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Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2007.
the world again
june 1, 2007
We were told a storm was coming, but we went about our daily activities without paying attention to the windows.
It was a Sunday.
All week long we record the TV shows we want to watch. Law and Order: Criminal Intent, This American Life, Iron Chef America, The Office, American Idol, all the rest, then watch them in bed in a ten hour marathon starting Saturday morning, stopping halfway through to make lunch, usually either a club sandwich, or a steak and pepper sandwich, my own proud creation, the recipe for which is here. After our marathon, we go upstairs, work on our projects.
Sundays, we watch all the movies we've rented during the week from Netflix, five films. Halfway through we have breakfast, something like Eggs Benedict, or pork chops and eggs. A meal where you need a lot of white plates, and there's buttered toast, eggs, meat, cottage fries or hash browns, orange juice, coffee, chopped-up melons orange or green, or strawberries.
This particular Sunday, we had just finished our fourth film, chicken thighs baking in the oven, draped with Campbell's Chicken and Mushroom Cream Sauce soup, a humble meal but surprisingly good, when the rain started.
A hard rain, round treetops in our backyard whipping, left, right, much as poor Paris Hilton's head did, after she found out she was subject to the same laws as the rest of us.
Triangular rain drops hung off our outside telephone line, like transparent teeth.
On the narrow road behind our backyard, high up in the telephone poles, as the wind and rain increased in fury, we heard a very loud Pop!, the transformer exploding.
Downward waterfall of orange and yellow sparks.
Our electricity went out.
Dimness instead of darkness, because it was still early evening.
We have a gas stove, so we could continue with dinner, but no TV or pc.
We looked up at our tall bedroom ceiling, aware of a pervasive silence.
In Texas, that's the worse part of losing power. No air conditioning.
It immediately got humid.
We had a lot of frozen meat in our freezers, so we didn't want to open them. If power goes out, meat can stay frozen in a freezer, cream, milk and eggs still fresh in a refrigerator, for quite a few hours, if you resist the temptation to open the doors.
We found flashlights and candles. Our immediate task was to finish making our meal, eating it, before the dying light of day left.
We steamed some rice pilaf, got the thighs out of the oven, tossed a salad as the light faded.
By the time we finished eating, and it was delicious, it was getting dark, even though it was only seven in the evening.
We set up the flashlights on our breakfast nook table, raised all the mini blinds to gain as much lowering outside light as we could, and played Monopoly.
As usual, Mary won, the top blue edges of Boardwalk and Park Place neatly tucked under her side of the board.
We switched to cards. Go Fish.
"Do you have any tens?"
Mary won that too.
We planned on watching The Sopranos at eight, but the power was still out. I had called TXU, our electric company, earlier, to report the outage, but you weren't able to speak to anyone. All you could do was press buttons on your telephone, like a monkey being tested by scientists with clipboards. There was an option to find out when power in your area was likely to be restored. I pressed the appropriate button on our phone. "Please hold." I held, sitting in darkness, as if posing for a moody photograph of Ralph Robert Moore. A minute and a couple of clickings later, "TXU is not able to determine at this time when power will be restored to your area."
We fell asleep about nine.
I woke up at eleven, lying in bed, in the humid darkness, sheets kicked off. A moment later, the phone rang.
I made my way, hunchbacked, fingers out, past the bottom of our bed, to the writing table by the bay window of our bedroom.
It was our next door neighbor, Peggy.
She wanted to know if our power was still out.
Apparently, from her, most of the homes on our curved street had had their power restored, except for us, Jim and Peggy, and the couple on our other side.
"Yeah. It's still out here."
I got back in bed, tried to find a comfortable position where I didn't feel too sticky, spreading my arms and legs apart like the chalk outline at a crime scene.
Woke up, lights suddenly on, hum of the air conditioning starting up, TV screen buzzing with a blue screen.
I wandered upstairs, past the meowing cats, made sure both our computers were okay, checked the food in the fridge, still cold to my fingertips. Programmed our DVR to record the west coast feed of The Sopranos, about to start in four minutes.
This is, of course, the final season for The Sopranos.
