Jim’s Thursday Inspiration theme word this week is train. The above pic is Ticket to Ride (European version), one of my most favorite games. I rarely win, but I love planning out my routes and seeing the board fill up with train cars. Besides games and books, there have been loads of trains in films, such as North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Risky Business, The Girl on the Train, Murder on the Orient Express, From Russia with Love, and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.
And, of course, there are a ton of songs that mention trains. From Kenny Rogers to the O’Jays to Aerosmith, we find references to trains across the spectrum. We have love trains and peace trains and the Last Train to Clarksville. There’s the Midnight Train to Georgia and the City of New Orleans. Don’t forget downtown trains or runaway trains or trains to nowhere. But the king of train songs was none other than Johnny Cash.
Johnny wrote about trains representing freedom to a man in prison (“Folsom Prison Blues”) as well as a train carrying a man back home (“Hey Porter”). “Orange Blossom Special” is one of his most well known train songs. Perhaps you’ve heard “Down There by the Train” or “Hey Hey Train.” You can hear the chug-chug rhythm in a lot of his other songs too. Last but not least, there’s a tribute song for JC called “Long Black Train.” Yep, I think we’d all agree that the Man in Black had a thing about trains… (RIP)
Especially if you’re Oddjob. Seriously, no need to take your hat off on my account, Mr. O. Although Tony Soprano might have had something to say about it, if anyone remembers that classic restaurant scene. It’s simply uncouth to wear a hat whilst eating spaghetti next to a mob boss and he is not going to put up with such boorish behavior. In the old days, men wore cool hats… not baseball caps so much, but nice hats that went with suits and sports jackets, like in Mad Men. My dad had hats… I remember once he and my mom had a terrible argument and he was about to walk out but stopped to get his hat. It was a habit, and even if you’re upset, you don’t forget your hat. Anyway, I told him not to go (I was 6 years old) and he didn’t. Yep, it was just like that song “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” except he hadn’t left yet. After that, I always felt it was my responsibility to defuse their fights and make things right. I became expert at sensing their moods ~ some people say that’s what creates an empath, but I never call myself one. I’m not that good at figuring out other people’s moods if they aren’t obvious. Mostly, I’d rather not even know. Knowing conveys a vague sense of guilt and cloaks me in a “do something,” even if the problem has nothing to do with me. I’m not talking about joy or any kind of happy emotions, but bad/sad moods.
Anyway, hats. They are nifty. I should wear mine more often.
Welcome to the Random Friday Prompt! This week, let’s use the above public domain pics for inspiration. Poems, flash fiction, personal essays… all are welcome, and there is no time limit. My contribution is below and I look forward to reading your work.
Nadine plucked a flower, made a wish for love, and blew her dreams to the wind. Fate would decide whether they’d come true, and in the meantime she’d continue cleaning up elephant poop at the zoo. There were worse things than attending to the needs of a magnificent creature too noble to be left to the whims of the wild. For Eliza was tame and had no fear of people, which was lovely for the paying customers, but not so healthy if Eliza were returned to the savanna. When Nadine stared into the dark pools of Eliza’s sad eyes, she saw the history of human cruelty reflected in their depths.
But one day they brought in a dapper new elephant and named him James Bond. Eliza began spending all her time with James and ignoring Nadine. Was this her wish being granted? Had her dandelion fluff spun around the world and united Eliza and James Bond? Nadine tried to be happy for them, but she no longer felt fulfilled cleaning up after two enormous poop machines and thought there possibly could be something more waiting for her out there, somewhere.
She quit the zoo and bought a plane ticket to Africa. If love hadn’t found its way to Nadine, she would go in search of it. She thought she spied a bit of dandelion fluff floating outside the plane’s window, but it may have just been a trick of light.
As Bill searched the den for his charger, he realized that Olivia had made a fool of him when he opened the drawer and found a box with a brand new Rolex Submariner. Immediately, he surmised that she’d taken her bonus and bought him the watch he’d wanted forever. Even though they had promised not to buy each other presents this year, he grinned like an idiot. The Submariner! Just like James Bond!
Then came a sobering thought: Bill hadn’t bought her anything. Olivia had probably decided he wouldn’t have stuck to the promise either and she’d be expecting a comparable gift. It was Christmas Eve though, so he’d have to take the plunge and brave the maniacal mall crowds. Yikes!
On Christmas morning, Bill put his gift next to Olivia’s coffee cup as she texted on her phone. He smiled at the thought of how excited she’d be by the two carat (each) diamond earrings he had luckily found at the last minute.
“I have to go to work for a while this morning. What’s this?” Olivia picked up the festively wrapped box topped with a shiny bow. “Remember we said no gifts!”
“I changed my mind.” Bill kissed her cheek while admiring how funny she was to pretend she had nothing for him. “I couldn’t resist getting this for you.”
She stared down at the earrings. “Wow, you shouldn’t have.”
For the rest of the day, Bill anticipated the moment Olivia would give him the watch, but nothing happened. They ate Christmas dinner at her parents’ house as usual and watched Die Hard on cable. She’ll probably hand it to me in the morning, he figured before drifting off to sleep.
