Monday, May 27, 2013

One of My Favorite Students

Tom had been a pain in my ass for a good long time during that trip to London. I was teaching English and leading a tour, and he’d been the guy who’d come along because he wanted to go clubbing and sneak off to Amsterdam.

He was smart enough but never took the assignments seriously, never did the reading. I kept reminding him that he’d paid for the classes, not just the trip, but he was fine with that. He wasn’t there for literature or art, he said.

At least he wasn’t there for any of the until the Tate Gallery, one of London’s premier art collection. I’d been explaining different kinds of art to them, going over the basic movements, talking about Picasso and Degas and Kandinski as much as I could. After all, I’m not an expert on art history, but I was taking lessons from my wife who is an expert and giving the class whatever I could give them.

I was expecting Tom to be sullen or make snarky remarks that afternoon, but what I found was Tom alone in a gallery room staring at Fish, Brancusi’s sculpture that captures the moment of a fish in the ocean. Tom stared at it critically from each side, trying to understand it, trying to see it from the right angle. When I came over to him, he asked me about, and I talked about Brancusi’s mission and his perspective, and Tom nodded seriously listening to me and making observations.

Behind us was a room full of Turners, his paintings that captured the essence of light so perfectly, and we wandered through talking about painting as capturing a mood as opposed to photorealism. He talked, and I talked, and then I left him to wander off to think about paintings and for me to think about him.

I think about Tom a lot now, Tom who was a true student; Tom who distrusted anything that smacked of pretentiousness -- like art and literature and classic music; Tom who turned out to be my best student, who made me prove what I was saying with actual proof; Tom who allowed himself to be changed by art, who was more open to allowing himself to be changed than just about anyone I know.

I’ve always allowed books to change who I was, and I know that other people do too, but I’ve never seen it happen in the moment until that summer in London.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mystery Cliches -- Part Four

Mystery Cliches, Part Four

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my favorite mystery show clichés. Since then, people have been writing and calling me telling not to forget all of theirs.  It’s tempting to make fun of television and movie writers who use these, but the truth is that we love them. I love them. If I didn’t, I’d stop watching television mysteries.

Here are three more:

1. Dramatic Lighting:

The forensic team searches through the room looking for that tiny bit of DNA that will prove the governor’s son murdered the archbishop’s niece. The entire case depends on it. The wrong man will go to the death chamber if they get it wrong.

If I am ever in danger of being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit, I really and truly hope that someone on the forensics team turns on a light. A really bright one I hope! Maybe several. In fact, I hope they bring in floodlights that light the place up like a football field.

Television scientists all too often paw around in semi-dark that creates cool and moody shadows raking across their faces. Somehow they are able to pull tiny fibers that are different than all of the other tiny fibers in the carpet.

I suppose that I tend to live in my head a lot, but I’m fairly aware of my surroundings, and I’ve missed fibers on my face.

The governor’s son is never going to get what’s coming to him, and the archbishop will never get the justice he deserves.

2. It Always Rains on Mel Gibson:

Mel Gibson has had some problems lately that we’re all well aware of, but he made a string of some of the best crime movies ever -- the best being the action-noir classic Lethal Weapon and it was in Lethal Weapon that he came up with one of his hallmark cliches.

A woman Mel loves is going to die tragically, and as he ponders the nature of life and death whilst staring at her grave, it’s going to be raining. There won’t be any rain for all the rest of the movie, but there’s always a cold front moving into his wives’ cemeteries.

To be fair, Mel didn’t create this cliche, but he certainly perfected it. He also helped to start the action movie happening during Christmas trend. The tragedy mixes with the faux joy of the season, and they work well together.

3. Location, Location, Location:

“I can’t believe it,” Detective MacLamore says, “All these years we’ve been tracking The Crosstown Killer, all this time he’s been killing up and down the state, who would have believed that it was the governor’s son and he’s lived in town right under our noses.”

It’s awfully convenient that a) murderers don’t get new jobs and move to new towns and b) that they live right down the road from the stars of police shows. I mean they’re often within walking distance.

What are the chances? Pretty good. Otherwise Detective MacLamore has to work with other people who are -- let’s face it -- more likely to catch the killer than he is. They know their areas better than he does after all.

