Friday, December 10, 2010


I have a couple dozen stalwart customers that help keep the lights on. In the 1960s around the holidays you sent and received booze but the seventies saw the shift to See’s Candy and Harry and David gift baskets, both of which I’ve resorted to sending for Christmas when my imagination failed. I’ve also had local purveyors make baskets of cheese and cookies but given my budget, the results always seemed skimpy. Despite all the whining I do about my weight, I am on an experimental candy making jag. This starts after a local artisanal food fair where I sample a lot of delicious stuff that is shockingly expensive but didn’t seem that hard to make. I make a batch of fleur de sel caramel and it turns out as good as the chichi stuff. I try my hand at marshmallows and have good results so it doesn’t seem that big a deal to whip up a couple of big batches of each and a few slabs of fudge for my own custom baskets.

I shop for ingredients on Friday before work and from the time I arrive home that evening until I arrive at the office the following Monday it is candy every single second. I love working in the kitchen but after standing for hours boiling sugar it feels like every pore in my body is oozing stickiness. Himself tries to wrap caramels but rips the expensive custom wax wrappers to shreds. The kids help with the marshmallows but smash them into the bags with such vigor that I have to untie each one to refluff. I have been warned that marshmallows are vulnerable to humidity but they turn out fine. The problem is the second batch of caramels, which after a night of rain, refuse to set. I whine bitterly and get on everyone’s nerves. I try a third batch and now have about twenty pounds of gushy caramel bagged in the fridge tormenting me.

I give up on the friggin’ caramels and substitute peanut butter fudge and arrive at the office Monday morning with all the candy bagged and labeled by Himself with fountain pen and green ink. Unable to wrap candy or fold a t-shirt, he has gorgeous penmanship. This reminds me of the line from The Heiress. Olivia De Havilland’s father is certain that a suitor is a gold-digger. De Havilland pleads that he is sincere but her father posits that it has to be the money because she so lacking in attributes. “With one exception my dear…you embroider neatly.” I arrange the baskets and the boys at the office box them and wait in line at the post office. The baskets are beginning to arrive at their destinations and I read out loud to the kids effusive notes of thanks. As resentful as they are of their indentured candy making servitude they are pleased that at least the family effort has resulted in a good bit of happiness.

The candy making extravaganza makes a crimp in the already minimal fanfare we afford Hanukkah. I promise an additional batch of latkes and one of donuts which I put off making until the last night of the festival. I return from a long day and the kids have peeled the potatoes and the dough is rising in the fridge. I am tired and lazy and it occurs to me that the kids should know how to make latkes anyway so that if I am struck by lightening they will have something to live on besides cold cereal and grilled cheese. I’ve made latkes for decades and try to translate the pinches and handfuls into more accurate measurements. They turn out fine but I think the boys still need a few years of practice until they advance from mere apprenticeship.

I take a day off of work and even though my dad has been dead for three years I am still hostage to his work ethic (Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30, Saturday 10-2, only holidays observed by UPS and a one week vacation) and feel guilty. I purchase a discount voucher for the Pacific Dining Car which has always been our favorite locale for special breakfasts but has gone from being a fine occasional splurge to wildly and stupidly expensive. The coupon is about to expire and I use this excuse to pry Himself out of the house and from his usual breakfast of yogurt and strawberries.

Himself recognizes political perennial Gloria Molina dining in a little alcove. The staff is deferential to her while, after presenting our coupon, my coffee cup remains empty throughout the meal. I eavesdrop as much as possible and while I have no context I can tell that much of what is said is extremely off the record. I realize how important overpriced clubby restaurants are to the workings of our government. In a week where tax cuts for the very rich are maintained as a bargaining chip to extend benefits averaging $293 a week for 15 million unemployed Americans it seems perhaps that the beauty of democracy is purely theoretical.

Having already dragged Himself away from the comforts of books and ‘puter I wheedle too a visit to LACMA. We haven’t been for ages and are disoriented by the recent reconfiguration. There is a retrospective of the work of photographer William Eggleston, who using dye transfer developing, elevated color photography to the same artistic stature as black and white. This is a large representation of Eggleston’s works from the late 1960s through the present. There are a couple of remarkable photos, particularly a series shot at Graceland. But, while the black and white photos of Diane Arbus are disturbing they are also imbued with Arbus’s compassion, many of Eggleston’s hyper-saturated color prints feel snide and cynical.

The permanent collection of American art has been moved to Siberia, and incongruous groupings of paintings inhabit the better real estate. Donors, whose name figure prominently are the only unifiers. We find a compressed version of the permanent collection in another building. I am happy to see George Bellows’ Cliff Dwellers and Winslow Homer’s Cotton Pickers, paintings I remember from childhood. I ask a guard and am informed that Julius Stewart’s huge canvas, The Baptism, is in storage. My dad, master of the malapropism and teller of filthy jokes, was enchanted by this painting of a genteel and gentile subject matter. He would visit the museum just to sit and look at it, marveling how every person present at the 19th century rite had his own story which the painting challenges you to ponder. It reminds me of the best things about my dad and that his story too is more than one of a pugnacious Jew who built from scratch the business I inherited.

