Spitball Army

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Screenings: Last Vegas (2013)

July 6th, 2014 · No Comments

This should have been so so so bad: “The Hangover” for the Geritol set. But it was not. The big question is: Why did I watch it?

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Screenings: Perfume – The Story of a Murderer (2006)

July 6th, 2014 · No Comments

The Obsessive Quest To Bottle The Essence Of A Soul seems bound to a literary concept, but it works. Actor Ben Whishaw is perfect as The Obsessed.

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Screenings: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)

July 5th, 2014 · No Comments

This World War II espionage thriller is hilarious. Intentionally, it seems. Deborah Kerr’s would-be Mata Hari has spunk.

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Screenings: Life Itself (2014)

July 4th, 2014 · No Comments

Documentary of Roger Ebert’s famous career, ordeal with cancer, and inspiring marriage. I was near tears several times. Essential.

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My South: P is for pyrotechnics

July 4th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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Half a block from where I work, a Ninja Fireworks stand sits in the corner of the Raceway filling station. Next door to the Raceway, in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, a fireworks stand three times the size of the Ninja truck sits. They are called TNT. The fellow at the TNT stand told me that if I go online to TNTfireworks.com, I can print out a coupon to get an additional 20 dollars off of my 50 dollar purchase. (Where do people get the money to spend on these things?)

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Here’s the truly odd thing about these trucks: they are parked in the city of Leeds, but Leeds has an anti-fireworks ordinance. Therefore, folks from the surrounding areas are driving to Leeds to buy fireworks and put sales tax dollars in the City of Leeds bank account. This is both wise and crooked on the part of Leeds, in my view. Where I live, in Birmingham, there is also an anti-fireworks ordinance, both for sales and use. This does not prevent residents there from firing off round after round after round on the 4th of July. As a result, on the 5th of July, my Facebook feed is peppered with notices of runaway dogs throughout my neighborhood. Dogs have an inherent sense of right and wrong, and flee from areas where shameless disregard of the law exists. And you thought it was the noise that frightened them.

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Inside the Ninja truck, fireworks are piled up in nice stacks and rows. The right-angler in me was immediately attracted to the symmetry on the shelves.

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The Patriotic theme is everywhere. Because it is patriotic to blow things up. With unmitigated force. And proudly.

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Marketing tactics are sometimes very mystifying.

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“Thank you for shopping at Ninja!”

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→ 2 CommentsTags: My South: A to Z · photography

Screenings: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

July 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

Not enough pre-Code raciness, but plenty of the old ham from Paul Muni in the lead. Stereotypes R us.

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Postcard: Iwo Jima Statue

June 30th, 2014 · No Comments

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Card is titled: “Iwo Jima Statue . La Estatua de Iwo Jima . Monument d’Iwo Jima . Iwo Jima Standbild”

Printed on back of postcard:

IWO JIMA STATUE
From the action picture by Joe Rosenthal of Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, came this memorial in tribute to the successful American invasion of Iwo Jima.

[text also printed in Spanish, French and German translations]

Publishing information:

Published by Silberne Souvenir Sales, Inc., Washington, D.C. 20018

Mirro-Krome® Card by H.S. Crocker Co., Inc., San Bruno, Calif. 94066

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My South: M is for Melt and a movie

June 28th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Here it is, late June in Alabama, and the forecast is for thunderstorms practically every afternoon, temperatures consistently in the 90s, and high humidity 24 hours a day. It is under these conditions that I find myself meeting my good friends A. & E. for lunch at a brand new Birmingham eatery named, ironically, Melt.

Melt started life as a food truck specializing in the simple grilled cheese sandwich and its countless variations. It was a roving hit, which is unsurprising in this Age of the Food Truck. Apparently, business was so good that the two women who own the mobile business decided to plant their operation on the ground somewhere. They found a perfect spot: a vacated gas station on a corner in the rapidly-rejuvenating Avondale district, just a one-block stroll from the lushness of the recently refurbished Avondale Park.

I’ll interrupt myself briefly here to say that the concept and name of Melt isn’t entirely original. Last month, I was mapping out stops for a road trip that, sadly, didn’t occur. I discovered the presence of a cheese-based restaurant named Melt in Cincinnati, and it was penciled in as a food stop for that day. But Cincinnati isn’t Birmingham, and this nearby joint has a local flavor that tastes very specifically of Avondale.

