Regathering of the clan

Donna told me to eat a hearty breakfast. The previous party had not involved food. Ellis was celebrating the fact that he was two. Donna was moving from the house which had been home to her for almost sixty years. One accumulates a lot in that time, and one adheres to such a house not with memories of velcro, easily unsnapped, but with those labels that one can scrub at for hours and never entirely remove.

I played at being navigator, watching the route on my phone and telling her when a turn was near, and whether to go left or right. This went on for at least an hour and a half, but rides with Donna never seem long. I’ve known her longer than anyone still alive. There is always much to communicate, even in our silences.

The house in Plainfield (curious choice of name – boastful modesty on the part of city founders?) is all on one level, but large enough that Donna, her daughter, and son-in-law will not be tripping over each other. The back vista, beyond the stone patio and a dark barked birch, is a rolling, green expanse, and I envy her the ample bath and roomy walk-in closet. My college dorm room was not so spacious.

From Plainfield, we drove to Casa Ellis in Naperville. The yard was festooned with balloons and streamers. On the back fence hung, oh, about 100 pictures of Ellis. Such historical documentation cries out for a biographer. At the very least, Ellis needs a ghost writer for his memoir.

The honoree was much in evidence. Disdaining the door to his playhouse, he entered, repeatedly, by dumping himself head first through the window. Blonde, blue eyed and gleeful, if he were any cuter, they’d have to shoot him.

Supporting players milled about on the lawn, friends, relatives, and acquaintances, most of whom I hadn’t seen in almost two years. I said, “Hello,” to Uncle Al who was engrossed in trying to untangle a long string of silver stars. I greeted many others but kept my eyes on Ellis. After so long apart, I’d be a stranger but didn’t want to remain so. Why else would I have worn my dinosaur t-shirt?

I might as well have worn camouflage for all the good that was doing. Ellis was rolling around on the grass with Grandpa Dan, Who was also hoisting him in the air, holding him upside down, whirling him around, and giving him horsey rides. A tough act to follow, especially for someone with a bad back.

I settled on a strategy. My snack plate was full of fruit. I waggled a blueberry at Ellis and caught his attention. He approached, and we commenced to barter. I gave him berries and he repaid me with pieces of pink chalk. This was going well until I glimpsed a furtive figure creeping toward us, extending a plate overflowing with blueberries to lure Ellis away. Grandpa Dan again. Ye gods! Oh well, every boy should have a doting grampa.

Later, when the scores of presents were torn open, I did win major points with one of my gifts, a box of doughnuts. Ellis eagerly proceeded to consume (and wear) a large strawberry pastry. To my surprise, many of the other gifts were related to kitchen chores and housecleaning. Ellis took a particular shine to a toy mop with which he went around dusting our chairs.

When it was time to leave, I said “Goodbye,” to Uncle Al, still struggling to undo the gordian knot of silver stars. I’m sure it beats making small talk.

Back at Plainfield, Dan whipped up a savory mixed grill, while I basked in the charms of my godchild, Kay, and my “faux nieces,” Ariana, Malaya, and Deanna. A rare treat of which distance too often deprives me.It was a lovely, restorative day. I felt loved, welcomed, and – if not needed, certainly useful.

One memory of the day lingers with me – the sight of Deanna in a sleeveless, canary yellow dress, splashed with small red buds and larger green, tulip-like flowers. It was festive and fresh and chic. Her long, dark hair was down and dancing in the breeze. She was youth and spring, and rather French, bringing to mind Leslie Caron in Fanny.

Whatever awaits me, even a wretched nursing home with a cantankerous roommate, I’ll be cheered by the memory of Deanna in that yellow dress.

East meets west

Sooner or later, as with Rick’s American Cafe, everybody shows up on my brother’s block. At least every ethnicity pops up. Among his near neighbors are Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Croatians, Belizians and, closest of all, next door in fact, Iranians.

