Archive for January, 2014

No Feel for History

The other night, I wasted a couple of hours watching “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe” on Lifetime.

First off, it is a strange movie for Lifetime, in that the villain of the piece was female.  This just doesn’t happen.  I suppose, though, that they really wanted to dwell on the parts of the movie where Lizzie was getting batted around by the male-dominated justice system of the Nineteenth Century.  Still, wasn’t that bad for her, because – *spoilers!* – she was acquitted by said justice system.

But the real problem with the movie was its style.  During the murder scenes, which are pure conjecture in any case, we were given views of bright-red blood sluicing through the air in slow motion, with lots of sharp edits and other tricks out of MTV.  There were at least a couple of times where characters were walking down the street – again, in slow motion – to a dirty guitar grunge rock soundtrack.  Grunge rock?

The modern era is such that, should you want to make a TV movie about a horrible murder or two, there would be plenty of such events to choose from, without having to go back more than a decade or two.  To choose to retell the story of a famous murder from the 1890’s, with all the added expense of historical settings and costumes, one should really be dedicated to recreating that world for the viewer.  Instead, I found myself constantly taken out of the past, so that the director could display his music video chops for us all.  I thought it a stunning waste of good material.

Also, the movie – as always, billed as a “true story” – doesn’t play up much mystery; it seems married to the notion that Lizzie Borden was, in fact, the murderer.  She may well have been, but there are plenty of other theories out there as well and the woman was acquitted by a jury that would probably have found life easier if they convicted her.  Instead, they end with a scene where Lizzie whispers in her sister’s ear, while we are shown gruesome clips of how she might have done it, ending with the sister leaving in disgust and anger.  Then we are told that the sisters never saw each other again.  Well, there was, in fact, an argument between the sisters, after which they never spoke again, but it happened a dozen years after the trial.  During the years between, they lived together.

Christina Ricci was fine, as was the rest of the cast.  These sorts of things are rarely the fault of the actors.  And Ricci is actually pretty close to the right age, unlike Elizabeth Montgomery, who was ten years older than her subject when she played the role, but played it in a much better movie, although that movie assumed Lizzie’s guilt as well.

I guess my real objection is the usual one: Hollywood’s idea of a “true story” seems to translate as “people with these names once lived.”  The phrase “based on a true story” translates as “SOME people with these names once lived.”  It is a pity.  They could do some good history, if they wanted, and still make it entertaining.


Categories: Trends

Rudderless Roulette

My father-in-law celebrated New Years Day by breaking his hip.  He had been sleeping in his chair, got up too fast, and fell on the carpeted floor.  At eighty-nine years of age, despite exceptionally good health overall, it was enough.

Ambulance, emergency room, multiple doctors, confusion, admission, waiting for surgery.  The wait was mostly because of his blood pressure, which kept going up and down, was dangerously high at times.  This continued even after the surgery, during which they put in three pins.

When we were in Emergency for six-plus hours, we were asked for a complete list of his medications.  Twice.  Then again when he was admitted.  They had also taken the same list when he had been at the same emergency room a few weeks prior for another issue and it was still in the computer.

So, it will come as no great shock to the experienced reader to discover that the reason for the dangerous swings in blood pressure came about because he was only getting two of his three blood pressure medications.  Yes, all three were on the list that we had given them at least three times.

Now the people involved all seem to be competent professionals.  I am not blaming any particular individual.  Yet every time we get involved with the country’s medical – system? – we run into exactly this sort of confusion.  Everybody is  in charge and nobody is in charge.  One specialist orders a change in the program to solve his particular issue and it ripples through the treatment plan in unexpected ways or some shift worker does not hear of the change.

Although they can do some truly amazing things these days, there is something horribly wrong with the way healthcare is organized.  Despite the obvious frustrations of patients and providers, no solution to this problem seems to present itself.  Third-party payment, insurance regulations, and carefree litigation are causing perverse incentives in the system, which nobody can seem to get a hold of.  It does not seem likely that our new nationalized healthcare is going to do anything to solve this problem.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law is doing extremely well with little pain and he is healing well.  I am quite confident he is going to survive this forced incarceration and return to the life that he had before.  When he does, it will be both because of and in spite of this bipolar industry we have all created.

The only way to fix all this is to change the incentives.  To do that, we will have to change the incentives of the ones who create the incentives.  If that makes sense to you.


Categories: Medicine

All in the Timing

I spent most of my career(s) in exempt positions, but I am still aware how irksome it is to punch a time-clock.  It is demeaning, in some way, like somebody doesn’t trust you or something.  Beyond that, for most jobs, you really wish they could find some way to determine your worth to them other than how many hours you sit in the chair.

Still, if you are going to have a time-clock, it could at least work a little more easily and less cumbersome than the old standby time-clock, printing on cardboard time-cards.  They are difficult to line up properly and then somebody has to do the math on each day of each card and come up with an answer.  There has to be a better mousetrap out there somewhere.

