Tag Archives: Philo Vance

December motto plus optional isolation

CanceroustumorsurroundingrightkidneyDr. Jeniffer Simon, a caring and experienced urologist, Geissinger Medical Center, State College PA showed me on her computer this image–a cancerous tumor surrounding my right kidney, referring me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Unless you have surgery quickly, you will be dead in 10 years.” The date: April 5, 2013, 4 P.M. We hugged; I cried.

The order of this posting (typically presented in a hodgepodge of disorder):

  1. Motto
  2. Paraplegia and the recollection of previous cancers
  3. The last part of cancer therapy
  4. Optional isolation
  5. Joanna’s wedding
  6. This I believe

Motto

Make haste slowly is the motto.

Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: "Make haste slowly."
Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: “Make haste slowly.”

I first came across this seemingly contradictory expression when trying to learn Latin: Festina lente.

Unless one is in a situation such as mine, Make haste slowly appears to make no sense.

Speed and slow are opposites.

The last part of cancer therapy

My situation comes at the end of a difficult time.

The time began in April when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and reached medical optimism after I left my home in State College, PA where the expertise to save my life did not exist.

This is my first "step" in getting to New York.
My first “step” in getting to New York.

I was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City—a five hour car ride away. On August 8th, Dr. Paul Russo removed the cancerous tumor, saved my right kidney, and essentially prevented me from dying of kidney cancer. It was a gift of 10 years.

++++

In The Canary Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, Philo Vance—almost certainly the most obnoxious snob in the history of detective literature—is helping his friend the district attorney solve a difficult murder. The district attorney says, “’Well, well! So the case is settled! Now if you’ll but indicate which is the guilty one, I’ll arrest him at once, and return to my other duties.’”

“’You’re always in such haste,’ Vance lamented. “Why leap and run? The wisdom of the world’s philosophers is against it. Festina lente, says Caesar; or, as Rufus has it, Festinatio tarde est. And the Koran says quite frankly that haste is of the Devil. Shakespeare was constantly lamenting speed. ‘He tires that spurs too fast betimes.’”

Still from the 1929 film version of The Canary Murder Case
Still from the 1929 film version, The Canary Murder Case

Vance, whose name in 1927 became synonymous with private detective, goes on to quote Moliere, Chaucer and the Bible on the subject.

My energy level is sufficiently low and my acuity high enough I understand Vance’s point without citing the additional paragraph.

Paraplegia 

For the past 20 years, I have been a paraplegic unable even slowly “to leap and run.” Paradoxically, in high school I received a letter sweater for running 2 ½ miles regularly during cross-country competitions. My best record was clocked running two miles in less than 12 minutes, hardly the Olympics, but good enough for Cheltenham High School  in Wyncotte, PA.

Yes, I would like to leap and run. There are a lot of things I would like to do that I cannot.

What I want to do is live life to the full and in the process make a contribution along the path I have committed myself.

I certainly have done a lot of living in the past 20 years as a paraplegic. In one of my three trips across the United States from sea to shining sea, I took my battery-powered scooter and drove it around the rim of the Grand Canyon.

In California, I watched my elder daughter Joanna train a horse to jump a fence. As I watched, the horse did something amazing. After going over the fence for the first time, the horse did a double-take, shaking its head as if to say, “I do not believe I did that.” Joanna’s smile of accomplishment…

In Santa Cruz, one glorious day, Amelia my younger daughter and I boarded a ship and watched whales frolicking.

++++

Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan

For a while, I chose the Isadora Duncan School of Dance rather than rehabilitation–both dance and physical rehabilitation have become an essential part of my doxology.

The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College's Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.
The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College’s Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.

In the Silicon Valley, I wrote a technical manual for KLA-Tancor on inspecting silicon wafers for defects. Often, I scrubbed down, putting on a white gown and hat; wheeling into the clean room where my readers would be using the documentation.

The recollection of previous cancers

After radiation treatment for cancer, I fathered my two children, published three books, and loved and was loved in return.

The experience of having cancer twice, first at age 28 then at 42—treatment which burned my spine and made me unable to walk certainly slowed me down. It did not stop me. Nor has the experience of having cancer for the third time at age 65 stopped me.

