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I’m In The Money

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So I grew up in New England, and we tend not to talk about money all that much.  Especially if we’re having money difficulty; we go all stoic and stiff-upper-lip and try to “make do and mend”, resorting to repairing things that break instead of buying new or waiting for sales or reverse-engineering our own solutions.  Or just going without.  This is the kind of approach that can be carried too far, of course – there have been times that I have been almost pathologically afraid to spend money on myself.  Also, all the frugality in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re just plain not making enough money to begin with.

That latter state was my lot for the past couple years.  But – the new job has fixed that, and then some.  And it’s taken a couple weeks to sink in, but….I’m starting to get into it.

Now, I’m not going totally bugnuts, buying up entire racks of shoes or renting a yacht to go to Martha’s Vineyard just for lunch or anything like that. I’ve maybe spent more than I should on books, but the bulk of the money I got from my first paycheck went either to paying down some debt, starting a nest egg, or finally getting some long-needed house stuff. (Hellooooooooo, replacement window blinds! Welcome, stash of bulbs! Hi there, no-longer-threadbare pillowcases!)

When it comes to things I’ve been buying sheerly for pleasure, they’ve actually been comparatively modest: a couple yards of fabric to go towards a quilt I’ve been working on (yes, I’m making an actual quilt), a couple pounds of candle wax to round out the candlemaking stash Niki gave me (rather than buying the actual pre-made candles, which was getting costly), or a couple of utterly gorgeous French cookbooks (I make no excuse because I don’t need one dammit).  Or going to the occasional movie.  Or just going out for ice cream or dinner or lunch.

Or actually paying people back.  The thing that saddened me most about being so cash-poor for so long is that my friends have had to cover me more times than not – never anything big, just a couple extra bucks here, an extra five there, whenever we went out.  Or even the convenience move – if a group of us were gathering for a movie run, it would always be someone else who’d say “I’ll pick up the tickets and y’all can just owe me.”  It would always be someone else saying “what the hell, I can put dinner on my card and y’all can just owe me the cash.”  We usually settled up, I told myself, but it would always be someone else making that initial convenience step.

Tonight I am seeing a movie with a few friends; we were planning our attack this morning, and in the middle of the discussion I popped over to the movie theater site and just got our three tickets without even thinking.  “I got our tickets,” I emailed back, “so we can all just meet there.”

“Oh, great! Thanks!”

And the feeling I get simply because I am able to do that – and may even be able to cover them for a car to get them home after – is a feeling that I have been missing for a long time.

Movie Crash Course: The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)

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This is a strangely, simply affecting fairy tale of a piece, about an elderly hotel doorman who loses his job.

No, that’s literally the entire plot.  Save for an epilogue which is so tacked-on that even the filmmaker confesses he threw it in at the last minute.

We never learn the name of our hero, a big Santa of a man; we never even hear him “speak”, there are no subtitles or intertitles in this simple film.  But his pride in his work is obvious – as he scurries hither and thither attending to his guests, he finds time to tend to his appearance, smoothing down his moustache and polishing off his uniform.

And he does look quite dapper. His uniform gives him an air of respectability in the little alley where he lives – when he heads home after work, the neighbors all greet him, children stop to watch him pass, ladies beating out their carpets stop so as not to sully his uniform. He is the unofficial mayor of his street.

He lives in a small apartment with a young woman – the film isn’t clear whether she is a daughter or a niece – who is preparing to marry a young man from elsewhere in their building. He takes such pride in his work, though, that he skips her actual wedding, promising that he will be at the reception afterward.

But that day, when he arrives at work, another man is minding the door. He is summoned to the hotel manager’s office and informed that because of his old age, he is being demoted – from now on he will serve as the washroom attendant.  It’s clear he sees it as an enormous blow.

His day as washroom attendant is demeaning drudgery.  But one of the real bummers is that he has to give up his magnificent doorman’s uniform – and he is so disturbed at this detail that he breaks back into the hotel after hours and steals it back, donning it to wear to his niece’s wedding reception.

He dresses back up in it as he leaves for work the next day, secretly changing in a nearby train station and leaving it in one of the station lockers before resuming his real drudgery.

But a neighbor has the idea to bring him some lunch that day, and discovers the truth of his new position.  By the time he heads for home – having retrieved the uniform and changed back into it – the news has spread through his alley, and his neighbors are all laughing at him.  His niece is crushed, his niece’s new husband worried that he’s demented. In despair, he flees back to the hotel, where the night watchman catches him in the act of returning the doorman’s uniform.  The night watchman takes pity and lets him go – but instead of returning home, our hero heads for the mens’ room, resigned to his fate. He eats a simple bowl of soup and then despondently tries to fall asleep right there, because what’s the point. The night watchman discovers him asleep there, and tenderly covers him with his coat.  The end.

