What not to do on a hot and smokey day

Generally to escape a hot and smokey day I turn on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a channel that airs primarily movie classics.  Take me away to the frozen tundra of Dr. Zhivago or the beaches of The Black Stallion. I don’t care.  Any place but here.

However, yesterday, they were broadcasting movies set at the height of the Cold War, 1964, an era of bomb shelters, duck and cover exercises and squadrons ready at any moment to start World War III. Of course that year I could care less about the end of the world.  The Beatles had landed and all that mattered was which one I was going to marry.  I was leaning towards George but then John was so clever and Paul kept telling me with babyfaced sincerity how much he loved me. So it was a hard decision.  Other than chocolate, they were literally all that existed in my addled pre-teen brain. 

I do remember Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb because it starred another great love of my life, Peter Sellers.  It may have the same premise as Fail Safe, the movie I saw yesterday, but Strangelove is so off-the-wall wacky that at least you get a few laughs.

Fail Safe takes itself much more seriously.  The movie was shot in black and white, using as many sharp edges and deep shadows as possible.  Thus, it’s one of those movies so hyperreal that when a character lights up a cigarette you can smell the smoke.  I turned it on just as a squadron of high speed jets carrying nuclear weapons reach the so-called fail safe boundaries. Because of an earlier, misidentified blip on the radar, they assume the US has been attacked and that they have been given the green light to bomb Moscow.

By the time the Central Command figures out what has happened, the pilots have entered a mandatory state of  radio silence.  Enter the President (Henry Fonda) to save the day. At least that’s what I hoped so I stuck with it.  What follows is a heated debate between generals and their “experts” about what to do. The final decision is to send a group of jets on a doomed mission to shoot down their own colleagues.  By this point the Soviet Premier is on the phone with Henry Fonda who promises if our bombers can’t be stopped, he will bomb New York City.  Bye, bye Moscow.  Bye, bye Manhattan.  It’s not the sort of movie to perk you up. On a hot and smokey day, you want Henry Fonda to save the world.

Of course the plot is about as believable as, I don’t know, Dr. Strangelove.  But the ending  is unforgettable.  

Seamen vs. Semen

Duke’s tips for dealing with typos, either intentional or not! Enjoy.

tin hats

I posted “I Never Liked Zagreb” a few days ago.  As usual it had several problems.  My writing, which is kind of fucked up, attempts to reflect the nonsequential pattern of human life.  Many people read my stuff and say, “Well, this is a mess.”  They are right.  Things always seem out of place to me.  Often there is no apparent reason for an action.  That point interests me.  Some people spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves and others that everything is orderly, that contradictions make perfect sense. Politicians have a vested interest in trying to make the public believe that everything is fine.  I suppose we need to accept that, or else we all might go insane or kill the politicians, which we do from time to time, see the French, American, and Russian Revolutions for examples of both insanity and unexpected death.

I ran head…

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Canophile Needs Help

You may have noticed, though probably not, that I haven’t been keeping up with blogging and all the responsibilities implicit in that activity.  One reason is I’ve been trying to finish Flipka II and it has been a struggle.  I set out to try to clear up confusion some readers had with the ending and ended up adding almost 200 more pages. So, it’s definitely not going to be a repub of the first book but an entirely different beast. 

One of my favorite reviews of the first edition of Flipka was from a charming writer named Robin Chambers who has written a series of science fiction novels, The Myrddin’s Heir series, for “children of all ages.” He wrote:

48% into the book, the plot went into hyperspace; but you go with it because you’re on the same spaceship, boldly going where maybe no author has gone before…

The wacky, utterly unbelievable plot is, however, merely the vehicle for JT Twissel to demonstrate her enviable skill set. Highly knowledgeable in a number of disciplines, she is very well read (I’m a sucker for literary references), sharply observant when it comes to individual character definitions, with a wickedly dry sense of humour and a wonderful command of language. 59% into the book you will meet the very likeable pilot Captain Wug, capable of such sentences as “May I ask, mellifluous one, why you want to know about the miasma behind our legendary monadnock?” The entire review is on the Flipka under Reviews

I was delighted with his review, of course, but “utterly unbelievable plot” I took slight umbrage with.  A story’s got to have a believable plot, right? 

And so I tried to insert “believability” into my plot which was impossible in the era of Trump. I guess because believable is somewhat associated with sanity and we certainly don’t have a lot of that going round.

It was a fool’s mission, friends. However, Fi Butters does get to the bottom of the mystery that the CIA, ICE, FAA or Federation of Planets is so anxious to protect.