I’d gotten to know the Sadeghian family ever since my sister-in-law helped me sell them Doris. I see her in the driveway, well scrubbed, whenever I visit (we’re talking cars here, not white slavery).

As neighbors go, I’d like to borrow them. Farid, Elham, and their two sons never fail to interest and amuse me. They simply sparkle – and they certainly know how to cook. If there is such a thing as cultural DNA, Iranians seem blessed with the culinary gene (a gift my Irish ancestors sorely lacked, knowing only how to bland things down). If you watch an Iranian movie, at some point there’s likely to be a scene where everyone sits down to a colorful feast of tempting, vibrantly hued dishes.

This 4th of July, My relatives and their neighbors combined forces to host an outdoor gathering which included the extended Sadeghian clan, brothers, cousins, and friends from New York, England, Costa Rica and points west. Excellent wines were flowing, and perfectly grilled and sauced meats and poultry were served up in abundance.

The toast of the affair was a large, affable dog named Moose.

Moose

This wooly, soulful eyed Manhattanite submitted to a non-stop pet-a-thon from the assembled throng.

The party ran on well past midnight. No one was eager to leave. Even after most of them did, Tim, Ann and I lingered with Steve and Johnnie in the cool breezes of early morning. Our laughter was unlikely to disturb anyone, masked as it was by the boom and crackle of endless fireworks.

Somewhere around 2;00, we set out for home. Cars were sparse on the expressway, and traffic sped along. Soon though, we knew we were at some peril from drunken drivers and motorcyclists hurtling past, weaving in and out of lanes at maniacal speeds. A maroon sedan would have hit us if Tim had not swerved out of the way. The fool must have been doing 100. I said, “He’s not going to get home alive.” He may not have, for a little later we passed a three car wreck with a familiar looking maroon car, crushed and crumpled. A sobering end to a magical night.

In the Heights

It’s raining. Again. The Munster monsoon season continues apace. Late in the game as it is, I’d like to add a tardy bit of praise for Miranda‘s film of In the Heights before it disappears completely from theater screens. You’ll still be able to stream it for a while, but this flic rewards a trip out to a big screen.

I wish Lois and I had been able to catch it in Imax, but that was only possible for the first nanosecond. The anticipated crowds didn’t materialize; indeed, we were two of only eight patrons on the day we saw it. This is a shame, not because bazillionaire Miranda needs any more of our coin or approbation, but because the film is such a sunny and refreshing dose of peppy good will at a time when we sorely need it.

I wasn’t drawn to “Heights” in hopes of another Hamilton, a phenomenon I’ve neither seen nor attempted to see, though I am the only one I know who hasn’t done so. I’ve nothing against it, despite viewing hip hop as something to be put up with to get to better things, as with a fussy, sugared crust atop on otherwise delicious pie. No, I was put off primarily by all the hoops through which one had to jump for an ultra expensive ticket. Lotteries? Be serious. As to the exorbitant prices, I’d pay them for something I craved to see. I just felt no compelling need to see Hamilton. I’m aware that friends wondered what was wrong with me. Didn’t I understand I was supposed to see it. Everyone was. Maybe some day. It’s not going anywhere. But I digress, big time.

Back to the Heights. The movie leaps past likeable and grows positively winsome. The cast and the numbers they are asked to perform have a refreshing vitality that I found exhilarating and realistic where, in other hands, they could easily have turned frantic and artificial. The start of one dance sequence made me gasp in trepidation. (Spoiler alert: it defies gravity in the manner of Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding.) Another, set in a public pool, does some nifty shout outs to Busby Berkeley.

The overall effect of Heights is as welcome as a dash through the spray of a fire hydrant on a sultry afternoon. I recommend it unreservedly. I’m not unaware of all the pigment related apologies demanded and given concerning this movie. Having seen it (full disclosure, I’m a white guy with no business voicing an opinion), I say it’s heart is in a good place, and no apologies needed.

