Archive for March, 2011

“I believe that you are the devil himself!”: Lent in Casablanca, Night 22

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 31, 2011 by tom

That quote is not from Casablanca, lest ye be wondering.  It’s a line from “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It’s a Sherlock Holmes story, one of the approximately 100% of the Holmes stories I love.

In Night 21, I posted a link to the lovely story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  After re-reading the story, I explored other offerings on only to discover all these Holmes stories.  Awesome! Sherlock Holmes’ adventure took me someplace I haven’t been in a long time.

See, in addition to my nightly Casablanca viewing, I just finished re-reading the Lisbeth Salander trilogy.  They go together in my mind, simply because I’ve taken the liberty of writing Lisbeth into Casablanca. 

It’s odd how that works.  When I watch Casablanca now, I can feel her presence in that little world.  Same, too, when we get to the marketplace scenes: I just accept that Annie the Soapmaker’s stall is next to the guy hawking tablecloths. 

To me, it’s the same basic idea as drinking in a large chain bar & grill–say, hypothetically, Bennigan’s.  At no point during one of my little multi-hour barstool tenures was I ever aware of everybody else in the building.  I’d notice my friends and fellow bar area denizens, of course, and I’d notice some of the groups in the dining area, but over the course of a night, dozens and dozens of people of every stripe came in, ate a meal, paid their check, and left, all without blipping my radar.

I sort of feel like I’ve inhabited the world of  “Casablanca.” I know the story forward and backward–I was singing along with “Die Wacht am Rhine” the other night, for cryin’ out loud–but my attention has turned beyond the main characters.  I’ve begun to notice some of the background action, and that has sparked my imagination. 

Whereas before, I was only really aware of Annina and Jan when they came to Rick’s, I now notice them everywhere: in the first scene as the plane flies overhead, in Ferrari’s Blue Parrot, in Captain Renault’s office.  I look at characters like the snooty rich people playing cards, and I wonder where they stay.  I wonder how much Victor & Ilsa’s room costs per night, and if they’re at a chain hotel or a one-off.  Everybody smokes constantly, but where do they buy their cigarettes? There are cars driving around, but are there gas stations?

For that matter, can you buy cigarettes at the gas station? Can you buy a six-pack of beer? Are there crappy burritos & lottery tickets?

Is there a grocery store in Casablanca? Seriously.  Annina and Jan from Bulgaria are fleeing to America, and they’re having trouble because of how expensive travel is.  Could they go to a supermarket and buy a loaf of bread and a jar of store-brand peanut-butter to save on meals?

I wonder if anyone in Casablanca will be eating cereal tomorrow morning.  I can’t imagine Ilsa sitting down to a bowl of CheeriOats on the veranda (they didn’t become Cheerio’s until 1946 (CheeriOats became Cheerios; verandas remained verandas)). 

Good Lord, does Casablanca have any CUPCAKES???

The longer I spend in Casablanca–the more familiar I grow with its reality–the more questions I end up pondering. 

Casablanca is an exotic world, without being overly exotic.  Compare it to an Indiana Jones movie.  Indy travels to all manner of exotic locales, and we are bashed over the head with each of them.  Casablanca is filmed on a Warner Brothers soundstage.  That whole exotic world? Save for one scene at the Van Nuys Airport, it’s all sets and backdrops, camera angles and imagination. 

Despite this, the story is rich enough to create a world I can fully inhabit, a world where I can run into Lisbeth Salander at the Casablanca Gas & Go; we’d nod to each other as we buy frozen pizza and sodas, and smirk as Ilsa buys overpriced Lingonberry Pop-Tarts for Victor.


Pretty Pretty Patterns: Lent in Casablanca, Night 21

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 30, 2011 by tom

For some reason, as I watched Casablanca last night, for the 21st consecutive night, all I could think of was a wonderful short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It’s about a woman who’s subjected to the same visual day in and day out, and she starts to go mad. 

I think I might be on my way.

Read the short story, though, here:

It’s free and it’s awesome, and it kind of explains why I now look like this.


Sorry.  Seriously, read “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It’s awesome.  Happy impending Weekend.