The second reason I haven’t been blogging is that I’m planning a trip.  Some people are Anglophiles and some are Francophiles but I am a Canophile.  My favorite singer/songwriters (Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen) are from Canada as are many of my favorite actors.  

Last but not least, my favorite book as a child (Anne of Green Gables) was set in Canada.  So I’m planning a trip to Nova Scotia and boy oh boy, if you think my plots are wacky and unbelievable, so are the trips I plan.  I’ve got us flying into Montreal, taking an overnight train to Halifax, biking all over Prince Edward Island, flying back to Montreal and then taking an overnight train down to NYC.  Already I’ve spent quite a bundle and we don’t even have places to stay.  Or any idea where to eat. The last time I went to Montreal I was a poor college kid and we lived on canned soup. Our entertainment was wandering around Mt. Royal.

So I’m asking all my Canadian buddies for suggestions.  What are the things we shouldn’t miss?  Foods we must try. Fun places to stay.

Many thanks in advance.

Doug Sits Alone in the Middle of a Spotlight

tin hats

“This is not a story about the Jews, the Irish, or the Italians.  No movie deals here.  Nor is it about the breakup of a marriage or the perfect crime.  It is not about growing up or getting laid or going to school or doing drugs.  Tonight I give you three men: Kosinski, Duke, and me.  We share only one thing in common: emotional language. We learned our words on different planets, yet the movement of our lips and hands are the same.  We’re like silence, the surface of the sea, or stealing bibles and you can hear us if you listen, you can see us if you open your eyes.  Chance is our heart and we have built empires upon the philosophy that terrible decisions at noon become great ones by midnight.  But there’s the flip side as well.  Great moves can turn bad, even evil.  The balance is…

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Selling Soles in the USSR

In 1986, three months after the Chernobyl disaster, I sailed into Soviet waters on an oversized yacht with a group of successful though quite young stockbrokers.  At the entrance to St. Petersburg harbor, we were boarded by the harbormaster and a couple of people working for Intourist which, at that time, was the only tourist agency allowed to operate by the communist government. Their job, we soon learnt, was to interrogate any passenger whose passport raised suspicion and to determine who would be allowed to disembark.  They had almost three hours to complete their interrogations as that was how long it took to sail past the massive Soviet fleet of warships moored there.

At the mouth of the harbor we were also assigned two escorts: Cold War Era destroyers with troops standing on their decks at alert.  Some of the idiots on board our ship responded by breaking out the champagne, cranking up “Born in the USA” full blast, and skeet-shooting off the bow.  The scene below during the interrogations and our later indoctrination was much more somber.  One woman with a South African passport was informed she could not disembark with her American husband.  Two men were interrogated for over an hour because of time they had spent in Israel.  The rest of us got a severe lookover in case if we had something to confess.  After the list of permitted tourists was complete, we were told the rules:

  • We were not allowed to engage in conversations with people on the street
  • We were not allowed to buy from any street vendors. 
  • We could only purchase “trinkets” from approved Intourist shops which we would be taken to.
  • We were only allowed to take photographs with permission from our Intourist guides.
  • And most importantly, we were not allowed to sell our personal belongings to people on the streets. Apparently shoes were the number one thing the residents tried to buy off tourists. 

Breaking any of these rules meant you would be detained and not allowed to continue on your cruise.  I had a hard time understanding any of the rules, especially the third.  Why would the Soviet government care if I walked around barefoot because I was silly enough to sell my shoes?  Besides, my shoes weren’t fashionable; just sturdy.  Still, I was assured that a tourist had actually sold his boots on the streets of Moscow and gotten himself in hot water with the KGB. 

The St. Petersburg terminal was one of the grimmest places I’ve ever seen.  To either side of the entrance was a ten foot chainlink fence topped with barbed wire that blocked those greeting travelers from actually being on the docks.  Ours was the only ship containing passengers that day but people stood at the fence watching us with gray faces and deep pocketed eyes as we strutted into the customs office for further interrogations.  All of us Jim Dandy, well-fed Americans with new shoes and clothes that fit, still humming Born in the USA and giddy from champagne quickly realized that stories of Soviet oppression had not been exaggerated for political gain;  they were real.


Of our selection of shore excursions, we’d opted for a tour of the city which would end at the Hermitage followed by a traditional Russian banquet.  It was a cloudy, humid and hot day as we were shuttled in buses without air-conditioning past monuments and palaces. Very little context was provided by the Intourist guides who seemed more concerned with monitoring our activities.  Here you may take pictures.  At Intourist shop you may buy guides in English of city.

