Public Education in the Ukrainian S.S.R. (1970)

Ed. by V.I. Chepelev
Radyanska Shkola Publishing House

Before the glorious revolution, children of the Ukraine ate swamp rats and dodged rocks thrown by the children of the Czar.  After glorious revolution, children of the Ukraine excel in all sciences, mathematics, and literature.  If you do not believe me, comrade, I have page after page of charts demonstrating the superiority of the educational system in the U.S.S.R.  I make these available in English so that you, capitalist lackey, will know that our children will soon bury you in all areas of intellectual and scholastic competition.  Truly, you are doomed.

Space Jaws


Farewell, Summer Television


The fall television season starts soon, and with it, the return of some of our most beloved entertainment franchises.  Soon we’ll know the true extent of Chuck Lorre’s rage at Charlie Sheen when he offs him in the most humiliating way possible on A Man + Ashton Kutcher ÷ the Teenage Remainder.   I’m pretty sure we left “House” in some kind of interesting scrape at the end of last season, although I am hard pressed to remember what it was.  And then there are the shiny new shows, like Whitey, which I think stars the lady from the Progressive Insurance ads shacking up with her boyfriend as they try to save up money to buy him a shaving kit.  There’s also the sci-fi show, Terra Nova, which upon cancellation will introduce us to the next generation of futuristic whiners mortally wounded that their series was not allowed to fulfill its destiny, even if that destiny was merely to be the Time Tunnel of 2011.     

Most exciting of all is NBC’s bold new experiment in wasting, as egregiously as possible, the considerable talents of Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph.  With little to no shame, Up All Night apparently has no more ambition than to document the hilarity of couples fighting over just who is going to get up and stick a bottle in the puling maw of a baby.  Given that these TV couples apparently chose to have these TV babies, I’m not sure why this should be my TV problem.  I know young parents secrete an enzyme that makes junior’s inopportune puking on various fabrics and visitors endlessly fascinating, but in the past such banal war stories have typically and mercifully circulated only among fellow parents —how NBC plans to do 22 episodes a year of dirty diaper jokes for those who don’t find little Johnny’s little shits adorable is a true mystery.  Unless one of the babies is from Venus or the reincarnation of Albert Fish or something equally edgy, I’ll pass, thank you very much. 

Of course, for all these new and returning shows to take to the airwaves, we must first say goodbye to the “summer” television season.  Time was when there was no such thing as a summer television season—the networks simply flipped into rerun mode and assumed everyone, on both sides of the screen, had better things to do with their time.  But as TV gradually came to realize that going dark for three months might, in the very near future, lead to an entire generation completely forgetting that television ever existed in the first place, the decision was made to create the illusion of exciting new programming year round.  

Many complain about the quality of summer television.  Not me.  In fact, I’m always a little sad to see it go.  Summer programming, as we have come to know it over the past few years, is like television’s feral cousin—recognizable as TV and yet unexpectedly “wild” in a way that the prestigious gloss of the autumn schedule would never abide.  It’s like the dog you once rescued from traffic at the side of the Interstate: he’s cute enough that you grow a little attached to him as he lives in your basement for a few days while you put up posters; and yet he is deranged enough that you come to understand how he got left on the side of the freeway in the first place.  You’re a little sad when the Humane Society finally comes to take him away, but not inconsolably so, much like the feeling you have when MTV breaks out the cattle prods to herd Ronnie and Sammi back into their enclosures until next season. 

One of the highlights of this summer was undoubtedly ABC’s Wipeout, a show where mobile assemblages of bone and meat subjected themselves to a punishing obstacle course for reasons that apparently had nothing to do with either prizes or fame.  In fact, I’m not even sure if Wipeout was actually a game show or just an ongoing X-treme sport product demo featuring recruits from various So-Cal fitness clubs looking to “test themselves” against the challenge of a human pachinko machine.  Making it even more stupidly unfair, some off-screen tech-lord apparently had the power to activate various booby-traps at his own discretion, making sure that even the most worthy competitor eventually ended up in the drink with a broken coccyx.  If, as a child, you ever wondered what it would be like to be miniaturized so that you could try to outrun the various components of "Mousetrap," this was the show for you. Wipeout may seem like America’s take on those wacky Japanese game shows that focus on contestant pain and humiliation, but that comparison makes little to no sense given that it is almost impossible to humiliate an American, especially one appearing on television.  It would seem these people decided to appear on Wipeout for little more than talking points at various Orange County juice bars; or perhaps because, to have not done so, would be to lead a life slightly less awesome.

Less strenuous but no less ridiculous has been NBC’s It’s Worth What?, a post-empire version of The Price is Right hosted by a strangely distracted, perhaps even painfully embarrassed Cedric the Entertainer (at top).  Whereas The Price is Right concentrates on commonsense consumer-citizenship, rewarding viewers for actually knowing what a can of tuna or a washing machine might cost, It’s Worth What? works the freak show wing of capitalism.  The conceit here is that Cedric the Entertainer has access to a giant vault filled with odd treasures from around the world.  In each segment, contestants have to guesstimate the price of said objects—most of them ostensibly worthless-- without fainting from shock or outrage.  Quick—which costs more—a Lamborghini Spider or a mint copy of the first issue of Spiderman?  The answer is almost unimportant (it’s the sports car, by a hair)—it is the question itself that is so perversely cruel.  In an era of massive economic retrenchment, here we have an entire hour devoted to “Theoretical Expenditures of the Leisure Class,” reminding viewers struggling to make rent that someone out there just paid 2.35 million for a Honus Wagner baseball card. 