++++

“The Roman historian Suetonius… tells that Augustus… thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favorite sayings of his were: ‘More haste, less speed’; ‘Better a safe commander than a bold’; and ‘That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.'”

Wikipedia continues, “Gold coins were minted for Augustus which bore the image of a crab and a butterfly, which was considered to be emblematic of the adage. Other pairings used to illustrate the adage include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and, especially, a dolphin entwined around an anchor. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany had festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a tortoise with a sail upon its back.”

++++

Frequently, I suspect I have not learned from experience.

The same mistakes seem to repeat themselves in predictable order. This is most often the case with loss of energy. So often have I felt my body filled with power and enthusiasm that when the power disappears and getting out of bed becomes a chore, a dark cloud seems to hang over me.

The cloud is not there now.

Recovery from surgery has surprised me by its slow pace.

When I returned from New York in August, the combination of weakness and pain made me grateful to be alone.

++++

One consequence of my receiving a cancer diagnosis in April of this year is that the telling provoked waves of  affection and attention not merely from those close to home.

A woman whom I had loved intensely in 1972 ( not seen or heard from since) read here on this site an optimistic account of my situation and responded with an e-mail followed by phone calls. We talked about the children we did not have together, the life we did not share, and the strangely odd and encouraging fact that affection untended continues despite the reality that it had its origins so long ago.

Friends appeared with whom I had lost contact for decades. My expectations of how good people could be to me were vastly exceeded by reality. I have emerged from surgery with the feeling of being cherished. Nothing I can say or do can ever repay my gratitude. You know who you are and yet you do not truly appreciate how much you have graced my heart.

Often I feel words used to describe me are wrong, just wrong. I do not think of myself as “brave” or “courageous” or a “fighter.” When I think of myself, which I do often, I try to stop—meditate and in my own fashion pray that the ego will dissolve and I will just continue, pursue the path.

Optional isolation

Late in August, back at my apartment, alone, feeling that strange happiness that comes when intense pain disappears, whoever I am is comfortable to me. By nature I am impatient. By nature, I am persistent. Then, the phrase make haste slowly serves as a comfort. I will do what I need to do when the time comes. I will be grateful for energy and understanding when I cannot do what needs to be done. If the sky falls and I do not have the strength to stop it, the sky falls. Such is life.

Joanna’s wedding

Before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend  Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.
Three months before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.

Going to Joanna’s wedding in October appears now on the second day of December a miraculous event. Weeks before I boarded the plane, I did not believe the energy would return. I persisted. Giving away my elder daughter on a farm in Mebane, North Carolina produced euphoria that brought me through and carried me home on Delta Airlines.

Amelia was my caregiver at  the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.
Amelia (right) was my caregiver at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.

At the wedding it was a delight seeing Amelia again in North Carolina a seeming aeon away from New York , saying goodbye before she returned to Spain for her third extended trip.

I loved:

  • Watching my sister Sarah Leah Schmerler dance without inhibition after the intensity of being together at the hospital in New York

sarahatwedding

  • Revisiting my 12 year-old only nephew Asher Simonson with his unexpected moments of humor
  • Seeing his father Robert Simonson who had lugged my mobility devices around the Island of Manhattan
  • My son-in-law Jade Phillips and his firefighting colleagues who, when the festivities were over and the bonfire burned out, literally picked up my exhausted body and flung me into the passenger side of a truck

++++

Then fatigue. Delight in being alone. Concern I would not finish the work I must finish. Optional isolation. Appearing outside my apartment only occasionally. Seeing as few people as possible. Avoiding crowds, large gatherings, and familiar places where I have been surrounded by affection.

Periodically, I receive calls, visits, e-mails and reports of those who ask with affection and concern “Where’s Joel?”

++++

Life continues.

A dear friend becomes sick. Miles and often even a few blocks I do not have the energy to travel keep me from being where I would otherwise like to be.

I sit in my apartment and wait. A rush of energy and I find myself writing, as I am writing now, without stop, expressing while leaving dishes unwashed, my bed unmade, not yet able to complete rigorous academic writing—not quite able to pull together a large project.

Instead, I follow whim. I have been making You Tube videos—going off to a computer in the patient company of an expert in iMovie editing software, collapsing, returning, making slow steady progress as bills pile up, consistently refusing to think about the money I do not have and the energy I do not have to obtain it.