But not so fast!

Here the filmmaker admits to taking an improbable turn into fairy tale, in one of the only intertitles in the entire piece.

Immediately following this notice, we are first treated to a series of hotel guests marvelling over an astonishing news piece about an eccentric millionaire who has just died. His will stated that his entire fortune would be left to the person in whose arms he happened to die – and by a stroke of luck, that person was the hero of our story.  And then the last several minutes of the film are a bunch of sheer wish fulfillment, as our hero, jolly once again, treats himself to an enormous meal and basks in the attention of the hotel waiters and footmen; as for the night watchman, he’s our hero’s guest.

Our hero even excuses himself to the restroom, and makes sure he gives the rabbitty little man working the washroom now an enormous tip.  He and the night watchman finally exit to a cab – a team of fawning hotel attendants following them – and ride into the sunset.

It wasn’t until writing this piece that I made the surprising discovery that this film had the same director as NosferatuThe tone of each film is enormously different.  Although, in retrospect, both films did rely more on actors’ facial expressions and gestures than on language; the actors in The Last Laugh are fantastically expressive, and I was easily able to follow the action.

I’m not sure how I feel about that epilogue, though.  It is right on the edge of feeling a little too fantastical; but, on the other hand, it’s really cheering to see our lead looking so happy again.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Summer Is Launched!

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Okay. We all know that summer technically doesn’t begin until late June.  But for most of us, it is unofficially in the national consciousness that “summer” begins on Memorial Day.  And I did have some good news to launch my summer into a good start (I’ll be able to share later), so I’m already in that mindset.  I’m still not going to be able to do much travel (and the news will explain why, I swear I’ll explain, please be patient), so I’m in a “playtime” mindset already.

And that brings in my friends Colin and Niki.  Or, rather, it brings in a habit the three of us have.  They travel a lot – they’re both freelancers, and Colin’s work in particular calls for a lot of travel – and they own a couple of rental properties so they can move around a bit.  And – they also own a car, which they are not always able to take with them – which means that it is in danger of being ticketed or towed if it isn’t occasionally moved to satisfy New York’s parking rules.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had quite so much of a chance to travel like they do (we will set aside my jealousy for the moment).  But – my being stuck at home means I am the perfect car-sitter.  So for the past few years, they have dropped off their car with me before they take off, and I can use it for whatever I like while they are in Honduras or Costa Rica or Newfoundland.  I’ve brought myself upstate for weekend trips, made big-ass Salvation Army or Ikea hauls, and have even used it for the journey home for Christmas when I had an assload of presents and the idea of wrestling things into a train gave me hives.  And except for one unfortunate evening where I had to visit an impound lot (i swear i thought i was outside the bus stop zone i’m still sorry guys) it’s worked well.

This summer, they told me they’re going to Montana and Colorado. But – they’re taking the car with them.  However, Niki had another idea to soften the blow – was I interested in borrowing her sewing machine?  And Niki used to make candles, but didn’t do it so much, and I’d been saying I’d be interested in taking anything she didn’t use, how about I do that too?

And thus, Niki and I spent an afternoon sitting on a floor as I sniffed my way through the contents of three enormous tubs full of essential oils (Niki had them by the quart, people) and made my various requests and she gave me a super-quick candlemaking 101 as she doled out bunches of wicks into different baggies.  Then she showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and we crammed everything into four bags and boxes and she called me an Uber to get it all home.

I’m going to have a tiny bit of a financial windfall soon (again, I promise, the news will epxlain it) and I’m already looking into ways to snazz up my bedroom a bit for summer. Still on a bit of a budget, though.  However – I’ve already found something from my summer bucket list – a shibori dye class in a couple weeks – and had to get something to be dyed in the class, and went with a couple of pillow cases.  But now that there’s the sewing machine, I’m thinking of just making way more cushion covers and pillow covers and just piling my bed with them.   And I just found a decent source of soy wax, and Niki sent me home with 3 boxes of containers for candles, and long story short, I’m already getting going on what is shaping up to be A Summer Of Making Shit.

Movie Crash Course – Our Hospitality

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My word this was fun.

Set in the early 1800s, Our Hospitality is an early Buster Keaton film, taking the story of the Hatfields and McCoys and playing it for laughs.  Keaton plays “Willie McKay,” the only surviving son left in the McKay family.  When he was just a tot, his father died in a mutually-fatal shootout with one of the patriarchs of the Canfield family; his mother fled with him to her sisters’ place in New York City, hoping to save him from meeting the same fate at the hands of the surviving Canfields.  But twenty years later, an estate lawyer tracks him down and informs him he is the sole heir to his father’s estate, urging him to take ownership.

