"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2013

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Whip it Good

 

Over at SB Nation’s Longform, the talented Michael Mooney asks: What Happened to Jai Alai:

Looking at the rows and rows of seats, you can imagine a different time. There were thousands of people every night, men in dark suits and hats packed shoulder to shoulder. They’d be waving programs, downing brown booze, smoking cigarettes from cigarette cases or, better still, puffing thick cigars that would fill the room with pungent smoke and give the air just below the giant ceiling lights a ghostly blue haze. As the men on the court used oblong baskets to hurl a goatskin ball over and over against a granite wall, the men in the crowd would be hollering and belly laughing and slapping each other on the back. There was a time when the audience at the Miami Jai Alai fronton was so loud, the players on the court could barely hear their own thoughts.

Now though, the seats are almost all empty. On this clear-skied, 85-degree Tuesday afternoon in mid-winter, there are more players in uniform than spectators in the crowd. On the other side of the building, in the freshly renovated casino, there are plenty of people at the poker tables and parked in front of the more than 1,000 flashing slot machines. But in this massive auditorium, once the epicenter of the gambling action, it’s dead.

With every throw, you can hear the ball—in jai alai, the pelota—crash against the wall with a thunderous, echoing boom. You can hear the scoreboard beeping, and it sounds like the entire building is on life support. What was once a five-star restaurant at the top of the grandstand, the Courtview Club, is almost always dark and vacant now. The skyboxes, once bustling with young women offering cocktail service, now gather dust year-round. Same for the sectioned-off rows that once comprised the sizable press box. Even the players’ names, they once sounded so exotic and intriguing. Now they just seem … foreign.

[Photo Credit: Benherst; Flickeriver]

Million Dollar Movie

Creature Comforts: the Oscar-winning short. I know I’ve posted it before but hell, it’s still wonderful.

Mic Check

From The Laughing Squid

Big Night

Steph Curry was The Man last night. But the Knicks still won.

[Photo Credit: David Sunberg]

Taster’s Cherce

Smitten Kitchen gives us a simple apple tart.

Beat of the Day

[Man]: “I heard you quit your job?”

Isaac: “Yeah, a real self-destructive impulse. You know, I want
to write a book, so I, so I … Has anybody read that
nazis are going to march in New Jersey, you know? I
read this in the newspaper, we should go down there, get
some guys together, you know, get some bricks and
baseball bats and really explain things to them.”

[Man]: “There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed
page of the Times. It is devastating.”

Isaac: “Well, well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but
bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the
point.”

[Woman]: “Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical
force.”

Isaac: “No, physical force is always better with nazis. Cos
it’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.”

[Woman]: “Well, you get emotional, I know…”

Dennis: “Excuse me, we were talking about orgasms.”

Mary: “Oh no, no, please, give me a break. I’m from Philadelphia, we
never talk about things like that in public.”

Isaac: “Yeah, you said that the other day, I didn’t know what
the hell it meant then either.”

Dennis: “I’m just about to direct a film, of my own script, and the
premise is this guy screws so great …”

Isaac: “… screws so great?”

Dennis: “… screws so great that when he brings a woman to orgasm she’s
so fulfilled that she dies. Right, now this one,
excuse me, finds this hostile.”

Mary: “God, it’s worst than hostile, it’s aggressive-homicidal.
You have to forgive Dennis, he’s Harvard direct from
Beverley Hills. It’s Theodore Reich with a touch of
Charles Manson.”

[Younger Woman]: “I finally had an orgasm and my doctor told me
it was the wrong kind.”

Isaac: “Did you had the wrong kind, really? I never had the wrong
kind, never. My worst one was right on the money.”

New York Minute

Seen on the street. Nice mix. That’s my favorite Eddie record, probably because it was the first.

 

Morning Art

[Picture by Andy Helms]

Just One Drink And I’ll Fall Down Drunk

Chris Jones on J.P. Arencibia catching R.A. Dickey without wearing a cup.

[Photo Credit: Washington Post]

Taster’s Cherce

Alexandra gives us Honey-Soy Chicken. Oh, heck yeah.

The Banter Gold Standard: Parker

Here’s our pal Luc Sante on Richard Stark’s Parker. Stark, aka, Donald Westlake, was recently profiled by Michael Weinreb over at Grantland.

