No Country For Old Men

It’s been a tumultuous 11 days for the nation, and for we, the people. I watch the news – things are happening quickly – there are many raw emotions: rancor, agitation and anxiety. Every time there’s a news development, I can’t get out of my head a particular movie and dialogue from it.

That movie is the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, et al. There are many memorable scenes, for me they all involve Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sherriff Ed Tom Bell. His weathered-faced affect throughout is mesmerizing. It is his point of view that we as viewers watch events play out. There’s one scene where Bell goes to visit a good friend and colleague from law enforcement, Ellis, an old guy who is wheelchair bound. He had been shot in the line of duty years before. Ellis lives out in the middle of nowhere. Bell goes to see him to commiserate, as a touchstone to how things were and how they are now — to get a handle on things. The scene is deftly acted, written, and directed. It’s minimal which makes is so powerful. Bell and Ellis talk around things, or they touch upon them and pull away. Then, Ellis says, “This country is hard on people.”

That’s the line that keeps coming back to me. I am not sure why. It’s the way he says it; there’s deep meaning in those simple six words. For all the good, and there is, for all the freedom, and for all the rough edges — what Ellis says is true. He goes on to say, “You can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” He’s talking about that moment, trying to stop the relentless killing machine played by Bardem, but he’s also referring to “Life” — specifically here.

They talk about Bell’s imminent retirement, the winding down of things for him, while the past keeps thrusting itself into his present. The final scene is amazing. It is a domestic conversation between Bell and his wife Loretta (Tess Harper). Bell relates two dreams he had, both involving his father. The camera holds on him as he tells her the dreams, and he has that distant thousand-yard stare. The last line in the movie is, “And then I woke up.” The screen goes to black as we hear the kitchen clock ticking.

Clare Irwin

Adventures in Dog Walking

I started a blog post, on a completely different topic, over a week ago…to my chagrin I have yet to finish it. I’ve been busy and finding a block of time is not as easy as I thought. So, in the interim, I will rely on my trusted fallback topic — pets, and my trusted fallback source of information — my friend Will. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Will walks dogs in my beloved nearby coastal village. And, as I have also related before, this community is an affluent one, so not only do the people live well, so do the dogs. How nice for them, don’t you think? Will has one client who rescued a dog from Hurricane Katrina 10+ years ago, pretty neat.

Here are some of Will’s favorite dogs: Maverick (photo above), or Sir Maverick as Will refers to him, probably because he is a big Lab – over 125 lbs. Hard to tell from this photo how big he is, but what a sweetie! You’ve already met Frank (one of my favorites) in the post “Dogville,” and Freckles in the recent post “Cardinal Points.” Speaking of Freckles, Will and I were talking yesterday — he stopped by to see me, and he reached into his coat pocket for something and accidently pulled out this: What is this? Well it’s a fancy “poopy bag” from the pet store! Special baggies for the dog’s “business.” These cracked us up — first of all the hearts, like the dog cares! But also what do these cost? And you have to go to a special store to buy them…they are not just in the pet aisle at the supermarket! It’s all because we love them!

Here’s another sweetie pie that Will walks: his name is Dexter. He’s a little bit of an older fellow, and Will explained to me that he has a bit of a “backstory” too. Dexter had a herniated disk a couple of years ago, and sometimes his back legs give out and they go limp. Will says when that happens, “All you can do is be there for him emotionally and keep him still until his legs recover. And every time he greets me with his favorite toy: a purple octopus.” Adorable!

I think Will is really tuned into his clients. He’s like the intuitive Dog Whisperer. Another nice remark he made, “I love every dog I walk and I really know them, and they love me too.” Indeed, animals know who understands them. And loves them.

Clare Irwin

Wiccan – What The….?

In earlier years, my older sister, Christina, embraced a version of Wicca. She was always into something and it was usually intriguing — definitely a free spirit. She went out to California, lived in Marin County (where else?), and occasionally went to college classes. At least that is what she told our parents. She befriended a girl (we’ll call her Helen for the purposes of this writing) who was originally from Brentwood in LA, and who had a glamorous Hollywood upbringing.  When that all fell apart Helen moved up north and that is where my sister met her.