And just to defend the writers of The Days and Nights of Ted MacLamore P.I., that long-time television show I just made up, I don’t want someone else solving the case. I tune in every week to watch him solve the case, and to hear his signature catch phrase, “I guess I’ll have to solve another one by myself.”

Wait, that’s not a really good one. I’m going to have to come up with a better catch phrase for the P.I. in my head.

I end this installment as I have ended those before and that is just to say that I love all these cliches. They’re fun to make fun of, but they’re a lot more fun to watch on T.V.

John Brantingham’s murder-filled violence can be found in Mann of War, and he writes his own blog filled with the hope and joy his students and friends give to him at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chapter One of Mann of Action

Hello everyone. People have been asking me about the ending of Mann of War -- no I'm not going to spoil it if you haven't read it. But this will give you some sense of the way that ending changes things for Robert Mann. This is the beginning of Mann of Action.

Now, if you really haven't read Mann of War and you plan to do so, you probably don't want to read this yet. This will ruin the surprise of the last chapter of that novel.

Robert Mann tilted his head trying to decide if he saw a bruise under the edge of Dr. Gail Fremont-Progroff’s blouse. He was discreet about it. Still, Charlie tapped his foot under the table. She widened her eyes at him to tell him to be good.
            The banquet table was large, everyone an anthropologist or anthropology student except for him. Dr. Fremont-Progroff hadn’t noticed him. But he realized why Charlie had tapped him under the table.
            Nine or ten people at the table were staring at him, smiling expectantly. “What’s that?” he asked.
            “Tim asked you a question.”
            Robert smiled and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Just a little tired. What was the question?”
            Tim turned out to be a chubby ruddy faced student full of enthusiasm and energy. He wore a khaki short sleeved shirt that would have been just about right for the field. Unfortunately for Tim, men were supposed to wear ties and suit jackets this evening.
            Tim shook his head. “No don’t worry about it, Professor Mann.” Tim was deferential. The kind of young scholar who was enamored of the hierarchy of academia. Despite that, Robert decided he liked the young man’s restless energy. “I was just wondering if you had any opinions about the petroglyphs.”
            “I think they’re . . .” Robert searched for a word. He almost said “neat” but had a sudden desire not to disappoint Tim, so he said “fascinating.”
            Tim nodded leaning forward in his seat. “But I want your professional opinion.”
            “I’m not an anthropologist.”
            “I mean I want the opinion of an historian.” Tim breathed the word “historian” reverently.
            Something in his tone caught the imagination of the others at the table. Conversation stopped. Everyone was watching Robert, waiting for the opinion of the historian.
            Robert shrugged and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Tim. I’m here with Charlie. It’s just not my area. If you want to know about the Age of Jackson, we can talk, but the petroglyphs are just outside my specialization.” The others at his table seemed disappointed. “I’d like to hear the opinion of Professor Fremont-Progroff.”
            Robert would have normally called her “Gail.” That’s how she had introduced herself to him earlier. Somehow, Tim’s formality had worked its way into him.
            Gail must have been ready for the question. She smiled at Robert and launched into what seemed like a prewritten lecture on the subject.
            The lecture was interesting, and Gail was a good speaker. Soon, however, Robert found himself studying her again, checking for signs of bruising. Her shoulder blade. Her forearm. Perhaps there was discoloration on the side of her neck. Her hair hung loose, however, covering her neck most of the time.

            “It’s just so sad,” Charlie said the next morning. She was in the shower while Robert leaned against the sink. “She’s so smart, but she seems blind when it comes to her husband.”
            “Mmm,” Robert said. “Has anyone tried to help her?”
            “I don’t know.”  Charlie paused for a moment. “It seems kind of strange to try to help her.”
            “Why’s that?”
            “She’s so smart and competent.”
            “It would be kind of insulting to suggest that she needs saving?” Robert asked.
            “That’s right,” Charlie said. She turned off the water and wrapped a towel around herself. “It’d be sexist, right?”
            Robert shrugged. It was the best he could come up with if he didn’t want to be shouted down. Maybe it would be sexist. On the other hand. He let the thought drop in his head.
            “Where was he last night?” Robert asked.
            “I don’t know. What I’ve heard is that everyone’s relieved when he doesn’t show up. With all the gossip you hear, he’s just so creepy to be around.”
Most people, Robert included, took their time getting ready, working themselves into the morning. Charlie with her pixie haircut and dislike of makeup was dressed and out of the hotel room in sixty seconds. She didn’t bother to dry her hair, and she toweled off with a quick wipe. Underwear, socks, shorts, shirt, hat, shoes, sunscreen, a backpack with their breakfast and some water, all within a minute, and she was outside, half-walking, half-jogging through the lobby on her way to the trailhead.
            Robert smothered a laugh, trying to keep up with her, her excitement infecting him. These were the best parts of academic conferences as far as Robert was concerned. A good conference leader chose a hotel somewhere that would be interesting to its participants. Going out between the breakout sessions and experiencing something was much more interesting than the sessions themselves.
Not many academics found the middle of Arizona interesting, but these anthropologists did. Robert did too.
With Charlie’s pace, they were across the parking lot to the trailhead in another minute. Even from the front door of the Desert Springs Hotel, Robert could see they were too late. No one was there.
Now, on tiptoes and supporting herself with fingers on the little wooden trail sign, Charlie looked over the scrub and through the saguaro cactuses, trying to see the little group of hikers they were supposed to meet.
“Dr. Fremont-Progroff wasn’t kidding around,” Robert said.
Charlie shrugged and shaded her eyes with her hand. “She said she was going to leave early, but I didn’t think she meant before 6 am.” Still, they could catch her.
The two of them settled into a jog, a little faster than their normal morning exercise, but Robert liked it. The air was already warm. He could feel the sun tanning his arms. The desert woke up all around him, the birds, the skittering in the bushes.
The path dipped into gullies and rose along the side of a hill. In a few minutes, they came around the hill’s backside, and the valley spread itself before them. Charlie stopped and shaded her eyes to stare across the distance. Robert wondered how many miles he was looking out over. 50? 100? 200? It was a clear day, and they were up above the desert floor a little. They could see into a vast wasteland where people could be lost forever.
“There,” Charlie pointed. Below them, the little group winded along the trail towards the petroglyphs.
Charlie nearly burst into a run, but Robert shouted, “Stop!” He grabbed her shoulder.
“Look at that,” he said. A rattle snake was making its way across the trail twenty feet ahead of them.
Charlie took a breath. “Maybe we should slow down a little,” she laughed.
Robert smiled.

Gail Fremont-Progroff beamed when Robert and Charlie caught up to the group. Charlie dashed ahead and locked into her step, matching her stride for stride and asking about the Indians who had settled here, lived here, left their drawings, and died out a thousand years earlier.
Robert lagged at the back of the group with a short man he’d seen before. “You’re Carlton Progroff, aren’t you?” Robert asked the man.
Progroff smiled at him. “Sure,” he said. “Do I know you?”
Progroff was a bit shorter than Robert’s six foot two, but he looked powerful. These anthropologists were used to hiking long distances to sites in the wilderness. They moved quickly. Progroff wasn’t even panting or sweating in the rising morning heat. He wore his tan shirt unbuttoned down to the third button, showing off his well-muscled chest.
“I’m Robert. I’m the only one who isn’t an anthropologist.”
“Oh, right,” he said. They were moving quickly, and there was a slight breeze, but Robert was sure he smelled cologne. “History man. Gail mentioned you.”
“I heard you were an expert on the other petroglyphs out here.”
Progroff stared at him a moment. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I heard there were some left behind by American pioneers. It’s really the only thing I’m interested in.”
“Oh,” Progroff said, smiling. “You mean . . . yeah, well I’d hardly call myself an expert.”
“You lectured about them didn’t you.”
“Sure,” he said. Progroff stood up a little straighter at being thought of as an expert. “No one else at the conference knew anything about them at all.”
“I’d love to see them.”
“Fascinating pieces. I mean extraordinary. The theory is the settlers were coming through this area and saw the Indian’s petroglyphs. They must have wanted to be a part of the tradition.”
“Really?” Robert asked. It was the only question he needed. Progroff clearly loved to be the center of things. Now that he had an audience, he spoke – not noticing that Robert wasn’t listening and that Gail couldn’t continue her lecture over what he was saying.
Robert decided that Progroff was an easy man to hate. Even if he weren’t a wife beater, even if his wife weren’t so charismatic and brilliant, Robert would have hated him. He was smarmy and transparent, and the cologne and smiles and wan looks were supposed to be endearing.
Robert grabbed Progroff by the arm and stopped him as the group kept moving off. “Listen, the ancient petroglyphs don’t interest me as much as the settlers’ drawings do. Would you mind showing them to me?”

An hour later, Robert found himself staring at living history that few others had seen before him. A trail led to it, but it was unmarked. He would have passed by it without Progroff’s help. “What did I tell you?” Progroff said.
The drawing on the rock was simple. It had been etched into the dark rock with another rock or perhaps a piece of metal of some kind. There was the clear image of a stick figure man standing next to what appeared to be a wagon. Then there was the date, 1832, and the name, J. F. Buckley. “What did I tell you?” Progroff asked again.
The man was beaming, simpering almost. He was beginning to get a little pink in the hot sun, but that didn’t seem to bother him. What caught Robert’s eye however was the bruises on his left hand. He must have used the left hand like a fighter. Right hand for jabs so he didn’t damage it. The left hand for the hard work.
“I never would have seen this if it hadn’t been for you,” Robert said. “Thank you.”
“Nothing,” Progroff said. “Really nothing. Anyway, it got me away from a lecture I’ve heard a thousand times.”
Robert could kill the man easily enough right now. All he had to do was wait until Progroff’s back was turned and clout him with a rock. All he had to do was wait until the trail hugged a cliff. All he had to do was get his knife from his pocket. It’d be easy enough, and it would save the world a lot of difficulty in the end. Gail Fremont-Progroff would be free to follow her intellect and help her students without the constant threat of murder.
Sure, Robert could kill him now. Unfortunately, ten people had seen him leave with the man.

“She said there might be a chance at a position with her this summer.” Charlie was a whirl of excitement as she finished dressing for dinner. She put in her diamond stud earrings and looked down at her bare feet.
“This summer? Out here?”
Charlie’s face softened. “Yeah, this summer.” She sat down on the bed next to him and placed a hand on his thigh. “I know it would be hard for us. I don’t know what it means, but . . .”
Robert smiled and shook his head. “What it means is that I’ll either be living in the desert this summer or visiting a lot.”
Her face lit up as he knew it would. “You can’t believe how much responsibility she’s giving me.” She bounced off the bed again, opening the closet. She moved the brown leather backpack Robert had gotten earlier in the day and pulled out the shoes.
Charlie sat down and stood up perhaps ten more times as she got ready for dinner and talked about the new position. However, everything she talked about was predicated on the idea that Gail Fremont-Progroff was going to be alive this summer.
Robert had done some research in the morning. Carlton Progroff had been married four times before he met his current wife. His first wife divorced him. His second wife divorced him and tried to have him arrested for abuse. The charges didn’t hold up in court. His third wife was murdered in an apparent robbery in a parking lot. They had been married four years. His fourth wife was murdered in another apparent robbery after two years of marriage.
Gail Fremont-Progroff had been married to him for a year and a half.
The police suspected Carlton in the two murders. Unfortunately, Carlton had good alibis. Both nights he’d been eating out with friends. He paid for dinner both times. They weren’t air tight alibis. He could have driven over quickly to both murder sites. The district attorneys didn’t pursue either case however. They thought there was too much reasonable doubt to convict a respected anthropologist.
“What?” Robert asked. “Sorry, I was lost in thought.”
“Oh, I’m rambling. I just asked if you were ready to go down to dinner.”
“You weren’t rambling. I’m not feeling great.” Robert let his head fall into his hands as though he were a little dizzy.  “That hike out to the petroglyphs was a little hot for me.”
Charlie sat down on the bed next to him and rubbed his back. “Oh god. I was just going on and on, and I didn’t even notice. Lie down. I’m taking care of you tonight.”
“Are you out of your mind? You’re going to have dinner with Dr. Fremont-Progroff to make sure you’re on her team.” Charlie started to say something, but Robert cut her off. “And I don’t want you to come back early either. I’m a grown man.”
They bickered back and forth, but Charlie’s heart wasn’t in it. She really wanted to be at the dinner. She needed to be there, Robert argued. They were going to fill the team with someone else if she didn’t go.