At least It’s Worth What? feigns a “gee-whiz, rich people sure are crazy” type of populism that makes it available, however remotely, for an eventual Marxist epiphany. Over on Lifetime, however, there resides the irredeemable loathsomeness of The Picker Sisters.  In what is perhaps the most tone-deaf series currently on television, here we have two noisome interior designers (apparently on loan from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) who wander through economically depressed regions of the nation in search of hidden treasures and cute knickknacks that they might refurbish and sell in their upscale boutique back in L.A.  In the episode I saw, the vulture twins spent a couple of hours swindling an older junk-gentleman in Alabama out of all kinds of odd scrap metal so that it might be stripped, powder-coated, and sold as adorable patio furniture to some copyright lawyer at Sony, a tool who will no doubt regale guests at his pool party with the interesting story of their origins (“Apparently these chairs were originally involved in the transportation of chickens in Alabama,” he laughs, reaching for another canapĂ©. “How, I simply can’t imagine.”).   
Not only is The Picker Sisters irksome for unabashedly trading in fantasies of the bi-coastal tasteful gleefully screwing over clueless rubes, it is also—quite unintentionally, I’m sure--a rather depressing documentary about the precipitous decline of the nation’s once great manufacturing base.  In another segment, the gals raid an old Army depot (again, somewhere in the south), now reduced to little more than a rusting collection of obsolescent hardware.  They are delighted to find an “Acid Suit" locker, a stand-alone metal closet that apparently once housed an emergency “acid suit” for that lucky soldier called upon to deal with the ominous eruption of an acid emergency in the plant.  Rather than ponder the object as silent testimony to the shared dangers and selfless sacrifice of previous generations working difficult jobs for the common good of the nation, the Pickers instead declare that the locker would make a great “wet bar” for some young Hollywood bachelor.  On a truck and back to L.A. it goes.  With any luck, residual benzene levels will ensure that everyone involved feeds a tumor with each new Mojito. 

The vaguely hypnotic Hillbilly Handfishin’, meanwhile, attempts to redress the regional antagonisms provoked by the likes of The Picker Sisters.  Here unlikely handfishers from around the nation come to a lake in Oklahoma to stand around in muddy water and let freakishly gigantic catfish swim through their legs—a practice offered as the key to resolving all manner of racial, regional, sexual, and class difference.  It’s an odd show, inasmuch as most of the “action” takes place under the water and the producers are apparently too cheap to spring for any submergible camera equipment.  For most of the program, we watch as three visiting couples and the two hosts stand waist deep in water, occasionally shouting out with surprise, pleasure, and/or pain when a giant flathead cat swims past their thigh, giving the whole enterprise a vaguely pornographic feel (perhaps better captured in the title of the earlier fish-in-the-crotch show, Okie Noodlin’). 

Speaking of slimy things swimming near your junk, Animal Planet got just about everything right in titling its summer exploitation classic: Man-Eating Super-Snake.  The premise here, as I understand it, is that there is currently a rogue species of Anaconda loose in the Florida Everglades.  If they begin to interbreed with another humongous snake indigenous to the area, most likely everyone weighing under 80lbs. and living south of Jacksonville will soon be dead.  The few minutes of the program that I witnessed featured the requisite “slither-cam,” in this case showcasing “man-eating super snake” as he made his way toward a crib.  I assume the baby was rescued at the last second and everyone learned an important safety lesson, like not leaving your baby’s crib at the edge of a swamp, but I can’t say for sure. 

Of course, the summer friends I will miss the most are the freaks, the glorious, glorious freaks, especially those lost souls that we got to meet in the second season of TLC’s My Strange Addiction.   Who could forget the gas-huffing Mom or the grown woman who took her creepy stuffed animals everywhere?   The woman who bathed thrice daily in bleach or the hipster taxidermist obsessively prowling the streets of Brooklyn in search of dead mice to stuff?  And who could forget Teresa, she who eats rocks, and Casie, she who eats the ashes of her dead husband?   If you somehow missed either of these segments over the summer, I highly recommend them both.  Teresa was especially amazing in that she apparently really eats rocks, not by swallowing little pebbles, mind you, but by actually taking great big crunchy bites out of large, hard rocks—teeth, intestines, and foley sweetening be damned!

I have come to love My Strange Addiction so much that I fear it may have peaked this season, so in the interest of having some good kooks for next summer, I will end here with the casting call currently posted at TLC.  If you are really screwed up, I beseech you, for my own personal entertainment pleasure, to share your story with us all:

MY STRANGE ADDICTION
Think you have an unusual compulsive behavior or strange habit? Do you find it consuming you, affecting your life, work and relationships? If you or someone you know is suffering from a strange addiction and would be interested in participating in our program, please send us a short description of your unusual behavior and the impact it has on your daily life to: casting@20west.tv. Please make sure to include your name, age, city of residence, a current photo, and a phone number or email where you can be reached for further questions.

Optically Challenged 2


Beach Binge (1963)

Dean McCoy
Beacon-Signal

As an accomplished and responsible high-school senior, blond-beauty Pat is pretty sure she's earned a relaxing spring break on the beach at Southbay with some of her galpals from school--especially given that Miss Dowd, the girls' gym coach, has consented to serve as an unofficial chaperon for the week.  But Pat's parents are dead set against it.  Booze, boys, pot, petting, and a girls' gym coach willing to chaperon for "free"...they know what goes on at Southbay.  And they especially don't want Pat going there with her friend Angela.  That Angela is trouble, early-60s slutty brunette trouble.

Pat's parents are right.  Angela is borderline psychopathic.  Just to make sure Pat can come to Southbay, Angela corners each of Pat's parents with incriminating evidence about their infidelities.  Seems Pat's dad regularly drives up to a Santa Barbara hotel with his secretary.  And Pat's mom receives a visit from the TV repairman at least once, sometimes twice a week.  Just like that, Pat and Angela are on their way to Southbay.  It just goes to show you, Angela tells Pat: when it comes to sex and booze, all parents are hypocrites. 

Now we pause to meet the landlord who has graciously offered his upstairs apartment as a rental for Pat, Angela, and their other classmates--a man whom the police have already warned must quit using his binoculars to spy on young girls in their swimwear next door.  The landlord's name is Bert Leach.  This is a great name in that it evokes both a parasite and a "letch"--two things that will most certainly prove to be true.  But at least Miss Dowd is there to look after the girls, right?  No.  For you see, Miss Dowd has other plans for her time at Southbay.  Sure, as a "mannish" woman who loves jeans and western shirts, she wouldn't mind putting the moves on one of her curvy young students--especially Pat-- but seeing as she has a "companion" waiting for her at another apartment in Southbay, she agrees to leave the girls alone for the week if they'll leave her alone. 


First day on the beach: Angela has procured the world's skimpiest bikini and holds flesh-court with all the boys.  Pat is embarrassed by her friend's wanton sluttiness, so she goes off to swim by herself.  She's briefly overpowered by a wave when suddenly the handsome and slightly older Gardner Kane grabs her firmly by the arm and pulls her to safety.  Angela yells out across the water for Pat to be careful about Gardner as he is a real "pelt collector" (this is a reference to his reputation for acquiring "beavers").  Gardner says quietly to Pat how much he hates girls like Angela who will do anything to be the center of attention, even lie about nice college boys such as himself.  Pat hates that about Angela also, so already they have something in common.

