Category Archives: Popular Culture

The Whiskey Rebels, by David Liss

The Whiskey Rebels opens in a dark alley. A man of dubious reputation has been set upon by enemies he may or may not deserve. Will he be humiliated — or worse, will he be killed by new enemies, and finally succumb to the fate he has courted since the days of his disgrace.

We are in David Liss country, familiar territory to readers of The Coffee Trader or A Conspiracy of Paper, and we’re happy to be here and eager for adventure.

What I just adore about David Liss is his ability to write fiction about things that I don’t understand, like commodities trading (Coffee Trader), the South Seas Bubble (A Conspiracy of Paper), deductive reasoning (C of P), and the Whiskey Rebellion and the Bank of America. As Liss’s characters undergo an education to the hard financial realities of life,  the reader is also granted and education — and a perspective.

The Whiskey Rebels is jammed with nuggets of wisdom as one of Liss’s most sympathetic female characters, Joan Maycott, makes observations about her country and her times: “We walked the cobbled streets of the new imperial capital [New York City], the rivers filled with forests of merchant-ship masts, yet we were surrounded by the untouched submlimity of nature. There could be nothing more American.”   She reads books on trade — and plans to write the American novel. As her husband-to-be observes in the first “Joan Maycott” section, “The American Novel, if it is to be honest, must be about money, not property. Money alone — base, unremarkable, corrupting money.” At times like this, The Whiskey Rebels touches on meta-novel status as Liss also gives up pointers on how to write through the actions of Joan Maycott, along with lessons on government and finance.

Liss’s other narrator, Ethan Saunders, is a flawed hero, so sunk in his own grief that he remains clueless about the suffering of others, including Leonides, Saunders’ young slave. As the novel progresses, it is easy to see why Leonides and Joan Maycott become important to each other even though we never witness a conversation between the two. That’s another Liss touch — the actions behind the scenes that are rendered subtly but honestly — no 11th hour revelations and deux ex machina  here to cheat the reader.

The only thing that keeps me from giving the book 5 stars is the writer’s tendancy to end chapters with “If I only knew then about the problems of the future” -style cliffhangers. I personally find them unnecessary and am pulled along with the story for its own sake.

To lovers of history, fiction,and strong characters, I recommend this book. Enjoy!


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Doing the Same Thing at the Same Time is Often Enough (Movies)

Quite recently, a friend and I went to the movies together except that we went to different theatres. The movie was Sweeny Todd (no need to link; you can find it easily enough) and we got our wires crossed because more than one movie house in town has the same name in the title (The Classy Campus-View, the Classy Homestyle, The Classy Downtowner — no disrespect intended; it’s my favorite locally-owned movie chain and long may it run) and she went to one and I went to another. It’s kinda neat, really — we were both watching the same move at the same time but just in different theatres. It was a nice feeling of linking, especially when I found out afterwards that that she was at the Classy Downtowner while I was at the Classy Campus-View. And we still have lots more dish to do over the film. To that end, I checked out a video version of the Broadway original, and after I watch it we can compare musical theatre/folklore/theatre history observations with one another.

It’s also nice to know that I’ll soon be seeing the same movie, There Will be Blood (again, you can find it), that popped up in a discussion the other day. Indeed, it gives me a frisson of happiness to know that the style of Daniel Day-Lewis is a possible topic of conversation at some future time, and that the topic will be a movie. Movies. They’re just the best, aren’t they? We learn how to behave from them (the Godfather phenom has informed the behavior of the original family in Sicily according to an author friend of mine) and in return, the movies take their queues from us. They are a mirror, the way the horse mirrors his rider and the rider mirrors her horse.

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Harvey Pekar’s book on the SDS

Nope, not a dang thing to do with horses and not much to do with barn culture as I have experienced it and I don’t hink horses have much to do with the SDS either unless there were some mounted police in Chicago in ’68. But I’m a Pekar fan. So don’t steal this book because stealing it won’t help the writer and the artists, but do read it and buy it (or the other way round).

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The Wild Wild West

I was watching an episode of The Wild Wild West last night and, of course, it was appallingly acted and written but way back, when that show was current, I thought it was soooo cooool!  Now that I am an adult and a callous sophisticate, even my favorite character, Artemus Gordon, seems two-dimensional.  And OMG the costumes! One extra wore an authentic-ish dress that looked sort of 1870s while the female lead wore things of the wrong era (a dress with an Empire waist in one scene and a down-market Liza-Doolittle-as-a-lady dress n’ hat combo  in the other scenes. Ah, it’s too easy to make fun of costumes of the past.  Have you watched The Ten Commandments lately?  No? Check out Ann Baxter as Nefertiri . I digress,  but that’s the way it is in movies and TV — the main characters wear clothes and hair that are more contemporary, while the extras are less attractively but more authentically costumed.