(note: the creepy faced guy in the bottom pic  is the same actor as the rather dashing Nazi on the left in the top photo)

Of Time and Space: Lent in Casablanca, Night 20

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 29, 2011 by tom

One of my favorite follows on Twitter is Voyager 2. You may remember Voyager 2 for having, well, voyaged through our solar system. Periodically, Voyager 2 will tweet if it has a task to perform, such as aligning itself with the solar wind, but it doesn’t have much to do anymore, just cruise.

What fascinates me is the tweet Voyager 2 sends every day.  The most recent is this: @Voyager2: I am currently 13 hrs 10 mins 54 secs of light-travel time from Earth.

Thirteen hours, 10 minutes, and 54 seconds at the speed of light.  Light moves at a brisk 186,000 miles per second, or 671,000,000 miles an hour, so Voyager is a long damn way from here; most certainly Voyager’s roaming charges are ungodly.

One of the images I love from the movie “Contact,” was that beings on another world had just received our telecast of the Berlin Olympiad, and were beaming it back to us.

Somewhere, 70 light years from us, there’s a world whose only impression of us Earthlings is up to Casablanca.  They haven’t seen our first nuclear explosion.  They watched the First World War, and probably thought not even we could be stupid enough to do that again; I imagine their heads (or whatever) shaking.  Babe Ruth was still alive. Not only had Marilyn Monroe not made a film, she’d  never been photographed naked either.

I wonder what it would be like for Them, as they strolled with the camera into Rick’s Cafe Americain. They wouldn’t know that the Allies end up winning, and that Hitler’s majestic Reich crumbles into rubble.  They wouldn’t know that Humphrey Bogart will die weighing 80 lbs, his body ravaged with cancer from the alcohol and cigarettes Rick Blaine makes look so damn cool.

Seeing what they have of humanity up to Casablanca, I wonder if They’d bet on us ultimately succeeding. Could They have predicted the Cold War? The Designated Hitter rule in baseball, 9/11, and the smoking bans in cafes like Rick’s? The Internet, where maladjusted Crackers could huddle in their caves and forward screeds worldwide, all from a simple DorkFone? Could They imagine a starting rotation like the Phillies have this year?

Or would They see Casablanca as our “ultimate,” our climax as a human race? It was a place where good and evil coexisted. Nazis did their Nazi thing; the French and the ex-pats did theirs, then everybody got dressed-up and went to Rick’s to get drunk.

Maybe that was our climax as a human race. Maybe that was our peak, and everything since has been falling action and, now–as earthquakes, radiation, economic depression, and political upheaval shake the world–dénouement.

I suppose we could analyze the world like that,  imagining how somebody would who’d only seen Earth up to and including Casablanca. It would be a hell of a climax, and it doesn’t take too much creativity to see “everything after” through negative filters.

I’m cautiously optimistic, though. We’ve survived other crap–the Black Plague, The Great Depression, the Leisure Suit–and yet I see Shortstop & Princess, SeaBass & T-Bone, Violet & Sam, babies and fetuses and toddlers and Kindergartners who still find joy in life.

Since the dawn of Man, our species has been obsessing over “the end of the world.” When the sun or moon eclipsed a few thousand years ago, mankind thought, “well holy crap, the gods are pissed and let some monster eat the sun or moon!” Today, we marvel at beautiful eclipses, even if we no longer fear them.

The lesson of Casablanca is to move forward bravely. Laszlo moves forward. From safety, he’ll redouble his reisistance efforts. Rick moves forward: he puts Ilsa on the plane with Laszlo, and sends her off to safety, even as he and Louie set off on their own path. “We’ll always have Paris.” Yep, but Paris was another time. As Renault says–summing up my philosophy–“I shall take what comes.”

And if They don’t like it, They can change channels and watch “The Proxima Centauri Shore,” or some other planetary rubbish.

A Couple Brief Thoughts: Lent in Casablanca, Night 19

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 by tom

I feel a little sorry for Major Strasser. Really.

It’s not because I like him, or his employers.  As movie Nazis go, he’s not as horrible as Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List”), but he did have Rick’s shut down, just because he was pissed the Francophiles outsang his Nazis. It’s a bar, douchebag, not Glee.

