smaugeyePurely out of an overdeveloped sense of obligation and closure, I recently watched the final episode of “The Hobbit” trilogy, which I believe was subtitled, “The Last in an Endless Series of Epic Battles and Beheadings Filmed in a Cynical Attempt to Extract Maximum Funds from an Unsuspecting Public by Bloating a Single Book into Three Movies”. If it sounds as if I resented forking over my cash to see the last of these artificially over-inflated flicks, you’d be on the money – my money. I guess that makes me a willing participant in my own mugging.

Let it be known, I’m a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Three books, three movies. That makes perfect sense. Trying to cram those three literary masterpieces into a single (watchable in one sitting) film would have been as foolhardy as turning the single Hobbit book into three films was rapacious. Nor am I averse to watching the admittedly protracted extended version, which clocks in at over 11 hours.

It ain’t about the length. It’s about the greed. (More on that later.)

It’s been fittingly suggested that, just as there’s the Extended Director’s version of LOTR, there ought to be an Abbreviated Viewers’ version of Hobbit. Break me off a piece of that.

hobbitstretchAs penance for being duped into seeing all those Hobbit installments, I decided to re-read the book. That would not only atone for my sin but give me an idea of how much damage was done to the story.

It goes without saying that the book is terrific. In no way did it require being pumped up with massive amounts of gratuitous battle carnage. Evidently, the producers assumed people were craving more carnage because, let’s face it, there hasn’t been nearly enough war in our world.

Beyond the spectacular tale told by Tolkien and the completely realized world he creates so brilliantly, there are insights into our world that transcend the author’s lifetime. The following passage particularly caught my attention:

smaugDragons steal gold and jewels, you know, from men and elves and dwarves, wherever they can find them; and they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically forever, unless they are killed), and never enjoy a brass ring of it. Indeed they hardly know a good bit of work from a bad, though they usually have a good notion of the current market value; and they can’t make a thing for themselves, not even mend a little loose scale of their armour.

Sound like anyone you know?

The most ironic comparison is to the movie producers themselves. It’s all about the gold, artistic integrity be damned. How could they have missed that little parallel?

Closer to the mark, though, are the avaricious denizens of Wall Street whose careers amount to nothing more than collecting other people’s money and hoarding it, Smaug-like, for no particular purpose. They create nothing but profit for themselves. Like those worms of old, these modern day snakes have no use for the cash they collect. They couldn’t spend it all in their lifetimes. (Ask Larry Ellison; he seems to be trying.) The fate of the poor souls barely scraping by outside their luxurious caves, similar to Smaug’s Laketown neighbors, isn’t even on their radar.

It’s inconceivable (does that word mean what I think it means?) to me that Tolkien wasn’t thinking of that class of individuals when he wrote of those who know nothing about what’s good and what’s bad, but “have a good notion of the current market value” of same.

thorinWhile the filthy rich don’t have the longevity of dragons, their caches of cash do. Their children’s children, some of whom will have never worked a day, are destined to sit on that pile of gold “practically forever”. Over time they grow to be like Thorin Oakenshield, who spent long hours in his treasure of gold “and the lust of it was heavy on him.”

I think Thorin was on the old board of directors of Market Basket.

No need to envy the latter-day Smaugs. Those hoarders are as likely to enjoy a brass ring of their fortune as Smaug did. Without the right heart attitude, our possessions come to possess us. We live in so much fear of losing that which we don’t need or deserve, our lives become consumed by what Tolkien called dragon-sickness, an insatiable lust for gold and possessions. Happiness and joy elude us.

Perhaps the “Desolation of Smaug” depicted in Tolkien’s maps doesn’t so much represent physical barrenness caused by the dragon’s destructive presence as it does the devastation dragon-sickness creates in our own hearts.


Random late summer thoughts

random3My favorite writer, Mark Helprin, once adjured an audience, of which I had the privilege of being a part, to pay attention to the world around us. This is critical for writers. The topic was touched on with respect to dialog in a previous post.

