwin. Before I realized what was happening, a writing community formed. By 2016, I had a writing partner in the UK (Sherri Matthews), an anthology in the works with Sarah Brentyn and our community, and a growing appreciation for all that the art of 99-words could be as writing practice and tool.
Life has its ups and downs. None of us ever escapes circumstances, disappointments, or even death. We don’t like to talk about mortality or grief and yet grief often drives us to write — to process the pain, memorialize the loss, or offer something beautiful that grew from the mud. In 2015, my best friend, Kate, died. A month before her death, I contemplated traveling alone, without her on trips. I took a birthday cruise on Lake Pend Oreille. By March of 2016, I was carrying that grief with me and pushing deeper into my writing. Todd had been displaying worrisome behavior for over two years and was clearly not holding down a job, which was unlike him. With my friend and husband heavy on my mind, it tempered the success I was having. Such is life.
Soon after I returned home from Missoula in March of 2016, my world began to topple. First, I received a response from an investigation into the new magazine I was writing for. The original editor, someone experienced and highly regarded, had left for personal reasons. I began to suspect the publisher was not being honest. It was a gut feeling. I had reached out to my book editor for a way to contact the former magazine editor and once I contacted her, our suspicions deepened. She had not left for personal reasons. She had a colleague in state government and they were looking into the publisher. It was enough to distract me from pond spotting migratory fowl.
The day I learned the publisher was a con artist with warrants in numerous other states and aliases, was devastating. In all my years freelancing, I had practiced good judgment before taking gigs. He fooled an entire publications team and big sponsors. In the midst of the investigation and group lawsuit to recoup unpaid contracted wages, I had missed an email from our property managers. Looking back, that email was the inciting incident to the next phase of my life I never saw coming.
I never wrote about Elmira Pond again.
No need to revisit the past five, almost six, years. Homelessness, a husband’s cognitive demise, wandering the west. The Keweenaw was an unexpected grace. I found other Warrior Sisters facing problems like mine because of wounded veterans. Todd finally got enrolled in VA benefits and after 33 years, they acknowledged his injury and replaced his knee. They also acknowledged his severe PTSD. We even bought a house here. But he hates it here. Hates the snow. Hates the way people ride snowmobiles down the street. Hates me for “dragging” him here. Hates the way refs officiate every Vikings game. Hate builds a toxic environment.
When I look back at Elmira Pondspotter, I realize hate was a latecomer to our marriage. It’s not the result of injustice, chronic pain, and shitty circumstances, though. It’s part of the demise. It’s a brain struggling against a disease, a person suffering the loss of self and feeling unheard, disconnected, and dismissed. We once had a loving marriage, both of us supporting the other through earlier hardships. We both loved Elmira Pond. I’m struggling to manage this life with a spouse so changed.
And yet, just like back in March of 2014, I still dream. Carrot Ranch has not only stood as my writing community but has served as my anchor when I’ve needed a lifeline. I feel humbled by the awareness that I will not likely ever be as ambitious as I was in 2016. It is harder for me to do less. I get more emotional over new challenges. I was crying last year because I didn’t think I could finish my thesis. I did. I didn’t think I’d finish my MFA. I did. What sucks though, is that I don’t feel accomplished. Some light has snuffed and I want to rekindle it. I want to feel like I did when I wrote bird reports on a little pond in North Idaho. I want to find my joy.
I’ve worked with the visioning process long enough to recognize that I’m feeling disconnected from my North Star. I have so much good to be grateful for and so much to do. But I need to figure out how to integrate all the pieces into a whole life. I need time to reflect and just be without deadlines, student papers, client projects, and weekly prompts. That last one is the hardest to admit. But I couldn’t even get to my own ranch this week and I have final papers to grade, projects to complete, and a thesis to resurrect for submissions. All these responsibilities connect to the writing life I want to lead, but I have to figure out how to be more efficient.
I decided to take a semester break at Carrot Ranch. That way, I can complete the overwhelming tasks I have outstanding and then have time to dream and organize and refresh. Also, as of Friday, I was finally accepted into a VA caregiver program. I can sit for days and just cry with relief that I can get the support I’ve been asking for with skills training, workshops with other caregivers, and, most importantly, my own VA file. If that sounds odd, let me explain. Without a file, no one gives a eff about me at the VA. I’m just a complaining spouse. With a file, I get to voice my concerns and receive both respite care and mental health support. This is huge. On Thursday night we had a traumatic accident in the house. Everyone is okay, but I’m in need of that new support I have.
