Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo-finish Friday: Festival of Books

Now that the Royal Wedding is over, there are still two Big Events this weekend for folks here in Los Angeles. The university where I teach is hosting the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and across town there's the annual  Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival, where Laurie Powers is signing books and on a panel discussing True Grit.

For the book fair, the streets and walkways of campus are lined with a network of booths for hundreds of participating booksellers. There will be readings and discussions to attend. It may be hard to think of the residents of the movie capital of the world as book fans, but this is always a Big Event.

The booths went up already last weekend and have been waiting for the action to start Saturday morning. I snapped this pic of a few of them on the way home after my last class (of the semester) Thursday afternoon. You can get a current glimpse of the event as it develops here on the university's webcam.

Photo-finish Friday is the bright idea of Leah Utas over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.

Forgotten Book: Andre Dubus, Broken Vessels

Andre Dubus died in 1999, at the age of 63. He wrote short stories and essays, in a steady, straightforward style in a voice that seemed to come from the heart itself. This collection of essays, written between the years 1977 and 1990, tells of his boyhood in Louisiana, his years as a marine, and his life as a student, writer, teacher, husband and father.

The title of the book refers to an accident in 1986, when helping a stranded motorist on a dark highway in Massachusetts, Dubus was struck by another car. Losing one leg and the use of the other, he never walked again.

His essays on running, playing baseball as a boy, intervening in an assault of a teenage girl by her boyfriend, a cross-country train trip, yield to descriptions of physical therapy and learning to live in a wheelchair. You read page after page of this account, and you look at your own legs, suddenly glad for them and aware that you may never take them for granted again. You may not take yourself for granted again either. Dubus can have that effect on you.

He is a mixture of a very proud man who is also humbled by what reflection reveals to him of life's meaning. A practicing Catholic, his writing exhibits a strong moral sense. He reaches consistently for a single, coherent perspective from which to see and understand everything.

In an age of hype and self-promotion, his sense of himself as a writer seems very old-fashioned. He wonders, for instance, how the quality of writing is affected when you do it for money. Or, as in The New Yorker, your words appear next to advertisements for luxury products.

A celebrator of friendship, he speaks fondly of the men who are his friends. And he shows a strongly democratic spirit in the respectful attention he pays to the conversations of laborers and Amtrak crew members. He speaks less freely about his love for the women in his life, as if to say much would betray intimacies.

His son Andre Dubus III became a novelist in his own right. Recently his memoir, Townie, about his relationship with his father, has received warm reviews. Dubus senior has another equally fine collection of essays, Meditations From a Movable Chair. A collection of his stories includes "Killings," which was made into a film, the dark melodrama In the Bedroom. All these books are still in print.

Broken Vessels is currently available at amazon, AbeBooks, Powell's Books and for the nook.

Coming up: Robert Alexander Wason, Friar Tuck (1912)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Video, Read the Book

For a final project in my writing classes, I assign a short call-to-action video on the topic students have been researching all semester. It's supposed to be a simple slide show with voiceover narration - not a music video. Images have to be public domain, noncopyrighted, or the students' own photos.

Objective: to raise their awareness of how word and image create meaning when you put them together. Also how to use them persuasively. The term for this is visual rhetoric.

I have my own research topic (mythology of the American cowboy) and do all the assignments first, to show the class what I've got in mind for them to do. This was my stab at the video assignment:

Read the Book from Ron Scheer on Vimeo.

"Read the Book" is for sections of the course in the social sciences and arts and humanities. The "Stamp Out TB" video that comes up next is for students from the health sciences.

Coming up: Andre Dubus, Broken Vessels

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quentin Reynolds, The Fiction Factory

The year was 1955, the 100th anniversary of magazine publisher Street & Smith. I’m guessing some corporate head or figurehead there decided a history of the company was needed. So a writer was hired, and the end result is this curious book.

Since self-published company histories are a fiction genre of their own, it’s hard to know what to take as fact and what’s been left out. Corporate lore is sustained by word of mouth and selective memory. Fact checking seldom plays a role. As written, Fiction Factory is an entertaining and fascinating story, but you keep wondering.

We can be fairly certain that Street & Smith began as two men by that name in pre-Civil War New York on the staff of a weekly newspaper, The New York Weekly Dispatch. As the story goes, they eventually became its owners. Street was the brains behind marketing and sales. Smith masterminded the editorial content. Together they turned the modest newspaper into the publishing powerhouse, Street & Smith.

