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Monday, March 31, 2014

A Passing View of the Santa Fe Chief

Digging through some old family papers, I came across a rather plain envelope.  It read: NOW before you start your trip, ask the Ticket Agent for a TRAVELERS ACCIDENT INSURANCE TICKET.  Written in ink next to this was what appeared to be a dollar amount: 133.79.  Curious, I peeked inside.

My wife was with me, looking at some older furniture, trying to decide what to keep and what not to keep.  Opening the envelope, I drew her attention with a few exclamations.  It must have sounded like I'd come across something extremely valuable.  Actually, I had.  Valuable to me, anyway.

Nestled in the little envelope was a folded ticket for the Sante Fe Chief.  By the time my wife understood what it was I was gasping over, she was a bit confused.  What was all the fuss?  It was only an old train ticket.

I know.  Boys and trains.  She just didn't get how cool this was.

A little background:  The Sante Fe Chief (and later the Super Chief) were famous named trains that ran between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California.  Beginning in the mid-1920s, this service included sleeper-cars, observation cars, dining cars, lounge cars, and baggage/mail cars.  Originally, these transcon trips took 68 hours, though they eventually ran under forty hours on the upgraded Super Chief.  These trains were a part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.  The AT&SF never actually had a main line that serviced Santa Fe, due to its difficult terrain.  But it became one of the larger railroads in the United States.

from the back of the ticket stub

The Chief and Super Chief became known as the Railroad to the Stars, since so many Hollywood celebrities were known to use them.

The ticket stub I had found had been used on March 18, 1966, just two years before the Chief was sidelined and five years before the Super Chief was taken over by Amtrak.  The name of the train, or the engine number, does not appear to be on the stub anywhere.  Is it for the Chief or the Super Chief?  I can't tell.  I hope someone out there can help me with this.

open the ticket and you
can see the passenger's information
The passenger's information is at the top of the ticket.  As you can see, the passenger did not sign the ticket, and neither did the "validating agent".  There is also no stamp on this section.

The lower half of the ticket is just jammed packed with information.  First of all, you can see that the trip is from Ponca City (Oklahoma) to Ann Arbor (Michigan).  Three passengers are on the ticket, all of them 12 or older, and all of them in coach class.  Total cost of the package: $133.79.  

There are a few items I'm not clear on.  Listed both on the front cover and the lower half of the ticket, you can see B-12 and C 44537.  Were these simply the ticket numbers?  Did they denote the rail-car, or a cabin number?  I've not been able to find much information on this.  I'd love any help in deciphering these codes.

Tucked into the envelope with the ticket stub was this itinerary.  It gives us a detailed account of the trip.  You can see that our travelers started at night, at almost eight o'clock, and arrived in Chicago at 9:15 in the morning.  That might mean they were on the Super Chief, since the Chief had discontinued sleeper car service in the late 1950s.  However, I know that Mr. Woosley was known to be frugal and he might have saved a few dollars and spent the night on a train sitting upright.  I suspect this is the most probable since it is coach class.  Again, I'm not sure how bare bones coach class really was then.  If it is anything like coach with the airliners today, then we can be positive they did not have a sleeper car.

You'll notice there was a layover in Chicago of four hours.  I wonder if they took a chance to get out and see the city?  They arrived at a decent hour in Ann Arbor, but whether it was for one day or many, they left at a not-so-decent hour: 11:40 PM.  An earlier arrival in Chicago, a shorter layover, and an all-day trip back home brought them in at 11PM.  A long day in coach class to be sure.  I'm sure they were happy to get home and into their beds.

There are two notations on the bottom of the itinerary.  6449 and 5539.  I was hoping this was a way to identify which train they were on.  Were these the locomotive numbers?  After searching through online lists of Santa Fe engines, I did not see many numbers that seem related to these.  For now, I'll have to be content to not know more than I do.

But I love the ticket just the same.  And I like to think about that trip to Ann Arbor from time to time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kiss of the Lazaretto: The Trilogy Comes to an End

After many years of work, and a great deal of sweat, blood, and thrills, I'm finally closing the door on the Lazaretto Trilogy with book three, Kiss of the Lazaretto.  A reader once asked me why Gregor Lepov seemed so defeated, adding " He hasn't given up, but his dreams have certainly shrunk."  She was sure there was someone to blame for his troubles.  Would it surprise anyone to learn that there's a woman lurking in his past?  That might explain why he's a little rough on the women he meets.