Huggin’ and chalkin’

In 1946, a demented novelty song caught the fancy of the public and singers alike. “Huggin’ and Chalkin‘” was covered by Kay Kyser, Johnny Mercer, and Hoagy Carmichael, among many others. It told of a lad with a corpulent sweetie who tipped the scales at 300 pounds. Her girth was such that he’d mark his progress with a piece of chalk.

For the past year, hugging has been in short supply, when not an outright taboo. The country has been on a starvation diet of elbow bumps and air hugs. How I’ve missed wrapping my arms around another human being and holding him or her close enough to feel a heartbeat.

Now that many of us have been needled into safety, and society’s stays have begun to loosen, hugging is my favorite tonic. None of my victims are so rotund as to require chalk, but if I lined them all up, I’d go through a stick or three.

People used to hug quite differently. Some preferred loose, tentative contact and a quick getaway. Now, there seems to be universal agreement that firm bear hugs are in order, and no one is in a hurry to let go.

For me, the hugathon began late last month, with Tim and Lois, the last people I dined out with, the day before the pandemic shut us down. This time, we were as giddy as children to be sitting down together, inside, at Ruben’s, a Mexican place that serves ruthless salsa and a crispy beef taco worth biting into. Exuberant hugs, both before and after.

One of the heartiest hugs came next, delivered out in the gazebo by John’s nephew, Joe. No surprise that firemen develop an embrace which packs a wallop.

My college pal, Hannah felt we’d gone too long without seeing each other. I agreed. She and her partner, Kathleen joined me at Giovanni’s. More vigorous hugging.

It’s been so long since I gave anything remotely resembling a party that I’m quite out of practice. Nevertheless, my sister-in-law informed me that was just what I’d be doing on Memorial Day. Ten friends and relations showed up, all eager to hug and be hugged.

My irreplaceable dentist, Robert Thornton, is retiring, so of course I wanted to take them out to celebrate (though we, his clients, are in mourning). Much hugging all around.

The next night, I found myself in the company of a virtual harem of huggery, six jolly ladies that John and I had known for years.

Three days ago, good friends Tom, Darlene, and Nancy assembled at Kitaro, where I had the best sea bass imaginable, like butter to the fork. Between that and the hefty round of hugs, I was so knocked off my pins that I rode off without my phone.

Yesterday held one of the sweetest hugs yet. My godchild, Kay, also retiring, came out for a celebration at Gamba.

In the wings are several friends from my teaching days and my cousin Ed and his wife, Ursula, in from Florida.

So, after more than a year of gathering dust, my dance card is filling up – or would be, if only I could find it.

Your history in pictures

Facebook has its uses, and its pleasures, but there are prickly sides to it that now and then jab at me. One is the feature where they repost a “memory” photo from one or more years ago. I take so many shots of flowers, clouds and shadows that what they dredge up is usually so innocuous that I merely glance and move on. John will be gone four years this September, so the pictures are seldom of him any more – until yesterday.

The heading made me wary: “Here is a memory from four years ago today.” John was still here, and as I scrolled down, I saw him sitting with his feet in a bath of warm water at a nail shop a few blocks from here. He was being worked on by a Vietnamese fellow we both liked. I had taken the picture. I shouldn’t have, but at the time, almost as if I knew what was coming, I took pictures of him at every opportunity. John did not look healthy. He would live for three more months. We were still hopeful. He was still able to go out and get around and he loved pedicures.

His first was on a trip to Egypt. He came back to our room and went on and on about it. To me, it seemed a needless extravagance, (in those days, I could still reach my toes) but they made him so happy that, in time, I was persuaded to go along with him. By June of 2017, this was one of the few pleasures he was still able to enjoy. He and the nail guy chatted amiably, but John’s face was drawn and he was losing weight rapidly. Hospital stays and then being bedridden at home were just around the corner, but on this day, John was happy, indulging in a normal activity – so normal that seeing it now has the power to make me cry.