I have been reading Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms, his introduction tracing the psalms’ origins back to the Bronze Age over 3,000 years ago, reciting his clear translation, going to the Hebrew, recalling my mother never left the house without a small Hebrew copy of Psalms in her pocketbook, dipping into David Halberstam writing about Elvis Presley, reading a paragraph here and there about architecture, engineering, virtual reality—not doing much for long, but doing and then in fatigue watching by choice vapid Netflix videos for hours.

The last part of cancer therapy

I hope to encourage others like me who are recovering to recognize our temporary limitations and persevere.

Most do not recognize the difficulties involved in recovering from cancer after the disease is gone but the energy has not returned.

[To be inserted here observations about suicide attempts by survivors. This issue I discuss in my book Learning to Live Again, My Triumph over Cancer available on this site http://www.joelsolkoff.com/book-store/books/learning-to-live-again-my-triumph-over-cancer/].

While researching, I came across a footnote in a medical journal article. A young man with the most dangerous stage of Hodgkin’s disease had killed himself after being cured. The autopsy revealed no cancer was present in his body.

Surviving while still recovering can be a hard time unless one is willing to believe in the future. Henry David Thoreau should be an encouragement to those us living in situations such as the one I am now in. Thoreau wrote, “There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”

My life seems to have been lived on the principle that best way to get from here to there is NOT to go in a straight line.

I have been watching You Tubes of Edward R. Murrow, my hero. This one caught my fancy yesterday at 2 in the morning.

This I believe

I believe:

  1. I am alive for a purpose.
  2. The attempt to achieve the purpose, which I choose to call my path in homage to Laozi, serves not only its own end but to unite all that is sacred to me; namely, my children (of course) who are adults and have lives of their own; my sister Sarah and my family, my friends who are family; my love for women (a woman were the right woman in my bed); the need to care for myself, be independent in body and mind, be a good citizen who embraces not only my country but my mother Earth, and the need to be the human being I strive to be who believes in the spirit that gives us life.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way, gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way (The Path), gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.

3. My chosen path is to help the elderly and disabled achieve their potential.

4. Along that path is the virtue of technology which makes it possible for me to go seamlessly from my bed to my kitchen out the door and into the world on scooters like the kind that my dear friend Al Thieme of Amigo Mobility invented which he refers to as Power Operated Vehicle scooters or POV scooters to distinguish them from toys. The technology mobility path includes power chairs and equipment being developed at an astonishingly rapid pace. The consequence of this technology is I do not think of myself as one whose disability prevents me from living life to the full. For individuals with hearing and visual disabilities technology has developed to the point where, for example, an individual blind from birth can drive an automobile specially equipped with laser scanning of the road;  the automobile provides the driver computer-voice simulated operated instructions.

Thank you Wired Magazine: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/07/blind-driver-challenge/
Thank you Wired Magazine

Totally blind drivers have passed tests on intentionally difficult driving courses. I believe in my lifetime the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will issue drivers licenses to individuals who are totally blind but who have proven their ability to drive sophisticated vehicles such as the ones already produced by the Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

Amigo manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia's college graduation.
Amigo Mobility manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia’s college graduation.

5. My path is focused on what the architectural, engineering, and construction community refer to as the built environment. See, for example, my biographical information and published work for e-architect: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/editors/joel-solkoff

6. To rebuild the environment, the promise of virtual reality is real. Virtual reality is a promise my 30 year-old mentor Sonali Kumar introduced to me as I worked with her as a research assistant at Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department to complete her doctoral dissertation entitled: Experience-based design review of healthcare facilities using interactive virtual prototypes. 

VirtualRollinshower

Sonali apologized when she used me as the model for this avatar. “I am sorry I put so much gray in your hair. You do have a lot of gray in your hair.”

Fashion aside, one of my contributions to Sonali’s animated three-dimensional model of an independent-living-aging-in-place home was the suggestion she replace the original bathtub with a roll in shower. As a paraplegic for whom being clean is vital, I have all too often been trapped in a bathtub–on one occasion it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to get out of the tub finally using my arms to push me out, pulling my legs after me as I landed onto a dirty bathroom floor.