Mulberry Street, New York City, c1900
Street died in 1883 and Smith’s descendants, who took over when he died in 1887, turned it into an empire. You can tell it’s a company history because it praises the wisdom of the founders, and so much of the book is about the success (and occasional failure) of their business decisions.

On the one hand, there were the promotional and operational innovations that kept them a step ahead of competitors. On the other were the editorial practices that lured the best writers into the fold and got them writing what a vast audience of readers wanted to read.

Ormond Smith (son of founder Francis Smith) is portrayed as a man of refined taste who nevertheless had an instinct for lowest common denominator storytelling. By Reynolds’ account, he was instrumental in defining the popular genres of detective fiction, romance, sea stories, adventure, and westerns. An early movie magazine, Picture-Play, was also his inspiration.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Photo-finish Friday: hello, goodbye

Goodbye today to another bunch of "neighbors." This is the celebrity cemetery in Westwood. Here you will find the last resting place of Natalie Wood, Mel Torme, Roy Orbison, Donna Reed, Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, Peggy Lee, Truman Capote, and many others. My favorite grave marker is Rodney Dangerfield's, which says, "There Goes the Neighborhood."

Directly across the way in the photo above are rows of crypts where Marilyn Monroe is interred. Hers is the one besmudged with almost 50 years of people's touches and kisses. This normally tranquil location is right off busy Wilshire Boulevard, and right behind an equally busy branch of the LA Public Library. Go here for a virtual tour. . .

Photo-finish Friday is the bright idea of Leah Utas over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.

Forgotten Book: Jan Reid, The Bullet Meant For Me

In this 2002 book of nonfiction, writer Jan Reid has written an absorbing and sometimes harrowing account of a life suddenly altered by the shot of a gun in a robbery attempt. The book begins with that incident on a deserted street in Mexico City and ends with a return trip to the scene of the crime years later.

In between, it concerns itself with the author's interest in boxing and his friendship with a young Mexican-American boxer, Jesus Chavez. It's also a meditation on the dynamics of proving one's manhood with high-risk behavior. Reid connects all this with the Texas setting where it mostly takes place.

He tells of growing up in north-central Texas and discovering boxing as a young man, but with no particular self-confidence or promise. Returning to the sport in later years, while working as a writer in Austin, he recovers a sense of purpose that agility in the ring had once given him. He is able to share this feeling of accomplishment for an audience of readers who may have little sympathy for the sport.

Mexico City, photo by Fernando Tomás from Zaragoza, Spain
While you may never care to put on a pair of gloves yourself after reading the book, you can grant him the validity of his own point of view. The sport, he argues, harnesses physical power with a kind of grace and courage that in a well-fought match can inspire admiration.

How his ability to throw a punch at an adversary determines the outcome of his encounter with an armed robber is not completely resolved in the book. Although the punch didn't connect, he may well have been shot - and killed - anyway. For half of the book, as he recovers some use of his legs with surgery and physical therapy, he endures staggering pain and the uncertainty of the future of his marriage. His achievement is in his coming to terms with all that.

It doesn't give too much away to reveal that he returns to the gym in Austin, on the support of a cane, to put on gloves again. I don't know Reid, and he may be a very different man in person, but he comes across as someone both courageous and the last to admit it. He makes sense of what's happened in his own way, determined to take on adversity even while it means never fully overcoming self-doubt.

The Bullet Meant for Me is currently available at amazon, AbeBooks, and Powell's Books.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Quenton Reynolds, The Fiction Factory

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cowboys in the news, 1881-82

April 28, 1883
Cowboys in the 1880s had really bad press. They were portrayed as a menace to civil order, and sensational reports of their lawlessness were common. I’m looking at a series of articles from the Chicago Daily Tribune covering cowboy-related disturbances in Kansas. Readers familiar with western outlaws will recognize these as the first breathless reports of what came to be known as the Talbot Raid.

A special dispatch datelined Wichita, December 17, 1881, describes a wild-bunch style shootout in Caldwell, Kansas, which left a prominent citizen, Mike Meagher, dead. Meagher, previously a town marshal, had long been a fearless opponent of the lawless. “Many a cowboy and many a Texan has bitten the dust before Mike Meagher’s steady aim,” goes the story. At the time of writing, several of the gang had fled town with armed and mounted citizens “in hot pursuit.”

That same day, the Western Associated Press reported from Caldwell itself, filling in more details. The incident apparently began after a night of drinking and carousing by as many as ten cowboys. After a disturbance in the morning, shooting broke out again about 1:00 in the afternoon. Meagher, now referred to as a former mayor, was shot by one of the cowboys, Jim Talbot.