The Saddle Up Saloon will host an Author’s Chair on December 13, and we will have one more column for 2021 on December 14, and The Littles Christmas Goat will post December 16, including stories some of my ENG I students wrote.
Carrot Ranch will return with 2022 programming, including weekly 99-word story challenges on January 20. I believe in the work of our community to make literary art accessible 99 words at a time. I believe in safe space for writers to explore their craft, voice, and genre. I’ve had much affirmation from my students about the writing process, even some who said they had regained a love of writing in my classes or discovered the power of writing after thinking they couldn’t write. That fills me! Compiling a community’s collection of 99-word stories satisfies me! Reading, writing and researching to produce my create works drives me! Teaching grows me! I have wonderful stardust to collect to redirect the path to my North Star.
Will you use this time to dream and envision, strategize and consolidate? What do you want to do in 2022? What nurtures you?
My love to all of you in this community. No one has an easy path, but we step out together nonetheless. Keep writing!
“Pal, you’re not ready? What’re ya doin’? Jeez, I figgered a picture prompt’d be purty easy from our end.”
“You’d think, Kid. An’ I think I figgered out thet the reason our writer writes is she cain’t take a decent pi’ture. I’m lookin’ through her photos an’ ain’t seen a one thet’s worth 99 words, let alone a thousand.”
“Well if ya do git a picture prompt up, it’s up ta participants how many words ta use.”
“See thet Kid? Her dang photo album is full a stuff like this. What’s the story?”
“Reckon that’s fer folks ta figger out fer themselves. Is that the prompt?”
“Well, let’s jist see what else is in here… hmm. Mebbe things is lookin’ up.”
“Mother tree, Pal! Ya pine-ally found a picture might inspire folks ta write a flash or a poem. Pal? Pal, where’d ya go?”
Elder Tree by Pal N. O’Roun (99 words)
Trees’ stories are one of their many gifts. Go to them carrying questions and go without words and you might hear their soft voices.
Why is this great pine the tallest tree in the woods? The parallel mounds and sinkholes and the age of its neighbors suggest that maybe this pine was young and limber when a fierce storm went through long ago.
This pine has long witnessed giving and taking. It knows only life, in all its forms and seasons. This tree has withstood, still stands.
Let this tree whisper to you the song of your own heartwood.
“Oh. Wow, Pal, ya even translated it from yer dialect.”
“Yep. Now folks, if I kin do it, you can. Just go where ever thet picture prompt leads ya. We look forward ta yer stories; please share in the comments or with a pingback ta yer post.”
If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up to take the stage as a saloon guest, contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Kid, thought I told you ta bring some order ta the saloon! The stage is a mess. Look! Thet’s a mouse!”
“By gosh it is, Pal. Looks like the order I brung was Rodentia. Mus musculus, a house mouse. Course ya’d think it’s be Mus saloonacus.”
“Enough Kid, yer bein’ ridiculous. Git thet mus— mouse— outta here an’ git our guest in here.”
“Actually Pal, this mouse, Mus, is our guest. Mus is a character from one a Ann Edall-Robson’s children’s books, Mus; A Mouse Adventure. Thing is though, I’m not sure Mus’ writer or mother knows he’s here. He doesn’t always listen.”
“Hmmf. One a those characters. Well, when yer here yer a guest, so we’d best feed the little fella.”
“Way ahead a ya Pal. Pepe is in the back cuttin’ the cheese fer Mus.”
“Ugh. Kid, I thought Ann Edall-Robson wrote poetry an’ fiction an’ sech that reflect her real life ranchin’ heritage.”
“Yep, an’ she also publishes non-fiction an’ photography that keep the old ways alive. An’ she writes children’s books!”
“Sure is versatile, thet one. I know I injoy her column here at Carrot Ranch, Quiet Spirits. Well, Kid, we best take good care a thet little Mus until Ann can come by an’ collect ‘im.”
“No problem, Pal. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
“Relax, Pal. That feline won’t make a beeline fer Mus. That’s just ‘nuther a Ann’s characters. Meet Barn Cat Buttons, aka Baby Boy Buttons.”