My sister essentially apprenticed herself to Helen and learned the tools of the Wicca craft. It appeared pretty benign, but our mother freaked out when my sister came home to visit full of Wiccan know-how. Our father, a wise man, said nothing which ended up being the most effective way of allowing my sister to lose interest on her own. Christina taught me a few things, but it all seemed like a lot of work — and maybe it was Helen’s own overlay — it seemed pretty paranoid too. I remember Christina took me down to the beach to show me how to do water magic, which is writing an intention in the sand, near the water, and letting the waves “pull” the intention out. In other words, the waves would wash away what was written. And then, well I guess something amazing would happen.

First, however, we had to go into the woods and find the perfect branch or large stick that would “speak” to us. This would be the writing utensil. So, I found myself following my earnest sister walking through the soft pine needles through the woods of our property. Christina eventually found the right one, we got in the car, and off we went to the shore. There, she demonstrated how it was done. I have no idea what the intention was — I cannot remember, but I was standing there watching my sister write in the sand and hopping around like some crazy beautiful cricket avoiding the waves that were coming in. It’s a funny and touching memory — it’s how I think of her to this day: young, tall, stunning in a careless way, and walking to the beat of her own drum.

Christina left me the stick when she went back to California, and I put it in the trunk of my car and forgot about it. Months later, something went wrong with the car and my father brought it down to our mechanic. Yes, we pretty much had a “mechanic in residence.” There were a lot of cars, people, activity, friends visiting, and comings and goings during those happy years in my family home. For some reason my father and Frank, our mechanic, had to open the trunk, and there was the stick looking both neglected, gnarly and ominous. Somehow Frank knew that the stick wasn’t there just by accident — it had some weird purpose — and looked quizzically at my dad. My father just shook his head and said, “Don’t ask.” And Frank didn’t — there were more females than males in his household too, and had learned the lesson, probably the hard way, not to ask too many questions about what sort of nutty things the women might be up to (monkey business my grandfather used to call it). Women! Right?

The car was repaired and the stick stayed in the trunk unused until I think I sold it to a friend, or we donated it. As I was emptying out the trunk, I saw the stick there and threw it out. I didn’t think about it. I just whipped it into the woods, but now looking back it was harshly unsentimental of me. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, they are all gone now — the people in this brief scene — and the way I tossed the magic away makes me realize, in my youthful ignorance, that I thought things would never change. Things would always be good, lighthearted, funny, vital. But, of course, that was not the case.

They are all beloved to me, these people, these places, these memories — and that is the real magic. Not so much some exhaustive ritual or incantation, but the spell that extraordinary people cast, and the spell of the perfect convergence of time, of those people and places, and me.

With Love,

Clare Irwin

Postcards from the Cardinal Points

My wonderful friends have been kind enough to send me photos from their respective locations: some have moved to new surroundings, some are vacationing. I thought my readers may enjoy a shorter post and more photos, so here we go: Cardinal Point North: Greenland at sunrise.

 

 

 

Cardinal Point South: Florida and Haiti.

Freckles on his walk with Will. Cardinal Point East:

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, the majestic Cardinal Point West: Washington State:

Enjoy!

Clare Irwin

Mad Men – Part I – The Touch of a Hand

I love this show. I really do. I’ve seen the whole series a couple of times and it never fades. I enjoy long form television, especially on cable channels and “premium” channels like HBO and Showtime. It’s delicious to binge watch, a guilty pleasure and a popular pastime. It can be all-consuming, but in a good way. There are many that have left a deep impression: Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, True Blood, True Detective (the first season), The Night Of, Homeland, Dexter, Lost, I’m getting into Westworld….on and on.

Mad Men has a special place in my list of favorites. The style, the cinematography, the set design, the clothes make-up and hair, the scripts, the direction, the acting, the music — all impeccable. And, what plum roles for actors to have — juicy multi-layered parts to play long term. I know that some people think that television is the faded older step sister of film, but I don’t agree — at least not in the general. Each individual episode of these shows are one hour films.

Since I have been watching Mad Men most recently it’s fresh in my mind. It’s hard to say which character I like the best, because in a show as well executed as this one, I love them all. But I think I am most captivated by the relationship between Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss). They are wonderful together. Their relationship is complicated; it pendulum swings between love and hate, but at the core there is a deep understanding, respect and genuine fondness between them. Whenever they appear on screen together I know I’m in for a treat.