Melt Birmingham makes creative use of the building, dividing the restaurant into three distinct areas: what I’d call the main room, which contains the clearly-visible kitchen area and a dine-at bar; a side dining area that has two roll-up garage doors as one of its walls; and an additional glassed-in space constructed where the gas pumps must have previously been located. Re-purposed materials abound. One wall in the main room is completely covered, floor to ceiling, by a battered tin sign that reads VOTE NO TO TAX INCREASE. The doors to the restrooms, as well as the entire wall surrounding them, are covered with horizontal planks of weathered wood. And the old signs advertising gasoline prices hold a prominent spot on the wall of the side room.

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You can also see, in the photograph above (and despite its blurriness), recycled wood used on the ceiling.

The restaurant opened on Tuesday, June 24th. Two days later, Bob Carlton, food writer for al.com, posted a column detailing the history of Melt and, in essence, giving the two-day-old place a rave. Speaking to A. & E. on the phone on Friday, we discussed going to see a film and catching some lunch beforehand. I had just read Bob’s article, so we decided to go there and get on the front end of the wave.

When I arrived there early, at 11:40 AM, there was already a line to the door waiting to order (Melt does not offer traditional table-side ordering, but does deliver your meals to you). The joint was buzzing. Social media and good word-of-mouth do indeed have power.

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A. got the basic three-cheese sandwich with fries, and E. got a turkey grilled cheese with house-made potato chips. I got the Mushroom & Truffle, a grilled sourdough bread sandwich containing porcini mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, truffle oil and – what else? – cheese. I requested an addition of bacon. That was the perfecting touch, and I recommend it. The menu encourages patrons to add ingredients to their orders (at an additional charge, of course…these restauranteurs are no dummies!), which is a small touch that only adds to the creative ambiance of the place.

After the meal, we headed over to the local Edge 12 movie theater and saw Chef. Not only was this a fitting complement to our interesting dining experience, but there was an extra twist: we had just left a restaurant that had begun life in a food truck, to view a movie about a fine-dining restaurant chef who finds personal redemption working on a food truck.

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→ 1 CommentTags: film · food · My South: A to Z

My South: K is for Kelly Ingram Park

June 27th, 2014 · 1 Comment

I had several days off from work recently. Even though I had planned a road trip centered around stops at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house in Pennsylvania and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, I stayed home. It is much less expensive to have a staycation, and the “stay” part of the word had, in fact, forced my decision – five or six days of hotel/motel rates are far beyond my allowable budget.

Yes, there was yardwork. Yes, there were home chores. Yes, there was sleeping-in. Yes, there was dietary and physical self-improvement. And, yes, I spent a little time discovering parts of my city.

One thing I did was visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is located directly across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The Church was the site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls. It is an iconic landmark, and the Institute – opened in 1992 – has become a must-see destination for visitors to the city. I had never been before.

So, 22 years after its opening, this Birmingham resident since 1987 finally gets there. It’s an immersive experience, the stiff but verbose ticket-taker told me. She also said that I would be takng the self-guided tour – do-it-yourself, if you will. However, there was a large group of mostly-elderly black visitors being led into the museum directly ahead of me, so I joined their tour. It turned out that they were former members of the Birmingham Black Barons baseball teams of decades ago, in town for the next day’s annual Rickwood Classic. I felt honored just to be in their presence.

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Across the street from the Institute, kitty-cornered from the 16th Street Church, is Kelly Ingram Park (formerly West Park), a full city-block park that holds an interesting place in civil rights history. It was on this square of land that people would gather prior to heading out on protests during the ’60s. It has been updated as a stop on Birmingham’s “Freedom Walk.” A circular path around the park is dotted with statues and sculptures detailing highlights and aspects of the local battle for basic rights.

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The Children’s Crusade monument has greater impact when viewed through the iron bars of the prison window, placed across the Freedom Walk. On May 2nd, 1963, 959 children, ages 6 to 18, were arrested under the direction of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor.

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The inscription at the base of James Drake’s monument reads: I AIN’T AFRAID OF YOUR JAIL.