Lepov's past catches up to him when his ex-wife Gloria arrives in the Lazaretto.  Even worse, against his better judgement, he agrees to allow her to hire him.  He knows it's a bad idea but he also knows it just might be the best way to keep an eye on her as well as a way to help get her out of the Lazaretto as soon as possible. 

In the following excerpt, Lepov arrives at his apartment to find Gloria waiting for him.  He's been expecting her to try something like this, and wondering how he would respond.  After all, old habits die hard.  Even the bad ones.  Especially the bad ones.
"Here's to foolish people doing foolish things."

(excerpt from Kiss of the Lazaretto)

  She was there, sitting on the top step, huddled against the wall, difficult to see in the stairwell’s poor lighting.  A shadow hid her face, but he could see her eyes, big and scared and he knew it was an act before she said the first word.
  He climbed the last steps, brushing past her without saying a word.  He pushed through the door and let it swing shut without waiting for her.
  Gripping the handle of his apartment door, he heard the door lock disengage.  She hadn’t followed him yet.  He stepped into his front room and left the door open.
  Maybe she really hadn’t been there.  Maybe she was just the product of an unbalanced nervous system.  Maybe it really was just a lack of vitamins as Lilly had insisted.  How nice to think that Gloria would go away if he diligently took his supplements.
  He heard the door beside the elevator finally swing open, its rusty hinges seemingly louder than usual.  Her heels tapped lightly on the wooden floor; her pace too measured to suggest she was upset.  She was, as she always had been, firmly in control.
  He pulled off his coat and stood a few steps inside the door, waiting for her.  When she finally appeared, she stopped at the door, partially hiding herself behind the frame.  She leaned against it, her head tilted so that half of her face was illuminated from the lamp in his front room.
  “If you’re waiting for an invitation you’ll have to stand there a very long time.  I never invite clients into my home.  It’s not professional.”
  “Grey…” her voice was almost too soft to be heard.
  “You’ll have to speak up,” he said, tossing his coat on a hook behind the door.  He turned his back on her and walked away.  “I don’t hear as well as I use to.”
  “Grey, wait!”
  “I’m not gonna wait!”  He spun around and fought the urge to strike out at her.  “I waited plenty when you left.  Gave you time to make as big a mistake as any husband was willing to put up with.  I was willing to wait then.  I waited too long.  You didn’t know that, did you?  You moved on and never looked back.  I’ll bet it never dawned on you that your husband was standing still, letting life flow by him as he waited for you to return.  You can ask me to work for you and what’s-his-name, but you don’t get to ask me to wait anymore!”
  He retreated deeper into the apartment, hoping she would leave.  He jerked open his refrigerator, its single bulb shining bright in the dark kitchen.  There was nothing there he wanted.  He’d opened it just so his hands would have something to do.  Just so his hands wouldn’t ball into fists.
  The glow of the light bulb shone on the counter and he saw his half empty bottle of bourbon.  He slammed the door and grabbed the bottle.
  “Grey.”  She’d followed him.  She was just inside the kitchen now.  “You’re angry at me.”
  “Angry at you?”  He reached next to the sink and switched on a light.  It’s harsh blue-white glare caught her by surprise and she winced.  He grabbed two empty glasses and tossed them on the counter.  One of them fell over.  Righting it, he poured out drinks for both of them.  “Why would I be angry with you?  You left me because I bored you.  Now you show up here with husband number…three, isn’t it?  Or was there another one crammed in there between this guy and the one I carried the furniture for?
  “Well, anyway, it doesn’t matter.  This present husband of yours walks into my office with you in tail and you announce that you’re not only involved in a criminal undertaking but you’re also going to emotionally blackmail me into helping you.  You’ve got me tracking down your new lover and now you show up because you want to remind me that your husband is a danger to you and me and your missing lover.
  “I’m not angry with you, Gloria.  I actually think I’m more amused than angry.  You really ought to see what this looks like from my side of the rubber room.”
  He gave her one of the glasses and lifted his with a nod of his head.
  “Here’s to foolish people doing foolish things.”
  “You aren’t foolish,” she said, grabbing his hand to prevent him from taking the drink.  “Maybe I am, but you’re anything but foolish.  It’s why I came to you.  Why I convinced Kry that we should hire you.  I knew that once you were involved, you’d know the best way to deal with this.”
  He pulled away from her and finally took that drink.  She took a sip of hers before speaking again.
  “At least you aren’t angry, Grey.  That’s important to me.”
  “I never said I wasn’t angry, Gloria.  You’re missing the point.  I said I wasn’t angry at you.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not angry at me.  And I can assure you that I’m plenty angry with me.  I hate watching a man stick his head into a noose for no logical reason.”
  “You can quit if that’s what you want.  I would walk away and I wouldn’t come back.  If it’s what you really want.”