That night, Angela has invited a bunch of the boys from the beach over for a party--a "spin-the-bottle" party.  But Angela doesn't exactly play spin-the-bottle like a normal teenager.  Each time the bottle points to a boy, she grabs him by the hand and takes him to the bedroom, not to "make out" in a "seven minutes in heaven" scenario as the kids used to say, but for a full-on round of sexual intercourse.  After Angela has escorted her third boy to the bedroom, it becomes clear no one here really understands the rules of spin-the-bottle.  In Angela's mind, at least, everyone else is supposed to sit around and watch until she's made every guy in the room.  In any case, it's all very sick and twisted.  Luckily for Pat, Gardner arrives and proclaims the scene "pretty rough," suggesting they get out of there.  Pat agrees, and so they take off.

Hey!  says Gardner,  I've got an idea. Why don't you come over to my place and meet my roommate and his girlfriend.  They're older college types, like me, and the girlfriend is an aficionado of classical music.  You'll really like her.  Patricia is uncertain--she's been told not to accept invitations to go home with boys--but the presence of the other couple seems like a good insurance policy, especially if one of them prefers classical music over the horrible and more provocative rock 'n' roll now popular among her dimwitted peers.  But when they get to Gardner's apartment, the other couple is no longer there.  Don't worry, says Gardner, they probably just stepped out--be back any minute.  Hey, why don't we have some wine while we wait?  Pat is a little nervous--things aren't really going exactly as she expected.  But what the hell, it is spring break after all.  The wine flows.  Gardner decides they can kill some time listening to a new recording of Ravel's Bolero.  Yes, that Bolero.  As they sit on the couch, Gardner admires Pat's shapely legs--Would it be okay if I kept one of your stockings as a keepsake? he inquires politely.  Pat, not being a very bright girl on the seduction front, says that would be fine.  She wriggles out of her stockings and gives them to Gardner.   More wine, and then this sentence occurs:  "She suddenly realized she no longer wore her bra."  Gardner goes in for the pelt.  Pat resists at first, but then realizes this is just how things were meant to be.  She loves Gardner, he's dreamy and older and listens to classy music like Bolero.  Yes. Yes. Yes.  I love you, she whispers to Gardner as he takes her to the bed. 

Moments later, after both he and Ravel are finished, Gardner says to Pat, "Welcome to the club!"  Just then three loud and brassy drunk girls burst in through the front door.  One of them jumps into Gardner's lap.  "You were right," says Gardner to the girl now in his lap, "she was a virgin."  "Told ya," says the girl, demanding that her two friends pay up on their bet.

Mortified, Patricia runs blindly out of the apartment into the night.  Angela was right--Gardner lives only to collect pelts.  She wanders through town aimlessly--humiliated, disgusted, ashamed--until at last she runs into Miss Dowd and her "companion" Mary on the beach.  Miss Dowd sends Mary into town for some food and then tries to comfort Pat.  A boy did something awful to you, am I right?  Pat admits this is so.  Oh Patricia, I could protect you from all that, says Miss Dowd.  Why are you calling me Patricia, says Pat, it's weird.  Everyone calls me Pat.  Miss Dowd puts her cards on the table: I want you to be my own pretty little girl, she says, I would like to dress you in frilly things and...  But Pat has heard enough.  Once again she bolts into the night, crying and ashamed...

Now we pause for a couple of chapters so that we might find out why Angela is such a bad kid (rich, absent parents) and also how Pat's mom came to have an affair with the TV repairman (revenge and suburban isolation). 

It's the morning after Pat's harrowing night at the hands of Gardner and Miss Dowd.  Angela wants to know if Patricia is still mad at her for hosting a "let's spin the bottle and fuck strange boys in the bedroom" party.  She also tells Pat not to feel bad about losing her virginity to Gardner, admitting that she too had been one of his "victims" three summers ago--he's just really good at what he does.  Somewhat reconciled, the girls all go back into the apartment to shower for lunch.  But Angela hears a strange noise in the bedroom.  She quickly has a theory.  Suddenly, she is  announcing loudly how much she is going to enjoy her long, hot shower.  Pirouetting around the room in the buff, she unexpectedly dives into the open wardrobe closet and grabs an intruder by the collar.  It's Bert Leach!  A ha!  So you've been spying on us the whole time! Bert feebly protests that he was just coming up to fix the water heater, but this story makes little sense as it does not address why he has constructed a secret passageway from his apartment downstairs into the back of the girls' wardrobe closet.  He's busted.

Angela could turn him into the police for being a peeping tom...but Angela's smarter than that.  Now she has an adult she can blackmail for an unlimited supply of free food and booze.  And if the threat of 10 years in jail isn't enough to keep the old perv in line, she's also not above using her own body as bait to keep Bert her own personal slave.  Another big party at the house, this time catered courtesy of Bert. 

Despite all the boys, booze, and blackmailed cuisine, however, Angela is feeling a bit empty inside.  Sure, she talks a big game about having all the boys and booze a girl could ever want, but maybe Pat is right.  Maybe she should have waited for that one special boy.  Thinking about this makes Angela uncomfortable, so much so that she goes back to the empty apartment and invites Bert the letchy Leach to join her for a few drinks. After she gets him really drunk, she runs around the apartment in her bikini and encourages Bert to "catch her."  But then she slips out and goes down to the beach to tell Pat she has an important phone call back in the apartment.  Angela is so bitter and twisted, you see, that she thinks it will be hilarious to trap her "friend" with a drunken middle-aged pervert who we last saw wearing only his tennis shoes.

So Pat goes back to the apartment and, sure enough, Bert Leach leaps upon her.  But he's too drunk to be a real menace, and soon Angela is there laughing at both of them--knocking "too-good-for-us-all" Pat down another peg while taking Bert ever deeper into their spiraling dance of master/slave depravity.  Bert, still nude in his tennis shoes, retreats through the wardrobe closet just as Miss Dowd arrives at the front door.  There follows a conversation between Angela and Miss Dowd in which Angela makes several sarcastic innuendos about Miss Dowd's lesbianism.  "Change your mind, Patricia?" Miss Dowd wonders.  No?  The gym teacher leaves.

