January 11: HBO’s Luck

I cannot tell you why I found myself thinking about HBO’s doomed series, Luck, while I was out on my morning hike. Wait a minute, I do remember why. I was listening to a song that was used in the last episode. For some reason, Luck must have been cursed from the outset. Much of it was filmed at nearby Santa Anita Park. And, sadly, the horrible race horse deaths that plagued production of the series have continued in the years since. I don’t believe anyone knows precisely why. It was not a perfect series, but it had some very interesting elements, all of which were coalescing as the series reached its untimely end.

As I was making my way down the hill, listening to the song, I thought about writing a letter to Dustin Hoffman. I mean, what the hell is he so busy doing lately? I thought he might be interested in doing a movie version of Luck (that I, of course, would write), since I believe he was one of the main producers of the series. He’s likely had a lot riding on its success. I thought that pretty much everyone involved with the series were still alive and working. But, then I thought of the character of Gus Demitriou who was played beautifully by Dennis Farina and I remembered he died way back in 2013 at the age of 69.

That really slammed the door on my idea because I felt Gus was the heart and soul of the series. I actually met Dennis Farina once on the golf course. Man, that was a long time ago. I was playing golf with my brother John and my father, that shows that it was at least 14 years ago and obviously more. We were playing at a now defunct golf course out in west Simi Valley called, holy shit, I can’t remember the name! Well, I guess it doesn’t matter but in a way the make up of the course influences the story. Oh, I remember! The name of the course was Lost Canyons. A better name might have been Lost Ball Canyons. I would guess the average player, across handicaps, lost between 6-10 balls over an honest 18 holes. It was bad enough if the air was calm and if it was windy, forget it. We were playing the 18th hole and getting close to the green when suddenly a golf ball bounced up and smacked into my golf bag which was standing on the fringe between the fairway and the rough. I looked back up the fairway to see a man riding in the golf cart alone, waving at me.

“Man, I am so sorry,” said the man as he came to a halt. “Are you Ok? This is my first time here and this place kicked my ass. I’ve lost a ton of balls today. I had to buy a fuckin’ dozen at the turn.”

“No problem,” I said. “Your ball didn’t even come close to me. Anyway, I have you beat on lost ball stories.”

“What do you mean,” asked Farina.

I shook my head and said, “You know that par-3 17th? Well, I lost my birdie putt on that hole.”

Clearly incredulous, Farina said, “What the hell do you mean you lost your birdie putt? How the hell do you lose a putt?

“Easy,” I said. “I had a 20 footer up the hill, should have broken about two feet left. But I got all excited about it being for birdie and I smashed it right off the back of the green down into the canyon. Never saw it again. Unless you want to climb down after it I say it’s lost.”

Farina gave me a good belly laugh and said, “Damn, I wish I had caught up with you guys earlier!”

He seemed like a genuinely good guy and I really enjoyed him in that role.

Even I could magically convince David Milch, Dustin Hoffman and the gods at HBO to make the movie, I wouldn’t want to see it without Gus. I would say don’t bother, boys.

By the way, the song I was listening to was Otis Taylor’s Nasty Letter from his 2003 record, Truth Is Not Fiction.

Just buy it, it’s fantastic.

January 11: HBO’s Luck

What do the books we get rid of say about us?

On their way to the eyes of other readers

I’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff lately and I don’t have all that much stuff to start with. Someone once described me as having a small footprint and that pretty much felt right to me. No, I’ve not yet read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo but it’s on my short list. I’m serious. I know that some folks keep books forever. Many have huge bookshelves holding the paper-bound words and thoughts that have influenced them over the years. Being very much a 20th Century Man I get the appeal of being able to grab a book, turn to a page, and illustrate a point to oneself or others.

Still, that’s a facility that has largely lost its appeal to me.

So, just a few thoughts on these now dearly departed books. The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy is a fine book for any writer to read. The two writers corresponded for decades about their triumphs, their marriages, their problems with writing and their shortages of money. Talk about bringing the challenges of being a writer home where it belongs; between friends. I’ve known many writers but the few who were my friends seem seldom cross paths with me anymore. Writers, always solitary, seem prone to getting more isolationist as they get older.

George Patton always intrigued me. I loved that he was loathed by Andy Rooney (whom I also loathed) and revered by my uncle Mike who liked to say, “I rolled with Patton in WWII.” More than anything I reveled in his myriad personal contradictions. George C. Scott’s movie portrayal of the man led people to believe he had booming and gruff voice when the opposite was true. Patton was both urbane and obscene. As brutal as he could be to soldiers under his command he also got far fewer of them killed than did more humble and measured generals like Omar Bradley. I always found the imperial nature of MacArthur and his efforts to upstage Truman, as well as his proclivity to occupy grand places such as the Malacañang Palace, far more damning than anything Patton ever did. Best of all, Patton was a real SoCal boy just like me. The sprawling rancho where he grew up has long since been swallowed whole by the urban sprawl of what is now San Gabriel, less than an hour east of here.

Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers is the only military book I have ever read that was nowhere near as good as what is effectively a movie that was based on it. I’m sure Ambrose was a good guy and a solid historian but Band of Brothers is marginally written and uninspired compared to the HBO series. I’ll be blunt. Don’t waste your time with it.

Love in a Dry Sea is a novel by Shelby Foote who would later write the saga of the Civil War that Ken Burns used as the foundation of the epic PBS documentary. I loved Sheby Foote and his erudite and seemingly effortless command of the language. Comparing Sheby Foote to historian Ed Bearss is like comparing Jack Nicklaus to Jack Fleck. The odd thing is that as magnificent a writer as Foote was when it came to non-fiction he was blandly average as a writer of fiction. It’s odd and somewhat sad since Foote always aspired to be a novelist.

It nearly pains me to watch Plato hit the road but as often as I find myself thinking about or speaking about the dialectic or quoting some obscure line from the Phaedo I haven’t picked the book up in years. Plato’s good and stuck in my head so the need to have him sitting on my bookshelf has lessened. The book on Aquinas was easy to set adrift.

George Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith is the single most difficult to read book I have ever come across. Most folks hit the wall harder with Kant but Santayana had me pinned. I’d catch myself reading the same half-page again and again hoping my brain might gain some intellectual traction. Way back when, I might have gotten some of it but I tried reading a few pages the other day and I nearly got lightheaded.

The editing books are mere works of reference and paper references (about the use of words and language, anyway) have been rendered superfluous by the presence of Google beneath our fingertips. Yes, I do still have the last dictionary I ever bought. It’s an Oxford Concise and I reach for it a couple times a week. But, those books on style and usage have long outstayed their usefulness to me. I won’t miss them.

Geez, that Jon Krakauer’s a good writer. I loved Into Thin Air but I keep getting derailed from finishing Under the Banner of Heaven. Talk about a gift for prose. Talk about energy. Talk about clarity of narrative. Krakauer is reputed to be rather petulant kind of guy, trending toward self-righteousness, but he is an amazing writer. I’d love to have a beer with him.

From time to time I’ve enjoyed reading a little of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa if only to remind myself that even great writers can come across as merely average and totally mortal. Though some of the stories are amusing, this was an easy one to get rid of.

I know what you’re asking yourself; how the hell does guy get rid of his Idiots Guide to the Pilates Method, a retrospective on Speed Racer, the Diaries of Kafka and a book about swearing? It’s a head scratcher for sure but they’re outta here.

You know, the more I think about I’m pretty sure there’s still room on my bookshelf for the Speed Racer book.

It’s nice and thin!





What do the books we get rid of say about us?