  “Oh, don’t be a hero.”  He poured a second drink—he was well aware how bad an idea that was—and carried it into the front room.  He set it on a side table and began unrolling his sleeves.  The room was becoming unexpectedly hot.  “You really don’t get it, do you?  If I thought I could just quit this job whenever I decided you and Dannen had lied to me one too many times, I wouldn’t be angry with myself.  But I knew full well the moment I said I’d listen to your story I was in this thing all the way.  I knew you’d get hold of me and I wouldn’t be able to get free.  And don’t stand there with those big eyes and your innocent look of surprise!  You knew it too.  You probably even knew it before the first day you rode the elevator to my office.  You counted on it.”
  “And cut out that Grey nonsense, Mrs. Dannen.  Cut out all of it and tell me why you’re here—the truth—or so help me God I’m gonna throw you down those stairs.”  He tossed down the second drink and wanted badly to throw the glass at her.  Instead, he dropped it on the table and dropped himself into the corner of his sofa.
  Lepov’s head was spinning.  The drinks weren’t to blame, but they weren’t helping either.  He knew he was overreacting to her but he couldn’t find a way to turn it off.  Her scared eyes and shaky voice had not only failed to elicit his compassion, they had awakened a dormant anger he had not realized still existed.  He took several deep breaths and stared at her, willing her to either explain herself or exit the apartment.  He didn’t care which one she chose.
  “I told you I can help you find him.  But you have to promise me—you have be sure you don’t tell Kry when you’ve found him.  Tell me.  Only me.  Kry would kill him.”
  She had slowly been moving toward him.  Now, she stood beside him.  The light was behind her and he could only see her silhouette.
  “And you too, I suppose?”  His tone had softened.  He recognized that it had and though he didn’t want it to, he couldn’t hold on to his earlier fury.
  “I don’t know.”  Her words a mere whisper.
  “So tell me where he is.”
  “Promise first.”  She put a hand on his.
  “Not to tell your husband where your lover’s hiding?”
  She pulled her hand back.  “I told you he’s not my lover.  You’re being just as jealous as Kry.”
  “It’s an inherent fault with all past and present husbands.  We don’t like our wives running around with future husbands.”
  “He’s not a future husband.  And the only man Kry really needs to worry about is—” she slowly sank onto the edge of the sofa.  Before he could stop her, she’d leaned against him and her lips brushed his.  He turned away at the last moment.  Her kiss wet his cheek.
  “You just called me your wife.”  Her breath was hot.  The drinks were souring his stomach.  He pushed her away but she resisted.
  “So now you’re gonna tell me where to find Jardyn, and I tell you where he is, and you two slip off into the night and Dannen gets drunk and waits for you long enough to realize you’re never coming back.  Is that the picture you were hoping to draw?”
  “It isn’t my first choice.  There are other possible outcomes.”
  “Yeah, I guess there are.”  He turned to look in her eyes.  He had to know just how far gone he was.  He needed to know if he had any chance of surviving her game.  He shifted so that he could put an arm around her, pulled her tight, and kissed her.  She was no longer resisting him.
  Despite the years, despite the bitterness, in that moment they were young lovers again, saturated with the familiarity that overtakes two people who have managed to become one: the taste of her mouth, the feel of her tongue on his, the knowledge that her hands would slide up between his shoulders even as his slid down the curve of her legs.  The feel, the smell, her transformation from scared girl to a hungry woman, it was a moment that Lepov had feared and desired and known he would have to conquer.
  He pulled back and looked into her eyes again.  She waited, her ragged breathing yet one more distraction.  He waited too.  Long enough to allow the fog to lift.
  “You’re gonna have to remember something, my dear.”
  “Okay, I will.”  She put her head against his shoulder.
  “I’m an investigator.  I may not be a damned good one, but I’m competent enough.  Enough that I’ve already found a witness who saw Louis Jardyn leave Alpha quadrant shortly after his pal Frobe was killed.  A witness who has a very good memory.  Good enough that his description of Jardyn’s traveling companion was very detailed.”
  She sat up, wide eyes sparkling in the lamplight.
  “You see, I would have known he was describing you even if I hadn’t known you were in the Lazaretto.”
She drew back and he was sure she was going to hit him.  Instead, she simply pushed away from him and stood to her feet.  "You’re trying too hard, Gloria.  And for no reason.  I told you I was going to find Jardyn.  I already agreed to the job.  Stop treating me like I’m made of glass.  I’m not gonna fall to pieces.  I’ll do what you want.  Because I want you out of here more than you want to get out of here.”
  “He called me the night Frobe was killed.  He was scared—”
  “I don’t want to hear your story.  I really don’t care.  I told you to tell me the truth.  You didn’t do it.  That was stupid.”  He could taste her lipstick on his lips and he wiped it away with two fingers.  “Now tell me the truth this time.  Do you know where he is?”
  “The Malibu Hotel.”
  “I already know about the Malibu.  He wasn’t there.  Something—someone spooked him.  Where was he supposed to go if that happened?”
  “He said he would leave a message.”
  “With a bartender, at a little place called The Maple Leaf.”
  There were any number of reasons to kick her out and quit the case.  But the fact remained he wanted to do whatever it took to get her out of the Lazaretto.  The only real good news had been his victory over their past.  At least for that one moment he had proven that he could keep his head no matter how much she worked at confusing him.
  Now he just had to figure out a way to take all of her lies and reshape them into the truth.  If he could do that, he’d be a miracle worker.