Night in Babylon

Rummaging around for anything worth a watch, I stumbled on a series that I just disappear into these nights. It’s called “Babylon Berlin,” set in 1929 and stuffed to the gills with Weimar wickedness, for which I’ve always had a soft spot. I’m into season 2 (there will be at least four) and trying to pace myself because I really want this one to last.

It’s a gritty detective story, but a lot more than that is going on here. It’s just far enough away from the Nazi takeover that it can focus on the perks and perils of everyday life in one of history’s most brittle and hedonistic capitals. BB doesn’t shy away from nudity, even full frontal, but I’m long past pretending I find such scenes unwelcome.

The detective is a mopey, morose charmer, played by Volker Bruch. Serious, guilt ridden and pessimistic, yes, but get him near a dance floor and he comes alive, an endearing dynamo of crazy footwork and back flips. You can’t take your eyes off him. There’s a dream sequence early in season 2 (not his dream, by the way) with a jaw-droppingly cute dance to a tune called “I’m in the mood for You.” I wish it had gone on twice as long.

If I have a crush on Herr Bruch, I’m also quite smitten with the female lead, Liv Lisa Fries. She’s tough, young, seen it all, and cute as a button. Uncrushed by poverty and the extended family from Hell, she often looks underslept, but on her, it only adds to the allure. In her quest to become a detective, she’s not above – well, anything.

There are subtitles – it’s in German. So what? We’re grown-ups. It’s dark, but there are unexpected pockets of sweetness and lunacy. One character is a lip reader for the police. Both his parents are deaf, and in one scene he’s trying to sleep but they don’t realize a radio is blaring. He gets up to shut it off, but they cajole him into signing for them as to what’s happening on the radio. It’s a Mahler concert. “Is there singing?” ” Yes, a lady is singing,” “Tell us.” And he does, with flowing signage that is a pleasure to behold. The vignette was so warm and unexpected, but this show is loaded with such surprises.

There’s a wacky scene where two detectives can’t stop slapping and punching each other, and every blow is followed by a fierce look of “You didn’t just do that!” There’s also a character who survives more assassination attempts than Rasputin. Three separate times I wrote him off for dead only to have him pop up again. Yet, the plotting is always credible.

If you fancy top notch writing and acting served up with mayhem, betrayal and perversity, give Hallmark a rest for a few weeks and wallow in “Babylon Berlin.”

Starlings with Lois

No, it’s not larx this time but full and semi-fledged starlings. Lois and I were going to make one last run for a few final garden additions. I entered the kitchen and heard chirping, peculiarly loud chirping. “My,” I thought. “That bird could almost be right here in the house.” Understandably, because it was.

But where could it be? I opened every cabinet but saw no flying fugitive. Yet, the call, and the fluttering noises, were unmistakably close to me – somewhere in that very room. They were loudest when I stood at the stove, which didn’t seem to make sense. And I had to get ready, so I left the room.

When Lois arrived, she called and asked me to come out to the car. “No,” I said. “Come inside, you’ve got to hear this.” She did, and of course there were several long moments of silence with Lois looking askance at me. Then, at last, a series of ear splitting squawks.

I considered just going on our way, hoping the sounds would expire and the bird would fly elsewhere. “He can’t. He’s trapped in your ventilation system. You’ve got to do something.” Lois is a problem solver. I call her my executive secretary. “Call Joe,” she commanded. “He’s a fire chief. He’ll know what to do.” He didn’t, but he suggested calling my air conditioning and heating service. I hung up and did so. “No, that’s not something we handle. You’ll have to call your animal control people.” Mine? I have animal control people? When did that happen?

Lois googled and found a service in Valparaiso – Illiana. The woman on the line didn’t think they could squeeze me in for a couple of days. I resigned myself to forty-eight more hours of incessant chirping. But twenty minutes later, to our surprise and relief, up pulled an Illiana van that had just finished a job in Hobart. Out stepped Nate, a bearded good old boy, and Matt, a trainee with an Alabama drawl. Nate was as calming as Xanax. Evidently he encounters similar situations on a daily basis. He peered up into the stove hood grease trap and said, “Yes, I see a little head and a yellow beak. Might be a finch. we’ll have this guy out in no time.”