**Spoilers Ahead for the First Seven Episodes. No Spoilers for the Remaining Two Episodes.**
I loved the first episode of the season. Tony and Carmella go north to spend the weekend with Janice, Tony's sister, and her husband Bobby. Tony indicates to Bobby, while the two of them are out in the middle of the lake behind Bobby and Janice's vacation home, that Tony may ask Bobby to become more involved in the mob operations, and potentially succeed Tony, because the man Tony originally chose as his successor (Christopher, his cousin, who has had repeated addiction problems), is not reliable.
These first few episodes deal with Tony's relationship to the different men in his life. Episode one explores his relationship with Bobby; episode two with Christopher; episode three with Pauly; and episode four with Hesch (Tony apparently arranges to have Hesch's girlfriend killed after Hesch gets a little too demanding about Tony repaying the two hundred thousand Tony borrowed from Hesch for gambling debts).
This season, Christopher has finished his 'Godfather Meets Saw' horror film, Cleaver. Christopher wants to work in Hollywood, a sub theme that has been consistent throughout the series.
The huge irony of this final season, which apparently all commentators have missed (at least the ones I've read, and I've read a few), is that it's Carmella who brings about Christopher's downfall.
Christopher bases the mob boss in Cleaver on Tony. A bathrobe-wearing heavyset guy who barks out orders. He does it out of true love for Tony. His portrayal is a tribute to Tony.
At the premiere of the movie, Tony recognizes himself in the main character, and is flattered.
Carmella, however, is offended because the movie suggests the main character, modeled on Tony, slept with Christopher's fiancÚ, Adrianna. She tells her husband, "It's a revenge fantasy, Tony! Which ends with the boss' head split open by a meat cleaver!" Later, she berates Christopher for putting that message in his movie.
Much like Greek tragedy, where one tiny mistake turns fatal, Christopher orders the screenwriter, J.T., to come up with a plausible story that will convince Tony the main character isn't based on him.
J.T. "casually" tells Tony at the Bada Bing that the main character is based on an old movie, Born Yesterday, starring Broderick Crawford, who wears a bathrobe in several scenes.
But Tony sees through the fakery of J.T.'s comment, which convinces him that Christopher did indeed play out a revenge fantasy against Tony in the movie, causing him to conclude that Christopher hates him.
In the episodes following that fatal misunderstanding, Tony gives various friends of his Cleaver hats, but no Cleaver DVDs. When his friends ask why Tony hasn't given them a DVD of the movie, Tony comes up with a lame excuse. The truth is, Tony won't pass out the DVD because he believes, wrongly, thanks to Carmella's interference, that the movie mocks him.
This tragic misunderstanding leads to the fifth episode, where Tony kills Christopher following an accident.
If Carmella knew Tony better, or kept her mouth shut, Christopher would still be alive.
Christopher's murder by Tony, Tony leaning into the driver's side of the car, shutting off Christopher's breath, is the episode we watched Monday morning, after recording it late Sunday night from the west coast feed.
The most recent episode, as of this writing, is The Second Coming.
In it, rival mob bosses Tony and Phil square off over what percentage of profit each will receive for Tony's asbestos removal work, then, more significantly, over Tony's vicious beating of one of Phil's men, who made suggestive remarks to Tony's daughter, Meadow, at a restaurant. (As is typical for the series, there's a great deal of subtlety attached to how the incident in the restaurant resonates. Coco, Phil's man, wanders over drunkenly to the table where Meadow and her boyfriend, Patrick, are eating. Coco is mad at Tony because Tony has cut off his "no show" income from a union job because of Phil's squabbling over the asbestos deal. Coco decides to vent his anger at Meadow, a less scary substitute for Tony. He makes a mild sexual comment about Patrick tucking Meadow in at night, but then follows it up with a far more explicit sexual comment, noting Meadow has cream on her lips, and that he'd like to put some cream on her lips as well. When Meadow retells this account to Tony, she doesn't mention this blowjob reference (perhaps out of embarrassment, talking to her dad), and instead twists the story slightly to say that Coco said he, Coco, would like to tuck Meadow in.)
The episode ends with Tony and Little Carmine showing up at Phil's house to broker a peace, but Phil decides he won't see them.
The direction here, by Tim Van Patten, who has directed quite a few of The Sopranos episodes, is brilliant.
