Crabapple blossoms in a Racine, Wisconsin backyard, May 6, 2023.
Crabapple blossoms in a Racine, Wisconsin backyard, May 6, 2023.

Another Week: Number 19

by | May 7, 2023

I’m grateful to turn the page on the week just passed. Amy suffered some excruciating health issues and spent three days in the hospital. An ever-simmering family conflict inevitably boiled over. Siri recommended a McDonald’s over 3,000 miles away. Our car’s CV axle broke.

At one point on Friday morning, I found myself navigating a meaningless maze of pillars in a parking garage three floors below ground and thought I might never escape.

Meanwhile, the grass is growing again. I have mowed three times so far. A robin is incubating eggs in our backyard crabapple tree, in the same crotch where many have failed before her.

Our state’s motto is “Forward,” and that’s where we’re headed — possibly on foot.


Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska on CBS Sunday Morning

There was a Bruce Springsteen story on CBS Sunday Morning last week — and it wasn’t about his current tour or guest backup singers.

Instead, it revisited the Colts Neck, New Jersey ranch house where he wrote his solo, masterpiece album Nebraska: here’s the bed, here’s a chair, here’s a Teac TASCAM 144 Portastudio, and there’s the Swimming River Reservoir.

Springsteen had seen Terrence Malick’s 1973 movie Badlands. He had conversed with journalist Ninette Beaver, who interviewed Caril Ann Fugate, the teenage accomplice of Nebraska spree killer Charles Starkweather in the late 1950s.

And he was at a personal crossroads.

Out of that, we got an album that I play especially loud every year in the dark as the leaves come blowing down the street before Halloween.

The Sunday Morning piece was occasioned by the publication of a new book by author Warren Zanes — Deliver Me from Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska — which has just been added to my Amazon wish list.

Clearly, it’s an authorized telling.


Somebody Somewhere: Season 2

A story at The Mary Sue reminded me: “The Best Show No One Is Watching Is Back on HBO.”

I guess we’re no one, because we have watched all seven episodes of Somebody Somewhere‘s first season, as well as the first episode of Season 2, which just launched on April 23.

This show has a lot going for it.

It’s set in Manhattan, Kansas, which is a real place and feels more real than most TV small towns. (Much of the actual filming is done in suburban Chicago.)

It stars comedian/singer/actress Bridget Everett, who is actually from Manhattan, Kansas, and has the same authenticity you find in any fellow Walmart shopper whose struggles through life have honed a rich sense of humor. Everett plays Sam, a woman in her 40s who is a bit lost after the death of her sister.

Jeff Hiller co-stars as Joel, a co-worker who befriends Sam.

And there’s a good group of supporting characters — Sam’s holier-than-thou sister, Sam’s cantankerous alcoholic mother, etc.

Also, things happen. Personal secrets are uncovered. People have failings and triumphs. Steps are taken toward personal realization. Fun is had.

Overall, though, I don’t feel like there’s an overall arc that will eventually arrive somewhere. Lots of different yarns went into Season 1 — Sam’s grief and singing ambitions, Joel’s gay love life, marital infidelity, family farm finances, alcoholism — but whether much of it will come together seems doubtful.

Murray Hill pops in frequently as Fred Rococo, a “soil scientist and a master of ceremonies,” per Wikipedia. Actor Mike Hagerty, who played Sam’s dad, died a year ago, and the show now has to weave in his absence.

If it’s just going to be one episode after another of random absurdity and tragedy, well we’ve already got our daily existence to supply that.

But episodes of Somebody Somewhere are just a half-hour long, the cast is comforting, and the situations are mostly familiar. This show is a tasty little slice of life when you don’t have an hour or two to devote to something dark or heavy.


This Boy’s Life (1993)

Sunday was a dinner-and-movie night at my Mom’s. Amy made a delicious batch of Fettuccine and Tofu with Finger-Licking Peanut Sauce. For the movie, we settled on This Boy’s Life, the 1993 drama starring Robert DeNiro as the abusive stepfather of a very young Leonardo DiCaprio (age 17 during filming). Amy saw it years ago and has been recommending it to me since the days of VHS rental.

It’s a good story — an autobiography by writer Tobias Wolff, set in the town of Concrete, Washington, 68 miles northeast of Seattle. After roaming with Toby for some time, his mother (Ellen Barkin) settles down in Concrete with DeNiro’s character Dwight, who is a mechanic there.

Dwight has a peculiar accent that sounds vaguely midwestern — like maybe Chicagoan or an attempt at Minnesotan. Googling around, though, a letter to The New York Times from DeNiro’s dialect coach reveals the months of work that went into perfecting that specific Concrete, Washington accent and a Reddit thread says he nailed it.

DiCaprio does a fine job, and DeNiro is an abusive sonofabitch. My mom said she really likes him, yet grew to hate him as this movie progressed.

One line of DeNiro’s that stands out is, “I know a thing or two about a thing or two.”

That line jumped out again the next night, while Amy and I watched the latest episode (4.6, “Living+”) of Succession back at home.

47 minutes in, as Kendall Roy was about to make a critical presentation to an audience of investors, company CFO Karl Muller — suddenly casting himself as Kendall’s corporate stepfather — began to bully Kendall on his way to the stage. As his anger boiled over, Karl warned, “I know a thing or two about a thing or two.”

My hair stood on end.

This Boy’s Life came out 30 years ago. Then while I’m finally watching it, a new episode of Succession references it, and I see that the next night.

Things like this happen now and then and I can’t help but wonder. Is it just a bizarre coincidence, or is there some sort of message I’m not understanding?



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