The next day was the final day of the conference. Robert opted out of going on the hikes or to the breakout sessions. They were interesting, he told Charlie. But they weren’t really his thing. He needed to get a little work done of his own he said. He was going to need some time alone, and he might need to go out, he said. They’d meet back at the hotel room before dinner.
When Robert got back at around six o’clock, he found Charlie in the room sitting on the bed across from the closet. She was staring at the closet floor, not moving, her natural energy and enthusiasm replaced by a quiet Robert couldn’t identify.
“Is everything all right?” he asked. He sat down in the room’s one chair next to the closet.
“Carlton Progroff is dead,” she said.
Robert nodded. “How’d that happen?” Robert didn’t bother feigning shock or horror. Progroff had been a bad person. Robert was glad he died.
“Yesterday, when you and he went out to the petroglyphs, do you remember him losing his backpack? It was a brown one.”
Robert thought back. “No.”
Later that night, Progroff hadn’t been able to find his backpack. He was sure he hadn’t left it at the petroglyphs. When he searched his room and the hotel, he couldn’t find it. “Weird,” Robert said. “I could have sworn he brought it back.”
Charlie stared mutely at Robert for a moment. Then she said, “He went out there to look for it today. I guess he found it at the petroglyphs where you had been, but he was bitten by snakes.”
“He died of snakebite?”
“Yeah, he was bitten on his hands and arms four times by more than one snake.” Robert nodded, not knowing what to say. “It looks like the snakes had crawled into his backpack for some reason. When he opened it, they struck him.”
“Wow,” Robert said. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said flatly. “Wow.” She stared at Robert again for a moment. “The backpack was a brown leather backpack.”
“Was it?”
“There was a brown leather backpack in our closet yesterday.”
Robert nodded. “Was there?”
“Robert?” she asked. There was a question in her voice.
Robert stared at Charlie for a long moment, the silence stretching out between them. He was trying to decide something. When he did, he said, “Yeah, that was his backpack.”
“His?” Charlie’s breath caught. She couldn’t finish her question.
“Let me explain.” He looked out the window, and wondered how far away the closest police or sheriff’s station was. It didn’t matter, he supposed. Running would be pointless if it came to that. They could be 1,000 miles away from a sheriff’s station and running would still be pointless.
“The other day when we had dinner with Gail Fremont-Progroff, I saw deep bruising on her chest. She tried to hide it, but I could see it. I’d heard the rumors that her husband was an abuser, and I wanted to verify for myself. I heard that back on campus even before we came to the conference. It seemed to be an open secret here too.
“I called a friend of mine in law enforcement to find out if the rumors were true. He went through the database and told me that the police knew Progroff was guilty of at least two murders, and that the timeframe of the murders seemed to be shortening. I figured Gail didn’t have much longer.
“He’d gotten away with it a couple of times, and I like Gail. She’s a good scholar and a good person. When we came back from our hike, I followed a maid. When she ducked into the bathroom, I stole her keycard. Then when the Progroffs left their room for dinner, I went in and took the backpack.
            “This much is on videotape. If you want to tell the police, this is the evidence you should use.”
            Robert paused for a moment, but Charlie didn’t say anything or move. She stared at him and bit her lip, waiting for him to continue.
            “Finding the rattlesnakes wasn’t difficult. I cut off their rattles so he’d be less likely to notice when he opened the bag. He was too far from the hotel to get back. Anyway, trying to walk back would only speed up the poison. There was a good chance he wouldn’t be bitten, so I walked out there this morning and sat behind some bushes to make sure everything happened right. It did.”
            Robert stopped talking again and waited for Charlie to speak. She leaned back and frowned at him. He could hear the maids outside his door vacuuming the hallway. Outside his window, cars were pulling into the parking lot or pulling out.
Finally, Robert couldn’t stand the silence. “I know that this . . .” he searched for a word, “bothers you.  I’m not going to stop you if you want to turn me in.”
“You understand if this ‘bothers’ me?” Charlie cocked her head to the side.
“Not a great word,” he said.
“Why should it bother me?” Charlie said. “That son-of-a-bitch got what he deserved.”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

As a Boy, I Shoot a Hun

Hi everyone,

This is the shadow side of my previous poem, "Parley with Barbarians" posted 2 weeks ago. I've been cocooning lately, not going out much, enjoying the freedom to read a lot, and I've been writing poetry too. I'll have up part 4 of the cliches in a couple of days!