After my screed on costuming, I’ll spare you the details of  Night of the Two Legged Buffalo because the plot was so convoluted and bad that it’s not worth my time nor yours.  Suffice it to say that there was an Oscar Wilde effete*  sort of guy who was played by an actor named Nick Adams who led a short and colorful life and hung out with Elvis and James Dean. But in the ultimate “fight” scene of the episode, where Artie and Jim get the best of the bad guys, Adams stole the show by displaying derring-do from the back of a horse.

Instead of the expected cuts and close ups to make it look like the guy was riding the horse back and forth in the studio, the guy really was riding the horse back and forth in the studio, delivering his lines (maybe they were looped in later, I don’t know) from the back of an unhappy animal (you could see the whites of the poor things eyes), laughing manically, riding the horse almost into the fence, stopping, turning, and flapping the reins around.  Not riding well, mind you, but actually up on the horse, apparently without fear.  And Conrad was down there on the studio floor with the horse prancing about, keeping out of the way of Adams’ spear (Spear?  Yup. Never mind). So everything could have gone very poorly but seemingly did not since we have the episode in front of us to prove it.  I found the whole things suprising and fascinating and couldn’t take my eyes off of the horse sequence.  Like ….Wow!  It was scary!  Really scary!



 *Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Viewers with minds not unlike my own (in the gutter) should take in the gents’ mud-wrestling sequence (I kid you not) between a shirtless Robert Conrad and one of the “heavies” in the episode.  Oh, and Artie wore a sarong for most of the show (also part of the plot) so there were plenty of bare chests to go around. 

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More Approaching Races

The comment was made yesterday that one of the horses at the barn, a former racehorse, was about as off-the-track as you could get.  The big guy in question, Ghost, is a beautiful dapple-gray fellow.  I just love dapples.  They’re so . . . dappley.  I don’t know how much scratch Ghost earned or where he raced but I do know that he is long and lean.  Leah said that they rode him out in the bottom near the river the other night and he was confused since he’s not used to having grass underfoot. Awwww!

Meanwhile, the third of the big three approacheth, the Belmont.  I was doing a little research for anyone interested in Belmont stakes betting because I’m a fool for research and because I like knowing the history of stuff in popular culture. Belmont is the name of the guy who started the thing in 1866. That’s one year after the end of the Civil War.  Gosh but that’s a long time ago in American History, you know?  Stuff gets venerable pretty fast around here!  The race is older than the Kentucky Derby and it’s longer, so the horse has got to have some endurance.  The race track is in Elmont, New York.  (I thought for sure that was a typo).  Anther source says that the first one wasn’t in New York and had nothing to do with Mr. Belmont — but it was still a Belmont.  Somehow.  No, I cannot explain. That was before the Civil War, which puts a different stamp on things to my mind.


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Cheezburger Cheezburger

OMG! The utter cuteness of I Can Has Cheezburger? has ruined my life — in a good way. 


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Roger Angell says Goodbye to the Claremont

The New Yorker ran a piece in the Talk of the Town section about what is perhaps the last horse to be ridden on the bridle path in Central Park.  You can read what Mr. Angell, himself a  perfect New Yorker, has to say here. As a side note, I’m very glad that the New Yorker started giving by-lines in the Talk of the Town section.  Actually, I think they started doing it several years ago so I’m probably behind in conveying my approval of this editorial decision.  Anywho, you can see who has written what and that’s cool.

On my first ever trip to NYC, I found the Claremont.  I knew folks who lived close by, either on West 89th where the stable was, or West 88th.  I think they lived (live?) on West 88th so I must have taken a turn up a block to get wherever I was going. It was night, I might have been in search of a drug store to buy Tylenol, and it was November of 1994, Thanksgiving time.  The city was full of wonders to one had never seen it before.  I didn’t tell anyone where I worked at the time  about the trip because I didn’t want to listen to a chorus of “Be careful!  They will shoot you and/or steal your money!” The people I worked with worried a great deal about the world and its evil tendrils that surely wound their way towards us.

I walked on my errand, entranced by the look of the brownstone buildings, tall and packed in shoulder to shoulder like boxes full of old-fashioned toy soldiers.  Then I smelled the hay.  Hay. I smelled hay and horses. In the middle of New York City, I smelled horses and smelled hay and saw hay on the sidewalk. 

The main door of the stable was open and there was a class in progress. Children sat high on the back of their horses, arms outstretched, learning to balance. They wore helmets.  There must have been four or five of them; I have the impression in my memory of at least two rows of animals. The lights were all in the riding ring and I wondered if they stabled the animals above or below, leading them to the ring via ramps.  The lights were on in the ring (of course) and all the children raised and lowered their arms in unison.  The horses were so calm.  I didn’t understand how what I saw could exist, but I didn’t need to understand.  The city was full of amazing incongruity. I’m so glad I  stumbled upon this one on my own.

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