“Whoa. Thet cat character seems so real.”
“He is Pal. Ya kin hear Ann talk ‘bout him here.”
“Ya sure it’s okay ta have thet barn cat in here? He’s always pushin’ the edge; might cause trouble.”
“Barn Cat Buttons’ll be all right. He knows right from wrong.”
“Oh, jeez, Kid, now there’s a white face calf in the saloon. Ann’s?”
“Yep, that’s Norman. I’ll bet Barn Cat Buttons is responsible fer Norman bein’ here. Reckon Ann’ll be lookin’ fer him. Heck we’re all lookin’ fer Norman. That book should be out soon.”
“I’m beginnin’ ta wonder about Ann Edall-Robson. Think it’s more’n coincidence thet her characters has got attitude?”
“Well, they also have common sense Pal. But whyn’t ya ask her yerself? Here she is now. Howdy Ann Edall-Robson!”
“Good day to the two of you. It’s so nice to see you again, Pal and Kid. Sorry I’m a little out of breath. I have been all over looking for this crew of mine. I see Buttons is involved, so that does explain a lot.
“Buttons. Buttons. Buttons.”
“Oh geez, you found us. You sound just like the Wise One when he’s about to tell me something ‘wise’.”
“How did you all get here?”
“Well, you see…”
“I don’t want a story Buttons, I want the truth.”
“Okay, okay. It’s like this…We were all hanging around the barn when the Wise One came along…How does he do that, you know just show up?”
“Right, how did we get here? Like I said, we were hanging around the barn and the Wise One tells us we are supposed to get ourselves in gear and head on over to the favourite watering hole to meet up with you so we can all discuss planning Norman’s shindig.”
“Buttons has been looking after all of us, even me. He even made sure my momma knew I was coming here with him. He’s real nice. Not like that cat I met that said he was my friend and wasn’t. You know, the one you told the story about.”
“I’m happy to hear that Mus. But it doesn’t explain why you are all here bothering Pal and Kid when you should be back at the ranch watering hole. Buttons?”
“Oh, that watering hole! The one down by the creek near the barn.”
“Yes Buttons, that watering hole. How did you end up here and not there?”
“Well, the Wise One said, ‘favourite watering hole’, I knew it just had to be this one. He’s talked about coming here to have a beverage while he reads what other writers have left on the Saloon shelf to read. And he said that Pal and Kid are real nice and welcoming.”
“Oh Buttons, of course this is one of his favourite places, mine too. But I don’t think it’s quite the place for characters to come in and make themselves at home.”
“But they can see us and they talk to us just like you do!”
“Mmmhmmm, yes they do. How about, if Pal and Kid don’t mind, we have a beverage and visit a bit about Norman’s shindig?”
“Does that mean you are going to do what I always hear you doing when we are at home?”
“And what is it you hear me doing at home?”
“Talking to all us characters while you make words and squiggly lines on paper.”
“That’s called brain storming.”
“Whatever you say, Miss Ann, whatever you say. I think you and the Wise One are a lot alike, except you’re here and he’s not.”
“Buttons, mind your manners.”
“Well, Kid, it looks like Miss Ann has got them characters a hers reined in. Let’s go see what she kin tell us ‘bout Norman, the latest book in her Barncat Buttons series.”
“I can tell you that Norman is available to pre-order from Ann’s website until November 28, 2021, Pal. You can order either a soft cover or hard cover book. Pre-orders will be shipped by post by December 3, 2021. Norman will be available on Amazon starting December 1, 2021.”
“Why thank you fer thet Miss Ann. Jist in time fer the holidays, a gift fer the kids.”
“This Kid wants ta read it! Reckon that’s a load off, ay, Ann, gitttin’ that book out inta the world.”
“It is a great to have finally corralled Norman, Kid. But I am working on two more Barn Cat Buttons Series books. Hoping that one of them will be published in 2022.”
“Yahoo! Keep ‘em comin’.”
“Could I guess thet children’s books is yer fav’rite genre ta write?”
“You’d be half right Pal. My favourite genre, of the several that I write in, would be a tie for first place – Cozy Mysteries and the Children’s books. This might give a better insight as to why I write for children.”