I attend the annual Attack of the 50’ Reels screening at the Egyptian. This is an annual event for Super 8 filmmakers who are assigned to shoot a roll of film, edit it in the camera and send it off to the festival. It is processed and the filmmaker sees the work for the first time when it is screened for an audience. Kodachrome film, as Paul Simon noted, gives you the bright bright colors and unlike most other film, the color never fades. Dwayne’s, in Kansas, the only laboratory left in the world that develops Kodachrome is going to stop at the end of the year. Kodak discontinued making the film but the organizer of the event, Norwood Cheek has managed to score a few reels of Super 8 and the theme of this year’s festival is RIP Kodachrome.

Ten 2 ½ minute films are shown. Given the myriad of calamities that are possible when projecting a film sight unseen, it is remarkable that none of the filmmakers is embarrassed. There are a couple of dropouts, a sound glitch and a few frames out of focus but I consider each work a success. In "50" Peyton Reed, a maker of Super 8 films since childhood, trots out all of the toys that were the heroes of his early movies. Another film by John Schultz (Taking Stock of Your Stock/Stock Footage 2010)features the filmmaker’s infant daughter Harriet. Both of his paternal grandfathers shot Kodachrome home movies early on. Kodachrome became available in 1935 but wasn’t used much by home photographers until after WWII. The baby is shown with her grandmother and then is placed in front of a screen to watch projected Kodachrome home movies of the same grandmother, circa 1935. Baby Harriet’s grandma appeared in some of the first Kodachrome films ever created and tiny Harriet herself, appears in one of the very last.

The tour de force of the evening is the world debut of my friend and colleague John Cannizzaro’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony which takes my breath away. My dad always did business with film collectors and while there are scads of interesting characters if I should ever actually write that novel, these transactions were not exactly life affirming. Even thinking about some of the old creeps makes me want to take a shower but there are a handful of exceptions—sane, reasonable people who bathe regularly but just love film. John is the best of the collector legacy and his love of film reminds me again and again, that despite the travails of making a living at it, I love film too.

While none of the films at the festival are disastrous, and each in its own way pays appropriate tribute to Kodachrome, I don’t think any of them require more than an afternoon to produce. The Temptation of St. Anthony however is exactingly planned over the course of several months. Sets are built. Fifty actors of all ages and races are cast. Festival rules permit in-camera editing but John shoots the film in a single take. The results are spectacular, even though the film runs out about 5 seconds too soon. In a vision, Anthony is tormented by fornicators, flagellants, crucifiers and their crucified. The camera travels through the scene as eloquently as any I’ve ever seen. The color is remarkable and the attention to detail, particularly given the scope of the undertaking, is mind boggling. The last of the last Kodachrome fittingly is a glorious spectacle.

We drive down Wilshire Blvd, The Miracle Mile poignant and vivid in both of our childhood memories. I ask Himself if he lately thinks about death more often like I do. He says he does although he is inclined towards the morbid so this might not be conclusive proof that it is normal that I should be doing so with such frequency myself. I teach the boys to make latkes matter-of-factly so they can make them for their own children when I am gone. The death thing is different now and instead of grief or panic there is a serenity that comes with ideations about ceasing to be.

My father was mentally alert until just a few days before he died. I know he was frightened. His father died by suicide and this left him peculiarly weird about death. But I also think ultimately he had no regrets at the end of his life, having loved and been loved, created something enduring and entertained a lot of people with his movies. If I were able to catch my mother at the exact moment before the dementia began to break her down and ask her about the life she’d led, I am afraid she would have expressed bitterness and dissatisfaction and it makes me sad that having loved me hadn’t been enough. Would it comfort her or merely salt the wound to know I am not bitter and have now more than I could ever have imagined wanting?

Just before her death this week, Elizabeth Edwards posted on Facebook:
I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces -- my family, my friends and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times, and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that."

John Lennon also died prematurely thirty years ago this week. I was at my desk at the methadone clinic and another counselor rushed in, hysterical and it took several minutes for us to calm her down enough to relate the news coherently. I remember the Kennedys and Dr. King but this was more personal. This was music. At my 7th birthday the boys sport Beatle cuts and we dance wildly to what I recall was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” in a silent Kodachrome film shot in the backyard at Fulton Avenue, Van Nuys, 1964. This will never fade. Lennon said “God is the concept by which we measure our pain.” But is it a mere concept that compels us to make music or paintings or movies or candy?
Shabbat Shalom


FionnchĂș said...

As before, we align somehow despite our marked divergences in orbit. Moments ago, before your post arose: I finished about our fieldtrip to the Art Museum. It is even in English if you scroll down!

I may not embroider, but I can (eventually) find images. It took me about 3 hours to compile this, to evade LACMA barriers to saving the shots, and to write in Irish, but here 'tis! I consider this a liberation of the frame, a freedom for the beauty of the work itself.

And "The Baptism" is not about Queen Victoria's firstborn, after all? Speaking of patrons. At least their V&A is free again now. One benefit of higher taxes! xxx me

Jamie said...

I'm not the biggest fan of eating marshmallows, but making them is ridiculously satisfying for me. Feels like a true accomplishment! I have a recipe for peppermint marshmallows, which are supposedly very good in hot chocolate, if you decide to continue in the confection business. Happy Holidays!!