Under normal circumstances, I’m not a political animal. If there’s a gene for passionate political engagement, I don’t have it. I vote, I pay my taxes, I serve on a jury if I’m called, and I try to behave myself in public so as not to disturb the peace.
But these, as has been amply demonstrated, are not normal times, which is why our front yard currently looks like this:
There’s not much else to say, really. I’ve known since 2016 that I would be voting for whoever the Democratic party chose to run in 2020, up to and including a well-behaved golden retriever.
At the time of this picture, the depth was 4 inches of heavy wet stuff. The road crews were talking about how thing were “getting greasy” out, and how somebody had to put on their chains up by Beaver Brook Falls. And just now the Errol Fire Department got called out for a tree on the line over in Upton.
The cabin fever got strong in us this week, so today Jim Macdonald and I went on a six-hour-plus road trip to eat take-out food that didn’t come from our little town – just him and me and our masks in our comfy blue Subaru.
First we drove to North Conway, admiring the foliage all the way, starting at 9AM in order to reach Luchador Tacos not long after opening time.
We ate all by ourselves at a shady outside table. Macdonald had a cheese quesadilla with guacamole and pico de gallo on the side, and I had a pork burrito bowl with all the usual burrito stuffings minus the tortilla. We also had Jarritos Mexican soft drinks to go with, plus extra chips and – you guessed it – guacamole.
After we were finished there, we continued driving southward and admiring the foliage until we reached the WingStop in Manchester, where we ordered the big All-In Special, featuring two flavors of boneless wings and two flavors of chicken tenders, plus fries and lemonade. While it was being prepped, we took turns – masked, of course – looking at the stuff available in the craft beer store next door, and purchased a four-pack of Backwoods Bastard brown ale for later consumption.
Then we drove home, snacking on the wings and tenders en route. The order was large enough that we’ve got enough left over in the refrigerator to handle breakfast and lunch tomorrow as well, so that’s good.
Now I am having a Lemon Drop that Macdonald made for me, and am feeling considerably less cabin-feverish than I was before we left.
(We weren’t the only people out admiring the fall foliage. When we were passing through Crawford Notch and later through Franconia Notch, there were so many trail hikers out that they had to set up overflow parking for them. Lots of Massachusetts plates in evidence. Most of the hikers we saw were properly masked, which is good, though I can’t say the same about the ATV riders.)
So Jim Macdonald and I were sitting around the office this afternoon, and – as happens with writers – we fell to discussing Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and how Hammett had managed to come up with one of the handful of infinitely reusable plots. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one; likewise Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Plots like these, once their first artist discovers them, can be remixed, remade, adapted, or otherwise messed around with almost ad infinitum and still retain their energy.
Red Harvest – originally a fix-up of four short stories from Black Mask magazine – was part of the inspiration (along with other Hammett works) for Yojimbo by Kurosawa. Then Sergio Leone adapted/translated/stole/was inspired by Yojimbo to make A Fistful of Dollars, and Walter Hill subsequently did the same with Last Man Standing.
“If they were to remake Red Harvest as a Muppet movie,” Macdonald opined, “it would still be a good movie and I’d watch it.”
“If they did,” I wondered, “who would play the Continental Op – Kermit or Fozzie?”
And Macdonald replied, “Miss Piggy would play the Continental Op.”
“You mean, a gender-flipped Muppet Red Harvest?”
And I had to concede that he was right. Miss Piggy would absolutely rock a trench coat and fedora. And she’s probably the only Muppet who could believably do hard-boiled noir.
Albacon (one of our favorite cons) has been postponed due to Corona Virus. But do not despair! The nice folks who run Albacon are hosting Albacon Afternoon this Sunday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. Doyle and I will do a reading, and maybe a bit of discussion.
Alas, the Ice Cream Social will have to be on an individual at-home basis, so lay in some ice cream and toppings, and come to the Zoom-based mini-con.
As in, like everybody else in these socially isolated days, I’m doing a lot of it. Especially a lot of re-reading of old favorites in the mystery genre – probably because with an old favorite, you don’t get any unpleasant surprises.
Also probably because the best mysteries end up with truth revealed and justice done and good order restored – which makes them particularly comforting reads during trying times.
Somebody out there amongst the nattering literati is probably even now gearing up for an op-ed or a literary magazine column or a public blog post about how all this makes mystery novels the ultimate bourgeois reading experience and thus one that should be shunned, or at least regarded as a guilty pleasure, by all good little progressives and radicals. To which I say, screw them. They’re the lineal descendants of all those Puritans who thought that fiction in general was morally suspect, and of their Enlightenment grandsons who thought that novels were a female vice and a symptom of social decay.
(What these Pecksniffian pronouncers have to say about sf/fantasy is almost as bad, and what they have to say about romance is even worse. As far as they’re concerned, art should be like castor oil: If it doesn’t taste bad, it can’t be good for you.)
If we threw every writer out of the canon who wasn’t, at least part of the time, a jerk and an asshole, we might be left with Jane Austen and the Venerable Bede. And I’m not completely sure about Jane.
It’s paying-off-the-winter-electric-bill time (somewhat later than usual this year, thanks to the pandemic), and it’s also coming up on pay-the-town-property-tax time, so it behooves me to point discreetly to the Editorial and Critique Services link up at the top of this blog.
Short version: If you’ve got a book you think needs an editorial polish before you either self-publish it or send it out into the wide world to seek its fortune, my rates are reasonable and I’m available.