“Reckon stories is important fer ever’one. An’ you certainly write fer ever’one.”
“It keeps me busy! I have two more books that will be published in 2022, besides the Barncat Buttons book. One is the second Brandi Westeron Mystery, and the other is a workbook to do with Indi writing.”
“Jeez, Ann. Yer doin’ all thet, an’ yer column at Carrot Ranch, an yer flashes at Carrot Ranch… how do ya do it?”
“I like to write! I think everyone likes to write. They may not admit it, and they may not have a book in them, but perhaps, short versions of prose is the place to start. So I created the Five Word Sentence Challenge that uses one of my photographs as the prompt. It is meant to encourage everyone, not just writers, to interpret the picture. Who knows, it might be the beginning of a next best seller. Each week the challenge is shared to various FB groups, including Carrot Ranchers, as well as through a weekly newsflash I send out on Thursdays with the link. To participate, bookmark the link , sign up to receive the newsflash, or follow me on FB.”
“That sounds like a fun challenge! It’s worth checkin’ out jist fer yer beautiful photography.”
“Thank you Kid. Thank you both for looking out for my wayward characters and for the refreshments.”
“You and yours are welcome at the Saddle Up Saloon any time, Ann. Best a luck with all yer projects.”
“Yep. If folks ain’t poked aroun’ yer website an’ read some a yer books, they’s really missin’ out.”
Ann Edall-Robson relies on her heritage to keep her grounded. Reminders of her family’s roots mentor her to where she needs to go. Gifting her with excerpts of a lifestyle she sees slipping away. Snippets shyly materialize in Ann’s writing and photography. She is a lover of life and all things that make us smile. Edall-Robson shares moments others may never get to experience at HorsesWest, DAKATAMA™ Country, and Ann Edall-Robson where you can also contact her. Books written by Ann Edall-Robson are available through her website, at Amazon, and various other online locations.
If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up to take the stage as a saloon guest, contact them via email@example.com.
In this series-depending on how long it lasts, for life, writing, and so many other things, are quite fleeting-I hope to look at a few classic films, give my take on them, perhaps even say something new that will have significance for today, and, failing that, try like the devil to be entertainingly provocative. I also hope to post a link or two about/to the films I examine, if available, so that they can be enjoyed (or dismissed) with full access.
In this, the eighth in my limited series of film observations, I thought I would give a shout out to one of the more exciting noir themes: the caper. I have to admit that crime does appeal to me, ( I should be very specific here, crime in film), especially in black and white films, especially when great planning is a key ingredient, great planning and human foibles.
Both of my selections this time are excellent films. One, the 1950 thriller, The Asphalt Jungle, was helmed by John Huston, a seasoned pro at the top of his game. The other, the 1956 classic, The Killing, was guided by Stanley Kubrick, close to the beginning of his stellar career.
There of course have been a wealth of caper films but for my money, my hard-earned and never gained by committing a caper money (although, as a teen, I did speculate on crime but that was, thankfully, adolescent bravado), these two films head the list.
I may mention a few of the other interesting caper films along the way just to name drop. We will see.
Caper Noir: The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle has an outstanding opening montage. The look is of a desolate city. Cops are on the prowl. Crime is out of control. Our antihero is on the lam. The city, stark, drab, looking possibly bombed out, is actually Cincinnati. Our ambulatory fellow in flight enters a café with signage: American Food on one outer wall and Home Cooking on the front. The café is next to Pilgrim House (not to be confused with Provincetown’s Pilgrim House which I wasn’t but I had to google it.) We are in an empty heart of America.
Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) is suspected of pulling a ton of lone gunman heists. Moments in, we have no doubt that he is a stick-up artist. And that he has associates. James Whitmore as his food joint restauranteur/buddy, Gus Minissi, is a standout.
We soon learn that Dix is pretty much a hard case gunsel with not much going for him but his toughness.
The conspiracy comes together. There are a range of participants. Among them are the smooth money man, Alonzo D. Emmerich (Louis Calhern), and the brains, the one who has the complex vision and skill, Doc Irwin Riedenschneider, played by Sam Jaffe. Jaffe inhabits the calm and focused skin of Doc Riedenschneider and was the only actor in the film to garner an academy award nomination (best supporting actor) losing to the excellent George Sanders in All About Eve. Coincidentally,Calhern, who plays the desperate crime financier in the Asphalt Jungle was nominated that same year for Best Actor in The Magnificent Yankee, a film about Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
To return briefly to Sam Jaffe, whilst in this film he portrays a brilliantly criminal mastermind with (spoiler alert) devastating carnal tendencies, I best remember him as the High Llama in the classic paradise found and misplaced film version of James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon.