Now, the rooms on the first floor of this house are separated mostly by arches, not doors. This is an arrangement which provides visual pleasure but it’s a lousy set up for bird catching. I didn’t fancy a free flying new tenant, pooping at will on the premises, so I foraged for duct tape and old sheets. We also opened the kitchen window and the back door, to encourage a quick and easy exit for our well greased bird.

Cutting duct tape into thin strips to be handed to another person is an activity I recommend to those who have run out of hair shirts and seek a new Lenten penance. Lois ripped the tape from my fingers as though she were doing a bikini wax, and she managed to bloody her lip with stuck tape in the process.

Nate began to remove the grease trap and said, “I was wrong. Too big for a finch, and there’s more than one, four of them, in fact, and another that’s been dead a while.” Good thing they didn’t show up a day earlier when I was cooking bacon and using the fan. There’d have been starling fricassee. Starlings are big, but here, despite their size, were babies, unused to flight, as Nate found out when he tossed one out the window. Plonk! It landed on the hood of his van, wedged into the slot for windshield wipers. Nate went outside and gently removed it to a stand of ferns. Traumatized no doubt, it was still able to waddle about.The others flew off but stayed close.

I asked Nate if he charged by the bird. He didn’t, but recommended replacing the – oh, whatever the outside flap is called. He didn’t have one with him, but another driver who did showed up a few minutes later. This one was another Matt, not a good old boy, but quite a cutie pie.

While waiting for them to finish, I called State Farm, hoping what had happened would be covered by my home insurance. “Damage from animal incursion? Yes, sometimes. Was this a moose or a bear?” Just what a suburban Munsterite yearns to hear.

Still, the work was completed in two hours and didn’t cost a fortune. It was handled with a gratifying amount of concern, not just for me, but the birds as well. Happily too, the sheets were taken down without the duct tape peeling off any paint from the walls.

Lois and I sped off to a nursery where I found a beautiful, multi-colored calibrachoa (I call it million bells) and a sunset begonia. We rewarded ourselves with a slew of White Castles and onion rings. I topped it off with a large chocolate shake to soothe my jangled nerves.

The starlings are still in my yard, with nerves more jangled than mine. May they fly in peace and find big, juicy bugs on which to feast.

The perils of binge watching

There are certain popular actors whose charisma continues to elude me. A prime example of this is Bill Murray. After watching the vigorously hyped Lost in Translation, John and I shook our heads in puzzlement. Worse yet was the limp remake of The Razor’s Edge. Maugham’s novel calls for some hefty suspension of disbelief, possible only with an actor of considerable magnetism. We left after only a reel or two. I remember a New Yorker cartoon that addressed this. A staff member is found dead as the others get up to leave a meeting. One of them remarks, “I thought he was just doing his Bill Murray impression.”

Then there is John Malkovich, to me the most overpraised actor working today. I first saw him at Steppenwolf in True West. He worked well enough there because his character is both American and contemporary. This is his range. But give him an accent, thrust him into a period piece, and all credibility crumbles the second he opens his mouth. Such was the case with an otherwise excellent film, Dangerous Liasons. Despite his reputation, he is what he is. Forget that, and you might as well be casting Dolly Parton as Lady Macbeth.

Malkovich would, of course, disagree. He is ambitious and loves to test his limits. He tested them and my patience to the max the other night as Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. It’s been a lifetime since I read it. In grade school, I gobbled Christie up like candy. I read them all. Even then, I found her characters one dimensional, but her devious plotting enthralled me. One of her murderers is a child, and in another tale, the narrative point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, (a device I’ve used myself, though some critics deplore it), and suddenly, without knowing who speaks, we’re given the voice of the murderer. What a chilling frisson that was!