Last night at Southbay and time for one last big party.  Gardner has spent all week trying to "apologize" to Patricia for "collecting her pelt" and wants her to believe that he really does have feelings for her.  To help those feelings become mutual, he ducks out of the party for a few minutes to buy two dozen reefer cigarettes, which upon his return quickly make the rounds among the high-school kids.  Against all scientific probability, the sudden influx of THC into the proceedings makes the boys rowdy and violent, and soon they're refilling empty beer cans with water so they can chuck them into the drywall.  "Let's trash this place!"  Bert, meanwhile, is nearly at the last circle of hell.  Angela has spent the night manipulating him through a combination of blackmail and cockteasing. At some point a kid gets out a polaroid camera and takes pictures of Bert frolicing semi-nude amidst a writhing crowd of drunken high-school students.  And now drunk football players are throwing beer cans through his walls.  It is either the greatest or worst night of his life, depending on whatever it was Bert wanted in the first place when he decided to build his perv blind in the closet.

Hey, says one of the beer can-chucking boys, let's get out of here.  He grabs Angela by the wrist and drags her out to the car with a bunch of his friends.  They speed through the streets of Southbay until at last they make it to the beach--where they run smack dab into another group of kids on spring break. Although Angela and her friends are pretty wild, they are no match for the really tough "gang" kids they now encounter near the boardwalk.  The tough gang kids have a simple proposition for their less-tough high-school rivals: give us the girl and we won't crush your skulls.  This seems reasonable to Angela's cowardly escorts, and so they leave her behind to fend for herself.  Luckily, however, the gang kids become so engrossed in shooting dice to see who will go first with the new girl that Angela is able to slink away into the night and escape.  She walks back to the apartment, tears in her eyes, thinking maybe this time she's taken things too far.  No sooner does she get to the front door than a cop grabs her by the arm.  Keeping Angela in his grip, the cop knocks on the door.  When Pat answers, the  officers rush into the living room.  Bert Leach is passed out on the floor.  The cops grab Gardner as he and his marijuana cigarettes attempt to escape through the bathroom window.  Everyone's going to jail.

Pat's mom calls Pat's dad in Santa Barbara. Pat's in jail. Emotionally shaken, Pat's father ditches his secretary mistress and hits the highway.  How did his family get so screwed up?  Picking up his wife, they go to Southbay and bail Pat out of jail (along with Angela, since her parents--as usual--are nowhere to be found).  They drop a still bitter Angela off with her aunt.  That night, Pat's mom arrives in the boudoir wearing a special blue negligee.  Pat's dad calls his mistress back in Santa Barbara. We're through, he tells her.   I seem to be in love with my wife--and my family needs me.

In her bedroom, staring at the ceiling, Pat realizes Gardner didn't really take that much from her.  How could he?  He didn't know her.  And knowing someone well is the most special thing of all.

The end.

So basically Where the Boys Are with some pot, a lesbian, and a pedophile added to make it all a bit more sleazy.  Another pulp that demonstrates no force on earth is more harmful than brunette teenage girls abandoned by their parents. 

Pure Sweet Hell (1957)

Malcolm Douglas
Gold Medal 972

Exploits of an undercover G-Man in a Spanish coastal town, trying to figure out how an Italian kingpin has rerouted his drug trade through a new port of call.  "Bish" is our vice agent/narrator, masquerading as just another sailor on the New York-Spain-Italy run. No sooner does the boat pull into harbor than Bish finds his contact and partner murdered, initiating 24-hours of non-stop running and fighting centered on the possession of two packs of Lucky Strikes stuffed with cocaine.  There's also a beautiful American woman with her own problems who always seems to turn up at the wrong time.  Plucky Pablo serves as Bish's boy Friday and guide to Spanish customs.  A hundred pages in and I was both tired and confused.  Average. 

U.S.S. F@#ked


Must They Die? (1971)

Faith McNulty
Ballantine Books

McNulty, then "wildlife reporter' for The New Yorker, uses the mid-60s  sighting of a rare and extremely endangered black-footed ferret in South Dakota as an entryway to discussing the controversy over "predator control" in the American west.  Most have some familiarity with these debates--western ranchers of sheep and cows want natural predators like coyotes, wolves, bears, foxes and other species "controlled" (i.e. exterminated) so as not to eat into their profit margins.  Much of the book details the rather sordid history of PARC (Predator and Rodent Control), a government agency that devoted most of the twentieth-century to eliminating any animal that might pose a threat to commerce, even if that "threat" was often specious and unproven.  There is also a rather excruciating survey of the various ways these predators are destroyed, the most horrifying of which is the M-44 (a spring loaded wick scented with carrion and buried in the prairie.  When an animal bites and pulls on the wick, it shoots a cyanide pill down its throat).


It's not just "predators," of course, but also animals considered expensive pests--thus enters the prairie dog.  Prairie dog colonies were once ubiquitous across the American west.  Considered a hazard to horses and other hoofed animals that might step into their holes, as well as a competitor for prairie grass, prairie dogs have been systematically exterminated for decades, usually with little concern as they appear hardy enough to bounce back wherever they are under attack.  As it turns out, the extremely rare black-footed ferret depends on prairie dog colonies for shelter (they live in their empty dens) and for food (they eat their slow and dimwitted pups).  McNulty documents the various back-and-forth struggles between preservationists, the Feds, and local government officials in trying to delay the poisoning of a prairie dog colony thought to contain the elusive ferret.

Forty years later, things still don't look so great for the black-footed ferret.  As wiki puts it: 

The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes), also known as the American polecat or Prairie Dog Hunter, is a species of Mustelid native to central North America. It is listed as endangered by the IUCN, due to its very small and restricted populations. First discovered by Audubon and Bachman in 1851, the species declined throughout the 20th century, primarily due to decreases in prairie dogsylvatic plague, to the point where it was considered extinct in the wild by 1987. However, a captive breeding program launched by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in its reintroduction into eight western states and Mexico from 1991–2008. There are now over 250 mature, wild-born individuals in the wild in 18 states of the USA, though only three of these populations (two in South Dakota and one in Wyoming) are viable.


Prairie dogs, by the way, live in large "towns," but socialize in smaller social groups known as "coteries."  See, you want them less dead now.

Optically Challenged 1


This'll Slay You (1958)

Alan Payne
Ace Double D-289

Fairly by the numbers pulp of two low-rent gamblers, fatty and skinny, looking to retrieve an envelope containing valuable information about the ponies.  When an obnoxious vet student and little brother of the busty Gloria is murdered in Florida, the two gamblers head to Indiana in search of answers.  There they discover a scientist has found a way to predict how well horses will do in a race based on their blood count--valuable information to have in advance of a big stakes run coming up in Louisville. 