As the cowboys fled town, one of them, George Speer, was shot dead by a citizen while saddling a horse near a dancehall called the Redlight. Riding horses taken from a livery stable, the gang was then pursued 12 miles south into Indian Territory, where they’d taken cover in woods.

Charles Russell, Smoke of a 45, 1908
A dispatch the following day reported that eight townsmen had surrounded the cowboys, but the men had slipped away in the night after badly wounding one of their pursuers. By morning, the size of the posse had swelled to fifty. Among them was a brother-in-law of the dead Meagher, a Capt. Steele, who “means business, and will not give up the chase until the villains are captured or there is no possibility of taking them.”

Meanwhile, back in Caldwell, there is movement afoot to rid the town of its bad element. It is expected that some residents will shortly be treated to “sudden emigration or otherwise.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

Richard S. Wheeler, Snowbound

Selected for this year’s Spur Award for Short Novel, this is an account of John Charles Frémont’s fourth expedition into the West, 1848-49. Frémont, as Wheeler admits in the afterword, is a hard nut to crack. He was an adventurer who seems to have required a devoted audience and a national stage on which to play out his adventures.

On one level, his attempt to discover a route for a transcontinental railroad was little more than a stunt. He not only set out across the West’s most forbidding mountain ranges, but he did it in the winter. Told repeatedly that such a trip was foolhardy, he simply refused to listen.

And he wouldn’t turn back, even when it was clear that no railroad could ever be built through the chasms and over the high passes his expedition encountered. He seems to have been driven by a triumphant vision of himself arriving in California, having defied everyone’s belief that it couldn’t be done. Nothing short of that would satisfy him.

San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo by SoCal L.A.
By the middle of Wheeler’s novel, that vision is beyond achieving. The entire expedition of 33 men is snowbound in the highest elevations of southern Colorado. Blaming everyone but himself for failure to even reach the Continental Divide, Frémont sends for help. There begins the long disaster of retreat from the mountains as men perish one by one from cold and starvation.

Wheeler uses several point of view characters to tell the story. There is Frémont himself, so full of self-importance and contempt for others, and conscious of the power he holds over his men. Almost woundingly sensitive, by contrast, is a young doctor who begins to doubt Frémont’s leadership as he watches the Colonel’s indifference to the suffering of the pack mules.

The book’s achievement is its portrayal of the physical suffering of the men themselves and the psychic toll of their growing dread. When death finally comes to some, after the last shoe leather has been boiled, it is with a numbing surrender to exhaustion, cold, and despair.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Photo-finish Friday: goodbye, hello

Today's pic is next in a series of goodbyes and hellos as we begin to pack up and leave Los Angeles for our place in the desert. I recently took this snapshot on a morning walk about ten minutes from our house out there.

The spring flowers have been in bloom for several weeks. There are lots of these bright yellow bushes, but mostly it's the ground that is covered with tiny flowers. The bush at the top of the pic is a creosote bush which gives off a sharp smell of creosote in the rain - which there will be little of from now until next winter. It also has tiny dark yellow flowers in the spring.

These hills are a network of trails, many of them forged by young riders on dirt bikes and ATVs. Not exactly kind to the environment, which is a lot more fragile than it looks. But usually a walker has the whole desert to himself. I look forward to more time on foot in these hills.

Photo-finish Friday is the bright idea of Leah Utas over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Claire Davis, Winter Range

I found this mix of psychological thriller and literary novel about small town/ranch country life really absorbing. The tension that builds in it is intense, as it's hard to anticipate just what extremes of behavior the author is going to permit her characters. That the characters are fully three-dimensional and believable adds to that intensity.

I was often able to read only a chapter of this novel at a time. The prose is often poetic, and the internal explorations of character, feelings and motives, are meant to be taken in slowly and deliberately. I sometimes put down the book after a particularly chilling or revelatory scene with a reluctance to go on because the knowledge of characters and their intentions was so raw.

This is a dark and beautifully told story about a rural community, set in its ways and distrustful of outsiders. Values have been shaped by generations of struggle to make a living from cattle and agriculture, which are at the mercy of the weather, markets, time, chance, and accident.

Cattle drive in the snow
Government and, to an extent, the law are regarded as impositions on a natural order that took shape over a century ago. Ike, the sheriff, is thrust in the middle of that conflict between old and new. Meanwhile, the decisions he has to make are complicated by his marriage to a local ranch girl with a reputation for being "wild" in her youth.