I don’t blame Malkovich for everything that’s wrong with the show. I can’t recall much about the book, but Christie was never as grim and dreary as these people are at pains to be. And though her Poirot was a vain, strutting peacock, she would never have subjected him to this degree of humiliation.

Infinitely better was the detective series I began the following night, Broadchurch. It’s not new, but it’s worth catching if you didn’t at the time. Every character, down to the smallest bit part, resembles a recognizable human being. The dialog is sharp but realistic, and these troubled souls are inhabited by a dream cast of artful players: Olivia Colman, David Tennant, Charlotte Rampling, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste to cite but a few.

I snuggled up and binged, saying repeatedly, “Oh, just one more.” Before I knew it, I’d gone through the entire first season. I was about to pay dearly for it. I started to get up but fell back in my chair with piercing cramps above the knees in both legs. My thighs were in the grip of an unseen, burning vise. I kept trying to push myself up to a standing position, howling with pain at each attempt, and afraid I’d fall even if I could get up on my feet.

Tonic would have helped. Pickle juice would have been even better and faster, but none were within reach. Twenty minutes later, I managed to crawl out of the room, apologizing to my stuffed bears for the unseemly noise and foul language.

Lesson learned. But it is an awfully good show.

Fountain Follies of 2021

Arbor day was last week. Tardily, but not by much, I sent Luke off to the Alsip nursery to pick up a Japanese maple and a forsythia bush, replacements for senior citizen shrubs which had served their time nobly but given up the ghost. I hated to have Luke dig up the maple. It was one of the very first plants John and I bought together. The newcomer is a thing of beauty, a Crimson Queen, with delicate, lacy fingered leaves, but I’ll never feel quite the fondness I did for its predecessor.

The new Japanese maple.

Luke made quick work of the installations and then relocated some ferns and a flowering blue plant that had crept into the gravel path. I had one more task for him. I couldn’t start Ozzie, the small fountain beside the gazebo. Its ancient pump had expired.

Luke removed it and helped me read the model number and specs. It was a Little Giant and worthy of the name. I went inside to see if I could find a match on my computer. The brand was still up and running, but the pump was so old that it was hard to guess what would be comparable.

I remembered a place not far from the house that handled pools and fountains. We hadn’t gotten Ozzie there, but it was the source of Wolfie, the large fountain in the shade garden (also not running at the moment, but heavier than Luke can manage by himself). I called and was told they’d probably have a replacement.

Luke’s van sits so high that I have to clutch a handle in the ceiling and swing myself up. I’d forgotten to bring a mask, (they’re in all my jackets, but this was a hot day), so Luke lent me a spare. A cheery woman led us back to a hardware section and said the man we needed to see would be with us momentarily. We were content to wait with no additional information, but she proceeded to supply so much that I wanted to beg her to stop. We were told the gentleman was in the lavatory. We were told why. We were told how frequently he needed to be there and given ever so many intimate specifics about his medical condition. When a very large man emerged from the loo, it almost seemed a get well card was in order.

The fellow knew his business, and so did Luke, who had the presence of mind to ask for a narrower connecting insert than the one that comes with the pump. I looked on with pleasure as the old gent fished around in myriad cubbyholes for what we needed. There’s something anal compulsive about the very existence of a hardware store. It’s strange, considering how little I know about them, how comforting I find them.

We drove back and almost got snarled in the Lansing Good Neighbor Parade. Luke pivoted into what I will now forever think of as the Bad Neighbor route. The new pump might have worked, but its cord wouldn’t reach. I called the shop, hoping they’d have something longer. Yes, they did, at only $80 more. For a few feet of cord??!! No thank you.

I hung up with visions of Rube Godlberg-y extension cord tangles dancing badly in my head. They called back and said they’d found something that would cost me only $20 more, and back we drove. This time, I wore a mask of my own, a fetching green number, festooned with shamrocks. They recognized me anyway.

