Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hollow

I'm working my way through the Hercule Poirot novels. I've made it through more than half of them. With The Hollow I think I've stumbled across the point in which the author, Agatha Christie, has learned to hate Poirot. (I really need to read her autobiography for myself. She wrote and said a few colorful things about her most popular character, and not all of them are very nice.)

What I found most interesting about this particular Poirot novel is how completely superfluous he actually is. She developed the other characters very well, more than I've seen from her in other novels. Poirot makes almost a cameo appearance. The plot develops and everything seems to be happening around him as usual, but in reality that exactly what's going on – it's all happening around him. He doesn't seem to interact with the plot as he did in his earlier novels.

My two favorite characters are Lady Angkatell (Lucy) and Henrietta Savernake – Lucy's first cousin. Lucy is a delightful airhead who somehow seems, in her own vague way, to be a very good judge of character and is able, through her seeming ditsyness, to manipulate people when she feels it's necessary. Henrietta is an artist and, like Lucy, has a unique perspective on life. Though Lucy introduces Henrietta in the first chapter by talking about her, we first get to know her in the second chapter as she's working feverishly on a new sculture that has completely consumed her mind for days, and she is even jerked awake in the middle of the night wondering about it. She is also a good judge of character, but her character (no pun intended) is stronger, more straightforward. We learn that it's also not beneath her to manipulate when there's a good cause.

The cast of characters consult with Poirot, and Christie uses these conversations to delelop the plot. However, they could just as easily be talking with each other. In the end, Poirot doesn't bring about the solution to the problem; he simply witnesses it. He plays the part of the beneficent father figure. But, if one needs a sounding board for the thoughts going through their minds, it may as well be Christie's most popular detective as anybody else. And, there is very likely a very good reason for adding him to the story: money. I would imagine, though I have no evidence of this beyond the very-convincing circumstantial, that a Poirot novel sold more copies than a non-Poirot novel. So slap his name on the cover, by all means. He certainly does no harm, unless you happen to loathe him.

Another favorite character, who appears with Poirot from time to time, is Ariandne Oliver. She's in Cards on the Table, but she makes a much more colorful appearance in Mrs. McGinty's Dead. What I love about Ariadne is that she seems to be a caricature of Mrs. Christie herself. A flighty, nonsensical writer of mystery novels who talks a lot and has a comical affection for apples. She also hates her main character. My favorite quote from the book: "'How do I know?' said Mrs. Oliver crossly. 'How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all the idiotic manerisms he's got? These things just happen. You try something – and people seem to like it – and then you go on – and before you know where you are, you've got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond of him? If I met that bony, gangling, vegetable-eating Finn in real life I'd do a better murder than any I've ever invented.'"

Through Ariadne Oliver, Christie seems to be making fun of herself and her readers at the same time. (In Greek mythology Ariadne is the daughter of Minos who helps Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth. Could there be a deeper reason for Christie's choosing this name?) And yet, ever-faithful to her readers, she continued writing his novels. He appears in The Hollow, which is more or less his 24th novel out of 35, which doesn't count the numerous short stories. Christie could, and did, write other things – though mysteries seem to be her strong point. Even then, she has other sleuths. But, she always came back to Poirot because that's what her fans wanted.

I'm enjoying experiencing the development of Poirot more than I expected to. I was never too fond of him in the first place, but at least I'm in agreement with the author on that point.

Thank you for your time.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Arguments I Cannot Win – Men's Hats Inside

December 17, 2012

Second installment of my Arguments I Cannot Win theme. Why is it rude TODAY for a man to wear a hat indoors?

There are a plethora of reasons why the sentiment originated, but all of the ones I can think of do not seem to apply today.

Things to consider:

  • Men do cover their heads in a Jewish synagogue to show respect.
  • Men remove their hats in a Christian church to show respect.
  • Everybody wears a hat on a construction site to avoid a concussion.
  • Men who have been wearing a cap have hat-head and their hair doesn't look its best.
  • People don't make a habit of throwing sewage out their window any more, nor do many men wear top-hats very often unless they're on Broadway.

So, why the rule? Honestly, It's rare that I hear anybody mention it any more, but periodically it will come up and nobody has been able to give me a good reason except to say that it's rude, and that in and of itself is the reason. It's rude to fart in public because it's offensive (olfactorily speaking), but a hat isn't hurting anybody.

My usual exhaustive research led me to threads in which people left their opinions – at about 50% for each side – and articles on etiquette, which don't bother with the why's, just being very specific about the rules. (In an elevator in an apartment building the hat comes off, in an elevator in a public building the hat stays on, unless a woman is present in which case it comes off until entering the hall because then you are 1) in a public space again and 2) walking.

I, for one, think it's silly and it needs to go away, and I don't even wear a hat that often. Of course, I have no hope or desire to enter any society that is above the ones just above those who sit on sofas on their front porch and wear house shoes to the grocery store.