Anyone with intelligence and single-minded rebelliousness who has grown up in that kind of environment and chose to stay will understand the ambivalence of his wife, Pattiann. Anyone reading the headlines of shooters in shopping malls will recognize the blinding rage of Chas, who has no more compassion for himself than he does for his victims, which include his cattle and his horse.

His goading of Ike is equal parts revenge and suicidal. Revenge for Ike's marriage to the "wild girl" he once knew, who grew up to become the sheriff's wife. Suicidal because he is able to twist Ike's commitment to the law to force each of their hands. A psychological chiller that ends on the frozen wastes of the Montana prairie.

Winter Range is available at amazon, AbeBooks, Powell's Books, and bookcloseouts, and for the nook.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Richard Wheeler, Snowbound

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crime films from Argentina

Grading stacks of student papers has got me behind on my reading. I glance with yearning now and then to my TBR shelf. And I sneak in a few chapters of a book I'd much rather be giving full time to - Richard Wheeler's Snowbound, which just won the Spur Award for Short Novel.

So for something of a change today, I'm going way south of the border to Argentina for capsule reviews of some crime films I've seen. I know that many readers here like crime fiction even more than westerns, so as a public service I offer the following for your consideration.

A Red Bear (2002). In this raw and intense film from director Adrián Caetano, Julio Chávez gives a gripping performance as an ex-con, out of prison on parole. His ex-wife wants nothing to do with him and has taken up with another man. Broke and after some money owed to him, he falls in with a bunch of crooks from his former life. Meanwhile, he tries hard to reconnect to a daughter who was only one year old when he got sent up.

Keeping a tight lid on a volcano of rage, he rarely betrays what he's thinking or feeling. Intent on doing the right thing for his daughter, his choices are unexpected and surprising. The end when it comes is a violent act of vengeance that's had at least one reviewer call this film an "urban western."

Nine Queens (2000). Directed by Fabián Bielinsky, this film begins as two con artists meet in a convenience store. The script is nicely complex, the characters are cleverly duplicitous, and the plot - compressed into 24 hours - is full of twists, turns, and red herrings. Part of the unpredictability is not being able to gauge the level of potential menace in the story. At almost any point there's the possibility that all could go terribly wrong.

A kind of odd-couple buddy film, its pairing of Gastón Pauls and Ricardo Darín is continually fascinating as the high-stakes alliance between them keeps evolving. 

The Aura (2005). This film, the second by director Fabián Bielinsky, is an off-beat heist movie that's focused on the mental and emotional state of the lead character, played by Ricardo Darín. Withdrawn and hyper vigilant, he's a detail-obsessed taxidermist who goes deer hunting in the woods and shoots a man instead.

Thus begins an escapade full of deceit, danger, and increasingly high stakes, all complicated by the main character's epileptic condition that produces seizures at inopportune moments. In one brilliant scene, we stand across the street watching as an elaborate robbery takes place. This was the last film by Bielinsky, who died in 2006.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009). Ricardo Darín appears again in this film directed by Juan José Campanella. A retired police investigator attempts to solve a 25-year-old rape-murder case and crosses paths with a woman he once loved.

She is now a judge, who joins him in an attempt to uncover what promises to be long-buried secrets that date back to the oppressive military dictatorship of the 1970s. Won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, 2009.

Burnt Money (2000). Then for a real walk on the wild side there's Marcelo Piñeyro's film based on a bungled bank robbery in 1965 and a two-month manhunt. The gang of robbers is not your usual movie crooks. These guys are way off center as they flee the country to hang out in Uruguay until the heat is off back in Buenos Aires.

Things go from bad to worse as they fill their time with drugs and prostitutes. Two of the men are lovers. This heated mix produces a good deal of steam, and when the federales finally close in, it's a blood bath the likes of which may have you reaching for the remote. Definitely one you need to be in the right mood for. Crime not only doesn't pay. It gets really weird.

Look for them all at netflix.

Coming up: Richard Wheeler, Snowbound

Friday, April 8, 2011

Photo-finish Friday: hello, goodbye

Funny how fast six years can fly by. These office buildings along Wilshire Boulevard have been my neighbors since the summer of 2005 when we moved to this part of town. Suddenly with a phone call, we learn that the lease is up and we'll be moving again.