I feel a little sorry for him, simply because I await his death with great anticipation. Once Major Strasser is shot, I know I can go to bed in five minutes.  He’s still a scumbag, but for nearly three weeks, his death has marked a high point in my day.

Also, I wonder why Joy Page didn’t have more of a career. She played the Bulgarian girl who was willing to mount Captain Renault to obtain exit visas for herself and her husband. I think she did a fine job, holding her own among the 1927 Yankees cast, and she was pretty enough. Plus, Jack Warner was her stepfather, for crying out loud. (He didn’t want her to become an actress; she studied and auditioned and earned her way into the biz.)

Finally, one of the more difficult tasks I’ve encountered in writing is naming characters. I have this vision of the screewriters, the Epstein twins, enduring writer’s block, carpooling to the Warner Brothers lot one day.

“Dammit!! We need two more names! One for the French captain, and one for the crime guy!”

Traffic snarls, and they stop next to Beverly Hills European Motors.  They look up at the sign, and lightbulbs fire. “Renault and Ferrari!!”

Finally, this opinion: if Casablanca had been filmed in color, it would not have endured as it has. It works in B&W. In color…I can’t see it. Even when Ted Turner colorized it, I turned the color down on my set.

Casablanca, more than any other film, belongs in black and white.  There is pure good and pure evil, but 95% of what we see are those ubiquitous, ambiguous grays, which make up life itself.

Something’s missing…then again, no: Lent in Casablanca, Night 18

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 27, 2011 by tom

I feel the need to clarify something after my post the other night: Rick’s Cafe Americain is awesome. I am not awesome.

I’m okay with my awesomelessness.  I don’t own a tie or a long-sleeved shirt.  I don’t have shiny formal shoes.  If the occasion is more formal than my giant purple Nike hightops warrant, odds are I won’t be invited. 

Best Friend John told me that one of his favorite wedding reception memories was that I changed from my shiny, uncomfortable rental shoes into my black Nike’s after the ceremony.  Hey, my sciatica was killing me, and they went well with my tux.  It also helped that I gave the greatest best-man toast EVER, so he could overlook any dress code violations.  (seriously, I managed to link BFJ & his wife both being teachers with good-natured Catholicism humor, and bring it all home with the hydrogen fusion of romance; it was epic and unprecedented)


Rick’s sparkles with awesome.  In revisiting my bar year memories–and remember, they probably have great big holes dissolved into them–there were numerous things I saw that just don’t belong in Rick’s. 

First off, karaoke.  One of my favorite scenes in “Casablanca” features a bunch of drunk Nazis singing “Die Wacht am Rhine,” which just pisses Victor Laszlo off to no end.  He goes over to Rick’s orchestra and demands they play “La Marseillaise.” They do, and then a bunch of drunk French people and refugees sing down the Nazis.  During the course of this scene, the camera focuses on French-born bar floozy Yvonne–who’s apparently mounting a Nazi that day–and we hear Yvonne’s passionate singing of  “Mugir ces féroces soldats.”

Okay, I get that she’s French, and she’s been dumped by Rick, thus leading her to aim  her thirsty pheremone stream at a Nazi, futilely attempting to make Rick jealous.  I understand that Yvonne is living in a hostile world, and that she probably misses getting drunk every night in a French bar and screwing guys instead of getting drunk every night in Casablanca and screwing guys.  Furthermore, I can imagine the surge of patriotism she feels upon hearing “La Marseillaise,” and the irresistable pull to join with her countrymen and sing down the evil Nazis…

But Yvonne, while being a complete hottie, couldn’t sing her way out of a sack.  (note: she could talk to me all night with that sultry French accent of hers–when she yells at the French Army guy who calls her a krautboffer (German: “Schnitzelfrau”), I get oddly turned on)   Yvonne has no business singing in public, and I can just see her getting plowed with some fascist or another, then going up to sing “Material Fraulein” on the karaoke machine.  Yuck. Or, as we say in German, “juck.”

“Yvonne I love you.  I’ll give you free drinks all night, but for the love of everything holy, don’t sing!”