Officially, the book's release is listed as April of this year but due to the oddities of modern-day publishing, the book is already available.  If you want, you can grab an early copy at the link below.  Signed copies are also available at Rocket Fire Books.

And be sure to get books one and two if you don't have them yet:

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Guns of Navarone: David Niven and the Scene of his Career

The Guns of Navarone, Directed by J. Lee Thompson.

There are few movies that get my attention like J. Lee Thompson's Navarone.  (It was actually Alistair MacLean's first, though the screenplay strays from the book quite a bit.)  Full of action, tension, exotic locations, all centered around a band of men on an epic mission, it never fails to captivate.  With a strong ensemble cast, led by Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven, there is plenty of action, drama, and even a bit of comedy to go around.  Filmed in 1961, the cast includes the obligatory teen star James Darren (in a failed attempt to break out of his teen-idol status into the role of a serious actor), a fairly unknown (and troubled) Gia Scala, Greek actress Irene Papas, British star Stanley Baker, and the veteran stage and screen Shakespearean actor/director Anthony Quayle.  Producer Carl Foreman was aiming for international appeal when he assembled this group.  I suppose he just couldn't figure out how to stick an Asian into this story.

I won't spend much time on the plot of this movie.  It is largely a fantasy, or as Gregory Peck suggested, a parody (he even went so far as to complain that it was more like a Keystone Cops caper).  Simply put, this band of intrepid, quarreling, reluctant men are sent to destroy massive guns that are blocking the one shipping lane that is holding up the entire war effort.  It seems that there is no way that the Allied Navy can avoid this island.  But that hardly matters.

David Niven as Corporal Miller

Early in the film, as we're getting to know the crew, David Niven shows off his comedic flair as the men prepare to sail a decidedly un-seaworthy boat into the German-held Aegean.  An explosives expert who's been assigned this mission against his will, Niven's character, Corporal Miller, spends most of the film cracking jokes and making sarcastic remarks about Captain Mallory's (Peck) determination to win at all costs.  He complains to Mallory: "Sir, I've inspected this vessel and I think you ought to know that, ah, I can't swim."  This sums up his character perfectly.  He's smart enough to know the limitations of their equipment, determined to make sure Mallory knows how disgruntled he is, and is not ashamed to point out that his main concern is for his own safety.

Anthony Quinn, a Mexican playing a Greek, as Andrea Stavrou.

Niven is not the only actor showcasing his skills in this film.  Anthony Quinn, already a two-time Oscar winner for supporting actor (Viva Zapata!, and Lust for Life) and three years away from his signature role in Zorba, the Greek, displays his wide range of skills.  Despite his intimating presence (his character has sworn to kill Peck's character when the war is over), one of his best scenes is when he grovels before the German officer as he attempts to con the man into believing that he has nothing to do with the resistance fighters.  He can be mesmerizing, even when he is only in the background.