What this sets in motion are long-postponed plans for retirement. Rather than finding another apartment in town, we'll be completing the move to our place in the desert. I've decided to do one last year of teaching, and then call it quits. A friend is looking for a place where I can crash the nights I'll be in town.

Not the best of times, with the future so uncertain, but high time. And also timely. Over the past several weeks, a neighbor who is a landscaper has been putting in plants and trees for around the house, which make it homier. It will be pleasant to have the leisure to watch them bloom and grow.

And so a lot of goodbyes lie ahead. The first of them to Wilshire Boulevard and Westwood.

Photo-finish Friday is the bright idea of Leah Utas over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

FFB: Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western (1910)

Hat tip to Walker Martin who put me onto this author. Francis Lynde (1856-1930) was a prolific writer, with short fiction appearing in magazines like Munsey’s as early as 1894. A decade later, he began a long relationship with The Popular Magazine.

By 1910 when The Taming of Red Butte Western was published by Scribner’s, he’d already published six novels, plus a couple dozen titles in the magazines. In later years, three of his stories would find their way to film. I’ve now told you all I know about the man.

The plot. This is not a cowboy western, but an adventure story set in the west. The Red Butte Western of the title is a railroad line that runs across expanses of desert and mountain in the Southwest. You might call this one a rogue railroad, as it has been run rather fast and loose by dishonest men. Howard Lidgerwood, in chapter one, is reluctantly persuaded by the railroad’s new owner to whip it back into shape.

Lynde’s is a men’s world. There are 40-50 named male characters, nearly all of them employed by the railroad. Many have a checkered past. All that’s required of a man to survive in this outpost is “nerve and a good gun” (p. 35). Lynde swiftly sets up the initial conflict, and tensions quickly build. For starters, there is mystery aplenty. The railroad is the victim of sabotage and there’s only circumstantial evidence pointing to the perpetrators.

Trying to enforce reforms, Lidgerwood earns the ill will of many of the employees. He is first lampooned by them, then threatened and shot at by a gunman whose brother he has fired for dereliction of duty. Then he begins uncovering fishy details about a building and loan scheme that has left disgruntled investors empty-handed. All of this is just a sample.

Character. Lidgerwood is in the West partly of necessity, but Lynde is vague on the details. What we do know is that he is haunted by a sense of inadequacy and failure – in a word, cowardice.

He struggles with his temerity, while holding to a code of civilized behavior. He will not, for instance, fire another man simply for having a bad attitude. The man has to be guilty of some malfeasance. Likewise, he will not carry a gun, though frontier conditions clearly prevail in the settlements along the railroad.

Finally, the West is both the education and testing of the man. In attempting to “tame” the railroad, Lidgerwood is determined to set right what is wrong, no matter the consequences. And he will do it without compromising his principles. Proof that he is not a coward comes when he is willing to surrender his life rather than yield to murderous and uncivilized villains.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Johnny D. Boggs, Northfield

Sampling modern-day western writers, I picked this novel based on the James-Younger gang’s bungled bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. The year was 1876. To mix a little fact with fiction here, it was the same year as Lonesome Dove and Little Big Horn.

For anyone who has seen the variety of movies based on this incident, the overall story will be familiar. Jesse and Frank James team up with three Younger brothers, plus three others, and journey from Missouri to Minnesota to knock off a “Yankee bank.”

Unable to get into the bank safe that fateful day, they shot one of the employees dead before making an escape into a hail of gunfire from Northfield citizens. Two of the gang died on the streets of town, and the Youngers were captured days later. Only Jesse and Frank made it back home.

Boggs’ challenge was to make this all new again with a fresh point of view. And he does. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person. Some are members of the gang; others are local citizens and law officers. There are 23 in all, plus a prologue and epilogue by Cole Younger, remembering the whole episode from the distance of many years later.

Jesse and Frank James, 1872
From Boggs’ notes at the end, it seems safe to say the book is based on considerable research. So we learn a lot about the men, as well as the Minnesotans whose lives they invaded. Still, it’s a montage and not a complete picture, which makes it as much speculative fiction as history.

Anyway, I liked it. The story begins several weeks before the raid and ends several weeks after. It builds slowly as the men split up once they get to Minnesota and decide on which bank to rob. Then there’s time off for drinking and visits to brothels, as they gradually run through their travel funds.

Curiously, the excitement doesn’t really take hold until after the mid-point of the story when the gang has fled town and is on the run. Shot up and lost, riding stolen horses in dismal autumn weather, they are a sorry lot. Bickering among themselves, regretful and miserable, they are hungry and increasingly desperate. Their clothes have been reduced to tatters.

In this 150th year after the start of the Civil War, the book is a reminder of the sectional animosities that lingered long afterwards. For Confederate supporters, memories of humiliation and abuse at the hands of Unionists still rankled. We are also reminded that the James and Younger boys had ridden with the murderous Quantrill Raiders during that war.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Old West glossary, no. 10

Montana cowboys, c1910
Here’s another set of frontier terms garnered from early western writing. Definitions were discovered in various online dictionaries, as well as Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Dictionary of the American West, The Cowboy Dictionary, The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

These are from Francis Lynde’s railroad novel, The Taming of Red Butte Western (1910), to be reviewed here later this week. Once again I struck out on a few. If anybody knows the Old West meaning of “monkey motions” or “wickerware,” leave a comment.

Locomotive, 1910
backcapper = someone who openly or quietly maligns others, and is therefore disliked. “Some of the backcappers will be telling you presently that I was a train despatcher over in God’s country, and that I put two trains together.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western. 

bucky = general reference to a male. “You can bully and browbeat a lot of railroad buckies when you’re playing the boss act, but I know you!” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

Train wreck, 1911
Chaos and Old Night = deities in John Milton’s Paradise Lost who reign over the realm of Anarchy that lies between Heaven and Hell; used to describe a scene of disorder and confusion. “Chaos and Old Night: a pile of scrap with a hole torn in the middle of it as if by an explosion, and a fire going.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western. 

deadhead = to make a trip without passengers or freight. “Benson returned from the west, coming in on a light engine that was deadheading from Red Butte to the Angels shops.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

dub = an awkward person or player; a bungler. “I did see him; saw ’em both go through the little door, one after the other, and heard it slam before the other dub turned up.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

Oregon Short Line rail car
flip-flap = a kind of somersault in which the performer throws himself over on his hands and feet alternately. “He will turn flip-flaps trying to make things pleasant for you, if you will give him the chance.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

half-seas over = drunk, intoxicated, inebriated. “Tryon came down a few minutes ago, considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight – which would have been his regular run.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

house of call = a place, usually a public house, where unemployed workmen assemble, ready for the call of employers. “Calico being the nearest approach to bunting obtainable at Jake Schleisinger’s emporium, two doors up from Red-Light Sammy’s house of call.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

Man with imperial
imperial = small part of a beard growing below the lower lip. “The snapping black eyes, with the straight brows almost meeting over the nose, suggested Goethe’s Mephistopheles, and Flemister shaved to fit the part, with curling mustaches and a dagger-pointed imperial.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

jerkwater = a train not running on the main line; so called from the jerking (drawing) of water to fill buckets for supplying a steam locomotive. “‘We are in the thick of things over on the jerkwater just now,’ he explained, ‘and I don’t like to stay away any longer than I have to.’” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

make a spoon or spoil a horn = make a determined effort to achieve something, whatever the cost; dates from the practice of making spoons out of the horns of cattle or sheep. “We shall either make a spoon or spoil a horn. How would you be fixed in the event of a telegraphers’ strike?” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western. 

Parlor car
mog = to walk or move along gently, slowly, and steadily. “I’m going to take a lantern and mog along up the track to see where they come together.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

not on your tintype = absolutely not; a general term of derision, dismissal, denial. “Want to stay here and keep your feet warm while I go and do it? Not on your tintype, you yapping hound!” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

Julius Pintsch, 1815-1884
Pintsch = compressed gas developed by German inventor Julius Pintsch, used for lighting railroad cars. “The draftsman, facing the group under the Pintsch globe at the other end of the open compartment, stopped suddenly and his big jaw grew rigid.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

scamp = to do something in a skimpy or slipshod fashion. “Don’t scamp your meals, Grady.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

shindy = noise or commotion. “I’d have him safe under lock and key before the shindy begins tonight, if it was my job.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

take a flyer
= take a chance or risk. “Tell me, what man or men in the company’s service would be likely to be taking a flyer in Red Butte real estate?” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western. 

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Johnny D. Boggs, Northfield

Friday, April 1, 2011

Photo-finish Friday: Valets

What is LA without valet parking? I found this row of smartly uniformed valets at the end of one day this week. They were waiting in line for arrivals at the dedication of a sound stage at the new Cinema Arts School near where I work.

One VIP, George Lucas, I was told, had already arrived. No business like show business.

Photo-finish Friday is the bright idea of Leah Utas over at The Goat's Lunch Pail.