He excitedly runs home to pack, but his aunt warns him of the feud. No matter – he’s determined to go, picturing a grand mansion waiting for him to move in. On the train to the mansion, Willie gets quite cozy with Virginia, a young lady headed to the same Blue Ridge Mountains town as he is.  It’s something of a bumpy ride, and they’ve bonded by the time they arrive in town.

But in the rush of arrival, they lose each other in the crowd; Virginia is too excited to see her family again anyway. And who’d have thought – her family name is “Canfield”.  Papa Canfield, along with one of her brothers, whisks her home, while the second brother lingers in town long enough for Willie to ask him directions to the McKay estate.  Brother Canfield offers to show him the way, seeing the perfect chance for a revenge killing of Willie – except, he’s unarmed.  He stops them at each of the first two houses they pass, excusing himself and running inside to beg at each residence for the loan of a pistol. But no one he asks is armed; and by the third house he stops at, Willie has decided to strike off on his own anyway.  He arrives at the house and soon discovers it’s a ruined cabin, and dejectedly turns back for town.

But on the way, he passes by the Canfield’s house, where Viriginia is strolling in the yard, and Willie takes the opportunity to reconnect.

A delighted Virginia invites him to dinner that evening, and an equally-delighted Willie accepts. The rest of the family is initually just as delighted that Virginia has met a charming fellow and look forward to meeting him at dinner – but are stunned to see that it’s Willie.  The Canfield sons scurry for the gun cabinet, but Papa Canfield stops them – it would be a violation of their code of hospitality to kill him while he is a guest in their home.  (And besides, the Parson is also due for dinner as well.)  He makes them all promise to be perfectly fine to Willie during dinner, but the second he leaves the house, he’s done for.  Willie, meanwhile, has consulted with the family butler and learned whose house he is in.  By the time all assemble for supper, things are a little….tense.  And almost as soon as they are done, Papa Canfield all but strongarms Willie to the door, telling him through a grit-teeth smile that he must come back again some time.

Willie dawdles as long as he can – “losing” a hat, “forgetting” an umbrella – and the Parson finally decides to take his leave first. But a storm has come up outside, and Papa Canfield declares that it’s not a fit night for anyone to travel and invites the Parson to stay with them for the night.  As Virginia shows the Parson upstairs, Willie follows, inviting himself to stay as well.

Willie is still lingering in the house the next day, knowing he’s done for if he leaves.  Fortunately this gives him a chance to sweet-talk Virginia more.

But Papa Canfield finally takes her aside and tells her who Willie is. The initial shock causes her to reject Willie, and he starts to leave, dejectedly – then realizes one of the Canfield boys is laying in wait outside.  So he takes a somewhat desperate measure.

The Canfields figure things out soon enough, though, and the last act of the film is a zany chase scene, with Willie leading the Canfields on a madcap chase as he tries to escape on horseback, by train, and then a raft down river. Virginia, who has by now regret spurning him, sees him struggling with his raft and sets out to rescue him in a rowboat – but she too founders, and soon both are in danger of being swept over a waterfall.

But Willie manages to acrobatically save Virginia, and they clamber ashore just as the Parson is passing by.  The rest of the Canfields arrive back home just in time to find the Parson wrapping up a spontaneous wedding service marrying the pair.  The brothers rush to the pistol cabinet to find it empty, and Virginia tearily turns to Papa Canfield, asking him to accept Willie.  Papa finally relents, urging his sons to disarm themselves.  And – when they do, Willie does as well, returning all the Canfield guns he’d taken and hidden in his coat.

My words do not do this justice.  I repeatedly laughed out loud watching this – there were moments that were straight out of Warner Brothers cartoons. Keaton’s performance only underscores the comedy; any kind of wide-eyed mugging in the midst of the slapstick would be overkill, but Keaton’s famous deadpan face is the perfect foil for the action. There is a take he does to the camera when he realizes he’s about to be pulled off a cliff that had me howling.

Movie Crash Course – Foolish Wives

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With 1922’s Foolish Wives, we also have our first meeting with a larger-than-life filmmaker – Erich von Stroheim, the son of an Austrian Jewish hatmaker who emigrated to the United States at the age of 24 and claimed to be an Austrian count.  He found his way west to Hollywood, and after an unofficial apprenticeship to D.W. Griffith (he was one of several assistant directors on Intolerance), and after appearing in some World War I-era films as the German villains, he struck out on his own, making and starring in his own work.

His lead role in Foolish Wives is a bit of a wink to his past.  He plays “Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin”, one of a trio of Russian con artists trying to live high on the hog in Monte Carlo between the wars; it’s never established whether he really is a Count, but since his “cousins”, a pair of women on the run from Moscow, certainly aren’t royalty, it’s safe to assume he isn’t either. But they have much of the glitterati fooled, thanks to criminal instincts, a stylish home, and regular visits to a local forger to purchase fake bank notes.