Which is pretty much what we just got at work.  The new dingus, which will actually have four locations, reads a fingerprint off the employee – you can’t very well forget your finger when you come to work – and transmits the punch information to the provider’s servers out in cloud land, and then we get our weekly reports from there.

I can understand the Orwellian misgivings about giving up your fingerprint – though it is not like we are going to run them through the FBI database – but this system is going to make payroll a breeze, greatly cutting down on the Monday morning flurry of gathering data from three different systems and trying to make sense of it.  Once we have this all set up and have the kinks worked out, it should take the General Manager about five minutes to review and the bookkeeper about ten minutes to put together what she needs for the paychecks.

This is what technology is supposed to do – take mundane tasks and make them faster, easier.  It is about time.

Categories: Business, Technology

Dramatic Structure

A little something we put together for a Canoe Place Inn gathering held over the weekend:

While our publication has always endeavored to provide a view to the past, to the people we used to be and the places we used to live, it is often difficult to for us to achieve this aim.  The reason is simple: the people we interview can only reveal what they, themselves, have seen and they can only be so old.

So it is with that in mind that one of our more enterprising journalists, Newton Montauk, decided to interview someone who was far older than any single person could be, someone who has seen everything that has happened in this area since people first started living here.  We hope you are pleased by the result.
Newton Montauk:  Thank you for taking the time to visit with our readers.  I suppose it makes the most sense to start simply: how did you get your start?

Canoe Place Inn:  Well, to answer just as simply, I started by taking care of weary travellers.

NM:  Were there many?

CPI:  What?  No, not at first.  There wasn’t much here back then, no settlers, a few natives in the distance.  But a couple of – well, we can’t really call them roads, but trails, maybe – met at the bottom of the hill to the west.  If you were headed to Southampton, you had to come right past here.  There was no other way, unless you owned a boat, and if you did own a boat, you might still come here, to get from one bay to the other.  So, we got some weary travellers.

NM:  Isn’t “traveler” spelled with one “L”?

CPI:  Well, it is here in America, today, but we were all very British back then, don’t you know.  Very British.  So I used the British spelling.  How very clever of you to pick that up.  But it was Queen Anne who gave me my charter – and you can’t get much more British than her, not like that Hanoverian lot.  To supply both man and beast, she said, and that’s what I did: beds and stables, food and feed.

NM:  Queen Anne?  When was this?

CPI:  Oh, it was the early 1700’s or so, I think, but I had already been around for fifty or sixty years by then, in one form or another.  It was just the perfect place for an inn.  A crossroads, you might say.

NM:  And you were always the Canoe Place Inn?

CPI:  Or the inn at Canoe Place.  Sometimes I was named after the current owner, but people always thought of me when they thought of Canoe Place.  It wasn’t until fairly recently that people got silly with my name.  Does this look anything like Oak Beach?  Hmm?  I ask you.  And what the hell do peaches have to do with Long Island?  Some even wanted to use just my initials, like I was a favorite president or something, or they named me after Roman architecture.  Why!?  Do I look the slightest bit Roman to you?  Suffice it to say, I have had many names, but I have always been Canoe Place.

NM:  Yes, you have had many names.  No, you don’t look Roman.  But you haven’t always looked like you do now, have you?

CPI:  No, of course not.  Do you?  Does anyone?  I have had my share of facelifts, some of them more profound than others.  The same can be said for many Hollywood stars.  I have also grown larger over the years, like so many of us.  But I have always been me.

NM:  Is it true that you are the oldest hostelry on Long Island?

CPI:  Yes, I think so, but I have never been anywhere but here, so how would I know?  Maybe the oldest in the country, some think, but I’d rather doubt that.  I mean, what would be the odds, hmm?

NM:  Were you always a first-class destination?

CPI:  Oh, I was never a destination at all, not until the Twentieth Century.  Before then, people who stayed here were just stopping on their way through.  The few locals might stop in for a drink now and then, but it was mostly different people every night, some never to return, though I did have some regulars, even in the early days.  But Canoe Place wasn’t a place to stay, it was a gateway to points elsewhere.  Oh, except for one group.  They came and they stayed.

NM:  Who was that?

CPI:  Well, it was the British Army, wasn’t it, during your revolution.

NM:  “My” revolution?

CPI:  Well, mine too, I suppose, but at the time, I was still very British and very much had to stay that way.  They were soldiers, after all.

NM:  And they stayed here at the inn?

CPI:  Yes!  Well, just some of the officers, thank God for small favors.  Could you imagine two hundred dragoons in here, marching around in muddy boots?  I’d still be scrubbing.  But most of them were up in the fort they built on the hill behind me.

NM:  What were they doing here?

CPI:  It was a revolution, wasn’t it?  They were maintaining the citizenry for King and Country, or some such.  And they were securing a strategic location.  As I said, this is and was a crossroads.  Put some men and some canons up on that hill and nobody can go anywhere, east or west, north or south.  Anyhow, they came and they stayed, for quite some time.  As a group, in any case; some of the individuals came and went.  One of them was quite infamous, as it happens.  He got himself hung for espionage, colluding with one Benedict Arnold over the surrender of West Point.  Major John Andre’ he was.  An artistic sort of person, poems and paintings.  But he was a young man and, in war – well, fortunes of war and all that.