Luc’s piece is featured in several of the Parker books recently re-issued by the University of Chicago Press. If you’ve never read the Parker series, you’re in for a treat.

“Parker”

By Luc Sante

The Parker novels by Richard Stark are a singularly long-lasting literary franchise, established in 1962 and pursued to the present, albeit with a 23-year hiatus in the middle. In other ways, too, they are a unique proposition. When I read my first Parker novel–picked up at random, and in French translation, no less–I was a teenager, and hadn’t read much crime fiction beyond Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I was stunned by the book, by its power and economy and the fact that it blithely dispensed with moral judgment, and of course I wanted more. Not only did I want more Parker and more Stark, I also imagined that I had stumbled upon a particularly brilliant specimen of a thriving genre. But I was wrong. There is no such genre.

To be sure, there are plenty of tight, harsh crime novels, beginning with Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and there is a substantial body of books written from the point of view of the criminal, ranging from the tortured cries of Jim Thompson and David Goodis to the mordantly analytical romans durs by Georges Simenon. There are quite a few caper novels, including the comic misadventures Parker’s creator writes under his real name, Donald Westlake, and the works of a whole troop of French writers not well known in this country: José Giovanni, Albert Simonin, San-Antonio. The lean, efficient Giovanni in particular has points in common with Stark (anglophones can best approach him through movie adaptations: Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le deuxième souffle, Claude Sautet’s Classe tous risques), but with the key difference that he is an unabashed romantic.

Stark is not a romantic, or at least not within the first six feet down from the surface. Westlake has said that he meant the books to be about “a workman at work,” which they are, and that is why they have so few useful parallels, why they are virtually a genre unto themselves. Process and mechanics and trouble-shooting dominate the books, determine their plots, underlie their aesthetics and their moral structure. A great many of the editions down through the years have prominently featured a blurb from Anthony Boucher: “Nobody tops Stark in his objective portrayal of a world of total amorality.” That is true as far as it goes–it is never suggested in the novels that robbing payrolls or shooting people who present liabilities are anything more than business practices–but Boucher overlooked the fact that Parker maintains his own very lively set of moral prerogatives. Parker abhors waste, sloth, frivolity, inconstancy, double-dealing, and reckless endangerment as much as any Puritan. He hates dishonesty with a passion, although you and he may differ on its terms. He is a craftsman who takes pride in his work.

Parker is in fact a bit like the ideal author of a crime-fiction series: solid, dependable, attentive to every nuance and detail. He is annoyed by small talk and gets straight to the point in every instance, using no more than the necessary number of words to achieve his aim. He eschews short cuts, although he can make difficult processes look easy, and he is free of any trace of sentiment, although he knows that while planning and method and structure are crucial, character is even more important. As brilliant as he is as a strategist, he is nothing short of phenomenal at instantly grasping character. This means that he sometimes sounds more like a fictional detective than a crook, but mostly he sounds like a writer. In order to decide which path the double-crosser he is pursuing is most likely to have taken, or which member of the string is most likely to double-cross, or the odds on a reasonable-sounding job that has just been proposed to him by someone with shaky credentials, he has to get all the way into the skin of the party in question. He is an exceptionally intelligent freelancer in a risky profession who takes on difficult jobs hoping for a payoff large enough to hold off the next job for as long as possible. He even has an agent (Joe Sheer succeeded by Handy McKay). Then again he is seen–by other characters as well as readers–as lacking in emotion, let alone sympathy, a thug whose sole motivation is self-interest.

And no wonder: Parker is a big, tough man with cold eyes. “His hands looked like they’d been molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins”; the sentence appears like a Homeric epithet somewhere in an early chapter of most of the books. He might just possibly pass for a businessman, provided the business is something like used cars or jukeboxes. He doesn’t drink much, doesn’t gamble, doesn’t read, likes to sit in the dark, thinking, or else in front of the television, not watching but employing it as an aid to concentration. Crude and antisocial at the start of the series, he actually evolves considerably over its course. Claire, whom he meets in The Rare Coin Score, seems to have a lot to do with this–by Deadly Edge they actually have a house together. And Alan Grofield, first encountered in The Score and recurring in The Handle, among other titles, twice in the series becomes the recipient of what can only be called acts of kindness from Parker, however much Stark equivocates on this point, insisting that they merely reflect professional ethics or some such.