Lots of shooting, drinking, fleeing, fighting, etc., all peppered with wisecracks between the gambling tandem as they get in and out of scrapes.  In a comic centerpiece, the gamblers hypnotize a stupid small town sheriff and give him "negative hallucinations" (i.e. the gamblers become invisible to him, thus allowing them to escape).

Alan Payne was an early pseudonym for John Jakes, who in the 1970s became a best-selling author by writing sprawling works of historical fiction, most famously The Kent Family Chronicles (The Bastard '74, The Rebels '75, and many more) and the North and South trilogy.  These later books, as any used book store employee will tell you, sold enough copies to damn the mightiest rivers of the world several times over.

I Saw That Movie Where All the Apes Get Mad and Take Over the World


First of all, credit where credit is due.  Thank you, Hollywood, for finally making a film this summer that didn’t make me wish I had stayed home to express my cat’s blocked anal gland with a Q-Tip.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is actually really, really good.  Surprisingly good.  True, it did require the industry to dip back into the stockpile of science-fiction ideas that existed before Star Wars transformed the entire genre into little more than an endless sword ‘n’ sandal flick with more and better weapons, but if that means getting a Zardoz reboot next, I’ll take it.

If anyone reading this is in or near Malibu, by the way, please kidnap Michael Bay and force him to see Rise immediately so that he might learn the basics of scene articulation and narrative structure.  If Rise can make me misty-eyed over a big, dumb ape taking out a helicopter, surely Bay can learn how to help us keep track of who is a Transformer, who is a Decepticon, who is Shia LeBeouf, and why we should even care in the first place.   Okay, obligatory Bay = State of current cinema joke out of the way, let's proceed...

Let me say this:  I wish Rise of the Planet of the Apes were happening right now.  I wish super-intelligent apes were swinging through the trees this very moment ready to lay waste to our sorry civilization.  It’s about time another species took over for our terrible stewardship of the planet and of ourselves.  Millions starving.  Inequality increasing.  Axe Body Spray still on the market.  At this point, the ghost of Paul the psychic Octopus deciding affairs of state with an aqua-Ouija board could probably run most governments better than we humans.  And look, we all know this movie is only showing us our inevitable future.  Apes may not learn to talk and organize themselves into medieval fighting formations, but it’s even money we end up taking ourselves out with a virus that we will probably invent for profit.  It may be an additive used to extend the shelf-life of Cheezy Bread Stix or a fine mist Steve Jobs sprays into the atmosphere to make Apple users misplace their dongles and cords that much quicker, but it’s going to happen, we’re going to take ourselves out in a way that is cosmically embarrassing. 

That’s why it’s so great that Rise targets San Francisco as the first city to go—It’s an open attack on all the Trekkies out there who imagine that Frisco will be the gateway for projecting our boring, homogenized cultural differences of the future out into the universe so that we can lecture other cultures (alien ones, no less) on what they should and should not be doing.  You say the future is a bank lobby in space where we all obey the prime directive whilst discovering every civilization in the universe has its own form of brightly colored liquor?   I say it will be genetically mutated monkeys ripping out our tracheae and kneecaps just for the hell of it.

In this respect, I always thought Spielberg missed a real opportunity with the Jurassic Park series.  After humans stupidly brought dinosaurs back to life, wouldn’t it have been great if a bunch of pterodactyls got loose, bred in such numbers that we couldn’t really control them, and then occasionally swooped down to snatch away house pets and small unguarded children?  Not so often that we had to declare a “War on Pterodactyls,” obviously, but maybe with the same frequency as people being hit by lightning—just enough to remind us of what dumbasses we were for bringing dinosaurs back to life in the first place, or for trying to play an extra hole of golf in the face of an advancing thunderstorm.  I salute Rise for having the courage to remind us that it is often our very intelligence that makes us the stupidest ape of all.  Imagine how much more free and full of life you’d feel if you could simply entertain yourself by throwing your own feces at various comic foils, as opposed to feeling dead inside after paying $14 to see Kevin James do it for you (wait, crossover alert: the mad-as-hell apes of Rise invade Zookeeper, radicalize the non-human primates, and then all escape the film to leave their bewildered human cast-mates wondering where the next fart joke will come from). 

Like all science-fiction, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is of course an allegory.  I’ve heard many say this week, either in jest or quite earnestly, that the film is a great parable about the Tea Party—angry right-wingers as angry apes rising up against their oppressors.  That’s a really nasty swipe, of course, seeing as how gratuitously insulting it is to apes.  After all, the apes of Rise all learn to cooperate for the common good.  They share their cookies and divide the labor “from each according to his need, to each according to his ability.”  They also learn very quickly how important it is to get a good education, as in that scene where the guard catches them all going to night school.  Say what you want about how smelly, dirty, or damned they might be, but an ape isn’t the type of creature that would prefer to shit in coffee cans and stack them on his neighbor’s property line rather than pay that extra penny in sales tax to refurbish his community’s sewer system.  No, an ape is smarter than that. 

Actually, as far as parables go, I think the film is much more interesting in its kinship to the zombie genre.  A few years ago I delivered a paper in London (at the Cine-Excess conference) on the zombie film as a rather playful indulgence of a collective and accelerating social death-drive. Zombies are scary—particularly those British ones that cheat by running extra-fast—but there’s also something exhilarating in seeing the entirety of our social world absolutely destroyed.  After all, what’s so bad about being a zombie?  You’re still somewhat sentient, apparently, certainly more so than if you just watched 100 Ways to Leave a Game Show or paid actual attention to the last Katy Perry CD all the way through.  Moreover, the only thing that can kill you is a clean brain shot—and once everyone else in the world is also a zombie, that isn’t very likely to happen.  Zombies don’t have to work or pay mortgages or worry about their personal appearance anymore---what’s not to like?

If anything, Rise is even more candid and enthusiastic than most zombie films in indulging our desire to watch humankind snuff it—you’re on your feet by the end cheering the primate army as they hoist us brainiacs by our own R&D petard.  Hurray for the noble apes!  Hurray we’ll all be coughing up blood and dying soon!  True, it’s a shame the death of humanity will mean no more incredible specimens like James Franco, Freida Pinto, and the hypothetical primates they might spawn, but that’s a small price to pay for exterminating assholes like that guy in the Ape house with the cattle prod or the pilot-neighbor-from-hell living next door.   If I had a neighbor like that, I’d be personally injecting local raccoons with anything I could find in the hopes that one would eventually turn sour and spray his patio furniture with some form of mutantly toxic urine.