7. Experienced-based design is essential. Experienced-based design is one of a number of academic terms meaning the best way to design an environment is to ask the person who will use it. The example that comes most readily to mind is an article I read about a new hospital in the Philadelphia area. The article complemented the hospital administration for asking patients at the previous facility what changes they would suggest making to the design of the new building to make the hospital more patient-friendly. The patients suggested making it easier to get from bed to bathroom by making the bathroom closer to the bed. The article praised the administration for the reduction in falls as a consequence. [I know. My instant reaction to that was Daaaaaaaaaaaahh.] Asking does matter. Ask experts like me, for example, or my neighbors at Addison Court (an independent living apartment building for the elderly and disabled) whom I arranged to view Sonali’s model wearing 3-D glasses at Dr. John Messner’s Immersive Construction Lab for Construction industry. The consequence is we have the experience to instruct the design of the environment around us so that it is more efficient. The result is not merely an exercise in odd-sounding academic words such as case studies, scenarios, and activities of daily living (ADL); it is also a good idea.

SloanBath

8. Self reliance should be encouraged. Shown here

[Note: Think of I believe in points 8, 9, and beyond as Coming Attractions.]

9. Knowing when to ask for help.

Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.
Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.

To be continued.

Meanwhile, here is Edward R. Murrow  interviewing then former President of the United States Harry S Truman on what Truman believes. http://thisibelieve.org/essay/17058/

President Truman is followed by a bad video of an Alan Jackson song. I like the theme. I like the song.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

 

A Nearly-Successful Attempt to Write the Perfect Role for Jacqueline Bisset—An Appreciation of “Mystery” Writer Ross Thomas

 “Kissing her, Stallings decided, was like kissing your first older woman—the one with all the wicked experience. He then decided not to decide anything else and simply go along with whatever happened except that what happened was far from simple. Instead, it was intricate, a trifle wild, totally sensual and innovative even to Stallings who thought, until now, that he long ago had crossed his last sexual frontier. At one point he experienced a miser’s glow when he realized that this night in this bed in suite 542 of the Manila Hotel would turn into his main account at the Bank of Fantasy—and that he could draw on it without limit for as long as he lived.”