Paying even a modicum of attention to what’s happening in your family, town, or on the news will supply fodder for countless stories. Market Basket, a lowly supermarket chain, has in recent weeks given us enough storylines, characters, and sub-plots to fill several books, a few movies, and at least one mini-series. Just watch; they’re coming.

What to do? asks the humble scribe of blog posts. With so much to comment on, there isn’t time to do justice to every one. My solution to the problem is to do an occasional dump of thoughts rattling around in this mostly empty skull. This is the first in this blog, although it tends to be a regular ploy in my other blog, Limping in the Light, e.g. here.

Here are a few things backed up in my mental septic system:

Here’s a fun question for you literati: When you go to a bookstore, what section do you go to first? Your answers should lead to a lot of fascinating follow-up discussion.

I recently read a best-selling novel with a couple of egregious problems. This wasn’t mass market pop lit such as “Twilight” or some transcribed TV-show passing itself off as literature. This was a highly regarded, serious novel. Two things stood out to me. One was the author’s obsession with using the word “impossibly” to modify an adjective (e.g. “impossibly large”). I have no problem with that in principle. The aforementioned Helprin will use it occasionally. But this author used it five times in the one book! (Don’t ask me how I noticed this. It’s a curse.)

Another sentence read: “…each <whatever> was more perfect than last.” Some things can be more perfect than others? How does that work?

Although the book received mixed reviews, it won awards and was on the NY Times best-seller list for several weeks. Yet I can’t get anyone to even read my book. It must not be as perfect as that one. ((sigh))

parking-lot1Off the book topic: What’s with people endlessly circling parking lots looking for the closest space? In spite of sky-high gas prices and rampant obesity and the supposed busy-ness of everyone, they waste what’s in scarcity – time and fuel – to avoid what they desperately need: exercise. Just park the stinkin’ car!

Have you noticed that owning chickens is hot?

100_0403CVSIn CVS (a firm already infamous for its extravagant waste of receipt paper, q.v. photo) yesterday, I bought one item that came in a bag. The clerk at the counter put it in one of their plastic CVS bags. I asked her why I needed a bag to put the bag in. She had no answer, perhaps because there is none. Punch in folks, it’s time to bag the bags. We don’t need a bag to carry one item… unless you’re hiding something.

I usually ask for no bag, but the checkout people, who must be on the payroll of the bag manufacturer, sometimes beat me to it. When I ask them (kindly) to keep their bag, more often than not, they stuff it in the trash. Someone’s missing the point.

Living on a busy street, my front lawn serves as de facto trash dump for passing cars. We can learn a lot about the kind of person who has no regard for other people’s property or the cleanliness of the town they live in or drive through. The following items make up 90% of the trash strewn across my lawn:trash

  • losing lottery tickets
  • beer cans
  • fast food containers
  • cigarettes

Who are the slobs who trash our neighborhoods? The list speaks for itself. It makes me think of the old Disney cartoon. It’s cute, but painful.

bob&rayA word to the wise: Today’s phones, whether cell or landline, have the annoying trait of inserting a brief delay between the time the phone is answered and when it will register your voice. Thus, you call someone and they generally respond, “…lo!” My advice: answer the call and count to 2-1000 before speaking.

Reminds me of the old Bob and Ray routine with the fictional reporter Wally Ballou starting his on-the-spot reports by saying, “…ly Ballou here.”

When I was a kid and when my kids were kids, punishment usually meant being sent to your room. A more appropriate form of discipline today would be, “That’s it, I’ve had it with you. Come out of your room and stay out all afternoon!” Much more effective.

 That was an impossibly easy post…

Where, oh where did my money go?

[As threatened, er, mentioned in my last post, the idea of losing ten mill a day is too funny to pass up without elaborating on. So, here I go, elaborating. It’s a lot like writing, but easier.]

losemoneyThe first day it happened, I thought, “What the heck, it’s only $10,000,000.” The second day, I was a little more concerned, but didn’t lose any sleep over it. After all, Stephen Drew makes $10M a year and he’s batting 21 points under the Mendoza line. How much can it be worth?

After a week of losing ten million bucks a day, though, I was beginning to think maybe I should give this issue some thought. You know, ten million here and ten million there and pretty soon your talking about real money. This was a situation to be taken seriously before it became a real problem.