Anthony Quayle, who actually organized resistance fighters in Albania during WWII, takes something of a backseat in this film, spending most of his time on a stretcher, merely a prop brought along to spur on Miller's debates with Mallory over which is more important; the men or the mission.  Darren, in what must have been his best attempt to be a serious actor, just looks mad all the time, and impatient, and well, basically a teenager.  I've always been intrigued by Irene Papas in this movie.  She is full of mystery, and I always felt that her character should have been brought to the front more.  She's tough, but retains her dignity and humanity.  But in this massive story there wasn't much room to do this.

Now let me explain why I've written this post.  It isn't for the massive guns that are inevitably destroyed.  It isn't for the large, talented international cast.  It isn't for the chase scenes and the intricate rock climbing scenes or the silent, lengthy infiltration scene as the men break into the gun emplacement.  (Which, by the way, is marvelously filmed like the nerve-wracking heist scenes in movies like Rififi and Topkapi.)  The one scene that really sets this movie above so many of its fellow WWII escapades is when David Niven's Miller exposes the traitor in the group.

(Severe Spoiler-Warning: If you haven't seen this movie, and you want all of the surprises to be intact when you watch it, simply know that you've got to see this movie, then stop reading.  Come back later to read the rest of it.  I'm not a fan of spoilers, but no matter that this is supposed to be a major revelation in the movie, I don't feel that this ruins anything.  I've seen this movie over a dozen times, and the impact of this scene is never diminished by my foreknowledge.)
David Niven points out the traitor.

Miller, the explosives expert, discovers that his toys have been tampered with.  Ruined, in fact.  Piecing together all of the pitfalls they've encountered, he has finally figured out who's to blame.  Like Hercule Poirot, he methodically talks through his reasoning to the entire crew and when he finally reveals the traitor, the assembled team is shocked: he suspects Anna (Gia Scala), the emotionally disturbed mute island girl who had been tortured by the Germans.  His accusation is easily proved.  Tearing the back of her dress, they see that her scars are non-existent.  She had never been tortured.  To avoid this, she'd agreed to spy for the Germans.  While this is good drama, it is not yet that which sets this movie apart.  That comes next.
Niven, stripped of his humor, delivering the performance of a lifetime.

Miller now goes after the real target of his anger: Mallory.  The man who has been constantly putting every man's life below the success of the mission.  As I said, Anthony Quayle's character, Franklin, is a prop who has been carried around on a stretcher this whole time for just this purpose.  You see, Miller is Franklin's best friend, and he knows that Mallory doesn't give a damn about what happens to Franklin.  And now Miller goes after Mallory.  He demands that Mallory be the one to shoot the girl.  They can't leave her behind to warn the Germans, and they can't take her with them.  Someone's got to shoot the girl.  And Miller wants his pound of flesh.  Mallory must be the one to shoot an unarmed and terrified young girl.

Niven is riveting in his delivery of this speech.  His comedic lines are all gone, his jaunty, British ease now vanished, made all the better by the director cutting to Peck and his iconic, jaw-clenched simmering-to-a-boil glare.  Niven's Miller has set the trap, and Peck's Mallory is caught in it.  Will he do it?  How can he not?  Gregory Peck, our once beloved Atticus Finch, the white knight of this film, is going to have to execute what is essentially an innocent girl.  Sure, she was helping the Germans, but it was out of fear, not ideology.  And now Peck/Mallory is going to have to put a bullet in her.

What happens next is pure cinema gold.  Not because the writer found a way to get Peck out of his trap.  That was a given.  Gregory Peck was not going to gun down a girl who is splayed on the floor, half-undressed and crying.  Especially not when he was wearing a German uniform.  They couldn't pay him enough money to tarnish his reputation like that.

Let's look at the sequence:

First, Peck is goaded into killing the girl by Niven who says "Come down off that cross of yours, close your eyes, think of England and pull the trigger!"  Exasperated, Peck stalks over to the girl.  She looks up at him, eyes filled with tears.  He unholsters his gun.  A cut to the profile of Niven, who turns apprehensively to see what Peck will do.  A shot of Quinn, then Papas, the girl's only friend.  Back to the girl, who raises her head, as if placing her head on the chopping block.
Gia Scala, as Anna, awaiting her fate.

  Now Peck, raising the gun.
Gregory Peck as Captain Mallory.  Will he kill the woman?