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“Police Dog Attack” by James Drake:

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Dogs were used to frighten and attack protesters during this struggle. The Freedom Walk passes between two walls from which sculptures of vicious dogs leap out. It is quite unnerving. It is meant to be.

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Again (below) with the dogs.

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This statue is titled The Salute to the Foot Soldiers, and was created by Dr. Ronald Scott McDowell. The plaque at its base reads:

This sculpture is dedicated to the foot soldiers of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.

With gallantry, courage and great bravery they faced the violence of attack dogs, high powered water hoses and bombings. They were the fodder in the advance against injustice, warriors of a just cause; they represent humanity unshaken in their firm belief in their nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.

We salute these men and women who were the soldiers of this great cause.

Richard Arrington, Jr.
Mayor of Birmingham
May 1995

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My South: U is for urology (or, Examining Walker Evans)

June 26th, 2014 · 1 Comment

An asymptomatic condition of some concern to my primary physician found me sitting in a specialist’s examining room on a recent morning. Pushed up alongside one wall was the examination table: a well-worn piece of equipment with cracking leather corners, faded paint on its legs forcing a resemblance to an abandoned pommel horse base circa 1977 – a crackling, long sheet of tissue paper strategically placed in an apparent effort to conceal those details. The table occupied the length of the wall, and led my eyes, upon entering the room, to the plate glass window that occupied its perpendicular neighbor. The window was adorned with aluminum blinds, half-opened to afford a panoramic view of the hospital campus from the room’s fifth-floor perch. After spending a few minutes taking in the sights, watching the green lights at the intersection turn to red a number of times while three shuttles performed their drop-off-pick-up duties at the adjacent building’s entrance, I turned around to face the door – now closed – through which I had entered. I sat down in a stiff chair with my back to the window.

Centered on the wall opposite the examining table, to the right of a small sink and above a rolling stool that, I assumed, the specialist would soon be occupying, was a large framed photograph.

Peeking out from the bottom of the print, almost obscured by the frame, was the photo credit: Walker Evans Roadside stand near Birmingham, Alabama 1936. I leaned back on my heels, in front of the picture, and soaked in the details: the hand-painted signs, the telegraph poles, the onlookers in the background, the weight of the melons in the boys’ hands, the price of eel, the fish face frown, the outdated phone number configuration, the oddly-placed apostrophes, the stacked fruit orbs in the window.

Presently, the physician entered and sat squarely where I thought he might. He rolled to the center of the small room and faced me. The Walker Evans photograph was between us, off to the side of our avenue of communication. We discussed his concerns. I mentioned my asymptomatic state. He proposed a plan of discovery to rule out his concerns. I gave my consent to go forward. During the discussion, I occasionally glanced to my left, toward the Walker Evans photograph. When we finished this stage of my visit, I gently detoured with an observation.

“That’s a fascinating photograph.”

He turned toward it and lit up. “A Walker Evans, yes. That’s an exhibition print. It’s a rather famous photograph.” He seemed to hold this particular picture in high esteem and had obviously spent some quality time admiring it. “You know, for that exhibition – in the 1980s, I think – they went to all of the sites of the original Evans photographs and recaptured them in the present day. That fish stand is just right outside of town,” meaning Birmingham, the largest “town” in the state of Alabama, where we were meeting. “The updated version of this photo has two boys holding fish, not melons. And that building is gone now.”

I asked if he had been the one who had selected this print to adorn the walls of the exam room.

“No, this is my partner’s print,” he said, referring to the other physician whose name was on the office door. He then paused, anticipating an explanation of my initial observation.

I turned my eyes to the print. “I was wondering if you thought that there was something maybe a little odd about the picture.”

He turned and made a cursory scan of the picture he’d glanced at hundreds of times before. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but, mm, it’s oddly fitting that in the center of that photograph is a pretty obvious representation of, you know, for this being a urology practice.”

Puzzled, he took another look. It took him no more than a couple of seconds to see the central image – the watermelon phallus – and he laughed. “I’d never noticed that,” he said, to my disbelief and his quiet amusement. Then he swiveled back toward me. “So. Now. Stand up, facing me, and let your pants drop to your ankles.”

[This piece was originally posted circa 2011 or 2012 at V's Place, a website now sadly - but, hopefully, only temporarily - retired.]

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