But the Count’s real M.O. is seduction – winning over wealthy women and swindling them out of money.  Their maid, Marushka, is already wrapped around his finger, and throughout the film reminds the Count of his promise that one day they would marry.

However, since she only has a few grand, he has bigger fish to fry. Like, say, the wife of the newest American envoy to the city.

Helen and Andrew Hughes arrive in Monte Carlo amid much pomp and circumstance, and the Count quickly notices that Andrew is a bit older and stodgier than his wife – and both are clearly rich. He gallantly offers Helen his acquaintance so that she has someone to hang out with on the dull days when her husband has diplomatic duties, and Helen readily accepts, soon spending more time with the Count and his “cousins” than she does with Andrew.

On one notable outing, Helen joins the Count and his “Cousin Olga” on a day trip to a small nearby town. While Olga relaxes at an inn, the Count and Helen rent a rowboat to do some exploring.  The Count seems strangely unconcerned about an impending storm, and when it finally strikes, he seems unusually certain that they’ll be able to find shelter in one of the local neighbors’ cottages for the night.  (This isn’t the first time the Count has done this, mind you.)  At first all does seem to be going to plan – they “discover” the peasant woman’s cottage, and she sets up a bed for Helen and relegates the Count to an easy chair – but when both women have fallen asleep, the Count tries making a move – only to be interrupted by a traveling monk who is genuinely lost and in need of shelter.

The party returns to the city the next day; Helen’s husband is unsuspecting, as Olga has sent the message along that all three stayed at the inn for the night.  The Count renews his efforts to win over Helen, further discomfiting Marushka.  The Count is even working on a third conquest – the daughter of their forger, a developmentally disabled girl who is awed by the Count.  It’s clear that the Count sees her as just a bit of skirt on the side, though.

Finally, The Count makes a plan to corner Helen during a society ball, whisk her to another room for an intimate dinner and put the moves on her there.  If she gives in, he’ll have made his score – if she resists, she can be blackmailed for being alone with him.  Luckily for the Count, it seems Helen is on the verge of giving in – but then Marushka, driven mad by jealousy, snaps and starts a fire in the tower where the Count and Helen are meeting.  The Count is so panicked at his plans gone awry that when the firemen come to rescue them from the balcony where they are cowering from the flames, he shoves Helen out of the way and jumps to safety first – a fact which Helen notices in the midst of her own panic. She is rescued soon after, though, and whisked off to safety by Alfred.

Things unravel quickly after that – the police soon catch the Count’s “Cousins”, fingering them as a pair of escaped convicts from Moscow.  Marushka has drowned herself from grief after setting the fire. Helen is being tended to by Alfred.  The Count still figures that well, at least he can try getting some other action, and goes after the forger’s daughter, climbing through her bedroom window – but the forger hears him, kills him, and dumps his body down the sewer.  And thus endeth the Count, and pretty much the movie with him.

The plot felt a bit…slim, and I actually found myself nodding off a few times while watching. But the original run time Von Stroheim had in mind would have been absolutely interminable – he originally wanted the film to run a full six hours.  The studio said no, however; especially after seeing the bill for the shots that von Stroheim was doing – using real caviar in meal scenes, taking copious takes of each scene for “safety”….instead of six hours, the film clocks in at a bit more respectable two hours and change.

There is one scene I quite liked, though.  The first time the Count meets Helen is on a hotel balcony; she’s just seen Alfred off with the Prince of Monaco, and has settled in with a book.

The Count follows her, and for the next five minutes proceeds to go to progressively greater lengths to catch her attention – edging closer and closer in his seat, paying a messenger boy to page him “and the louder the better”, and such. But Helen seems to find it ridiculous, pausing each time only to give him a cocked-eyebrow glance before returning to her work. Finally  the Count gives up and just asks someone to introduce him to Helen.

I admit I was a little disappointed to see how easily Helen fell for his antics after they were introduced.

Movie Crash Course – Intermission

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So I suppose it had to happen sooner or later – I’ve found a dud movie.

Next up has been Fritz Lang’s first film, a two-part serial – and I’m sorry, y’all.  I have been trying to watch this thing for about two weeks now, and I keep getting about a half hour into it before I literally start falling asleep.  Which is crazy because it’s a very similar plot to Les Vampires, which was even longer – but where Les Vampires managed to keep all the myriad hijinks together and be all fun, with this, all the myriad elements just are confusing and feel irrelevant and it’s just dragging.

It looks great, to be fair. There are well-framed shots and there’s a hell of a cool-looking casino some of the characters go to at one point. But….I honestly am not caring about anything that happens in this film.

I’m almost done with the second movie in this two-part set, though, so hopefully this weekend.