After looking in all the obvious places – my pants’ pockets, those little car storage compartments, the washer and dryer, under the bed – I was still several tens of millions in the hole. I know what you’re thinking: “No big deal.” But it’s the principle of the thing. Besides, you never know when you might need a hundred million or so. It would be embarrassing to pull up to a toll booth and come up a few million short. After all, I don’t have E-ZPass.

Still, it’s only money. Did you ever balance your checkbook and it was off by a few million? Yeah, me too. It happens all the time, but I never pay it any mind. I figure it’ll all straighten out in the next statement or two. Then there was the time I tipped the waitress at Applebee’s and accidentally put an extra seven zeros after the amount. I could have kicked myself, but these things happen. Besides, the service was very good.

I’m not one of those crazy OCD types who has to know where every million bucks goes. Come on! My time is worth more than that. If I worried about every million dollars that passed through my hands, I’d never get anything else done.

Some people tried to convince me that members of my family were bilking me of my money. The thought never received even a moment’s consideration. Can you imagine suspecting my own family of trying to cheat me? Accusing them would irrevocably sever our ties. Money comes and goes, but family is one nonnegotiable constant in my life. I’d never imperil my relationship with my family for money, no matter what the amount.

No sane person would.

Special edition*: Grass roots

If you live anywhere in New England, you can’t help hearing about the Market Basket soap opera. In fact, you can’t help hearing about it no matter where you live. I’ve seen articles in Time and the Wall Street Journal, as well as newspapers as far away as New Zealand covering this tawdry debacle.

I’ll declare my sentiments up front. I’m a huge fan of the old MB. I shop there and have for the past thirty or so years. The DeMoulas family is clearly dysfunctional, but the ASD side of it (if you’ve been studying the cast of characters in your program) is delusional, stupid, and possibly even evil. (The distinction is subtle, one I plan to discuss in a future post.) The employees, the customers, and even local pols have made it clear by the proverbial overwhelming majority, that the current board of directors of the company needs to put the old CEO, ATD, back into power.

So what’s this all about? Money? Clearly not. MB is losing ten million dollars a day. That’s $10,000,000 US. Every day. Now I’ve lost money in my day. Quarters slip behind the couch cushions, dollars stick together, and that kind of thing. But $10,000,000? As forgetful as I am, I can’t even imagine that. (“Honey, have you seen my ten million bucks? I had it in my jacket pocket this morning.” This concept deserves its own post.)

newsiesThe more I hear about this grass roots movement of a bunch of employees, the more I think of what I consider the single most underrated movie of all time, “Newsies”. The critics trashed the movie mercilessly when it was released 22 years ago, but I’ve never met a viewer who didn’t like it. I’m among them. To remind myself of how terrific the movie is, and to capture the parallels with the MB fiasco, I watched it again tonight.

It’s still great.

The songs will bounce around my head for at least a week, so catchy are they. The live musical version of the movie went on to win 2012 Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography. So I guess it’s not just me. This is a case where the self-proclaimed “experts” are simply wrong.

The connection to MB is best summarized in the following (slightly abridged) exchange between two of the striking newsies (kids who sell papers on the street) and Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the NY World.

PULITZER: Anyone who doesn’t act in their own self interest is a fool.

DAVID: Then what does that make you?


DAVID: You talk about self interest, but since the strike, your circulation’s been down 70%. Every day you’re losing thousands of dollars just to beat us out of one lousy tenth of a cent. Why?

JACK: You see, it ain’t about the money, Dave. If Joe gives in to nobodies like us, it means we got the power. And he can’t do that, no matter what it costs. Am I right, Joe?

If the current Board of Directors (who, to replace ATD, appointed co-CEO’s – now there’s a formula for success – one of whom was named one of the five worst CEO’s in 2012) cared about money, they’d give in to the employee’s demands yesterday. But that’s not what the fight is about. It’s about bitterness, power, revenge, hatred, and all sorts of other petty nonsense. Are these really adults?

Give me back my Market Basket!

*This is five days before my next scheduled post, but I couldn’t resist. The whole situation could change any minute.