So kudos once again, Hollywood, for getting it right this time.  I eagerly await the next installment when all the CGI Apes are rather surrealistically talking (which I hope will be even weirder than imagining Roddy McDowell’s mouth flapping behind the latex in the original series).  I also hope the sequel has the guts to show thousands of Americans waiting around to die from the mutant virus, sad they will soon be no more, but ecstatic that they didn’t have to see their tax dollars wasted on government medical research or to support the implementation of Obama’s goddamn socialized medicine scheme.

The High Side (1970)


Max Ehrlich
Fawcett Gold Medal R2207

Cal McCue is a fully enfranchised and wildly enthusiastic member of Satan's Outlaws, the meanest, toughest, orneriest bike gang in California.  There's nothing Cal loves more than the feeling of freedom that comes from riding his chopper up and down the highways of the Golden State--getting drunk, laying the "Mamas," and beating the shit out of the occasional "squares" that get in their way. 

But Cal has a problem--somehow he's let himself fall for this hippie chick, Marcy, who he met one night on the Sunset Strip.  He's been crashing at her place for the past few weeks, smoking weed, making love, and terrorizing her cat (bikers hate cats--they're a road menace).  It's a mellow vibe for an Outlaw of Satan--but that all promises to change once Cal rides north for the next big meeting of the chapter.

He doesn't know why this girl has messed up his mind so bad.  After all, she's just a stupid hippie who believes in peace and love and all that crap--while Cal believes first and foremost in American patriotism, even as he has contempt for the "99%" out there who get married, pay mortgages, and have to worry about "a rash on the baby's ass."  That's not for Cal.  No way.  He can drop this hippie chick anytime he wants. 

Cal heads north for the big Outlaw meeting.  On the way he scuffles with a blue Cadillac that refuses to stay in its lane.  This leads to a dangerous chase through a construction zone that almost gets Cal killed--but he remembers the car, and the tag: Ellsworth, California.

Arriving at a biker bar near Oxnard, Cal sees the other love of his life: Beautiful Brad.  This is not a name I have made up factiously to imply some form of subtle homoerotic intrigue in the book--all of Satan’s Outlaws call their leader “Beautiful Brad" because Brad is, in a word, beautiful.  Whereas most of the Outlaws are hairy creeps with broken noses and uneven leg bones, Brad is a Norse God--beardless and blue-eyed with long blond locks that flow majestically from beneath his helmet whenever the Outlaws hit the road. He's smart, too, having done two-years of college after he got back from Nam--an education that he uses to blow the mind of the fuzz by using big words like "canard." All the Outlaws think Brad is just dreamy.

Two items of business at the Outlaw meeting; 1). discuss the big July 4th run to Squaw Lake; 2). initiate a new member into the gang.  The initiation proves to be a particularly interesting ceremony, presumably one based on fact.  Every member of the Outlaws pisses, and if possible, shits into a big bucket.  At the appropriate moment, after the initiate has recited the laws of the club, the bucket of fraternal shit and piss is poured over his head so that it might seep into his jeans and leather.  This uniform, we are told, will forever be known as the biker's "originals," and he is not allowed to wash them ever again--they are to absorb even more rotten odors over time until they decay and literally fall away from the body many years down the road.  Even then, the biker should try to incorporate as much of his "originals" as he can into his subsequent gear.  This is one way that the members of Satan's Outlaws embrace their "filthy" status outside the straight world.  They stink and are proud of it. 

With that quaintly infantile business out of the way, Cal tells everyone about the Cadillac that ran him off the road on the way up from L.A.   And here is where you begin to see the allure of biker culture.  No problem, say his pals, Ellsworth is only an hour north of here...let's go finding that fuckin' square and beat the shit out of him because no one fucks with Satan's Outlaws.  And that's exactly what they do.  They motor up to Ellsworth, divide the town into quadrants, find the Cadillac, wait for the guy, and then drive him off the road by beating his car with chains. He crashes into a tree and they leave him for dead.  Now, of course, I'm not advocating such behavior—violence is never an appropriate solution to anything.  But I’m sure a lot of guys in their more lizard-brained moments have dreamed of having a group of pals so loyal that they'd all risk bodily harm and serious jail time, no questions asked, just because some suit looked at you the wrong way.  That is true brotherhood, dude, stronger than any bond in the straight world.

With Cal avenged, the four Outlaws need to head back to L.A.  But then something wonderful happens--Beautiful Brad asks Cal to ride "tandem" with him.  This is a fancy college way of saying Beautiful Brad wants to ride back with Cal only, and so he tells the other two Outlaws to split.  Of all the Satan's Outlaws in the world, thinks Cal, Beautiful Brad chose ME!   And here's where things get interesting.  Beautiful Brad and Cal ride for a while, but then they stop in a field and discuss their "feelings”--when they started to ride, why they hate society so much, how great it is to be in a bike gang, etc.  Beautiful Brad also tells Cal not to get too heavy with the Marcy chick.  He’s seen it a hundred times.  One day a guy is a righteous biker.  Then some chick gets her claws into him and he’s married with kids and a mortgage. “We say screw the rest of the world,” says Beautiful Brad. “They’re the living dead.  They will just have to stay out of our way or we’ll stomp them down.”  Cal concurs. 

Then Beautiful Brad gives Cal some uncut methadrine.  "Follow me," he says.  Soon they are going down a mountain range on a steep incline full of hairpin turns.  Cal knows this is a test.  If he doesn't stay exactly ten feet behind Beautiful Brad's bike--all the way down the mountain--he'll lose status in the club.  And then the meth kicks in.  Together they barrel down the mountain at breakneck speed, taking each curve blind and on the verge of losing control.  One slip, one mistake, one car coming in the opposite direction and they'll both be dead.  But Cal loves it.  Seeing Beautiful Brad's flowing locks ahead of him, high as hell on meth, it's the most sublime, trusting, intimate experience of his life.