Returning briefly to Doc Riedenschneider’s downfall, the actress who assisted his carnal demise was Helene Stanley who had a varied film and private life, modest in some regards but she was briefly married to Johnny Stompanato and also served as the model for Disney’s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
The Asphalt Jungle is singularly blessed with an early performance by Marilyn Monroe as a femme fatale. She is a thumb sucking fatale of course at this stage of her career but she enlivens the film, gives a sort of boudoir excellence that plays well against the dark, bleak urban setting.
A couple of small asides on two actors who ever so briefly appear in the film early on. The police have picked up Dix on a vagrancy charge and he and two others are in a lineup.
One of the other two felons, William Doldy, is played by an excellent character actor, Strother Martin. It was his second film, and uncredited. Martin would appear in some outstanding films later in life.
In 1969 he was in three of the great westerns, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch, and True Grit. He had a notable role as fraudulent guru in 1966’s Harper, one of two films made from the works of superior mystery writer Ross MacDonald, both starring Paul Newman.
The following year he uttered one of the great cinematic lines as the prison warden in Cool Hand Luke : “What we have here is…. failure to communicate.”
Henry Corden plays Karl Smith, the other man in the lineup. I should note here that the three fellows in the line-up are all different heights. The cops have a witness to what we know is the stick-up Dix has done. The robber was tall. Corden was 6’1”. Martin was 5’ 5”. Hayden was 6’ 41/2” but seemed much taller standing next to Martin who was in the middle of the other two.
Corden was in the early stages of his career and spent much time in television. He gained immortality as he provided the voice of Fred Flintstone, was even doing the voice months before his death at age eighty-five in 2005.
The Asphalt Jungle was based on the W.R. Burnett novel. Burnett authored a host of books, and a number were made into quality films. Little Caesar and one of my favorite films, High Sierra were products of Burnett’s vast talent.
I should also note that there are at least three film adaptations of The Asphalt Jungle. A western, 1958’s The Badlanders, staring Alan Ladd, Cairo, made in 1963 and starring George Sanders, and a blaxpoitation film from 1972, Cool Breeze.
Caper Noir: The Killing
Stanley Kubrick’s, The Killing, is a magnificent piece of work. Also starring the great, gruff, take no prisoners actor, Sterling Hayden, it is another ensemble crime masterpiece that unfolds with alarming alacrity.
In this film, Hayden is the linchpin, the driving force, the organizational big cheese. He is the planner and brooks little disagreement. As you will see, assuming the film is new to you, while he has or forms close relationships with a few of the participants, they are all operating independently. Within that individualistic motif, there are many separate but moving parts. Like a criminal Rube Goldberg machine, Hayden’ s character, Johnny Clay manipulates/buys/shapes his brilliant game of theft.
The femme fatale here is one of the best, Marie Windsor. Her acting is sleasy great.
Most of all, the ensemble company is brilliant, equal in my view to the fine assemblage in The Asphalt Jungle. Two standout performances are rendered by character actors, Jay C. Flippen, and Elisha Cook Jr.
Cook had already made an indelible mark in holiday essaying two powerful role in two iconic films.
In The Maltese Falcon, he played a vicious yet somewhat inept foil for Bogart’s Sam Spade. In Shane, he played the doomed farmer an son of the Confederacy, Stonewall Torrey
Another great character actor was Jay C Flippen. Flippen had a long career in a range of entertainment sectors including being a song smith and sports announcer. In a host of classic post war noir and westerns (especially the films of Jimmy Stewart) he was a standout. He spent much of the last decade of his life in a wealth of television appearances.
As the film unfolds, its documentary quality draws you in. The voice over keeps you and the conspirators on track and on time.
Time is the key.
And so are the players. And they are a collection of misfits. Things quickly start going awry. Each has his own foible and as they unfold, the crime, their crime, falls into disarray. So, a quality about caper films is the rise and fall of the participants.
At one point in the film, we find our selves in a chess, checkers, and scrabble club. The scene was filmed in the iconic New York City location known as the Flea House. This slight but entertaining diversion showcases another of the conspirators: Maurice Oboukhoff, played by Kola Kwariani, also known as Nick the Wrestle who was a habitue of the Flea House
One final character actor to note here (and I am leaving out some other sparking ones) is Timothy Carey. He plays Nikki Arcane, a hired assassin. Carey was a fascinating character in his own right. Feel free to check him out.
Final Thoughts: Each of these excellent films depict a criminal subculture that engages, reveals, and ultimately exposes their (spoiler alert) downfall. Caper films are often exciting and worth a viewer’s time. A couple of other noirish classics I would like to leave you with are Richard Fleischer’s 1950 heist film, Armored Car Robbery, and the somewhat obscure 1958 film, The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, with Steve McQueen in an early role. There are countless others to delve into but these two offer a nice contrast. Fleischer was a master filmmaker and packs some great plot twists and location shots into Armored Car Robbery.
Charles Guggenheim, the producer/co-director of TGSLBR, went on to an excellent career as a documentary filmmaker and was nominated for a dozen Academy Awards for his work winning in two. TGSLBR was based on an actual crime and even utilized some of the same police officers involved. Though an interesting footnote in the caper genre, ultimately it is a lesser albeit curious project.
About The Author
Bill Engleson is a retired social worker, Pickleball aficionado, energetic novelist, poet, humorist, essayist, flash fictionista, an engaged community volunteer, and pro-vaccine fellow and is resident on Denman Island in British Columbia. He has published one noirish social work novel, Like a Child to Home, which received an Honourable Mention at the inaugural 2016 Whistler Independent Book Awards. In 2016, Silver Bow Publishing released his second book, a collection of humorous literary essays entitled
During the pandemic, his poetry appeared in five poetry anthologies, including the recent release of Word Weaving’s syllabic verse, The Moons of Autumn. His entry in the 2021 Owl Canyon Hackathon was published in the anthology, From The Corner of My Eyes.
He has any number of writing projects in the hopper including In 200 Words or Less, a local monthly column in Denman Island’s The Flagstone, Drawn Towards the Sun, a prequel to his first novel, and a detective mystery set in the 1970’s, A Short Rope on a Nasty Night.
“Hey Kid. I see ya got a innerview with Rochelle Wisoff-Fields this week. I ‘member her from our first art show at the Saloon.”
“That’s right Pal, an’ the second art showin’ too. Oh, here she is now. Howdy Rochelle!”
“Hello Kid, hello Pal.”
“Rochelle, many of us know you from yer blog where ya host and write fer Friday Fictioneers. But yer also a visual artist. When did ya first idennify as ‘artist’?”
“Kid, I can’t remember a time I didn’t identify as an artist. You might say I was born with a purple crayon clenched in my fist. Some of my earliest childhood memories include those of my Sunday school classmates fighting over my drawings.
My mother was slightly less enamored with my earliest works, saying she could never find a blank piece of paper because ‘Rochelle scribbled on every sheet.’”
“So which came first, the visual art or the literary art?”
“The visual art. Although, I was quite the daydreamer and would often make up stories in my head. Often, I would illustrate these stories on paper while I was supposed to be paying attention in class. I can’t tell you how many times this got me in trouble with my teachers.”
“I’m wunderin’, d’ya have different muses or inspirations for yer different arts?”
“What a great question. I’ve never really thought about it before. I’d have to say yes. Although my writing muse speaks to me in pictures…more like movies. I see the scenes and hear the characters’ voices.
“My painting muse speaks to me in pictures as well. Surely, I’m not the only one, but there are times we’ll be at a restaurant or at someone’s house for dinner when I look at the glasses and think what a great painting they would make. Recently I was inspired by a ketchup bottle.
The same thing happens with landscapes. Once, while working out on my elliptical trainer I saw an amazing shelf cloud. I had to stop pedaling and snap a picture. What did we do before cell phones that double as cameras?”
“Right? As ya know, Rochelle, we opened up this here Saloon at the beginnin’ a the pandemic, ta give folks a place ta git away an’ ta keep us busy. How was yer arts effected by the pandemic?”