I like the fact that Ross Thomas, often described as a “mystery” author, capitalized Bank of Fantasy in the previous paragraph. Yes, many of Thomas’ 25 books were published by The Mysterious Press and Thomas twice received the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Thomas_(author).] Yet, when I think of the term mystery, I think of the 12 novels of S.S. Van Dine, published in the 1920’s and 30’s, whose main character is the rich and disarmingly pretentious Philo Vance. Vance’s name became a synonym with the murder mystery sleuth who gathers the suspects in one room and points to the killer. In a murder mystery, the plot centers on a dead body and the action revolves around solving who committed the murder.
The erotic excerpt in the first paragraph of this blog posting is from Out on the Rim, published in 1987, a year after Ferdinand Marcos went into exile and Corazon Aquino took power in the Philippines. Out on the Rim is the story of a plot to bribe a left-wing Philippine guerilla leader with $5 million to stop fighting. If Alejandro Espiritu (whom everyone not speaking Tagalog calls Al) retires, it will add to the stability of the new Aquino regime which needs all the stability it can get. As with Thomas’ other work, there may be a gratuitous dead body here or there, but the focus is not on solving a murder, but on stealing the money or getting involved in some other nefarious scheme.
When Thomas died in December, 1995, The New York Times obituary headline described him as an “Author of Stylish Political Thrillers.” The Times said, “The writer Stephen King, noting Mr. Ross’s gift for character and witty dialogue, once called him ‘the Jane Austen of the political espionage story.’ Other critics place him in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett.”
This is an appreciation of Ross Thomas whose fictional characters befriended me in times of personal disasters, such as radiation treatment for cancer and divorce, in a way that the heavy hitters in fiction could not do. The importance of light fiction was pressed home to me after my first divorce when I tried to ameliorate the pain by reading Henry James’ stylistically brilliant, low-on-action Wings of a Dove. It didn’t work.
Recovering from my second divorce, I read Ross Thomas, most notably; The Fools in Town Are On Our Side (1970). The main character Lucifer C. Dye has just been fired from a boutique intelligence agency known only as Section Two (definitely not the CIA). Dye is hired by Victor Orcutt Associates, a small company profiting from urban corruption. Orcutt hires Dye “to corrupt me a city.” When their city is sufficiently corrupted, the company’s reputedly reform-minded clients plan to take over after the fast-approaching municipal election.
Specifically, this posting is an appreciation of Thomas’ minor characters. The lovers who begin this article are good examples. Booth Stallings is the author of a book on terrorism and a Washington consultant. Georgia Blue is a cashiered Secret Service Agent clandestinely in touch with Imelda Marcos.
At the beginning of the novel Stallings first admires Georgia Blue from afar at D.C.’s stuffy Hotel Madison where he is waiting for power broker Harry Crites:
 “Harry Crites was twenty-two minutes late when the muscle walked into the Madison and read the lobby with the standard quick not quite bored glance that flitted over Booth Stallings, lingered for a moment on the two Saudis, counted the help and marked the spare exists. After that the muscle gave her left earlobe a slight tug, as if checking the small gold earring.
“Booth Stallings immediately nominated her for one of the three most striking women he had ever seen. Her immense poise made him peg her age at thirty-two or thirty-three. But he knew he could be five years off either way because of the way she moved, which was like a young athlete with eight prime years still ahead of her.”
 My use of the term minor character might be better understood if we use the concept of fifth business employed by the late Canadian novelist Robertson Davies. Davies quotes Thomas Overskou: “’Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies…’” Davies observed that fifth business characters did not necessarily have glamorous roles; they had steady work because the plot could not continue without them.
So, well-defined are Thomas’ minor/fifth business characters that it is possible to describe the plot of Out on the Rim without ever mentioning the book’s complex main characters. Crites hires Stallings because during World War II Stallings fought against the Japanese side-by-side with Al. Crites says that because Al knows Stallings and trusts him, Stallings is in an excellent position to bribe Al. Stallings negotiates a $250,000 fee for doing so. Later that evening, instead of settling for the fee, Stallings decides to steal the entire $5 million and realizes that doing so will require help. He then begins to employ a group of shady characters, one of whom is Georgia Blue.
Jacqueline Bisset plays her own shady Ross Thomas minor character in the 1976 film St. Ives. As an aside, Bisset, who Newsweek Magazine once called, “the most beautiful actress of all times,” is a primary and unexpected motivating factor in my writing this appreciation, not only of Ross Thomas but also of Bisset. Her role in Rich and Famous (1981) came to mind one bleak 5 degree day here at State College, PA. For distraction, I ordered a stack of Jacqueline Bisset DVDs by mail.
When I began watching St. Ives, a name that seemed familiar, but not immediately recognizable, the realization that Charles Bronson was the star vexed me. Bronson is an actor who performs every role as if he were a character from a one-dimensional Mickey Spillane novel, playing the private detective who orders bar whiskey and calls women broads.