They make it down the mountain alive--so to celebrate, they stop in at a roadside diner for some beers and steak.  Could this date be going any better?  No, it could not.  But just then a bunch of assholes from the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) walk into the joint--the AMA are the sworn enemies of Satan's Outlaws because they stand for everything the gang hates--law and order, rules and regulations, etc.  In a fair fight, a handful of Satan's Outlaws could wipe the floor with these punks--but here, Beautiful Brad and Cal are outnumbered 50 to 2.  Tense words are exchanged.  Cal wants to fight, but Beautiful Brad tells him to keep cool.  Finally the two are called "faggots."  Cal wants to fight even more--but Beautiful Brad throws it right back at them, speaking in a high effeminate voice and calling Cal his lover.  They make it to the parking lot and, sure enough, the 50 AMA squares follow them outside.  But Beautiful Brad is always thinking—that’s why he’s the leader of Satan’s Outlaws.  He grabs Cal at the waist and plants a long sloppy French kiss on him.  "Oh my God," cry the AMA guys, "they are faggots!"  "That's right," says Beautiful Brad.  The AMA guys are so stunned at this manifestation of homoerotic spectacle, they can’t even move.  Beautiful Brad and Cal use the moment to get on their bikes and get the hell out of there, thank you very much.

But their dream date still isn't over.  They go to Santa Monica and rip up a golf course, imagining the look of horror on the faces of the squares the next morning when they find their precious greens turned to mulch.  And then they park their bikes and go to the Santa Monica boardwalk...where Beautiful Brad buys Cal an expensive watch.  Cal protests at first about the cost, but Beautiful Brad gets mad and says, "I want to buy you something nice."

Just in case you don't get what is going on here, Ehrlich piles it on a little deeper by having the two end the night at a tattoo parlor.  Underneath the mandatory Satan's Outlaws tattoo on their chests, they get matching inscriptions: "Beautiful Brad" for Cal, and "Cal Forever" for Brad.  Some might find this prudish, the fact that Beautiful Brad and Cal don’t actually end up having sex—but as stated before, no form of sex could possibly match the ecstasy of a meth-fueled tandem ride down a steep mountain pass.  “Sex” sex would just be anti-climatic at that point. 

Well, how is Marcy the skinny hippy chick to compete with that?

Not well, it turns out.  Cal returns to their pad in L.A.  As Beautiful Brad warned, Marcy is pregnant.  Even worse, she wants to keep the baby and move back to her parents' house in Pasadena.  And she wants to get married.  Marcy's dad has even agreed to loan Cal some cash to open his own bike shop.  Soon they'll have enough money to buy a home of their own....

AAARRRGGGHH!  Cal can't take it.  He gets the hell out of L.A. and back to the gang.  He gets drunk and beds as many biker mamas as he can...but somehow he can't get Marcy out of his mind.  That hippie chick has crawled under his skin and there's nothing he can do about it.  So he finally goes back to her pad to talk.  But he finds only a note on the table.  Marcy still loves him, and she understands his need to be “free.”  No hard feelings.  The rent is paid until the end of the month and Cal’s welcome to crash there until then.  Thus begins Cal’s downward spiral into drugs, pills, blackouts, weeping, etc.  And then one morning Marcy is back, cooking him breakfast after a particularly devastating binge.  As it turns out, her parents in Pasadena were giving her the same old shit that made her run away in the first place.   Now that they’re back together, she knows they can make it on their own.

But what about Beautiful Brad?

July 4th weekend rolls around-- time for the big run to Squaw Lake.  Marcy convinces Cal to take her along.  "You wouldn't like what you see there,' says Cal—drinking, puking, wanton screwing.   But Marcy insists:  If the Outlaws are so important to Cal, then she wants to understand his world by seeing first hand.  Cal reluctantly agrees.   

Arriving back at Outlaw headquarters, Cal introduces Marcy to Beautiful Brad.  At first Brad seems furious (after all, he did just buy Cal a fancy watch and tattoo his name on his chest.  WTF, Cal?)  But he quickly regains his composure and tells Marcy she is of course most welcome to make the run up to Squaw Lake.

I should also tell you at this point that there is this policeman named Joe Scully.  He can't wait for the Outlaw run to Squaw Lake because, about a year earlier, four Outlaws cornered him in a field, beat him up, and stole his clothes.  And because the Outlaws enjoy pissing on things so much, Beautiful Brad pissed on Joe before leaving him naked and abandoned in the field. Yes...Joe the cop can't wait for these scumbags to come back to his county.

So now we're at the lake and the gang is in full-on Satanic Outlawing mode: drinking, fighting, fornicating.  Things are on fire.  Bikers on acid run around yelling gibberish.  Men throw piss, shit, and beer cans at each other.  One biker has been inexplicably strung up in a tree, while another guards a six-pack by swinging his chains at imaginary thieves.  There is vomit aplenty.  Marcy is speechless.  It is without the doubt the most revolting spectacle she has ever seen.  She wants to go home…NOW!  But Cal tells her chill-out, the guys are just blowing off a little steam.

But then Cal commits a transgression of the Outlaw code—he falls asleep. The by-laws of the gang clearly stipulate that if a member falls asleep on the first night of a big run, he is to be punished in a manner determined by the leader---and that would be Beautiful Brad.

Suddenly Beautiful Brad appears from the bushes with two henchmen.  Cal’s punishment for falling asleep?  Beautiful Brad is going to make it with Cal’s “old lady.”  The two henchman are hesitant—biker lore has it that you never mess with another guy’s “old lady.”  But Beautiful Brad has spoken.  They drag Marcy off into the bushes on the other side of the camp.

A few minutes later and another biker shakes Cal awake.  Dude, Beautiful Brad is making your old lady into a mama!  Cal can’t believe it.  He runs towards Marcy’s screams and finds Brad raping her.  He pulls Brad away and the final fight begins…

Cal almost has Beautiful Brad completely stomped when he notices Marcy is missing.  In a panic he hops on his bike to find her.  Two cops tell him she came by their checkpoint and fainted—an ambulance has taken her to the hospital.  Cal rides on to find her.

But here comes Beautiful Brad on his bike.  A cop radios ahead that Beautiful Brad, leader of the Satan’s Outlaws, is coming full throttle toward the highway.  Only one cop stands in his way—Joe Scully, he who Beautiful Brad once voided his bladder upon.  Scully slowly and methodically spreads a deadly sheen of slick motor oil across the highway.  Beautiful Brad rounds the corner, hits the skids, and crashes into a rock.  Lying on the road near death, Brad looks up and sees Scully.  “Remember me, punk?” says Scully, unbuttoning his fly.  Beautiful Brad struggles beneath the powerful stream of Scully’s piss.  His urinary revenge complete, Scully picks up a rock and crushes Brad’s head…no one will ever know it wasn’t an accident--they all smell like piss anyway, reasons Scully.

But what about Cal and Marcy?  Cal finally makes it to the hospital.  But Marcy won’t see him.  He calls her room.  Marcy’s father answers.  “If you ever try to see her again, I will kill you!” he says.