“During the first few months of lockdown I finished a novel I’d been dragging my heels on. After I delivered the manuscript and book proposal to my agent, I dove headfirst into my watercolors.”
“So were ya more productive when staying at home during Covid, or less productive?
“One of my bloggers nailed me when he accused me of being a social media extrovert and a real-life introvert. So I really wasn’t scratching at the door begging to go out. Save for swimming. I hated the pool being closed. Anyway, back to the actual question. Was I more or less productive? When I say I threw myself into it it’s no exaggeration. There were advantages in having fewer distractions. Between painting whatever I wanted and the commissions that came in, I counted at least forty-two paintings by the end of 2020.”
“Thet seems like a lot ta me!”
“Rochelle, tell about the virtual art fairs that you took part in.”
“As for the virtual art fairs, we artists made a concerted effort setting up Zoom meetings and virtual booths. We had a great time getting to know each other, however, at the end of the day, the fairs were disappointing in the sales department.”
“What hepped ya the most through that time?
“Painting was the main thing. I threw myself into my art.
Online connections like Friday Fictioneers, the blog challenge I facilitate. We have a supportive international community.
I lost count of how many shows I binge-watched while working out on my elliptical trainer. I watched the news as little as possible. Just enough to know what was going on.
Walking around the neighborhood. I live in the perfect area for that. I might know every inch within a three-mile radius.”
“What’s a book that you think more people should read?”
“Why my books of course. Wink wink. I actually don’t have a good answer.”
“Well, I read yer trilogy an’ sure think others would also enjoy the characters an’ story.”
“Is there a visual artist or a particular painting that has influenced or inspired you Rochelle?”
“Garth Williams who illustrated the Little House books.”
“Oh yeah. The Little House books and Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, among others.”
“Yes. I emulated him when I was a youngster. Norman Rockwell has always been my hero. Mary Cassatt’s mother and child paintings speak to me. At the same time, I love the drama of Van Gogh’s works. I’m a fan of impressionists such as Claude Monet. I’d have to say all of the above have influenced my current work.”
“What’s the best advice you ever got?”
“It didn’t come directly to me but through a monologue of a rabbi/singer Danny Maseng. His grandfather told him, ‘Be true to your gift. Don’t waste time.’ My advice is, Keep pursuing your dreams. You’re never too old.”
“Thank you for this innerview Rochelle.”
“Thank you Kid and Pal.”
“Pal, I thought the Author’s Chair feature weren’t till October.”
“Yep, hopin’ ta git someone ta read on October 11th. This here’s like a pilot.”
“Well, I’m sure it’ll take off. Okay, so we won’t have much of a role ‘cept ta innerduce, somethin’ like:
Howdy, D. Avery. Welcome ta the Author’s Chair.”
“Hello Kid. Pal. Thank you for trying this out with me.”
“What did ya bring ta read t’day?”
“I want to share something you haven’t seen but that was prompted through the weekly challenges. You might recognize Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto, from responses to earlier Carrot Ranch prompts. This following one I wrote for the recent “Big Black Horse” prompt:
They were the size of moose. Slany called those animals horses. He laughed when I asked if they tasted like deer.
I remember a black one I saw, bigger and more muscled than other horses I’d seen. Its hide was dark and shiny. The hair on its neck was long, straight and black, like mine.
Like all English, the man astride this horse’s back was small and dirty. But that great animal, solid and silent, did his bidding.
‘Come,’ Swany clucked, and I followed him along the crowded street to Cornhill while people gawked and stared up at me.
Okay. I’m ready for questions and comments. But first I want to remind you what Charli said in her September 23rd post:
We want to encourage reader interaction and invite the community to ask questions of the featured author. A week after posting, we will randomly draw a name from those who asked questions to offer a free book from the Carrot Ranch Community.
For this trial run we are offering Chicken Shift to the lucky winner.
So ask your questions about my “Reined In”— I have lots to say about this!
And consider signing up to take a seat and read to us from your own writing. I look forward to hearing many voices from the Author’s Chair here at the Saloon.
D. Avery is the author of two books of poetry and one of flash fiction, with a growing number of published pieces in print, e-magazines, and anthologies. D.’s writings can be sampled at ShiftnShake. When not writing, D. is in the woods or on the water catching stories.
View: Amazon author page