Parker is a sort of super-criminal–not at all like those European master criminals, such as Fantômas and Dr. Mabuse, but a very American freebooter, able to outmaneuver the Mob, the CIA, and whatever other forces come at him. For all that he lives on the other side of the law, he bears a certain resemblance to popular avengers of the 1960s and ‘70s, Dirty Harry or Charles Bronson’s character in Death Wish. He is a bit of a fanatic, and even though we are repeatedly told how sybaritic his off-duty resort-hotel lifestyle is, it remains hard to picture, since he is such an ascetic in the course of the stories. He is so utterly consumed by the requirements of his profession that everything extraneous to it is suppressed when he’s on, and we are not privy to his time off, except for narrow vignettes in which he is glimpsed having sex or, once, swimming. But then, writers are writing even when they’re not writing, aren’t they?

After The Hunter, all the remaining titles concern jobs gone wrong, which seems to account for most of Parker’s jobs, barring the occasional fleeting allusion to smoother operations in the past. The Seventh is, naturally, the seventh book in the series, as well as a reference to the split from the take in a stadium job. The actual operation is successful; the problem is what occurs afterward. It represents the very rare incursion, for the Parker series, of a thriller staple: the crazed gunman. Along with The Rare Coin Score, it is one of Stark’s always very pointed explorations of group dynamics. The Handle, with its private gambling island, ex-Nazi villain, and international intrigue, is (like The Mourner and The Black Ice Score) a nod to the espionage craze of the 1960s, when authors of thrillers could not afford to ignore James Bond. If The Seventh is primarily aftermath, The Handle is largely preamble. In The Rare Coin Score (the first of four such titles, succeeded by Green Eagle, Black Ice, and Sour Lemon) the culprit is an amateur, a coin dealer whose arrested development is so convincingly depicted the reader can virtually hear his voice squeak. Sharp characterizations abound in this one–its plot turns entirely on character flaws of various sizes.

The Parker books are all engines, machines that start up with varying levels of difficulty, then run through a process until they are done, although subject to different sorts of interference. The heists depicted are only part of this process–sometimes they are even peripheral to it. Parker is the mechanic who runs the machine and attempts to keep it oiled and on course. The interference is always caused by personalities–by the greed, incompetence, treachery, duplicity, or insanity of various individuals concerned, although this plays out in a variety of ways, depending on whether it affects the job at beginning, middle, or end, and whether it occurs as a single dramatic action, a domino sequence of contingencies, or a gradually fraying rope. The beauty of the machine is that not only is suspense as effective as it usually is, but its opposite is, too: the satisfaction of inevitability. Some Parker novels are fantastically intricate clockwork mechanisms (The Hunter, The Outfit, the seemingly unstoppable Slayground, the epic Butcher’s Moon), while others hurtle along as successions of breakdowns (the aptly acidic The Sour Lemon Score, the almost sadistically frustrating Plunder Squad).

Like all machines but unlike lesser thrillers the novels have numerous moving parts, and the more the better–more people, more subplots, more businesslike detail, more vignetted glimpses of marginal lives. Stark’s momentum is such that the more matter he throws into the hopper the faster the gears turn. The books are machines that all but read themselves. You can consume the entire series and not once have to invest in a bookmark.

Remember That?

 

Check out this archive of clips over at MLB.com. Loads of fun. Have at it.

[Photo Via It's a Long Season]

New York Minute

Michael Crawford from The New Yorker.

Beat of the Day

I stay on shorties domes like them beauty parlor dryers.

Morning Art

“Burning House” By Carrie Schneider

Couple Few Things

Afternoon Yankee notes.

Mike Axisa on Tex.

[Photo Credit: Associated Press]

Super Jew

Over at Longform, check out Noah Davis’s Shep Messing profile.

World’s Famous, Man, Forget It

 

This is fun. Thanks to Ego Trip for pointing it out.

Morning Art

Photograph by Larry Fink.

Million Dollar Movie

Kottke has more on the almost-always, mostly-free Criterion Collection.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver