Here’s Looking at You, Kid

I haven’t updated my website for a while but have been working on my next novel, Winter’s Promise. Spanning four generations, the story alternates between current times and the past. Research has drawn me back to the turn of the century, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II.

I discovered that when a fire nearly destroyed the Wisconsin town of Port Washington, the population pulled together. A council set up programs to take care of the homeless; Schuder’s bakery moved into the old Foster building; the blacksmith and dray outfit moved into Berger’s barn; Smith Brothers kept on fishing from temporary quarters.

I discovered that during World War II, the Milwaukee USO Center had an amazing canteen. Meat, produce, and baked goods poured in from the surrounding towns of Grafton, Port Washington, Cedarburg, Mequon, and Pewaukee. Women’s clubs cancelled their lunches to send food to the USO. So much was donated by Grafton that two boy scouts and their dog spent the night guarding the treasure before it could be loaded on trucks and hauled to the Milwaukee center.

I discovered that people make our country unique. With the Fourth of July approaching, I wonder if we still have the spirit, determination, and belief in community that our ancestors did. I have seen such outreach in my community of Big Canoe in North Georgia. I believe it exists across the country, but the bombardment of negative news from the media and the chronic vitriol pouring out of Washington seem to overwhelm our goodness. It makes me sad.

Yes, life was tough in the past, before antibiotics, childhood immunizations, or a cure for polio. Yet I wonder if we are losing spiritual values that are equally important to our wellbeing. The obsession with social media, the increasing dependence on pharmaceuticals to feel good, and the rising suicide rate point to a gaping hole in the fabric of our society.

Hollywood reflects the banality of current culture. This weekend, I peered around a darkened movie theatre where half the audience was tweeting, texting, or surfing before the movie began. When the coming attractions rolled, images of over-the-top special effects assaulted the audience: cars, buildings, trains, spaceships—you name it—being blown to smithereens. That’s not entertainment. It’s distraction.

The main feature, Man of Steel, treated me to one dimensional stereotypes, maudlin sentiment, bad acting, and never-ending fight scenes that eventually made my eyes glaze over. Who cares who wins? Blow up the damn planet. Just make it end.

I recall being wowed by Star Wars. The special effects were cutting edge back then, but underlying the glitz was a great story, characters one could empathize with, and good acting. We fell in love with R2D2 and C3PO—robots for God’s sake!

The same applies to The Godfather, Gladiator, Forest Gump, Last of the Mohicans, The Color Purple, Fried Green Tomatoes, and so many more I could name. Today I sense an inverse parallel between the price of movies and the quality. Steven Spielberg predicts an implosion of the film industry. That might be a good thing.

Until then, I am satisfied to throw a bag of popcorn into the microwave, curl up on my couch, and pop Casablanca into the DVD player.

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”  casablanca

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