Luke had to get creative, trying to make the connections fit, cutting one section of tubing, and soaking another in warm water, but they resisted his best efforts and Ozzie was left high and dry.

Luke is determined to come up with a solution, and I expect he will. He’s a resourceful problem solver, and nothing to do with my house and yard has ever defeated him. Still, I read disappointment in his face as he fished for cookies in a bag of Pepperidge Farms I held out to him. So I said, “Today was not a failure, Luke. Trees got planted.”

Oscars in a lean and lenten year

Call it a guilty pleasure, but watching the Oscars is just in my DNA. They could get much worse (though after last night it’s difficult to see how) and I’d still tune in. Michael Phillips called it frivolous in a year of serious concerns. Personally, a healthy dose of frivolity is just what I need to keep my head on straight in this of all years.

So, I drove to Whole Foods, masked up, and found the makings of a solitary Oscar feast, a one off indulgence in what every responsible diner should avoid: runny triple cream brie, country pate, golden caviar, jumbo shrimp, stilton blue, and fat, crisp, toasted slices of rye with a crust as hard as an armadillo’s hide, all to be washed down with slugs of Pear William, cherry pie to follow.

No one is more patient than I when it comes to technical categories. Still, I was relieved that the sound categories were combined. Sorting out the difference always tied my brain in pretzel knots. That said, my patience was sorely tested last night. I’m usually annoyed by critics who claim each edition of the Oscars is more boring than all that went before. But this time it was true. The evening quickly became a deadly bore.

A big part of the problem was the decision to eliminate clips in favor of cutesy biographical intros of the nominees. In a year when few viewers have been able to see many, or any of the contending films, why not give us a clue as to their content? We might actually want to take a look. The ads for the new West Side Story and In the Heights piqued considerable interest, more than anything done to promote the nominees.

Then too, while I applauded getting rid of the “Time’s up” music, winner after winner felt free to indulge in epic acceptance speeches. Greer Garson rides again!

Then three, to pad out the proceedings with that tasteless, intrusive and utterly excruciating business of “Was this song ever nominated?” stopped an already sluggish evening dead in its tracks.

The awards themselves seemed mostly reasonable and deserved, except for the abysmal attempt at period black and white photography in Mank and the circus like make up in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. As to the acting awards, good, sound performances all. Frances McDormand is fast becoming a national treasure. This third best actress award edges her past Meryl Streep and Ingrid Bergman. She trails only Katharine Hepburn, and has years ahead of her.

Yes, Chadwick Boseman didn’t win, but the Academy is historically unsentimental when it comes to posthumous awards. Death gave no edge to Spencer Tracy or James Dean. On the rare occasions when such an award is made, (very few come to mind: Peter Finch in Network, Heath Ledger‘s Joker, and Victor Young‘s score for Around the World in 80 Days) the winner is clearly unsurpassed. Anthony Hopkins had no need to apologize. Boseman certainly wouldn’t have wanted him to.

I did like the look of the program; in fact, I think Union Station is a keeper, along with the groups at tables. This was a lighter physical environment, better suited to three hours plus than a crowded, darkened theater. As to attire, a subject that usually generates much bitchy invective the morning after (never by me), these ladies and gents were decked out quite smartly. I will only point out, as gently as possible, that Carey Mulligan is rather petite for a wide ball gown that seemed to be swallowing her, and readers of a certain age will understand what I have in mind bestowing the Faye Emerson award on Amanda Seyfried.

The show was relentlessly political, but it was that kind of year. The most eloquent speech of the evening was given by Tyler Perry. I’m not a fan of his movies, but I greatly admire what he does with the money he makes from them. At the other end of the oration spectrum, we had the winner who wished he could cut his Oscar into five pieces for his competitors. Right. Lets grab some tools and get right on that.

As a predictor, I managed to beat Michael Phillips by two.

My 2021 Oscar picks. And yes, it was filled out before the show aired.

It’s over now. So many categories, but not a scrap of love for First Cow?