Crabapple tree in a Racine, Wisconsin snowstorm.

March 22, 2024: My backyard crabapple tree in a Racine, Wisconsin snowstorm.

Another Week: Number 65

by | March 24, 2024

It’s funny how — like some sort of Pavlovian demonstration — a few cues can click you into a whole different frame of mind.

On Friday, we suddenly got about six inches of snow in a good, steady dump. Meanwhile, in my living room, Pandora played a Vince Guaraldi tune. Suddenly I was all ready to open Christmas presents and offer tidings of comfort and joy to nine ladies dancing and go for a sleigh ride together with you on March 22nd.

But the merry mood passed. A little while later, Kate Middleton broke the news that she had begun chemotherapy after her doctors found cancer.

I don’t care much about the British monarchy and the tabloids and Harry and Meghan, but the Princess of Wales has occasionally taken my breath away.

Forty-two years ago, it was the wedding of Charles and Diana that inspired me to take actual steps toward romance with my sister’s friend Amy. We went on our first date later that night, A quick ten years later, July 29th became our wedding anniversary as well.

Then, at some point in the following century, along came Kate Middleton and I was awestruck again. A soft breeze blows through my heart when I see her in photos or videos. When she plays piano, I get weak.

Now she has been forced to take this cancer detour like so many other people, and that just sucks.

Before the snow fell, I walked 9.56 miles this week.


Winter’s Bone (2010)

Thursday night at my mom’s, we watched Winter’s Bone on Max. It stars a 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence as a teenager in the Missouri Ozarks living in a hovel with her mentally ill mother and raising her younger brother and sister the best she can with no money. Her dad has disappeared after being arrested for cooking meth, and her search for him is the movie’s story.

I saw this movie in the theater when it was first released, but didn’t remember much about it. It is more driven by characters than plot — Lawrence in a strong performance as the plucky Ree, the wonderful John Hawkes as her rough but caring uncle Teardrop, and Dale Dickey as the thorny Merab, gatekeeper to the local crime boss.

Rewatching it now — having since seen Ozark on Netflix — it seems likely that the series was partly inspired by this film — especially the Merab character, who resembles Ozark‘s Darlene Snell.

Mom was rooting for Jennifer Lawrence from the start and said it was a good movie.


Hitler, by Joachim Fest

I like to include biographies in my reading mix, hoping they can help me better understand extraordinary figures and their places in history. Certain human beings eventually become iconic. They are known worldwide and come to represent an idea in concentrated form. I hope for biographies to strip away the myth and legend and help me understand the underlying person who woke up each day and did whatever they did.

Often it takes more than one biography to satisfy my curiosity. I read a whole shelf of books about Jesus of Nazareth before I felt like I had a grasp of the man. Although I was never a huge fan of Elvis Presley, after several biographies I appreciated his passion and his tragedy. Despite finishing a handful of books about Bob Dylan — including Bob’s own memoirs — I still don’t have the slightest clue

My first study of Adolf Hitler was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer. That 1,280-page book was chilling journalism summarizing the whole Nazi period — an excellent start. Next, was Ian Kershaw’s two-volume Hitler biography, adding another 912 and 1,115 pages, and more biographical detail, but I still had questions.

For the last few months, I have been slowly wading through Joachim Fest’s Hitler biography, another 858 pages from 1973. Fest’s high-density writing sometimes took me several passes to digest, but finally, I think I get it.

Fest covers Germany’s peculiar history and the specific psychology that fostered Hitler’s rise. He analyzes Hitler’s early success, and how his instincts, deviousness, and luck combined to produce victories — and he admits that the puzzle remains incomplete:

Perhaps we may never be able to trace Hitler’s overwhelming Jewish phobia down to its roots. But on the whole we may say that an ambitious and desperate loner was finding a formula for politicizing his personal problems. For he saw himself bit by bit going downhill and was forced to fend off his terror of being declassed.

He identifies Hitler’s eventual missteps and tracks his aggrieved and twitching descent into his grim bunker — where the whole national nightmare went poof with Hitler’s suicide:

[H]e did not last beyond his time. Since he could not offer any persuasive picture of the future state of the world, any hope, any encouraging goal, nothing of his thought survived him. …

This great demagogue left behind him not so much as a memorable phrase, an impressive formula. Similarly, he who had wanted to be the greatest builder of all time left not a single building to the present. …

The people whose loyalty and admiration he had won never followed a vision, but only a force.

Of course, there are some lessons here for the present day.

Hitler, by Joachim Fest


Detour (1945)

On Saturday night at my mom’s, I chose the last title remaining on my most recent shortlist of “best movies to stream” culled from numerous online lists — Detour from 1945, lauded in several places as an excellent specimen of film noir.

At 68 minutes, it’s short at least. It scores 98% on the Tomatometer. It’s available on many channels, since it’s in the public domain. We watched it on Prime.

The film stars Evanston, Illinois’ own Tom Neal, and an absolutely poisonous Ann Savage.

To me, Detour is a one-hour episode of The Twilight Zone, with some poor schmuck (Neal) gradually wandering deeper and deeper into bizarre trouble.

However, in telling that story, peculiarities pop up every minute or so that are mostly funny, and sometimes just odd. It’s got the corny patter and slang of the mid-40s. Tom Neal is a piano player in a crappy nightclub despite his impressive classical chops. The characters frequently explode in emotional outbursts. They make decisions that are obviously unwise.

It’s the kind of movie that could easily be mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Mom seemed frustrated by it. She was telling Tom to escape when he had a clear chance, but he never took it.



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