The camera pans up to show the jutting fašade of Phil's house. We see a turret-type third floor, hear Phil's insults emanating from the turret, but can't see him. He's much like a king in his castle, all-powerful, but the shot simultaneously evokes, because the speaker is unseen, the powerless wizard in The Wizard of Oz.
A brilliant shot that showcases the ambiguity at the heart of the show.
**End of Spoilers**
Right now, The Sopranos is our favorite show. We really want to see how David Chase ends it (at the time of this writing, there are only two episodes left, then Poof!)
Two other shows we've really gotten into, much to our surprise, are The Amazing Race, and World Series of Blackjack.
Both are on the Game Show Network, really late at night.
We DVR them.
The Amazing Race follows twelve couples as they race around the world, plane, train, bus, taxi and rickshaw, performing different tasks, hoping to burst through the finish line and win one million dollars. "Couples" is defined loosely. They could be a married couple, engaged pair, parent and son, two siblings, two friends. Interestingly, each season would usually feature at least one pair of gays, but in the early seasons, they'd be identified as "close friends". Now, however, they're simply referred to as "the gay couple."
Each show starts with a map of the world. Whenever I see a globe or a stretch-out map of the world, I always feel such overwhelming affection for the contours of the continents, their reassuringly familiar shapes. How South America could easily spoon into the western coast of Africa, and once did. It's like looking at my mother's face.
World Series of Blackjack pits six players against each other each week. Each brings one hundred thousand dollars to the table. I don't know why, but I find this show absolutely fascinating.
Talking about water, we had a leak we needed repaired.
It's our outside faucet, the spigot we screw a hose end up into, to water in back.
The dribble from the spigot had thickened until it became a steady flow.
I went into our files, called a plumbing company we had done business with in the past, felt good about.
They could send someone out that same day, in the afternoon.
The guy who ding-donged our doorbell several hours later was short, husky, with a red crew cut.
All these strangers we let into our home.
I took him out through the kitchen back door into our garden, showed him the flowing drip.
He got down on his knees for a minute in the heat, came back inside, sat at our breakfast nook table, flipped through a thick loose leaf notebook of pricings, told us the job would cost $245.
For weeks and weeks we had been hearing the steady vibration of pipes in our ceiling, so even though I thought the quote was high (all he needed to do was turn off the water, unscrew the spigot, replace the washer), I accepted the quote.
It took him about ten minutes.
No more pipe sound in the ceilings, no more thick dribble outside.
As he wrote up the bill at our breakfast nook table, he told me Elvis was at his friend's wedding last weekend.
Sitting across from him at the black table, I raised my eyebrows. "He still gets a lot of imitators."
"I drank so much I slept straight through the next day, Monday. Didn't wake up until Tuesday. Piece of advice? Don't crank down on the faucet." He grinned under his red crew cut. "Everybody does it, it's human nature, but that destroys the washer."
"I was on TV."
"Yeah, it was a home fix-it show." He named the show, which I recognized, but in the intervening time I've forgotten which one it was (there are so many now). "I was on the work site for a week, and occasionally they'd film me, doing each step in a process."
"Did they tell you what to say?"
"No, the only stipulation was that we all had to use brand new tools only, not the tools we normally use. They wanted it all bright and shiny, for TV."
He passed the bill over to me. I pulled out our checkbook. "Did you get paid extra, being on TV?"
"No sir, I didn't. We billed the lady $20,000 for all the work we did, though."
At the front door, I asked him if he had a copy of the show on videotape. It was just something to say before saying goodbye.
"I had it on videotape, but maybe my ex-wife, who got everything, threw it out."
Turns out, his wife shacked up with a new guy. Dumped this short, stocky guy with a red crew cut.
"Here I am, working all day, bringing home a salary. There she is, back at home, getting it on with this guy."
"That's a shame."
"I don't pay any child support. I refuse to. Because I know they'll spend the money on themselves, not my two daughters. I told her, I'll buy actual things my daughters need. But I'm not giving you any money for you and your new boyfriend."
They broke up a few weeks ago.
He was at the end of the walk from our front door, next to the driveway.
I realized I was in one of those casual, last minute conversations that seem repeatedly like they're about to end, but then drag on another minute, with each new reply.
I stepped back inside our home. "Good luck to you."
"I haven't gotten too much luck lately."
"Well, I hope that changes." I closed our front door, shutting out the world again.