As the days passed, he realized his mistake—Olivia intended the Rolex to be his Valentine present. Bill thought about the watch as he donned his tux and how great he would feel once he got to wear it. Too bad it wouldn’t be tonight at the annual New Year’s Eve party at the BMW dealership where Olivia had just been promoted to Senior Sales Rep.
Bill was enjoying a glass of bubbly when one of the junior reps walked over to say hello. As Ryan lifted his glass, Bill spied the gleaming Submariner with its distinctive green dial adorning Ryan’s left wrist. “Nice watch,” Bill mumbled.
Ryan grinned. “Thanks! It was a Christmas morning surprise.”
We had planned to meet under the bridge at midnight, but… it was so cold in my flat that I made a nice cup of hot cocoa with lovely little marshmallows and then nodded off on the sofa with my cozy Union Jack blanket wrapped around me.
“We’re very disappointed in you, Mr. Bond. You realize you missed your only chance to kill Otto von Shark before he stole all the world’s bitcoin?”
“Sorry about that.”
“We’ve got you booked on the next flight to Cairo, where you’ll meet your contact Lisa Luscious, and then the two of you will be chased by ruthless killers until you escape in a rickety boat, become stranded on a mysterious island, and start to have sex on the beach until you’re interrupted by one of Shark’s henchmen taking a whizz, who will then inadvertently lead you to the bitmine cave, at which point you can proceed to rescue the bitcoins because Lisa knows Shark’s password, though we’re not sure why she has it, so you should figure that out as well and eliminate her if she has betrayed us, unless you fall in love, in which case we’ll send double-oh-eight to finish the job.”
“Sorry again, but I can’t make that flight due to a shuffleboard tourney this afternoon.”
Welcome to my quick reviews ~ a mix of short takes on movies and books I’ve recently watched/read.
1. The Girl Most Likely To… I picked up this 1973 “black comedy” DVD on eBay. Watching the film was an enjoyable experience for several reasons. One, I love Stockard Channing and Ed Asner. Two, it is fun to return to a 1970s setting before cell phones, etc. Three, it’s basically about bullying and people being horrible, a topic to which I can relate very well. I was bullied in my early years, though we didn’t call it that then, and no one cared enough to address it, not even my parents (not that I told them about every incident). Though TGMLT takes place during college years, it exposes the SOP of people ostracizing and mocking anyone whose physical appearance doesn’t meet the standards of the day. I cheered when the victim began getting even with the folks who had made her life miserable. The ending is golden as well. I had forgotten many things over the years, including Fred Grandy playing an idiot plumber (Gopher!). Jim Backus was great as the Professor (yep, Mr. Howell was the Professor here). The whole cast was good. I have a minor criticism, which is that Stockard’s peppy narration doesn’t match the trauma she endures. Sure, some people build up a funny, sarcastic persona as a defense, but there should be moments of despair imo.
2. Vanilla Sky. Yup, another movie. This 2001 flick was available on Prime, and I liked the title as well as the star ~ Tom Cruise. But this wasn’t his best work. The premise is a woozy, confusing series of flips between dreams and reality. Sometimes I can enjoy that, but here TC annoys me with his two modes: giant grin or horrific screaming. Ugh! His costars’ performances are better. Cameron Diaz does an excellent job as a psycho stalker, and Penelope Cruz steals scenes as a somewhat sensible alternative. Kurt Russell is fine as the psychologist. It wasn’t a terrible movie, just a bit irritating. My friend says I would probably enjoy the original Spanish version, so I may give that a try.
3. Quantum of Solace. Another movie and a Bond! This is one of the ones I missed, and I want to catch up before the new 007 arrives this fall (No Time To Die). I now understand why QoS received such crappy reviews and I previously gave it a pass. There is no gun barrel sequence at the beginning (just a brief hint at one), no Q/gadgets, and no “Bond, James Bond.” Ugh! I’m not going to judge it on the ridiculous plot because most of them are ridiculous, but it truly is a mess. However, I appreciate the reference to Vesper ~ both that Bond felt something for her and also describing the “Vesper Lynd” martini. Very nice. Another enjoyable aspect is the emotional interplay between Bond and M, illuminating how they care for each other, and setting the stage for Skyfall. So it wasn’t all bad, just mostly bad.
4. Sunburn by Laura Lippman. I grabbed this novel on sale when a friend mentioned it on FB. Really enjoyed this unpredictable book! Just when I thought I knew what was going on, it switched up again. Top-notch writing on setting, characterizations, interior dialog, etc. The protags were not particularly likable, but I don’t mind that if the story is compelling and the writing is gripping and authentic. The ending was superb. I didn’t give it 5 stars though (only 4) due to too many coincidences. Writers really need to watch that. One or two, okay. When everything becomes a series of lucky breaks (or unlucky ones), I can no longer suspend disbelief, which knocks me out of the story. It’s as bad as introducing a vampire. Remember that in a love story the fact the protags meet at all is coincidence #1. You don’t have that many more to use up before the reader goes OH COME ON.
5. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was the best book I’ve read in ages! I received it for my birthday and finished it yesterday. OMG, such a fantastic story… sci-fi, or was it? I mean, it was totally believable. I think the best sci-fi is. You wonder if the future really will be something like this. The story takes place in some unnamed location that I first thought was London, but it might have been New York. It is entirely and perfectly told from the point of view of an AF ~ Artificial Friend. Privileged children had AFs as companions in this story and we go from there. While Klara, the AF, waits in a store to be chosen by her person, she observes her surroundings, learning and understanding objects as well as human beings, in a limited way, as she processes the data. The AFs are solar-powered, so everything about the Sun is of crucial importance to Klara. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Read it! I now want to read everything else by Kazuo.
Thought we were done with 007, eh? NOPE! Here’s a straggler review from 2015 I’m reposting as a Bond Bonus. You’re welcome.
OK, I saw Spectre yesterday, and it was a lot of fun as Bond movies always are. Craig does an awesome Bond (and I was one of the original skeptics). Overall, I recommend the movie to Bond fans and action movie lovers in general.
I was disappointed in a couple things. Right at the start there was something I considered a faux pas. Bond’s in a hotel room with a beautiful girl and tells her he’ll be right back. He goes off to kill a guy, gets chased, leaps across rooftops, etc., as he does… and then the film cuts away to the opening song and credits. Wtf? The Bond of old would have kept the date and they should have shown that. (“Now, where were we?”)
Next, I did not like two of the main plot twists. One, Franz the villain turns out to be Bond’s brother via adoption (Bond’s adoption), which leads to a bunch of babble about Franz killing their father out of jealousy and always having it out for Bond cuz he stole daddy’s attention. Ugh. Yuck. Two, Franz announces that he has taken his mother’s surname and is now called Blofeld (complete with white cat). No! No no no no. This was not a REMAKE of an old 007 flick, but a progression in the life and times of James Bond, and it’s completely uncool for the writers to grab back a done and dusted bad guy. (Supposedly, Blofeld died at the start of For Your Eyes Only, 1981.) What next ~ Scaramanga? Goldfinger? There was no reason not to have a new bad guy with a new name to “reboot” Spectre. No reason at all.
I think writers should be a lot more careful with reboots/remakes and the like. Either you stick to the original and update it with cellphones and stuff, or just move the hell on and write something new. Certainly don’t take a franchise and grab stale fries from fifty years ago to scatter about a film in the here and now. That’s kind of a cheat, and we know what happens to writers who use cheats a la Stephen King’s Misery.
My last criticism of Spectre is more basic. I object to this kind of SOS writing we’re seeing in action movies lately of having the hero always be a dude who is bravely going against his own government because of one flimsy piece of info, and then it turns out his boss is in cahoots with the villains, or is the biggest villain of all, blah blah blah. Usually Alec Baldwin plays a belligerent general at some point. Then, there are always one or two other peeps in the gov’t who believe in the hero and help him save the world, thereby putting their own careers in jeopardy. Yawn.
Other than these minor nits, I enjoyed the movie and am looking forward to the new one this fall!
This post wraps up my April A-Z. Every day except Sunday I’ve posted about James Bond 007, mostly focusing on the movies, not the books. I hope you enjoyed reading about this topic; I certainly enjoyed writing about it!
Today I introduce Maximillian Zorin, the fictional baddie in A View to a Kill (1985). Christopher Walken played this role, and Roger Moore portrayed James Bond. Max is a high-IQ psychopath, the unfortunate result of Nazi experimentation during WWII, and he was raised in the Soviet Union by an evil doctor. Later, he was trained by the KGB, but he is too wackadoo even for them and ends up plotting badness on his own. Max kills his own men to further his plans and is willing to sacrifice his lover May Day as well, who is played brilliantly by Grace Jones.
Zorin’s plan is to destroy Silicon Valley with a massive earthquake, causing the whole place to flood and wipe out all the computer companies, which would leave him as the microchip king of the world. He has some cockamamie idea of mining underneath the lakes and then using explosives to blast through the San Andreas Fault and the Hayward Fault simultaneously, yada. This is a familiar Bond movie trope, right? Goldfinger wants to wreck all the gold in Fort Knox so his will be more valuable; Mr. Big tries to put all the other heroin dealers out of biz so he can corner the market. Etc.
Anyway, May Day survives and joins up with 007 to thwart Max. She sacrifices her own life to move the explosives out of the strike zone, though there is still a huge blast. Now Max decides he must get Bond in revenge, taking Bond’s love interest captive. This is Stacey Sutton, played by the gorgeous Tanya Roberts, who sadly passed away in January 2021 at the age of 65. Stacey and Bond escape from Zorin, who tries to kill them with an axe, but instead he falls to his death into the San Francisco Bay.
A bit of trivia: Max’s role was first offered to David Bowie, who declined. Rutger Hauer also said no thanks. Finally, Walken agreed to do it.