I realize I’m writing this out of order, but there is an episode where Peggy leaves the firm after taking about as much abuse from Don that she can stand. It’s a tense moment, with underlying anger, when she breaks the news. It’s wonderfully scripted and acted, and at the end of the scene, unexpectedly, Don takes Peggy’s hand and kisses it. Not in a pretentious affected way, and not exactly like a lover, but conveying in the slightest and subtlest of gestures how precious she is to him and how he values her — in his own messed up way. And, Peggy’s reaction…well he just disarms her completely. She’s utterly thrown by the reaction, and tears start to well up. What a gem of a moment!

In another season, “The Suitcase” is a pivotal episode in their relationship, and in Don’s life. The episode spans a raucous night and early morning where there is a lot of chaos. Don knows he is waiting for the news of Anna’s death, the famous Sonny Liston vs. Muhammed Ali fight is happening, it’s Peggy’s birthday, and she bails on her boyfriend and he then bails on her. The following morning, it’s another day and Don is spic and span and in his usual “this never happened” philosophy of life — ready for another workday. Peggy comes in rumpled and tired, and they discuss an ad — everything but the elephant in the room. But at the end of the scene, both their hands are resting on the desk, Don takes her hand, covers his with hers and they look at each other — it’s all communicated in that gesture and look. Beautiful.

As I think about it there is another wonderful “hand” moment. Earlier in the series, Betty (January Jones) runs into Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) the little boy who has a crush on her. Glen is sitting in the car waiting on his mother, and Betty comes up to the passenger window to talk to him. She starts to cry — he’s the only one she can really communicate with — and Glen, so sweetly, offers his mitten-ed hand for her to hold. It’s lovely.

A simple touch can convey a great deal — holding hands, touching someone’s arm, a pat. I think we forget how this small act of connection is, in fact, so very large. Have we lost sight of that? Nowadays, we tend toward the extreme or grand gesture, hugs, air kisses, which often seem to have less meaning. Or else we move straight to the erotic. But hand touches, think of all we can do with our hands, they speak so many languages: comfort, love, support, empathy, understanding, solidarity….Let’s not forget that.

Thank you to all the super talented cast, writers, creators, everyone beyond the camera, and crew of Mad Men for giving us such an outstanding, glorious, and full of thought, gift.

Clare Irwin

The Cessation of Smoking and Other Proposed Resolutions

First off Happy New Year everyone! May it be healthy, prosperous and joyous. I hope all of you enjoyed the festivities. Where I live the roads and stores were unusually quiet today. People must be sleeping in, recovering from too much fun, watching football, etc. I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like some variations on the theme. My church has a service on New Year’s Eve where we right down the things we wish to let go of and the slips of paper are placed in a burning bowl. I also find appealing the idea of intention, thinking and visualizing a happier year, a happier tomorrow.

I have been toying with the idea of stopping smoking. I know! It’s bad! Terrible and no one should do it! Ever! I don’t smoke much at all, one really can’t since there aren’t many places that it’s allowed. I stop and start. In the past I haven’t had any trouble quitting. This last stint started when I was spending time overseas in a country where it’s allowed everywhere — even that’s changing. Now it’s time to quit again, but I’m not sure why this time around I feel a mild trepidation. I’m probably overthinking it. One friend, who was never a smoker, and I think privately sees herself as a bit of a psychology expert, asked me in a super serious hushed tone, “Why do you think you smoke?” Because I like it.

It’s that simple! Even Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I’ve been given an assortment of advice from former smokers: chew nicotine gum (revolting), stop cold turkey, stop gradually (impossible), take Chantix (the side effects are alarming), and so on. Once again my friend Will offers some amusing advice. We were talking about it, and I have to admit that my first reason for quitting was monetary. I calculated how much it costs if I average out how many packs I purchase in a year. I mean it’s a lot of money! Will nodded understandingly and said, “The main reason I stopped smoking was because I could afford to drink more.” (!) His advice was to stop. Just stop. He also suggested getting Trader Joe’s tea tree toothpicks in cinnamon flavor and chew on those. It sounds like a good idea, but how is that going to look? Do I have to do that in private? Otherwise I look like some old guy in a movie about the Mafia. Will’s other advice: crème brulee lattes from Dunkin Donuts. I had one and it was delicious, but it wound me up for hours. My favorite parting words of wisdom from Will were, “You may want to stay away from people for the first few days.”

Clare Irwin