A few days later: The Outlaws throw a righteous funeral for Beautiful Brad.  Afterwards, they beat the shit out of Cal.  As they see it, Brad was trying to catch Cal to “forgive him,” so deep was his biker love for his brother.  If Cal hadn’t “sold out” for a chick, none of this would have ever happened.  He can be an Outlaw no more.

Cal tries to join a couple of other gangs, but they won’t have him.  They know what he did.

Cal has no future, no choice.  He shoots-up a double-dose of meth and returns to the mountain summit of he and Brad’s magnificent tandem ride.  Only this time he aims for “the high side” of the curve.  Tears in his eyes--but laughing--Cal sails his bike over the edge and into the void.

FTW!

If you frequently find yourself full of urine, testosterone, and a desire to destroy golf courses on a motorbike, or if suppressed homosocial/homoerotic tension has turned you into a human rage machine, you will greatly enjoy this novel. 

Tea Party Sadie



Bunny in the Den

Episode (1954)

Peter W. Denzer
Popular Library 621

Twenty-year-old Arnie Bronson is sick.  Life in the army has so worn him out that he ends up in the base hospital with pneumonia.  Pumped full of antibiotics and sulfa drugs, Arnie is unconscious most of the time--although he is vaguely aware of his troubling nightmares.  And then one day, just as he seems to be getting over his infection, two MP's roust him out of bed and escort him across the base to another building...the psych ward!

And thus begins our trip into one of the most Kafkaesque of pulp subgenres--the "trapped in an asylum" story.  These books usually have very similar engines running them: the more the protagonist proclaims his sanity, the more those around him believe he is insane--narrative "progress" is marked by transfers between wards, from the slightly neurotic to the full-on psychotic.  At first Arnie is only confined to a ward of high-functioning, low-security cases, but the inevitable violent outburst at the injustice of his incarceration lands him in the dreaded "padded cell" up on the hospital's psycho floor.  From there, things just get worse until eventually Arnie and the reader both realize Arnie has in fact gone "crazy."  He is having, as the title tells us, an "episode." Whether he was mentally ill before he arrived in the psych ward, or if the psych ward itself made him mentally ill, remains unresolved through the rest of the book.

Arnie's bouncing from ward to ward is so precisely documented here that that one has to suspect Denzer wrote this with some amount of autobiographical detail.  Arnie seems to be recovering and makes his way back to the lower floors--but then a transgression of one sort or another lands him back in isolation amid the other schizophrenics.  This bouncing around takes its toll and Arnie drifts deeper into psychosis--a process that Denzer handles rather deftly as a gradual retreat from the surrounding world.  After a month or so in the army hospital, Arnie has lost all sense of time and purpose, his only "link" to the outside world a series of nightmares starring his teenage girlfriend, Julie, whom he has not seen in over a year.

As is so often the case in pulps, the cover of Episode (front and back) implies there will be some form of sordid sexual affair (passion and torment behind hospital walls!)  A third of the way into the book, however, and it becomes obvious Denzer is more interested in telling the complete story of a schizophrenic arc from initial breakdown to (tentatively) final recovery.  After Arnie hits rock bottom at the army hospital, his father at last intervenes to have his son transferred to a private hospital in upstate New York.

Arnie is still in bad shape at the new institution--but two wonders of 1950s psychiatric care intervene on his behalf: Freudian analysis and shock treatments.  After just one shock treatment, Arnie miraculously snaps back to the real world and considers himself cured.  But his psychiatrist tells him to slow down a bit--he's still sick and they need to find the real reason for Arnie's episode.  Here the novel drags a bit as we get a series of extremely significant dreams (involving ex-flame Julie) that are subjected to extremely significant analysis--of interest, really, only to those who would like to read several pages of fake dreams subjected to fake interpretation. 

After a few more courses of ECT and what seems like a dozen "Julie" dreams, Arnie seems well enough that they trust him to go out to the movies one evening with his parents.  Little does everyone know, however, that Arnie is so fed up with being institutionalized that he is planning his big escape.  He ditches his parents at the theater and takes the train into Manhattan where, after wandering through Central Park for awhile, he somewhat aimlessly (one might say, unconsciously) ends up on Julie's doorstep...where of course the police are waiting for him.

Let's try another hospital, shall we?  Arnie is moved to a new facility overlooking Riverside Drive in New York.  Here he meets an unconventional psychiatrist who is more of a buddy than a Freudian.  It is also a co-ed facility, so at long last, some two-thirds of the way into the story, the sordid scenario promised on the cover might at last come true.  And it does--slowly.  Mainly Arnie sits around talking to his new pal about how and why he cracked up and went schizo.  The doctor, meanwhile, tells Arnie he's basically "cured," but it would be best to stay in the asylum for awhile and marinate before heading back into the real world.  This seems especially good advice given that Arnie has just learned that Julie is now married--to an Ivy League guy, no less, that she met at a writer's workshop in Vermont.  As he waits to get out, he slowly tries to strike up a relationship with Wilma--a patient who arrived at the hospital in full-on wildcat, crazy-hair, kicking and screaming mode, but who over the course of a couple of months cleans up to be the best-looking dame in the hospital.  Relationships between patients are against hospital rules, the doc reminds Arnie, but then again, it's not a rule anyone really enforces.

And so at last Arnie succeeds in luring Wilma to a friend's apartment, vacated for the winter.  The deed is done and Wilma, who formerly had been mostly indifferent to Arnie, is suddenly completely smitten.  The relationship continues on for a few weeks until, at last, Arnie is deemed ready to leave the hospital once and for all.

On the outside, Arnie gets a job and becomes just another New Yorker--working 9 to 5 and living in a small flat in the garment district.  He still sees Wilma every so often, but gradually the two drift apart.  Then one night Arnie comes home to find another recently released friend from the hospital on his doorstep.  Wilma's dead.  Suicide.  Arnie is devastated, but his pal gets him off the hook by saying Wilma's time with Arnie was the only moment of happiness in her life--rather than face being unhappy again, she decided to put an end to it all.  So really, Arnie was doing her a favor.

The book concludes with Arnie accepting an invitation to a dinner party at the home of Julie and her parents...along with Julie's new husband.  How does that go?  Suffice it to say, Arnie gets to make a final meaningful speech about their past, present, and future.

All in all a pretty good read, especially for anyone interested in mid-century psychiatry. And you have to respect the skills it takes to keep this type of story moving.