Another thing Rick’s does just fine without is video games.  I’m not a gamer.  Admittedly, the only video game I ever played was the TrivQuiz machine–and I pwnd it! (and Tempest, back when I used to smoke weed)– but video games just seem like they’d distract from the ambiance.  I can’t see Major Strasser setting down his stein of Sam Adams Honey Wheat & Insane Hatred Winter Ale, just to pop a quarter in the Asteroids machine.  One of those infernal Pop-a-Shot machines would be even worse.  If you’ve been blessed never to be around one, this is a Pop-a-Shot machine:

Basically, drunk people put money into this machine, then have to make as many free throws as possible within 60 seconds.  Invariably, these people become extremely loud. They get hot from the exertion, then drink more, which makes them louder.  Also, there’s an added bonus in that basketballs end up bouncing around the bar.  I can just see Victor Laszlo knocking down free-throws like nobody’s bidness.  As he goes to prove Czechoslovakians have better foul shot skills than Nazis, a ball gets away from him, and bounces over to the coloratura soprano guitar lady.  She gets pissed, then Pete Townshends her guitar upside Sam’s piano, then the Nazis start shooting, Yvonne starts singing, and the whole night goes straight to the hot place. 

Yeah.  Rick’s can live without that.

Rick’s would also be fine without this:

I’m sure they’re amazingly fun to ride, but they’re very loud.  So are the mechanical bulls. (rimshot)

I guess I’m against drunken cacophany, and these three mindless mechanical machines–the Pop-a-Shot, the Mechanical Bull, and the drunken French bar floozy–can only lead to people being loud when they ride them.

So, well done, Rick’s, for keeping it classy…even though I’d still be craving some of these:

(To be perfectly honest, though, I’ve never had a problem with drunk women in short-shorts, either, notwithstanding that both they and nachos will stain your white dinner jacket 😉 )

Welcome to Earth, Violet: Lent in Casablanca, Night 17

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 26, 2011 by tom

Friday morning, Mr & Mrs Steve the Book Guy happily welcomed the lovely, brand-new Violet to their family.  Violet checked in at a healthy, vigorous 9 lbs 6 oz, with ten fingers, ten toes, and one belly button (under construction).

Violet is less than 24 hours old as I write this, and as of yet, she has not learned to read. Knowing her parents, Violet will be reading by Easter.

Far away, in a Paris about to be occupied by Nazis, a cynical man and a beautiful woman fill their glasses with expensive champagne, and raise a toast. They clink their crystal glasses, and the oh-so-apropos words echo across nearly seven decades and an ocean: “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”


Fairfarren, Violet, and welcome to the show. 🙂

If You Built It, I Wouldn’t Come: Lent in Casablanca, Night 16

Posted in Lent in Casablanca on March 25, 2011 by tom

In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner hears voices imploring, “If you build it, he will come.” He figures out that if he builds a baseball field in his cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson would come back from the dead and play baseball.  Over time, all manner of other old, dead ballplayers show up, and everybody has a great time, and it enables a lot of metaphysical wrongs to be righted, and everybody lives happily ever after, no matter how dead they are.

The thought I had was, if there were a cornfield somewhere, and somebody built Rick’s Cafe Americain, and all the original Rick’s denizens were able to come back and drink and smoke and hang out, would I go there?

Probably not.

Obviously, I am drawing on my extensive past life as an enthusiastic bar patron, and not my current boringness, but still: there are a whole lot of things I would hate about Rick’s as my regular place to drink.

First and foremost, the dress code.  “Everybody comes to Rick’s,” they say, and by the sartorial gods, that selfsame “everybody” is all gussied up when they do.  The bars in which I spent my 20’s and 30’s were decidedly more casual.  I should point out that my bars were not the most casual bars on my sandbar–I mean, you had to wear shoes (at least when you walked in), and peeing in the parking lot was discouraged (at least till after midnight (peeing in other people’s shoes was always discouraged, especially indoors))–but you could wear shorts and a shirt, and you’d be okay.  At Rick’s, everybody wears evening-wear.  Rick sports a white dinner jacket and bow-tie; other men wear nice suits or tuxes, and the military are decked out in their formal uniforms.  I can see Bogie and Abdul the bouncer tossing my skanky ass out, right onto my fat, surfer-shorts-clad ass. 

