Sunday, June 29, 2008

Back in Wyoming

JULY, 2005

I awake each morning to the sight of the majestic snow-capped Grand Teton as the sunrise splashes its orange colors from peak to base and never fail to reflect upon the transitory nature of our lives. Against such a backdrop, man seems puny and insignificant, and the great immortal mountain appears to shrug and smile at our futile effort to play out the tiny swath of time we are allotted in some meaningful and fulfilling role.

Silly fools, the great mountain declares, as it presides forever over mankind and all its follies and foibles.

This season a tragic event prompts even deeper reflection.

One of my neighbors, John Walton, was killed in an airplane crash just a few miles from where we live. He was reputed to have a net worth in the neighborhood of eighteen billion dollars. By all accounts he was a good and decent man. Yet all those billions could not buy him one more millisecond of life.

I will not be tempted to rage against the futility of having all that money. It was amassed through honest labor by John's father who created Wal-Mart and, like many a devoted progenitor, bequeathed the fruits of his labor to his children. Creative entrepreneurship is, after all, a great gift and for the most part it enhances and does not diminish our lives.

But I cannot resist asking some questions about the real worth of money. How much is enough? Is there a point where acquisition morphs into greed? Is the amassment of money the criterion of a successful life? Indeed, what exactly is the definition of a successful life? Or its meaning.

Every morning, I ask the mountain to answer these questions. The mountain answers with a cryptic craggy smile.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Legacy of George W. Bush

So I am sitting here in my comfortable little writing study high above the bustle of Manhattan’s East Side contemplating, of all things, the legacy of President George W. Bush. In a brief few months he will be gone from the public stage and with his absence the vitriol, the adrenaline charged criticism, the often rabid animosity of most of the people in my social world will slowly diminish, and the memory of “W” will slowly dissolve like a lump of sugar in the liquidity of history.

I have channeled my reflections to be sober and neutral, free of bias and contemporary judgments, forcing a kind of emotional absence as I travel forward in time to say fifty or more years from now when all the smoke has cleared and George Bush’s exploits as our President have been exposed to the surgical ministrations of historians. It will not be enough time for a complete closure, for historians are a cunning lot and will continue to dig and dig to unearth the yet unfound discovery, the unknown kernel of a lost moment that will shed some new light on the strange, explosive and challenging eight years of the Bush Presidency.

To many, such speculations about the future have little value. But to those who value history as a harbinger of the future and who care about the fate of our progeny, such an exercise just might contribute to our collective wisdom.

What I am searching for is the one descriptive image, the log line, the quintessential essence of language that might best describe the narrative of the Bush Presidential reign say fifty or a hundred years from now. Since there is no way of knowing whether my prognostication will be right or wrong, I will have the freedom to fantasize and bring to bear the humble tools I possess, the experiences of a long life in present time and an acquired and somewhat incomplete knowledge of American history.

Bear with me on this mental tour.

When I was in the Pentagon as the Washington Correspondent for the Armed Forces Press Service during the Korean War in 1952, the prevailing opinion about President Harry Truman was exceedingly negative. At one point he had an approval rating of 22% and a disapproval rating of 62%. Although I was merely an Army Private in rank, I was able to circulate among the General staff and the large cadre of Colonels and civilians that were assigned to the headquarters of the various services.

To many of them, as well as in our social circle outside the Pentagon, Truman was characterized as a bungler, a fool, an inarticulate ingrate, a haberdasher way out of his depth who was ruining the country. He had fired MacArthur, tried to nationalize the steel industry and inflation was rampant. But his single most perceived egregious mistake was to get us into the Korean War, which had brought in China on the side of the North Koreans and, to many, had become a quagmire. Combat deaths were approaching the 50,000 mark. The Republicans were on his case, and there was a steady anti-Truman drumbeat in the Press. Change was in the air, palpable and inevitable.

Never mind that he had saved lives and ended World War II by ordering the use of the atomic bomb. Never mind that he had saved Europe by instituting the Marshall Plan. The end of Harry Truman’s administration couldn’t be fast enough for most Americans. The Democrats pinned their hopes on their elegant and eloquent egghead-like candidate Adlai Stevenson. The Republicans chose General Eisenhower whose main campaign promise was to end the Korean War, which he did in a stalemate which has resulted in the continued presence of a large contingence of American troops.

Today Harry Truman is a much revered ex-President, beloved by most living Americans and remembered as someone who marched to his own drummer, ended World War II, saved Europe and drew the line against the communist attempt to take over most of the globe. The Korean War, which cost 55,000 American lives, is a mere footnote in the Truman legacy.

A simple log line might be: He drew a line in the sand against communist tyranny, ended the war and saved Europe.

While I make no claim to be an expert historian, my work as a novelist has given me, arguably, some special insight into the human condition and the process by which we are manipulated to believe in the way the past is viewed by those who came later, long after the smoke of contemporary reality has cleared.

Take Abraham Lincoln as an example. He is revered as the great emancipator, the President who saved the union and his memory is preserved in a giant shrine of awesome proportions on the banks of the Potomac. It is literally impossible for most of my generation, including myself, to conceive that Lincoln was a hated figure among Southern Americans and many Northerners for presiding over a war that was responsible for the deaths of more than 620,000 Americans. There may even be relics of the past, people who still believe that he was the devil incarnate. Think of how many Americans might have said after his assassination: “Good riddance.”

Nevertheless his legacy, his log line, now and forever, will always be: He kept the Union intact.

Then there was George Washington, my all time hands down favorite American President whose courage and wisdom was the essential ingredient that insured the birth of our nation. Think of how many then citizens of the colonies hated the idea of severing their relations with their mother country. In the Tory press, published in America and in Britain, he was characterized as a rebel, a traitor, an evil man. Indeed, he was roundly criticized as a military leader, losing most of the battles of the war. Many of his men deserted, but he was steadfast, stubborn and committed. By dedication and sheer force of personality, he eventually made all his enemies stand down and, in his lifetime, became the most popular man in America and the only man who was the unanimous choice for the first Presidency.

But by the time his Presidency was coming to an end, he was beginning to face numerous critics. A number of historians cite Thomas Jefferson as intriguing against Washington to satisfy his own political ambitions and to thwart his arch enemy Alexander Hamilton. Today those bitter feuds and others have disappeared into the dust of history. Washington’s legacy is untarnished and unassailable, and those bitter criticisms that plagued his career are all but forgotten.

Unfortunately, the glorious legacy of George Washington is in danger of extinction as the generations pass and the teaching of American history is ignored in our school system. There are, of course, efforts to revive the legacy of our founding fathers, and despite recent efforts to popularize these early events in our national birth pangs through popular books and television, the effort is facing difficult odds against the rising ignorance of our upcoming generations.

There are literally thousands of monuments to George Washington, cities, schools, and other entities named after him including our nation’s capital. As a log line for Washington, one choice among many might be: He was the indispensable founding father of our country.

Jefferson, by the way, whose monument on the banks of the Potomac is yet another impressive shrine, will forever be remembered as the composer of the Declaration of Independence and the President who engineered the Louisiana Purchase, which vastly increased the size of our country. Still, there is a persistent dark side that mars his image and corrupts any narrative of his Presidency, his relationship with teenager Sally Hemings, which some describe as pedophilia, impregnating her numerous times and the fact that he never did free his 2oo slaves. Let’s stick with his log line Composer of the Declaration of Independence and negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase.

Then there is the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died at the beginning of his fourth term in office and somehow seems to be declining in Presidential importance. Despite having led us through the vicissitudes of World War II, although he was cheated out of living to enjoy the victory, the primary achievement of his administration seems to rest on his ending the Great Depression and the soaring words of his famous speech: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I suppose if we were to come up with a log line it might be: He ended the Great Depression.

John Kennedy, of course, will always be remembered as the young, dashing President with the beautiful wife who was gunned down by a very troubled loner. The disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco will probably long be forgotten, but his memory will always be suffused in a glow of romanticism and his administration characterized as a kind of Camelot on the Potomac with few memorable achievements, although the beginnings of the Vietnam War can be traced to his administration.

Lyndon Johnson’s vast expansion of the disastrous Vietnam War, which resulted in nearly 60,000 American deaths and more than 150,00o wounded, will eventually lose the traction of memory in the fullness of time, but his accomplishments in the field of civil rights will, in my opinion, ultimately define his administration. His log line might be: He was instrumental in improving America’s civil rights.

Richard Nixon generated visceral hatred by some of the electorate and was eventually disgraced by the Watergate scandals which caused his resignation. He brought an end to the Vietnam War and created a peace that ended in a resounding failure and humiliation for America, but it will be his opening up of a dialogue with China which has become his log line. He opened up China.

Ronald Reagan’s log line is an obvious choice: He brought down the Soviet Union. Some might carp at such a broad characterization, but then we are talking about how history will portray him, years in the future.

And how are we to cite how people of the future will mark the Presidential achievements of William Jefferson Clinton? Aside from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment, what log line would best characterize his Presidency despite the fact that he did achieve a monumental change in the welfare system and balanced the budget? But we are dealing here with legacy, some lasting description that will persist into the future. Is He kept the peace and balanced the budget accurate or inspiring enough for our offspring years hence?

So it goes. Grant was a great national hero when he ascended to the Presidency, and he left it a scandal ridden mess and might have been lost to any favorable memory if he had not written that outstanding autobiography. One would be hard put to think of a proper log line to mark his Presidency. How about: He created the Civil Service.

Presidential scholars who deal in such things could undoubtedly expand this cursory list, which I cite to make my main point after having wrestled with the original proposition in the Ivory Tower isolation of my study.

Fast forward to today and George W. Bush is suffering the same contemporary fate as Harry Truman. His ratings are the pits. In my circle, the very mention of his name makes people vibrate with disgust. He will leave office with a deep sigh of relief from most Americans.

Our great grandchildren will be reading what the historians of their day will offer, providing they are interested or care about such things. The raw hate and enmity will have long disappeared, and one can only speculate if there will be any institutions at all named after Mr. Bush. He will undoubtedly have a library, although one cannot fail to wonder about whether these self motivated Presidential Libraries will survive as individual entities into the next millennium. Perhaps school children will barely remember his name and, as most present day pundits aver, he will be dubbed the worst President in history.

At last the “eureka” moment did arrive. Mr. Bush’s log line emerged from the mud of my cogitations. I have expectations of being pilloried by my contemporaries for my choice, but I stand by it with the single exception of some nasty event occurring in the declining months of Mr. Bush’s term. Here is the log line:

After the worst attack on American soil in history, he kept us safe.

Fire away.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Novel is Indestructible

The dictionary defines the novel as a fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech and thoughts of the characters. It seems a rather restrictive and dry definition.

I would embellish the definition by calling the novel a long work of the imagination, whereby the mind (or minds) of the author conveys a story, a narrative in written words, however structured, directly to a reader (another mind). It is an intimate communication process, a one-on-one exchange between people.

People who read novels on a regular basis understand that the written word, arguably, charges the imagination with a more vivid imagery, intensity and involvement than any other medium. I mean no disparagement of the audible and visual media, but remember I am thumping the drum for the survival of the novel.

I say the novel will not die. It is indestructible. It is immortal. While the literati might trace its modern origins to a mere two hundred odd years, I trace its origins to thousands of years.

By my definition the Bible is a novel, a great novel with rounded characters, many narrative lines, ideas, insights and suspense and while its authorship might be in question by some, it is still a novel.

People who read novels, even those that are badly wrought, stereotypical and predictable, are, even if they are unaware of it, questors, seekers of insights and answers, explorers who wish to plumb the minds, the passions, the good and evil inherent in the human species, and to journey with them to places beyond their own environments, seeking adventure, exotic experiences, knowledge, understanding and hints on ways to cope with the exigencies, the joy and horrors of life.

How many of us can really divine the thoughts of others? The novel, through the writer's imagination, gives his or her characters an inner life, complete with thoughts, actions and ideas and often with telling intuitive accuracy.

While it may be hard to quantify, I am certain that the reading of novels has greatly enhanced my life and understanding. I mention a few from memory.

Through novels like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Red and the Black, Nana, Of Human Bondage, Of Time and the River and Ulysses, I learned a great deal about women. (Insight about women by the way and visa versa is not restricted by the author's gender.)

Through novels like David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, The Jungle Books, Look Homeward Angel, Farewell to Arms, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and yes, my old boyhood friends like the series, Bomba the Jungle Boy, The Boy Allies and The Hardy Boys, I validated my own strivings and expectations as I grew from boyhood to manhood.

Through novels like The Great Gatsby, The Way We Live Now, and yes, The Carpetbaggers, and numerous others, I learned about ambition, its illusions, pitfalls and corrosive nature.

Through novels like All Quiet on the Western Front, War and Peace, The Naked and the Dead, The Young Lions, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, I learned about the meaning of war and its consequences.

Through novels like Main Street, Babbit, Appointment in Samarra and The Magnificent Ambersons, and many contemporary novels, I learned about small town life, its comforts, joys, prejudices and pitfalls.

Through novels like The Sound and the Fury, Other Voices Other Rooms, and Lie Down in Darkness, I learned about the South and its special regional identity.

Through novels like Fathers and Sons, Pere Goriot, The Good Earth, The Kite Runner, and scores of others I learned about other worlds, other countries.

Through The Fifth Child, I was introduced to the idea that the virus of evil may be a genetic aberration programmed into the human species.

I could go on and on, but I hope I made my point. Note I did not name authors, but only the titles of their work, their creations, their novels, since each story is an idea unto itself. Many would choose different works, in different genres from science fiction to mysteries, to westerns and romance novels and numerous others. And some might be too embarrassed to admit that these stories, many of them clichéd, repetitive and dismissed by highbrow critics, might have, in some way, changed their lives.

Any thoughts? Which novels impacted your life?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

When it Pays to Betray

Was it always thus, or am I being a self-righteous, moralistic, fuddy duddy old fart locked in some long abandoned warehouse crammed full of cast off virtues no longer viable or useful in today’s world?

What set me off on this rant was roaming the boob tube on a single Sunday morning, watching the chubby talking head of Scott McClellan flacking his book based on the absurd premise that he was moved to tell the “truth” after telling “lies” for three years as the spokesman for the Bush Presidency. What struck me as bizarre was that he was on every talk show that came up on my browsing flicker. By any measure it was a publicity home run for the author and the publisher. The lucky bastard. Then nausea set in.

As a former PR flack myself, I could imagine the Cheshire Cat smile on the editor who persuaded, bribed and cajoled McClellan to take the bait and juice up his book with a so-called damning exposé of the “manipulation” of the Bush White House in “propagandizing” our justification for going to war in Iraq. Can’t you just hear that cash register purring away?

And why not. The timing was exquisite. Like the giant O.J. Simpson bonanza in the publishing business past, the Bush bashing publishing hype is reaching its zenith in this election season. Alas, it will soon be over and Scott’s book will be remembered as one of its last highly profitable gasps. The aftermath will lose steam fast as the publishing business reaches for the next new non-fiction thing, probably a raft of justifications by former members of the administration rationalizing the war, Katrina, the energy crisis and other sins of the Bush years, real and imagined, but it won’t have the zing of a contemporary confessional.

What appalls me is not the political aspect of this faux revelatory act of blatant, cunning and ultimately despicable exploitation, but the fact that it is being marketed by the publishing industry as something gloriously honest and shamelessly flacked by McClellan himself as something that needed to be said “in the interests of the American people.” I’m all for honest impassioned critiques of any politician from the President on down. Flame away is my mantra. Such is the nature of politics and any politician with a thin skin had better go into gardening or knitting or any of a thousand serene professions.

Never mind that McClellan was an eager cog in the administration’s manipulative machine, which was his job, which he wouldn’t have had unless he was anointed through family ties and eager beaver butt kissing in the early days of young Bush’s political rise. Never mind that he was appointed by the President to be his spokesman in the most visible flack job in the world. Never mind that he was a loyal, albeit boring, practitioner in the art of justifying Presidential actions on all fronts, maybe even moved or commanded to tell a fib or two or more. Never mind that he would be just another anonymous worker bee somewhere far less visible if he had not been appointed to this job by the man he has reviled in his book and would not have ever been noticed by publishing sharpshooters looking for some highly visible Bush basher to take advantage of the down draft of this most unpopular administration.

The question in my mind is who is the biggest whore, the publishing industry or poor Scott, soon to be loaded with lucre for his exercise in payback. But then, content whoring is now the norm in an industry that must depend upon such outbreaks of shamelessness to survive.

That said, I do understand the business considerations and the clichéd truism that one should never blame the messenger. In this case, however, the messenger is the co-creator of the message and its prime profiteer. Publishing, unfortunately, is no longer the gentlemanly business it used to be and has now been taken over by the international bean counters who couldn’t care less what they were hawking if it turns a profit. Let’s face it, we are living in the age of sleaze and vulgarity and the beast must be served.

I suppose all this high dudgeon is the result of being schooled early in life as a Boy Scout. Really! At age 12 I joined that illustrious group and memorized the Scout Law which I vowed to uphold. It went like this. A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. It amazes me how such verities stick with one and, believe it or not, offer a guide worth pursuing in an increasingly selfish, indifferent and heartless world. Pardon my cynicism. It comes with the aging process.

I continue to cherish my Boy Scout experience although I never made Eagle Scout. Oddly, before he died, I got into a conversation with the actor James Stewart. We found ourselves reminiscing with great relish about our Boy Scout days. Stewart made Eagle and was still proud of that accomplishment. I had the impression it was one of those life experiences that resonated along with his service as General and the acting career that had made him a mega celebrity for most of his adult life.

I make this Boy Scout reference knowing that my ultra sophisticated and worldly friends might poo poo such a thought as naïve corny claptrap and might wonder why it comes to mind via the Scott McClellan memoir. I guess I’m just a sucker for loyalty. Scott sure wasn’t loyal to the man who gave him such a leg up, who once trusted him implicitly, who made him a celebrity and gave him enough notoriety to get a lucrative book deal. He knew, as every press secretary before him knew, that his one over-riding assignment was to make the President look good and explain and justify his policy actions to an unruly and often sinister and cynical press corps who under the cover of truth seekers are, as they would acknowledge themselves, in the tear down business.

He was, in effect, an information technician, a spinner, who occasionally dispensed shovelfuls of bull and he knew it. If the stink was too gamey and he didn’t like what he was doing, he should have packed his suitcase. American history is replete with people who left their jobs because of matters of conscience. There will, of course, be many who will buy into Scott’s redemption scenario depending on their personal feelings about the President and the war in Iraq. When bucks are involved, my tendency is to ask “who benefits?" In this case it is patently clear.

Every employer knows the drill. A disgruntled former employee can be a dangerous missile, especially if he is canned. Payback is an old story and if you can get paid for sweet revenge so much the better.

In my opinion, there are few things worse than being betrayed. I’ve been there. I know how the President must feel to discover that he was harboring a turncoat in his midst, a young friend of the family for whom he opened doors and eventually gave a job that every PR man in America would die for. Hell, you may detest the President, but if you put yourself in his moccasins for a second or two, you’ll know what I mean.

I don’t know what future is in store for Scott McClellan. Notoriety has its appeal in our celebrity drenched society, and Scott will get his solid 15 minutes of fame. But, despite all the rampant cynicism infecting our present worldview, there is still something to say for honor and trust and loyalty and all those other references in the Boy Scout law.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Life in the Movies

When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I would go to the movies twice a week. In the middle of the week when they changed the features I would go with my mother, who loved the movies as much as I did. Besides, in those days they would give away free dishes to lure people in the middle of the week and her kitchen cupboard was filled with "movie" dishes.

Parenthetically speaking, my mother was an inveterate novel reader and moviegoer, which, of course, explains a lot about the bent of her progeny. So much for genetics. For my father, the movies were a soporific and he was usually asleep before the opening credits ended. His movie going presence was respectfully declined.

On Saturday afternoons, I went to the movies with my friends. It was a Saturday ritual and the theatres were filled exclusively with rambunctious, screaming kids letting off energy. During the chase scenes of which there were many, the howls and cheers were deafening as we rooted for the good guys, especially during the westerns. The good guys always won.

During the love scenes, we grew bored and carried on, throwing candy and spitballs and driving the harried ushers crazy. Remember ushers? They all carried flashlights, often brandished as weapons in those halcyon days before political correctness.

There were no ratings in those days, and the sex parts were so deliberately subtle to get past the censors that unless you were naturally prurient and sexually precocious, you rarely understood the "dirty" parts. A good example is in the closing scene of The Thin Man with the elegant William Powell and the beauteous Myrna Loy as the immortal Nick and Nora Charles. They are in a double berth stateroom on a train, both in pajamas. Nora gets in the lower berth; Nick bends over to kiss her goodnight, presumably to climb to the upper berth. Obviously, the kiss gets Nick's hormones roaring and we cut to their dog Aster, ever the compliant companion, who jumps to the upper berth and, paws between his head, gets comfy for the night. Who doesn't understand what is going on in the lower berth as the movie ends?

The movies were all black and white studio products, and the names of the actors were burned into our brains, their images ubiquitous in fan magazines, advertising endorsements and especially on the inside of Dixie cup covers, which sealed the cup of ice cream which were uniformly vanilla and chocolate.

There was no television in those days and we lived our parallel lives in the movies with those beautiful stars as our guides, role models and look a-likes. My mother thought I looked like Gregory Peck, which did a great deal for my self-image.

Indeed, I find the stars of today pale imitations of those of yesteryear, which, I suppose, is the result of galloping senility and a certain snobbishness about "the old days." Hell, twenty thousand people showed up at the funeral of Rudolph Valentino, a silent film heartthrob. Ask anyone under sixty. Rudolph who?

My children have always been astonished when I could name not only the stars in those old movies, but the bit players. I still can. Show me a black and white picture, and I can reel off the names of the complete cast, almost. Of course, in those days I would have seen four movies a week for years, two in the middle of the week with my mother and two on Saturdays with my friends.

The movie program consisted of double features augmented by movietone news, a cartoon, a novelty short and coming attractions. On Saturdays, they might show two cartoons and, invariably a serial like Flash Gordon, Rin Tin Tin, which was the name of a heroic dog, Dick Tracy, the detective, and others. All episodes ended in cliffhangers, and you had to come back the next Saturday to find out what happened, even though you always knew that the hero or heroine would escape danger in the nick of time. Certain theaters would also show a comedy race where your ticket stub carried the number of a winner and you won a prize if the winner came in.

One theater in my old neighborhood actually showed three full-length features, two cartoons, a serial, shorts and, to top it off, they gave away prizes in a drawing in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. I once won a pair of roller skates.

The showings were continuous and often you "came in the middle" and would only leave the theater when the part in the movie in which you had entered the theater came on again. The candy concession was a machine that dispensed five-cent candies. My olfactory memory recalls a pleasant caramel or chocolaty smell that pervaded the theater. There was no popcorn or drinks sold.

There were no annoying commercials. They didn't try to sell you anything in those days and didn't keep you herded in long lines, except in the big Broadway movie palaces where you lined up six across to wait your turn to see a movie and a stage show, usually a big band and a pop singer like Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett. Admission for kids, if I remember was a dime plus a penny or two tax. It might have been double that for adults and higher for evening performances.

On days when my mother took me into the city to the big theaters like the Roxy, the Paramount, the Capitol or Radio City Musical Hall, we always had to rush to make it before one in the afternoon when they raised the prices. In those fancy downtown theaters, the ushers were dressed in crisp uniforms with epaulets and brass buttons and stood around like toy soldiers.

What astonishes me most about these recollections in a time before rating systems was that my mother, twenty odd years my senior, enjoyed the same movies I did or vice versa. We laughed and cried at the same situations and plot turns. It is only recently, since I have been exposed to watching those old movies again on CDs and Turner Classic Movies on television that I have begun to unravel this odd mystery.

It was the story, dummy. Good stories are universal and defy age and gender. I believe they told them more skillfully in those days. In my opinion, they were better written, the dialogue sharper, the acting more believable, the costuming more creative. Was the talent pool greater in gifts and scope? I dare not court the condemnation of the young.

I am not discounting the power of nostalgia, sentiment and the golden glow of youth. Yes, it does cloud one's objectivity. Perhaps the moisture glazing my eyes as I watch these old films is really tears of longing and regret for those lost moments when the blood pounded more powerfully in my veins.

This is not to say there are some movies around today that tell stories that are equally as compelling and well written and performed. But they seem too few and require much energy and ingenuity to search out since they are no longer in the mainstream of popular culture.

Admittedly I am no longer in the demographic that the movie industry is courting in their blockbuster offerings, and I am often repelled by the noisy trailers which telescope the same old tired cliché ridden stories in their booming noisy special effect wrappers. This does not mean that there aren't talented filmmakers around, but the stories they tell are not as readily available as those churned out by Hollywood in its Golden Age.

Nevertheless, the movie going habit persists. The darkened auditorium beckons although the disappointments often outweigh the enjoyment. To me, car chases, gunfire and explosions are like watching grass grow.

Were there any lessons for living and wisdom acquired from the surfeit of these old Hollywood fantasies? You bet. They taught me that America offered infinite possibilities, that one could find love and beauty and wonder and enchantment in everyday life, despite the grit and hardship laying just outside the theater, that striving could reap rewards and decency and compassion could win the day, that one could aspire to be as suave as Cary Grant, as stalwart as Gary Cooper, as handsome as Tyrone Power, and as beautiful as Madeline Carroll, as sexy as Jean Harlow and as exotic as Marlene Dietrich.

Best of all, they taught me that the good guys always win. I still believe that.