Hope you are all well.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cliches Part Three

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my favorite mystery show clichés. Since then, people have been writing and calling me telling not to forget all of theirs.  It’s tempting to make fun of television and movie writers who use these, but the truth is that we love them. I love them. If I didn’t, I’d stop watching television mysteries.

Here are three new ones:
1.       Exceptionally Hungry Coroners:
Crime scenes and morgues are places where filmmakers like to show just how long their characters have worked at a job, and how gritty they have become. I’ve been a professor for a lot of years now, but if I were to eat a sloppy roast beef sub, dropping bits of lettuce and getting mustard on my shirt, I would expect a student to raise her hand. “Do you think you could eat during a lunch break?” she would ask.

“You don’t understand,” I would say, “I’ve been teaching 20 years now, and I no longer am affected by being in front of a class. It doesn’t disgust or frighten me any longer.”

“Yeah, I’d expect that, but the sandwich is kind of distracting you from your job.”

“I’m just so jaded about teaching that I’m willing to eat in inappropriate places.”

“Um, maybe you could wait until your lunch break.”
2.       Bomb Cliches:
I would like to see inside a television bomb maker’s lab as he puts the finishing touches on his bombs. “This simply will not do. I have the red wire where the blue wire should be. I’m going to have to rewire the entire thing.”

Of course, the red wire/blue wire cliché is so old it’s not used often any longer, but that doesn’t mean that television makers have stopped.

What about the comically oversized digital clock with a glowing red display. It keeps nearly perfect time. Why? Do the bad guys not know when they’ve set the bomb? Do they not own watches? And where do they get these ubiquitous bomb timers? Stores should stop selling those timers. They have only one use.

“This will not do. How is the other side ever going to identify this as a bomb if we don’t have the bomb clock? How are they going to know how much time they have left? No, this will not do!”

Of course, the bomb timer is not exactly correct. It’s only pretty close. There’s always a moment after the clock hits zero when there’s a pause so everyone can look at each other dramatically.

Finally, explosions can throw the lead actor across the room and halfway through the drywall, but the concussive force is never enough to kill. Our hero, grunts once or twice comically and pulls himself out of the wall deadpanning a line.
3.       Fairly Stupid Bosses – Comically Impractical Investigators
This scene generally plays out like this:

“Sir, I think I know who the killer is.”

“Didn’t I tell you that you are off the case.”

“Yes, but I remember that the governor’s son was on the island right at the hour of the murder. We have footage of him too.”

“MacLamore, when I say you’re off the case, that means you’re off. We follow playground rules here, son. Once a rule is laid down we don’t bend for any reason. EVER!”

“But he confessed.”

“Detective MacLamore, I don’t want to hear it!” He slams down a fist on his desk.
The corollary to the exceptionally stupid boss who can’t see what our hero Detective MacLamore says is the impossibly impractical homicide detective (think Law and Order) who doesn’t come up with the easiest solutions.

“He seems to have been waiting on the street for hours.”

“Did you check traffic cameras and parking tickets in the area?”

“Good one Lieutenant. We also might have gotten a partial print.”

“Well, have the lab run the prints.”

“Oh yeah, good idea. Also there was a bit of the car registration left.”

“Check the DMV.”

The detectives nod their heads seriously and head out in different directions.
Of course, all of these are done with us in mind. It’s great to be one step ahead of everyone in the show. The best is to figure out who did it just moments before the detective do. One of my favorite clichés is that the murderer is always one of the first people introduced in the show --  someone you wouldn’t expect. I spend the next hour trying to second guess and figure out which one it is. Fantastic.
This is the third installment of this series. What are your favorite cliches? Let me know.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Television Cliches Continued!

Television Cliches Continued

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about all of my favorite television cliches, like when characters being stalked are too proud to accept police protection or when cars on the freeway don’t slow down for even when there is a gun battle.

Since then friends have been reminding me of more television cliches, things that just don’t work in real life, but we love them nonetheless. Here’s the continuing list. By the way, these are not necessarily bad things. They make our favorite shows more fun. We come to television and the movies for fantasy. After all, real life is always just a little bit disappointing.