Then I read the following screen credit: “Based on the novel The Procane Chronicle by Oliver Bleeck.” This startled me. Oliver Bleeck is Ross Thomas’ pseudonym for a series of five novels about Philip St. Ives, who wrote a column about crooks, lowlifes, and unsavory characters until his newspaper folded. By chance, a loyal reader, a thief, asks his lawyer to hire St. Ives as a middleman to sell back stolen jewelry to its owners. The fee from the first effort as a go-between is so profitable that St. Ives is able to survive by performing his brief services 4 times a year.
The inept casting of Bronson, an incompetent screenplay, and rotten directing destroyed forever the chances of Jacqueline Bisset to play a great role in a great Ross Thomas-based film. The roles I had in mind for Bisset were comparable to Myrna Loy playing Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934) and Mary Astor playing Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Both movies were based on novels by Dashiell Hammett, a writer to whom Ross Thomas has been compared. The movies gave Hammett’s characters a magical power best illustrated by the fact that after seeing, for example, The Thin Man I have never again been able to reread the book without envisioning William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. That is a good thing.
Seeking to torture myself by cataloging just how brutally Bronson had destroyed my dream for Ross Thomas and Jacqueline Bisset, I sought to obtain a copy of The Procane Chronicle. Following Thomas’ death all but one of his novels went out of print. Recently, there has been a small Thomas revival. St. Martin’s Press has been reissuing his novels, and scattershot appreciations continue to appear in print and on the web. However, The Procane Chronicle is still out of print and my used copy from a reader in Oregon arrived slowly in time for spring.
In The Procane Chronicle, St. Ives is hired to retrieve the detailed diaries of master thief Abner Procane. Procane’s diaries, referred to as leather-bound ledgers, detail each of his crimes and also serve as planning documentation for future jobs. After someone steals the ledgers from Procane’s safe, Procane fears that their disclosure could result in the police arresting him for his crimes or result in the necessity to abort a million dollar heist he has been planning for months.
Procane introduces St. Ives to Procane’s apprentice Janet Whistler. In the novel Thomas says about Whistler: “She was attractive enough if you liked tall, rangy girls with slender figures and easy, natural movements. I didn’t mind them.” The New York Times, reviewing Bisset’s performance in the role, says, “Finally, there is what must be the least explicit sex scene of the year, Miss Bisset sits down on [St. Ives’] bed smoldering. She puts one hand to her zipper and, believe it or not, the scene ends. Miss Bisset, who does wonderful things for silly roles and once in a while is allowed to do wonderful things for good ones, makes that unpulled zipper seem like an X-rating all by itself.”
St. Ives’ talented supporting cast, who sadly are unable to save this movie, also includes John Houseman, who plays Abner Procane, and Maximilian Schell, who plays a psychiatrist whom Procane consults with obsessively to make sure that Procane has not become the kind of criminal who likes to be caught.           
Early in the film Charles Bronson tells Jacqueline Bisset, in what is intended to be a flirtatious remark, “You have a lot of great looking bits and pieces.” As a 60 year-old I have special license to complain that part of the problem is the disparity in age between Bronson, then 55, and Bisset, then 32. There is no romantic chemistry between them (despite the fact the Bisset just can not help being sexy).   
Thomas’ St. Ives is in his late 30s, lives in a seedy New York hotel, and has a cynical, wise cracking manner that is engaging and appealing to a variety of fascinating women. New York characters often do not travel well when transported by directorial fiat to Los Angeles, thus making St. Ives’ quirkiness incomprehensible. Bronson lives in seedy Los Angeles hotel, but he also drives a new Jaguar.
Especially revealing is Bronson incomprehensible ambition. Thomas’ St. Ives proclaimed that his lack of ambition dominates his life. When Thomas’ St. Ives loses his job as a columnist, he does not write a novel. Writing novel is work. St. Ives prefers being a go-between because it lets him do nothing for most of the year.
By comparison, Bronson is portrayed as a columnist who quits his job (he does not lose it) to write a novel. When the movie begins, Bronson has already written three chapters. Throughout the film people ask Bronson how the book is going, something I would never do for fear that Bronson would shoot me and because I find it impossible to believe that Bronson could even start a novel. As for what a go-between actually does, the fundamental glue that holds the story together, Bronson is clueless. Sometimes he holds an airline bag filled with money; sometimes he doesn’t.
Still, I remain hopeful that additional movies will be made from Thomas’s work and Thomas’ characters will receive the respect they deserve. I am especially eager to see Georgia Blue on film, but have resigned myself to the likelihood that Bisset, now 63, will not be playing her.
In Rich and Famous, Bisset plays a fictionalized Susan Sontag standing by the fireplace in a California beach house passionately appreciating Marcel Proust, saying Proust was a genius with a brain full of nitroglycerine. My instant desire was to turn off the DVD, trudge through the snow, and obtain a copy of Remembrance of Things Past.
But that would be wrong. I have aches and pains I have not told you about. Meals on Wheels does not deliver madeleine. I have my loyalty to the characters of the mystery-espionage genre to protect, authors who have already demonstrated that I can rely upon them to see me through tough times, especially Ross Thomas, S.S. Van Dine, Rex Stout, Eric Ambler, and John le Carré.
–Joel Solkoff [written before the Presidential election of 2008, revived while reading Ross Thomas’  Missionary Stew to distract me from the way President Obama is destroying the ability of people who cannot walk to obtain power chairs and scooters from Medicare]
Copyright © 2012 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.