Another thing that would bug me: the waitstaff.  Carl is awesome–don’t get me wrong.  The actor’s name is S.K. Sakall, and his nickname was “Cuddles”, because he was such a nice guy.  When in bars, I liked having bartenders/waitresses who were as casual and depraved as I am.  Maybe it seemed less shameful to order that one extra last-call double if the bartender had visible tats or–better still–I’d gone drinking with said bartender at a sleazier bar.  I could see running into Sascha at some dive down Rue de Les Tavernes des Dirtbags.  Other than that, I want bartenders like Sherry from Gamble’s, whom I made out with a few times, and who was both lovely, and could beat the crap out of anyone who got out of hand.

The third thing: there’s no take-out at Rick’s. Worse, there seems to be no food of any kind, except for that one tin of caviar Major Strasser ate.  In my bar daze (sic), there was something reassuring about having such continental fare as “wings” or “chili cheese fries” or “nachos” to soak up the night’s poisons.  You know Signor Ferrari would at least have gyros or something available at The Blue Parrot, but there isn’t anything at Rick’s.  

Also, the entertainment at Rick’s would bug me.  No matter how engaging Sam is, and I really like music from that era, in my drinking days I found that there were two acceptable forms of workaday bar entertainment: blues bands or jukeboxes.  As much as I like big bands, they are loud. Lord help me if I’m trying to enjoy a couple cocktails with Annie the Soapmaker while the orchestra is playing “It Had to be You.” Further, God bless him, but that whole Sam thing where his hands and the notes coming out of the piano don’t synchronize? At all? Like, the piano stops, but his hands keep going, and vice versa? That would drive me batshit.  If I were drinking gin, that would potentially make me violent.  The blues and alcohol go together like…well, alcohol and the blues. Holy crap, it’s the Commutative Property of Multiplication, only with alcohol and blues.  I never had a problem with a blues band playing.  I could talk between sets.  Most other live bands kinda bug me.  They’re never as good as they think they are, and they’re always louder than they should be.  The jukebox at Gamble’s had a huge selection of Classic Rock.  It was familiar and comfortable.   Really, I don’t need to be challenged or explore new types of music, not when I’ve had a crappy day and I’m trying to get Crazy Susan to make out with me over behind the pool tables.  

I should offer an addendum: I’m talking about basic, nightly bar patronage.  I used to love going to a nice jazz club to hear jazz, but that was always the point: I was going to hear a specific band.  In my home bar on a plain old night, I don’t want to have to concentrate on Brubeckian time signatures or songs involving any sax but a tenor.


Nazis.  I must admit that I’ve never been in a bar full of WW2 Nazis, but based on my extensive research (ie, watching movies wherein WW2 Nazis frequent bars), I don’t want to be.   The results of my research show that one of two things will always happen if you’re in a bar full of World War 2-era Nazis:

  • Option A, the Nazis will start singing a German song other than the one they’d really be compelled to sing (ie, “The Horst Wessel Song,” for which Warner Brothers couldn’t secure the rights, so they substituted something else); after a verse or two, the non-Nazi bar contingent will start singing the French national anthem back at the Nazis; cacophony ensues, and the Nazis shut down the bar, ruining everyone’s fun (I am against cacophony, bars being shut down, and fun ruination).  
  • Option B, somebody’s accent slips, and everybody shoots everyone else (I am against any non-liquid shots in the bar environment, especially if I’m shot (or, I should add, if I’m only grazed, but there’s nobody left to bring me palliative beverages)). 

Rick’s Cafe Americain teems with life and intrigue.  It’s one of the most interesting film worlds I’ve seen, full of fascinating people.  Obviously, I love “Casablanca,” and the world of Rick’s, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang out there, any more than loving “Apocalypse Now” would make me want to take a boatride through the Vietnam War.

Then again, at least in “Apocalypse Now,” there would be powerful psychotropic substances, and I damn sure wouldn’t have to wear a tie.

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