I remember smiling at the people packed like sardines in city buses next to us only to have them look down.  I remember how everything seemed tired and ready to die in St. Petersburg.  The buildings, the traffic and even the statues. Uncared for, soot-covered and badly in need of a paint job.  But the Hermitage I thought would brighten the day. For those of you who’ve never been, it is a huge museum which at one time was the Winter Palace for Catherine the Great.  On a hot July day you would expect huge crowds but we had no problem getting close to masterpieces by Rembrandt and Rubens.  Only not too close.  The paintings and sculptures were guarded by fierce women far past retirement age sitting on folding chairs in each room.  The thing I remember the most – far more than the masterpieces and museum pieces and the insane amount of gold – was the lack of water fountains, indoor toilets and elevators.  To pee, you had to run down three flights of marble stairs and persuade the person guarding the back door to let you use one of the portable potties sitting on hot asphalt behind the museum.

I imagine that situation has changed by now.

By the time we got to the restaurant where our banquet was to take place, we were hungry and thirsty.  Our Intourist guides had apparently been hired for their endurance skills.  The notion of comfort or customer satisfaction was alien to them.  We were just a bunch of lazy spoiled American who expected to have a good time.  Shame on us!

However, we had a problem.  Chernobyl had poisoned livestock and crops and the only thing safe to eat was caviar bottled before the disaster, vodka and champagne. I suppose to many people the idea of dining solely on those three things sounds heavenly but I couldn’t resist taking a chance and trying the borscht.  I felt sorry for the waiters and the cooks as their food was ignored but then I was told that the massive amount of food we’d left behind would definitely not be wasted. Russians had no choice but to eat the poisoned food whereas we could return to the ship.

There was a nighttime excursion we meant to go on but several glasses of Russian vodka (which is alarmingly smooth) and champagne rendered us completely without energy and we stayed onboard.

The next morning the ship was set to sail at eight but one of the passengers had not returned the night before.  Somehow he’d evaded his keepers long enough to meet the love of his life and that was it.  He was staying with her.  Intourist informed our captain that until he was apprehended, our ship would not be allowed to leave the Soviet Union.  The two young men he’d been with the night before were taken below and interrogated and within a half hour he was located and dragged back aboard ship. I don’t even think they needed to waterboard those two dudes to get them to rat on their friend. 

The Russian girl followed him and stood behind the chain link fence sobbing and screaming his name.   I often wonder how long it took for him to forget about her entirely. Probably as long as it will take for Americans to forget the treasonous actions of Trump.

Puffin love

Amazingly magical photos courtesy of Inese. Smile.

Making memories

Great Saltee Puffin

For all those who are in a dark place – here is some puffin love for you.

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

Great Saltee Puffin

This is the puffin love story I heard ( and witnessed) on my last visit to the Great Saltee 🙂

To book a boat to Saltee Islands from Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, call +353-53-912-9684.
Links to some of my previous posts about Saltee Islands and Puffins:







www.inesemjphotography.com Have a wonderful weekend!

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#ThursdayDoors: Bezerkley

Looking out toward the Golden Gate Bridge which was unfortunately shrouded in fog and smoke.

Not only does the Lawrence Hall of Science have one of the most spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay Area but every exhibit is meant to be manhandled by children, casually monitored and guided in their experiments by high school students earning extra credit in biology, mathematics or chemistry.

The hall is actually a part of the University of California Berkeley.  It was named in honor of the “Atom Smasher,” Ernest Lawrence, also the inventor of the cyclotron and the founder of the Lawrence Berkeley Labs.  Over the years I’ve met and worked with many physicists who got their start at the “Lab.”  I couldn’t understand them 99% of the time but they were never boring.

The back door leads to a chance to get wet and dirty as you learn about water management.  Downstairs are classrooms where kids learn about lizards and volcanos and all that cool stuff in a more formal setting.

For bigger kids, Berkeley offers a different sort of entertainment:


The Ashkenaz, which has been around since 1973, is run by a non-profit organization whose goal is to showcase music and dance from around the world. The idea is not to listen or watch but to participate and they’re very serious.  If you come, you dance.Berkeley is known for its eccentric population and if you wander around up near the campus you’ll see just about anything.  When I worked there, the most famous eccentric was the Naked Guy, a 6’5” former athlete who insisted on attending class in nothing but shoes.  Clothes, he claimed were oppressive and for a time, no one said a word.  It was, after all, Berkeley.

Then there was the Hate Man, a former journalist and Peace Corps worker who espoused the doctrine of hate and “oppositionality.” To start a conversation with him, you had to say “Fuck you.”

When he died, it made the national news and the denizens of People’s Park, a homeless encampment smack dab in the middle of Berkeley, made a memorial for him, which he would have hated.

Check out other doors from around the world at Norm’s place.