NM:  And after the war?

CPI:  After the war, the British were gone, but others came.  Not to the inn – not all of them.  Some of them came to stay, to live here.  They were here for the fishing and the clamming.  Finally, I had neighbors.

NM:  How did you like that?

CPI:  It worked out well, I think.  In addition to lodging weary travellers, I became the neighborhood pub, as it were, with all the plusses and minuses that this entailed.  Young men drink, you know, and not always well.  In the years after the Civil War, we got something of a reputation.  Of course, a lot of things changed and I became much more about food and drink than lodging.

NM:  What caused the change?

CPI:  The railroad, in the 1870’s – that was the big change.  No need to stop for the night if you are on the train.  Then, a decade later, they made the canal, so there was more boat traffic, but little overland portage.  Pretty soon, the only way to get people to stop by was to feed them well and feed them well we did.  Between better roads and boat access, I became a favorite wine and dine for the upper classes in Southampton.  Around the time of the First World War, a new owner brought in orchestras and, helped by his connections, we did start to become that first class destination you spoke of earlier.

NM:  Then, when things were going so well, it all changed again, didn’t it?

CPI:  What?  Oh yes, the fire.  I flared up a bit, you see, and a couple of employees were killed.  That was a bad time.  Still, things had been going so well before that fire that I was rebuilt very quickly, mostly to the same plan, but bigger.  Then, a few years later, they made me bigger still and I got more outbuildings and cottages.  Soon, I had more politicians and celebrities under my roof than you could shake a gavel at.

NM:  Care to drop a few names?

CPI:  Names?  Like Roosevelt?  More than one, by the way, just like Kennedy.  Moses – the New Yorker, not the Israeli – Al Smith, Albert Einstein, Lucy and Ricky, John L Sullivan, The Windsors, Cary Grant, Helen Hayes.  And let’s not forget Hercules.  Well, a statue of him.  He and I had long conversations for many years, till he decided to move up-island.  There were also many musical guests, after the ballroom was added on: Duke Ellington, The Ramones, Billy Joel, just to drop a few.

NM:  Sounds wonderful.  Talk about the ballroom.

CPI:  It became the center of existence, didn’t it?  Many fancy parties for many fancy people.  Dinner and dancing became the norm.  But it wasn’t all for visiting dignitaries, it also became the place for local events.  There were banquets, parties, proms, and weddings held there all the time.  My ballroom became the center of the local universe for some time.

NM:  But no longer.

CPI:  No, not for a while now.  In the 1970’s, the Hamptons became a place for young people to come and drink and party and it was decided that I could better serve as a nightclub, with a mile-long bar.  That first implementation wasn’t all that bad, but then every so many years I would get a new owner and a new name, but not much of a new body.  Somebody painted peaches all over me – would you like peaches tattooed all over your body? – and I think I took that as an insult.  On and on it went for decades, a summer-only nightclub to be wrung out more and more every year.  Finally, somebody said I was too dangerous to be used anymore.  They may be right.  You know, I am pretty sure I have raccoons living in the west attic and they itch something fearful.

NM:  What do you say to those who want to rebuild you, let you be the center of that local universe once again?

CPI:  Oh, I think I’d like that very much, thank you.  I haven’t had a young bride crying her eyes out in my restroom for far too long.  Really didn’t think I would miss that, but there you are.  No, the Hamptons are not as much in need of nightclubs as they once were, now that the group rentals have been cut back.  Now, maybe, it is a good time to go back to something of what I used to be – a little bit of the past, combined with a little bit of the future.  I’m certainly willing to try.  Times have changed – so must I.  I’ll take crying brides over itchy raccoons any day.

NM:  Well, you have changed a lot over the years, over the centuries, haven’t you?  What do you say to those who say that you aren’t really historic, that you are a fairly new structure.

CPI:  Fairly new?  I am over ninety.  Ask any ninety-year-old if they think they are fairly new.  Even so, this is the version of me that hosted Tammany Hallers and defrocked Royals, that pampered the stars, that has provided big bands and rock bands for your pleasure, and that welcomed your grandparent’s wedding reception.  But even though this structure has not been well maintained, I maintain that I am more than this structure.  I have been here since Peter Stuyvesant.  I was the last hope for refuge for weary travellers in the wilderness and I was the favorite refuge for weary golfers from Shinnecock.  I have, at one time or another, been whatever people needed me to be.  I exist.  I do.  And I have existed to serve.  If you let me, I will continue to serve.

NM: What if they can’t rebuild you?  Or won’t?

CPI:  Then something will be lost.  Of course it will.  I am, after all, unique within this local universe and they would never quite see my like again.  But if they do knock me down, well then, I guess I will just have to get back up again.  After all, I survived fire.  They will build something else here, it will become the new Canoe Place Inn, no matter what they call it, and I will be here, continuing to serve in whatever capacity.  I exist.  I will always be here.


Categories: Oddities