  And a quick shot of Niven, suddenly dashing forward, a split-second realization that Peck is actually going to shoot her.  A sickening realization that this girl is going to be executed because of him.  A last second decision to stop what he has started.  But it is too late.  A close-up of a gun firing.  A gun with a silencer.  The girl now, rocked back by the impact of the bullet.  She looks at her killer, shocked.  Now, a second close shot of the gun, pan back, and we see Irene Papas, a grim, bleak stare smoldering from her dark eyes.  The girl slides to the ground.  Reactions from Peck and Quinn, then a wide screen shot of everyone, the girl's body in the foreground.
No more debates, no more flippant one-liners.  Nothing more to say.
Niven drops his hands, all of his anger and sarcasm drained away.  Peck, still conflicted, stares at Papas, trying to fit the facts into his ordered mind.  We, the viewers, take a breath, trying to process our own feelings on what just happened.  Some of us, who had been rooting for Niven, now doubting our own judgement in wanting Peck to shoot her.  Some of us, firmly believing in Peck's fatherly leadership, refusing to believe he was actually going to kill the girl.  All of us in awe that Papas took on the role of executioner.

Well, not all of us.  See Anthony Quinn there in the background?  He's watching this whole scene almost casually.  He's a hard man in this film, and he not only isn't fazed by violence, he's rather attracted to the tough character of Papas.  As I said, he stands out, even when he doesn't have lines.
Oh yeah, they still have to destroy those guns.

For me, the rest of this movie is just tying up loose ends.  It's all grand adventure, but the execution of the traitor raises this movie to the upper echelon of war films.  It is no wonder that it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture.  One rarely finds an action epic of this proportion with such a profound and disturbing scene tucked inside it.  And David Niven never had such a plum role as that of Corporal Miller.

Now that you've read about it.  Watch the movie, and this scene and decide for yourself.  I'd love to hear your opinion of it below.  (Oh yeah, one more thing.  At the end of the scene, don't miss Gregory Peck's delivery of one of his best lines ever as he threatens to shoot Niven.  Just the icing on the cake for this scene.)

You can watch this movie at Amazon, just click on the link.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Halie Loren: A Balcony View

Halie Loren at McNeese University,
March 14, 2014

Some time ago, while searching Amazon for favorite jazz singers from long ago (Julie London, Etta James, Billie Holiday, to name a few), I came across new jazz singers.  I discovered that there were modern singers out there who were still able to perform the standards with incredible voices and a genuine feel for the sultry sounds of the brokenhearted.  Melody Gardot, Jill Barber, Madeleine Peyroux, and Halie Loren were the first names to surface.  All of them had recorded many of the same standards, all had unique voices, and they all put their own personal touch into their music.  I always thought Halie Loren's voice stood out as as the most natural and melodic out of this class.  And it just so happened that Halie (pronounced Hay-lee) Loren was the first of these singers that I had the honor of hearing in concert.

Halie Loren sways along as Mark Schneider anchors the rhythm
on bass and the talented Matt Treader tickles the ivories.
Backed by a trio of skilled jazz musicians, Loren filled the theater with such favorites as Sway, C'est Si Bon, On the Sunny Side of the Street, and All of Me.  She switches easily from lighthearted jazzy swing to sultry ballads without skipping a beat.  Mixed in with these standards were her own jazz recreations of non-jazz hits like Procal Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale and Carole King's I Feel the Earth Move.  That last one really caught my attention, and even my wife, a Carole King fan, did not hesitate to point out that Loren's performance was better than the original.

Halie Loren's voice never missed throughout her nearly
two hour concert.
Though there were a few songs that I felt Loren was merely performing, as soon as she began to sing My Funny Valentine it was clear that she was in full possession of the music.  If I hadn't known that it was an iconic song that had been covered by the likes of Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra, I would have easily believed that it had been written by Halie Loren.

And speaking of songs by Halie Loren, she did a number of her own compositions, including a fun, sexy jazz noir piece entitled Danger in Loving You, and Woman's Way, the latter being from her 2011 album Heart First and a favorite of mine.  I was a bit disappointed that she did not perform the title song from her 2010 album After Dark.  But it was the only disappointing part of the evening.