And hey, if you have more, please let me know. Let’s grow this list.

1. Television Shows Inside Television Shows Are Oddly Personal

The hero has been thinking about a murder victim who was dressed provocatively. He broods in his apartment because he hates that the victim is being blamed for the crime as we all hate it. Suddenly, he decides to check the television news, and the newscaster is talking about the case right at the moment that he turns it on.

There are any number of news stories that I’m interested in and follow. When I brood about injustice, and I flip on the television to see the 5 o’clock news, inevitably the newscaster has just finished talking about it. I can see that he’s been discussing it, but I don’t know what he’s said.

I sit down and endure the five minutes of commercials for beer and panty hose until the news comes back on, but the whole channel 12 news team has started gently teasing the weather guy about his new haircut, and it’s not going to be until the 5:30 program that they get back to my thing.

2. The Snide Miranda Rights

The television cop reads the bad guy his rights victoriously, his voice full of heroic justice and domination over the forces of evil. He’s doing this as a matter of form, of course. He has to do it. It’s the law, but it just has to come out of his mouth in a careless way and in a private place to count.

I’ve known a lot of police officer, and in these matters, they are not careless. Frankly, it’s a rare cop who’s careless in any matter regarding the law. Mostly, they want to be sure that the criminals are well aware of their rights, and that they understand their rights, so their arrests are not thrown out in a case.

3. Knife Wounds

There are two effects that knife wounds generally have in television and the movies. They are usually either instantly deadly or they have little effect. Lucky is the television good guy who is stabbed or even shot in the shoulder. That requires little more than a sling for the last five minutes of an episode.

And the victim who is stabbed in the stomach has just about no chance of living.

Except for the very well placed shot, it takes a lot of effort to kill someone with a knife. People aren’t like balloons or space suits -- puncture that outer layer and the rest is not going to be destroyed. No, it takes work to kill a living thing that wants to live.

At the same time, once muscles, tendons, and bone have been insulted with a hole, it takes a long time for them to heal. A shoulder would is a terrible thing. Sure, you’ll live through it, but think about the years of rehab, and the fact that those tendons might not just grow back.

4. The Exciting Stakeout

The stakeout is one of those time honored tropes. The cop sits outside a house as he gains valuable insight into a bad person’s life by looking through a pair of binoculars.

Have you ever tried to stake someone out? I asked a friend’s permission to do this once, just for the sake of realism in a story, just so I could gain a real understanding of the process.

It turns out that very few people walk outside their front doors and make major revelations about who they are and why they have made the poor and evil choices they have made.

For me it was very much like staring at someone’s front door for five hours.

5. Famous Guest Stars

I’m sitting there, enjoying the mystery, trying to figure out who did it. I’m presented with four possibilities: the mother with the limp looking to avenge her son, the shifty eyed teenager who enjoys drugs, a man with a beard who never looks directly into the detective’s eyes, and that character played by the man who won the academy award last year for that dramatic movie everyone saw.

Well, I wonder who the bad guy is? I wonder if he’s going to have a big dramatic scene at the end that we’re all going to marvel at?

6. Finding Evidence

This is the big one that I missed last time. I love the scene where the scientist come in with the machines radiating blue light. They find a single hair or dried drop of spit.

“Karl,” one says, “check the DNA Spectolectrometer.”

Karl nods seriously. He opens the machine that has a glass screen that he controls with his fingertips, and he nods seriously as it checks the entire database in fifteen pulse pounding seconds.

“Yes,” Karl says. “It was the mayor’s son.”

“The mayor’s son? I never would have guessed. Good thing we brought this vital piece of equipment along.”

These are fun scenes, but come on now. Forensic science is difficult work for professionals, and it takes a lot of hard work and time.

Anyway, as galling as these could be, they’re all fun, aren’t they? I can lose myself in this kind of television. I love every single one of them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Parley with the Barbarians

Wow, that was difficult. I just finished directing (with Lloyd, Michelle, and Ann) the Writers' Weekend. It's been over a week that I posted, but I'll be on this more. Today, I post a poem. I'll be back with more blog posts during the week. I like these poem videos. What do you think? More of these or back to the silly vlogs that I love so much?