Thank you and have a good day.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Self Discovery

December 10, 2012

There comes a time in every gay man's life when he discovers that he's a bitch. This realization, for me, did not come as a surprise, nor did it bother me particularly. I've always considered myself a very friendly person, and most of my friends will tell me the same. There's more to being a bitch, however, than being unfriendly. It's a deeper state of being. Come to think of it, people have been telling me for years that I'm a bitch. I suppose I had to come to this in my own time.

After living by myself for 2 years I've decided that I like living by myself. I suppose if I were to cohabit again, I could make it work as long as I had, as Virginia Woolf suggested, a room of my own. I've gotten used to my space and my own ambiance. I've grown accustomed to my own pattern of life. And now I've grown old and I'm afraid that I'm stuck in my ways.

I hate television. I abhor television. This is something that started before I moved out of my parents' home. The habit of my family, as with 99% of the people I know, is to have the television on. They wake up and turn the television on. They come home and turn the television on. They used to come into the living room – this was before having televisions in every room in the house, including the bathrooms, was a reality for most families – as I was saying they'd come into the living room, turn the television on and promptly leave the room. It just had to be on.

I think my negative feelings began when I was trying to learn to play the piano and one was only allowed to practice if the television was not on. Having the television on at all times was at odds with what I was trying to accomplish. That was the first time I considered how odd it was to turn it on and leave the room. It's the first time I really noticed. And trying to struggle against that was futile. My family accepted my and my brother's being gay much more easily than they ever accepted the fact that I wanted to turn the television off.

Fast forward to years later when I was trying to date somebody and he, also, has every television he owns turned on at all times, whether he's home or not. I learned something else about myself: television sucks my brain out. He would be talking to me and I would be staring at the television completely absorbed in a sitcom that I find revolting. Commercials, documentaries, sitcoms, movies... it doesn't matter. Something about the television captures my attention and doesn't allow me any bandwidth for personal conversations. He has actually demonstrated this phenomenon to his friends, saying something to me in front of a television as I stare unblinking at the moving colors and sounds of a commercial for prescription medication aimed at helping people who have restless legs and not enough sense to take 2 Advil.

So, now I live alone in an almost televisionless environment. I own a television for the first time in my life and every few months I'll turn it on. Mostly I have it to watch movies. Anyway, I was out of town this past weekend and sharing a hotel room with nameless. I woke up first and took a shower. I could hear the television as I was rinsing off. When I got out he went to take a shower and left me alone with that electronic brain-sucker. The show he had landed on was one in which F.B.I. agents feel that they can describe to local authorities the personality of a person who is committing heinous crimes so that the local authorities – with the help of said F.B.I. agents – can apprehend the perpetrator. Rather than turning the television off while I had the opportunity I sat on the bed in front of it watching the graphic detail of the show's portrayal of victims being tied up and held in a dark, damp place awaiting their inevitable fate, which they've already witness with the previous unfortunate persons – a fate involving humiliation, sexual obsession and slow and painful death. Frankly, I think the people who write and produce shows like this are far more disturbed mentally than any criminal that has ever been prosecuted and the fact that people watch them speaks volumes about our society as a whole and not in a good way. Plus, the television's volume WAS SET TO VERY LOUD SO THAT ALL OF THE INCREDULOUSLY HORRIFIED SCREAMING AND DESPERATE CRIES FOR HELP WERE REVERBERATING OFF THE WALLS.

All of this before my first cup of coffee.

So, when we got to the place we were going and nameless went to the other room to be a part of a church service put on by artists and which was – from what I gather from the people who attended – a very touching and motivational talk, I stayed behind and listened to my Christmas music playing softly as I nursed my first cup of coffee in the quiet bliss of a large hall devoid of other people.

My point, and I do have one, is that it would seem that I am the one who is not like the others. It's eArnie Painter who is different and unusual for not enjoying having a television blasting first thing in the morning, much less on a program of such graphic and horrible subject matter. And, I wasn't particularly friendly for a while. I have come to accept that I'm set in my ways, I don't want to change them and that this probably means that I'm a bitch and I'm really okay with that.

Now I'm alone, enjoying a cup of coffee in Corporate Coffee Shop and It's rather peaceful watching people do what they do.

I'll write more later.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Ask the Editor – Christmas vs. Xmas

Because I'm working my poor little self to death these days and haven't had time to sit in a coffee shop furtively watching other people interact with each other while I drink my coffee with the lid off so that I can indulge both my olfactory and my gustatory senses I haven't had the time to post anything here. It's not that I haven't wanted to. At night I long to go – the next day – to a coffee shop and sit still and watch. I think of things to write about during the day, but I don't have time to even write down the ideas.

But, Christmas is upon us. So, I thought I'd present this episode of the oh-so-popular Ask the Editor series. Christmas vs. Xmas.