Notice the hand drawn shoe under her signature.  One of a kind!
In order to give her trio a short break, Loren sang one song a capella.  This was a fun little blues number she called The High-Heel Blues.  Sung for the benefit of the ladies in the audience, it highlighted the trouble some women have when they are obsessed with buying high-heels, all the while knowing how painful they are to wear.  It didn't really connect with me, since as a man, I'm too smart to wear high-heels, but I could tell it was well received by women across the auditorium.  When we met Ms. Loren afterwards and asked her to sign the cover of her latest CD, my wife mentioned how much she enjoyed High-Heel Blues.  Loren took the time to draw a high-heel shoe below her autograph for my wife.  That has to be one-of-a-kind.

Simply Love is her latest CD, and it is full of great tracks.  My Funny Valentine and I Feel the Earth Move are there, along with the upbeat On the Sunny Side of the Street.  One other song I wish she would have performed is on this album: Moon River.  This is a difficult song to get right.  I've heard that Henry Mancini, the composer, stated that Audrey Hepburn was the only singer who really understood the song.  He might have added Halie Loren to that list if he were around today.  I often hear this song done as something upbeat, a little whimsical.  It should be nothing of the kind and Loren stays clear of such a mistake.

So if you haven't yet discovered the beautiful voice of Halie Loren, be sure to type her name into Spotify, or grab a CD.  We are too quick to listen to those wonderful classics and say "they don't make music like this anymore."  If you believe that, you'll change your mind once you give Halie Loren a chance.

When Loren and her crew returned to the stage for an encore, I was expecting something loud and swinging to get us on our feet for one last hurrah.  Instead, we were all moved by her choice.  It takes some moxie to attempt to sing one of Louis Armstrong's signature songs in Louisiana.  But with such a wonderful voice and sure instinct for emotional songs, Loren's What a Wonderful World was the perfect way to cap off such a wonderful night.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How I Get In Trouble

I have a suspicion these are the guys in charge of
security down at my local banking institution.
A simple warning to anyone I do business with on the web:  Do not give me a chance to reply when you are acting the fool.  A local banking institution that I do business with keeps changing their security procedures, adding additional layers of passcodes (yes, that's right, a password is not enough for them, they have to call it a passcode), personal image (which, oddly enough, is not an image of the person) and now their latest idea is a pass phrase.  And each time they change this, they ask me to select multiple questions that I will then have to answer at random if I can remember the answer to the questions.  Questions like "Who was the first person to shake your hand while winking?" or "How much did you weigh on your first date?" and even "Which President do you think has done the most damage to the economy?"  (Don't use that last question, anyone would know that answer to that one!)  

Let's be serious.  I don't need that much protection to walk into their lobby and withdraw money.  If I did, it might go like this when I walked up to the window, handed them my ID, and asked to make a withdrawal:
     "Sir, I'll have to ask you to answer the following question: Who was the first girl that let you get to first base?  And if you need to withdraw more than $100, you'll have to answer the following question: who was the first girl that slapped you when you tried to steal extra bases?"  At this point, I would be sure never to ask for more than $500.  That would just be far too personal.

Now, when this fine institution sent this latest message to me, outlining the changes required to log in, which included my choosing one of three gestures to make towards the computer screen (again, too obvious), they left a reply button available on their internal mailbox.  And that, folks, is the real problem I run into.  

I ask again: please, please, don't give me these opportunities.  Otherwise, I end up sending replies like the one below.  And honestly, I don't mean to sound like a jerk.  I just cannot help myself when I see that reply button.  Someone, please, make the reply button go away.  Please!

Re: New Security Hoops Through Which to Jump

You people have got to get some sort of grasp on reality. Seriously, calm down. I've shifted most of my banking over to Ch***, a very large banking concern that is not nearly as goofy as your institution when it comes to online procedures. These constantly changing over-paranoid measures make you all look like amateurs. Take a deep breath and just chill out. And please, for the love of all that is sane, stop asking me to change my security questions, pictures, phrases, and gestures. Login and password. It is just fine for EVERYONE else online except your establishment. I promise you, you are not that special. The top criminal minds on the planet have not set out to defeat your security measures. Not any more than any other bank or credit union out there. 
So, have a great day!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Lazaretto on Sale

In anticipation of the release of the third book in the Lazaretto Trilogy, Rocket Fire Books is making book one, The Lazaretto available as a Kindle Countdown Deal.  This week, until Thursday, you can buy the Kindle version of this dark, thriller for just 99 cents.  After that, it will be $2.99 until the end of the week when it will go back to its full price.  So be sure to grab a copy if you don't have one already.